Book Review – ‘Outlaw Bikers and Ancient Warbands: Hyper-Masculinity and Cultural Continuity’

Reviewer: Dr Damien Rogers
Review published in National Security Journal, 30 May 2022

The book’s enduring legacy will, undoubtedly, be the new research agenda that now lies in its wake. While Bradley casts light on the similarities between ancient warriors and contemporary outlaw bikers, work remains to demonstrate the cultural continuity of hyper-masculinity by carefully tracing the specific pathways by which this set of ideas, values and practices is transmitted from Antiquity, through the Middle Ages and Modernity, up until the present moment. Bradley’s somewhat narrow concept of organised violence as a brutal, high intensity use of force to kill, maim, injure, intimidate or threaten as a means of controlling, subjugating and exploiting other individuals, groups or communities could be broadened to account for other forms of deliberate harm referred to as structural violence (Galtung 1969) or slow violence (Nixon 2011; see also Cusato 2021). Bradley’s work begs new questions about cultural discontinuities of hyper-masculinity and the differing roles played by gendered violence in other politico-cultures shaped by contending sacral traditions, such as Islam, Buddhism or Daoism. While Bradley is entirely correct to focus on the significance of the last three or four decades of neoliberal policy preferences in creating and sustaining conditions for the emergence of outlaw biker groups, the deeper and more profound importance of the rise and spread of capitalism since the sixteenth century warrants investigation and elaboration, as does Modernity’s reification of the individual as sovereign unto himself and the widespread and ongoing alienation this individualism engenders within modernist societies. Finally, Bradley’s materialist account of why these groups personify hyper-masculinity deserves to be complemented by a focus on any conservative ideological commitments held in common by outlaw bikers and white supremacists as well as security professionals in military service, police forces and intelligence agencies.

Here, then, the intellectual challenge posed by this book, especially to those of us engaged in the independent production of knowledge on the collective use of organised violence, is an immense and formidable one. The tragedy is, of course, that Bradley’s untimely death, at the age of 51, deprives us of a scholar who was uniquely well placed to progress this much-needed research. As anyone who was fortunate enough to be his colleague or student would testify, Bradley’s passion for ideas and curiosity about the world knew no bounds; he relished informed, self-reflexive discussion and valued differing points of view, and was himself a generous, open-minded and open-hearted scholar. In this, his first and, sadly, only book, Bradley bequeaths a challenge to both security professionals and scholars of security studies alike to reconfigure the thorny relationship between objects and subjects of security practice. There is no doubt that Carl Bradley was so much more than a well-liked teacher and much-respected researcher, and so much more than a maturing scholar of criminology and security studies. Despite his endless fascination with Antiquity and his deep concern for the political exigencies of our contemporary moment, Carl was, in many ways, a Renaissance man in the sense that he “could appreciate the riches of classical culture and yet also feel himself breaking beyond the ancient boundaries to reveal entirely new realms” (Tarnas, p. 224). To be sure, Carl Bradley was a rare and fine human being – at once a son, a brother, a partner, a father and a fine friend to many, not to mention an accomplished martial artist! Thank you, Carl, for your compassion, generosity and kindness. You are, and will forever be, sorely missed. And as you depart this life and make your way towards whatever lies ahead for us in The Beyond, I hope the thirst is upon you my friend – Sláinte!

By Damien Rogers