Reading the "Bronze Age Pervert" Phenomenon
“Not every exasperated petty bourgeois could have become Hitler, but a particle of Hitler is lodged in every exasperated petty bourgeois.” — Leon Trotsky
There’s been a sudden efflorescence of critical writing about the internet personality known as Bronze Age Pervert. In The Daily Beast, Jack Butler, an editor at the National Review Online, has an op-ed entitled “How ‘Bronze Age Pervert’ Seduced Right-Wing Thought Leaders.” The same author has an article in his own publication calling for conservatives to reject Bronze Age Pervert’s thought. In Tablet, Blake Smith has a piece on the doctoral dissertation of “BAP. ” I’m given to understand that Mr. Smith is not such a big fan of my writing, but I’m obliged to concede he has made a competent and fairly interesting contribution here.
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If you are not familiar, Bronze Age Pervert is the online moniker and alter ego of Costin Alamariu, a former Yale PhD student of Romanian extraction. As “BAP,” Alamariu is the author of Bronze Age Mindset, his self-published “exhortation” of 2018. Modeling himself on Nietzsche, the book is part manifesto, part rant, part prophecy: a hallucinatory, paranoid, campy, self-parodic jeremiad denouncing the rule of inferior “bug men” that make up the vast run of humanity and an urging the hidden master race to reassert its natural will-to-power to topple this reign of stultifying, decadent mediocrity. Here is a sample:
The star of Nemesis is sure to return, and it must already be burning inside some of you.In the Bronze Age men had life and force, and I already see, far on the horizon of our world, but the glimmer is surely there—may it not be a mirage!—I see this spirit returning surely in our time. Piratical bands and brotherhoods will take to the seas, and not just to the seas. The enemies of Western man and the enemies of beauty are to learn just what was meant by a piratical race, a nest of pirates like the Chinese thought of the Dutch on first meeting them. I want to prepare you to receive this old spirit—old spirits are moving, from behind the reeds… the silhouette shimmers against a river in late summer, and I see already men who know how to honor such uncanny old friends.
This would seem to easy enough to dismiss as the ravings of a crank, just as likely as the product of actual madness, if it had not made real inroads into the power centers of the American right. Nate Hochman, National Review writer and self-appointed spokesman for the “New Right”, told the New York Times that “every junior staffer in the Trump administration read Bronze Age Mindset.” Michael Anton, a former member of the Trump administration and associate of the Claremont Institute think tank, wrote a friendly critique of Bronze Age Mindset for The Claremont Review of Books. “In the spiritual war for the disaffected youth on the right, conservatism is losing. BAPism is winning,” he ominously warned. One of the hosts of the Red Scare podcast declared her adoration of the book, labeling BAP a “genius.” For a time, Bronze Age Mindset was even the third-ranked book in the “Ancient Greek History” category on Amazon.
Suffice it to say, “BAPism” is simply fascism, repackaged and re-marketed. And perhaps not even fascism, but Nazism. Its combination of biological racism, antisemitism, misogyny, celebration of male vitality, embrace of the aesthetics of the brotherhood of combat, conquest and war, demand for "living space,” as well its fusion of bombastic elitism and vulgar populism are unmistakable. It is not even particularly coy or evasive on this account. To his credit, Smith acknowledges this in his piece, calling Bronze Age Mindset “fascistic” and comparing “its program of eugenics” to “the biopolitics of the Third Reich.”
For Smith, BAP’s book is the product of a sophisticated rhetorical strategy, drawn from Almariu’s study of the political philosopher Leo Strauss. The central preoccupation of Strauss’s thought is the protection of a self-selected intellectual elite within a political order. According to Strauss, great thinkers must disguise their beliefs, appearing outwardly to endorse the mores of their age, while secretly communicating esoteric dangerous truths to initiates trained to understand then. With this tactic, the philosophical elite is able to secure a safe space for free thought in the midst of uncomprehending masses who would otherwise persecute them. The model here is Plato, who, learning lesson of his master Socrates’ fate at the hands of an angry polis, practiced a degree of prudence and accommodation to the wishes of the demos. Protected in this fashion, they are also able to subtly guide the rulers of the society to govern wisely and avoid self-destructive impulses. But, as Smith describes, Strauss also identified another strategy, taken up Nietzsche and articulated in Alamariu’s dissertation:
In contrast to Plato’s failed strategy of accommodation, Nietzsche implied that “free spirits” should adopt the pose not of the orator or preacher who address the multitude, but rather of the fool who scorns it. They should adopt wild, perverse rhetorical disguises to incite uncomprehending shock among the many—and thought among the few. The outlandish statements, self-contradictions, and incessant, boorish humor that Nietzsche used in his writing, Strauss insisted, conceal the depths of his thinking from all but the free spirits. Moreover, they are also intended to have an effect on a class of readers sensitive enough to be enlivened by such prose, but not insightful enough for philosophy. This intermediary human type was described by Strauss as the “gentlemen,” and by Alamariu as “aristocrats.”
In a striking move, Smith compares Alamariu’s move of popularization—vulgarization, really—to the work of Strauss’s student Allan Bloom, whose Closing of the American was a massive hit in the early 1990s. But Alamariu, who shares Bloom’s homoerotics and seductive conception of pedagogy, takes things a step beyond:
Alamariu continues his internal critique of Straussian tradition, and his frank assessment of its failures, by insisting that Bloom, in his attempts to seduce students and readers into the philosophical life, missed an essential point. The “type” of the philosopher, the person capable of freely thinking, is not one that randomly appears among a mass of duller fellows, to be separated from them by an attentive teacher. Rather, such people must be produced and perfected through an erotic education that aims at making young men more vigorous, physically perfect, and hostile to our supposedly feminized, egalitarian society (Alamariu, like Bloom, is frankly uninterested in women).
Instead of being satisfied with the role of a quiet intellectual guides, Alamariu would have his elite seize power for themselves. Yet, for all of his demand to throw off the shackles of convention and conformity, it’s worth pointing out he also counsels his own sort of political prudence, cautioning against going “full fascist”:
Your models must be those that have worked: Trump, Orban, the Italian movements now ascendant, Sebastian Kurz and his party in Austria. You don’t see these people marching around in hotel bellboy’s uniforms with a Sonnenrad and talking about the “Jewish Question” and this other kind of role-play. It’s true that in the end, my aims here and those of someone like Orban have little or nothing in common. If they were successful, all they would be able to do is reestablish the same world of sheep that existed a hundred years ago, maybe inoculated against the latest degradations…but nothing very great. Still, I think it’s better for the nations to be well-tended, happy sheep than to be reduced to teeming piles of starving rats. This, anyway, is my advice for those who want to go into normie politics and have a relatively normie life, and there’s nothing wrong with that—it’s even a great necessity.
Smith concludes the piece with his own politics of cultural despair, contending that the present era, dominated by the social media mentality that destroys the conditions of possibility for authentic thought and action, is too “decadent” and deadening for even a genuine tyranny to emerge. Moves like Alamariu’s are consequently at best cults and really more grifts: “[d]iscursive games of seduction as practiced by Bloom and Alamariu may still be bring attention and profit to those who play them, but seem capable neither of defending nor truly endangering our decadent regime.” One hopes, I suppose.
Smith writes, “Alamariu forces us to recall how little distance separates the teachings of Strauss—on which much of modern American conservative intellectual life is based—from outright totalitarianism.” Without indulging too much in the clichéd “dark master” reading of Strauss that lays at his feet all the evils of the 21st century Right, I still think its worth recalling his infamous letter to Karl Lowith, where despite being exiled from Nazi Germany as a Jew, he insisted this objection to Nazism was from the position of a more authentic fascism: “To the contrary: only from the principles of the right, that is from fascist, authoritarian and imperial principles, is it possible with seemliness, that is, without resort to the ludicrous and despicable appeal to the droits imprescriptibles de l’homme to protest against the shabby abomination.” Or for that matter, the episode where Strauss approached a young Hannah Arendt in the library, only to be told off by Arendt, who remarked on the sad irony that the Nazis had no place for him as a Jew.
This Faustian desire of the desiccated scholar for the bloody juices of real-world power can perhaps point us somewhere beyond the horizon of the history of ideas, with Strauss as master-thinker, to a more social and psychological context for the emergence of figures like BAP. I think one should press more on the ironic incongruity between Alamariu, the quiet scholar and pedant, and the bombastic, obscene, uncastrated machismo of Bronze Age Pervert, and perhaps thereby do a Nietzschean critique of the self-styled Nietzscheans.
I once ventured a toy theory that Fascism has two aspects whose ideal-types are expressed roughly in the duality between Italian Fascism and Nazism: Nazism has weird loser, creep vibes, while Italian Fascism has douchey, jock vibes. The BAP/Alamariu divide also maps onto this: in effect, he’s a synthesis of both, the nerd-bully, and thus in a way an ideal fascist.
Alamariu the academic nebbish emerges even Bronze Age Mindset. Some of the moments of humor, intentional or not, in the book come from the petty-bougieness of BAP’s gripes, which give way to vistas of paranoia and grandiosity. At one point, he complains about people sitting too close to him in a restaurant or the air conditioner being off or a window closed, and then associates this with the fact that the “white race” is “hostile to the life of tribes that like a close-packed existence.” He writes:
Service workers have often tried to oppress me. Larry David understands this problem; but he is still trying to be too “nice,” he presents his struggle against the oppression of the service industry as self-deprecating, self-criticism. They are mostly vicious demons. Just today waitress came to try to take away coffee cup, even though it had small layer on bottom, my favorite cold layer of coffee….I told her, no I drink this, I signaled with my hand, and still she bend over, while looking me in the eye, trying to take, and I could see in the look in her eye a mixture of defiance, lust, masochistic lust, a desire to usurp, a desire to eat me alive. I had to repeat three times.
When reading passages like this, it is indeed hard not to suspect that this is all some kind of elaborate Dadaist ruse.
Perhaps a better analogue for Alamariu than Allan Bloom would be Paul de Lagarde, 19th century forerunner of Nazi ideology, an academic who channeled his personal disappointments and frustrations into a grandiose vision of revitalized, heroic German society purged of “Judaizing” elements. Fritz Stern characterizes his work in The Politics of Cultural Despair:
He wrote as a prophet; he neither reasoned nor exposited, but poured out his excoriations and laments, his intuitive truths and promises. There was nothing limpid or systematic in his work; within each essay he skipped from subject to subject, alternating abstract generalities and concrete pro-posals. The pervasive mood of the book was despair and the dominant tone a kind of whiny heroism.
(Maybe Smith is hesitant to explore the psychological aspect of BAPism because it hits too close to home in its sense of unjustly unrecognized grandeur. He also apparently has two literary personas, one in magazines, characterized by careful, intellectual exposition like this one, and another on his Substack, where, like Dostoevsky’s “Underground Man,” he belligerently rants and confesses to his shameful personal hatred and envy of other writers, a state of being that he evidently finds both burdensome and fueling.)
This desire to overcome the condition of “decadence” and mediocrity of the quotidian, and to style oneself as an elite or superior being goes back to the 19th century origin of racist ideology, the product of a dying aristocracy trying to shore up its privileged position in the face of rising egalitarianism. As Hannah Arendt writes of the Comte de Gobineau’s (himself of dubious title) idée fixe with the idea of race:
What Gobineau was actually looking for in politics was the definition and creation of an “elite” to replace the aristocracy. Instead of princes, he proposed a “race of princes,” the Aryans, who he said were in danger of being submerged by the lower non-Aryan classes through democracy. “If race and mixture of races are the all-determining factors for the individual…it is possible to pretend that physical superiorities might evolve in “every individual no matter what his present social situation, that every exceptional man belongs to the “true surviving sons of . . . the Merovings,” the “sons of kings.” Thannks to race, an “elite” would be formed which could lay claim to the old prerogatives of feudal families, and this only by asserting that they felt like noblemen; the acceptance of the race ideology as such would become conclusive proof that an individual was “well-bred,” that “blue-blood” ran through his veins and a superior origin implied superior rights.
This paradoxical democratization of the feeling of natural superiority is the key to the appeal of all fascisms and proto-fascisms like BAP’s. (One dares to suppose a similar impulse is at work in the Straussian pretension to initiation into a special elect. My friend Steven Klein even says that Straussianism is the natural ideology of an embarrassed provincial arriving at a big city college, eager to find a way to put themselves in a position above more privileged peers, a sort of Nixonian seminar room politics.) This goes a long way to explaining the popularity of BAP among the clerk class of the American right, as well as frustrated Bohemians, failed artists, political adventurers, and the online incel-tariat, all of whom are now increasingly bound together in one great Party of Resentment. Sad pretensions to elite status are particularly on display in the youthful New Right that has taken to BAP’s teachings, as The Dispatch reported from a “Cicero Society” cocktail party in D.C in August.
I believe two other closely-related contexts should be brought to bear here. One is the popularity of the themes of völkisch and “Conservative Revolution” ideology among the socially ambitious yet economically precarious cultural types in Weimar Germany, as characterized in Pierre Bourdieu’s The Political Ontology of Martin Heidegger: these ideas “allowed…actual or potential déclassses to reconcile their desire to maintain a privileged position in the social order and to rebel against the order denying them this position.”
In his study of the rhetoric of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, Albrecht Korschke writes, “This milieu can be summed up by the term precariat—provided the word is taken to refer not to those permanently hung out to dry but to the social mode of operation prevailing in tenuous or potential elites. The members of this milieu are waiting in hope that their historical day will arrive. In general, the grandiosity of their plans for changing the world stands in inverse proportion to the chance of ever realizing them— unless exceptional circumstances come to their aid.” Hitler himself was the product of this milieu, “just one of many self-taught crackpots hawking homebrewed intellectual concoctions during the crisis-ridden decades following the turn of the century.”
For Korschke, the seductive power of Mein Kampf, much like Bronze Age Mindset, came from its absurdity, its unwillingness to play by the rules of respectable discourse, to offer a counter-discourse that gave a taste of sheer power through this petulant refusal:
The “kick” that Mein Kampf offers to cooler and calmer readers does not concern a specific conviction wrested from competing opinions but the absolute refusal to engage in dialogue. It is wholly immaterial, then, whether one inwardly believes what Hitler says in his rants. It is even possible—as was the case for some of the more intellectual figures in Nazi elites—to make fun of his pseudoscientific racial doctrine, to cover one’s mouth and smirk at his forced speaking style, but still to experience the reflexive impulse to persecute any disrespectful comment made by third parties. A menacing vacuum emanates from Mein Kampf—a license for adherents to react to opposition with a “Just you wait” that bristles with lustful sadism. Such power to reinforce group belonging functions on an entirely different level than ideological obedience in the narrower sense. In the spectrum of signals that Hitler’s book broadcasts, the inner circle of the National Socialist movement tuned in at this frequency.
The question of whether BAP really believes what he writes or if it is some game of provocation is in the same way immaterial. Readers can consume Bronze Age Mindset “ironically” while also getting the same “kick” of power and sense of belonging to an incipient power elite, lusting to punish and humiliate its enemies.
So, unlike Smith, I would situate BAP somewhat farther down the scale of vulgarization and popularization than Friedrich Nietzsche. This is a Bret Easton Ellis or Chuck Pahlianuk-Nietzscheanism, and in that respect it also resembles Hitler’s thought, which was more inspired by popular pamphleteers and novelists than high philosophy and literature.
My point in all this not to frighten my readers or to give the impression of Nazis under the bed, but just to give what I think are the best available points of comparison. I don’t believe we should overly fear the spread of BAPism, but to my mind there has been too much pussy-footing around what’s really going on here. While we hear so much about the “overuse” of the fascism analogy , but in this case, we have a clearcut case of under use: this is manifestly Nazi shit, and I believe people are too little hesitant to drive home that essential point. In his NR piece, Butler avoids the “fascist” or “Nazi” label altogether and in the Daily Beast piece only will risk “fascist-adjacent.” Gimme a fucking break already with this bullshit. What else do you need at this point? A picture of Alaramiu goose-stepping around Hermann Goering’s personal lederhosen? I don’t believe that “calling things out” has immediate political effects, but let’s at least be clear and frank about what this really is.
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