Kit Wilson

The rise of the neoclassical reactionaries

The cultural right in the post-Christian age

The rise of the neoclassical reactionaries
(Mishagl/Flickr)
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A strange new ideology has been growing over the last few years, you might have noticed — amid the day-to-day chaos — the slow, proto-planet-like formation. Currently, it has no name, nor an obvious leader. Its many thousands of proponents do not even seem, yet, to consider each other fellow-travellers. But to the onlooker, they’re clearly marching the same steps to the same tune. We might call it neoclassical reactionism.

The central refrain is a familiar one: the modern world is ugly, decadent, sick. But rather than seeking refuge in religion or racial politics, neoclassical reactionaries hark back to Ancient Greece and Rome — in particular, to supposedly lost values like vitality, beauty and strength. They’re obsessed with bodybuilding and Latin. They’re also obsessed, less predictably, with cryptocurrency, considering it a long-awaited way to bypass the sclerosis of centralised economies. The whole thing is sort of Nietzsche meets Bitcoin.

Up to now, the movement has been confined largely to anonymous social media accounts (albeit some with hundreds of thousands of followers). But there are early signs of a spillover into the real world. Last month, a group called Praxis announced its ambition to create the world’s first 'city-cryptostate', an entirely new city, constructed 'somewhere on the Mediterranean', founded on the shared value of 'vitality' — 'the defining value of the coming epoch'.

The group’s introductory statement reads like neoclassical reactionary bingo. Our civilisation, they write, 'is unwell' — we 'eat food that kills us, we’ve lost sight of beauty, and we neglect our spiritual lives'. Modern humans now 'live within' their screens.

All of this is a betrayal of our true potential. We, after all, 'are descended from the people who built Rome and Athens, who dared to split atoms and voyage to the Moon'. Fortunately, thanks to crypto, we now have 'a radical opportunity' to unshackle ourselves from 'the institutions that seek to limit our growth' and achieve 'a more vital future for humanity'.

The plan, evidently, is to attract followers online, form a kind of virtual polis in the cloud, and then to approach actual governments in the Mediterranean (apparently early negotiations have already begun) with the offer of a new physical city — funded by selling off monuments and land as NFTs. It’s not a million miles away from Peter Thiel’s concept of Seasteading: autonomous, libertarian communities built on floating platforms in regulation-free international waters. Praxis will presumably have to abide by the laws of whichever state takes them in, though it might be that the promise of thousands of good-looking, remote-working techies with six-packs encourages governments to consider tax breaks.

Which brings us to one of the oddest things about the movement. Unlike the alt-right, which was associated with disaffected, cynical incels, many neoclassical reactionaries (or at least those drawn to Praxis) appear to be young, glamorous idealists. It’s as though smoothie-detox social media influencers suddenly discovered the Dark Enlightenment (one Praxis member, a bodybuilder and 'physical spiritualist' called Sol Brah, recently posted to his 50,000 Instagram followers a selection of inspirational Nietzsche quotes).

Praxis’s own Twitter feed is surreal. There’s the video of the topless crypto bro doing overhead presses with a Sisyphean-sized rock. There are mock-up pictures of statues as big as the Eiffel Tower of stacked, semi-naked warriors. There are a lot of videos of guys walking around barefoot (for some reason, shoes are considered, to quote one post, 'a symptom of civilisational collapse'). But perhaps most bizarrely, there’s a lot of hype — and not from nobodies. There are endorsements from, among others, the venture capitalists Masha Drokova and Geoff Lewis, the CEO of Replit Amjad Masad, and crypto guru Balaji Srinivasan.

If Praxis is the 'respectable' face of neoclassical reactionism, other — arguably more influential — figures in the movement tack much closer to the alt-right. Take Bronze Age Pervert, an anonymous writer and cult figure, whose self-published book, Bronze Age Mindset, immediately shot into the top 150 list on Amazon back in 2018.

BAP, as he’s usually known, combines Ancient Greek mythology with deliberately outrageous, 'post-ironic' racist and sexist generalisations. Prior to his ban earlier this summer, BAP boasted over 70,000 followers on Twitter and inspired scores of offshoot accounts (like, for instance, Latino Bodybuilders for Hellenism). His writing has drawn the attention of, among others, former Trump advisor Michael Anton, who, in a review of Bronze Age Mindset, concluded: 'In the spiritual war for the hearts and minds of the disaffected youth on the right, conservatism is losing. BAPism is winning.'

Consider also the Passage Prize art contest, established by another right-wing Twitter celeb, L0m3z. Its mission statement rails against our 'regime of shrill Human Resource mediocrities', and encourages artists instead to tap into 'powerful energies latent in the graves of pre-history, waiting for a hand, a mind, an imagination to retrieve and transform them into the creative spirit that will light a new way forward'.

The prize, which will dish out the equivalent of $20,000 in cryptocurrency, is to be judged by the ‘neoreactionary’ intellectual Curtis Yarvin and yet another anonymous Twitter megastar, Zero HP Lovecraft, whose recent book, self-published using the Bitcoin publisher Canonic, supposedly made over $50,000 in the first few hours of release.

Another website still, IM-1776, has published a number of pieces of a broadly neoclassical reactionary bent, including the Arts & Literature for Dissidents series (the first essay of which is penned by 'Aeneas Tacticus Minor') and the 'D’Annunzio, Nietzsche and Bronze Age Pervert' symposium (Benjamin Roberts’s opening essay champions nightclubs as outposts for Nietzschean, 'hard-right' vitality).

Clearly, something is afoot. But what, exactly? Is this the post-religious right finally breaking free of Christianity and setting the civilisational agenda for the next thousand years, or is it a group of naive techies ushering an ideological Bitcoin bubble? Is it a renaissance or the beginnings of crypto-fascism? Perhaps, in true Nietzschean style, we shouldn't spend too long staring into the abyss.