“Certainly, if American Conservatism has any core of consistency and purpose,” political philosopher Harry Jaffa said in 1974, “it is derived from the American Founding.”
The Claremont Institute, a prominent conservative think tank founded in 1979 by Jaffa’s students, aims “to restore the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life.” That’s why it’s puzzling that institutions and people within Claremont have been seduced by a weightlifting fetishist Twitter personality who calls himself Bronze Age Pervert (BAP), and who proclaims that “the Constitution, the ideology, the doctrine of rights, is all so much nonsense.”
Though their defenders insist Claremont was merely engaging with Bronze Age Pervert’s thought as a means of directing disaffected young men to better ideas, some of the Institute’s most prominent thought leaders helped popularize BAP’s (frequently deranged and often incoherent) philosophy—which rejects the American Founding, limited government, equality, and Christianity.
Claremont’s descent into the fever swamps of the online right provides an object lesson for conservatives in how not to fight the left.
WHO IS BRONZE AGE PERVERT?
While he’s tried to maintain an air of mystery, multiple sources have identified BAP as Costin Vlad Alamariu, a Yale University political science PhD of Romanian extraction. (Alamariu has never publicly confirmed or denied that he is BAP, and he did not respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for clarification.)
Writing under his own name, Alamariu occasionally contributed to conservative publications like the Daily Caller (“Mass Immigration Will Make The U.S. More Like Latin America”) a book review for New Criterion; and a couple of pieces for the paleoconservative site, Taki’s Magazine.
But it wasn’t until he began writing as Bronze Age Pervert that he made his mark. In 2018 he self-published Bronze Age Mindset (BAM), a book-length “exhortation” purporting to “draw back the curtain on this Iron Prison and show you where it is you really live.”
He soon became an underground hit among right-wing thought leaders.
By October 2019, the book ranked as high as No. 3 on Amazon’s subcategory “Ancient Greek History” and Politico reported BAM was clandestinely circulating among young male staffers in the Trump White House. All this without so much as a book agent, let alone a publishing house. (In BAM, Alamariu acknowledges that “normies” will find his ideas “crazy,” and thus advises his fans to deny having read him if asked, making the actual extent of his popularity difficult to measure.)
If BAM were only a book-length exhortation explaining why “it goes without saying that you must lift weights,” there would be nothing much for conservatives—or even cardio nuts such as myself—to object to.
Where Alamariu pontificates about elites ruthlessly repressing authentic masculinity, leaving behind “lower types of mankind”—or “bugmen,” as he calls them—he veers into something more dangerous.
“The bugman pretends to be motivated by compassion, but is instead motivated by a titanic hatred of the well-turned-out and beautiful” and seeks to “bury beauty under a morass of ubiquitous ugliness and garbage,” Alamariu wrote in BAM.
Standing athwart the tyranny of the bugman is the titular Bronze Age Mindset, which is “to be worshiped as a god!”
Because he encourages secrecy, Alamariu’s online legions are hard to identify or count. But based on what we do know, it’s safe to assume they include established movers and shakers, wannabe elites in conservative circles seeking self-promotion and titillation, and basement-bound castoffs who feel left behind by a modern culture that cares little for the well-being of young males.
They can embody the Bronze Age Mindset by defying modern artistic and cultural mores and celebrating beauty; by befriending each other (especially through lifting) while excluding women; by securing elite posts in government and the military; and by working toward a future in which they will be free to be their truest selves—“superior specimens”—and vanquish their oppressors.
THIS ISN’T CONSERVATISM, IT’S BARBARISM
So what does a righteous Bronze Age Mindset world look like?
The BAMs will “wipe away this corrupt civilization,” and justice will become the will of the stronger. Alamariu writes that his vision of justice is for predatory zoo animals to be “unleashed by the dozens, hundreds… the buildings smashed to pieces, the cries of the human bug shearing through the streets as the lord of beasts returns.”
There is nothing conservative about this. Nor is there anything conservative in Alamariu’s racist and xenophobic laments over the “zombi hordes” [sic] from the “fly-swept latrines of the world” destroying cities and national parks. In case the point wasn’t quite driven home, he labels non-white regions the “turd world,” their residents “shit,” and fantasizes about the rebreeding of “the original Aryan race, or as close an approximation as possible, through some kind of a Platonic Lebensborn program.”
Likewise, there is nothing conservative about Alamariu’s views of women, who he thinks “drain” men of their “vital essence.” He considers the liberation of women an “impossibility” and “an infection from which [the West] can’t recover without the most terrible convulsions and the most thorough purgative measures.” He denigrates women as easily manipulated fools who—though to blame for so many ills over the past century—could use “retarded” democracy “to elect men of glamor [sic] and charisma who are our only immediate hope against the machine that runs our garbage world.”
Alamariu’s (at best) ambivalence toward Christianity isn’t exactly conservative either. He speculates that the New Testament was “written by a Jewish woman, as a parody of Greek tragedy,” and criticizes Christians (and Jews) for “suppressing the natural spirit of man.” The nicest thing he has to say about Christianity is that offending its believers is “stupid” when they have the same enemy.
And then, of course, there’s Alamariu’s contempt for the American Founding, which he says has “nothing to do” with America’s success.
WHICH WAY, CLAREMONT MAN?
So why have the ideas propagated by Alamariu (Bronze Age Pervert) found such a warm welcome at the ostensibly pro-Founding Claremont Institute?
A charitable view may hold that Alamariu’s musings represented an energy that, if properly channeled, could be useful against the left. One Claremont Institute Publius Fellow told The New York Times that the editors of the American Mind, another Claremont-affiliated publication, were the only people in conservatism willing to reach into the “goo” of this online-centered young right-wing discontent to direct its fans elsewhere.
Claremont Institute senior fellow Michael Anton—who wrote the “Flight 93 Election” essay, advising conservatives to suck it up and vote for Trump, because a Hillary Clinton presidency posed a mortal threat to the country—in 2019 reviewed BAM for the Institute’s quarterly journal, the Claremont Review of Books. As Claremont Institute president Ryan Williams characterized it, Anton “gently” criticized BAM. But Anton also urged readers to disregard Alamariu’s prejudices.
“Very little—if anything—BAP said is more outrageous than even the mid-level outrages of Machiavelli or Nietzsche, and most is quite a bit gentler than what one finds in Marx, Lenin, Mao, Sayyid Qutb, Guevara, Alinsky, Foucault, or any number of fanatics whose screeds are taught in elite universities,” Anton wrote.
Paraphrasing Thomas Jefferson, Anton did fault Alamariu for apparently believing that “the mass of mankind has been born with saddles on their backs, and a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately.” But he concluded with resignation that “in the spiritual war for the hearts and minds of the disaffected youth on the right, conservatism is losing. BAPism is winning.”
Anton’s was not the only view on BAM Claremont represented; not all were favorable. But one of the other sympathetic reviewers argued that Anton’s review lacked “genuine criticism,” and suggested his “relative silence in the face of BAP’s wild assertions spoke volumes” and betrayed “a lack of self-confidence in his own stated positions” about the worthiness of the Founders’ beliefs.
The greatest challenger to Claremont’s semi-embrace of Alamariu is Professor C. Bradley Thompson of Clemson University, a political philosopher who specializes in Founding-era America. He has traveled in some of the same circles as Claremont affiliates, yet rejects their dalliance with Alamariu and his followers, who he has labeled “Pajama-Boy Nietzscheans.”
Thompson has gone further than anyone else in demonstrating BAP’s fascist-adjacent views (see here, here, and here). He rejects the self-justifying claim of some Claremont thought leaders that they sought to “tame and channel the energy of the BAPists in a more positive direction.” He believes their decision to engage it, and the manner of their engagement, were, in fact, responsible for its mainstreaming, and strengthened it.
And Thompson considers Anton “the super carrier who brought the virus of the reactionary Right into the bloodstream of the conservative intellectual movement.” In his view, “by giving a platform to BAP and various other BAPsters,” the Claremont Review of Books and American Mind “appear to have forgotten or abandoned the founders’ classical liberalism and sanctioned (at least indirectly) the deviant views” of Alamariu’s fans.
Williams, during an appearance on the American Mind podcast, dismissed Thompson’s claim as “silly,” adding that it was imperative for conservatives to explore “new and creative” ways to appeal to young conservatives and that it’s “just not enough anymore” to say “the Founding is the solution.”
In the American Mind, Alamariu himself has complimented Anton’s review for being “the first big attempt… to really try to understand what’s going on from a sympathetic point of view,” and credited Anton and Claremont for giving his appeal “objective consideration, not emotional denunciation.”
REAL CONSERVATIVES NEED TO FIGHT BAM’S TOXIC IDEAS
Denunciation is tempting, given much of Alamariu’s message. And necessary, given its content, however ironically he and his fans will likely claim it is intended. But denunciation alone will not suffice.
A successful response from conservatives would have to acknowledge the illiberal excesses of the modern left, a considerable source of Alamariu’s appeal. In a sense, they deserve each other, and feed off one another.
For example, when Alamariu trollishly notes that the government instituted by the American Founding “would today be called white supremacism or white nationalism,” he is merely echoing, from the other direction, the criticism of it from the left. Both would tear the Founding edifice down for a tyranny of their own construction. The surest refutation requires admitting that both camps are incorrect.
Alamariu’s brutish, performative masculinity is an explosive reaction against the longtime left-wing tendency to disdain the kinds of positive male traits that make men “acceptable at a dance and invaluable in a shipwreck,” as one English schoolmaster once put it. This reaction derives some its appeal as a kind of barbaric yawp or wish fulfillment for young males who find themselves relegated to the margins of society (or simply aren’t as prominent as they believe they deserve to be).
Decades of left-wing overuse of “racist,” “sexist,” etc. as epithets have numbed many conservatives to the accusations, leaving them far less potent when applied to the real thing. Moreover, for a left that has long disdained the influence of Christianity on the right’s politics, Alamariu is the ne plus ultra of the need to be careful what you wish for.
A successful conservative response would also have to acknowledge the defects of the modern right.
To Thompson, that would involve condemning what he calls “Conservatism and Libertarianism Inc.” for having “failed to engage in the central cultural and moral issues of our time,” such as defending the family and the morality of markets.
This can no longer stand. Alamariu should not be permitted—by default—to claim the moral high ground in his denunciations of modern nihilism and egalitarianism. The American Right must present a positive and distinctly American vision of a free and virtuous society that mollifies young right-wing discontent.
Without a morally forceful mainstream conservatism, America will be trapped in a kind of radicalism death spiral, where the extremism of one side both worsens and invites a complementary effort from the other. Thus, the ultimate answer cannot involve a descent to Alamariu’s nihilistic depths. That way only lies a tyranny much like that which Claremont and Alamariu believe is the endgame of the Left, just with a different favored few booted and spurred.
Alamariu derides equality as an abstraction that has led to “pure slavery” for those who rightly ought to rule. But Harry Jaffa believed equality was central to conservatism. In 1974, he dismissed the contention that, by acting out of a commitment to equality, “Lincoln's opposition to slavery leads to slavery.” Only one of these views is consistent with Claremont’s convictions. Let it—and conservatism—choose wisely.