Around a year ago, the editors of this august journal asked me to contribute a piece on the “alt-right.” I hesitated, for a number of reasons, at least two of which are relevant here.
First, I did not then—and still do not—quite know what the “alt-right” is. That is to say, I know what the term means to the Left and to the mainstream media (apologies for the redundancy): “anyone to my right whom I can profitably smear as a Nazi.” But so far as I can tell, even many who consider themselves “alt-right” can’t agree on the term’s meaning, or on who or what qualifies. Furthermore, some of those least afraid to accept the label insist that the underlying phenomenon is dead, having immolated itself in Charlottesville in August 2017. Why bother writing about something that no one can define and whose most prominent proponents claim is defunct?
Second, in looking into this a little, I found plenty of books about the alt-right but none by the alt-right. This is perhaps not surprising, since one of the few things that those who talk about it can agree on is that it is, or was, primarily a social media phenomenon. But I was convinced then, and remain so, that a long review of volumes summarizing blogs, tweets, and memes would be as tedious and fruitless to write as to read. So I begged off.
Months later, the tech entrepreneur and anti-democracy blogger Curtis Yarvin brought to a small dinner at my home, in lieu of the more traditional flowers or wine, a book—one I had never heard of, called Bronze Age Mindset (hereafter BAM) by a person calling himself “Bronze Age Pervert” (hereafter BAP). A few weeks later, I took it up in a moment of idle curiosity.
Second-Rate Nietzsche? Or Something More?
In structure and tone, BAM appears at first glance to be a simplified pastiche of Friedrich Nietzsche written by an ESL-middle-school-message-board troll. Words are often misspelled or dropped, verbs misconjugated, punctuation rules ignored. For example, a prototypical BAP sentence reads “Wat means?”—which presumably means: “What does this mean?” Yet the author weaves in clear English amidst the doggerel, showing that he knows how to write. And standard English increasingly takes over as the book proceeds.
But I didn’t notice that at first because I gave up early. Then I happened to mention this strange gift to a young friend and former White House colleague, Darren Beattie, who urged me to try again and persevere. The book, he said, has struck a chord with younger people—especially men—who are dissatisfied with the way the world is going and have no faith in mainstream conservativism’s efforts to arrest, much less reverse, the rot.
Self-published in June 2018, BAM quickly cracked the top 150 on Amazon—not, mind you, in some category within Amazon but on the site as a whole. This for a book with no publisher and no publicist, whose author is not even known. Sales have been driven, one suspects, by BAP’s largish (greater than 20,000) Twitter following. Legions of eager fans quote the book and/or post pictures of its cover in exotic locations and/or lying atop military uniforms, presumably their own. But I think this understates BAP’s influence. Beyond his own account, he has scores of imitators who ape his writing style and amplify his ideas. Others have imitated him more directly, self-publishing their own BAPish books, and BAP returns the compliment through generous cross-promotion.
So I resolved to force myself through the whole thing. By around page 40, the effort ceased to be a chore. Say what you will about Bronze Age Mindset, it’s not boring. BAP takes a flamethrower to one contemporary piety after another, left and right alike (but mostly left). Was here, finally, a way to satisfy my editors’ request? BAM, after all, is a book; it is on the right; and it is “alt,” in the sense that it presents sharp alternatives to much, even most, of what the establishment Right professes and holds dear.
It’s been evident for a while, at least to me, that conventional conservatism no longer holds much purchase with large swaths of the under 40, and especially under 30, crowd. Tax cuts, deregulation, trade giveaways, Russophobia, democracy wars, and open borders are not, to say the least, getting the kids riled up. What is? The youthful enthusiasm for BAM suggested a place to start looking . . .
Read the rest at the Claremont Review of Books.