Despite our milieu’s positioning as dissidents, people take media way too seriously. And among the pantheon of corporate products that the online right likes to pretend belong to it, none is more iconic than perhaps Warhammer 40,000 or simply 40k. What 40k art exists (that isn’t a visually-cluttered mess) looks appealing to a right wing, particularly traditionalist eye, as major portions of the setting’s aesthetics depend entirely on medieval motifs and symbols. This appeal, like with many things, exists only skin deep. Despite its superficial reactionary appearance, Warhammer from its core framing represents possibly the single most liberal tabletop wargame outside of explicitly political fare.
The entire conceit of the Warhammer setting exists to justify to its liberal audience the existence of any explicit authoritarianism. And if the espoused opinions of the mentally flabby fanbase of the game are to be believed, the existence of omnicidal demons, biologically homicidal fungus-based hominids, and all-consuming super-organisms (among other threats to human existence) barely make the cut/still don’t justify authoritarianism.
Here lies the central conundrum of 40k. Most people aren’t able to parse irony without motivated reasoning (even internally), so there are two split portions of the fanbase: those that recognize the game as the satire it is, and those who took the rather poor writing all too seriously. When the writers of the game claim it is a satire of authoritarianism, they are entirely correct, but even so liberalism remains so fundamentally unappealing that a despotic empire explicitly built on the back of treating all of humanity like cattle looks better to the average person on aesthetics alone. This reality, even when left unsaid, leaves the bourgeois writers of the game like a 9 year old looking at a chainsaw, struck in fear and terror at something that they don’t understand, perhaps with a touch of morbid curiosity. Games Workshop is left with a tough choice: double down on the satire (effectively undoing a decade or more of writing that took itself too seriously in the process) or try to rectify the seriousness of the writing with their worldview. GW has chosen the latter.
As the 40k setting has progressed we can see the attempts. Resurrected characters from ages long past within the lore bring fresh, fedora tipping perspectives on theocracy, only embracing it because of its utility, and creating newfound alliances with sworn enemies of humanity. Freelance writers with pronouns listed on twitter do their best for representation of women, blacks, and others. The Imperium of Man is slowly being upgraded from a genocidal empire built on slavery, human sacrifice, and worship of what may very well be a psychic corpse into something quite the same, but more morally palatable because they don’t discriminate based on race, gender identity, or sexual fetishes. To the liberal audience, the appalling amount of amoral violence, death, slaughter, and oppression is ultimately fine if women, sexual deviants, and coloreds get to participate in it too (a hilarious mirror of real life). All in all, 40k has evolved into a vastly less coherent setting, losing sight of its roots and ultimately becoming self parody of its own internalized liberal values.
I won’t wax nostalgic about the “glory days” of 40k’s lore or writing. Truth be told very little of it has stood muster into what might be called art, and I can only really recommend Necropolis in good conscience to anyone. The overwhelming majority of the fiction might best be classed with soap operas in terms of plot quality. This works for setting up background for a fun afternoon with toy soldiers, but it is far too often elevated to something it isn’t. I cannot mourn the ‘death’ of 40k as it hasn’t died, it always was the same sort of corporate product that nearly all other serialized entertainment exists as. It always has pandered to bourgeois sentimentality, as people with upper middle class sentiments were the sorts that could afford 40k’s overpriced books and models.
I considered at first closing with my thoughts on what could make 40k authentically right wing. However, this effort detracts from my primary goal. 40k exists within one of the easiest mediums to create something of your own, traditional games. Warhammer 40000 will never be yours and ultimately it never was. As it morphs into something that alienates you keep this in mind and work to create things that go beyond mere superficial appeals to medieval aesthetics. After all, there is a lot more to being right wing than merely liking how something looks even if that is how it starts.