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Warhammer 40,000

[1]2,663 words

“In the Grim Darkness of the Far Future, there is only WAR . . .” tells us the strap line of the world’s most popular miniature wargame. In the 41st Millennium, mankind has collapsed after a Dark Age of Technology and an Age of Strife, and is set upon by nefarious, merciless alien races. Humanity is struggling against a primordial force of the universe — Chaos — that corrupts and deforms men into inhuman monsters.

The Emperor, after a great betrayal by his dearest son, sits mortally wounded atop the Golden Throne as a rotting carcass, kept barely alive by arcane techno-magic. The immense psychic power he projects allows the ships of man to navigate through a rip in space time — the Warp — to bring aid to mankind’s interstellar colonies, and Legions of Space Marines and Imperial Guardsmen to the frontlines to exterminate the filthy xenos. So it has been for over ten millennia of unceasing conflict . . .

Invented in 1987 by British company Games Workshop, Warhammer 40,000 has grown from its wargaming niche into a household name. It expanded to dominate the wargaming hobby partly due to its innovative method of play. 40K’s captivating setting and ambitious troop designs set it apart from more generic science fiction offerings and imitations, and its “lore” has depths that hardened hobbyists and metapoliticians can find themselves immersed in exploring. It enjoys such strong brand recognition that in the UK, Games Workshop shops are often presented and stocked simply as “Warhammer” shops.

[2]

You can buy Buttercup Dew’s My Nationalist Pony here [3]

Walk into one and you’ll be presented with bookshelves of in-universe fiction, dazzlingly detailed miniature figures and a battlefield for players to test their strategies and luck — the normally-present opportunity to play distinguishes wargaming stores from other purely commercial outlets. Involving hobbies can be somewhat thin on the ground for Britbongs: remote control gizmos and other models are individual toys that require dedicated clubs to be social, sports clubs leave little room to stretch the mind; video gaming is an addictive fantasy that keeps one stuck in the bedroom box, and motoring can get painfully expensive.

Outside of these, white men are expected to socialize through the medium of alcohol and exercise their camaraderie on “nights out.” In contrast, the imaginative game of Warhammer provides a means to make friends and exercise the intellect readily accessible through the high street. It pulls in, heavily implicit but rarely remarked upon, almost exclusively white men and boys by offering a nurturing space. The time investment needed to learn the game structure and assemble and paint figures, not to mention the combat mathematics of the game itself, almost certainly presents an insurmountable barrier to ‘groids who would otherwise hang around these safe, clean, white venues.

As Games Workshop would be able to protect itself with litigation using the UK’s infamously strict libel laws, Warhammer has yet to be institutionally targeted for being one of the galaxy’s whitest male spaces. Even The Guardian has had to resort to the disparaging euphemism of “middle-class nerds.”[1] Games Workshop on their “New to Warhammer 40,000” webpage presents us with, happily, four white lads of various strapping-ness standing around a tabletop battlefield dominated by Space Marines.

In the battle of humanity’s survival, “humanity” in the 41st millennium is suspiciously white. The Black Library’s premier series of veteran Imperial Guardsmen, Gaunt’s Ghosts, follows the entirely white Tanith First — a regiment from a woodland planet of shifting forests, a Pacific Northwest idyll before it was annihilated by the forces of Chaos. Blue tattoos leak off pale skin, and the Tanith language is intentionally Gaelic-esque. The Emperor himself was a Blonde Beast in the manner of The Golden One, and Space Marines stand between eight and ten feet tall. Up and down the Imperial chain of command, Aryan superheroes thrust serious, battle-scarred visages towards the casual browser of books and figurines.

Hyper-masculinity and the art of comradeship is placed front-and-center: one novel I picked up (the first in a series of fifty-four different vignettes and perspectives on the “Horus Heresy” . . . ) had an extended subplot about the value of a lodge within a company of Space Marines, where rank was left at the door and men could share their grievances and build bonds in a society perpendicular to the chain of command. Dan Abnett’s Ghosts stories are more relatable as the hordes of the Imperial Guard are mere men, grizzled with years of incessant conflict across numberless planets — blood, sweat, and death dog them on every one. 40,000 has managed to draw plenty of writers, artists and other “remembrancers” under its auspice, who are dedicated to continually feeding the operatics that burn at the heart of the franchise.

Imagined blasts of boltguns and rumbles of artillery are only as engaging as one’s investment in the tabletop arena, and it’s by offering a space where white men can be themselves that Games Workshop has forged an almost ethnocentric allegiance with its fanbase. One disgruntled pajeet took to Quora to describe 40,000 as “basically a future of white supremacy.”[2] He says “hopefully there are more flesh-tones in Age of Sigmar than pink for humans and green for orcs,” which would mean, I assume, the addition of a rather unexciting color swatch of various shades of brown.

Bugman Kishor’s complaint summarises the attitude of Diversity in a futuristic armored nutshell: of all the species on earth, only white men can conceivably build a technologically advanced civilization capable of lasting forty thousand years — and these brown hanger-ons want us to take them into the future with us. There is no non-hwyte Warhammer 40,000 because non-whites have not had the ambition, creativity, or vision to produce it (a tale remarkably similar to that of many, many other white inventions), and if there is, no one in our race has reason to care about it. Warhammer was created by and for whites.

The 40,000 universe — who reads standalone stories nowadays? In consumer malaise of the known present, there are only fictional universes — is a synthesis of not only various British & European styles and sensibilities, but also philosophical and religious mores. It draws upon historical English aesthetics and hyperbolizes the British “stiff upper lip” into unflinching defiance of a hostile cosmos. Unlike American warfare, war stories and franchises (biggest and most obvious of all being Call of Duty) that emphasize modernity, whizzbang pyrotechnics, and squeaky-clean neoconservatism, the world, conflict, and sentiment of Warhammer 40,000 dwells on the particulars of place, historical experience, mysticism, and local interactions with the supernatural. In this sense, it could only come from a British company — Britain is a small island densely packed with historical locales, ghost stories, and secluded abbeys — and goes further than the materialistic send-ups of another British counter-liberal pop-culture commentary, Judge Dredd, by positing an alternative civilization to neoliberalism entirely. Because of this, 40,000 has an enduring popularity on the Right and shares a cultural stream with heavy metal: the recognition and celebration of extremely “heavy” topics. To this end, the ethos and design of Warhammer 40,000 is tragic-romantic and intentionally theatrical — hope has been extinguished, yet in Spenglerian defiance, the line must be held to the last “battle-brother.”

[4]British heavy metallers Bolt Thrower notably released an album inspired by the primordial rift in space-time that vomits out all manner of beasties, the crushing Realm of Chaos (1989). Games Workshop supplied the arresting artwork of Imperial Fists Space Marines blasting away in what appears to be a final stand, and the band’s logo incorporates stained-glass embellishments. Bolt Thrower would go on to produce another Warhammer-themed outing, Warmaster (2001), and later Those Once Loyal in 2004, the definitive heavy metal album about the British experience of the First World War.

The “Corvus Pattern” armor on the cover of Realm of Chaos indicates how the iconic Space Marines were really conceived as futuristic knights-in-armor. The spin-off space battle game, Battlefleet Gothic, is unsurprisingly full of gothic battlefleets — every (human) ship resembles a space-borne cathedral, bristling with spikes, spires, cannon muzzles and Imperial ornamentation. The Holy Roman Empire has seemingly come to life and projected itself into the future, for in 40,000 the Empire really is Holy — it is the domain of Man, a territory where he can live and prosper unmolested, so long as dues are paid to the indispensable Imperial rule.

All the aforementioned ingredients suggest that Warhammer is a form of high drama where existential anxiety and concern for man’s fallen nature is sublimated through warfare — Warhammer 40,000 approaches being a participatory stage production as one assumes the role of a master tactician on behalf of the Imperium or its many foes. In the words of White Dwarf, Warhammer is about showing the enemies of the Imperium who’s boss with “a big bucket of dice.” Intended as a pastiche, 40,000 stumbles on the same (white) demographic bloc that Paul Verhoeven did with Robocop and Starship Troopers — all three are intended as parodies of fascism and militarism, but win audiences over because they want genuinely fascistic and militaristic productions and choose to take them at face value. Similarly, 40,000 is confounded by its own internal logic.

The racialist angle that the different races of man are inevitably locked in a biological struggle for survival is transposed into Warhammer 40,000 to a hyperbolic extreme: Man is surrounded by different factions of punnily-named aliens; the Eldar with an elderly, advanced civilization, the tyrannous Tyranid insect hordes, the oiky Orks (send-ups of white working-class skins), treacherous Tau and so on. In such a settling, the brutally harsh theocratic subjugation that the Imperium metes out can seem not only justified, not only an act of tough love, but a heroic sacrifice.

Clearly intended to characterize right-wingers as nebulously ‘fascist’ (quite possibly out of affection), 40,000 ends up making the case that liberal sentimentality is vice. The writers rejected the dichotomy of “evil” fascism being opposed by “good” liberal principles, and replaced it with the contradistinction of Chaos with Order: hedonistic indulgence (equated with sickness) is fought by a civilization that prizes concrete results. With its emphasis on cartoonish ultraviolence and gothic aesthetics, Warhammer implies to its audience that barbaric deeds on a level with what has been pushed into history, may be necessary to ensure that the future will be known by whites.

Outside of stargazing, pondering, and Hollywood movies, mankind has had zero contact with sentient alien races, leaving inter-civilizational conflict between the different races of man as the only Darwinian parable that 40,000 (and to a large extent, science fiction as a whole) is able to draw on for emotional resonance. Ethnic kinship is the driving force behind many science-fiction survival stories, as anxiety about the future is motivated by the question, “What will become of us?,” with ‘us’ being a familial, racial, or civilizational question. The presence of the alien is used to highlight the essential urgency of making sure that we can perpetuate ourselves, as to be replaced by someone or something else leaves only unfeeling void.

But if life was a simple struggle for survival, with no higher purpose or objective standards of goodness to appeal to, then what is lost if Mankind is overtaken by giant bugs or flayed into extinction by malevolent metal skeletons? Clearly within 40,000 there are fascist beauty standards to uphold; Space Marine Chapters swear by oaths, flags, and standards and the Imperial Guard lives and dies on the particular strengths each Regiment has to offer . . . the magnificence and minutia of each army is captured in its adherence to tradition, respect for itself, its history and the principles of service. 40,000 authors take great pains to describe Imperial beauty, whether it’s an exquisite set of shoulder-plates (what else?) or a city that realizes “the spirit of the crusade […] in steel and glass and stone.”[3] (Not concrete, then). “What we leave behind us, men must admire for eternity, and say “This was well done indeed. This is what the Imperium means, and without it we would be shadows” (p. 117). Horus, prior to his corruption and betrayal of the Emperor, clearly takes after the Homeric principle of excellence in all things.

The Emperor of Mankind is the “the collective reincarnation of all the shamans of Neolithic humanity’s various peoples, the first human psykers,”[4] a distilled agent of the human (White) races powers. He can exert enormous psychic energy. Yet at the turn of the 31st millennium, during the Emperor’s life (prior to his betrayal and “murder”), Imperial rule is cringingly atheistic: “Please . . . the otherworld will shun me if I die without a prayer.” “I’m sorry,” Loken said. You’re dying. That’s all there is” (p. 165). So-called Imperial Truth is spread by the sword, showing that as scientific materialism “reveals” the mechanisms of the cosmos and insistently pushes God into the private corner of personal prayer, it parallels revealed religion in brooking no dissent. (Man would not arrive at Scientism through his natural reason alone; it is brought about by revelations of institutional science with large and expensive particle colliders and anti-mass spectrometers.) In the world of the Imperium, this mechanistic outlook on life is used to affirm the Emperor as the finest living example of humanity: living proof of both humanity’s right to exist and inegalitarian, eugenic principles. In ours, it is used to denigrate and disintegrate notions of rootedness, identity, and pagan attachments to a particular place or way of life. The mystery of nature is under assault in both cases.

Captain of the Tenth Company of Luna Wolves, Loken, even gets uppity when he is ritualistically inducted into a private circle under a full moon. After crushing a religious insurgency, he comments that: “Their lives were comforted by mysteries, and we’ve taken that comfort away. All we can show them is a harsh and unforgiving reality in which their lives are brief and without higher purpose” (p. 167). Then what, then, is Imperial Truth except tactical nihilism? This veneer of atheism quickly fractures as “the ordinary modes of human thinking are magical, religious, social and personal,”[6] and the Adeptus Astartes privately admit that like Evangelicals protesting a Drag Queen Story Hour, they are confronting literal demons.

If Christianity gave us God made man in the form of Christ, then 40,000 has given us man-made God in the form of the Emperor, and like Catholic liturgy, faith is paradoxically professed towards all manner of Saints and Martyrs instead of the monotheistic “Big guy upstairs” (as a born-again Evangelical might say). Through the Emperor, 40,000 synthesizes both Nietzsche and Organic Paganism: attribution of natural harmonies and conflicts to the interplay of Gods and Goddesses. It credits Man (the only Man — European man) with having the ingenuity or fortitude to defy the Gods. The Emperor forms himself first into the Overman, and upon the disintegration of his mortal body and ascension to “Godhood,” he does battle with the Gods themselves — the bloodthirsty Chaos Gods.  He grapples them within the spirit realm or “Immaterium” of the Warp. This is only possible through his Faustian bargain with the dark technologies of the Golden Throne, which allows him to be sustained by the daily sacrifice of thousands. In this, Warhammer 40,000 draws influences from across the Western canon. The invention and popularity of the Emperor is a proof that the European historical destiny is to stand against time, and the story of 40,000 as a whole is a testament of the European will to build and continually renew civilization, even at terrible cost.

The Emperor’s psychic beacon in the Warp (the Astronomicon) is the guiding star for Imperial ships to navigate by towards survival and prosperity. We also have to rely on a singular beacon: the cause of racial survival. Through it our race can secure the future and commune with the past. The heroes of the Imperial armies are white men defending their race from an unrelenting assault, and Warhammer 40,000 is a romanticization of the warriors fighting from this position of absolute truth and conviction. In fighting for “humanity” on the tabletop, white men are expressing the longing to reclaim mastery of their destiny once again.

Notes

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/jan/21/heroin-for-middle-class-nerds-how-warhammer-took-over-gaming-games-workshop [5]

[2] https://www.quora.com/Should-there-be-more-people-of-color-in-the-Warhammer-games-My-boyfriend-says-no [6]

[3] Horus Rising, Dan Abnett. p. 116. A Black Library Publication, 2006

[4] https://warhammer40k.fandom.com/wiki/Emperor_of_Mankind [7]

[5] John Derbyshire, We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism