Narcissism, Narcissists, and Abusive Relationships - Epistolary Dialog

Letter I

Letter II

Letter III

Letter IV

Letter V

Letter VI

Letter VII

Letter VIII

Letter IX

Letter X

Letter XI

Letter XII

©Stephen McDonnell and Sam Vaknin

All text is copyrighted and is published here with the permission of the authors.

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Wednesday, March 9 2005, Letter Twelve to Sam Vaknin from Stephen McDonnell

The foolish pursuit of beauty

Dear Sam

In letter no 3 , I wrote of Miss X who might well fill the definition of frienemy. Frienemy was coined by the characters of the TV show Sex in the City, about women in Manhattan and their ups and downs with friends and lovers. Over the years I have seen the ravages such frienemies wreak on people. They are hypocrites, and liars, but for a good cause ­ they insist they have your best interest at heart.

As an aside, I think I make a good foil for your thoughts. I ran across a piece of wisdom - literally a piece of paper I found in the street as I walked my dog - by Eugene Ionesco that goes, "It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question." So let me change the subject from evil to beauty.

Over the years it struck me that certain people are obsessed with 'beauty'. They want to be beautiful, and they want to live in a beautiful world, where there is no 'ugliness'. I confess to being vain, but my tastes are not always the best. I remember a Hound's-tooth pattern pair of pants I loved, that on hindsight were horrible. But then everyone's tastes vary. Miss X, whom I mentioned, used to tell me what was in and out. She had a very good sense of coolness. Something that is a la mode, is not always beautiful, and maybe that is where we should start a discussion. I believe NPDs have a fine sense of what is attractive, both physically and intellectually. They know that a web site that is high in the rankings usually gets more attention than the small one that may have more information but is not 'recognized'. They know that breast implants or a full head of hair will attract the opposite sex. They know that humans are attracted to beauty.

When does vanity become narcissism?

The legend of the most beautiful boy, Narcissus, is a lesson taught to those who foolishly believe in beauty as an end all and a be all. The beautiful Narcissus attracted the admiration and love of both men and women. When a wood nymph fell in love with him, he ignored her and she pined away. The god of vengeance, Nemesis, resurrected her as Echo who could only repeat what she saw and heard. Sounds like many who run after beauty. Nemesis punished Narcissus for his hubris by having him look into a pool of water and falling in love with that image.

If we look around us in magazines, newspapers, and films and on television we are bombarded by images of beautiful people, people who want to be looked at and admired simply because of their outer surface. Some of them even make pornographic videos of themselves so that even more people will want to look at them. None of them have done anything to improve humankind's sort, they simply exist to be admired and even worshiped like our friend the Narcissist.

Christopher Lasch has pointed out that we live in a Narcissistic age, where image is more important than substance. Beauty is a wonderful concept, but what is beautiful varies from culture to culture. As the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder ­ because real beauty does not need another to exist, and one man's meat may be another man's poison. Tastes vary. Canons of beauty vary from year to year. Like fashion, what is in this year will be out next year. Yet we continue to look for beauty, both in humans and in nature.

I believe that when one sees beauty, it is like a bowl movement, something that is natural and pleasurable, and that sometimes stinks. Beauty provokes an emotion. For a narcissist, this emotion is more important than anything. Because he or she sees how beauty can capture people. In studies of monkeys, they were given the choice between food and looking at pictures of high status monkeys in their troupe ­ they often preferred looking at the pictures. Beauty and status are linked in some way in our simian minds. It can be assumed that looking better would benefit them in the long run, as they would receive more attention and food.

There is a sexual attraction to beauty as well. Most young men and women pass through a blossoming stage when they are beautiful, attractive and naοve and the center of attention. They also go crazy for an image, a rock idol or one of their professors. The need for a beautiful image takes over their reasoning ­ the sexual drive and the wish for power are intertwined. Most of us pass out of that stage, if we are lucky, but the narcissist loves the attention, so wants to continue to seek this state of bliss. They want to be the center of attention and they act like beauty queens, strutting and posing. Those youths who do not blossom take refuge in intellectual pursuits or in crime; both of these avenues can also attract attention. Good looks and grooming in the Ape world helps in the art of mating; it shows that you are both healthy and have good genetic material.

The pursuit of absolute beauty is a human endeavor (despite some examples of animal artists) that has no real reason to exist. Some people devote their whole lives to beauty, either creating it or criticing those who create. Are artists like the Bowerbird, building a structure that attracts attention and mates? Is this the purpose of beauty? Is it vainglorious?

Sam:

Tempted as I am to discuss the philosophy of aesthetics, I want to refocus the discussion on pathological narcissism. I described my perceptions, as a diagnosed narcissist, of beauty - and especially of the bodily variety - in these pieces:

Narcissist, the Machine (The Narcissist's Self-Image)

Physique Dysmorphique (Narcissism and Body Dysmorphic Disorders)

Studying my Death (Narcissism and Mortality)

I think that a simple rule of thumb will do:

To admire beauty is not narcissistic. To admire one's own beauty is. This is why I suggested the typology of somatic vs. cerebral narcissists.

Narcissists are either cerebral or somatic. In other words, they either generate their Narcissistic Supply by applying their bodies or by applying their minds.

The somatic narcissist flaunts his sexual conquests, parades his possessions, exhibits his muscles, brags about his physical aesthetics or sexual prowess or exploits, is often a health freak and a hypochondriac. The cerebral narcissist is a know-it-all, haughty and intelligent "computer". He uses his awesome intellect, or knowledge (real or pretended) to secure adoration, adulation and admiration. To him, his body and its maintenance are a burden and a distraction.

Both types are auto-erotic (psychosexually in love with themselves, with their bodies and with their brain). Both types prefer masturbation to adult, mature, interactive, multi-dimensional and emotion-laden sex.

The cerebral narcissist is often celibate (even when he has a girlfriend or a spouse). He prefers pornography and sexual auto-stimulation to the real thing. The cerebral narcissist is sometimes a latent (hidden, not yet outed) homosexual.

(continued below)


This article appears in my book, "Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited"

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The somatic narcissist uses other people's bodies to masturbate. Sex with him - pyrotechnics and acrobatics aside - is likely to be an impersonal and emotionally alienating and draining experience. The partner is often treated as an object, an extension of the somatic narcissist, a toy, a warm and pulsating vibrator.

It is a mistake to assume type-constancy. In other words, all narcissists are BOTH cerebral and somatic. In each narcissist, one of the types is dominant. So, the narcissist is either OVERWHELMINGLY cerebral - or DOMINANTLY somatic. But the other type, the recessive (manifested less frequently) type, is there. It is lurking, waiting to erupt.

The narcissist swings between his dominant type and his recessive type. The latter is expressed mainly as a result of a major narcissistic injury or life crisis.

Sex for the narcissist is an instrument designed to increase the number of Sources of Narcissistic Supply. If it happens to be the most efficient weapon in the narcissist's arsenal – he makes profligate use of it. In other words: if the narcissist cannot obtain adoration, admiration, approval, applause, or any other kind of attention by other means (e.g., intellectually) – he resorts to sex.

He then become a satyr (or a nymphomaniac): indiscriminately engages in sex with multiple partners. His sex partners are considered by him to be objects - sources of Narcissistic Supply. It is through the processes of successful seduction and sexual conquest that the narcissist derives his badly needed narcissistic "fix".

The narcissist is likely to perfect his techniques of courting and regard his sexual exploits as a form of art. He usually exposes this side of him – in great detail – to others, to an audience, expecting to win their approval and admiration. Because the Narcissistic Supply in his case is in the very act of conquest and (what he perceives to be) subordination – the narcissist is forced to hop from one partner to another.

Some narcissists prefer "complicated" situations. If men – they prefer virgins, married women, frigid or lesbian women, etc. The more "difficult" the target – the more rewarding the narcissistic outcome. Such a narcissist may be married, but he does not regard his extra-marital affairs as either immoral or a breach of any explicit or implicit contract between him and his spouse.

He keeps explaining to anyone who cares to listen that his other sexual partners are nothing to him, meaningless, that he is merely taking advantage of them and that they do not constitute a threat and should not be taken seriously by his spouse. In his mind a clear separation exists between the honest "woman of his life" (really, a saint) and the whores that he is having sex with.

With the exception of the meaningful women in his life, he tends to view all females in a bad light. His behaviour, thus, achieves a dual purpose: securing Narcissistic Supply, on the one hand – and re-enacting old, unresolved conflicts and traumas (abandonment by Primary Objects and the Oedipal conflict, for instance).

When inevitably abandoned by his spouse – the narcissist is veritably shocked and hurt. This is the sort of crisis, which might drive him to psychotherapy. Still, deep inside, he feels compelled to continue to pursue precisely the same path. His abandonment is cathartic, purifying. Following a period of deep depression and suicidal ideation – the narcissist is likely to feel cleansed, invigorated, unshackled, ready for the next round of hunting.

But there is another type of narcissist. He also has bouts of sexual hyperactivity in which he trades sexual partners and tends to regard them as objects. However, with him, this is a secondary behaviour. It appears mainly after major narcissistic traumas and crises.

A painful divorce, a devastating personal financial upheaval – and this type of narcissist adopts the view that the "old" (intellectual) solutions do not work anymore. He frantically gropes and searches for new ways to attract attention, to restore his False Ego (=his grandiosity) and to secure a subsistence level of Narcissistic Supply.

Sex is handy and is a great source of the right kind of supply: it is immediate, sexual partners are interchangeable, the solution is comprehensive (it encompasses all the aspects of the narcissist's being), natural, highly charged, adventurous, and pleasurable. Thus, following a life crisis, the cerebral narcissist is likely to be deeply involved in sexual activities – very frequently and almost to the exclusion of all other matters.

However, as the memories of the crisis fade, as the narcissistic wounds heal, as the Narcissistic Cycle re-commences and the balance is restored – this second type of narcissist reveals his true colours. He abruptly loses interest in sex and in all his sexual partners. The frequency of his sexual activities deteriorates from a few times a day – to a few times a year. He reverts to intellectual pursuits, sports, politics, voluntary activities – anything but sex.

This kind of narcissist is afraid of encounters with the opposite sex and is even more afraid of emotional involvement or commitment that he fancies himself prone to develop following a sexual encounter. In general, such a narcissist withdraws not only sexually – but also emotionally. If married – he loses all overt interest in his spouse, sexual or otherwise. He confines himself to his world and makes sure that he is sufficiently busy to preclude any interaction with his nearest (and supposedly dearest).

He becomes completely immersed in "big projects", lifelong plans, a vision, or a cause – all very rewarding narcissistically and all very demanding and time consuming. In such circumstances, sex inevitably becomes an obligation, a necessity, or a maintenance chore reluctantly undertaken to preserve his sources of supply (his family or household).

The cerebral narcissist does not enjoy sex and by far prefers masturbation or "objective", emotionless sex, like going to prostitutes. Actually, he uses his mate or spouse as an "alibi", a shield against the attentions of other women, an insurance policy which preserves his virile image while making it socially and morally commendable for him to avoid any intimate or sexual contact with others.

Ostentatiously ignoring women other than his wife (a form of aggression) he feels righteous in saying: "I am a faithful husband". At the same time, he feels hostility towards his spouse for ostensibly preventing him from freely expressing his sexuality, for isolating him from carnal pleasures.

The narcissist's thwarted logic goes something like this: "I am married/attached to this woman. Therefore, I am not allowed to be in any form of contact with other women which might be interpreted as more than casual or businesslike. This is why I refrain from having anything to do with women – because I am being faithful, as opposed to most other immoral men.

However, I do not like this situation. I envy my free peers. They can have as much sex and romance as they want to – while I am confined to this marriage, chained by my wife, my freedom curbed. I am angry at her and I will punish her by abstaining from having sex with her."

Thus frustrated, the narcissist minimises all manner of intercourse with his close circle (spouse, children, parents, siblings, very intimate friends): sexual, verbal, or emotional. He limits himself to the rawest exchanges of information and isolates himself socially.

His reclusion insures against a future hurt and avoids the intimacy that he so dreads. But, again, this way he also secures abandonment and the replay of old, unresolved, conflicts. Finally, he really is left alone by everyone, with no Secondary Sources of Supply.

In his quest to find new sources, he again embarks on ego-mending bouts of sex, followed by the selection of a spouse or a mate (a Secondary Narcissistic Supply Source). Then the cycle re-commence: a sharp drop in sexual activity, emotional absence and cruel detachment leading to abandonment.

The second type of narcissist is mostly sexually loyal to his spouse. He alternates between what appears to be hyper-sexuality and asexuality (really, forcefully repressed sexuality). In the second phase, he feels no sexual urges, bar the most basic. He is, therefore, not compelled to "cheat" upon his mate, betray her, or violate the marital vows. He is much more interested in preventing a worrisome dwindling of the kind of Narcissistic Supply that really matters. Sex, he says to himself, contentedly, is for those who can do no better.

Somatic narcissists tend to verbal exhibitionism. They tend to brag in graphic details about their conquests and exploits. In extreme cases, they might introduce "live witnesses" and revert to total, classical exhibitionism. This sits well with their tendency to "objectify" their sexual partners, to engage in emotionally-neutral sex (group sex, for instance) and to indulge in autoerotic sex.

The exhibitionist sees himself reflected in the eyes of the beholders. This constitutes the main sexual stimulus, this is what turns him on. This outside "look" is also what defines the narcissist. There is bound to be a connection. One (the exhibitionist) may be the culmination, the "pure case" of the other (the narcissist).

Stephen:

Are narcissists homosexual by nature?

The Irish philosopher John O'Donahue author of the best seller Anam Cara has written another book entitled Beauty, and in it he posits that beauty is the cure to everything. Ah, if only this was true ­ those who would agree with him believe in perfection. They do not want a fly in their soup. Years ago I met a young French man of noble birth who was also homosexual. As we walked the boulevards of Paris, full of interesting people, he told me that he found them all ugly. For him only someone who looked like him, and shared his sexual desires, was beautiful. No wonder Freud connected the love of oneself embodied in narcissism to homosexuality!

The drive of a narcissist seems to be toward finding someone just like them; they are seeking the image that they created, the clone of themselves, their alter ego, and the virtual image in the mirror. Most narcissists see their outside image as the having the same sex as themselves. This other, has stepped out of their body and wonders around doing and saying things. Within the hollow darkness of their souls sits another entity that is a shriveled person that never developed beyond childhood. I suspect that thing looks like one of the children suffering from early aging. No wonder they look for beauty, because they hate themselves. I am conjecturing here, and only Sam can tell me if I am wrong.

Where does the pursuit of beauty take the NPD? When Hitler visited Rome, Mussolini - the inventor of fascism ­ had false house fronts put up, hiding the ugliness that he despised. (Vladimir Putin did the same thing during the St Petersburg anniversary celebrations.) Italians are particularly attuned to how things look; is this one of the wellsprings of fascism? Hypocrisy taken to its fullest expression? Hitler and his gang hated the looks of Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals. They were vermin that mired the Nazi idea of a beautiful perfect society. Maybe this is why I cringe when I hear someone talking about beauty in a certain way; I wonder if they want perfection rather than reality. An I suspect that their dreams will become our nightmares!

(continued below)


This article appears in my book, "Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited"

Click HERE to buy the print edition from Barnes and Noble

Click HERE to buy the print edition from the publisher and receive a BONUS PACK

Click HERE to buy electronic books (e-books) and video lectures (DVDs) about narcissists, psychopaths, and abuse in relationships

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Reading a book by a famous landscape artist, I ran across a funny story. He liked to wander the countryside looking for 'picturesque' scenes to draw and paint. He found a barn full of junk and very dilapidated, and he asked the farmer if he could do a painting of it. When he returned a week later he found that the farmer had cleaned out everything and painted it bright red, destroying the beauty the painter found appealing. One man's meat is another man's masterpiece.

In conclusion, I think that beauty can be found everywhere. Those who try to capture it and exclude everything else are blind to real beauty. Narcissists want to impose their concepts and ideas of beauty on others. Most of the foolish chasers of beauty are dangerous because they believe their opinions are sacrosanct. They are not really lovers of beauty, but of their own tastes in beauty, and that is a dangerous thing. Like Martha Stewart, a oparagons of taste, they dictate beauty and so crush anything that they find ugly. Remember the story of Cinderella!

Sam:

I am a heterosexual and thus deprived of an intimate acquaintance with certain psychological processes, which allegedly are unique to homosexuals. I find it hard to believe that there are such processes, to begin with. Research failed to find any substantive difference between the psychological make-up of a narcissist who happens to have homosexual preferences – and a heterosexual narcissist.

They both are predators, devouring Narcissistic Supply Sources as they go. Narcissists look for new victims, the way tigers look for prey – they are hungry. Hungry for adoration, admiration, acceptance, approval, and any other kind of attention. Old sources die easy – once taken for granted, the narcissistic element of conquest vanishes.

Conquest is important because it proves the superiority of the narcissist. The very act of subduing, subjugating, or acquiring the power to influence someone provides the narcissist with Narcissistic Supply. The newly conquered idolise the narcissist and serve as a trophies.

The act of conquering and subordinating is epitomized by the sexual encounter - an objective and atavistic interaction. Making love to someone means that the consenting partner finds the narcissist (or one or more of his traits, such as his intelligence, his physique, even his money) irresistible.

The distinction between passive and active sexual partners is mechanical, false, superfluous and superficial. Penetration does not make one of the parties "the stronger one". To cause someone to have sex with you is a powerful stimulus – and always provokes a sensation of omnipotence. Whether one is physically passive or active – one is always psychosexually active.

Anyone who has unsafe sex is gambling with his life – though the odds are much smaller than public hysteria would have us believe. Reality does not matter, though – it is the perception of reality that matters. Getting this close to (perceived) danger is the equivalent of engaging in self-destruction (suicide). Narcissists are, at times, suicidal and are always self-destructive.

There is, however, one element, which might be unique to homosexuals: the fact that their self-definition hinges on their sexual identity. I know of no heterosexual who would use his sexual preferences to define himself almost fully. Homosexuality has been inflated to the level of a sub-culture, a separate psychology, or a myth. This is typical of persecuted minorities. However, it does have an influence on the individual. Preoccupation with body and sex makes most homosexual narcissists SOMATIC narcissists.

Moreover, the homosexual makes love to a person of the SAME sex – in a way, to his REFLECTION. In this respect, homosexual relations are highly narcissistic and autoerotic affairs.

The somatic narcissist directs his libido at his body (as opposed to the cerebral narcissist, who concentrates upon his intellect). He cultivates it, nourishes and nurtures it, is often an hypochondriac, dedicates an inordinate amount of time to its needs (real and imaginary). It is through his body that this type of narcissist tracks down and captures his Supply Sources.

The supply that the somatic narcissist so badly requires is derived from his form, his shape, his build, his profile, his beauty, his physical attractiveness, his health, his age. He downplays Narcissistic Supply directed at other traits. He uses sex to reaffirm his prowess, his attractiveness, or his youth. Love, to him, is synonymous with sex and he focuses his learning skills on the sexual act, the foreplay and the coital aftermath.

Seduction becomes addictive because it leads to a quick succession of Supply Sources. Naturally, boredom (a form of transmuted aggression) sets in once the going gets routine. Routine is counter-narcissistic by definition because it threatens the narcissist's sense of uniqueness.

An interesting side issue relates to transsexuals.

Philosophically, there is little difference between a narcissist who seeks to avoid his True Self (and positively to become his False Self) – and a transsexual who seeks to discard his true gender. But this similarity, though superficially appealing, is questionable.

People sometimes seek sex reassignment because of advantages and opportunities which, they believe, are enjoyed by the other sex. This rather unrealistic (fantastic) view of the other is faintly narcissistic. It includes elements of idealised over-valuation, of self-preoccupation, and of objectification of one's self. It demonstrates a deficient ability to empathise and some grandiose sense of entitlement ("I deserve to be taken care of") and omnipotence ("I can be whatever I want to be – despite nature/God").

This feeling of entitlement is especially manifest in some gender dysphoric individuals who aggressively pursue hormonal or surgical treatment. They feel that it is their inalienable right to receive it on demand and without any strictures or restrictions. For instance, they oftentimes refuse to undergo psychological evaluation or treatment as a condition for the hormonal or surgical treatment.

It is interesting to note that both narcissism and gender dysphoria are early childhood phenomena. This could be explained by problematic Primary Objects, dysfunctional families, or a common genetic or biochemical problem. It is too early to say which. As yet, there isn't even an agreed typology of gender identity disorders – let alone an in-depth comprehension of their sources.

A radical view, proffered by Ray Blanchard, seems to indicate that pathological narcissism is more likely to be found among non-core, ego-dystonic, autogynephilic transsexulas and among heterosexual transvestites. It is less manifest in core, ego-syntonic, homosexual transsexuals.

Autogynephilic transsexuals are subject to an intense urge to become the opposite sex and, thus, to be rendered the sexual object of their own desire. In other words, they are so sexually attracted to themselves that they wish to become both lovers in the romantic equation - the male and the female. It is the fulfilment of the ultimate narcissistic fantasy with the False Self as a fetish ("narcissistic fetish").

Autogynephilic transsexuals start off as heterosexuals and end up as either bisexual or homosexual. By shifting his/her attentions to men, the male autogynephilic transsexual "proves" to himself that he has finally become a "true" and desirable woman.

To your other observations:

Fromm "diagnosed" both Hitler and Stalin as narcissists. As Saul Friedlander noted, both Fascism and Nazism were aesthetic movements (one of them founded by an "artist").

But this was old hat! Hitler and Nazism are often wrongly portrayed as an apocalyptic and seismic break with European history. Yet the truth is that they were the culmination and reification of European history in the 19th century. Europe's annals of colonialism have prepared it for the range of phenomena associated with the Nazi regime - from industrial murder to racial theories, from slave labour to the forcible annexation of territory.

Germany was a colonial power no different to murderous Belgium or Britain. What set it apart is that it directed its colonial attentions at the heartland of Europe - rather than at Africa or Asia. Both World Wars were colonial wars fought on European soil. Moreover, Nazi Germany innovated by applying prevailing racial theories (usually reserved to non-whites) to the white race itself. It started with the Jews - a non-controversial proposition - but then expanded them to include "east European" whites, such as the Poles and the Russians.

Germany was not alone in its malignant nationalism. The far right in France was as pernicious. Nazism - and Fascism - were world ideologies, adopted enthusiastically in places as diverse as Iraq, Egypt, Norway, Latin America, and Britain. At the end of the 1930's, liberal capitalism, communism, and fascism (and its mutations) were locked in mortal battle of ideologies. Hitler's mistake was to delusionally believe in the affinity between capitalism and Nazism - an affinity enhanced, to his mind, by Germany's corporatism and by the existence of a common enemy: global communism.

(continued below)


This article appears in my book, "Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited"

Click HERE to buy the print edition from Barnes and Noble

Click HERE to buy the print edition from the publisher and receive a BONUS PACK

Click HERE to buy electronic books (e-books) and video lectures (DVDs) about narcissists, psychopaths, and abuse in relationships

Click HERE to buy the ENTIRE SERIES of sixteen electronic books (e-books) about narcissists, psychopaths, and abuse in relationships

 

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Follow me on Twitter, Facebook (my personal page or the book’s), YouTube

 


Colonialism always had discernible religious overtones and often collaborated with missionary religion. "The White Man's burden" of civilizing the "savages" was widely perceived as ordained by God. The church was the extension of the colonial power's army and trading companies.

It is no wonder that Hitler's lebensraum colonial movement - Nazism - possessed all the hallmarks of an institutional religion: priesthood, rites, rituals, temples, worship, catechism, mythology. Hitler was this religion's ascetic saint. He monastically denied himself earthly pleasures (or so he claimed) in order to be able to dedicate himself fully to his calling. Hitler was a monstrously inverted Jesus, sacrificing his life and denying himself so that (Aryan) humanity should benefit. By surpassing and suppressing his humanity, Hitler became a distorted version of Nietzsche's "superman".

But being a-human or super-human also means being a-sexual and a-moral. In this restricted sense, Hitler was a post-modernist and a moral relativist. He projected to the masses an androgynous figure and enhanced it by fostering the adoration of nudity and all things "natural". But what Nazism referred to as "nature" was not natural at all.

It was an aesthetic of decadence and evil (though it was not perceived this way by the Nazis), carefully orchestrated, and artificial. Nazism was about reproduced copies, not about originals. It was about the manipulation of symbols - not about veritable atavism.

In short: Nazism was about theatre, not about life. To enjoy the spectacle (and be subsumed by it), Nazism demanded the suspension of judgment, depersonalization, and de-realization. Catharsis was tantamount, in Nazi dramaturgy, to self-annulment. Nazism was nihilistic not only operationally, or ideologically. Its very language and narratives were nihilistic. Nazism was conspicuous nihilism - and Hitler served as a role model, annihilating Hitler the Man, only to re-appear as Hitler the stychia.

What was the role of the Jews in all this?

Nazism posed as a rebellion against the "old ways" - against the hegemonic culture, the upper classes, the established religions, the superpowers, the European order. The Nazis borrowed the Leninist vocabulary and assimilated it effectively. Hitler and the Nazis were an adolescent movement, a reaction to narcissistic injuries inflicted upon a narcissistic (and rather psychopathic) toddler nation-state. Hitler himself was a malignant narcissist, as Fromm correctly noted.

The Jews constituted a perfect, easily identifiable, embodiment of all that was "wrong" with Europe. They were an old nation, they were eerily disembodied (without a territory), they were cosmopolitan, they were part of the establishment, they were "decadent", they were hated on religious and socio-economic grounds (see Goldhagen's "Hitler's Willing Executioners"), they were different, they were narcissistic (felt and acted as morally superior), they were everywhere, they were defenseless, they were credulous, they were adaptable (and thus could be co-opted to collaborate in their own destruction). They were the perfect hated father figure and parricide was in fashion.

This is precisely the source of the fascination with Hitler. He was an inverted human. His unconscious was his conscious. He acted out our most repressed drives, fantasies, and wishes. He provides us with a glimpse of the horrors that lie beneath the veneer, the barbarians at our personal gates, and what it was like before we invented civilization. Hitler forced us all through a time warp and many did not emerge. He was not the devil. He was one of us. He was what Arendt aptly called the banality of evil. Just an ordinary, mentally disturbed, failure, a member of a mentally disturbed and failing nation, who lived through disturbed and failing times. He was the perfect mirror, a channel, a voice, and the very depth of our souls.

Nazism - and, by extension, fascism (though the two are by no means identical) - amounted to permanent revolutionary civil wars. Fascist movements were founded, inter alia, on negations and on the militarization of politics. Their raison d'etre and vigor were derived from their rabid opposition to liberalism, communism, conservatism, rationalism, and individualism and from exclusionary racism. It was a symbiotic relationship - self-definition and continued survival by opposition.

Yet, all fascist movements suffered from fatal - though largely preconcerted - ideological tensions. In their drive to become broad, pluralistic, churches (a hallmark of totalitarian movements) - these secular religions often offered contradictory doctrinal fare.

I. Renewal vs. Destruction

The first axis of tension was between renewal and destruction. Fascist parties invariably presented themselves as concerned with the pursuit and realization of a utopian program based on the emergence of a "new man" (in Germany it was a mutation of Nietzsche's Superman). "New", "young", "vital", and "ideal" were pivotal keywords. Destruction was both inevitable (i.e., the removal of the old and corrupt) and desirable (i.e., cathartic, purifying, unifying, and ennobling).

Yet fascism was also nihilistic. It was bipolar: either utopia or death. Hitler instructed Speer to demolish Germany when his dream of a thousand-years Reich crumbled. This mental splitting mechanism (all bad or all good, black or white) is typical of all utopian movements. Similarly, Stalin (not a fascist) embarked on orgies of death and devastation every time he faced an obstacle.

This ever-present tension between construction, renewal, vitalism, and the adoration of nature - and destruction, annihilation, murder, and chaos - was detrimental to the longevity and cohesion of fascist fronts.

II. Individualism vs. Collectivism

A second, more all-pervasive, tension was between self-assertion and what Griffin and Payne call "self transcendence". Fascism was a cult of the Promethean will, of the super-man, above morality, and the shackles of the pernicious materialism, egalitarianism, and rationalism. It was demanded of the New Man to be willful, assertive, determined, self-motivating, a law unto himself. The New Man, in other words, was supposed to be contemptuously a-social (though not anti-social).

But here, precisely, arose the contradiction. It was society which demanded from the New Man certain traits and the selfless fulfillment of certain obligations and observance of certain duties. The New Man was supposed to transcend egotism and sacrifice himself for the greater, collective, good. In Germany, it was Hitler who embodied this intolerable inconsistency. On the one hand, he was considered to be the reification of the will of the nation and its destiny. On the other hand, he was described as self-denying, self-less, inhumanly altruistic, and a temporal saint martyred on the altar of the German nation.

This doctrinal tension manifested itself also in the economic ideology of fascist movements.

Fascism was often corporatist or syndicalist (and always collectivist). At times, it sounded suspiciously like Leninism-Stalinism. Payne has this to say:

"What fascist movements had in common was the aim of a new functional relationship for the functional and economic systems, eliminating the autonomy (or, in some proposals, the existence) of large-scale capitalism and modern industry, altering the nature of social status, and creating a new communal or reciprocal productive relationship through new priorities, ideals, and extensive governmental control and regulation. The goal of accelerated economic modernization was often espoused ..."

(Stanley G. Payne - A History of Fascism 1914-1945 - University of Wisconsin Press, 1995 - p. 10)

Still, private property was carefully preserved and property rights meticulously enforced. Ownership of assets was considered to be a mode of individualistic expression (and, thus, "self-assertion") not to be tampered with.

This second type of tension transformed many of the fascist organizations into chaotic, mismanaged, corrupt, and a-moral groups, lacking in direction and in self-discipline. They swung ferociously between the pole of malignant individualism and that of lethal collectivism.

III. Utopianism vs. Struggle

Fascism was constantly in the making, eternally half-baked, subject to violent permutations, mutations, and transformations. Fascist movements were "processual" and, thus, in permanent revolution (rather, since fascism was based on the negation of other social forces, in permanent civil war). It was a  utopian movement in search of a utopia. Many of the elements of a utopia were there - but hopelessly mangled and mingled and without any coherent blueprint.

In the absence of a rational vision and an orderly plan of action - fascist movements resorted to irrationality, the supernatural, the magical, and to their brand of a secular religion. They emphasized the way -rather than the destination, the struggle - rather than the attainment, the battle - rather than the victory, the effort - rather than the outcome, or, in short - the Promethean and the Thanatean rather than the Vestal, the kitschy rather than the truly aesthetic.

IV. Organic vs. Decadent

Fascism emphasized rigid social structures - supposedly the ineluctable reflections of biological strictures. As opposed to politics and culture - where fascism was revolutionary and utopian - socially, fascism was reactionary, regressive, and defensive. It was pro-family. One's obligations, functions, and rights were the results of one's "place in society". But fascism was also male chauvinistic, adolescent, latently homosexual ("the cult of virility", the worship of the military), somewhat pornographic (the adoration of the naked body, of "nature", and of the young), and misogynistic. In its horror of its own repressed androgynous "perversions" (i.e., the very decadence it claimed to be eradicating), it employed numerous defense mechanisms (e.g., reaction formation and projective identification). It was gender dysphoric and personality disordered.

V. Elitism vs. Populism

All fascist movements were founded on the equivalent of the Nazi Fuhrerprinzip. The leader - infallible, indestructible, invincible, omnipotent, omniscient, sacrificial - was a creative genius who embodied as well as interpreted the nation's quiddity and fate. His privileged and unerring access to the soul of the fascist movement, to history's grand designs, and to the moral and aesthetic principles underlying it all - made him indispensable and worthy of blind and automatic obedience.

This strongly conflicted with the unmitigated, all-inclusive, all-pervasive, and missionary populism of fascism. Fascism was not egalitarian (see section above). It believed in a fuzzily role-based and class-based system. It was misogynistic, against the old, often against the "other" (ethnic or racial minorities). But, with these exceptions, it embraced one and all and was rather meritocratic. Admittedly, mobility within the fascist parties was either the result of actual achievements and merit or the outcome of nepotism and cronyism - still, fascism was far more egalitarian than most other political movements.

This populist strand did not sit well with the overweening existence of a Duce or a Fuhrer. Tensions erupted now and then  but, overall, the Fuhrerprinzip held well.

Fascism's undoing cannot be attributed to either of these inherent contradictions, though they made it brittle and clunky. To understand the downfall of this meteoric latecomer - we must look elsewhere, to the 17th and 18th century.

Looking forward to our next dialog!

Continue to letter XIII