Ruins of the Roman Forum (Flickr)

Karl Marx famously wrote that all history repeats itself—first as tragedy, then as farce. So it has proven with the political movements inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche. Weimar Germany went through a Nietzschean-inflected “Conservative Revolution” in the 1910s and ‘20s, which contributed to the tragedy about to occur there and throughout Europe. Now the United States seems to be going through a cheap and silly version of vulgar Nietzscheanism: Thus Spake Zarathustra delivered via Dr. Oz-style pitches for flaxseed and tinfoil-hat conspiracy theories. What has been dubbed the American “Nietzschean right”—or, as John Ganz calls it, the rise of the “super-duper man”—has generated a fair amount of attention. It is fast becoming the third wheel of an American hard Right (the other two wheels: “national conservativism” and “post-liberalism”). It’s easy to dismiss the Nietzschean Right as nothing more than an attempt to jazz up resentment toward liberals with a few phrases from The Quotable Nietzsche. And no doubt a lot of it is just that. But Nietzschean Rightists shouldn’t be dismissed without further inspection. Despite their outrageous and often fatuous rhetoric, they have managed to gain a hearing among some fortunate Americans eager to hear that the biggest problem in the country is a lack of reverence for natural winners.

Without a doubt the most influential figure on this Nietzschean Right is the writer who calls himself Bronze Age Pervert. His real name is Costin Alamariu. A lot of what has been written about Alamariu’s past is speculative or reconstructed, since, like Batman, he hasn’t officially acknowledged his double life. By most accounts, Alamariu is from a comfortable and undistinguished middle-class background, and he has never completely forgiven the world for this embarrassment. He attended a series of Ivy League schools, where his fellow students and mentors have described him as bright and creative, but also fixated on hierarchy and self-consciously attention-seeking to the point of awkwardness. After completing a PhD in political philosophy at Yale in 2015, Alamariu took a few bored stabs at an academic career while writing for far-right outlets. By 2018, he had mostly disappeared from public view.

“BAP,” as he’s often called, began gaining notoriety with the publication of Bronze Age Mindset in 2018. Here the reader finds what would become Alamariu’s signature mix of flowery bombast and jokes about women’s genitals. It was not clear how much of Bronze Age Mindset was meant to be taken seriously, how much flippantly, and by whom. Alamariu’s writing is deeply influenced by the work of Leo Strauss, and especially by Strauss’s insistence that many important thinkers have had an “exoteric” philosophy for the people and a more sincere “esoteric” philosophy for their elite readers. One of the most dramatic examples was Strauss’s Socratic argument that, contra conservative doctrine, our political convictions are in fact questionable and always open to contestation. If most people knew this, it might lead to the nihilistic consequence of everyone everywhere believing that everything is permitted. This is why in the public square philosophers must preach an ideal of eternal justice and order, while, when speaking among themselves, they should have great liberty to discover or—for Nietzscheans—invent new value systems. This idea of a secret lesson available only to the highly educated, while the mob has to make do with shibboleths, has always enticed a certain kind of reader who imagines himself (it’s usually a man) a natural aristocrat. Intellectual vanity leads such readers to project onto various canonical philosophers secret lessons that somehow all lead to the conclusion that people like the readers themselves should be in charge.
 

The substance of Bronze Age Mindset is a foamy mixture of vitalism, Nietzschean pomp, tips on bodybuilding, travel anecdotes, and shock-jock racism and misogyny. As Ganz points out, a lot of the desperately attention-seeking language is probably intended to provoke easily offended liberals into condemning BAP, thereby increasing his appeal amongst the easily placated crowd who think “wokeness” is the biggest single threat to Western civilization. A lot of Bronze Age Mindset consists of rants about hookers, booze, and blue-collar tourism, simultaneously sneering at these things as emblematic of modern decline and admiring them as a tonic reaction to the soft conformism of WASP-y liberals. From BAP’s perspective, liberal civilization has its nose buried so deep in the dirt it can survive most signs of decline by ignoring them. Only the most debased excesses succeed in alerting us to the rot.

 

BAP is not really a conservative or even a reactionary. In fact, he despises conservatives almost as much as he detests the Left.

Many of the disagreements between the Left and Right center on whether ordinary people are capable of thinking for themselves and fully participating in self-government. The Left usually thinks they are (though some technocratic liberals have doubts); much of the Right thinks that ordinary people are better off with what Burke called “all the pleasing illusions” that make their subordination easier to endure. BAP’s claim that the “vermin” just need laws to obey while the elite may do as they wish may also remind discerning readers of Joseph De Maistre’s insistence that ordinary people should treat authority as “dogma.” But unlike Burke or De Maistre, BAP is not really a conservative or even a reactionary. In fact, he despises conservatives almost as much as he detests the Left.

Every author on the hard right has their own pet reasons for why “conservatism is no longer enough.” For BAP, normie conservatives are basically like the foils in Plato’s dialogues, defending conventional wisdom. BAP follows Strauss in thinking that appeals to custom, tradition, and common sense will never serve the hard Right in the long run. For BAP, what G. K. Chesterton called the “democracy of the dead” and Burke described as the contract between the “living, the dead, and those yet unborn” is still far too democratic and left wing. He finds it “ridiculous to hear these ‘conservatives’ yap on about honor, or glory, or sacrifice, or any of this garbage. The respect in all institutions and all leadership classes and all traditional authority has already been lost long ago, and for good reason.” Here, too, BAP follows the example of Nietzsche, who wrote in The Gay Science that he wanted to “conserve nothing, neither do we want to return to any past periods, we are not by any means ‘liberal’…. [W]e think about the necessity for new orders, also for a new slavery—for every strengthening and enhancement of the human type also involves a new kind of enslavement.”

But if BAP isn’t a conservative, then what is he? BAP is a fascist thinker, but not the kind of fascist who endorses populist ultra-nationalism. He isn’t opposed to the strategic use of populism, of course. At the end of Bronze Age Mindset, he argues that his followers should strategically align with populist movements like Trumpism and Orbanism because if “Ann Coulter or Pat Buchanan were in charge, you would get 99 percent of what you want. Therefore use them as models to solve the problems that face you, and don’t scare the people with crazy talk if you want to move things politically. Let the normies have their normal lives, and paint our enemies as the crazies…which they are…and as the corrupt vermin they are. If you haven’t compromised yourself go into political life maybe, and use Trump as a model for success.”

But BAP’s ideal society would dispense with such pragmatic concessions to the rabble. BAP is better understood as a kind of ultra-fascist of the Julius Evola stripe: someone for whom classical fascism is too democratic, too populist, and too vulgar. BAP’s fascists would be philosopher tyrants who both oppress and exploit the common people as need be. This outlook was already clear in his more guarded Yale dissertation—recently published as Selective Breeding and the Birth of Philosophy—which stressed how pre-philosophical societies in Greece advanced only after being conquered by a warrior race that bred a new aristocracy. The basics of BAP’s politics are nicely summarized, with a kind of Bronze Age English, in his 2021 essay “Communittar Fools”:

I never thought problem of modernity or problem of man in general is primarily economic or will ever have economic solution. But I will say brief: that America or the West is “hypercapitalist” is one of the most absurd claims floating around now. I don’t want to enter these debates very much because it would make me take, however temporarily, the side of “classical liberals.” I don’t believe in liberalism of whatever kind because it is, as Nietzsche say, itself a path to the herd-animalization of man. I believe in Fascism or “something worse” and I can say so unambiguously because, unlike others, I have given up long ago all hope of being part of the respectable world or winning a respectable audience. I have said for a long time that I believe in rule by a military caste of men who would be able to guide society toward a morality of eugenics. I am indifferent to economics as long as economic activity is subordinate to the interest of this caste and their project.

Imagining how his fascism-or-something-worse worldview would shock liberals, and then bragging about his indifference to that shock is part of BAP’s schtick: here is someone who doesn’t secretly crave the approval or even the attention of the “bugmen,” someone immune to the seductions of the “respectable world.”

It is important for liberals to recognize the staunchly “aristocratic radicalism” in Nietzsche’s work and understand his appeal to the hard Right. Ronald Beiner has done excellent work on this legacy in books like Dangerous Minds: Nietzsche, Heidegger and the Return of the Far Right. But BAP’s work lacks everything that made Nietzsche’s thinking interesting: its deep ruminations on human psychology; its disdain for nationalism and endorsement of being a “good European”; above all, Nietzsche’s recognition that his own contest with Christianity and its secular egalitarian offshoots, liberalism and socialism, required him to treat them as worthy opponents. Nietzsche may have believed that Christianity and post-Christian modernity had corroded the “pathos of distance” and aristocratic “master moralities” needed for any deep culture, but he also believed that Christianity had enriched the human soul by turning it inward, leading to new kinds of conscience and emotional depth. For Nietzsche, a decadent like Rousseau was only possible in a post-Christian society, but so too was a Dostoevsky. This is why Nietzsche’s projected ideal wasn’t an uber-bro Achilles, but a kind of “Caesar with the soul of Christ.”

BAP’s fascists would be philosopher tyrants who both oppress and exploit the common people as need be.

BAP’s ideas are never this interesting or complex. He may like to play with the conceit of the esoteric-versus-exoteric. But far from conveying secret codes available to different audiences, his jarring rhetorical turns all serve a one-dimensional ideology. In a cynical mood, BAP will insist that there are no real revolutions, only replacements of one aristocracy by another. This of course is intended to underscore the stupid futility of the Left’s struggle for equality and freedom. But this rhetoric tends to undermine BAP’s pose as a heroic antagonist of the oppressive herd that seeks to smother every spark of aristocracy. It isn’t clear whether he is oblivious of this contradiction or just indifferent to it. Is the Left pathetic and impotent, or is it ruthlessly totalitarian? From one sentence to another, BAP can’t make up his mind.

BAP also breaks from Nietzsche in arguing that the “problem for man as for other animal [sic] isn’t stress or suffering, but the feeling that one can’t escape: the despair and panic of exhaustion and entrapment.” This ignores Nietzsche’s most mortifying lesson that the major problem of life is indeed a peculiar kind of suffering: the all-too-human fear that our pain is stupid and meaningless; it is this fear that becomes unendurable and leads us to invest our struggles with meaning. By reducing one of Nietzsche’s deepest thoughts about the universal human yearning for meaning to yet another lesson on the aristocratic soul’s need to expand and break boundaries, BAP loses the residual awareness of others that made Nietzsche’s writing, at its best, something deeper than ideology.

In fact, BAPs writing rarely demonstrates any of Nietzsche’s psychological acuity; instead, it casually dismisses the mass of humankind as vermin, yeast, bugs, etc. These tedious tirades ignore Nietzsche’s insistence that, at his most noble, the superior man is too far above the herd to bother hating it. The irony is that by constantly referring to the swinish multitude and comparing himself to them, BAPs writing seems to seethe with the kind of ressentiment that Nietzsche regarded as a deadly intellectual vice. In this case it’s the ressentiment of a man who regards himself as superior and wishes to be recognized as such, but despises anyone who could actually affirm his superiority. This comes through most clearly in BAP’s weird little sermons on friendship, in which he alternates between yearning for the “self-destruction” of the “heaps of biological refuse” that constitute most of humanity and asking why no one wants to be his friend—before concluding ruefully that none is worthy of that honor. The sense conveyed in these passages is less Dionysian revelry than late-night drunken pity party. BAP sometimes insists on the need to be cruel to one’s self, and not just to others, because it is only through cruelty to one’s illusions and superficial joys that a kind of will-to-truth is demonstrated. But how much self-cruelty is really entailed in declaring yourself a born aristocrat, both intellectually and physically superior to the common run of men?

When BAP claims that Christianity suppressed the “natural spirit of man, the innate reverence of man for the magnificence inside animals and inside things. In the end, nothing can be trusted, that you can’t see and feel yourself,” this represents not an ennobling expansion of consciousness but a shrinking of the self down to its immediate sensations and impulses. So reduced, the aristocratic soul is supposed to think and will only one thing. “Single minded purity of purpose is true manliness,” BAP writes. The external world, and all others in it, disappears in a blinding fog of manic self-regard.

The thing one notices most about reading BAP’s writing is just how quickly it becomes stale. It feels less like a penetrating attack on liberal pieties à la Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals or Carl Schmitt’s Political Theology than like listening to a late-2000s Eminem album like Relapse: an aging troll cheerfully declaring he is the GOAT and no one can touch him while also offering a wretched cri de coeur about the pain and isolation within. It’s hard to understand how anyone can think of BAP as a role model, but an alarming number of young would-be fascists apparently do.

The moral ugliness of the hard Right, as represented by the Bronze Age Pervert, predictably translates into an awful aesthetics: grandiose, self-indulgent, and monotonous; more fool’s gold than bronze. That shouldn’t surprise us. Justice makes a society beautiful by giving to the human will what a lust for power never can: a sense of creating a shared world together. We forget this at our peril.

In Thucydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War there is a classic scene usually read as an expression of the “might makes right” outlook. The Athenian delegation declares that the “strong do as they will, and the weak suffer what they must.” The Athenians, thinking themselves strong, meant this more as a boast than a lament. But Athens was punished for its hubris—defeated in battle and then occupied by its enemies. So in the twentieth century fascist regimes insisted that democracies, ruled by decadent fat cats and populated by the genetically impure, could never resist them. Then the fascists, like the Athenians before them, were punished for their hubris, as the rest of the world closed ranks to defeat them. By their own measure of success, the champions of “might makes right” have turned out to be history’s losers. It turns out, to (only) their surprise, that cruelty is no proof of strength.

Matt McManus is a lecturer in political science at the University of Michigan and the author of The Rise of Post-Modern Conservatism and the forthcoming The Political Right and Inequality.

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