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.