Zarathustra, Too Late: BAP and His Critics

Bronze Age Pervert truly is the gift that keeps on giving; after a review of his philosopher’s hammer The Bronze Age Mindset, he has prompted a full Symposium from the Claremont Review, devoted (sometimes dogedly) to his thought followed by the unrestrained outrage by a professional loser conservative academic. It is not surprising that there is so much buzz around BAP.  His rumored closeness to Washington insiders and the raw aesthetic of his work are unlike anything most of the commentariat and narrative-makers have seen, but which is very familiar to several generations of dissidents and discontents. He has the quality of authenticity that the manufactured “intellectual dark web” types lack (even Yarvin, having killed Moldbug, has nuanced his message and language in a manner unthinkable for BAP. As usually happens when the intellectual upper classes go slumming it in the salon and coffee houses, they’ve all missed the point of BAP, and seem quite proud of themselves about it. 

The American Mind is hardly the upper echelons of Respectable Opinion, Inc. Alongside Trump insider Michael Anton, denizens of the grimy twitterscape like Second City Bureaucrat and Dan DeCarlo act as intellectual ambassadors (for better or worse) of the Dissident sphere, the real  intellectual dark web. But among this aspirational gang of political petit bourgeoisie watching the narrative makers with one eye green and the other jaundiced, an admirable spirit of diplomacy and genuine interest in dialogue with Dissent has sprung up that makes for interesting reading.

Their recent symposium on Bronze Age Pervert reveals, however, underlines their ignorance and isolation from the broader civilizational trends they are witnessing. They, along with most who read BAP, miss the point entirely, because they lack the ability to extricate themselves from the intellectual and aesthetic limitations placed upon them by the corpse of Western civilization in which they, the few cells still rushing to carry nutrients to the heart and brain, remain ignorant of their situation. They get some things right — particularly about the faults of BAP, or rather the version of BAP Anton has presented them — but they utterly miss the reality that is symbolized in BAP. There is no future for conservatism, as Poulos proposes, because, as BAP proclaims, conservatism has never been a phenomenon particularly concerned with the future; neither is BAP merely a creature of nihilist Frogtwitter, as DeCarlo insists. The decline and fall of the West (and the inevitability of the same) has found itself discerned and publicly witnessed to by many, placing BAP in a tradition of seeing collapse coming and bracing himself (perhaps against the pillars of the Philistine Temple). Frogtwitter is a red herring. BAP in his vitalism reflects their values, but in his motives he has more in common with what has been called Pinetree- and Graphtwitter, who have adopted the writings of Theodore Kaczinski and John Michael Greer as their preferred Prophets of Doom (credit where credit is due, Borzoi). They have in turn joined the ranks of Spenglerian inheritors of the truest Nietzschean value: not vitalism or antichrist, but the amor fati

That, however, is where the influence of Nietzsche on BAP ends. His aesthetic sensibility is utterly different than the Mad Prophet of the end of Europe. Nietzsche’s gifted Jewish editor Kaufman makes a great deal of the faulty ways in which people read The Will to Power, Nietzsche’s most influential work (over which he had the least influence). The critiques of that work and its interpreters rings true of BAP as well, and for similar reasons: they all miss the aesthetic and mistake the disjointedness and sharp turns the work takes for some kind of intentional philosophical purpose. Few recognize in BAP his truest analogue in contemporary art — Yukio Mishima, the most Faustian non-Westerner of the last two centuries.

The Mishima Pill: Sun and Steel

BAP is something one comes to expect from his age —he is a stranger in our strange land, a Hun in tunic and toga. Nietzsche said he philosophized with a hammer; BAP philosophizes with an accent. To call his work, as Tara Burton does, a “manifesto-slash-self-help book” betrays the dull banality of the conservative mind, dwelling in that grey twilight without a sense of aesthetic beyond Rockwellian kitsch. Burton’s fixation on the homoerotic elements of BAP’s personal ultimately reveal more about what she does in her spare time than it does about BAP. Thus she, like Poulos and Second City Bureaucrat, miss that the Bronze Age message is not a message at all, but an aesthetic. This is contained in the very title. They see the word “Mindset”, and their eyes, covered with the scales of six decades of continental philosophy, read “Weltanschauung“. But BAP has no desire to present a Worldview; he is witnessing the birth of something more ambiguous and primal, a world-feeling (or if we want to keep our continental pretensions, Weltgefühl.) 

It is Eurasian in spirit, and therefore has all the appearance of the Orientalist European, adopting Asiatic barbarism as a form of self-actualization even though he is himself precisely the reverse. It is not shocking, then, that no one has sought an Asian analogue to the Bronze Age Mindset. The primary antecedent for BAM isn’t Thus Spake Zarathustra, but Taiyo no Tetsu: Sun and Steel.

Sun and Steel is Mishima’s bodybuilding aria, dedicated to the perfection of the physical body as a means to perfect the spirit. It is as deeply grounded in Shinto notions of the physical qualities of the soul as it is in Western, especially the received Greek tradition of the sound mind & sound body. Most importantly, though, it is not a moral or political manifesto—Mishima’s writings never were. If Spengler disparaged the theatricality of modern politics, Mishima sought to perfect it. Public action for Mishima was cheapened by ideological content. It was also at the root of Mishima’s early flirtation with Western-imported homosexual ideology, until he discovered the shallowness of the theoretical framework homosexuals use to cover up a life of base pleasure-seeking. It was an insufficient escape for Mishima, racked as much of Japan was with a sort of survivor’s guilt after their culture was unceremoniously murdered with a few strokes of a pen in 1945. Mishima looked at the taxidermied corpse of Japan and sought to summon it back with with a live sacrifice.

Dan DeCarlo disparages the BAPist movement in an exquisite piece of iconoclasm, declaring BAPism more of the same Nietzschean Vitalist cant of years past, but with style. DeCarlo makes for enjoyable reading, but the whiff of grapeshot he polemicises with sends some of his most artful shots into earth and sea with no casualties. Here, unfortunately, he misses the mark. BAP is not just old wine in new wine skins: far from empty, his aesthetic is in fact robust and penetrating. For BAP, just as for Mishima, ideology is prophylaxis; his work is pure, raw aesthetic, equipped with all of its procreative capacity that Faustian man has forgotten. For these men, the modern bug-world is lacking of life because its liturgics are empty, its sacrifices are bloodless. Its burnt offerings are laid on stage fire, and BAP is here to burn the theatre down.

When BAP, for example, speaks of “justice” being zoos being open and the tens of thousands of wolves descending on the population, he offers a reflection on inevitable results rather than a hope or a philosophical statement. DeCarlo says it’s gut-bustingly hilarious. It’s funny because it’s true. Liberalism must consummate its unreality; such a consummation, like Hamlet’s suicide, is devoutly to be wished but must likewise be violent because of the sheer number of contradictions that have propped up the Liberal order. The teams responsible for building and maintaining the system have been working against one another, and the bridge to the future is about to collapse into the river. BAP is painting the scene of the bridge in collapse – and like the Expressionists and Impressionist seeking to capture feeling and motion, the image he paints is less clear to the eye who examines it in detail than to the casual onlooker. 

DeCarlo does not deserve especial censure for his error here; after all, he at least sees what Anton failed to see, namely that the liberal values at the heart of American conservative thought have never been self-evident and, further, the pretense that they are is the only thing preventing conservatism from caving in. Landry proposes that America is like the Soviet Union, DeCarlo restricts the analogy to Conservatism, Inc. Kick the door in, and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down; part of the reason for DeCarlo’s frantic arm-waving is that Anton is apparently handing BAP the battering ram. 

If only. Anton’s Constitutional Order will die by its own hand, it needs little help from BAP and he knows it. Consider that earlier this year, joining the histrionic response to COVID-19, Adrian Vermeule and Yarvin both have already begun winding the rope for the post-Liberal lynching of the American Constitution using phrases like “common good”. Frogtwitter couldn’t have summoned such narrative power from the darkest of its avant-garde rituals. DeCarlo has shown that if he understands everything wrong with Anton and the BAPists, he, like they, still does not see the drive behind the naked aesthetic is the Bronze Age Mindset: an experience of life in which art and action are merged in a perfectly instinctual Weltgefühl, unique to a civilization in its youth and therefore inaccessible to the geriatric West except as cathartic release and death—ecstatic suicide, as Mishima found in his seppuku kabuki. Far from slaying, sword and club in hand, the chimera of the American Magna Carta, the Bronze Age Mindset simply lets it starve to death.

The Spengler Pill: Man and Technic

Oswald Spengler is very much like BAP and Mishima and Nietzsche; he has a certain quality that makes it very desirable for one to claim to have read him. His books, which he wrote to be read and comprehended, have become decór in many a right-wing library, rarely read in their entirety, and even less understood. He has been consigned to the worst death a thinker can suffer: he has become fashionable. His most relevant work, however, is neither his magisterial Downfall nor his final work, Hour of Decision, but in his intermediate and often baffling monograph Man and Technics. He opens the work straightforwardly enough, and for the niceties of his language one can hear much the same complaint echoed in Bronze Age Mindset. Spengler laments:

Experience with the earlier work showed that the majority of readers are not in a position to maintain a general view over the mass of ideas as a whole, and so lose themselves in the detail of this or that domain which is familiar to them, seeing the rest either obliquely or not at all. In consequence they obtain an incorrect picture, both of what I have written and of the subject-matter about which I wrote. Now, as then, it is my conviction that the destiny of Man can only be understood by dealing with all the provinces of his activity simultaneously and comparatively and avoiding the mistake of trying to elucidate some problem, say, of his politics or his religion or his art, solely in terms of particular sides of his being, in the belief that, this done, there is no more to be said.

If Spengler accomplished anything in his work, it was achieving and maintaining a holistic view of history that for all its relativistic qualities was concerned ultimately with the Absolutes that confront human beings. Not surprising that, confronted with the terrible truth of human existence, he came away a pessimist in the eyes of most of his readers – a vision that earned him the legacy, summed up artfully by Adam Gopnik, of being “a German pedant the other German pedants found too humourless”. Yet the problem Spengler faced in his work never being properly comprehended as received is precisely what has occurred with BAP in both the twitterverse and The American Mind.

Spengler’s Man and Technics is written like BAP writes: he speaks of past and present, but always in the future tense. His visions of man and the world do not conform to our intrinsic understanding of the same, making him an object of fascination and creating out of one BAP, many BAMs. One of the better latter-day reinventors of 20th century wheels, who goes by zeroHPLovecraft on twitter, speaks about this in his reflections on ideology and interpretation. Echoing the great hermeneuticists like Heidegger and Schleiermacher:

BAP takes a similarly realistic tone towards the domesticating qualities of technological living, but he offers a solution – and a constructive solution, when contrasted with men like Ted Kaczinski and even the (slightly) more stable J.M. Greer. This is what gives itself as the appearance of raw vitalism in his work: the total self-reliance of the Bronze Age man, who had just enough technology to hone him into Homo culturus but not enough to become Homo domesticus. Here, the relationship between man and technic becomes purely aesthetic – that which augments the naked beauty of mankind, which brings it into contrast and bestows on it the radiance that is native to Beauty, this is salvic. That which obscures the same, greys it out and dulls it, is damning. 

This is where Spengler and BAP overlap most heavily. Technics is far more than mere machinery to Spengler; it is the manifestation of the human soul that is only possible in the ever-externalizing Western (“Faustian”, with all the implications that carries) humanity. Faustian man is self-devouring in a way no other civilization has ever been, and in his constant quest to grasp all things, manifests even the metaphysical into a material, tangible form. The more he empties himself, the more he loses control of himself, and every action, from the personal to the social, becomes more necessary and less free. In both the political revolutions and the technological revolutions of the last 250 years, Spengler sees Goethe’s Zauberlehring, who can no longer control the spirits he has summoned.  (The American vision of this perennial European myth is portrayed by Mickey Mouse in Disney’s Fantasia, which is perhaps a more succinct and accurate statement on America’s place in Western Culture than anything Spengler, BAP, or anyone else has written.) Man either enslaves this spirit he has made manifest, becomes a slave to it, or destroys it; because of the deep tragic flaw in Western man, it is unlikely that any but the second outcome is truly possible for the culturally geriatric Occident. BAM assumes this —  and offers instead a fourth option, namely to transcend it by changing, if you will forgive the cliche, the paradigm. BAM aspires to be post-Faustian for a Faustian audience, and this is at the root of why it is misunderstood.

Thus there exists at least one reading wherein a Spengler-BAP-Dostoevsky axis turns this entire ideology, and that holds far and away greater attractiveness to BAP’s audience than the power fantasies of the Nietzschean Overman — constructed, ideological, rebellious, an Overman can only be created by a domesticated, comfortable, bent-necked race belonging to an age of sickening optimism. Nietzsche saw the future of the bugworld, and spat at it, but he could not prevent it or offer a real alternative to it, and so embraced it as fait accompli, but called it amor fati. BAP does not preach the Overbugman; though the ideology of Overman taints the Bronze Age Mind and creates a ripple in the aesthetic, and creates the ideologues who wish to make tangible the intangible World-feeling of the Bronze Age Mind. The Overbugman is a worshipper of vitalistic ruins, a felaheen curator convinced that his museum is actually a time machine. Anton takes on the role of an Overbugman, like many of the BAPists who fawn sloppily at the feet of their vitalistic man-god with an Eastern European accent and dutifully salivate at the masculine form he carnalizes on Handsome Thursday.

The Flanderisation of the American Mind

The unspoken prophecy of BAP’s Zarathustra is that Conservatism is dead, and we have killed it. When Sir Roger Scruton passed away in January, the last Conservative voice was silenced; the remaining elements are lost souls wandering a political landscape they no longer recognise or understand or the post-conservative right, desperate for a genuine conflict to prove themselves, “as gold is proven in fire.” Conservatism, deeply rooted as it is in a Late Western understanding of man and his relationship to the new Technical world, cannot survive the implosion of its necessary adversary. The Lukewarm Liberal gilded in Imperial grandeur eventually gives way to the morlock ideologues of war-mongers (the Neoconservative) or the eloi maternalists seeking to lift up the unwashed from the filth of their ancient cultures into the pristine sterility of consumption (the Neoliberal). In the Post-Liberal, which is to say, Post-Western, world, there are but these two remnants of that New World Order so many post-Conservative rightists fear. 

There is a literary trope belonging to the age of television that perfectly describes what has happened to Western politics. Flanderization is the process whereby a character or idea is reduced to its most noticeable trait, and then magnifies that trait tenfold. It is named for the Simpsons character, Ned Flanders, who began the series being Homer’s annoying neighbor who happened to be religious into a neurotic Christian Zealot and finally a parody of Evangelical fanaticism. He went from the average American to Jerry Falwell to the Westboro Baptist Church in the course of the show’s first decade. The same has happened to our ideologies, as they are reduced further and further to their fundamentals by time and cultural pseudomorphosis. The defining trait of Conservatism since its founding has been genteel apprehension; Jeeves leaning over our collective shoulder, brood of Woosters that we are, inquiring “are you sure, sir?” Now, forced to face a real culture war that requires the decided drawing of lines, it is reduced to the delusion of go-along-to-get-along politics that makes it an excellent soma, but otherwise altogether an intellectual placebo. It doesn’t take long for someone taking sugar pills to realise their cancer isn’t going into remission. 

Dissident politics has, if it has failed to produce an alternative cure, at least awakened people to the reality that the current health regime appointed by our Royal Physicians isn’t working. BAP represents the clearest articulation of precisely this effort: to tell the ailing patient that he is, in fact, ill, and the hospital he is in is worsening his condition, treating his anemia with pneumonia medication. But BAP offers no alternative, leaving his readers confused and grasping to find his proposal where none exists, and mistaking his blasting open the hospital doors for effect with an attempted liberation. If Conservatism, Inc. cannot offer solutions because they no longer have any vital energy to draw on, BAP offers no solutions because he is drawing from a well that is not suitable to our immune systems.  He is no less post-Western than the world that is coming, and all the hopes and fears of self-identified Conservatives who look upon his ideas with concupiscent fascination are realized in his vision of the present and future.

For the truth is that Conservatism as the chief articulation of right-wing thought has no successor, and the desperation with which many of its disenchanted practitioners attempt to adopt BAP underlines this. They seek a prophet and a sign, unable themselves to conjure one, because they still do not understand that the horse they are riding is not tired: it is dead. Fukuyama drew very close to the correct conclusion when he wrote about the “end of history”. Genteel, cautious liberalism has run its course, and fulfilling its purpose there is nothing left to forestall. Its central purpose has been to maintain stability as the operation of remaking humanity — that final and most important accomplishment of Western externalization — is under way. The goal is accomplished, though. The New Right is no better off, insofar as it continues to labor under the delusion of performing a resurrective miracle, burning incense before the body that Conservatism has sustained. The Camp of the Saints has been overrun, and, stumbling upon its smoking ruins, the New/Dissident/Alt Right seeks to assume the ramparts, to defend it against the hordes who have already ransacked it. BAP has surveyed the ruins, and shrugged off his shoulders the Bronze Age Mindset. 

But his Zarathustra has come too late, the village squares are empty, and he must preach to the stones.