Vitalism, body cult and eugenics on the Right and the old Left

Vitalism, body cult and eugenics on the Right and the old Left

The US right-wing cult of health and fitness wants to make the people mobile. A fitness and health cult is spreading among US rights. One of the most prominent representatives of this trend calls himself the Bronze Age Pervert and dreams of the collapse of civilization The group “Praxis” describes itself as the “grassroots movement of modern pioneers”. Its goal is to build a „crypto city-state“ in which one would be free „from all institutions that try to limit our growth.“ The idea of founding largely autonomous mini-states has been haunted by right-wing libertarian ideologues for a long time. The fact that another project of this type has already received 4.2 million US dollars from various investors for »Praxis« is hardly worth mentioning. What is remarkable, however, is the aspiration of the project, as formulated in a programmatic text. „Our civilization is sick,“ one reads there, „the world is disturbed and decayed.“ BAP has a particular hatred against Asians, who have always embodied the worst tendencies in civilization. A vital civilization produces „healthy, strong and beautiful people“. But today one sees „civilizational decline“ everywhere, one lives „in an era of obesity“. Humanity is threatened with a dire fate: „stunted bodies, stored in gel, fed with synthetic insect paste, their minds occupied with the insignificant amusements of a corporate metaverse“. The self-proclaimed pioneers of Praxis, on the other hand, see themselves in „descent from the people who built Rome and Athens“. „Like wolves, tribes of pioneers are necessarily muscular,“ they write. Only in this way could they „receive the divine mission to build a city.“ The British magazine Spectator recently noted in an article on „Praxis“ that it was dealing with a new current of the political right whose supporters could be described as „neoclassical reactionaries.“ The whole thing could be described „roughly as Nietzsche meets Bitcoin“. One of the most influential representatives of this trend is called »Bronze Age Pervert« (abbreviated to BAP), an anonymous author and podcaster who published the book »Bronze Age Mindset« in 2018 under this pseudonym. The fact that »vitality« is also important for BAP was already evident on his Twitter account, where he regularly posted photos of young musclemen. In his book he writes that he »post these powerful, beautiful pictures of male models with their incredible vitality and youth« because they refer to »an original order«. He recommends to his followers „a regime of sun and steel“, that is, fresh air and weightlifting, not least to steel themselves for „fight and war“.

To the Claremont Institute, a right-wing think tank based in California, BAP’s book seemed important enough to publish a whole series of different essays on it in 2019. It all started with Michael Anton, who was for a time Director of Strategic Communications at the National Security Council, the most important security policy body in the executive branch, under President Donald Trump. In his long text, Anton dealt extremely respectfully with BAP’s theses. Although he does not share these, he concludes with the resigned judgment that classical conservatism is losing the “spiritual battle for the hearts and minds of the alienated right-wing youth. And BAPism is about to win. “ That may be an exaggeration, but the Bronze Age Mindset is a kind of cult book by the extremist, young Trump supporters. The theses represented in the book are partly absurd, the tone ironic, but the underlying worldview is clear: Not only modern society, but civilization itself is an evil, because it means the rule of the inferior over the „well-off“. That this biological worldview is racist should come as no surprise. Africans are consider by BAP to be inferior beings, their cities are the „latrines of the world“. Or as once Trump said “shitholes”He has a particular hatred of Asians, who have always embodied the worst tendencies in civilization. But even among the whites, most of the born subjects – bugmen, „beetle people“, as the author repeatedly used to express himself

The human ideal, on the other hand, is to be found in  male warrior societies and warrior castes. It was in its highest form in ancient Greece, but also among the European explorers of the early colonial period, who conquered continents and destroyed entire civilizations on their raids. But things have been going downhill since the French Revolution, nowadays people live under the totalitarian rule of „hidden powers“. By means of democratic demagogy, they would have made the „beetle people“ a dominant group in society and smothered everything that was good and beautiful. At the end of his book, BAP gives surprisingly pragmatic advice. Politically, one should orientate oneself towards “what works”, and that was what Trump, in particular, succeeded in doing in the end. BAP advises his supporters to deny him and his teachings in public and to win the population over to nationalism with a harmless demeanor. It is best to join the army or the security authorities, because the collapse of the social order is only a matter of time. Soon a military dictatorship would be established, and then there would be hope of shedding decadent civilization and ushering in a new age of „buccaneers“.

The Claremont Institute gave BAP the opportunity to reply to Anton in a separate text. There BAP emphasized that „vitalism“ is the most important bulwark against the left. „The most fundamental function of conservatism in our time“ must be to promote „health, normality and physical refinement“, against the left „celebration of deformity, obesity and sexual perversion“. BAP is just the most extreme example of the connection between the cult of fitness and reactionary nationalism. Behind this is not only a disgust for contemporary liberalism with its therapeutic language and its concern for the well-being of minorities – but also for the consumer culture that seduces and effeminates young men. More respectable US rights are also worrisome. Republican Senator Josh Hawley, for example, repeatedly warns of the „crisis facing American men.“ The left is to blame for young men struggling with mental health problems, not going to work and wasting their time on video games and porn instead of starting a family. As is to be expected from nationalists, there is also concern about the defensibility of the nation. Recently, Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who hosts the most-watched political program in the United States every weekday, hosted radio host Jesse Kelly. This criticized the plans of the US military to advocate gender equality. „We don’t need a military that is women-friendly or gay-friendly,“ says Kelly, but rather men „who want to sit on a throne of Chinese skulls.“ Fittingly, the Chinese government also started a campaign a few months ago to promote the ideal of soldier masculinity. This includes trying to drive out video games from young people. Nationalists are hostile to one another, but often very similar.

But this kind of vitalism, body cult, nationalsim and militarism is nothing new- from Ancient Greece, Sparta, Rome to Leni Riefenstahl to bodyybuilding and Arnold Schwarzenegger and the body , fitness and mindfulness cult from California. And even druing the Corona crisis there are many people on the left and on the right who think that the healthy with a good immune system could surbive the pandemic without problem and some even think of biological selection and ave nothing against the idea that the vulnerable parts of the people should die and be sorted out in a Social darwinist manner. But it would be wrong only to think that in history body cult was only a topic of the right if you look at the proletarian body cult of Stalinist socialst realism and its muscular workers which were hard to distinguish from the fascist body cult. And when it came about selfoptimization and eugenics the left also had similar ideas.

At the beginning of the 20th century, European social democrats and women’s rights activists advocated socialist eugenics. Before 1933, state eugenic measures in the form of reproductive bans for people with so-called undesirable characteristics and behaviors existed in the industrialized countries only in democracies, above all in the USA, where several states passed sterilization laws from 1907. Denmark controlled the marriage of certain population groups from 1923, and in 1929 a sterilization law followed. The Swiss neurologist Auguste Forel, who described himself as „wholeheartedly a socialist“, initiated the first eugenically motivated sterilizations and castrations in psychiatric institutions in Europe from 1892, at that time without legal regulations and often without the consent of those affected. All of this is irritating, but not surprising in view of the history of socialist eugenics: around 1900, numerous prominent socialists were not only fighting for a new society, but were convinced that they could also create a „new menkind“ by means of reproductive control.

According to Karl Kautsky, the socialist project was also threatened by a rapidly spreading „degeneration“ of people. Karl Kautsky, at the time the leading theoretician of German social democracy, dedicated the last chapter of his book on population policy, „Vermehrung und Entwicklung in Natur und Gesellschaft“ (Multiplication and Development in Nature and Society), published in 1910, to the subject of „Racial Hygiene“. In it he called for „artificial selection“: all „sick individuals who can breed sick children“ should be prevented from reproducing. Because in his eyes the socialist project was not only threatened by the political opponent, but also by a rapidly spreading “degeneration” of the people. Kautsky was not alone with this idea. At the turn of the century, numerous European socialists believed that the physical, mental and moral decline of a large part of the population in capitalist industrial societies could only be stopped with eugenic measures. In the two major theoretical journals of the German Social Democracy, the Neue Zeit and the Sozialistische Monatshefte, Oda Olberg – according to the founder of the Austrian Social Democratic Workers‘ Party Victor Adler, the „best socialist journalist“ of her time – shaped the debate on eugenics, together with the sociologist and women’s rights activist Henriette Fürth, the trade unionist Edmund Fischer and others.

On the British left, ¬eugenic positions were primarily discussed in publications of the Independent Labor Party (ILP). The decisive factor here was the influence of the politician James Ramsay MacDonald, elected first Labor Prime Minister in 1924, who saw eugenics as an „indispensable complement“ to socialism, as he put it in 1911. In the same year the socialist author George Whitehead wrote in his brochure „Socialism and Eugenics“ published by the publishing house of the Marxist Social Democratic Federation (SDF): „Eugenics and Socialism must work hand in hand if we are to have a healthy race.“

At the same time, socialist advocates of eugenics felt compelled to make sharp distinctions from „bourgeois racial hygienists“ (Olberg). Because their social Darwinist reading of social and „natural“ development identified the lower classes as biological losers who irresponsibly had many children and were therefore to blame for the decline of the „people“ and the nation – welcomed arguments also against the increasingly organized working class. Against such anti-socialist propaganda, which rejected social reforms, numerous socialists insisted on understanding humans as a product of the circumstances and ascribed the responsibility for the widespread misery, especially in the rapidly growing urban slums, to the capitalist system. The socialist advocates of eugenics also emphasized the negative influence of capitalism, which together with traditional bourgeois morals must urgently be abolished.

At the same time, however, they were convinced that certain physical and psychological characteristics were inherited – and some of them would multiply all the more under the life-friendly conditions of a socialist society, because then there would no longer be „survival selection“. Combining „artificial selection“ with socialism therefore seemed essential to them. The right to reproductive self-determination had no place in this idea. Rather, an early imparting of knowledge should ensure eugenic awareness so that every child becomes self-evident „that his health and the integrity of his body is not an absolute property, right to use and abuse,“ as Olberg wrote. Added to this were completely presumptuous expectations of the perfection of future socialist life, which, according to Kautsky, would be free from all circumstances that „produce disease and degeneration.“ In such a society, deviant behavior would be easy to identify. „If sick children then come into the world, their infirmity will not appear as the fault of social conditions, but solely as the personal fault of the parents,“ says Kautsky.

A core idea of socialist eugenics was: Anyone who carries defective genes and still produces offspring is unnecessarily burdening the general public and is a threat to the socialist future society and the path to it. In Olberg’s eyes „for the working class the struggle against degeneration was part of their struggle for power.“ Most socialists did not want to know anything about targeted pairings in the sense of „human discipline“. However, reproductive restrictions according to eugenic criteria seemed urgent to them, although there was disagreement about the concrete measures. Some hoped that education and informed voluntariness would be sufficient, and advocated the use of contraceptives; Others considered eugenically indicated abortions, sought marriage bans for certain groups of people or even called for sterilization and internment, such as the SPD politician Edmund Fischer. There was particularly little inhibition of using coercive measures against people who were categorized as „feeble-minded“ or „insane“. The British „Mental Deficiency Act“, a eugenically motivated law that was passed in 1913 with the support of Labor MPs, drastically expanded state control over people categorized in this way.

Many socialist theorists converted the originally politically, socially and morally well-founded opposition between an efficient and willing working class on the one hand and a lazy, useless and dangerous rag subproletariat on the other into a biological distinction. In doing so, they wanted to defend the working class as a valuable and healthy population group against state repression measures of a eugenic character. Presumably not all of the socialists involved in this debate were convinced eugenicists; after all, they also responded to a eugenic consensus that prevailed in large parts of society. Some concentrated on defending against pro-poor advances by bourgeois eugenicists and tried to rebut their arguments, for example by reinterpreting the principle of survival of the fittest in terms of social cohesion instead of „everyone against everyone“.

Even with many feminists, it is unclear whether they used pro-eugenic arguments out of conviction or for tactical reasons. With reference to the role of the future mothers of the race, as it was called in Anglo-Saxon discourse, they often tried to achieve a better social and economic position for women, to advance laws to protect mothers and children and to enforce simplified divorce law. Explicit criticism of eugenics within the socialist movements was, in any case, very rare and was almost exclusively directed against the possibility of eugenic practice as a form of class struggle from above. The socialist eugenics drafts, on the other hand, which presupposed a social order freed from economic and social inequalities, did not affect this criticism. Only a few socialists, including the Swiss biologist and writer Adolf Koelsch, fundamentally questioned the concept of eugenics and put everyone’s right to self-determination first.

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