Several months ago I posted a thread on Twitter documenting the business associations between New Founding leaders Nate Fischer and Josh Abbotoy and the online pseudonymous Nazi pornographer Raw Egg Nationalist. You can read the thread here.
Why does this relationship matter? I will tell you by way of some comments on what is happening now in the United Kingdom, something briefly alluded to in yesterday's column.
Briefly, a number of people who at one time would have been well outside Christian belief are coming to faith. Paul Kingsnorth wrote about his surprising conversion in 2021. Martin Shaw followed in 2022. Now 2023 sees the conversion of one-time New Atheist Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
Alongside these new Christians are a number of what one might call Christian-ish spiritual seekers whose intellectual trajectory certainly seems to have them on a collision course with historic Christian dogma, even if they are not yet Christian and may not ultimately turn to Christ. Minimally, their position reminds one of the way Sheldon Vanauken wrote about his own intellectual position on the brink of converting: Yes, there is a gap before him he must leap over toward belief. But he could not simply turn around and easily return to his former disbelief. A gap had opened up behind him as well. Whatever happened next would not be a mere continuation of the past. Amongst this number one can certainly count Mary Harrington, Louise Perry, and Tom Holland. Douglas Murray and Niall Ferguson, Ali's husband, might also belong here. What is behind this surprising trend of intellectuals converting in thoroughly secularized, post-Christian Britain?
In basically all the cases I am aware of the process began with some deeply felt unhappiness with the culture of early 21st century western neo-liberalism. In Kingsnorth and Shaw's cases, that discontent centered around environmental issues as well as a generalized desire for the sacral. For Harrington and Perry it was more about sexuality and the cruelty of neo-liberal and post-neo-liberal society—a significant point for Ali as well.
Of course, simply feeling discontent with neoliberal decadence circa 2013 is one thing. Figuring out how to escape it is quite another. Mere progressivism isn't a solution; the successor ideology is simply a doubling down on the vices of neo-liberalism. Nor is a return to Reaganism a viable option, for Reaganism is what played such a large role in birthing our current age of decadence. There are basically two established routes that seem to offer a genuine break with decadence: Back toward Christianity, either via the generalized concerns already mentioned or, sometimes, through a close reading of Augustine or Thomas, or back to Nietzsche and, via Nietzsche, back to the Greeks and "vitalism" through Raw Egg Nationalist and Bronze Age Pervert.
Effectively, this ends up being a more intellectualized version of the divide laid out by Matthew Walther in The Week some time ago, the divide between the "barstool conservatives" (think Dave Portnoy) and the traditionalist conservatives (think Ross Douthat or, indeed, Walther himself—if one can call Walther a conservative). You can pick up a trace of it as well in Rod Dreher's recent observation that conservative grad students in political theory these days tend to gravitate toward Nietzsche or Thomas.
Really you might argue that we have today is the same basic fight happening on three different levels: The internet culture level is Barstool vs Trads, the popular intellectual level is Christianity against BAP and the vitalists, and the academic level is Nietzsche vs Augustine and Thomas. But the basic contours of the conflict remain largely the same across each socio-intellectual level: a permissive libertinism vs Christian discipline.
For the vitalist side of the equation, the eventual intellectual package often includes a philosophical hedonism tied to sexual libertinism and some sort of scientific racism, eugenics, or ethnonationalism. These all end up fitting together because the way out of decadence is said to be through laying hold of a self-obtained "glory" that basically amounts to a perfection or exaltation of the self. That "glory" will usually involve a refinement of one's physical body, thus the interest in personal training, weightlifting, etc., as well as sexual conquests of various sorts, and also sometimes has a social component as like-minded people pursue "glory" together. (Obviously my point here is not that weight lifting and training are bad in themselves; I am merely observing the specific role they play in the vitalist project.)
Of course, that is also where the eugenics angle creeps in because it is often decided that some people are biologically more capable of this glory than others and it is, therefore, desirable that those people should remain genetically set apart. You can see where the arguments against inter-racial marriage enter the picture, I trust. Implicit in this sort of glory lust is also a disdain for weakness and for those perceived to be more susceptible or prone to weakness. So the Spartan aesthetic as well as the Nazi imagery that pops up not infrequently with this group is not simply a coincidence or a kind of vibe setting; it is a natural outworking of the core values and principles of the movement.
This vitalist move can, somewhat predictably, lead to a form of pro-natalism. Consider someone like Malcolm Collins, for example. You can hear his own account of his views in this interview he gave on the Modern Wisdom podcast. You can also read a less sympathetic but ultimately more accurate account of where Collins's philosophy leads. If the purpose of natalism is propagating greatness or glory, then in this arena alone there are a number of significant conflicts between vitalism and Christianity. The vitalists will make arguments against inter-racial marriage, for example, as well as making arguments for things like embryo selection and artificial wombs. In all these ways, the natalism of the vitalists is sharply at odds with Christian natalism.
For many reasons, the conflict between this "vitalism" view and Christianity seems to be quite clear to many on both sides of the divide. That is why one libertarian pornographer in the US lamented Ali's conversion:
The neo trad movement gets ayaan :( But seriously this seems to be a real trend - lots of otherwise smart, successful, secular people I know have been going religious, but it's not in the same way people used to go religious. It's much more *cultural* now, and less about belief https://t.co/xM81zT9LfQ
After posting that initial response, Aella then went on to write this thread:
Once had a boyfriend get another gf. I was super supportive, tried befriending her, genuinely happy for them both. But she wasn't full poly, and she tried to restrict what I was allowed to do with him, and then I suddenly no longer felt nice. I felt territorial.
I feel this way about Christianity. I feel chill with people believing whatever, worshiping whatever. We can still be friends! But the problem is Christianity tends to be a philosophy that attempts to restrict my life. So then fuck it, I suddenly am unchill, this means war.
I feel like I have a win win mentality, live and let live, but Christianity is win-lose. As long as I live freely, then in their eyes sin reigns and harm is done; they lose. So despite me having open arms, they come armed with knives. It's really a shame.
As long as the Christianity of those around me attempts to shame, suppress, or forcibly outlaw behaviors of people who are living peacefully and doing no harm, then I absolutely do not welcome it. In this form it's a cancer that should be eradicated.
Aella: The sex worker who understands the conflict between vitalism and Christianity better than the Christian nationalists do.
For folks like her, the faultline is extremely clear: You can have the Wolves of Vinland and their lust for glory, sexual hedonism, and generally libertarian, social Darwinist attitude toward the world or you can have Christianity, with its 'slave morality' that disciplines sexual desire, exalts the weak, and so on.
For political purposes, this creates a major problem for those seeking to escape neo-liberal decadence. It is not sufficient to form political coalitions purely on the basis of "anti-wokeness" or "anti-leftism." The politics of "anti-wokeness" are radically under-determined. You can (and should!) object to the sexual revolution (in all its forms!) and you can and should object to the HR-ification of politics in service of contemporary progressivism. But those mere negations are not enough to amount to an alternative political theory. You need more.
That, then, is why some UK intellectuals have converted, I think: They recognize that a merely instrumental set of beliefs, things that are socially beneficial if held by a mass of people, is not sufficient. It is also why others, such as Aella, look on in alarm: Christians that think Christianity is useful but indifferent as to its truth she can work with. But Christians who actually think it's true and that it will, in her words, "attempt to restrict (her) life," their kind of Christianity needs to be "eradicated." (How liberal!)
The significance of the Raw Egg Nationalist affair which I laid out in August is that it demonstrates that the Christian nationalists, such as Stephen Wolfe, Thomas Achord, Nate Fischer, and Josh Abbotoy, either do not understand this conflict or they do not care about it. That is why Wolfe and Achord advertised their podcast in a magazine that also publishes pornography, short stories about murdering one's girlfriend, and ads about rape. It is also why Fischer and Abbotoy seemingly had no hesitation about going into business with the publisher of that magazine and happily announcing that partnership on social media.*
For them, it seems that all one needs is to be anti-woke. But the barstool set and the waves of Christian-ish UK intellectuals all seem to know better. The Christian-ish set knows better and are flirting with orthodoxy. The barstool set knows better and is, presumably, laughing to the bank as they profit off the gullibility or indifference of the Christian nationalists.
My request to our readers is simply this: Don't be gullible or indifferent.
You actually can't build a political alternative purely off being anti-woke or even "anti-left." You need something positive and specific and concrete.
The moment you specify what that something is, a choice will have been made: You will either take the side of the vitalists, tacitly denigrating the weak in the process and endorsing something other than the Christian vision of sexuality or you will take sides against the vitalists and with the 'slave mortality' taught by Our Lord.
What you can't do is form business partnerships with Nazi pornographers in the name of advancing a Christian political vision.
You have to, instead, choose this day whom you will serve.
* I am aware that both Abbotoy and Fischer deny being Christian nationalists. However, both have been enthusiastic promoters of Stephen Wolfe and have partnered on past projects with Andrew Isker. Additionally, the Protestant Franco meme originated with Abbotoy on Twitter. Further, Abbotoy has "asked questions" about the morality of cheating in an election and amplified a post suggesting that the United States could be "fixed in under five years with the right people in the right positions, with limitless authority and a rough mentality." Whatever Abbotoy calls himself, he is plainly willing to endorse lawless political strategies as well as actual mid-century European fascism in order to achieve his political goals. For the purposes of this post, those arguments in themselves already place him on the side of the Barstool crowd, not the side of Christianity.
Update: I have been told that the Ars Politica ad in Man's World was an unpaid advertisement which Raw Egg Nationalist placed for them after they had him on their podcast. So there is no commercial link here, but there are now actually two touch points between Wolfe and Achord's podcast and Raw Egg Nationalist and, in fact, the first interaction was Wolfe and Achord platforming Raw Egg Nationalist rather than the other way around, as I had mistakenly assumed.
Jake Meador is the editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy. He is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy Joy, and sons Wendell, Austin, and Ambrose. Jake's writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Commonweal, Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, National Review, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play and he has written or contributed to several books, including "In Search of the Common Good," "What Are Christians For?" (both with InterVarsity Press), "A Protestant Christendom?" (with Davenant Press), and "Telling the Stories Right" (with the Front Porch Republic Press).