Brig, Soren and Reidar, here is book, Bronze Age Mindset.
And below is a review, and the authors response to it:
Are the Kids Al(t)right?
In the spiritual war for the disaffected youth on the right, conservatism is losing. BAPism is winning.by Michael Anton
Around a year ago, the editors of this august journal asked me to contribute a piece on the “alt-right.” I hesitated, for a number of reasons, at least two of which are relevant here.
First, I did not then—and still do not—quite know what the “alt-right” is. That is to say, I know what the term means to the Left and to the mainstream media (apologies for the redundancy): “anyone to my right whom I can profitably smear as a Nazi.” But so far as I can tell, even many who consider themselves “alt-right” can’t agree on the term’s meaning, or on who or what qualifies. Furthermore, some of those least afraid to accept the label insist that the underlying phenomenon is dead, having immolated itself in Charlottesville in August 2017. Why bother writing about something that no one can define and whose most prominent proponents claim is defunct?
Second, in looking into this a little, I found plenty of books about the alt-right but none by the alt-right. This is perhaps not surprising, since one of the few things that those who talk about it can agree on is that it is, or was, primarily a social media phenomenon. But I was convinced then, and remain so, that a long review of volumes summarizing blogs, tweets, and memes would be as tedious and fruitless to write as to read. So I begged off.
Months later, the tech entrepreneur and anti-democracy blogger Curtis Yarvin brought to a small dinner at my home, in lieu of the more traditional flowers or wine, a book—one I had never heard of, called Bronze Age Mindset (hereafter BAM) by a person calling himself “Bronze Age Pervert” (hereafter BAP). A few weeks later, I took it up in a moment of idle curiosity.
* * *
In structure and tone, BAM appears at first glance to be a simplified pastiche of Friedrich Nietzsche written by an ESL-middle-school-message-board troll. Words are often misspelled or dropped, verbs misconjugated, punctuation rules ignored. For example, a prototypical BAP sentence reads “Wat means?”—which presumably means: “What does this mean?” Yet the author weaves in clear English amidst the doggerel, showing that he knows how to write. And standard English increasingly takes over as the book proceeds.
But I didn’t notice that at first because I gave up early. Then I happened to mention this strange gift to a young friend and former White House colleague, Darren Beattie, who urged me to try again and persevere. The book, he said, has struck a chord with younger people—especially men—who are dissatisfied with the way the world is going and have no faith in mainstream conservativism’s efforts to arrest, much less reverse, the rot.
Self-published in June 2018, BAM quickly cracked the top 150 on Amazon—not, mind you, in some category within Amazon but on the site as a whole. This for a book with no publisher and no publicist, whose author is not even known. Sales have been driven, one suspects, by BAP’s largish (>20K) Twitter following. Legions of eager fans quote the book and/or post pictures of its cover in exotic locations and/or lying atop military uniforms, presumably their own. But I think this understates BAP’s influence. Beyond his own account, he has scores of imitators who ape his writing style and amplify his ideas. Others have imitated him more directly, self-publishing their own BAPish books, and BAP returns the compliment through generous cross-promotion.
* * *
So I resolved to force myself through the whole thing. By around page 40, the effort ceased to be a chore. Say what you will about Bronze Age Mindset, it’s not boring. BAP takes a flamethrower to one contemporary piety after another, left and right alike (but mostly left). Was here, finally, a way to satisfy my editors’ request? BAM after all is a book; it is on the right; and it is “alt,” in the sense that it presents sharp alternatives to much, even most, of what the establishment Right professes and holds dear.
It’s been evident for a while, at least to me, that conventional conservatism no longer holds much purchase with large swaths of the under 40, and especially under 30, crowd. Tax cuts, deregulation, trade giveaways, Russophobia, democracy wars, and open borders are not, to say the least, getting the kids riled up. What is? The youthful enthusiasm for BAM suggested a place to start looking.
The young like to shock and be shocked, and Bronze Age Mindset more than delivers on this score. Its many provocations range from the relatively small—teenage put-downs and crude sexual or scatological slang—to the more substantive. Many of the latter are in line with what one would expect from an “alt-right” book: sweeping generalizations about women, homosexuals, and, to a lesser extent, national and ethnic groups. Still others question or attack conventional wisdom on science, health, nutrition, and other topics, often referencing some obscure figure whom contemporary authorities dismiss as a crank. In perhaps the book’s most risible passages, BAP wonders aloud whether history has been falsified, persons and events invented from whole cloth, centuries added to our chronology, entire chapters to classic texts.
The book at times reads so outlandishly that one wonders if any of it could possibly be meant seriously or if the author is just a kook. But on reflection I came to believe that some of the ridiculousness is intended to help the unscientific and unphilosophic grasp concepts beyond their conceptual framework. Some is meant to shock and discomfit, as if BAP were in the reader’s ear shouting “I insist you must question everything!” (I note here that whenever BAP begins a sentence with the first-person pronoun and ends with an exclamation point, he is being serious. One example: “I don’t do irony!”)
And a great deal of BAP’s silly outrageousness seems to be there to provide air cover for the outrageous things he means in deadly earnest. If so, he might be following Niccolò Machiavelli, who once wrote “that it is a very wise thing to simulate craziness at the right time.” The internet pidgin likely serves a similar purpose. It simultaneously attracts the young—who by nature enjoy slang for its exclusionary effect on the duffers (which is why, to remain effective, slang must be constantly reinvented)—while putting off said duffers, who will assume that such drivel cannot be serious and thus is not worth their attention, much less their worry.
Could it be that BAM’s frivolous surface hides a serious core? Or, to put it in BAPian terms: Wat means?
* * *
Beginning at the beginning—the first paragraph of the Prologue—BAP explicitly denies that his book is “philosophy”; it is, rather, “exhortation.” He thus in the same breath diminishes and elevates his intention. The blue-hairs, he hopes, will take seriously his declaration of unseriousness. At the same time, he warns readers who persevere that this little volume should not be mistaken for an education; those who want to know more must go deeper.
BAP provides guidance for those who so wish. The book is shot through with references to poets, philosophers, historians, scientists, and their theories. His range of knowledge is vast—or at least appears so. I often found myself willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on scientific concepts I don’t understand because so often when he writes about something I do understand, he gets it right. And when he doesn’t, I can’t be sure he’s not just trolling.
The four sections that follow the Prologue are “The Flame of Life,” “Parable of Iron Prison,” “Men of Power, and the Ascent of Youth,” and “A Few Arrows.” By the latter, one is surely meant to think of “Maxims and Arrows,” with which Nietzsche opens Twilight of the Idols (the only author to whom BAP refers more frequently than Nietzsche is Arthur Schopenhauer). BAP saves his arrows for the end, which indicates that the heart of his book is really Parts One through Three.
“The Flame of Life” takes up the question of what life is. BAP rejects both of what we may call, for the sake of brevity, the dominant theories: the teleological account offered by religious and classically-inspired thinkers, and the deterministic materialism (or materialistic determinism) of the “scientists.” I use the sneer quotes because BAP—despite evident scientific training, especially in biology—is merciless on our modern lab-coats. They are, he alleges, not nearly as smart as they think they are, nor do they know nearly as much as they think they do. For BAP, the fundamentally “scientific” fact about science is that—however good it is at explaining the biological mechanisms of life—it has gotten us essentially nowhere in explaining what life is.
* * *
Before the religious or classically inclined among us begin thinking that BAP might be a kindred spirit, it must be said that he is a frank agnostic—“I don’t talk about if God exists, I don’t know this”—and dismissive of conservative attempts to marshal ancient philosophy to support an account of a natural moral order. “‘Ethics,’” BAP says in an aside, “is for cows”—sneer quotes his. That is not to say he rejects “teleology”—the idea that natural beings have intrinsic ends—per se. For BAP, life is “intelligent” but neither “designed” nor “evolved.” It aims at something, but not moral perfection or excellence. Each living being, he says, possesses a nature with inborn characteristics and tendencies that science has not yet begun to penetrate. And if that makes BAP sound like someone who exalts an “ineffable mystery of life” inherently beyond the reach of human intellect, think again. BAP not only doesn’t dismiss the possibility that science could penetrate, or at least penetrate further, into the mystery of life; he urges that resources be spent on exactly such an effort—though he doesn’t hold out much hope that we’ll get anywhere soon. He holds modern biologists and their institutions—really all academics and all the universities—in contempt.
To paraphrase Woody Allen (whom, I hasten to add, BAP does not quote), life wants what it wants. What does it want? At the upper reaches, among the higher animals (BAP is relentlessly hierarchical), what it wants is mastery of “owned space.” “Owned space” is the most important concept introduced in Part One and the key to understanding the rest of the “exhortation,” if not necessarily the rest of the book. BAP argues that life, fundamentally, is a “struggle for space.” All life seeks to develop its powers and master the surrounding matter and space to the maximum extent possible. For the lower species, this simply means mass reproduction and enlarging habitat. For the higher animals, it means controlling terrain, dominating other species, dominating the weaker specimens within your own species, getting first dibs on prey and choice of mates, and so on. BAP sees no fundamental distinction between living in harmony with nature and mastering nature. All animals seek to master their environments to the extent that they can, and the nature of man, or of man at his best—the highest man—is to seek to master nature itself. Not in the Aristotelian sense of understanding the whole, nor in the Baconian sense of “the relief of man’s estate” via technology and plenty; more to assert and exert his own power. Indeed, BAP posits an inner kinship between the genuine scientist and the warrior; he calls the former “monsters of will.”
BAP rejects the Darwinian claim that the fundamental imperative of life is reproduction. The highest animals, he notes, reproduce relatively slowly and infrequently, with great danger to the distaff side of the species. Indeed, BAP’s objections to Charles Darwin are among the most original thoughts in the book. He doesn’t so much dismiss him—and certainly not in the name of creationism—as diminish him. Darwin, he argues, was right about the circumstance with which he was most familiar—crowded England, where all the space was already “owned”—but mistakenly thought he could extrapolate that narrow insight across all life.
For BAP, space is owned when it is mastered or controlled. This can either be accomplished by you—or your herd or pride or clan or tribe or nation—or by others. In the latter case, life—especially for the higher beings—is at best unsatisfying and often miserable. Nature—life—has been thwarted.
* * *
Part Two is BAP’s account of our contemporary malaise. In his telling, today all the space is, and has been for some time, “owned” by a degraded elite, reducing the majority of men to “bugmen” and thwarting the innate will of the higher specimens. “Bugman” at first glance appears to be BAP’s term for Nietzsche’s Last Man, the analysis of which BAP endorses in toto, even instructing any reader who needs a refresher to put down BAM and go read the prologue to Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
BAP does not—as some might expect—blame this degradation of man on modernity. He rather asserts that lower life or mere life or “yeastlife”—which he analogizes to something like Aristotle’s analysis of Eastern despotism—is, if not the default state of man, then common throughout history. In most of the world, most of the time, he claims, the naturally lower human types rule—typically via brute force of numbers, led by a hostile elite—for naturally low ends. To do so they must thwart the innate drives of higher men, in former times via castration or ostracization, today by a debilitating “education” meant to render potentially spirited youth listless, hopeless and/or easily satisfied. Early modernity actually offered the higher types vast opportunities to explore and conquer new space. Thus bugdom is not caused or defined by science and technology. To the contrary: science and tech at their best can form a kind of frontier that allows for man’s higher motives to find vent when and where space is constrained. For BAP, science in modern times is, or should be, a manifestation of the will to conquer space.
In the Iron Prison, space is constrained for everyone but the rulers—or, variously, the “owners,” “wardens,” and “lords of lies.” It is important to understand that those whom BAP means by “rulers” are not always, or necessarily, those whom the people believe to be their rulers. In his telling, many of these are just managers, frontmen, slightly higher paid than average to be sure, but in the final analysis slaves to the system no less than the bugmen they ostensibly rule. In one of many ideas BAP appears to take from Machiavelli, he posits a hidden or indirect government in which the real power is shadowy but firmly in control—except that Machiavelli meant this as a recommendation whereas BAP means it as a warning and rallying cry.
Roughly speaking, BAP seems to divide the human race into three types: natural bugmen, who will always be the majority but who can be led in positive directions by the right kind of man; naturally superior specimens who “desire one thing above all, ever-flowing eternal fame among mortals” (BAP quoting Heraclitus); and a sort of middle category who in good times serve the natural aristocracy but in bad times become regime apparatchiks and enforcers of the “Leviathan” (BAP borrowing from Thomas Hobbes). It gradually becomes clear, then, that BAP’s bugman is not strictly analogous to the Last Man: the latter is much worse but also not always present. He is, however, ascendant at the moment and one aim of his rule is to degrade and multiply the natural bugmen.
* * *
In Part Three BAP finally turns to his promised exhortation. He begins in exultation of youth and vitality generally, with ancient champions, Iberian explorers, and other, more execrable heroes (Clearchus? Agathocles?) held up as examples of the higher man. BAP’s praise of the conquistadors points to another BAPian innovation: he sees no necessary conflict between Christianity and warlike excellence. This is one of the many ways BAP extends a hand to Christianity “interpreted according to virtue,” which is to say, by BAP. But the model throughout remains the classical man of action; all others are judged according to how well they measure up to that standard. In unquestionably the book’s most hilarious passage, BAP reimagines Mitt Romney as…Alcibiades. I cannot do it justice; you just have to read it. The moral is clear, however: Alcibiades and his ilk, not Socrates and his, represent the peak of antiquity and perhaps of humanity.
BAP asserts an inherent connection between physical health, good looks, and human worth. No “eye of the beholder” clichés here! I suppose this is the place to note that one constant in BAP’s Twitter feed is pictures of muscled, shirtless beefcake. This has caused many to wonder—and some to insist they know—what the true point of Bronze Age Mindset really is. Since it does not seem that I can let this point pass without comment, I note, first, that this is a review of the book, not the Twitter feed, and the book is not illustrated. BAP certainly exhorts young men to exert themselves and become as fit as they can. He is an insistent advocate of weightlifting. However, it may also be relevant that in a long chapter entitled “Greek friendship,” BAP praises the coming together of men to perform great and difficult feats and lightly brushes off as “exaggeration” the assumption that such friendships in Greek antiquity were sexual. On the other hand, that Twitter feed also frequently features photos of beautiful young ladies. BAP seems to want to draw attention to beauty qua beauty.
* * *
In the only mention of Socrates in BAM, BAP accuses Plato of falsely presenting Socrates’ rejection of Alcibiades (the story is told at the end of the Symposium) as the exact reverse of what really happened. (But how could he know that?) CRB readers may recall, in Book V of the Republic, Socrates’ redefinition of kalos (the beautiful, fine, noble, good) as the “useful,” severing the connection between the beautiful and the good (for the good is surely useful, but the beautiful, not necessarily). BAP’s amazing ambition extends to overturning that downgrade in favor of the older Greek notion that form and value, aesthetics and excellence, the beautiful, the good and the noble are one and indivisible. The early Greeks meant this literally, he insists—and further insists that they were right. It is a necessary characteristic of bugman—the ugly master of an ugly regime—to try to sunder the connection between the beautiful and the good, to denigrate the former and exalt ugliness.
BAP defines his title only once, calling the “Bronze Age mindset” “the secret desire…to be worshiped as a god!” Three further possibilities suggest themselves, probably all intended by the author. The first and most obvious is a reference to the eponymous historic epoch. And BAP does claim that men were stronger, faster, tougher, more manly—just better—in the old days. Second, it is a parody of Gorilla Mindset, another self-published book by an “alt-right” figure. Third, it brings to mind the third of Hesiod’s “five ages of man” (golden, silver, bronze, heroic, and iron) from the Works and Days, though Hesiod’s “Bronze Age” did not end well for its bronze men. Is BAP trying to tell us something? Still, BAP’s “iron prison” is clearly meant to be reminiscent of Hesiod’s dark and dismal “Iron Age,” in which men are virtual slaves, life is miserable, and everything higher is quashed.
* * *
Now, if for Hesiod—and Homer—the highest type of man is the warrior; for Plato, the philosopher; for Augustine and Aquinas, the monk; and for Machiavelli, the founder; for BAP it is…the pirate? Pirates, says BAP, are free—the freest, perhaps the only truly free, men. Pirates being especially prone to violating the “owned space” of others means they are especially disinclined to being hemmed in by custom, law, tradition, religion, or anything else—including a stultifying and unjust regime. The pirate has the spirit to violate the owned space of the Leviathan and to own his own.
That sounds something like the revolutionary—and, human nature remaining constant, the revolutionary may yet again become a necessary actor on the political stage. But is revolution really what pirates do?
Strictly speaking, a pirate is a violent outlaw, a thief. He may be a talented, charismatic, skilled, and strong thief, but at the end of the day, he’s still a thief. We can’t help but think of the difference between courage, strength, and daring marshaled in a just cause versus private selfishness or will-to-power cruelty. BAP seems not to admit any such distinction. Yet he also seems to hold out the pirate as a sort of necessary figure, the one who will bring cleansing fire to a rotten superstructure. For BAP, a fundamental fact of nature is that the higher man is always present and his patience is not unlimited. The cycle of regimes predicts that the Leviathan will decay—indeed, BAP insists that the rot is already quite advanced—and the warrior-pirate’s time will come again.
Near the end of the book, surfing this wave of BAPian optimism, and immediately after saying he will not advise anyone how to live, BAP tells young readers to join the military and/or state security or intelligence services, learn vital skills, make lasting friendships, and wait for the opportunity to do great things for their countries. Perhaps BAP’s praise is less for piracy itself than for those virtues or qualities present in, and necessary to, the pirate—as well as those who will one day topple the Leviathan—but conspicuously lacking in bugman and suppressed by the Leviathan.
This rhetorical reversal reminds one of Machiavelli, who frequently tempers his most outrageous statements with sensible and moderate teachings; or to say better, who obscures his sensible and moderate teachings with outrageous statements that appeal to the impetuosity, zeal, and bravado of the young. Machiavelli intimates that the primary purpose of his Discourses on Livy is to prepare a certain subset of the youth to act, when the time is ripe, to overthrow a corrupt “sect” and restore ancient virtue. It is my impression that Bronze Age Mindset was written with the same intent.
* * *
That would certainly explain some of the more heated rhetoric. Here I can do no better than Leo Strauss in his Thoughts on Machiavelli (1958):
The ruthless counsels given throughout the Prince are addressed less to princes, who would hardly need them, than to “the young” who are concerned with understanding the nature of society. Those true addressees of the Prince have been brought up in teachings which, in the light of Machiavelli’s wholly new teaching, reveal themselves to be much too confident of human goodness, if not of the goodness of creation, and hence too gentle or effeminate. Just as a man who is timorous by training or nature cannot acquire courage, which is the mean between cowardice and foolhardiness, unless he drags himself in the direction of foolhardiness, so Machiavelli’s pupils must go through a process of brutalization in order to be freed from effeminacy.
Reading BAM is certainly, on one level, to undergo a “process of brutalization.” Indeed, it will be all too easy for interns to comb through the book, find offensive statements (they are legion), and pass them up the chain for their bosses to hold out for two-minute-hates. The only reason this hasn’t happened yet is because the commissars haven’t taken any notice. If and when BAP’s identity should ever be revealed, the denunciation storm will follow instantly.
The strongest and easiest objections to make to Bronze Age Mindset are that it is “racist,” “anti-Semitic,” “anti-democratic,” “misogynistic,” and “homophobic.” And indeed, BAP delights in generalizing. The fact that he generalizes in neutral or positive ways at least as much as in negative ones won’t matter. In the current year, saying good things about good groups is good; saying bad things about bad groups is good; saying anything else about anyone else is bad. And yet very little—if anything—BAP says is more outrageous than even the mid-level outrages of Machiavelli or Nietzsche, and most is quite a bit gentler than what one finds in Marx, Lenin, Mao, Sayyid Qutb, Guevara, Alinsky, Foucault, or any number of fanatics whose screeds are taught in elite universities.
* * *
Rather than anticipate and litigate each individual charge, we can save time by bumping up a level, since all of BAP’s offenses fall under one broad heading, about which there can be no question he is sincere. BAP is, as noted, relentlessly hierarchical and this emphatically extends to human beings: the highest theme of Bronze Age Mindset is a sustained diatribe against the idea of human equality.
The disclaimer that he is writing exhortation, not philosophy, allows BAP to skip past hard questions that have bedeviled the greatest thinkers and statesmen for centuries. Everyone who has wrestled with the nature of man knows the myriad ways in which human beings are unequal—in talent, intellect, virtue, character, size, strength, and so many others. The key political questions arising from this natural inequality are, first, how justly to apportion scarce goods among unequal claims to merit but equal claims to common citizenship; and, second, who gets to rule?
The latter seems easier to answer. Figures from Plato to Thomas Jefferson affirm what common sense suggests: it’s best to be governed by the best. But who, exactly, are the best? The bravest? The smartest? The strongest? Before we can even contemplate a means to facilitate (in Jefferson’s words) the “natural aristoi into the offices of government” we have to agree on who the natural aristoi are. The easiest way to answer this question would be “those most adept at ruling.” But how do we identify them? Many who self-identify as adept at ruling have no business doing so but are simply out for themselves—pirates without ships. Indeed, one problem with BAP’s effusive praise for strength and daring—untempered by corresponding gestures to wisdom and moderation—is that it encourages such men to think they deserve a high place they have not earned, may not be fit for, and which they may very well abuse.
To this I suppose BAP would reply: in bugtimes, it is folly to praise that which is easily appropriated by bugman and used to strengthen and lengthen the Leviathan’s rule. In such times, preparation for the noble and just assault on the Leviathan becomes the highest rhetorical necessity.
* * *
Perhaps. At any rate, let us stipulate for the sake of argument that BAP is right that the natural aristoi are defined not in Jefferson’s terms—“virtue and talents”—but rather more or less as Machiavelli says: strength of mind, will, or temper combined with physical prowess and endurance. There is much overlap here to be sure. But there is in Jefferson’s writings—and in the works of those who informed and inspired him—a much more serious concern for the status of morality, and for those virtues conducive to stability, prosperity, technical innovation, and the arts and sciences. Yet however we define virtue, we immediately recognize that such qualities are possessed by degrees. Some people have none; many have at least a little; and a few have a great deal. What counts as “enough” to qualify one as superior? Even if we can establish the cut-off line, how do we measure the amount? How do we convince those—there’s bound to be a lot of them—certain they have the right stuff, but who fall short according to our metric, to accept their inferior status with good grace?
But suppose all that could be figured out; we still face the problem of how to get the natural aristoi into positions of power. Lord knows, mankind has tried a variety of means: divine appointment, trials and labors, single combat, service to the state, heredity, competitive examinations, “meritocracy.” None of them has quite worked. Yet it’s fair to ask whether these modes, warts and all, are better or worse than that of the pirate, who simply takes what he wants. In politics, that’s called tyranny.
One cannot find in BAM any principled reason—or any reason at all—to reject or object to tyranny. Or to slavery, serfdom, perpetual peasantry, might-makes-right, warlordism, gangsterism, bullying, or other forms of what the religious and philosophic traditions call “injustice.” The only injustice BAP seems concerned with is the suppression of the higher by the lower. But the lower—or, let’s be more charitable than BAP and say “the common man”—will always be around. God must love the common people, Abraham Lincoln is said to have said; He made so many of them. What is their place in BAP’s moral universe? He seems to reject out of hand the existence of a common good shared by the ordinary and the exceptional, and the possibility of a regime in which the just claims of both can be, if not fully honored, at least balanced and reconciled.
Yet one can accept the most reasonable of BAP’s premises—that natural inequalities exist, that strength and courage are real virtues, and that certain men are naturally more fit to rule than others—without accepting his apparent conclusion: that (to twist Jefferson’s words) the mass of mankind has been born with saddles on their backs, and a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately.
* * *
We may phrase the central question raised by Bronze Age Mindset as this: must equality always and everywhere be the enemy of excellence, or vice versa? BAP’s answer is an emphatic “Yes!” But the American Founders didn’t think so. At the same time that they declared all men to be created equal, they also affirmed not merely the necessity but the nobility of the manly virtues. They sought to build a regime that honors strength, virtue, and justice simultaneously, recognizing some tension among those ends but seeing no inherent incompatibility. Nor can we dismiss this goal as merely aspirational on their part, as examples from George Washington to Andrew Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower show.
BAP at any rate cannot be unaware that the practical questions raised above—and others—form insurmountable barriers to any stable, just, and lasting regime based on inequality. I suspect he would say: nothing lasts, much less anything great; your silly regime based on “equality” didn’t last either and gave us bugrule to boot; better a short period of rule by the highest men than centuries of bugdom; wouldn’t you rather have some greatness rather than none? One day as a lion and all that.
BAP says that “life appears at its peak…in the military state” and calls military rule inevitable in the West. But he nowhere clarifies how it will work—how, or whether, it will be distinguishable from the exploitation of the weak by the strong. The classics no less than Machiavelli affirm that every aristocracy hitherto known either was from the beginning, or quickly devolved into, oligarchy. Indeed, I find myself wondering whether BAP would dispute what seems so plainly obvious to me: namely that an indispensable foundation—and means of perpetuation—of the contemporary world he so despises is precisely a forced and false inequality under the guise of “meritocracy.” How much different—better—would our country look, feel, and operate if all human beings were treated equally before the law? How much more freedom to excel would BAP’s higher specimens enjoy?
* * *
Which brings us back to the kids. The reason this book is important is because it speaks directly to a youthful dissatisfaction (especially among white males) with equality as propagandized and imposed in our day: a hectoring, vindictive, resentful, levelling, hypocritical equality that punishes excellence and publicly denies all difference while at the same time elevating and enriching a decadent, incompetent, and corrupt elite.
BAP would say—indeed does say—that this is where the logic of equality inherently and inevitably leads. He even goes so far as to deny that the American Founders meant a word of their rhetoric. I think this is impossible to sustain as a historical matter, but on the larger philosophical question it is possible that the founders meant every word but were still wrong. It’s fair to say, however, that BAP’s followers take for granted that the idea of equality is false. They even have a derisive term for it: “equalism.” They dismiss the language of the founders, of rights, of the American political tradition as “Enlightenment,” which—rest assured—they don’t mean as a compliment.
And I have more bad news for my fellow conservatives: the talented kids who’ve found this book aren’t listening to us. It doesn’t matter whether they aren’t listening because they found the book, or they found the book because they aren’t listening. The fact remains that all our earnest explanations of the true meaning of equality, how it comports with nature, how it can answer their dissatisfactions, and how it’s been corrupted—none of that has made a dent.
This—of course—doesn’t mean that we should abandon our understanding. Truth is truth, and if we’re right, we’re right. But it does mean that we need to acknowledge a serious rhetorical deficiency that we’ve not even begun to learn how to overcome. In the spiritual war for the hearts and minds of the disaffected youth on the right, conservatism is losing. BAPism is winning.Michael Anton is a lecturer and research fellow at Hillsdale College, a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute, and a former national security official in the Trump administration.
America’s Delusional Elite Is Done
A response to Michael Anton.
Iwant to thank Claremont for the opportunity to reply to Michael Anton’s review of my book Bronze Age Mindset. Since at least 2015—but in fact from before Trump ever came along—there has been a tremendous intellectual disturbance or ferment online, among both the right and the left, that has escaped the notice or surveillance of the mainstream media, the literary and pundit-political establishment, and all those who imagine themselves gatekeepers of public taste and opinion. Trump’s campaign beginning in 2015 brought this countercultural phenomenon to view of the authorities, who have been struggling to understand it and contain it ever since.
What are the “crazy Pepe frog people” online all about? The terms “altright” and “altleft” have been designed as catch-all categories to describe what is going on, but they’re misleading. There have been a few inadequate attempts to understand this phenomenon before Anton’s article: for example Angela Nagle’s book Kill All Normies, or a few articles by lesser-known journalists. But Anton’s review of my book is the first big attempt, as far as I’m aware, to really try to understand what’s going on from a sympathetic point of view; which is to say, non-polemically and without the ulterior intention of getting us censored or of bringing the weight of the national security establishment on our backs. I think Anton, whatever our disagreements—and they seem to be considerable—must be praised for realizing that the phenomenon in question isn’t going away and cannot simply be suppressed, but must be understood.
What you are witnessing, I would like to tell the readers of Claremont, is the unraveling of the postwar American regime—or what is mendaciously called by its toadies the “liberal world order”—in a way that is far more thorough than the disturbances of the 1960’s, and with consequences that will be far more dire.
The “Altright”: What Is Really Going On?
Mike Anton’s review is like crisp mountain air and a respite from the atmosphere of hysteria and denunciation that dominates the polite and educated sectors of American society since 2015. In academia, where the consideration of ideas, of unusual points of view, of political matters, is supposed to proceed objectively and by calm reason, the hysteria is in fact much more intense than in American society at large. This is true even among Mike Anton’s and Claremont’s own “sect,” that of the Straussians, which were supposed to be an exception.
Many I’ve met who call themselves Straussians were reduced to sputtering indignation by the arrival of Trump, incomprehension of what was going on, and desperation that the grift industry that has grown around such people as Bill Kristol was going to come to an end. Many of the younger Straussians are fanatical believers in the public religion of the regime—they’ve internalized “antiracism,” hysteria about “anti-Semitism,” and similar taboos—and their own professors are scared to tell them otherwise even in private. They are regime toadies and kapos, much like the journalists attacking me; or in the case of the older professors, they are simply scared into silence—often shamefully, and failing to make use of their tenure.
It is a great credit to Anton and to Claremont that they have the courage to try to understand this countercultural moment in a spirit of objective consideration, not emotional denunciation.
If I want to emphasize one thing here in my response: I must correct the impression Anton gives in his review—flattering to myself though it may be—that Bronze Age Pervert is the engine of the online disturbances that have been loosely called the “altright” since 2015. In some sense I feel bad because my book has made it easy for Anton and for the audience of Claremont, or otherwise for mainstream and traditional conservatives, to try to cordon off this phenomenon into one that is easier for them to understand: that of “right wing nihilism,” or the “return of Nietzscheanism.”
Nietzsche, maybe more than Marx, is the big bogeyman of the traditional conservative and classical liberal: Nietzsche’s evil influence, the return of “neopaganism,” of “right wing atheism,” is said by some, including Allan Bloom, to be the driving thought even of the modern new left. So here then, you may think, finally is a chance to confront an old enemy that has returned unmasked.
The outrageous Bronze Age Pervert may not be a Nazi, but he’s an unapologetic “German nihilist” of the old kind, and the internet has given him free hand to corrupt the youth. Who knew that if you merely represent the thought of Nietzsche or Schopenhauer in a fun way it would find such an audience? Some things, it seems, are always green.
You could be led to think so, and indeed there is much in my book that exists entirely within that tradition—but you would be wrong. The phenomenon you fear would have happened, and would continue one way or another, with or without me. It is important to understand what it is, something Anton only just touches on in his review.
The “altright” doesn’t exist and has nothing to do with the media representations of it—really attempts to redefine it and control it—as a form of “white nationalism,” “skinheads,” the various public figures they’ve tried to anoint as its leaders (only to make them ridiculous and tear them down), or even—and here is what is crucial to understand—just “white males” or the just “right wing.” The same phenomenon is taking place on the left, and there is much more crossover than older people realize: there is much more involvement also by nonwhite youth and particularly by Latino, Asian, and multiracial youth in this phenomenon than people want to admit. I’m not saying this to run away from a charge of “racism,” but to try to show you that you can’t, and won’t be able to, contain what is happening now by typecasting it as an “angry young white male” thing. That is wishful thinking on your part, if you believe it.
What is going on now is a widespread rejection of the ruling authorities and their beliefs, on the part primarily, but not only, of the American youth at large. This is similar to the rejection of communism by dissidents and youth in the Soviet bloc in the 1970’s and 80’s, and driven by similar causes.
Since 2013 at least, an entire social biome of communication has emerged online outside the control and view of authorities—a space where youth developed a highly individual form of visual communication in images and memes that evolve upon each other, and that present rather high barriers of entry to outsiders. Readers of Claremont must understand: my book is only one part of this “biome” that has surfaced to public view. The reach of this online counterculture is far beyond any one political or ethnic group, but has spread into youth pop culture at large by now.
Insofar as my book is representative of this phenomenon, it is only in the sense that unvarnished, unedited Nietzscheanism, “right wing nihilism,” has been one of the opinions absolutely forbidden by the postwar liberal world order. It has resurfaced in the space of freedom provided recently by the internet, and has spread there with some speed, the way it always will when it is not repressed. But it is hardly the only view present in this world, or even the dominant view. Nor, as I keep repeating, is this phenomenon—I lack a better word to call it—reducible to any view or set of views, but it represents rather a youth counterculture that has rejected the controlled, staged, edited and therefore mendacious form of public discourse that dominates America and the West right now.
Those among you who chose Trump because at least here was a man who wasn’t a marionette stuffed full of consultant-approved public relations talking points should be able to sympathize. It is the same, but on a much bigger scale.
Eliminationism and Capitulationism
The failure of the conservative establishment to address the insanity of the new left is the chief negative cause of the phenomenon or movement in question. The new left has alienated large swathes of younger men especially who otherwise would have been sympathetic to its causes. Many voted for Obama and were very much of the “green” faction for example. They weren’t doing so because they were antifa or communists or radicals—in temperament, background, profession, many would have probably been young Republicans before George W. Bush—but did so because the Republican party of the time, the party of Romney and Paul Ryan, was bankrupt in ideas and spirit and had nothing to offer. Obama was promising accountability for the extremely destructive financial crisis of 2008 and for the Iraq War before that. But he didn’t deliver; he became instead a protector of a corrupt ruling class, and a racial demagogue.
The anti-male and anti-White rhetoric of the new left is extreme. The racial attacks on whites in particular approaches exterminationist propaganda seen only in, e.g., the Hutu against the Tutsi in 1990’s Rwanda.
For anyone who doubts this, consider the following few examples, which are far from complete:
A columnist for the Huffington Post, a major leftist publication, wrote an article titled “Towards a Concept of White Wounding,” apparently calling for racial violence.
The New York Times hired a columnist who had repeated vulgar racial attacks on whites, calling “whiteness” “awful,” whites “only fit to live underground like groveling goblins,” expressed great joy at “being cruel to old white men,” and declared that whites will be “extinct soon.” The Paper of Record stood by her when these attacks were exposed, and only quietly let her go recently when she supported a boycott against her own employer.
Symone Sanders, currently a senior adviser to Joe Biden and previously the national press secretary for Bernie Sanders, mocked a disabled white teenager who was tortured on camera in 2017 by a black mob screaming “Fuck Trump! Fuck white people!” and otherwise called cases of antiwhite political violence “a protest.”
The New York Times—again, hardly an unknown blog—published an opinion column by Michelle Goldberg with the eliminationist title “We Can Replace Them,” ostensibly against “white nationalism,” but in fact directed against a demographic white majority as such, which the author seeks to replace with nonwhites for what she imagines to be political advantage.
Kevin Drum at Mother Jones, a major organ of the Left that pushes the security establishment’s Russia Hoax conspiracy theories, called this summer for “a literal or figurative war” on whites and a “race war” that the DNC must be willing to get “Lincolnesque” about.
Major leftist and establishment media such as Newsweek publish cover stories titled “Is Your Baby Racist”; major publishers promote books titled White Fragility, or The Dying of Whiteness, and CNN—not white nationalist outlets—runs graphics on “The Vanishing White American.”
Again, all this is par for the course these days; as everyone knows, state-funded universities routinely hold “white privilege” seminars and orientation sessions, promoting a concept the plain meaning of which is to dispossess people of property and civil rights based on their biology.
This “Interahamwe Left” should have been opposed by mainstream conservatives and even classical liberals, and it is indeed possible to oppose this vicious and exterminationist hatred on purely liberal and racially egalitarian grounds. But this didn’t happen, which puts the lie to the claims that traditional conservatives care about equality under the law or about any of the ideals they claim to espouse. Instead, we see the absurd phenomenon of conservatives who joined in this hatred.
National Review of all places has repeatedly published eliminationist rhetoric, the most notable example being Kevin Williamson’s notorious piece arguing quite plainly for an end to the white working class. Jonah Goldberg and Bill Kristol are both on record either objecting, in far leftist style, to the concept of “whiteness,” or otherwise arguing for its demographic replacement. Marco Rubio’s top advisors have called for the same. In the summer of 2015, long before there was any significant “altright” “Pepe” antisemitism or “trolling” of neocons, Jennifer Rubin, Max Boot, and Bill Kristol, all supposedly “on the right,” engaged in vile racial language—“rednecks,” etc.—to describe Trump supporters. Little remembered is John McCain slandering his own constituents in Arizona, in the most vulgar terms, which preceded Trump’s rhetorical reprisals.
Whether out of loyalty to the generally leftist social sphere in which the conservative intellectual establishment lives, or out of simple fear, mainstream and traditional conservatives have completely discredited themselves by failing to oppose the violent racial hatred and other forms of unprecedented insanity coming from the new left.
I haven’t even yet touched the conservative powerlessness when it came to stopping the destruction of the family; or the new push for the sexualization and grooming of children on behalf of transsexualism and other supposed “sexual identities.” This one crucial matter extends the appeal of the “frog people” far beyond that of any one racial or ethnic group.
Conservatives pretend to be able to recruit Latinos to their cause with the degraded ideology of Jack Kemp but Latinos see David French call forced “drag queen” visits for schoolchildren “part of free life,” and want nothing to do with it. We are far better at recruiting Latinos, and as the example of Bolsonaro among many others shows, this new, energetic and popular form of the right is a Latino movement, and it is the future.
If we listen to the rhetoric of the left, we can only guess that further restrictions of speech and life, both de facto and de jure, are coming. What is the conservative plan to deal with any of this? The “youth”—but not only the youth, and certainly not only the white youth, although they are the most affected—has seen only capitulation from the conservative establishment, or otherwise outright collaboration. What vision of life do mainstream conservatives have to offer?
Many seem to think that success for example in a white collar job is the key to solving this problem of discontent with the new American regime. But strangely enough today it is the large corporations, Big Tech, high finance and other white collar institutions that promote the most restrictive and aggressive leftism. Conservative ideology, especially that pushed by the incompetent but much-hyped Paul Ryan, rather slavishly seems to serve and support the large monopolies that promote mass immigration, mass surveillance, and the most bizarre type of speech restrictions, not only on its own employees, but now on American society at large. Many are unapologetically censoring Americans and otherwise abusing their civil rights on behalf of foreign powers—Russia, however, generally not being one of these.
And so to sum up the reasons “this frog thing” is going on: because of the smothering restrictions on speech and life, because of absurd, violent and eliminationist rhetoric, many are reasonably reacting and seeking for guidance outside a conservatism that fails to offer any meaningful opposition. This explains in large part the chief negative cause of the phenomenon Anton is trying to explain.
The Internet itself, in providing a space for thought and speech outside the tightly controlled and fake media and academic machine, has provided the positive cause. These thoughts and words extend well beyond “Bronze Age Pervert” or my book, and would exist regardless.
But Anton chose to review this counterculture in the context of my book. And insofar as he addresses the content of my book, and my intention, I find it to be in large part a good and fair review.
If I would have emphasized anything else to people who had never heard of my book, it is that it deals with a large range of topics, from history to literature to my own personal experiences. It is a book written primarily for fun and entertainment: it’s not a philosophical treatise, and it’s not a political manifesto. I wrote it in a mood of revelry and laughter, these being the sentiments principally to be found also in the phenomenon of dissent that Anton seeks to understand.
“Americanism” is Long Dead
The media adopts humorlessness as a strategy and pretends to see policy proposals when we engage in fun and trolling—you have doubtless seen this many times when they misrepresent Trump’s humor. They distort what is primarily a movement of irreverence and satire, and if there’s anything I wish to add to Anton’s review of my book proper, it is this: it is a book of laughter.
Now it is true that both Nietzsche and Machiavelli—who Anton states (correctly) are big inspirations for my book—said that the best philosophy should be able to be comedy and laughter as well. But I think I’ve stated my ideas there in the way I want them to appear, and don’t want to elaborate much more on them as such. I will add only that Nietzsche says somewhere that it is the duty of a philosopher to promote precisely those virtues or tendencies of spirit that are most lacking in one’s own time, and even to exaggerate them in the reader, much like a pianist will practice on a piano with heavier-than-normal keys. Of course to be able to do this, you have to have the courage to stand against the religion of the time, which almost no one ever does.
The mention of the religion of our time, which one might think is the unquestioned and absolute worship of human equality, brings me to Anton’s challenge at the end of his review: Anton rightly says that in calling my own book an exhortation and not philosophy, I give myself a pass from dealing with the timeless questions of the best regime; of how honors, goods, and offices are to be apportioned under the best government.
If I read him right, he seems to think that the American regime is the best, especially that conceived by the Founders. He may or may not be right, but he should admit that this form of government would today be called white supremacism or white nationalism, as would Lincoln’s later revision of it, as would indeed the America of FDR and Truman, not to speak of Theodore Roosevelt. Regardless, even the reestablishment of the America of the 1970’s or 80’s is less likely than conservative intellectuals think.
The problem Anton or other conservatives must face isn’t that my audience, or the “youth” in question doesn’t accept the principles of the American Founding, but that the left and thereby a large part of the establishment rejected these principles long ago. The left has been saying exactly what they plan to do for decades. They want to destroy your country, instill a death wish in the white population, set majorities against market-dominant minorities, atomize everyone: the British plan in Malaysia and a few other places but now applied domestically within a country.
But the conservatives didn’t do anything, or anything effective, to counter the left—this is the problem. Many conservatives would rather blame people who point out the left’s explicit intentions. If Hillary Clinton says that Merkel is her role model a year after Merkel made the youth of Germany a minority in their own country, and if we point this out and support any candidate who might prevent this unprecedented madness, it is mainstream conservatives who call us Nazis and worse simply for pointing out the left’s stated goals.
I would be ready to concede that I wouldn’t have an audience, or a much smaller one, if this was the America of the Founding or even that of the 1980’s. Your problem isn’t my audience, but that your analysis and words and ideas are so far from reality that you don’t even see the reasons why I have this audience in the first place.
The left completely abandoned Americanism in the 1960’s; at this point they’ve also abandoned biological reality. Vitalism is all that is left against their demented biological Leninism. Encouraging health, normality, and physical nobility against their celebration of deformity, obesity, and sexual catamitism must be one of the basic functions of conservatism in our time. It is one of the reasons my message is powerful among many who are fed up with the left’s gospel of wretchedness: what is your plan to take that on?
There is a point at which, if you believe in the reality of nature, you must be ready to talk about actual nature as it exists in the world and not just “Nature” as a safe abstraction.
If indeed the religion of our time is the belief in unquestioned human equality, the revolution in the biological sciences, genetics, and population genetics currently taking place will soon completely cut off its legs, even in public. In large part this has already happened, and no one believes in any real biological human equality any longer.
I’m aware that the doctrine Anton refers to, that of the Founders or even of classical liberalism, doesn’t promote an idea of absolute biological human equality, or also “equality of outcome.” But the ideology of the present regime does…in rhetoric if not in practice, and claims that any outcome that leads to group stratification is not organic but must be the result of convoluted conspiracies (“white privilege”). This puts Anton and the classical liberal in a difficult position.
It appears that the previous order was based not just on abstract ideas about rights or justice, but on a very old and firm and very Anglo culture of fair play. And on an agreement that it was not the role of the ruling class to mobilize and demagogue the lower classes against the middle. That’s all gone now, so what is the lover of the Founders’ vision to do?
We are now faced with a left that has embraced a dialectic of racial and class destruction in a context where belief in absolute human equality is professed at the same time that no one believes in it anymore. I don’t see how the vision of the Founders, widely dismissed as white nationalism even by “conservatives” when presented with its reality, has more political potential in our situation than Bronze Age perversion would.
Reality, Not Regime Change, Is the Point
In any case, I find Anton’s demand that I engage in a debate about the rightness or wrongness of the ideas behind the American Founding rather unfair and, for the reasons stated above, somewhat besides the point. If my book doesn’t speak about forms of government it is because that’s not its intention, nor my aim right now.
When Andrei Sakharov or Solzhenitsyn were dissidents against the Soviet regime, when other dissidents wrote their samizdat, would it have been fair to ask them for a complete and total accounting of their vision of the best form of government? The opposition to Soviet tyranny sought regime change, and it would have been unfair and even senseless to demand of them a precise accounting of, say, their vision of what a post-Soviet division of powers or notion of rights might look like. Dissent against the Soviet system united liberals, reactionaries, the religious, the secular, monarchists, ethnonationalists, cosmopolitans, Russians, Latvians, Bashkirs, and any other things besides. They all had one immediate aim.
The purpose of my book is to provide samizdat in the tradition of what Solzhenitsyn was doing in the Soviet Union and to bring into view, unapologetically, the reality of nature that is denied by our regime; a reality that it seeks to repress, increasingly with coercion and violence.
If you fail to see that you live in the Soviet Union of the 1970’s or 1980’s, or rather something slightly even more repressive than the Eastern Bloc of that time, it may be you don’t know about the threats, financial ruin, and mob violence that Trump supporters and anyone really who steps out of line has been subject to since at least 2016—but actually since some time before that.
To give just one egregious example, there is a group, Hamilton 68, that is a plain front for the American security state establishment, dedicated to calling Americans who criticize the state of things Russian agents, and to forcing their identities to be revealed so as to subject them to violent harassment and physical attacks. This is the same function that the figure of the sycophant had in ancient Greece. These attacks are carried out by so-called “antifa,” but what in fact appears to be the establishment’s paramilitary force—the last Democrat vice presidential candidate’s son was a violent member (an impossibility as a “coincidence” for anyone remotely familiar with how Washington DC works)—abetted by police “stand-downs,” as at San Jose in 2016.
This kind of state-supported mob violence is beyond what existed in say, the Czechoslovakia, Poland or Yugoslavia of the 1980’s. But it is supported even by major Republican Senators like Marco Rubio, who have openly excused antifa mob violence for political purposes. Mitt Romney has romanticized them as well. This doesn’t even begin to cover the financial ruin that regime critics face which, again, exceeds the punishment meted out to average dissidents in the Eastern Bloc by the 1980’s, both in frequency and intensity.
The people targeted by Hamilton 68, CNN, and similar “private” organs for this kind of vigilante mob violence and harassment aren’t just “skinheads,” but include, e.g., grandmothers from Florida who happened to support Trump on Facebook in 2016.
It is, I repeat, the tyranny of our time that my book seeks to oppose, and it is written in the spirit of Solzhenitsyn, one of my heroes, who stood against a similar tyranny.
My response to Anton’s challenge regarding the best regime is that my book isn’t intended to provide a complete elaboration of this alternative or a philosophical treatise regarding the best form of government. I would indeed be happy with a state of things where that frank discussion could be carried out, even in private. That isn’t the America or the West of today.