This excerpt has been taken with permission from 'Fascist Feelings,' a chapter in 12 Rules for What's new book, Post-Internet Far Right. On release this book will contribute to our understandings of modern far-right movements, and can be pre-ordered here from Dog Section Press in order to support printing.
Capitalism produces people – you, me, everyone you know. It works on and through all of us, moulding us into the people we become, just as we mould it. Capitalism today does not produce people like it did in the 1920s. Its requirements and possibilities have changed. The capitalist subject of neoliberalism can be characterised as ‘the achievement-subject’ – a self-exploiting kind of personhood, subsumed in an endless flow of images, tending nowhere in particular, but always alert to the possibility of increasing its personal value. Those who do not make themselves into productive components of the general accumulation simply have not tried hard enough. Because some must therefore fail, failure is built-in to the production of people. Failure is treated as aberrant, but in class society, it’s structural.
When something fails reliably, we can say it has a ‘failure mode.' Fascism might be seen as a failure mode of capitalism. It is one of the many ways in which the underlying capitalist impulse to reproduce the conditions of accumulation might mutate and survive under crisis conditions. Similarly, we can think of a fascist as a particular failure mode of capitalist people-production. But because the capitalism of the 21st century is not like that of the 1930s, so the fascism of the 21st century will not be the same. And, likewise, the production of fascists – those who desire and build fascism – has also changed.
Perhaps the most sympathetic possible account of some fascists now is that they desire an end to the inanity of life under capitalism. As the organisation of life by capitalism ever deepens, fascism takes positions on more and more aspects of life that seemed outside the realm of politics. However, its syncretism and totalising scope exist not because of the breadth of its imagination but because of its systematisation of all the brutal techniques of discipline and social control. In this sense, fascism is capitalism’s bleeding edge, but temporally displaced. Its regressive and reactionary content, which it presents as revolutionary, is operationalised as the doomed and violent defence of the social life liberal capitalism attempts to transform. Fascists rightly reject the order of the present, but they do so spurred on by a false view of a lost, masculine, racially homogenous past. They desire not the end of this system built on misery and brutality but the redistribution of suffering back towards nationalised, racialised and gendered Others: a radicalisation of politics that ends up affirming the most brutal – and conventional – parts of capitalism’s alienating logic, but only for these Others. We will return again and again to this ‘normie’ radicalism, this militarised articulation of the burning core of the present.
Fascism feeds on crises. After the First World War, the crisis seemed total: military, political, social, and economic. But it was also a subjective crisis: a masculine crisis. In Male Fantasies, Klaus Theweleit begins with memoirs of the Freikorps. Here, intimacy with women is not merely shunned: “There is more in play here than simple prudishness or questions of morality; we are dealing with the warding off of a threat.” Theweleit suggests something that perhaps remains true: with far-right feelings, the warding off of a subjectively consuming sexual relationship is foundational.
But now masculine failure is more variegated. It produces diverse and complicated feelings: hatred, a passionate need for as well as a fear of intimacy, a disgust for what is uncontrollable or unfamiliar, a feeling that everything lacks potency, lacks force, a feeling that the world has been degraded, a suspicion that power is against you, a listlessness, a lack of clarity, and feeling of being outside the world, a blind rage. Although this failure can be specific (for example, the failure ‘to protect our girls’ so potent for the Democratic Football Lads Alliance (DFLA), more often it is a broader failure to become subjectively meaningful at all.
On 4chan and other tributary cultural formations for the contemporary far right, feelings of subjective failure are ubiquitous. For most of early 4chan, ‘NEETs’ (Not in Education, Employment or Training – dropouts stereotypically dwelling in their parent’s basements) formed the self-conceived community. Compare - bathetically - these quotidian scenes to the foundational crisis of masculinity for the Freikorps: losing the First World War. For the far right today, even failure is degraded.
The more lackadaisical the young man (and it is mostly, although not entirely, young men) becomes, the more he fails by social standards, the more he hunts for the singular pursuit, a singular strategy that will make him vital and whole. The route out of this failure finds its form also in the quotidian. Fascist narratives of overcoming are not so different from self-help literature, except they also accommodate the urge to kill and to die. They fixate on the ‘non-productive’ parts – the weightlifting, the personal grooming – and leave out the ‘productive’ parts like studying to get a better job. More importantly still, they tie the young man into a mythic community, and tell him that he is failing because of some other thing elsewhere, something to fixate on and hate. And to take his place in the mythic community, they tell him, he must be prepared to fight.
These narratives of self-improvement contain just enough death-wish, just enough self-hatred, to justify and explain the amplifying social isolation and anonymity that becoming a fascist on the internet requires. Although it’s a theoretical mistake to start with the isolated individual, self-isolation almost necessarily precedes radicalisation, and the internet has created mechanisms for potential fascists to (again the rejection of intimacy) self-isolate together.
The project of becoming a ‘true man’ must be both thought and enacted. It is not enough to merely watch the news and feel hatred – although that is what the far right largely do. That is why militarism forms such a strong emotional system for the far right: it contains the necessary vitality, order and adjacency to death, as well as, crucially, a certain degree of mindlessness, of giving up thought. Militarism is woven into the fascist imaginary. The opposite of total masculine failure is the fantasy of the martial life.
One common meme depicts a ‘before-and-after’ to this transition. Before: an overweight fedora-wearing man with Richard Dawkins and Sargon of Akkad posters and a KEK flag on the wall, living in a city in a filthy room. After: a clean-cut man seated at a desk with fields visible through the window, an AR-15 assault rifle, an Algiz rune flag on the wall and a Generation Identity sticker on their computer monitor. The transition here is not from normie to hero: it is from alt-right internet-debater to heavily-armed rural ecofascist.
Civic nationalists often idealise the military as a foundational aspect of society. Many of their core concerns revolve around the betrayal of serving soldiers or veterans by the state and the left. The UK civic nationalist wave that took up much of the 2010s – the English Defence League, Tommy Robinson, and the DFLA – started with outrage against a small Islamist protest of a procession of soldiers returning from Iraq. The pan-European Generation Identity organised training camps where recruits were drilled in martial arts. The US paramilitary group The Base boasted of the military and intelligence connections of its personnel – talk on its Discord server (a private web forum) was densely woven with military acronyms and phrases.
However, for fascists, the state that controls the military is degenerate. And militarism is distinct from the military. Western armies are today distant from political power, and moreover strive to merely technologically dominate their enemies. As opposed to the experience of the First World War operationalised by the Nazis, the image of the military today is hi-tech and unerringly precise in action and thought – a far cry from more direct forms of masculine potency. Indeed, Ernst Jünger, whose celebration of military life substantially influenced the fantasies of classical fascism, decried the distance and technological complexity of modern war as undermining personal heroism. Militarism nevertheless expresses the violent ‘truth’ of the world liberalism has sought to obscure: everything competes for domination.
Although atomised, the fascist subject has its crowd – or its pack, its swarm – often organised (at least rhetorically) around militaristic values. It is fealty to this community that comes to define fascists’ lives. Radicalisation into the group is a process of immense emotional depth, and, for many, escaping from the far right is complicated most of all by having to give up these emotional attachments. Joining such a group requires other ties (to friends, family, and colleagues) to be broken down.
These groups are not all alike: the smaller the group and the clearer its structure, the more it opposes itself to society. Whereas marchers on a DFLA demonstration can imagine themselves as the voice of a substantial demographic, now lost, or submerged by political correctness, the medium-sized groups such as Generation Identity imagine themselves to be restoring a kind of naturalised masculine subjectivity that has been eroded by the left – they organise for the return of the potent man. Further to the right, among the blackpilled neo-Nazis, these groups are almost entirely defined against the norms of society and undergo quasi-rituals to enforce this separation. From the declarative anti-semitism of National Action to the intragroup murders of Atomwaffen, the principle of these acts is ‘we are absolutely different; we can never go back.'