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A little while ago, I came up with the idea that that the difference between Italian Fascism and German Nazism was that Fascism essentially had “Jock-Douche” vibes while Nazism had “Creep-Loser” vibes. Now, I’m going to try to develop this fancy into a full-blown (or rather, half-baked) theory.
“But, John, this is absurd,” you might immediately object, “How can you reduce an entire political ideology to categories drawn from American high school movies.” Well, try to think of them as ideal-types like the sociologist Max Weber developed. Here’s what Weber wrote of his ideal-type methodology: “An ideal type is formed by the one-sided accentuation of one or more points of view and by the synthesis of a great many diffuse, discrete, more or less present and occasionally absent concrete individual phenomena, which are arranged according to those onesidedly emphasized viewpoints into a unified analytical construct...” That is to say, they are sort of made up. Still, I believe that this theory, while it does not pretend to be a definitive explanation, may help to illuminate aspects of the far right today.
The Categories Considered in their Ideal-Typical Formation
First, some preliminary definitions. The Jock-Douche ideal-type proceeds in the world with confidence and the presumption of immediate physical domination, while the Creep-Loser ideal-type has been thwarted some way and is therefore reflective, and is resentful, a plotter, a schemer, and a fantasist dreaming up grand historical vistas of triumph or doom. Again, keep in mind these are purely ideal-types. Rarely does an individual totally embody either one or the other idea. One could speculate that in many cases the superficial confidence of the Jock-Douche type is merely psychological compensation for the feelings of inadequacy of the Creep-Loser. On the converse, the intellectual limitations of the Jock-Douche type leads to an imaginative perspective that cannot escape the relatively crude thought-world of Nerd-dom. Considered from either an existential or psychoanalytic lens, it seems likely that these two are actual facets of single complex or form of being-in-the-world, manifested in different ways under different circumstances. Fascism as its own ideal-type can be understood as a synthesis between the Jock-Douche and the Creep-Loser: a cult of sheer physical of strength and action wedded to a wounded and brooding consciousness of impotence and humiliation.
I should address the specifically national character of the division proposed here, that Italian Fascism and German Nazism represent two different affective dimensions of the fascist consciousness or self. Again, this is purely ideal-typical: both movements and nationalities naturally contain examples of the opposite tendency, but for the sake of illustration it is convenient to divide them in this manner. I also believe one finds that these two different spirits do actually predominate more or less in these respective national movements. Now, one might object here that making a division according to national origin recapitulates the very sort of national or even racial essentialism of fascist ideology itself, and that I am stereotyping Italians as impulsive, hot-blooded, and unintellectual while painting Germans, from “the land of poets and thinkers,” as either speculative dreamers or ratiocinators. I would just say to that to a large degree that these different modes of behavior and thinking are representations and projections of fascists’ own fantasies about their national qualities.
The Categories Expressed in Historical Examples
The most obvious representation of the Jock-Douche and Creep-Loser duality is in the leadership of the respective movements: Benito Mussolini vs. Adolf Hitler. Mussolini was socially successful, a popular and esteemed figure in the Italian socialist party. In fact, his turn to nationalism and war-mongering can be considered as a result of the desire for continued popularity, or even identification with popular enthusiasm as such, when his initial pacifist line as editor of the socialist newspaper failed to capture the national imagination.
The turn to war-making and nationalism also appealed to Mussolini’s belief in a mystique of violence and action, leavened by his interest in Georges Sorel’s irrationalism and political vitalism. Here’s how a fellow socialist described him in 1914: “Nothing matters to him now except to win. What matters is to triumph over timidity, fear and prudence which impede and arrest the revolutionary advance of the proletariat.” And Mussolini adulated the proletariat, not so much for its Marxist-assigned historical role of overthrowing the capitalist mode of production, but for its heroism, masculinity and toughness. Mussolini’s he-man histrionics as fascist leader, the jaw-jutting and arm crossing etc. project this pure masculinity. And although he was an intellectual, his statements reflect a proud and defiant anti-intellectualism. Speaking of an anti-fascist newspaper, Mussolini famously remarked, “The democrats of Il Mondo want to know our programme? It is to break the bones of the democrats of Il Mondo. And the sooner the better.” In other words, bullying brought to the level of political theory.
On the other hand, Hitler was a loser. A marginal type in post-war Munich, he was a failure at his chosen vocation as artist. In an unintentionally revealing passage in Mein Kampf, Hitler describes how he was bullied and chased away from a construction job by union organizers. The fact this probably never happened in reality is all the more revealing: it reveals an essential fantasy at play. Mein Kampf itself is the ranting and grandiose fantasies of an embittered man, which provided a good deal of its rhetorical appeal to other members of his pseudo-intellectual milieu, the “intellectual precariat of bohemians and academic dropouts, throwing together various elements that they have found in the neurotic overproduction of private mythologies” as Albert Koschorke describes them in his essay on Mein Kampf.
Even the most casual observer of Nazism has no doubt noted the absurd difference in Hitler’s actual meager appearance and silly histrionics with his professed Aryan ideal. This feature extends across the Nazi leadership, and is especially notable in the figure of Heinrich Himmler. Himmler’s unassuming appearance betrays his essential difference from the mob figures of the early Nazi party, men like the predatory bully Ernst Röhm. He was a petit bourgeois philistine preoccupied with eugenic fantasies drawn from his time as a chicken farmer. He also believed himself to be the reincarnation of an ancient Aryan king. In his book The House that Hitler Built, Stephen Henry Roberts describes Himmler, whom he actually met:
The career of Himmler is an epitome of Hitlerism. Nothing distinguished him in his youth. He studied agriculture at a technical high school in Munich and is said to have served in a Free Corps in that city against the Soviet government. He was with Hitler in the first putsch and then retired from the public eye as an assistant in a Bavarian fertilizer factory. He lacks any distinction of appearance and is modest in manner. His very indefinite features and his glasses make him look rather insignificant, more of a student than an agitator ; so that his fellow-Nazis made the mistake of underestimating him and thinking that he could not stand up to the hearty manners of freebooters like Rohm and Heines.
In a early anticipation at the banality of evil thesis in The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt writes, “Himmler was himself ’more normal,’ that is, more of a philistine, than any of the original leaders of the Nazi movement. He was not a bohemian like Goebbels, or a sex criminal like Streicher, or a crackpot like Rosenberg, or a fanatic like Hitler, or an adventurer like Göring. He proved his supreme ability for organizing the masses into total domination by assuming that most people are neither bohemians, fanatics, adventurers, sex maniacs, crackpots, nor social failures, but first and foremost job holders and good family men.” (This leads me to wonder if perhaps the banality and philistinism Arendt detected in Nazi leadership could be accounted for by our theory, with its terminology that would have been unknown to her.)
Even if we consider the earliest origins of the two forms of fascism we can see adumbrations of this Jock/Nerd divide. Consider, for instance, the animating beliefs and activities of the völkisch ariosophist groups that Nicholas Goodricke-Clarke documents in his The Occult Roots of Nazism: Secret Aryan Cults and their Influence on Nazi Ideology. These were the subcultural sects that conjured up the “dream-world” of Nazism well in advance of the actual existence of the NSDAP. Goodricke-Clarke describes the initiation ceremony off one of these groups from 1912:
While the novices waited in an adjoining room, the brothers assembled in the ceremonial room of the lodge. The Master took his place at the front of the room beneath the baldachin flanked on either side by two Knights wearing white robes and helmets adorned with horns and leaning on their swords. In front of these sat the Treasurer and Secretary wearing white masonic sashes, while the Herald took up his position in the centre of the room. At the back of the room in the grove of the Grail stood the Bard in a white gown, before him the master of Ceremonies in a blue gown, while the other lodge brothers stood in a semicircle around him as far as the tables of the Treasurer and Secretary. Behind the move of the " Grail was a music room where a harmonium and piano were accompanied by a small choir of 'forest elves'.
The ceremony began with soft harmonium music, while the brothers sang the Pilgrims' Chorus from Wagner's Tannhauser. The ritual commenced in candlelight with brothers making the sign of the swastika and the Master reciprocating. Then the blindfolded novices, clad in pilgrimage mantles, were ushered by the Master of Ceremonies into the room. Here the Master told them of the Order's Ario-Germanic and aristocratic Weltanschauung, before the Bard lit the sacred flame in the grove and the novices were divested of their mantles and blindfolds. At this point the Master seized Wotan's spear and held it before him, while the two Knights crossed their swords upon it. A series of calls and responses, accompanied by music from Wagner, completed the oath of the novices. Their consecration followed with cries from the 'forest elves' as the new brothers were led into the grove of the Grail around the Bard's sacred flame.?' With the ritual personifying lodge officers as archetypal figures in Germanic mythology, this ceremonial must have exercised a potent influence on the candidates.
How could one describe this contemporary terms except as LARPing and cosplay? And note how different this fantasy world is from the Sorelian imaginary of macho plebeians preferred by Italian Fascist or, for that matter, the Italian Futurist’s with their worship of the airplane and the automobile and their attack on this very type of pre-modern Romantic sentimentality
Something like the Jock-Douche/Creep-Loser divide was even implicitly recognized at the time by fascists themselves. For example, let’s look at the disparaging account of Hitler in the Italian Fascist Curzio Malaparte’s 1932 book The Technique of Coup d’Etat. For the athletic and adventurous Malaparte, Hitler’s “opportunist” adoption at the time of legal, electoral campaigning rather than the “revolutionary” methods of Mussolini makes him detestable because it reveals a deficiency of masculinity, a fatal flaw to this deeply misogynistic fascist:
Hitler’s intelligence is in point of fact profoundly feminine: his mind, his ambitions, even his will are not in the least virile. He is a weak man who takes shelter in violence, so that he may conceal his lack of energy, his unexpected failings, his morbid egoism, and his clumsy pride. A quality common to nearly all dictators and one which is characteristic of their manner of judging men in relation to events, is their jealousy. Dictatorship is not only a form of government, it is also the most complete form of jealousy in all its aspects : political, moral and intellectual. Like all dictators, Hitler is guided much more by his passions than by his mind. His attitude towards his oldest partisans, the shock-troops who followed him from the very beginning, who stood by him in adversity, who shared his humiliation, dangers and imprisonment, who have been his glory and his power, can only be explained by jealousy. This will astonish only those who are unaware of the true nature of dictators, i. e., their violent and timid psychology. Hitler is jealous of those who have helped him to become one of the foremost figures in German political life. He is afraid of their pride, their energy, and their fighting spirit-that fearless, disinterested enthusiasm which turns Hitler’s shock-troops into a dangerous weapon of power. He exercises all his brutality to humble their pride, to crush their freedom of will, to obscure their individual merits and to transform his partisans into flunkeys stripped of all dignity. Like all dictators, Hitler loves only those whom he can despise. His ambition is to be able one day to debase and humble the whole German nation and to reduce it to a state of servitude, in the name of German liberty, glory and power.
In the language of the contemporary far right, Malaparte believes Hitler to be a bit of a “cuck”. It is strange to read this assessment in the light of historical retrospect, as we now know how much more brutal and violent Hitler’s dictatorship was than Mussolini’s, but this perhaps can tell us that the unleashed energies of the wounded psyche of the Creep-Loser formation is even more dangerous because of its imaginative reach. One should also note here the initial lack of interest and even open mockery of Nazi biological race theories by Italian Fascists.
The Categories Applied to the Present
The relevance of this theory today is obvious when one looks at the contemporary American right, with its paradoxical and strange unity of jock-bullies like Trump and the online incel-tariat. In addition, good deal of the intellectual or Professional-Managerial cadre of the right celebrates the sheer idiocy and barbarousness of Trump’s rhetoric as a totem of virility and potency. Fantasies of ultimate power swirl around Trump. Look for instance at the “Trump as God-Emperor” meme that emerged on 4chan, the original reference of which was the tabletop strategy game Warhammer 40,000. One could also say there is a more-or-less conscious desire for fascism in the pseudo-intellectual nerd demimonde, expressed in their grandiose theorizations and fantasies, while there is an unconscious identification with the Jock-Douche dimension of fascism present in the population at large. I believe in America the pure manifestation of Creep-Loser fascism is unlikely to succeed politically. We saw this in the defeat of Blake Masters and we see this in Trump’s popularity above the Yale educated lawyer DeSantis is already manifest, even though the latter is now the choice of many of the wonkier and nerdier figures on the far right. (Of course, Trump is of German origin and DeSantis is of Italian background, which should put to rest any fears that mine is a theory of ethnic essentialism.) Creep-Loser fascism, the fascism of the Michael Antons and Curtis Yarvins of the world, must still lurk and plot in the background—it is too unattractive to come to light.
In conclusion, we should take pains to point again that on a higher level these affective dimensions of the fascist self are identical. After all, they are both representations of the wish for dominance and superiority, one being directly acted upon, and the other developed and cultivated inwardly in the world of the imagination. They complement and attract each other: the dull seek to give their actions the appearance of historical grandeur, while the dowdy look for a figure who embodies the strength they lack. They also both reflect fascism as it really is: simultaneously both silly and sinister.
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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)?