Note from the Editors: This essay is part II of an online symposium on D’Annunzio, Nietzsche, and Bronze Age Pervert. Read part I, here, and part III, here.
Information Age Mindset: Politics and Fantasy in the Global Village
“Do you wish to fight? To kill?
To see streams of blood?
Great heaps of gold?
Herds of captive women?
— Gabriele D’Annunzio
“Of course, there is nothing to do with such a book but to denounce it, if not to burn it,” concludes Micheal Millerman in his review of Bronze Age Mindset. Antifa activists and representatives of the centrist American Right both agree, with the former denouncing, not just its author, the popular anonymous social media personality Bronze Age Pervert, but anyone reading him, as antisemites and Nazis, and the latter insisting that his “repulsive ideas are anathema to the principles and institutions of the American founding and to the trajectory of American freedom.”
Nevertheless his extraordinary self-publishing success story and lively podcast continues to inspire fascination, if not adulation, from all those who are indeed moved to oppose the current trajectory of American freedom as it slides into tyranny. For the growing numbers who correctly recognize Antifa and their media shuttles as weapons of police state repression, and view mainstream conservatives as unreliable allies at best, a riveting and shocking routine mixing pictures of animals, bodybuilders, and racial and sexual epithets in an ersatz cave man dialect presents, if nothing else, a real alternative.
But what is the reality of this alternative? Employing defamatory labels to derange and intimidate is a classic totalitarian tactic against independent artists and writers. Every Warsaw Pact dissident from Patočka to Solzhenitsyn and Havel was repeatedly labelled a fascist. This fact is already enough to compel a position of skepticism, if not open contempt, towards equivalent contemporary rhetoric, but it also doesn’t mean mechanically endorsing what they say that they oppose. What is clear is that Bronze Age Pervert, or BAP, is a brilliant enigma who concentrates into a mesmerizing virtuoso performance some of the most pressing issues of our time. What is also true is that this performance flirts with transgressive thoughts and sentiments whose ideological indigestibility is critical to his countercultural attraction. For these reasons he crystallizes much more sharply than other censorship controversies the central question of contemporary expression.
Must we burn BAP?
This question has been asked before. Seventy years ago this winter, Simone de Beauvoir’s two-part Les Temps Modernes essay “Must We Burn Sade?” conducted an intellectual examination of another problematic author subjected to scandalous silence and idolatrous devotion yet with “critics who make of him neither villain nor idol, but a man and a writer… counted upon the fingers of one hand.”
Her essay repays attention today both due to the extent of Sade’s influence on post-war French philosophy, and as a reminder of how radically both the standards of obscenity and the standards of public intellectual activity have changed. In Europe in 1951 the author of an obsessive catalogue of sexual perversions was still widely perceived as repulsive, but it was nonetheless plausible for one of the most prominent philosophers in France to produce a critical examination of his work. By contrast the pornographic world which Sade imagined is now ubiquitous and hypernormalized, across the captive globe, with a dark ocean of abjection now only ever six or seven clicks away, but analytic intellectual standards have collapsed into an endless orgy of denunciation. Anyone proposing burning Sade today could be plausibly accused of hate speech. BAP’s ludicrous racist and sexist vernacular, and his eccentric relation to right-wing symbology, on the other hand, is almost criminal, and not just his. The evenhanded Michael Millerman was pushed out of academia for translating Alexander Dugin, an act which in a healthy society would have been received uncontroversially. The courageous Kathleen Stock has faced relentless and vicious harassment for five years for maintaining views that every educated person before 1989 would have regarded as sane and normal.
Has there been a somersault of the sexual and the political, so that liberation of the former has transferred repression to the latter? Or have both politics and sex transformed into consumer market simulations, in which edginess creates attraction but freedom and eroticism have disappeared?
BAP first surfaced in the corporate media in the Atlantic Monthly in 2017 announced by Curtis Yarvin as the alleged architect of a secret plan to organize a flash mob of nudist bodybuilders in MAGA hats on the Washington Mall, but the event never materialized. Eighteen months later, once again thanks to Yarvin, former Trump Administration national security official Michael Anton’s essay in the Claremont Review of Books and an online symposium in the American Mind ratified his intellectual credibility, provoking a writer for progressive establishment quarterly Democracy to speculate “that if you opened this journal and read a symposium featuring some Obama Administration official reviewing some book called, say, Neolithic Communism by Stone Age Sicko, you’d have some questions about whether ours was a political movement worth engaging with.”
But few people have opened, or even heard of this journal, and fewer still would imagine it represented any political movement at all. It exists as a vehicle to circulate unthreatening opinions among an occupational elite to retain a phantom intellectual authority. This story is now repeated across almost every official cultural field and institution in the West, where intellectual and political competence has been declining for decades as ideological control has tightened. The outcome is what Peter de Mendelssohn described as a “desire to turn the world of the spirit upside down with an intellectual gesture, to interchange the signs that mark its whole system of relationships, as the practical joker switches the shoes outside the doors of hotel rooms at night.” This desire also doubtless inspired the person behind BAP, who could not have anticipated the interest his creation would one day achieve, and, in a darker way, also drives the personalities who join the Antifa, whose sadistic criminality is symptomatic of the cynicism and corruption of elites.
Intellectuals themselves, Millerman, Anton and the hostile C. Bradley Thompson all concentrate on analyzing BAP’s ideas. But his ideas are broadly secondary to his psychological appeal. ”The nihilism that came upon Israel during the Second Intifada in particular is hard for Westerners to grasp,” BAP remarked in an American Sun essay in 2019. “I remember meeting left-wing Israelis at the time… who were relieved that they could talk frankly, finally, to an avowed nihilist nutcase like myself.” Nobody is interested in BAP because of ideology, but because of the cathartic feeling produced by his essentially anarchic quality. Does a man introducing himself as a barbarian pervert have a serious political philosophy? Isn’t sui generis barbarian perversion his philosophy, and really only his, with his followers his imitators, like with rock bands? Isn’t the attempt to extract a deeper ideological meaning here, whether to endorse or condemn it, not very strange? C. Bradley Thompson’s polemic against “pajama boy Nietzcheans” and “PlayStation Übermenschen” somehow simultaneously constituting a “fascist new frontier” registers as especially puzzling, since if this whole thing is a juvenile fantasia, what’s the big problem?
In fact, the question of the threshold between youth and manhood defines the issue. The most memorable passages of Bronze Age Mindset have no relation to politics but consist of strange anecdotes, and surreal speculations, like rumors that “as you go inland from Port-au-Prince you start to see the lights of Manilla” (I can confirm this is true) or meditations “on what it would be like to be a Vietnamese girl, a nail shop owner, or even an obese Angolan middle-aged woman running a pedicure operation.” Other sections describe wandering around drunk in the daytime, being beaten up by a bouncer, or visiting a pornographic cinema like an outtake from a remake of the movie Carnival of Souls. “There was a loose vampire bat in lobby that had flown in, but this was normal… At intersection in gray beaten up Volvo there was a driver with no head.”
As the book becomes more ideological it becomes strained and monotonous and eventually puerile, from the Latin word puer. The classical heroes who Bronze Age Mindset proposes as role models defines a masculine archetype without any commitments beyond nihilistic enjoyment. A throwaway line near the end of the book that Hitler was a “great leader” who called on the “deep passions” of women serves no obvious purpose except crass provocation and explicitly contradicts his militantly masculinist vision. Hitler, amongst other things, was a pathological sexual failure, possessed by a grotesque recurrent nightmare of luridly eroticized humiliation. He once stated that, in his speeches, he had “systematically adapted himself to the taste of women.” Joachim Fest describes his speeches as the performance of “an impulse-object before whom the neurotic petty bourgeoisie gathered for collective debauch.”
These kinds of comments, along with scattered references to National Socialist terminology, and other contentious forms of expression are overlooked or ignored by his casual readers or high-minded critics like Anton, but weaponized by Antifa activists to propagate the narrative that BAP leads a Neo-Nazi movement. There is no basis for entertaining this interpretation which is itself a major motivating factor of the situation it condemns. In the last five years, the weaponization of rhetoric opposing fascism to destroy civil liberties and advance a totalitarian agenda has established a scenario in which transgressive speech lines up with instincts of resistance to illegitimate authority, so the idea begins to form that one can demonstrate defiance by repeating censored words or images. A comparable mentality inspired punks like Siouxsie Sioux and Sid Vicious to photograph themselves wearing swastikas in the seventies and countercultural dissidents in Russia to adopt esoteric iconography in the late eighties. No doubt this is a childish idea. But it cannot be interpreted independently of the blasphemous significance now condensed in certain words and symbols regardless of their concrete meaning.
Hitlerism was a psychological and criminal phenomenon, mixing fanaticism and cynicism, not a stable ideological position. “Undoubtedly at its roots were certain views to which it remained indissolubly wedded,” writes Fest, “but there was scarcely any article in its creed that it would not have willingly abandoned or set aside at least temporarily for the sake of gaining or holding power.” This motive can express itself through any ideology depending on the social situation of the time. In post-imperialist Germany it crystallized in National Socialism; in anti-reactionary Russia, it supported Bolshevism, and in New Age California it engendered Charles Manson and Jim Jones. Today it manifests in Antifascist activism, and a cynically manipulated rhetoric of public health. Nihilism doesn’t openly proclaim itself as nihilism, just as Machiavelli was not himself a Machiavellian. The crucial point is these are movements of conformism and not transgression.
The question is the value of transgression. Plainly transgressive speech and the potential for offense has always been a key component in what the Greeks called parrhesia, or fearless speech, in contrast to the speech of fear which defines the discourse of a totalitarian society. In this climate transgressive speech is needed, not least because speech which demonstrates the corruption and the lies of this society is called transgressive for this reason. But this is not the same as simply saying outrageous things. This side of BAP’s output, admittedly less now than it was, represents an immature style which has regrettably spread among his more impressionable followers. At a minimum, it confuses the real issues, when intellectual and ethical clarity is called for. At the same time it offers pro forma grounds for repressing anyone treating his other material seriously or simply laughing at his jokes. Is this what he wants? In his epitaph to the American Mind symposium BAP ambitiously compares himself to Solzhenitsyn but Solzhenitsyn would never have expressed himself in this way.
Then again, we are no longer exactly in the same situation. Anton opened his essay by recognizing that he was not totally sure what the ‘Alt-Right’ he was examining even was, and restricted his focus to Bronze Age Mindset, the book, not the Twitter account or the social media landscape it personifies. This oversight unites all parties, despite their other differences, but it’s critical in order to grasp what is really going on.
“One thing about which fish know exactly nothing is water,” wrote Marshall McLuhan, “since they have no anti-environment which would enable them to perceive the element they live in.” We are today in this scenario with respect to electronic media. From the globalization of the economy, to mass migration, to the proliferation of pathologies, to the birth of a panoptic state, and now the hyperlinked pandemic, nothing in contemporary society is unconnected to the expanding role of digital technology in every part of human life. At the same time, precisely as it fades into the background, this technology is becoming difficult to specify, or even name.
Bronze Age perversion is one name. In 2019 the savvy podcaster Anna Khachiyan described BAP as “the great genius writer/artist of our age… a masterful genius who has created his own ecosystem, he’s created a canonical work.” But BAP is not actually an artist, but a character, who has been created by an artist, not unlike Anna Khachiyan herself. Their affinity exists in terms of métier and strategy. Both have established an audience, not just on the strength of their commentary, but their mastery of marketing by combining edgy signaling with sexual-aesthetic imagery to canalize mimesis and desire.
McLuhan argued that electronic media was returning reality to conditions approximating a preliterate environment, animated by superstition and magic and what he called retribalization as opposed to the open societies of the literate world. The layout of this landscape was surveyed by Nina Power in her 2020 Spectator article “Oracles, perverts and the Dirtbag Left” which reviewed BAP’s podcast Caribbean Rhythms together with Anna Khachiyan’s Red Scare and a World Service program on Tibet. We are now living in a world of “pocket black mirrors, mysterious algorithms and new spirits” in which “politics, spirits and history are inseparable” yet at the same time abstract and detached.
This is an Information Age Mindset distributing arresting images and moods at knee-jerk speed between every human nervous system on the planet. An inscrutable psychological and social mechanism now engineers haphazard subjectivities, collective fantasies, bizarre arrangements and imaginary connections daily. Every statement of irritation or exasperation, or resentment now may be recorded, amplified and punished or rewarded. Ideological denunciation, consisting of cursing a target with invidious keywords, is also an expression of the structural logic of this world, which reduces to an online game what once proceeded through a critical exchange, to emoticons what were once called feelings, and to a code what previously demanded thought.
William Guppy describes for IM—1776 a world “of faceless avatars who encourage you, through the positive reinforcement of likes and retweets, to exaggerate your worst, most self-parodic tendencies for their passing amusement.” BAP is the apotheosis of this world and the disclosure of its logic. He’s the king of social media and its genius, but he also is its slave, like Rodin was marble’s slave. The degree to which a BAPist memeplex and vocabulary have spread across the filaments of social media is amongst the most singular aesthetic phenomena of our time. All things considered, its impact seems broadly positive. Hundreds, perhaps even thousands report adopting healthier individual lifestyles under BAPist inspiration. But from a political perspective, what has BAP achieved?
Fest writes about how the flight of German youth into movements like the Wandervögel critically weakened the Weimar Republic, which demanded a more serious political engagement from its citizens than the older imperial structures required. A version of this logic is now proceeding through the internet on a global scale. Cyberspace is finally a psychoneurotic medium: a hybrid of a brothel and a sewer which operates hydraulically to condense, project, dissipate and discharge psychic tensions aggregated in the course of daily life. It defines the most advanced expression ever formalized of what BAP, following Philip K. Dick, calls the “Iron Prison” and the mainframe of a global totalitarian system which functions through deflection and derangement as much as direct repression.
The virtual return to the youth of humankind also stages a regression on the level of individual psychology. Network analyst John Robb’s post-2016 distinction between rightist bad boys embodied theoretically by Donald Trump, and leftist mean girls led by Hilary Clinton implicitly situated both in a virtual version of high school. Others evidently regress even further back: to the disordered drives of early infancy, if not a purely amniotic state.
BAP’s ‘ecosystem’ is set in this paradigm as a hyperreal territory in the online economy. Encircled by symbols and codes establishing a totemic ethos he is an internet warlord leading a virtual tribe of wild boys and feral adolescents, regardless of their actual ages. When Bronze Age Mindset mythologizes as a struggle for space refers in the first place to a struggle for cyberspace: a struggle in which BAP has competed extremely successfully. The loyal fans who helped him market his book with photographs of swimsuit babes in tropical locations holding copies, like Marilyn Monroe and Ulysses, resembles nothing in the history of literature since Gabriele D’Annunzio claimed Fiume in September 1919 before Benito Mussolini ensnared him in a labyrinth of exquisite antique furniture, and unique objets d’art.
But BAP is almost a parody of D’Annunzio who was already a parody of himself. He dreams of pirates, praises adventurers, engages sporadically in bloody rhetoric, and walks back from barbarically deranged positions, but to conceive this as an essentially political phenomenon is misplaced. BAP is more like a refugee from a more vivid world, before the internet, where one could still encounter characters with crazy stories and unbridled ways of speaking. This world still exists beyond the net, this global engine of derangement, and the lockdowns, which is the nightmare of the internet, and perhaps the final nightmare, but the window for returning to it now is closing. “It is, I repeat,” BAP asserts in his reply to Anton, “the tyranny of our time that my book seeks to oppose.” But discipline and courage on a still higher level will be needed.