Warhammer 40k Viewed From the Right: Liberal Nihilism

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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.

18 Comments Add yours

  1. Sven-Ingvar says:

    >Warhammer 40000 will never be yours and ultimately it never was
    I said something to this effect on your blogpost about GW’s BLM signalling. The nerds among us has learned this very lesson with every other piece of pop culture typically disdained in the online right for being woke, high time they learn this lesson with 40k as well.

    Great article and I hope the nerd right takes to your message to create good content rather than consume liberal content to heart rather than being assmad because you called 40k liberal.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. esoterictrad says:

    Old school 40k, old school GW. That’s what I came across as a young boy back in the day. It was a fundamentally nerdy British tabletop game. It was so different to the utopian visions it drew interest but most nerds who played it of course they liked or watched Star Trek or Star Wars.

    What it became over time as GW became more money centric was to evolve but also anything that appears on the internet is going to be clapped up by the overwhelming left wing dialectic there.

    That being said the original roots of Warhammer (not 40K) are out of High Fantasy – Tolkien inspired. As I have written here, as much as they can attempt, these are always implicitly right wing ideals contained within them…

    Funny how the fantasy game is nowhere near as popular…

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    1. Age of sigmar accounted for a majority of their revenue a while back. But its also important to understand the class preferences of those that wrote 40k and what they entail for the game.

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      1. esoterictrad says:

        Interesting, Age of Sigmar is relatively modern version is it not? My reference point is still late 90s, early 2000s. Never looked into how they tried to re-work the fantasy element. But I do note how the fantasy element never took off online as much… Which author was it who in the 40k novels became well known for inserting some token blacks? Dan Abnett I want to say…

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      2. Age of Sigmar was the modern reboot. It might have been Abnett, although I’m not sure. They are now trying to peddle a butch commissar as the next Ciaphas Cain tho.

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      3. esoterictrad says:

        Ah thanks, good article btw.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. gritshifter says:

    this reminds me of something that has been on my mind for a few days now, so perfect timing as always, Goose. Aesthetic judgments ought to be brought back and normalized. Granted, much of 40k’s appeal to the right was aesthetic, but that was satire that a bunch of people just kind of fell for, and like you pointed out in the article, was largely just surface-level authoritarianism. There was a popular bit our guys used to do a few years ago (maybe they still do, but I haven’t seen it in a while) where they juxtapose images of sodomite parades like the Folsom Street Fair (google at your own risk, pretty gross stuff) with parades from, say, the Iron Guard or Nazi rallies in Germany. And to an extent, this worked. People saw the aesthetics of liberal values and they were disgusted by it. Same goes with the breezewood picture, or even just people seeing video footage of CHAZ and other riot zones and thinking, “this is repulsive” and knowing that that is the end position of the system they’re living under.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. E M Lowden says:

    You are an incredibly effective ruiner of things, Mongoose. I take some issue with what you had to offer on the Godcast about Nazism and Christianity, but there can be no doubt that this sort of thing is precisely what this sphere needs more of.

    Our great-grandfathers didn’t sit around their rooms pretending to be aberrations of nature slaughtering each other and making up nonsensical “lore” detached from their ancestors’ lived experience. Gaming, all gaming, is a product of the same luxurious excess that got us here in the first place. Emotional attachment to it is a mark of the childishness we need to cleanse ourselves of.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Look, if people are allowed to have fun my anglo-germanic sensibilities will keep me up at night.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m a very occasional reader who is only on the fringe of this milieu, but came here to say that I appreciate this piece and that I’ve got a relevant anecdote to share.

    I have friend who is fully in the milieu, a convertodox lover of WH40k. He told me last year that a certain book (For The Emperor) is “like Don Quixote”. Where he got this literary judgment, I’m not sure, but I doubt that it was of his own invention; more likely he picked it up second- or third-hand online somewhere in the dissent-o-sphere. Anyway, I read the book, and was vastly disappointed to find that it is nothing like Don Quixote. Don Quixote is, to start with, *funny*. It is threaded through with acerbic wit, irony, and a self-conscious play with convention that many people online (and in departments of English Literature) seem to think were only invented in the 1960s.

    If this is the WH40k that is supposed to somehow be a parody of right-wing or authoritarian thinking (in the same way that Don Quixote was a parody was a parody of chivalric romance or in any other way) I’ve gotta say, it fails completely. It fails at the artistic level, because effective irony and parody are much harder to do and require a much higher level of artistic intelligence than does churning out polished genre fiction schlock, which is what I read.

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    1. Warhammer is parodic in the meta sense, the framing of the setting essentially is as I mentioned: “How bad does the universe have to be to justify what liberals think authoritarianism is?” The answer is contained within the fan response, which is one of three opinions: “Actually I have a revealed preference for illiberalism,” “It is justified but bad,” and “Authoritarianism is so evil that nothing justifies it.” And yes Ciaphus Cain is a brainlets idea of what Don Quixote would be. Your friend deserves to be bullied.

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  6. Alfonz Cavalier says:

    Valid points that didn’t need the polemical tone. Of course, 40k was always a consumer product that reflects the mores and concerns of the mainstream and the people who invest in Games Workshop. I agree with Esoteric Trad’s points about original Warhammer fantasy – that was the original game/ lore with deeper, and more reactionary roots. 40k only really got its big launch in the 90s and feels to me like it was always intended as a more mainstream product aimed at midwits and grungy tweens looking for a badass alternative to Star Trek.

    All that said, if you really did want to launch a popular product as a vehicle to promote dissident ideas, would you not use the ‘satire’ defence as cover if you could get away with it? Asking for a friend.

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    1. I wouldn’t be coked out of my mind firstly. Secondly warhammer fantasy was just a generic sandbox created to house whatever the cokehead writers wanted to. If you think GW writers were ever secretly based however, you deserved the polemic tone, and are the exact reason why I chose it.

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    2. Sven-Ingvar says:

      Mongoose is perfectly right in using the polemic tone as he says himself. The creator of 40k, Rick Priestly, explicitly wrote the Emperor and his internment on the Golden Throne as a joke at the expense of religious peoples faith and in one interview stated he finds it bizarre later fans miss the point he was making that the Emperor is basically just a corpse on a throne fervently worshipped by blind, ignorant zealots and that this is used to justify the existence of the Imperium and its tyranny rather than being anything explicitly true. This is a running theme in 40k up until 3rd/4th edition when the setting started taking itself much more seriously and is generally known as the “grimderp” period as it started reveling in the excesses of it’s grimdark themes and since the start of the Horus Heresy series it’s been undergoing a steady (re)liberalisation that has simply accelerated in the current climate.

      The setting never was based, redpilled, reactionary or anything of the sort. Same with Warhammer Fantasy, which started as just a way of selling the miniature stock Citadel Miniatures at the time produced and didn’t solidify into a recognisable form until the mid-90’s~ish. The nerd right reads way too much into it because of it’s use of medieval, gothic and heavy metal aesthetics.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. This is the most fundamentally correct view on both warhammers that could be articulated.

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    3. >All that said, if you really did want to launch a popular product as a vehicle to promote dissident ideas, would you not use the ‘satire’ defence as cover if you could get away with it? Asking for a friend.

      That is a terrible way to try and promote your views. To do so under a guise of irony is to prepare your audience to interact with your values with a mindset of mockery, not ready to possibly internalize your values.

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  7. NC says:

    I hope GW goes belly up soon. They stole their entire universe from the beginning and now just prostate themselves to the BLM

    Liked by 1 person

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