In the first edition of Ayn Rand’s novel We the Living, published in 1936, the heroine – a fictional rendering of the author – tells her Bolshevik lover: “I loathe your ideals. I admire your methods… What are your masses but mud to be ground under foot, fuel to be burned for those who deserve it? What is the people but millions of puny, shrivelled, helpless souls, that have no thoughts of their own, no dreams of their own, no will of their own, who eat and sleep and chew helplessly the words put into their mildewed brains.”
In applauding coercion of the unlovely mass of humankind by an elite of superior individuals, Rand was a disciple of Nietzsche as he was understood in early-20th-century Russia. Simplified and distorted versions of his philosophy attracted Russians across the political spectrum. The Soviet “commissar for enlightenment” Anatoly Lunacharsky (1875-1933) – a “Nietzschean Marxist” overseeing censorship of the arts and much of the school system – in a 1902 essay wrote of the people as a “lump of marble” from which the revolutionary sculpts a more beautiful species.
[See also: The rise of the Unabomber right]
Emigrating from the Soviet Union in January 1926 and reinventing herself as an American author, Rand denied any Nietzschean inheritance. She redacted the praise of Bolshevik ruthlessness from subsequent editions of the novel, but there is a clear line from Nietzsche’s Übermensch to her capitalist superman John Galt in Atlas Shrugged (1957). Selling millions of copies, the near 1,200-page allegory of the evils of collectivism has left an enduring mark on right-wing libertarian thinking through its gospel of rational egoism and condemnation of altruism as the supreme vice.
The disgust and contempt for the masses of Rand’s alter ego is echoed on virtually every other page of Bronze Age Mindset. Self-published in 2018 by the internet personality known as “Bronze Age Pervert”, this personal manifesto and self-improvement manual for confused young men has had, like Rand’s novels, a perceptible influence on the American right. This year, several US journalists have identified “BAP” – the anonymous author’s abbreviated nom de guerre – as Costin Vlad Alamariu, a Romanian-American PhD who has written for a number of palaeo-conservative magazines, and who has self-published another book, Selective Breeding and the Birth of Philosophy, this month. Alamariu has neither confirmed nor denied reports that he is the author of Bronze Age Mindset, but the reactionary cri de cœur has become an underground cult classic.
Hatred of “the Bugman” and exaltation of “brotherhoods of savage men who have decided to purify the Earth and rid it of the infestation of the human-cockroach” recur throughout Bronze Age Mindset. Peasants are “locusts on the Earth”, urban workers “blob humans” willingly enslaved by their labours. Military dictators, ancient Greek tyrants and pirates, weight-lifting and nude sunbathing are among the author’s few enthusiasms.
BAP has produced an ungrammatical and meandering but refreshingly brief “exhortation” (as he terms it) that reveals a widely read mind. His anti-Darwinian ramblings on an undefined life-force may be barely coherent. But happily he is more of a jester than Rand, whose jokes, such as her advocacy of tap dancing as an art form that reconciles Nietzsche’s dichotomy of Apollonian order with Dionysian vitality, are always inadvertent. In his racism and misogyny BAP may be trolling liberal readers who stumble upon the book, but there can be little doubt that this manifesto against what the author sees as the decadence of the age expresses an authentic mood on his part.
Copies of Bronze Age Mindset were believed to be circulating among young male staffers in the Trump White House, and BAP was discussed in a lengthy article in the journal of the influential conservative Claremont Institute. His impact has been magnified by the persona – totemic among parts of the online Anglosphere right – that he has constructed on social media. His Twitter account records 126,800 followers.
What accounts for BAP’s strange celebrity? One reason is that Bronze Age Mindset is a teasingly reactionary contribution to a by now largely exhausted literature on gender and sexuality. The author tells us insistently that the decline of liberalism (which he welcomes) reflects a crisis of masculinity, and a certain notion of manhood is integral to the book:
“Many times I’m asked, why the Bronze Age? Because it’s the heroic age you see in the Iliad and Odyssey, yes, but don’t forget what hero really means. Thucydides says the men of that time enjoyed piracy, and saw nothing wrong in it, and this is true. And what is the pirate but the original form of the free man and of all ascending life!”
BAP’s ideal male would be unrecognisable in the Mycenaean civilisation that produced the great epic poems. The Iliad is as much a lament on the pity of war as a paean to the warrior virtues, and it is patent that BAP has no knowledge of military life, certainly not of armed combat. Those who do – male and female – do not brag of their exploits. Even the bravest are scarred by trauma, which they survive through the care of others. BAP’s image of male predation, rapine and pillage is the fantasy of an aspiring teenage gang member in a disintegrating modern city.
[See also: Nietzsche before the breakdown]
The adolescent quality of BAP’s ideal is a point of contrast with his intellectual mentor Nietzsche. Whatever his other personal limitations – aside from the commercial sex from which he contracted syphilis as a student, Nietzsche was practically an incel – the philosopher did have a direct acquaintance with war. A medical orderly in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), he contracted diphtheria and dysentery on the battlefield, permanently weakening his already uncertain health. The experience confirmed his lifelong hostility to militarism, and when he glorifies war it is most often a mental conflict to which he is referring.
Nietzsche regarded the civilisation around him as thoroughly decadent, but he was well aware that he was a living example of that condition. When he wrote of superhuman inner strength, it was as someone who suspected he was incurably spiritually diseased. Here the contrast with BAP is particularly instructive. Without any apparent irony, he writes:
“My favourite thing is to walk around the city completely plastered, on very crowded streets or on boardwalk by sea or river… At night I don’t enjoy as much, but during the day to walk around in a state of great enthusiasm, and energy powered by liquor, or, best of all, some kind of wine that energises you to a great and holy rage…”
Dionysus was the god of wine, which the ancient Greeks used liberally when worshipping the wild deity. Their orgiastic drinking was the collective self-expression of a culture, whereas BAP’s flâneur-ing is an exercise in narcissism. If decadence is anomie, a lack of purpose and of any normative order, BAP is the unwitting embodiment of the disease for which he imagines he knows the cure.
Bronze Age Mindset is an American phenomenon. The book and its elusive author are not well known in the rest of the world. Yet there is nothing American in BAP’s message. Scornful of Christianity and “Enlightenment values”, he shows no trace of the reverence for the founders evinced by US conservatives, and hardly mentions the Constitution – a sacred text for nearly all Americans. The logic of BAP’s position is that the US was a blunder, a view that’s been attributed to Sigmund Freud, who reportedly observed, “America is a mistake; a gigantic mistake it is true, but nonetheless a mistake.”
Common among early-20th-century central European intellectuals, this wholesale rejection of America was renewed on the postwar European left. Now it has surfaced on the intellectual fringes of the American right. Whether BAP’s views owe anything to his Romanian heritage cannot be known, but his voice is that of a European writer. The closest parallel may be with Jean Genet, who shared BAP’s interest in expressive violence, though Genet allied himself with the Black Panthers rather than entertaining himself with displays of performative racism.
BAP’s disdain for Christianity and the Enlightenment sets him apart from most other intellectuals of the right at the present time. The contrast with the much more widely known Jordan Peterson is telling. Like BAP, Peterson writes for those disenchanted with liberal culture and has attracted an audience of disoriented young men, but there the similarities end. The Canadian psychologist is a cultural conservative, who believes contemporary malaise comes from a rejection of Western traditions – notably the Christian religion. For BAP as for Nietzsche, however, it is this very tradition that must bear some of the responsibility for liberal decadence: by making the Son of God a victim, Christianity began a revaluation of archaic pagan values that reaches a culmination in present-day woke movements. In this regard, BAP is a deeper and more dangerous thinker than any would-be conservative. Still, it will not be a celebration of Mycenaean pirates that fuels the next phase of American disorder.
In August, the song “Rich Men North of Richmond” debuted at No 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 – the first song to do so by an artist with no previous chart history. Sung by Oliver Anthony, a 31-year-old former factory worker whose real name is Chris Lunsford, the song tells of lives wasted in meaningless labour – “selling my soul/Working all day/Overtime hours/For bullshit pay” – while elites preen themselves on their progressive virtues. Since its release, a video of Anthony performing the track in the woods had racked up nearly 70 million views on YouTube.
The unprecedented success of the song has provoked outrage among leftists and liberals. Critics have accused the singer of racism and sympathy for slave-owners (Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War) and denounced Anthony’s claim to speak for working people. But the left gave up the struggle against class inequality a generation ago, replacing it with the self-serving poses of bourgeois identity politics, while liberals colluded with corporate capitalism in dismissing the dying communities of America’s post-industrial wastelands as retrograde sections of humanity. It is too late for progressives to regain working-class support.
In the years ahead American politics will be driven by the people dismissed as ugly, feeble and deplorable by Ayn Rand, Bronze Age Pervert and liberals alike. Whoever succeeds in lodging themselves in the White House in January 2025 will preside over a failing state and a country descending into civil warfare. The hyperbolic liberalism of past decades will be locked in a deadly confrontation with the “populist” mass blowback that is its ever-present and lengthening shadow. The ensuing upheavals will not be pretty, but only fools have ever supposed that politics could be the pursuit of inchoate visions of beauty.
This article appears in the 27 Sep 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The Right Power List