The Fascist Cult of Masculinity
The history of the Right is a history of weaponizing insecure men. What we're watching is a troubling portent of what's to come
The promo was quick to go viral. It had been orchestrated intentionally to capture the attention of liberal and Left Wing pundits, to prompt them into sharing the advertisement while deriding it. By the end of the day, it had made the rounds on social media, leaving people wondering what in the world Tucker Carlson was doing with his “End of Men” special.
Because we live in this moment of ironic detachment, the majority of discourse surrounded the absurdity. Jokes were abundant. But what got lost in the fray is that Carlson’s program, and his mainstreaming of this rhetoric surrounding “masculinity” and its “crisis,” is part of a larger ideology and movement. It seems absurd because, well, it is, but also because the larger population is not steeped in Far Right circles or their cesspool of neo-fascistic ideas and narratives.
If you watch the video above, and you should, the laughable components - including testicle tanning and cliche clips of men chopping wood, wrestling, and grilling meat - conceal a larger and more insidious message. In particular, the words “cycle” and “order” betray the origins of all this.
Carlson has already revealed himself. After it was discovered his head writer Blake Neff was not only a racist troll but that he actively trafficked Far Right stories onto the Fox Host’s prime-time show, it was quickly obvious that Carlson was fully engaged in communicating white supremacist, authoritarian rhetoric to millions. He has openly broadcasted conspiracy theories like “white replacement” that have inspired terrorist violence. In traveling to Hungary and airing a week-long propaganda program touting Viktor Orbán and his illiberal regime, Carlson prepared his audience to accept an oppressive state in America.
There is no question what Carlson believes or what he wants. This “End of Men” special is part of a larger worldview that is being peddled by the Right in order to lay the foundation for a drastic change. It is about preying upon insecure, white men and weaponizing them in order to claim power.
And, unfortunately, we’ve seen all this before.
Dispatches From A Collapsing State is the exclusive home of Jared Yates Sexton’s political, cultural, and historical writings. It depends on your support. Subscribe today to keep this project going and to acess more content, including subscriber-only articles and podcasts
An under-discussed aspect of fascism is its reliance on masculine insecurity. The story of authoritarianism is built on the foundation of creating a base of men who feel weak, powerless, and alone, and then co-opting that insecurity in order to fuel a large and violent movement. To this end, fascists construct a theater of aggressive overcompensation, including a worship of violence and death, in order to project to the world a sense of dominance and strength. At its heart though, is nothing but weakness.
The origins of this theater come from a clash between ideologies. Currently, and fleetingly it must be mentioned, we largely live under a liberal ideology that relies on free and fair elections, representative governments, and an emphasis on multicultural tolerance under the protection of the law. Liberal democracies rarely live up to these tenets, largely because entrenched power acts upon the systems, but the principles are what determine the battle lines. Authoritarians and conservatives, birds of a feather, seek a return to hereditary systems of power that bypass liberal democracy altogether in order to install “rightful” rulers who will lead through an emphasis on “natural” laws, or rather laws that prioritize the powerful through the lens of ideology or religion or mythology.
Since the advent of liberalism in the 18th century, conservatives have desired to destroy it. We now live in a moment where that battle is reaching yet another fever pitch. Men like Steve Bannon, and the authoritarians they traffic and work with, are organizing an international movement that gains ground by the day as leaders in the liberal democracies pretend that everything is fine. Their appeal is couched in a need for the reestablishment of patriarchal power, religious orthodoxy in the form of evangelicalism, and a rebirth of nationalism in the face of neoliberal globalism.
As was the case in the early 20th century when Fascism and Nazism asserted themselves, these authoritarians now make the case that liberal democracy has failed. This accusation is not without merit. Neoliberalism has so tilted the scales in favor of the rich and powerful that liberal democracy itself has been almost totally corrupted. Meanwhile, the authoritarian movement has used this corruption to their benefit, spreading their poison through the financial and political systems in order to plot the conquering of the system to their own ends.
Authoritarianism offers a terrible solution. After having framed liberal democracy as “weakness” and susceptible to plots by “shadowy cabals” - always, always, always an echo of antisemitic conspiracy theories about “Jewish puppetmasters” - authoritarians promise the only means for an address of grievances and to right the system is to destroy liberalism itself through the strength of men willing to commit violence and take control. A necessary component for this strategy to take flight is the perceived emasculation of men, leaving them willing to join these groups and efforts in order to bolster their flagging masculinity.
And, at the tip of the spear, authoritarianism relies on “strongmen” to guide these movements and prescribe, for these men in “crisis,” an example they must follow and the promise of strength and control through violence.
Once upon a time, images of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin riding a horse and engaging in “outdoor activities” shirtless was similar fodder for laughs. It was ridiculous. It was pathetic. It was an obvious matter of posturing and reeked of overcompensation.
The truth is that all of this is ridiculous. Masculine insecurity is so see-through, except for men who are lost in the mythology. To them it is deadly serious, to the point that, if they feel emasculated, they’re more than willing to pick up a gun or clench their fists and literally kill.
Strongmen are a necessary component of authoritarianism. It is through this pageantry of performance that they establish their legitimacy as conquerors. By casting liberal democracy as weak, after all, the only answer is strength. The performance of masculinity gives these aspiring authoritarians a claim to position themselves as the antidote.
There is a long history here filled with dictators performing some of the most absurd masculine tropes imaginable, whether it’s riding a horse or donning a military uniform or posing for pictures and videos while firing weapons of war. At the heart is a long-held belief in conservative circles that only strong men of destiny are capable of staving off disaster.
In the Carlson video, the emphasis on a “cycle” is telling. It is a reiteration of a deeply-held belief in Right Wing circles that history, politics, and human societies work in cycles that are predictable, particularly in regards to the ascent of regimes and their eventual collapse following periods of degeneracy. This theory, as most of their ideas go, traces all the way back to Greek philosophy. They believe America is in decline because the cycle has led to degeneracy through multiculturalism and individualism, all of these being natural side-effects of liberal democracy.
The Right has long believed that these cycles are not only predictable, but alterable. Liberal democracy keeps the cycle churning and pushing us toward disaster and apocalypse, but if a man strong enough to resist these forces were to emerge, then the collapse could be avoided. This was posited by Niccoló Machiavelli and a whole throng of theorists. It also, for the record, was the belief of fascists and Nazis, who believed their beloved leaders were men of destiny who could wrench their societies away from the cyclical collapse through the destruction of liberal democracy.
Authoritarians like Steve Bannon continue to push this concept, sometimes through embracing ideas like The Fourth Turning, an influential book by Neil Howe and William Strauss. Bannon and others have embraced these narratives and the need for a resurgence in power through dominance.
It’s necessary to point out that some of these things indeed work in cycles. Fascism and Nazism told a story of liberal democracy being dominated and manipulated by shadowy forces, more specifically a Jewish conspiracy, to the point where the processes were no longer workable and needed destroyed for preservation. To justify the violence and antidemocratic actions necessaries to dismantle liberal democracy, they pointed to “degeneracy,” including multicultularism that “diluted” national culture, tolerance of gays, and the threatening of gender norms. All the while, they spotlit vulnerable communities, accusing them of intentionally engaging in the conspiracy to destroy the nation while promising their members and power base to rein them in and destroy them.
Once more, we are seeing this take place. The GOP’s war on the LGBTQ community, the slur of “groomer,” and the politics of conspiracy theories is a replay of past authoritarian tactics. They’re already embracing the same playbook and basing their appeals on the same rhetoric. It will get worse.
This fetishization of masculinity will play out the same way. For decades American men have been bombarded with advertising appeals playing off their masculine insecurity, leading to more and more overt and ridiculous compensation through products and lifestyle choices. They are primed to respond to the authoritarian call. We can only laugh at it for so long, because this is growing and will continue to grow.