Feature 04.05.2020 8 minutes

Who Owns Vitalism?


Does Curtis Yarvin understand Aesthetics?

Vitalism (noun): the theory that the origin and phenomena of life are dependent on a force or principle distinct from purely chemical or physical forces.

What is this vitalism that everyone keeps talking about? Who is Bronze Age Pervert? I am the author of The New Art Right (2018). I was also an early adopter of neoreactionary philosophy, propelled into The Discourse (TM) by accelerationist philosopher Nick Land alongside political strategist Curtis Yarvin.

Last year Yarvin, still better known pseudonymously as Mencius Moldbug, brought the mysterious Bronze Age Pervert on stage and watched the 4D chessboard dance. While I exited neoreaction (NRx for short) for political reasons in 2013, my purpose for exploring what struck me as—I’ll be honest—a fringe community of dark triad lunatics—was cultural. My goal was to usher in a new metaphysical current that I dubbed the Art Right.

My idea was to counter the pre-existing neoliberal order and replace it with something that had more of a pulse. There was a pulse missing from culture itself, which was a grandiose tragedy in the making. I wanted to revive dark romanticism into what I dubbed cultural architecture. Writing for a dissident publication called The Agonist, I began detailing the shift:“A cultural rebirth of an organized artistic elite must occur. A higher state of consciousness is calling; a new occult paradigm is waiting to be explored.”

So! What exactly is the paradigm that is being explored by Curtis Yarvin? Encompassing the occult background of Nick Land and the more Straussian elements of the counterculture, a new future is taking shape at your local speakeasy.

Enter Dionysus, Carrying an Amp

No longer a dark autistic safe space or even a hate-group LARP session, Bronze Age Mindset is apparently the New Order after Joy Division sells enough records to be optimized. Pepe evolves into a homosexual bodybuilder who is a mix of Zarathustra and Mishima, a new folk hero who will speak for the few inside the many who crave the vitalism we have been obsessing over. Yet what about Joy Division?

Yarvin calls it the Deep Right, citing my term Art Right in his latest article. But of course, like any Silicon Valley techlord, Yarvin glosses over that which has come before him. He makes reference to none of the artists who currently make up the Art Right before he proclaims:

All revolutions begin as a fundamentally aesthetic break. The first step in a cultural revolution is the birth of a new artistic school. Behind this aesthetic must come an artistic movement, then artistic institutions. These institutions, if they prosper, become the cultural core of the new regime. Art is the spring, lever and hinge of any real change in our time.

This is nearly identical to my thesis in The New Art Right:

The dominant intellectual paradigm is dying. If we do not replace them, we will be accustomed to the corpse of the modern intelligentsia surrounding us. This is why we must replace them now. The New Art Right creates a spiritual revolt of art, music, philosophy, literature, theatre, film, poetry, and live performances.

Yarvin has no background in the arts or fashion. His understanding of culture is nothing to brag about. He is familiar with systems architecture, but does this correlate with cultural architecture?

According to Italian Futurist philosopher Gabriele D’Annunzio:

You must create your life, as you’d create a work of art. It’s necessary that the life of an intellectual be artwork with him as the subject. True superiority is all here. At all costs, you must preserve liberty, to the point of intoxication.

Therefore, in order to kick forth the Art Right, a Bronze Age Mindset is not enough. We need an entirely new aesthetic format that extends into the technological and cultural realm. We need new artists, new musicians, and new fashions.

A subcultural historian such as myself could cite bands in the industrial music subgenre of neofolk as predecessors. Bands like Current 93, Death in June, Rome, and Changes sought to make a similar foray into vitalist territory. Meanwhile, Yarvin seems focused only on optics, ignoring the Art in the Art Right in favor of a Machiavellian pep talk. This does not mean his strategy is without merit, but it calls into question certain details.

As for Bronze Age Pervert, his book is a great introduction to Nietzsche, yet he is focused on bodybuilding and supplements, which could be interpreted as more self-help corporatism rather than Zarathustra. His obsession with the material realm could be viewed as contrary to the vitalism expressed in predecessor art movements such as Italian Futurism and the outwardly left-wing French Situationism.

While bodybuilding is surrounded in aesthetics, it is certainly not the sum total of aesthetics. James Poulos is closer in his essay Digital Vitalism, where he lays out the course:

It is a completely immersive environment that definitively and decisively shapes our experience of reality: of the world, of ourselves, of one another, of machines, and of the place in the world of us humans and of these entities David Bowie correctly described in 1999 as “an alien invasion.”

It is the deeply irrational who are the vanguard of any metaphysical shift, even if they are not physically fit or neurotypical enough to get into the dinner party. David Bowie did not care about impressing the boys on a message forum. He made himself into a living work of art by defining his own values through his musical and occult performance.

Carrying the Day

In the tradition of Nietzsche, Bowie lead a spiritual revolt through creating a world in which new initiates could immerse themselves. With Yarvin, there is a banal normativism involved in his desire to replace the tools of the old establishment with a new one, and we should be critical of this if we want a truly aesthetic approach.

The Right is not known for financially supporting art, let alone any metaphysical tradition that shifts the cultural fabric of being. NPR and their ilk are always ready to support their left-wing artists, and the Right has no equivalent. This is where the Art Right should come in and assert dominance. If we do have a statecraft project in Bronze Age 2.0, it must be more than a bunch of men lifting weights as they transcend modernity. There must be a true Art Right and not just another screed from Fight Club: Revenge of the Nerds.

Vitalism must reach beyond the grasp of some high-IQ meatheads and their aspirants. It must be unleashed for all interested parties if these new institutions are going to form. Without this metaphysical shift, the Art Right remains a onanistic pursuit. As Nietzsche said:

“Man is a rope, tied between beast and overman.”

I believe that Bronze Age Pervert is a bridge between the Dissident Right and the Art Right. As Yarvin correctly observes, Bronze Age Pervert is not the end. Yet ultimately, Yarvin has not even begun.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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