Early 2020, a winter of discontent marked by the spread of a mysterious new disease, saw the emergence of a social-media influencer of rare inventiveness and mordant wit. He called himself Raw Egg Nationalist and positioned himself as a thought leader on diet and exercise. Since then, Raw Egg Nationalist has published a slew of cookbooks, created MAN’S WORLD (an online magazine), and appeared in The End of Men, a controversial documentary released in 2022 by the equally controversial Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
Raw Egg Nationalist appears as one of the brighter stars in a sprawling constellation of rightwing social-media influencers who exalt nature, tradition, and physical fitness. Critics have connected his work with the writings of Julius Evola, a self-described “super-fascist” philosopher. Evola combined Eastern doctrines of rebirth with a conviction that a mystical combination of ritual and hierarchy must reign if life is to avoid slipping into decadence and decline. Political commentator Benjamin Teitelbaum has called movements inspired by Evola’s thought “Dungeons & Dragons for racists.”
Yet Raw Egg Nationalist’s program recalls Dungeons & Dragons only if in your mind you are able to substitute gulping down—or “slonking,” to use Raw Egg Nationalist’s term—four large egg yolks daily, frying the whites in olive oil, drinking raw milk, working out constantly, and eating homegrown vegetables for rolling out charisma and casting plus-10 spells to block.
For the campaign that Raw Egg Nationalist wants to lead you on, you need look only to his book-length manifesto, The Eggs Benedict Option. Published in 2022, it combines what the author describes as “a focus on individual health and vitality … with an anti-globalist political stance.” The title is a play on conservative commentator Rod Dreher’s 2017 book, The Benedict Option, which calls for the creation of virtuous Christian communities in response to an increasingly secular age. For Raw Egg Nationalist, the threat is not so much secular institutions, but “globalists”—World Economic Forum spokes-villain Klaus Schwab, to name one, as well as that cheerleader of “creative class” gentrification, economist Richard Florida. Raw Egg Nationalist sees such elites as keen on a “Great Reset,” the result of which will be corporations owning everything and ordinary folks nothing. Anything plebeians need, from shelter to transportation to underwear, they will have to rent. And as they await their next dispatch of time-share Fruit of the Looms, they will nourish themselves on soy nuggets, cricket crisps, and other “sustainable” noshes.
Raw Egg Nationalist believes resistance to this Great Reset will come not from virtuous communities, but rather isolated individuals. To meet the challenge, these individuals must be fit and strong. Enter raw eggs, the “most perfect natural foods in existence.” More than just fuel for getting jacked, raw eggs are “a symbol of a new world waiting to be born, as well as the means to deliver it.” And physical fitness is exactly what’s needed for embarking on a “national and spiritual vocation” of home gardening according to the latest earth-friendly agricultural science. No-till planting, cover cropping, succession planting—all are scientifically informed rituals of sacred-natural agronomy. The “life-giving” fruits of such mindful tillage “help make you a sovereign human,” Raw Egg Nationalist insists. And as goes the human, so goes the nation. Hence his program’s name: raw-egg nationalism.
Though Raw Egg Nationalist and Julius Evola may have a lot in common, Raw Egg Nationalist’s focus on agriculture and diet as spiritual practice more palpably recalls a little-known philosophical and religious view that arose in 19th-century Germany. Called monism, it became a ready framework for thinkers, writers, and artists eager for firm grounding at times when all that is solid melts into air—be it a consequence of a “Great Reset” or just plain old liberal economics.
In 1888, a 28-year-old Wilhelm II assumed the throne of Germany. The new Kaiser set out to be the embodiment of a forward-looking, modern country. This meant, for him, securing “a place in the sun” for his nation alongside rival industrial power Britain. And with this end in mind, Wilhelm, who at various times had been called romantic, arrogant, and desperate for applause, undertook the greatest modernization project the world had seen. You might call it a great reset.
He didn’t achieve this great reset alone, however. The “Reform King,” as one newspaper dubbed him, had a fascination with wealthy businessmen and others from the class of monied bourgeoisie. Under their guidance, and emboldened by the success of Bismarck’s earlier reforms, he paved the way for capitalism and its technologies: labor contracts, property rights, finance, and corporations. Proclaiming that Germany’s future depended on competing in the international market, he kept wages and costs low by removing barriers to free trade. Wilhelm’s friends in business and banking called the shots; he did everything to ensure their investments flourished. From 1871 to 1913, capital investment rose to 85 billion marks, up from just under 10 billion marks, all furnished by a few large banks.
Unsurprisingly, these changes upset long-standing ways of working and doing business in Germany. In 1882, most people still toiled in agriculture, abiding by time-honored labor traditions. By 1895, industry had overtaken rural occupations, and what agriculture remained now had to conform to new, more unforgiving market-oriented practices that prized profit over process. In the cities, self-made entrepreneurs, unable to compete with state-subsidized corporations, withered in the shadow of a growing sector of white-collar workers. The white-collar contingent, however, lacked the guild protections that had allowed self-employed workers to be secure and self-directed. Under the new, market-based wage system they could be laid off without cause for jobs that were, in many cases, short-term and contract-based.
The working class fared even worse. What wage gains they saw were eaten up by housing inflation caused by the great rush to the cities. Between 1871 and 1914, their rent jumped as much as 63 percent. They lived in cramped conditions, often in rooms housing seven or eight people. In 1910, for example, it was common to see five or six to a room in the typical Berlin working-class apartment. The rent squeeze bred squeezes in other areas. Food took up more than half of a working-class individual’s income, leaving little money for other necessities such as medicine, let alone small comforts. Working-class slums became a breeding ground for disease. Nearly half of working-class adults between 15 and 40 died of tuberculosis.
Yet these were so many eggs that had to be broken. Wilhelm’s great transformation bore the fruit he wanted: Between 1871 to 1914, Germany grew to be the world’s second strongest industrial power after Britain. And the businessmen and bankers who had helped him got their spoils: By 1911, the top 10 percent of the Prussian population owned 63 percent of total assets. This was due to another element of Wilhelm’s great transformation. In his backstopping of banks and guaranteeing of profits, his use of public calamities for private advantage, his championing of technology at the expense of the social good, and his aiding the destruction of that finely woven web of traditional labor and social practices that undergird the health of communities, Wilhelm II developed the blueprint for the neoliberal state.
Not every German subject suffered under this new regime. Indeed, those who escaped the worst ravages of this great transformation found the changes wrought by Wilhelm exhilarating. To aid trade, new railways and canals were built. The technologies of communication alone were cause for excitement. There were telegraphs, a modern post, and a flurry of new and important newspapers. And there were educational, labor, social, and medical reforms. Wilhelm established the Kaiser Wilhelm Society for the promotion of scientific research, for instance, and he supported research into medicine specifically by establishing a system of hospitals and nursing homes throughout the German Empire. These and other changes led many to believe that life was getting better.
Still, the pace of change, combined with uncertain economic conditions (Wilhelm’s transformation coincided with the Long Depression of 1873-96), bred a nervous tension, one that couldn’t be soothed entirely by the technical and social optimism of the era. For underwriting these changes was the new market-based ideology that saw the pursuit of profit as an end in itself, one that should direct all human action.
The destruction of more traditional forms of community led many people to direct their own fate through identity-based associations. These associations revolved around everything from class and gender to religious and dietary preferences. There were civil societies, economic interest groups, scientific interest groups, professional societies, paramilitary groups, and philosophical organizations. And each group proclaimed that its cause was singularly important for Germany’s future. Due to these competing interests and identity groups, “Imperial Germany, like other industrial societies,” writes historian Brett Fairbairn, “was not a comfortable place or well-integrated whole.”
Among the more popular of these groups were those that fell under the large and unwieldly umbrella of the life-reform movement, or Lebensreform, a loose confederation of vegetarians, nudists, anti-vivisectionists, gymnosophists, naturopaths, and other back-to-nature types. This motley band varied widely in their political and philosophical beliefs. Uniting many of them, however, was an interest in an esoteric philosophy called monism.
Monism is one of those pliable philosophies that resists a single definition. It has been traced back to Hinduism, Buddhism, and the Greek philosophers predating Aristotle. The term “monism” itself, however, wouldn’t be coined until 1728, when German philosopher Christian von Wolff set out to explain all phenomena in terms of one unifying principle. Versions of this philosophy would inform the philosophies of Schelling, Hegel, and Schopenhauer, among others, as well as many scientists and political theorists, including Karl Marx.
The version of monism most pertinent to the present discussion originated with Ernst Haeckel, a romantic-minded German zoologist who spent a large portion of his career ardently promoting the work of Charles Darwin. “Rooted in pre-Darwinian romanticism,” writes Daniel Gasman in Haeckel’s Monism and the Birth of Fascist Ideology, “Haeckelian Monism [draws] upon the one of the oldest if not the oldest tradition in philosophy—the belief that all different phenomena are bound into unity by one common ‘sacred’ force.”
For Haeckel, the goal of life is to get back in touch with a “wholly other” substance found in the world. Achievement of this goal demands the rejection of several intertwined legacies: the Judeo-Christian tradition of transcendence (or dualism, as Haeckel would say); that tradition’s claim on the West’s many cultural and intellectual achievements; faith in human equality; and, for good measure, the movements stemming from that faith. (Examples of such movements include, most notably, the Enlightenment and the French Revolution.) In place of this tradition, men must embrace the monist secular faith that nature provides the basis for all social laws, which science will uncover sooner or later. Science, as a reflection of the laws of nature, ought to provide the foundation for all sociological, religious, political, and philosophical thought.
In practice, monism manifested as an “intense feeling of responsibility” toward elevating humankind through “unceasing endeavor toward refinement and perfection.” (Here we find a clear instance of Haeckel’s obsession with Darwinism.) Despite encompassing the whole of human striving, however, monism pursued refinement and perfection chiefly through the body. Haeckel thus partnered in 1906 with Wilhelm Ostwald, a Nobel Prize-winning chemist. Together the two men founded the German Monist League. Dedicated to investigations into monist thought, as well as dispensing advice on health, hygiene, and similar matters, the league advised its members to “regulate” their lives so that the “prosperity of the community and of mankind is assured.” This was to be done through “keeping the individual in a healthy and vigorous condition.” The goal was to reveal the world as a “vast, living, striving, conscious organism,” as the league put it, of which humans are an integral part and through which they can realize the “kingdom of heaven” during their life on earth.
The response to this new philosophy was mixed. Physician Rudolf Virchow called Haeckel the “nihilistic yet superstitious prophet of a new religion.” Others saw Haeckel as simply a champion of science over religion. Haeckel saw himself as leader of a scientific movement that aimed to free science from the bonds of metaphysics, irrationality, and a “dualistic” Christianity. From the 1860s until his death in 1919, he spread the gospel of a “Religion of Science.”
Haeckelian monism’s emphasis on the importance of bodily health made it the perfect religion to undergird the life-reform movement. Lifestyle reform, said Friedrich Landmann, a contemporary of Haeckel’s, is “above all reform of the self; it has to begin with one’s own body and in one’s own home.” And, indeed, members of the various life-reform movements, hoping to assume a lifestyle more in tune with natural laws, adopted stringent diets and unconventional fashions, predilections that earned many of them the name “Kohlrabi apostles.”
It is worth taking a closer look at one of these Kohlrabi apostles, if only to see how monism led people to believe they could change the world by changing their diets.
During his pharmacy apprenticeship, a young man from the German city of Nuremberg named August Engelhardt became fascinated by health and natural healing. Disillusioned by the cramped and miserable living conditions of the working class, and dismayed by the unplanned growth of his hometown due to speculative housing plays, Engelhardt sought relief in his local vegetarian society. During his free time, he wrote impassioned articles and pamphlets on such disparate topics as the irrationality of marriage, the barbarism of the Egyptians, and the decline of Western civilization. This last topic he found especially compelling. To stem the decline, he believed people should abandon their dreary offices and factories and return to the fields, where they should farm in the nude. Only then would the earth be restored to a prelapsarian state.
Engelhardt advanced this remedy in his 1898 book, A Carefree Future: The New Evangelism (Glimpse Into the Depth and Distance for the Selection of Mankind, for the Reflection of All, for Consideration and Stimulation). In it, Engelhardt taught that people should eat only coconuts, because coconuts are the same shape as the human head. Engelhardt declared himself “the first apostle of the coconut palm” and said his faith would breed “big, noble, health-holistic humans.” He believed that God, the sun, and humankind were one. He further held that salvation lay in adopting a lifestyle that accorded with this unity. In short, people needed to get back to nature.
In 1902, Engelhardt acted on this philosophy by purchasing Kabakon, a small palm-covered island located in the Duke of York group in the Bismarck Archipelago. There he established his Order of the Sun-Equatorial Settlers Association. To shelter his many books, he built a wooden hut “in the European style,” while he himself slept unclothed out in the open. During the day he communed with the sun. When he wasn’t eating coconuts, he wrote about them. They were for him his “philosopher’s stone.”
He also wrote essays and advertisements urging “all friends of the natural sunny life to join him” in living among “fruit-eating men.” In 1903, his first disciple, a young, blue-eyed man from northern Germany, joined him, only to die six weeks later from malaria. But others followed: a debauched “musical genius” in search of renewal; a furrier from northeast France; an Englishman from Newcastle; and Engelhardt’s close friend and co-author, August Bethmann, and Bethmann’s fiancée, Anna Schwab, who was the first female member of this Order of the Sun.
Within a couple years most of these people were also dead. (Bethmann was likely murdered by Engelhardt over Schwab). Those who didn’t perish fell ill or returned home. Still, despite weighing only 86 pounds and suffering from scabies, Engelhardt persisted in his coconut-only diet. And he continued writing furiously of his dream to conquer the world with fruit eaters, establishing a “fine-mesh net of colonies of pure, naked, fructivorous life around the equator.” He would preside over this empire, calling the unconverted to holy sojourn, inviting them to his palm temple of Fructivorism.
In May 1919, the temple fell; Engelhardt succumbed at last. It is unknown how the prophet died or where he is buried. What is known is that his sun-worshipping, coconut-eating race of men and women never came to be. But the monist philosophy underpinning his creed would persist.
The strange career of August Engelhardt is one of the more colorful examples of monist philosophy put into practice. But Haeckelian monism spread far beyond the relatively narrow confines of the life-reform movement. Like spiritual and intellectual kudzu, it clung to various branches of 20th-century Western thought. In the sciences, it inspired research into eugenics and other pseudoscience of an anti-human bent. In arts and letters, it would appear in expressionist painter Edvard Munch’s The Scream as the “great unending scream passing through nature,” and Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” as an examination of the “evolutionary unity of man and insects,” as Gasman notes. When the French Symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud wrote, “It is found. What? Eternity— It is the sea gone into the sun,” he was expressing a monist worldview that affirmed the indissoluble oneness of everything, humanity included.
Haeckelian monism found its way into politics, too. It was championed by Marxists and fascists alike, the groups giving it their signature twist. It was an integral part of the “revolutionary method” of the Italian scientific socialists, who saw the struggles of the working class as reflective of the natural evolutionary struggles of all life, and inspired the murky mysticism of German National Socialists, who sought to destroy the cultural and religious underpinnings of Western civilization and replace them with a fantastic and perverse interpretation of natural law. That monism found equal purchase among the left and right should come as no surprise: It was a belief system that lent a spiritual sheen to otherwise stony materialist ideologies. As such, it appealed, as George Steiner writes of the ennui that gripped Europe at this time, to people grown numb from the combined forces of “extreme economic-technical dynamism” and “enforced social immobility.”
Raw Egg Nationalist is a latter-day exponent of this materialist spirituality. Like the life reformers before him, Raw Egg Nationalist’s complaint is to a great degree economic. He describes individuals unable to captain their own material destinies and bereft of the traditional social and cultural institutions that offer solace and aid when those destinies prove ill-starred. He writes in the wake of a long string of “resets,” notably the neoliberal turn of the 1970s. As economic geographer David Harvey writes, in that decade the embedded liberal order—a New Deal webwork of “social and political constraints” on entrepreneurial and corporate activities—fell to ruin. In its place arose an economic order that saw the state promote the interests of finance and monopolistic corporations over those of the citizenry. Worker protections were watered down, social safety nets were torn, public institutions were defunded or placed in private hands, and cherished traditions crumbled. If, as Harvey tells it, the neoliberal project was one of effecting “a momentous shift towards greater social inequality and the restoration of power to the upper class,” it could only be felt by ordinary folks as a wholesale assault on their security, if not their very dignity.
That project appeared to move much nearer to completion during the Covid pandemic. The fraught winter of 2020, which saw the emergence of Raw Egg Nationalist, also saw one of the largest ever transfers of wealth upward. Activities of the Federal Reserve—tamping down the federal funds rate (the interest rate at which the Fed loans money to banks), amping up purchases of mortgage-backed securities, whose purpose is that of keeping mortgage rates low—enriched the most powerful companies by some $1.5 trillion. As these companies pocketed this staggering sum, they professed a “more inclusive, worker-friendly” capitalism. Yet workers weren’t to understand greater inclusion as a bigger cut of profits: Their portion amounted to less than 2 percent of the amount that went to shareholders. At any rate, whatever meager gains they received was quickly clawed back through inflation sent galloping by the very same Fed policy. You could indeed call this a great reset, and an especially cruel and arbitrary one. To the winners went ballooning asset values; to the losers, ballooning rents and grocery bills. The dislocations of recent years created fertile ground for a “renewed populism” fueled by responsibly grown whole foods, Raw Egg Nationalist writes. Such a movement “could help ensure that corporations are kept in their place.”
For Raw Egg Nationalist, the body appears as the last redoubt for making a stand against seemingly inexorable market forces. Its care and feeding thus become sacred doctrine, a path of redemption for individuals and their nations. In this belief Raw Egg Nationalist isn’t alone. We see more trifling examples of it in the popularity of fussy eating (orthorexia), which has been elevated to a purifying form of political and spiritual ascetics. Take a walk down an aisle at Whole Foods, and you will encounter any number of products promising transformation and progress simply by eating them.
I would be the last to argue that eating whole foods produced responsibly doesn’t do some social and bodily good. I wrote a book on how corporate influence alienated us from the making and eating of health-giving fermented foods, and I encourage a return to those traditional foods where possible. But food alone will not save us from the ravages of neoliberal capitalism, or, if you will, the Great Reset. Rather, if food can protect us, it will be because it occasions the rituals that enlighten and ennoble our everyday lives. Observance of humane traditions—feasting and fasting, celebrating and mourning—gives us strength to withstand trials to come. Anything else is, well, not all it’s cracked up to be.