The American Mind is happy to play host to the important debates raised in the below essay. We do not necessarily endorse one side or another, and will, of course, invite responses — Eds.
In his response to my “Pajama-Boy Nietzscheans” essay, Erik Root writes in partial defense of Bronze Age Pervert and his followers. Root’s central disagreement with me seems to be that he thinks I don’t sufficiently appreciate or understand a “key aspect of the modern American regime: the fact that we are living through its decline,” which means that I can’t fully understand or appreciate BAPism.
Mr. Root’s claim is curious because it suggests that he knows my thought better than I do! He seems to be suggesting that if I don’t see or understand the source, nature, and meaning of America’s intellectual, cultural, and political rot in the way that BAP and his followers do, I must be, as BAP’s Twitter disciples have declared, a Boomer “normie,” who is hopelessly wedded to a now irrelevant past. Also implicit in Root’s post is the related suggestion that I do not understand or appreciate why so many young men are attracted to BAP’s message.
Erik Root is mistaken on two counts. First, I do understand the source, nature, and meaning of America’s decline and possible fall at least as well as BAP and his epigones. I’ve been studying and fighting it for the last thirty years, but, unlike them, fighting it openly and under my own name. I, of all people, hardly need to be lectured to that I “don’t get it” or, worse, that I haven’t been fighting against the soft and necrotic despotism that has been slowly eroding our freedom and the moral fabric of our nation. Second, I do have some understanding of, even empathy for, Zoomer conservatives and libertarians who have been radicalized and now show contempt for establishment intellectuals and institutions.
Over the course of the last 15 months, I have taken a deep dive into the world of the online dissident Right in order to understand its dissatisfaction, anger, and resentment. I’ve listened to their podcasts and watched their videos. I’ve engaged them in conversations and correspondence. I’ve taken the time to read their essays and dissertations on topics such as Plato, Pindar, Nietzsche, tyranny, communism, and the decline and fall of American culture. And what I’ve learned is both fascinating and disturbing.
The most important questions that we must consider are: How and why have these young men and women been alienated from the Establishment Right? How and why did they turn to Bronze Age Pervert for guidance and inspiration?
Revenge of the Lost Boys
Most of the young men on the dissident Right were once dyed-in-the-wool conservatives or libertarians, but virtually all of them were red-pilled by the increasing radicalization of the totalitarian Left and by the inability, unwillingness, and cowardice of Conservatism Inc. and Libertarianism Inc. to defend the principles of a free society against the transgressions of the cultural Marxists. More particularly, they feel as though conservative and libertarian elites have abandoned them, and so they have rejected as moribund and feckless the principles and institutions they once supported. In doing so, however, they have stepped over a very clear line of demarcation separating a free from an unfree society. They now accept and promote principles that have more in common with their explicit enemies (i.e., the totalitarian Left) than with the true proponents of a free society.
How did this happen?
To answer this question, we must consider the social reality experienced by many young people today. This is the generation that was told every day at elementary, middle, and high school and then in college they were racist, sexist, and homophobic by virtue of being white, male, and heterosexual. This is the generation that has been told that the content of their character has been predetermined by the unjust actions of their forebears. This is the generation that has been told ad nauseam that they are the unjust beneficiaries of inherited wealth and power. This is the generation that has been reminded daily of their “privilege.” This is the generation that has been told by their teachers and preachers that they are sinners in the hands of an angry new God—the secular God worshipped by the social justice woke. This is the generation that has been told that they must atone for the sins of others. This is the generation that has been forced to accept unearned guilt, shame, and self-loathing. This is the generation that must be censored, indoctrinated, and re-programmed. In sum, this is the generation that must be punished.
And there’s more—much more. This is the generation of young men who were never permitted ribbons or trophies based on merit or winning. This is the generation of young men who had dodgeball, tag, and recess taken from them in elementary school. This is the generation of young men who were forced to take “Home Ec” rather than shop class in middle school. This is the generation of young men who were encouraged to experiment with their sexuality in high school. This is the generation of young men many of whom were falsely accused of sexual harassment or worse in college. In sum, this is the voiceless generation of young men raped of their masculinity and sissified by the doctrine and oppression of modern feminism.
Should we really be surprised, then, that a certain segment of America’s young men has become alienated, confused, bitter, and resentful?
Those who now suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune are stepping outside the arc of history yelling, “stop!” At a certain point, they let out a collective primal scream, shouting “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” And when the “youf” (as they refer to themselves online) realized that establishment conservatives and libertarians lacked the vocabulary, principles, power, and courage to defend them from their Maoist persecutors, they went underground to places like 4chan, 8chan, and various other online discussion boards, where they found a Samizdat community of the oppressed. And from there, they were quickly radicalized in ways not dissimilar to some young Muslims living in the West.
From here, the online Right (consisting mostly of young men) accepted the view that power can only be fought with power and that the identity politics of the Left can only be fought with a new identity politics of the Right. And then came Bronze Age Pervert, who told this tribe of the refused that “he felt their pain” and that he would be their anonymous prophet-warrior.
Bronze Age Pervert and the Rise of the Spartacus Straussians
As if all this weren’t enough, there is an even more interesting phenomenon taking place on the dissident Right and that is the degree to which BAPism has spread through the Straussian world. BAPism, both as a cultural and an intellectual movement, has a significant following with a younger generation of Straussian-trained graduate students and junior faculty. (And yes, there are more—many more—Straussian-trained followers of BAP than you might think.)
How and when did this happen?
The crucial moment came when Michael Anton reviewed BAP’s Bronze Age Mindset in the August 2019 issue of the Claremont Review of Books. (Coincidentally, this is the same time when Jordan B. Peterson decamped from public life.) Up until that moment, BAP was largely unknown in the Strauss-o-sphere. Anton’s review radicalized a generation of Straussian graduate students and recent Straussian Ph.Ds. This is a well-known and demonstrable fact. I have talked to a number of these Straussian BAPtistas and their fellow travelers, and they virtually all credit Anton’s CRB review of BAM with having introduced them to Bronze Age Pervert.
Shortly after reading Anton’s review of BAM, a couple of enterprising, young Straussians (supported by a small tribe of fellow Straussian grad students and junior faculty) started a website dedicated to all things BAP and online university named in honor of their mentor. (Curiously, both the website and the university have been scrubbed from the internet.) BAP’s Straussianized followers are also all over Twitter. They are easy to spot because they mostly write under classical Greek and Roman pseudonyms, and they like to quote Strauss, Homer, and Xenophon.
My own research confirms that BAPism is now a strong presence in virtually all of the Straussian graduate programs. The BAP virus has swept through Straussian graduate programs like COVID-19 has swept through college fraternities. BAPism has been found in the Straussian graduate programs at Boston College, Yale, St. John’s, Duke, Baylor, Dallas, Claremont, Hillsdale, and Toronto. Ironically, BAP’s greatest success may have been to re-unite East- and West-Coast Straussians!
Interestingly, these BAPtized Straussians still seem to hold Leo Strauss in high regard but Strauss’s current promulgators not so much. I know and am friends with many of the senior faculty members in question, and I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings, but some of your grad students are just not that into you. You only need to follow the Twitter accounts of the Straussianized BAPtistas to know this. And, very much to my chagrin, the Straussian professors who teach the BAPsters seem to be oblivious about any of this.
How did this happen, what does it mean, and where is it headed?
The world of Straussian graduate school is like an intellectual oasis in sea of academic corruption. Most of the students in these programs were the best and brightest students most often coming from Straussian-connected undergraduate programs, where they were first introduced to the Great Books tradition. Their graduate-school careers represent everything that a graduate education should be: it’s reading, discussing, debating, and thinking about the great texts of political philosophy day and night. The experience is thoroughly intoxicating. At a certain point, these Straussian graduate students make the decision to dedicate the rest of their lives to reading and teaching the Great Books. But then one day, reality strikes. After investing their hopes and dreams in an academic career, the young men in these programs realize that it probably won’t happen. They come to realize how thoroughly corrupt higher education is; they come to realize that there are almost no jobs in their field; they come to realize that affirmative action and ideology will bar them from a tenure-track job; and, finally, they come to realize that they face the very real possibility of permanent academic unemployment. At best, they can expect adjunct work at the local community college. Things fall apart. Their despair turns into anger and their anger turns into resentment. They come to resent the false promises of their Straussian professors and the false promise of American life. BAP explains how and why they have become victims rather than heroes. They’re ripe for BAP’s message.
At the very moment of their despair, BAP picks up these young men and gives them hope and purpose. These Straussian grad students hear and respond positively to BAP’s denunciation of egalitarianism, nihilism, and what he calls the “great ugliness” of the contemporary world. In many ways, their education has prepared them for BAP’s message. In their graduate seminars, they read Homer, Plato, and Xenophon and are therefore inclined to accept BAP’s call for a new race of heroic men who have a natural claim to rule, and they read Nietzsche’s discussion of “The Last Man” in Thus Spoke Zarathustra and therefore easily accept BAP’s condemnation of the “Bugman,” the “yeast life,” and the “blob human” of modern society. BAP speaks to those young men “who feel stifled by this bug world,” and he encourages them to become like the heroes of the ancient Greek world that they’ve been studying for many years. He encourages them to follow a life of adventure, exploration, and conquest, and he inspires them to follow the “life of the immortal gods who live in pure mountain air.” The Bronze Age mindset is, according to BAP, “one of complete freedom and power.” It’s all rather intoxicating for these young men.
At a certain point, the switch flips and these young Straussian BAPists wade across their intellectual, psychological, and moral Rubicon. A generation of youngish Straussians now openly and explicitly rejects principles and institutions they once loved and defended as true, right, and good. They now attack as “normies” and “Boomers” those who have stood toe-to-toe with the Left for decades; they now mock under the cover of anonymity those to whom they have relied upon for grad-school funding and academic jobs; they now reject and attack as “irrelevant” the ideas and actions of those who still fight on their behalf; and they now stand at a far distance behind the front lines of the culture war and shoot their former friends, allies, and teachers in the back.
What, then, are we to make of all this, and what is to be done?
BAP and the phenomenon that he has inspired is to be taken seriously. I have read Bronze Age Mindset, and I have listened to all of BAP’s podcasts. I am also in Samizdat communication with some of BAP’s friends and followers. These young men (and a few women) are some of our best and brightest. They are thoughtful but angry. They are talented but resentful. They hate the Left; they are contemptuous of Conservatism and Libertarianism Inc.; and they are disgusted with contemporary American culture. They’re desperately looking for a way out of the abyss of modern nihilism.
Like the New Left radicals of the 1960s, the BAPsters’ motto is something like: “never trust anyone over thirty-five!” This is a movement of radicalized young men, who are done with the geriatric ideas and institutions of Boomer Normies. They want direct action, and they want it now.
There is no question the BAPtistas have been radicalized and “red-pilled” and in some cases “black-pilled.” To quote Tom Paine, “they see with new eyes, hear with new ears, and think new thoughts.” BAP and his followers are not misty-eyed, blue-pilled, filio-pietists, who long for things long past and dead; instead, they are clear-eyed, red-pilled, insurrectionists, who long for a new order of the ages.
West Coast Straussians and the Regime of Sun and Steel
Returning to Erik Root (a Claremont Ph.D.), his response to my “Pajama-Boy Nietzscheans” essay is interesting because provides an important but partial insight into the Bronze Age mindset. His underlying position seems to be this: America, as we have known it, is done—caput! We are living through its irreversible decline and fall. The Left has already destroyed America and any attempt to return to the Golden Age of the founders is a fool’s errand. It therefore makes no sense to Root and the BAPsters to defend a lost cause. All that maudlin Boomer talk about self-evident truths is just so much useless flotsam and jetsam. Like the German Freikorps, Viking League, and far-right political parties of the 1920s (particularly in Germany), the BAPsters are ready for a new beginning and a good fight. BAP recently put his followers on high alert by sending out a communiqué for them to be prepared to “defend the lion,” by which is meant President Donald Trump.
From the ashes of the great social and political conflagration that is surely to come, according to BAP and Root, a new American phoenix must rise, one grounded in BAP’s philosophy of vitalism (i.e., the “vital life-force capable of superhuman strength”) and his restoration of thumos (i.e., the spirit of a “primordial and primal Will”) and the need for Lebensraum (i.e., the “struggle for ownership of space” to develop man’s “inborn powers”) and the inevitability of Caesarism (i.e., the “power to become lord over life and death in your state”). Root concludes his essay with a prediction that verges on a clarion call: “If a new regime is in the offing, we will need politically spirited men.” Or, as Matthew J. Peterson, the executive editor of The American Mind, wrote recently: “If insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, refusing to acknowledge the need for new institutions at this point in American life is a form of madness.” The suggestion here, of course, is that the Old Republic is dead, and it cannot, nor should it be, defended or resurrected. What’s needed is a new beginning founded on new principles and institutions.
What will the new BAPist regime look like? As outlined in Bronze Age Mindset and on his podcast Caribbean Rhythms, BAP’s political principles include: recognizing, rewarding, and institutionalizing the inequalities amongst men, white supremacy (see BAP’s Caribbean Rhythms Podcast, Episode 1, where he said: “I am not a white nationalist, I am a white supremacist.”), the domination of the weak by the strong, the elevation of pirates, conquistadors, and warlords as the highest and freest type of men, “boundless cruelty,” “preparation for struggle and war,” “command and obedience,” and some form of military-monarchical rule as the best form of government. (On BAP’s Twitter feed you’ll find celebratory photos of Saddam Hussein strutting on horseback during a military parade, or on his podcast you’ll hear praise for Muammar Gaddafi or Alfredo Stroessner.) This is what BAP calls the “regime of sun and steel.”
Let’s be clear: these calls by Root and Peterson for “new institutions” and a “new regime”—which means rejecting the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the institutions of the Constitution for a new founding—are surely no less radical than those of the New Left in the 1960s or those of Antifa and BLM today. I hate to play the Jaffa card, but I’m pretty sure that Mr. Jaffa would not go for the regime of sun and steel.
Aristotelianism, Historicism, and BAPism
And how do these young and not so young Straussians rationalize their enthusiasm for BAPist-inspired regime change?
Mr. Root invokes Aristotle’s view in the Nicomachean Ethics (Book V, chapter 7) that justice is both natural and changeable. Aristotle’s argument is, of course, famously vague and is often misunderstood. My interpretation is that natural right for Aristotle is absolute, permanent, and universal, but its application is dependent on sometimes changing or different contexts. Justice is contextually absolute for Aristotle. But this is not quite how Root interprets Aristotle on the question of the changeability of natural right. He writes: “Natural right is the realization of justice in different times and in different places. But, right may mean different things at different times.” Mr. Root misinterprets, in my view, Aristotle’s teaching on the nature of justice. He seems to historicize and relativize Aristotle’s view of justice in order to justify abandoning the founders’ principles for the new BAPian principles.
The inevitable consequence of such historicism is, not surprisingly, to accept BAP’s claim that he’s not “here to promote a ‘way of life’ or morality” because he does not think “principles or ideas are of any use today.” In fact, he thinks that “all ‘ethics’” is for “cows,” and such a morality should not apply “to the true men who are willing to live in danger, and who don’t care for their animal lives” and who “live dangerously and do great deeds, for good or evil.” This is the intellectual bait-and-switch that permits Root to abandon the principles of the American founding for BAP’s anti-American principles.
Such a view of natural right or justice was, of course, anathema to America’s revolutionary founders. The Declaration of Independence speaks of the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” of self-evident truths, and of “unalienable Rights.” The laws and rights of nature were, according to the founders, absolute, certain, permanent, and universal, but of course the application of those truths was subject to prudence, which means they could be adapted differently in different times and places. This is why the first word after the Declaration’s listing of the four self-evident truths is “Prudence.” The application of the Declaration’s “revolution” truth was subject to the dictates of prudential judgment.
The more fundamental point, however, is this: America’s revolutionary founders did not believe that the Declaration’s self-evident truths were subject to change. They regarded them as metaphysically true—absolutely, permanently, and universally true. In his inaugural address, George Washington announced that the policies and laws of the new nation would be “laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality” and the “eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.” In 1824, just before he died, Thomas Jefferson announced that municipal, civil, and constitutional laws are changeable, but what was unchangeable were the “inherent and unalienable rights of man.” According to BAP, however, “the doctrine of rights, is all so much nonsense.”
The bottom line is this: BAP and his Straussian epigones have abandoned natural right for a new form of historicism (more on this in the next essay) and amoralism that is meant to serve the political crisis of the moment. The problem with this move, however, is that you can’t defeat the Left by adopting and using its core principles. This is why fascism is not the antipode to socialism; it’s just one variant of the genus.