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16 May 2024

America’s dime-store Nietzscheans

What the unmasking of an anonymous publisher and Twitter personality reveals about the far right in the US.

By Sohrab Ahmari

It turns out that yet another leading member of the racial, “vitalist” right is an erstwhile Bernie-ish bro who at some point snapped, or became disaffected with the millennial left, and shifted rightward – not stopping with “normie” conservatism, but going all the way to the weird right. I’m referring to L0m3z, the founder of the edgy imprint Passage Publishing, home to, among others, the racial-hereditarian guru Steve Sailer. L0m3z’s identity as an ex-lefty California academic, who once sought to organise their fellow teachers, was recently unmasked by the Guardian.

Though that alleged real identity is now a matter of public record, I’m choosing not to use L0m3z’s name, because in their online subculture, “doxing” is considered a sort of digital martyrdom, and I’d prefer not to heighten their mystique. And because what’s unique or singular about L0m3z is far less interesting than the sociological origins they share with many other members of this cohort: many – indeed, most – belong to the educated, urban professional classes who are profoundly alienated from the American mainstream.

This little-understood sociological fact upends the typical understanding that many have of this sort of ideology. According to a conventional account, reinforced by misguided scholarship such as the recent bestseller White Rural Rage, in the US it is the Trumpian-Jacksonian back country that is seething with racial resentment. Rural Americans, to be sure, can sometimes come across as gruff when sounding off on matters racial and cultural. But it was members of the professional and even upper classes who promoted eugenic or dime-store Nietzschean ideologies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Likewise, it is a subset of disaffected or stressed urban professionals today who are developing a counter-culture centred around the worship of strength and the restoration of “natural hierarchies” among large human groups, as supposedly revealed by IQ bell curves.

According to the mythos promoted by people like L0m3z, the aristocratic or adventurous spirit, once free to roam and to designate value on his own, has tragically been imprisoned in the communal “longhouse”, lorded over by the primordial feminine, with its obsession with equality. When exactly this tragedy took place depends on who you ask: for some members of the online right, it was some 12,000 years ago with the advent of the agricultural civilisation and the shift from a “barbarian” mode of life into sedentary farming. For others, the tragedy occurred much more recently, with the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Either way, no more could the natural aristocrat live free, for he was now chained to an egalitarian ethic that elevated the claims of the weak and the sickly. Soon, the grubby masses made even more audacious demands, reaching for what they could never truly possess: equality with the higher orders; they called this “democracy”. So things stand today. But the electronic rightists believe that there are ways out of the longhouse. Or better yet, perhaps the repressed aristocrats can smash it down altogether, restoring the natural order of things.

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If you’re a conservative-minded, educated Zoomer today, chances are you thrill to some version of this mythos. Your world-view revolves not around the categories of conventional politics, but deep, hidden truths about natural hierarchies that map on to racial differences, conditioning some races to higher contemplation and others to servility.

The first to discover these truths were the classical philosophers, though in some cases you have to know just how to decode the ancient texts to discern this. More recently, the latest findings in human genetics and IQ science have supposedly removed any doubts: human beings are born unequal, with the starkest lines of division drawn across large racial groups. To deny this “science” is to wage war against reality itself, yet that is exactly what modern democracy does.

And that’s precisely the problem in the minds of an increasingly radical and influential cohort of young right-wing intellectuals and their fandoms. If you’re part of this cohort, you feel personally aggrieved by democracy’s empowerment of the dysgenic. It’s why our institutions are so broken: many of the people directing state and society were never meant to direct anything. It’s why the market economy isn’t recognising your talents or serving your preferences: its otherwise smooth functioning has been disrupted by the grubby, democratic demands of the under-men. Nor has culture been spared: the illusion of cultural equality is to blame for rap, R&B and other forms of “negroid warbling” that suffuse public space, as the writer Zero HP Lovecraft, another leading light of the movement, whined not too long ago.

Repelled by the mainstream, you seek meaning and purpose elsewhere. Your canonical books aren’t William F Buckley’s God and Man at Yale or Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom (even if you might generally agree with libertarian economics). Instead, you seek out self-published tracts by pseudonymous academics and ideologues whose lodestar isn’t democratic capitalism or traditional Christianity, but the triumph of the eugenic over the degenerate, the IQ-endowed over the low IQ, Anglos over “negroids” and “beige people”.

For those accustomed to conservatism as it has taken shape in the US since 1945, all this can seem unsettlingly novel. Yet the mildly egalitarian conservatism that took hold in the postwar era was the product of a set of contingent circumstances. It was necessitated by the horrors of the Holocaust and then the need to best Soviet communism in a global ideological struggle. Mildly egalitarian conservatism was also bolstered by the “Judeo-Christian” consensus of the postwar era. Many of the architects of that consensus – figures such as Michael Novak and Richard John Neuhaus – had taken part in the civil-rights movement. And their commitment to racial equality remained ironclad, even as they became more theologically, economically and sexually conservative. 

But there are other traditions. From the old federalist conviction that the richly propertied are best-suited for rule to the “master-race democracy” of the Jacksonian era; from the former US vice-president John C Calhoun’s attempts to frame slavery as a positive good, to the “mudsill theory” advanced by later Southern ideologues such as James Henry Hammond and George Fitzhugh; and from the social Darwinism of the late 19th century to Henry Ford’s obsession with “good blood lines” – some Americans have relied upon “natural hierarchy” to uphold entrenched interests. And even during the heyday of postwar conservatism, eugenic ideologues and think tanks could exert a great deal of influence, forming a sort of shadow conservatism not withstanding their public reputation as cranks and racists. 

Today, the postwar consensus has all but withered away. Intense polarisation has squeezed the sense of shared moral memory taken for granted by earlier generations. Religious authorities of all stripes are stumbling. And the intelligent young face a world of diminished expectations, in which identitarian warfare is frequently a path to the credentialled jobs that are the only alternative to financial misery. 

Again, this sort of Nietzschean ideology is emphatically not a movement of poor whites or the rural working class. It is, and has always been, a middle-to-upper-class tendency, with many of its advocates holding poor whites in almost as much contempt as they do black Americans and other racial minorities. Old-school Wasp social Darwinism, for example, helped legitimate its adherents’ position atop the social hierarchy of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

What’s notable about our moment is that this noxious stream, rather than flowing on the high ground of established society, is deluging the culture’s subterranean channels. It is a counter-cultural posture – hence its attraction for former leftists. Also notable is the ironic prevalence of what could be described as “off-white ethnics” (Jews, North Africans, Arabs, Armenians and the like). Not exactly a background of Teutonic-Aryan supremacy, but perhaps this is a way to “prove” their claim to belonging in America. The stress of academic and professional competition with newer arrivals – from places like China and India – may also explain their redoubling of the Aryan fortress.

The combination of social pressures suggest that conditions are ripe for right-wing eugenics to re-emerge from the shadows, offering both consolation for a subset of the credentialled precariat — and the vision of a world transformed.

[See also: Are girls “growing up too fast” online?]

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