German Nihilism, American-Style
Part 2 of 3
“What I am now going to relate is the history of the next two centuries. I shall describe what will happen, what must necessarily happen: the triumph of nihilism.”
--Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power
In 1941, Leo Strauss delivered a fascinating, semi-autobiographical lecture on “German Nihilism” at the New School for Social Research. Strauss’s talk attempted to explain the nature and sources of German nihilism and the role it played in the rise of Nazism during the decade-and-a-half after the end of the Great War. The “young nihilists” described by Strauss were those young men who, like himself, had been influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche and/or Martin Heidegger, and who then went on to become “Conservative Revolutionaries” during the 1920s, men such as Oswald Spengler, Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, Carl Schmitt, Hermann Rauschning, Ernst Jünger, and Ernst von Salomon.
Strauss defined Weimarian nihilism as the desire to destroy the moral meaning of modern Western civilization (e.g., reason, objectivity, logic, natural science, individualism, self-interest, freedom, capitalism, wealth, etc.), particularly in its “Anglo-Saxon” form. These conservative nihilists, according to Strauss, viewed modern capitalistic society as “irreconcilable with the basic demands of moral life” by which they meant a “serious life.” Instead, they sought the “Ernstfall, the serious moment, M-day, war” in opposition to what Strauss called Kulturbolschevismus (i.e., State coerced egalitarian hedonism as the most advanced form of Nietzsche’s Last Man). They hated the prospect of living in a society of well-fed, lumpen bovines. They suffered nausea and cultural despair at the thought of living in a world defined by Nietzsche’s Last Man.
The German nihilists also believed that reason and logic were ultimately on the side of communism, and so they abandoned reason for their instincts, and what they called the “irrational decision” and “romantic judgment.” They likewise aestheticized blood and steel, brutalism and violence, death and destruction to mean the beautiful and honorable. To fight and die at the Somme or at the Ypres Salient was their symbol of the heroic and the beautiful.
A distant relative of mine, John McCrae, captured the meaning of the fighting at Ypres with his haunting poem, “In Flanders Fields”:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Though written by a Canadian for his fallen comrades, the poem applies no less to the young Germans who fell in Flanders, and the poem’s last stanza could just as easily have applied to the German ultra-conservatives of the 1920s who launched what Hermann Rauschning referred to as the “revolution of nihilism.” Ernst Jünger, a leading intellectual of the conservative revolutionaries and a highly decorated hero of the German Army during the Great War, summed up the overwhelming feeling of his generation this way: “What kind of minds are those who do not even know this much that no mind can be more profound and more knowing than that of any soldier who fell anywhere at the Somme or in Flanders? This is the standard of which we are in need” (The Worker, 1932).
Nihilism is born of hatred and resentment. It seeks to destroy. Strauss notes, however, that German nihilism was not absolute nihilism, which must ultimately result not only in the destruction of the “other” but also in the destruction of one’s own self through either individual suicide or a Jonestown-like collective suicide. Pure nihilism represents the highest form of self-hatred and self-abnegation, but German nihilism, particularly in its Nazi form, did pursue something rather than Heidegger’s “das Nichts” (nothingness). The Nazis did seek a “positive” value: their nihilism was mixed with a particular form of hedonism, namely, sadism. According to Strauss, there is reason to believe “that the business of destroying, and killing, and torturing” was a “source of an almost disinterested pleasure to the Nazis as such,” that they derived a “genuine pleasure from the aspect of the strong and ruthless who subjugate, exploit, and torture the weak and helpless.” They loved to hate, destroy, and to make others feel pain and to suffer.
But German nihilism was not simply about destruction for the sake of destruction or death for the sake of death. Its ultimate political goal was, as Strauss noted, German world-domination through war for the sake of war. Martial conflict, the young nihilists argued, brought out the best in men. As Strauss put it,
The admiration of the warrior type as a type, the unconditional preference given to the warrior as warrior, is however not only genuine in German nihilism: it is even its distinctive feature. Our question: in favor of what does German nihilism reject the principles of civilization as such must therefore be answered by the statement: that it rejects those principles in favor of the military virtues.
Self-sacrifice and self-denial represented the highest form of moral good for the German nihilists and the primary virtue was courage. Strauss was correct to see that the preference for war over peace and war for the sake of war led “for all practical purposes” to “nothing other than destruction.” Kant’s perpetual peace would be replaced by Nietzsche’s perpetual war. But if war—and all that comes with it—is a good in itself, then there can be no justice, only the will to power and the desire to destroy. The young conservative revolutionaries saw in the future not the return to an old past but a new beginning, one for which the end justified the means.
At the deepest philosophical level, German nihilism as it was birthed in Nazism represented “a return to a pre-modern ideal, but this pre-modern idea was not to be found in Socrates, Plato, or Aristotle. Its true origin, according to Strauss, was to be found in “pre-socratic philosophy” as described by Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy. Here, Strauss pulls no punches: “The relation of Nietzsche to the German Nazi is comparable to the relation of Rousseau to the French Revolution.” And of course, Nietzsche is the link to twenty-first century, right-wing nihilism—American-style.
Our Weimar, Our Nihilism
In re-reading Strauss’s essay recently, I was struck by how eerily similar is the phenomenon that he describes to some of the intellectual and political trends in this country today. One hundred years after Weimar, the United States of America seems to be entering its own Weimar state of mind, where the forces of the progressive or nihilist Left and those of the reactionary or nihilist Right are competing against each other to destroy the tottering remnants of a free society.
Confronted by our own kind of academic Kulturbolschevismus emanating from our universities, a new generation of young reactionary nihilists has emerged in recent years with an anti-philosophy philosophy that is opposed to what I have described in America’s Revolutionary Mind as the philosophy of Americanism. These new American nihilists, like their Weimar counterparts, are repulsed by the soul of modern man, whose life has atrophied and is facing its final indignity as the homogenous mass man becomes indistinguishable from a herd of cattle safely grazing in comfort and peace. They also claim to strive for something higher, nobler, and more heroic.
The leading voice of today’s Nietzschean Right youth movement is, as I wrote in my last essay on “Bronze Age Pervert and the Fascist New Frontier,” the marketing-tested and monetizing-named Bronze Age Pervert (BAP), whose book Bronze Age Mindset (BAM) is akin to , putting it gently, Dr. Caligari’s cabinet of curiosa.
The Perv’s nihilism is strikingly similar in several ways to Strauss’s German nihilists of the 1920s. In Bronze Age Mindset, BAP, like Nietzsche, speaks of a “great ugliness” that has descended on the modern world. The purpose of his book is to “draw back the curtain on this Iron Prison,” and to show his readers “where it is you really live” and why it is that most men in modern society are the “walking dead.”
Similar to Nietzsche’s description of the Last Man, BAP describes modern life as “yeast life” and bourgeois man as the “Bug-Man” or the “blob human,” who is “delivering not just the West, but all of mankind, to a condition of domestic brokenness and servility.” Like the Weimar nihilists, BAP views the modern world as one of intellectual, psychological, moral, and cultural filfth and sickliness. His podcast exudes a kind of unrelenting existential nausea. Listening to BAP’s whinging is like sitting beside Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man at a dinner party.
Bronze Age Mindset is written for those twenty-first century young men “who feel stifled by this bug world,” a world of “ubiquitous ugliness and garbage.” Like Strauss’s German nihilists, BAP longs for the destruction of the Iron Prison that is modern civilization. His very specific and unique hope is that “barbaric piratical brotherhoods will wipe away this corrupt civilization” and build a new society based on biological hierarchies, the will to power, and the aesthetics of bronze-age war.
BAP recently quoted approvingly and at some length from aphorism 208 in Beyond Good and Evil, where Nietzsche denounces the European mixing of classes and races and calls for a
new caste that would rule Europe, a long, terrible will of its own that would be able to cast its goals millennia hence—so the long-drawn-out comedy of its many splinter states as well as its dynastic and democratic splinter wills would come to an end. The time for petty politics is over: the very next century will bring the fight for the domination of the earth—the compulsion to large-scale politics.
BAP then excitedly says of this passage that Nietzsche was promoting the creation of a “eugenic European caste as a means to grand projects,” which he described as “an amazing thing.”
As Strauss wrote of the 1920s German nihilists, today’s Nietzchean Right claims that it seeks to live a morally and politically serious life that transcends mere patriotism. Like their German forerunners, these young men believe in the purifying and transformative power of struggle and violence. They too valorize political and military conflict and the “warlike virtues.”
As with the German nihilists of the 1920s, Bronze Age Pervert and his Twitter followers (they refer to themselves as “Frog Twitter”) are done with philosophy and talking. They’re also done with what they view as the vacant and useless principles and institutions of the American founding, which means they’re done with America except as a space to be re-conquered. They want action, and they want it now. They view our time as one of ideological, cultural, and political war, which is why they have nothing but contempt for the fecklessness of Conservatism and Libertarianism, Inc.
BAP has stated on several occasions his own intellectual kinship with the German nihilists discussed in Strauss’s essay. His unreserved praise of Nietzsche’s thought is a constant throughout BAM and his podcasts, and he has also demonstrated great admiration for the German conservative reactionaries from the 1920s, such as Ernst Jünger, and Ernst von Salomon. In episode #37 of his podcast, BAP described himself as an “intellectual descendent” of the German 1920s aristocratic Right, particularly of Jünger and von Salomon.
In the end, however, BAP rejects these conservative reactionaries because they were too aristocratic and too romantic—too beholden to the forms and formalities of the traditional nobility—too regressive in their political strategy. Tactically, according to BAP, the German authoritarian Right during the Weimar period was not democratic enough. These conservative nationalists mistakenly looked down their noses at hoi polloi, and they sometimes (but not always) rejected the Nazis as “street urchins.”
BAP therefore spurns what he calls a “fancy-boy, elitist Rightism that looks down on Nazism as too democratic.” What the German conservative reactionaries of the 1920s didn’t understand is that in a democratic age, a resurgent Rightist politics must begin with the people and the military. The problem with the authoritarian nationalists was that they could not, according to BAP, “mobilize the people as well as Hitler did,” which is why some of the conservative nihilists eventually drifted into Nazism by the early 1930s (e.g., Heidegger, Schmitt, and Rauschning).
This is why, then, BAP says openly and explicitly that he follows the political playbook of Hitler and the Nazis, who successfully combined populist and charismatic demagoguery with military caudillismo in order to gain and keep power. BAP is particularly impressed by the aesthetics of Rudolph Hess’s 1934 torch-lit, mass rally at Nuremburg. Like Hess, BAP is something of a strutting showman who likes the aesthetics and energy of Nazi rallies. According to BAP,
You have to be a demagogue to win, it’s the only path for the Right, it’s the only path for anyone in the modern world because who can mobilize the workers, the working class, the working people. Who has the most motivating vision for them will win. It still decides everything in the end, politically.
All of this is to say that BAP calls for a “return of the Caesars” and for a class of men “who can rouse up the people with unspeakable passions” and who are great speakers and men of “mesmerizing charisma, who can move the people.” In addition to Hitler and Mussolini, BAP’s list of favorite demagogues includes: Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Francisco Franco, Juan Perón, Alfredo Stroessner, Lee Kuan Yew, et. al.
Most recently, BAP and the tadpoles have been promoting the career of Léon Degrelle, who was a Belgian Nazi collaborator and who later joined the Waffen-SS to fight on the eastern front for Hitler and Team Nazi. Eventually, Degrelle was promoted by Heinrich Himmler to SS-Standartenfüher and was eventually awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross by Hitler himself. In his recounting of the ceremony, Degrelle claims that Hitler praised him like no other: “You are truly unique in history. You are a political leader who fights like a soldier. If I had a son, I would want him to be like you.”
BAP and the tadpoles are enamored with Degrelle and have been promoting his Nazi street cred both on BAP’s podcast and on his Twitter account recently. You can get a flavor of what BAP and Team BAP think of Degrelle in this Tweet:
Note the comment from @CityBureaucrat (which BAP both liked and retweeted), which says “Reminder that if your ideology doesn’t end with baby sorting tables, your ideology can best be described as Genetic Dead-Endism.”
The coup de grâce is, of course, the video of Degrelle that BAP and his toadies are promoting, which you can watch here (and I strongly recommend you watch it here or below):
Readers should know that this video is not hosted on YouTube. I found it via the Stormfront.com discussion board, which is the home of America’s best-known white nationalist, neo-Nazi organization.
It couldn’t happen here, you say! Well, it has.
Just so we’re clear: BAP’s ideas have permeated at least one mainstream American “think” tank and they have infected several political theory graduate programs. Going forward, silence or toleration is not an option for decent men and women.
Fools, Firebrands, and Frauds
I shall conclude by indicating two very serious ways in which BAP and the tadpoles are not at all like the German nihilists. First, the Weimar nihilists were serious intellectuals, who wrote and published serious books under their own names. They fought openly for their principles. The tadpoles, by contrast, are internet trolls, who do memes and what’s called “shit poasting.” They have nothing original or interesting to say. They are intellectual Last Men. More recently, some of BAP’s (political theory) graduate student and junior faculty followers (particularly those with a West-Coast vibe), have started publishing more substantive essays on their websites and Substacks, the quality of which one might expect from students attending second- and third-rate political theory graduate programs.
Second, many of the German nihilists were highly decorated veterans of the Great War. They fought with great courage on the front lines in both Western and Eastern Europe and many of them were severely injured. If nothing else, in contrast to Mr. Perv’s tadpoles, the German nihilists were at least men of intellectual, moral, and physical courage. They weren’t PlayStation Übermenschen wearing skinny jeans and sipping their lattes around a seminar table in sunny California.
BAP’s tadpoles are, by contrast, both intellectual and moral sissies, who hide behind infantile pseudonyms. They can natter all they want about the need for anonymity because of how “dangerous” their ideas are in the face of woke persecution, but we all know the truth: they are cowards. The tads are no more than Nintendo warriors and “shit poasters” living on their grad school stipends or on their wives’ salaries, who seem incapable of formulating an interesting never mind an original thought.
Morally speaking, BAP and the tadpoles are frauds and hypocrites: they will not put their money where their always-chirping collective mouth is. They long to be warriors, pirates, and conquistadors, but none of them is actually willing to man up and do it. They’re just LARPing ninnies, who like to play internet dress up.
They could, of course, prove me wrong: they could join the French Foreign Legion this minute and go train in the swamps of French Guiana, or they could fly to Afghanistan tomorrow and sign up with a local warlord, or they could take a night train to Syria and join ISIS or al-Qaeda, or they could sail to Somalia and become pirates. There are still lots of places in the world today where Team BAP can find lots of vitalism, will to power, lebensraum, and Caesarism. You only live once, and now is the time to live out your online fantasies.
As the commercial says, “Just Do It!” I dare you. In fact, I’ll pay the airfare for the first three tadpoles who contact me to sign up for al-Shabab.