MONDAY, MARCH 4, 2024
We arrive on the scene a bit late: Yesterday afternoon, as the Celtics pulled away from the Warriors, we switched over to the C-Span book event which appeared beneath this byline:
Anne Applebaum and Ezra Klein on the Future of Democracy
The month-old discussion took place in Rancho Mirage. A name like Rancho Mirage makes us wonder if the gods are possibly having some fun, but at least it's better than watching an event from Rancho Cucamonga.
We arrived at the discussion midway through. At the 39-minute mark on the C-Span videotape, Klein can be seen saying this:
KLEIN (2/2/24): One thing I'm a litle, I'm more attentive to these days is what it looks like to be a young person coming up in Republican Party politics. I mean, what kinds of things are you reading? What kinds of—
The fact that you had all these young campaign staffers who had to get fired this year because of what turned out to Nazi imagery in the meme videos they were making for Ron DeSantis and people like that, that was worrying. Because I don't think they knew what that imagery was. But it was in the world they were inhabiting online.
The kinds of thinkers who have become more salient on the Republican side, people like this online writer Bronze Age Pervert?
Like that's a real thing. You can look it up.
[GESTURING TOWARD APPLEBAUM]
The Atlantic has done a great profile of Bronze Age Pervert. Because we are all demeaned now, having to describe reality.
I'm not sure— For a long time, I thought Trump was an isolated kind of threat, and as a politician, in a way, I think he is. But what he is has kind of spread more broadly.
And so, I don't know. I don't know if this is kind of a temporary threat that America navigates its way past or not. I don't know what Gen Z's politics ends up looking like.
Klein went on from there. But who in the world is "Bronze Age Pervert?" And how did we manage to miss that great profile of this "online writer" in The Atlantic?
The Atlantic profile is here. It was written by Graeme Wood, who has apparently known the online figure in question for something like twenty years.
Politico Magazine offered a second profile, with no paywall. You can read that profile here.
These profiles appeared last summer when we were locked away in a "skilled nursing facility," receiving ten minutes of bandaging per day for a brand-new surgical wound. We had little access to the Internet. That's when the profiles appeared, which would explain why we missed them.
The Atlantic profile strikes us as massively illuminating. For example, what's up with the peculiar impulses of a figure like Steve Bannon? Without mentioning Bannon by name, it seems to us that the profile by Wood may make that conundrum quite clear.
We expect to return to these profiles of Bronze Age Pervert at some point. For today, we'll offer this one passage from The Atlantic, print edition headline included:
The Rise of Bronze Age Pervert
Last year, at a conference of political philosophers at Michigan State University, a Yale professor named Bryan Garsten told his colleagues that they were in trouble. The topic of the conference was liberalism—not Ted Kennedy liberalism, but the classical version that predates the modern Democratic Party and indeed America itself. Liberalism is the view that individuals have rights and beliefs, and that politics involves safeguarding rights and making compromises when beliefs conflict. It has existed for only a few centuries and is by some measures the most successful idea in history. Just look where people want to live: the United States, the European Union, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom, all liberal places that people will risk their life to reach.
But Garsten said liberalism had some of his best students hopping into rafts and paddling in other intellectual directions. He said they had been “captured” by the belief “that to be morally serious, one faces a choice.” The choice, he said, is not between liberalism and illiberalism. Liberalism had already lost. Its greatest champion, the United States, had run aground after pointless wars, terminal decadence, and bureaucratic takeover by activists and special interests. Garsten said his best students were choosing between the protofascism of Nietzsche and a neomedieval, quasi-theocratic version of Catholicism opposed to Enlightenment liberalism. These students considered liberal democracy an exhausted joke, and they hinted—and sometimes did more than hint—that the past few centuries had been a mistake, and that the mistake should now be corrected.
Some of his best students had given up on classical liberalism, Professor Garsten said. Among the writers to whom they were drawn was the follow called Bronze Age Pervert.
In that passage, Wood describes classical liberalism as "the most successful idea in history," though only "by some measures." We'll flip the lens, focusing on the fact that this most successful idea "has existed for only a few centuries."
For many members of our war-inclined humans, classical liberalism is a very recent layer of ideation laid down upon a much older set of impulses and reactions. For people like the online writer whose thinking Wood describes, that new layer of ideation doesn't seem to be establishing itself as a successful transplant.
Our own surgical wound still hasn't healed. For the online writer Bronze Age Pervert—Wood supplies his actual name—it looks late that recent set of new ideas hasn't really gained purchase.
Until yesterday, we'd never heard of Bronze Age Pervert. We had heard of Steve Bannon, and of quite a few others like him.
What in the world did Bannon have in mind when he said he wanted to deconstruct the administrative state? Wood's profile of this online writer may start to offer an answer, without necessarily reassuring us that the center will know how to hold.
Wood's profile of this online writer may start to help us see why our existing blue tribe elites have shown so little skill at the task of holding back the pro-Trump wave. As for Ezra, we think he ought to make an attempt to "demean himself" more thoroughly. It seems to us that Wood's profile may start to light the way down many dark corridors and paths.
What is driving a person like Bannon, and possibly a person like Trump? Thinking about the popular online writer BAP may be a good way to find out.