It's Real and It Works
Really think you give yourself too little credit by calling this half-baked; also think more analyses of high school social psychology could help us better understand our political moment, for what it's worth, just based on how many nerds and jocks that I know of from school have grown up to associate with the far-right or seeking work that allows them to hurt people (some of the biggest dorks and jocks I remember from high school are cops now).
I think one of the reasons this resonates with me so strongly is that in my reading about so many of the historic fascists - and in what we see of so many current fascists or fascist-like figures - they seem to be men motivated primarily by fear or resentment over humiliation or inadequacies, real or imagined. Hard not to see that pervasively in right-wing American politics today.
Often feels like we're watching the world's most insufferable locker room, with so many self-styled, hyper-virile "alpha" male influencers (Andrew Tate, Trump, DeSantis) flexing for try-hard "beta" weirdos (incels, and Masters/Thiel/Musk types - who want so badly to be powerful, desired jocks, but are such huge dorks or dark weirdoes, all they can do is take out their inadequacies on anyone they might have the least bit of power over). All of them also seem to share hair-trigger tempers (unfortunately, often literally now) over any perceived slights to their manhood or authority or whatever. I'm sure there's some more psychologizing to do there.
Anyway, great read
This is a fun one, thanks. On the last section: what do you make, if anything, of DeSantis actually being a jock and Trump largely just playing a bully on TV? Like, DeSantis played baseball and then was in the military as a JAG, there in person laughing at victims of force-feeding in Gitmo. So why is it that Meatball Ron ends up as the creep and loser (which, I agree, he very much seems to be)?
Incoming hackneyed-Fromm impersonation: Both the creep-loser (CL)and the jock-douche (JD) seek to dominate, but the CL must first disengage from reality, seek out fantasy, live in it, whereas the JD has no such psychological need (Hitler’s famous disgust at the physical, his obsessive personal hygiene, his refusal to hear bad news, etc. vs Mussolini’s priapism, his appetites). The CL is the serial killer who lives the fantasy of domination, sometimes for years, the JD is the material murderer. They are codependent in full-blown political fascism. Himmler’s Posen speeches to the SS on their sacred duty to kill all “sub-humans” on the eastern front vs. the casual sadism of the Einsatzgruppen. To pedestrianize: Blake Masters vs. The Proud Boys. The fantasist and the executioner - the creep/loser and the jock/douche - need each other and fully realized political fascism needs both.
well at first, I thought this was, as you say, a bit half baked. But, coming to think of it, it is an eerily well-fitting metaphor. Especially applied to the respective foreign policy of the two regimes:
Fascist Italy: a lot of grandiloquent strutting, great self-aggrandizing gestures (Neo-Roman Empire stuff etc...), talking of conquest and war but not really planning much, picking on much weaker opponents for no good reasons or very little practical gain (Ethiopia, Albania), completely folding when confronted with some real resistance (Greece, Britain in Egypt)
Nazi-Germany: constant lying and deception, making and breaking treaties willy-nilly, changing allies and betraying them right away, professing peace and preparing war and all the while following the most megalomaniac of strategic objectives (world conquest)...
I enjoyed the use of Weber in this context, and I see what you're going for. Since Trump came along I began to have thoughts along these lines. This essay reminds me of another thing I wondered about though, which is the role of our culture's standard superiority hierarchy, and the uses the fascists make of this. So Trump is very captivated by describing how 'smart' he is, and he also references his ivy degree. He also loves to tell his audience they are the 'smart' ones. There's a way this all piggybacks on the meritocracy. DeSantis too (who you doubt is a fascist) will depend on his meritocracy bona fides. They all do, in fact. The New York Times is undoubtedly dying fir DeSantis to calm the fuck down so they can interview his professors at Yale, and talk about how he's actually smart (he can be the self-made Bush, an intelligent Bush, who is not a nice guy but still...he went to YALE). It's not like they are re-inventing the superiority hierarchy--they're merely re-imagining it as a more robust instrument, easily turned to a tool for visible dominance and dropping all pretense of human equality and noblesse oblige. The smart people are smart by nature, the hierarchy is natural, etc. So what is married to the jock-nerd domination isn't a new set of values perhaps but chucking out the aspects of universalism that the enlightenment gradually led us toward, ditching fairness and equality while keeping whatever elements that are supposed to sort people out within the system that suit their purpose. It ultimately puts them in a different moral universe but it's going to work on people for being recognizable within our cultural context. (They also may use the valorization of the military in a similar way, which is why it was a trap to allow post-Vietnam guilt trips to revive the halo around the military.) In this way, they will appear less threatening to people in power, and perhaps it's why the fascists did not seem as threatening as they were the first time around--because there was a ready ideology of superiority they could piggyback upon.
This is truly a work of art. Fascism, both silly and sinister... filled with people who are ridiculous but can't stand being laughed at...
I’m interested in how these ideal-types, which strike me as different variants of overcompensating “toxic masculinity”, to use a popular term, relate to the broader historical context of the modern Republican Party.
For example, we can see Richard Nixon as the grievance-collecting social outsider in both economic-cultural terms and in the “incredibly socially awkward and uncomfortable in his own skin” interpersonal settings” terms, the Orthogonian who reasserted the authenticity of his masculinity against the “effete elite” socially dominant Franklins (as well as soft liberals and Commies/Fellow Travelers in general, which in Nixon’s case also included Jews and gay people).
We can also see it in a more subtle but no leas powerful way in Ronald Reagan, the “empty-headed B-movie actor with narrow range” whose rise to stardom Hollywood with films like King’s Row was undoubtedly hampered by WWII, for he could not fight due to his poor eyesight and had to content himself with acting in propaganda films for the Army’s movie unit. Military LARPing due to his terrible eyesight, which I can only imagine might have brought back some unpleasant childhood memories of being the scrawny, blind as a bat, scared, painfully shy younger son of an alcoholic “loser” father who was constantly moving his family around and who was constantly sabotaging their economic prospects and social reputation with his drinking (the fact that Reagan’d father was an Irish Catholic Democrat in heavily Protestant Republican small-town Illinois is of note here).
And Reagan, from his perspective, was rewarded for his work ethic and reliability during and immediately after WWII by not having his wartime taxes deferred (in contrast to WWI veterans), his wife Jane Wyman easily eclipsing him in Hollywood stardom and then divorcing him, and generally being reduced to the role of “the best friend” as opposed to the leading man--with the knowing snickering of implied homosexuality and “cucked” vibes that followed. It’s not for nothing that one of the most sensitive subjects for Reagan was his reputation as an actor.
Then you have George H.W. Bush with the “wimp factor” and his subsequent overcompensation, George W. Bush with his entire personality and political persona being a Freudian study in Father-Son overcompensation, desperate to prove that “he measured up” and could even one-up his father, with his embrace of Reaganism on steroids with an exaggerated Texan accent, the “Decider” who “went with his gut” and his administration’s and their supporters skillful channeling of the post-9/11 machismo and vengeful bloodlust of many Americans.
And now, we come to Donald Trump--a painfully on the nose explicit study in inferiority complex-holding disreputable new money failson with Daddy Issues--turning the Republican Party’s decades-long condemnation of the Democrats as “soft” (toxic masculinity alert!) on Communism, crime, illegal immigration, terrorism on the other Republican candidates (“Low Energy” Jeb, “Little” Marco, insulting Ted Cruz’s wife, and successfully “cucking” most Republican politicians who have fallen into line). All initially because he wasn’t accepted by the Manhattan elite, and not just the US President but a Black man (Obama) mercilessly humiliated him on national television (a medium that is incredibly important to Trump, obviously) in front of the national elite, who laughed at Trump while he just had to sit there and take it.
Layers upon layers of social resentment, status anxiety, personal insecurity, toxic masculinity, and feelings and fears of emasculation and impotency here. Is it too cute for me to end on the observation that the far-right usually has a broadly a **petty** bourgeois class base?
Btw there is a small historical inaccuracy in your piece: Hitler was a social failure in pre WWI Vienna, not post-war Vienna. He had left Vienna for Munich by 1914 (to apply at the arts academy there) before the outbreak of war, and having failed at this joined the German army as a volunteer in August. He stayed in Munich after the war as a social marginal figure, part-time spy and agitator for the German Army
One for the Inexplicably Named file: "The coup attempt, which included gunfire near the National Palace, was reportedly staged by Col. Himmler Rebu, commander of the elite Leopards battalion (stationed in Pétion-Ville, close to the capital Port-au-Prince)."
Good stuff. I did see another breakdown of the Jock-Nerd dyad into distinctive combinations of traits, and I think the two can be synthesized with a Punnet Square illustration. If jock-y nerds are the worst people and nerdy jocks are the best, it implies that there also exist jock-y jocks and nerdy nerds occupying secondary positions in these. So Hitler would be a jock-y nerd, a malevolent creep, and Mussolini a jock-y jock, a malevolent warrior. Who would the avatars of benevolence be?
i like to call them chud fash and pseud fash
Not just prolific of articles and ideas (and mentioned now in at least one dispatch--by Michelle Goldberg) but many of the ideas, like this Jock-Douche/Creep-Loser distinction among fascists, are startlingly new (which I think I can say as a professional historian of ideas).
Substitute hubris and nemesis for jock and loser…et viola
Love this piece . A very funny, unapologetic comparison romp!
To quote Sam Kriss from back in 2016:
“Gryffindor are fascists according to fascist ideology itself, the ideal-ego of the fascist subject: a natural elite, strong, noble, honourable, yellow-haired, and respectful of difference, but only within strict limits. Slytherin is the same figure as she appears to the outside world, her negative aspects projected onto a despised other.“
I guess this makes Joanne a Jock-Douche type?
Though I agree with the need to save Nietzsche from the Nazis, I can't help but think in connexion with your Creep-Loser/Jock-Douche dichotomy that some at least of the Creep-Loser Nazis (band name!) would have accepted their status but felt that their loyalty to a Jock-Douche–worshipping ideology would ennoble them in their acceptance of the Pathos of Distance. This is, of course, entirely consonant with my hobby-horse: the sense of personal liberation gained by those vicariously revelling in the absolute freedom enjoyed by the Leader, here expanded to identification with the J.-D.s.
(The origin of this hobby-horse: encountering within a few days of each other someone's clever 'Fascism is perfect Anarchism—for one man.' with one sadist's speculation that 'subs' identify with 'doms'…combined with an unfortunate and snobby cynicism about the value most people place on even their own civil liberties.)