January 26, 2022

The radical Right in the United States is discussed far more than it is understood. Anyone to the Right of the Republican Party is generally assumed to be a skinhead, redneck, or Nazi Germany-revivalist. To those who have studied the far-Right, however, the picture appears far more complex. A recent book, A World After Liberalism: Philosophers of the Radical Right, by Matthew Rose offers serious profiles of several 20th century radical-Right intellectuals, including Oswald Spengler, Alain de Benoist, and Samuel Francis.

“The radical right is the true ‘other’ in our culture. Unlike the radical left, its authors are not found in university curricula, and sometimes not even in university libraries,” writes Rose, a scholar of modern religious thought. “We picture them in cabins in Idaho broadcasting over shortwave radio, not as scholars or artists who can read Sanskrit.” But this is a false image. Whether one supports or loathes their ideas, many such thinkers are indeed deeply erudite, devoting their lives to studying the human condition as they see it.

Reading A World After Liberalism, another radical-Right thinker came to my mind, a contemporary figure marginal to the public yet boasting a devoted following online: the pseudonymous online poster and author “Bronze Age Pervert”. Known as BAP for short, he has built a committed fan base of young men — including junior staffers in the Trump White House — and drawn the attention of some iconoclastic conservative intellectuals.

After reading Rose’s book, I decided to finally pick up Bronze Age Mindset, BAP’s self-published manifesto from 2018. I wanted to get a sense of the prospects of the radical Right in its fight with liberalism today. But on a personal note, I also wanted to see what it was that so many people, including young men of colour I know, find so radicalising about the book.

At its core, Bronze Age Mindset is about the promotion of masculine strength and virtue as a means of bringing about political change. The world at present, according to its author, is sunk in a form of decentralised tyranny, ruled over by “bugmen” (a rough approximation of the Nietzschean “Last Man”) as well as matriarchal tyrants empowered by feminism and democracy. Beauty has been effaced from human society and the natural world is being despoiled.

The hypocritical supporter of liberalism, a physical weakling with a bad conscience, “pretends to be motivated by compassion, but is instead motivated by a titanic hatred of the well-turned out and beautiful”. In a style influenced by the norms of online debate, BAP punctuates each of his philosophical arguments with insults, blaming “obese high-fructose-corn-syrup-guzzling beasts” for suppressing masculine energy and acting as bad stewards of Earth’s natural treasures.

In the classical world, of which BAP is enamoured, he argues that a strong man could live to his full demonic potential. But under our modern Leviathan, no such greatness is possible. The liberal order suppresses the masculine will to power, using the dead weight of democracy to crush the true male elite of every Western society. In this degradation of strong men lies the degradation of society as whole. Over time, the entire culture of a liberal society becomes a gigantic monument to slave morality, exalting weakness and infirmity as its highest values. Falling deeper and deeper into decay, liberal civilisation simply lies prone for an external force to eventually deliver it the coup de grâce.

Bronze Age Mindset is funny and even surprisingly sentimental at times. In one memorably zany passage, it asks the reader to imagine a version of Mitt Romney “capable of acting like he looks” — one who becomes a piratical man of adventure who attempts to engineer a coup in the United States, sleeps with Vladimir Putin’s wife, and then dies fighting the US empire alongside wild tribesmen in Afghanistan. The thought-experiment is intended to make a serious point about a connection between physical ability and the will to power that has been lost in the modern world.

The book alternates between extreme disdain for people of other cultures and races and sympathy or even admiration for them; what’s constant is his extreme anti-feminism, which I suspect explains much of his appeal to young men. This is a book avowedly written by and for men, aimed at calling them to a particular conception of themselves and their role in the world. From an intellectual standpoint, simply accusing his work of being racist or misogynist does no good, even if those terms would probably stick in a public debate, because BAP self-consciously writes from the pre-liberal perspective of classical civilisation, where such terms had no meaning.

A more interesting question is whether BAP’s basic belief — that a resurgent masculinity will inevitably rise up and shatter the foundations of liberal society — makes sense in the 21st century. Upon reading him, one must conclude that it doesn’t. Trapped in its nostalgia for the “Bronze Age”, the book fails to take into account the most important variable driving human affairs: technology.

In the past, as Bronze Age Mindset notes with relish, physical strength and masculine will were primary determinants of political outcomes. But in the modern world, the link between physical prowess and the ability to exercise power has been severed. No great strength or courage is required to press the fire button on a Reaper drone, the signature weapon of the 21st century. No masculine virtue will be needed to operate the armed ground-based robots of the near future. Even a basic unwillingness to take life can be overcome with technology that conceals the humanity of those targeted, or with new weapons that kill autonomously without the need for human input.

But the decline of men’s role in the world goes deeper than warfare. Even now, progressives are consciously planning for a future where men’s most basic procreative functions can be made obsolete through genetic engineering. Like the religious holdouts in Michel Houellebecq’s The Elementary Particles, I find such a possibility unsettling, and I expect that many others around the world will similarly recoil. But our discomfort will not stop the march of technology. BAP makes no attempt to grapple with any of these dynamics. He is an autodidactic student of history with so much contempt for the present that he barely even analyses it.

Bronze Age Mindset draws haphazardly from fields as diverse as environmental biology, political history, zoology, occultism, and theology, while evincing an underwhelming commitment to intellectual rigour. This is a book of “exhortation”, BAP tells his readers up front, which is clearly true. He ends his work with a call for revolution against the global Leviathan followed by an “era of high piracy” led by physically powerful and ruthless men.

BAP is roughly the white male equivalent of an African-American “hotep”, who uses a pick-and-choose version of ancient and modern history to further his primarily goal of boosting the morale of disillusioned young men in his target constituency. Though his book overwhelms the reader with superficially impressive facts and arguments, I found that many of them, upon closer inspection, were wildly reductive or simply untrue. On topics in religion and sociology with which I happened to be familiar, I came away mystified by many of his claims.

The Leviathan opposed by BAP and the older radical-Right thinkers profiled by Rose is showing signs of senescence. Unlike in the late Soviet Union, however, today there is no plausible replacement on the horizon. Even Rome stumbled onwards for hundreds of years after Nero.

But while the thinkers of the radical Right may not pose a serious threat to liberalism, studying them does offer a tangible benefit: a deeper understanding of the human condition. The cult popularity of a book like Bronze Age Mindset, which calls young men back to an atavistic fantasy of themselves, also helps us see how adrift many of them feel in the modern world. The radical Right is not a movement to flirt with. But studying its thinkers can help us see the fault lines that exist deep beneath the world that we take for granted.