The logic of the radical loser cannot be
grasped in terms of common sense. Common sense cites the instinct of
self-preservation as if it were an unquestionable fact of nature, to be
taken for granted. Whereas in fact, it is a fragile notion, quite young in
historical terms. Self-preservation is referred to by the Greeks, by Hobbes
but it is not considered as a purely natural drive. Instead, according to Immanuel
Kant, "the... first duty of the human individual towards himself
in the quality of his animalness is self-preservation in his animal
nature." Only in the nineteenth century did this duty become an
inviolable fact of natural science. Few deviated from this view. Nietzsche
objected that physiologists should avoid, "fixing the instinct of
self-preservation as the cardinal instinct of an organic being." But
among those who would always rather survive, his words have always fallen
on deaf ears.
The history of ideas aside, humanity never seems to have expected
individual lives to be treated as the supreme good. All early religions
set great store by human sacrifice. Later, martyrs were highly valued.
(According to Blaise
Pascal's fatal maxim, one should "only believe witnesses who
allow themselves to be killed.") In most cultures, heroes acquired
fame and honour for their fearlessness in the face of death. Until the
mass slaughter of World War I, secondary school pupils had to learn the
notorious verse from Horace
according to which is sweet and honourable to die for one's fatherland.
Others claimed that shipping was necessary, but not staying alive; during
the Cold War there were those who shouted "Better dead than
red!" And what, under perfectly civilian conditions, are we to think
of tightrope walkers, extreme sports, motor racing, polar exploration and
other forms of potential suicide?
Clearly, the instinct of self-preservation is not up to much. The
remarkable fondness of the human species for suicide, down the ages and
across all cultures, is proof enough of this. No taboo and no threat of
punishment have been able keep people from taking their own lives. This
tendency cannot be quantified. Any attempt to grasp it by means of
statistics will fail due to the huge number of unrecorded cases.
tried to solve the problem theoretically, on an unstable empirical basis,
by developing his concept of the death drive. Freud's hypothesis is
expressed more clearly in the familiar old wisdom that situations may
arise in which humans prefer a terrible end to (real or imagined) terror
II. The collective
But what happens when the radical loser overcomes his isolation, when he
becomes socialized, finds a loser-home, from which he can expect not only
understanding but also recognition, a collective of people like himself
who welcome him, who need him?
Then, the destructive energy that lies within him is multiplied – his
unscrupulousness, his amalgam of death-wish and megalomania – and he is
rescued from his powerlessness by a fatal sense of omnipotence.
For this to take place, however, a kind of ideological trigger is required
to ignite the radical loser and make him explode. As history shows us,
offers of this kind have never been in short supply. Their content is of
the least importance. They may be religious or political doctrines,
nationalist, communist or racist dogmas – any form of sectarianism,
however bigoted, is capable of mobilizing the latent energy of the radical
This applies not only to the rank and file but also to their commanders,
whose attraction is based in turn on their own self-definition as
obsessive losers. It is precisely the leader's deluded traits in which his
followers recognize themselves. He is rightly accused of being cynical and
calculating. It is only natural that he should despise his followers. He
understands them all too well. He knows they are losers and, finally, he
thus considers them worthless. And as Elias
Canetti put it half a century ago, he therefore takes pleasure in the
idea that if possible, everyone else, including his followers, should meet
their death before he himself is hanged or consumed by fire in his bunker.
At this point, alongside many other examples from history, one cannot help
being reminded of the National Socialist project in Germany. At the end of
Republic, large sections of the population saw themselves as losers.
The objective data tell a clear story. But the economic crisis and mass
unemployment would probably not have been enough to bring Hitler to power.
For that to happen, it took propaganda aimed at the subjective factor: the
blow dealt to people's pride by the defeat of 1918 and the Treaty
of Versailles. Most Germans sought to blame others: the victorious
powers, the "global Capitalist-Bolshevist conspiracy" and above
all, of course, the eternal scapegoat, Judaism. The tormenting feeling of
being in the position of the loser could only be compensated for by
pursuing an offensive strategy, by seeking refuge in megalomania. From the
outset, the Nazis entertained delusions of world domination. As such,
their goals were boundless and non-negotiable. In this sense, they were
not only unreal, but also non-political.
Consulting a map was never going to be enough to persuade Hitler and his
followers that the struggle of one small European country against the rest
of the world was hopeless. On the contrary. The radical loser has no
notion of resolving conflicts, of compromise that might involve him in a
normal network of interests and defuse his destructive energy. The more
hopeless his project, the more fanatically he clings to it. There are
grounds to suspect that Hitler and his followers were interested not in
victory, but in radicalizing and eternalizing their own status as losers.
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