The Politics Of Bodybuilding
A lot of people in our circles lift weights, trying to get bigger, stronger, faster, and more aesthetic. Why do we do it? Various rational justifications are brought forward in favor of increasing strength and build:
- Athletic Performance. Men who are stronger, faster, and more skilled do better in sports. For those who compete in sports, this is a motivation to work out.
- General Physical Preparedness. Many men lift and exercise to prepare for possible physical situations like fighting, physical labor, wrestling with the wife, or the collapse of civilization. This preparedness to have mastery over a wider range of situations also creates power that can be used in negotiation or sub-violent conflict.
- Health. Strength and exercise make the body work better, be harder to injure, have better posture, and generally improve in health.
- Sexual Aesthetics. Women are attracted to well-built men. Many men lift for this effect, to be able to get better results with women.
- Social Aesthetics. Men who are bigger, stronger, and who look more masculine, command a stronger presence and even have more perceived intellectual and moral authority.
- Mental Discipline. Lifting weights regularly, and challenging yourself to push your limits builds discipline and confidence. It also changes how you feel about your body and the world around you, causing you to be more active and have more agency.
- Virtue. Developing the body to its proper natural potential, and keeping in good shape, is directly valuable as an element of virtue and the life well lived.
These are good reasons as they go, but they are only about the individual benefit of fitness and bodybuilding, without reference to social effects. They do not account for the apparent political dimension of bodybuilding.
In particular, why do men engaged in right-wing circles encourage each other to get fit and aesthetic, as an almost political activity?
The cheap answer, within the above reasons, is that we want to be built for the social and preparedness reasons; if your political coalition is well-built, it will be taken more seriously, and will have an easier time providing “event security” for itself.
But this answer does not address the asymmetry. Why is “fascist bodybuilding” an established phenomenon, while #swoleleft just turned into a joke? Beyond raw power, what are the inherent politics of bodybuilding?
And as a further set of questions, “general physical preparedness” is a well-defined target, but what even is “aesthetics”? What do people appreciate about a built-looking physique? If we could fake it, with steroids and water retention and synthol, would that count? Why are aesthetics so closely related to strength that the concepts are often treated as the same thing? If we target aesthetics, is that just vanity? Is insisting that it’s about strength just a way to not seem vain? And one might expect that if there is a political dimension to bodybuilding, it is related to aesthetics.
So, our questions are: what is the nature of aesthetics, what are the politics of bodybuilding, how are these related to each other, and how are they related to strength? To answer, let’s digress into a quick study of aesthetics:
In bodybuilding, and many other areas, aesthetics is about authentically and beautifully representing underlying functional virtue. The aesthetic form is an honest signal of some appreciated substance. The ideal specimen of aesthetics done properly is a classic Ferrari; the form is a well-presented but honest representation of underlying performance and luxury and attention to detail.
If you just had the surface appearance, that when examined, turned out to have nothing special under it, like a Pontiac Fiero with cast-iron 4-cylinder dressed up as a Ferrari with a cheap fiberglass bodykit, then the aesthetic effect fails when people notice this. The “look” alone falls flat, and even provokes indignation, because it’s not just the look, but also the substance, that people appreciate.
On the other hand, if you had just the functional substance, hidden under a layer of fat, with no attempt to present it well, it might get the job done, but “the job” isn’t really the point. No one will notice the substance, and those who do will not be as impressed.
So you need both impressive virtuous substance, and beautiful honest presentation, for aesthetic success.
But what is impressive about the substance of physical development of the human body? The functional utility, and the demonstration of discipline and health, is an obvious part of the impressiveness, but isn’t the whole story.
An aesthetic piece of equipment, like a sports car, a SpaceX rocket, an outfit, or a human body, embodies an impressive functional capability. It doesn’t matter whether the thing actually gets used for that, because the aesthetic effect is about an exciting story, not a practical reality. A rocket is cool because it evokes a world of space exploration, even if it has no relevance to your daily life at all. If that narrative is too divorced from reality, or the actual substance isn’t there, you stop caring and think it’s just pointless and stupid.
A classic Ferrari tells a story about the kind of world it is from and built for. It says “I have a 300hp 12-cylinder engine and a 5-speed transmission. Every piece of me fits together in functional harmony, designed by men of judgement and discretion left over from a better age. I am capable of driving fast, of mastery of motion, and of dominating others in a contest of speed.” It says “I am prepared for the kind of world in which it is important to be able to drive fast, make exciting corners, accelerate hard, and feel the wind in your hair. Where the mundane concerns of your Toyota Corolla life do not matter. In my world, old Italian masters of the mechanical craft build beautiful artifacts of power and live in harmonious communities thousands of years old.”
This is not the real world, but that doesn’t matter. It’s an almost-plausible vision of a more exciting and better world, actualized by the Ferrari. In turn, the Ferrari makes our world a little bit more like that better world. People find the Ferrari compelling not just because it looks cool, or because it is practical in our world, but because it is highly practical in a better and more exciting world than our own, and because it contributes to our world being a little bit more like that world.
Likewise, a physically perfect human body tells a compelling story. It tells a story where the human is a practical instrument of power and life, and the man in top physical and mental condition is an apex predator, dominant over his environment. A man developed to the fullest extent of his innate possibility tells a story where moreso than our world, humans, and the kind of things humans are and can become, really matter–where we are not just obsolete substitutes for future soulless artificial intelligence, fading in relevance, nor are we manlet “bugman” serfs pushed around by soft-totalitarian masters, but we are instead exuberantly relevant students of godhood. A human body in peak physical condition says to the world around it “you must submit”, and to the people around it “I am not of this world. Come with me if you want to really live”.
In the modern world, that physical perfection is an obsolete vanity item, a holdout of our more physical past. And it’s not just our physicality that the modern world is becoming hostile to, but also the entire traditional conception of human life. People subconsciously recognize this hostility, so any sign of human vitality for its own sake is appreciated as a symbol of rebellion against crushing modernity, and as an instrument of a better world. This appreciation is not conscious; people may not even realize the contrast between human vitality and modernity, but implicitly it is there. The well-developed physique subtly makes one feel good, because it makes one feel hope for the human spirit, hope that the world is ours. This is why it is used in advertising.
It is interesting that the well-developed human physique and human beauty, a celebration of life, are used in advertising and movies. The idea is to associate the product with that vitality and portray the product as being of that better world. This is typically false advertising, as the products, companies, kind of people, and social forces represented by such advertising typically take us deeper into the modern malaise, rather than liberating us from it. But advertising doesn’t have to be true to work; what matters is that people feel the malaise, and are thus open to the vision of hope in the form of human vitality apparently offered by the product.
I believe this is a major factor in the aesthetics of bodybuilding. Done well, it is an overt celebration of life and human vitality, and its impact is that it promises a more human world.
The reaction represents exactly that spirit. The rebellion of the human spirit against a degenerate modern world which inverts the natural order and reduces life to individualistic pleasure without higher meaning. The perfected human body represents exactly the world that the reaction represents, and so must be our symbol.
So, reactionaries must perfect our bodies as a symbol of what we are, and what kind of world we want. We want our very physical substance to embody what our words say: “We will create a better world, suited for dignified human life. Come with us if you want to live”.
Thus, our bodies become spiritual weapons against modernity.