February 16, 2024

Everybody Gets to Be a Fascist, or, What Taylor Swift Taught Me About Fascism

Jason Read

Cover detail of Alberto Toscano, Late Fascism (Verso, 2023).

Years ago I remember encountering Félix Guattari’s little essay “Everybody Wants to be a Fascist.”1 At the time its title seemed more clever than prescient. (Although it’s worth remembering how much fascism, and the encounter with fascism, was integral to Deleuze and Guattari’s theorizing, well beyond the reference to Reich.)2 Now that we are living in a different relation to fascism, the problem posed by Guattari (and Deleuze) of desire seems all the more pertinent and pressing.

One of the problems with using the word “fascism” today, especially in the US, is that it’s hard to reconcile our image of it as a politics of the state control of everything with the current politics of outrage aimed at M&Ms, Barbie, and Taylor Swift. How can fascism be so trivial and petty? This could be understood as the Trump problem, although it’s ultimately not limited to Trump. There are a whole bunch of pundits and people getting incredibly angry about the casting of movies and how many times football games cut away to Taylor Swift celebrating in the expensive seats. The Fox News Expanded Universe is all about finding villains everywhere in every library or diverse band of superheroes. It’s difficult to reconcile the petty concerns of the pundit class with the formation of an authoritarian state. I have argued before that understanding Trump, or Trumpism, means rethinking the relationship between the particular and universal, imaginary and real.3 Or, as Angela Mitropoulis argues, the question of fascism now should be: What does it look like in contemporary capitalism, which is oriented less around the post-Fordist assembly line than the franchise? As she puts it, “What would the combination of nationalist myth and the affective labour processes of the entertainment industry mean for the politics and techniques of fascism?”4

It’s for this reason (among others) that Alberto Toscano’s Late Fascism is such an important book. As he argues, fascism has to be understood as kind of license, a justification for violence and anger, and a pleasure in that justification. We have to give up the cartoon image of fascism as centralized and universal domination and see it as not only incomplete persecution, unevenly applied, but persecution of some coupled with the license to persecute for others. Fascism is liberation for the racist, sexist, and homophobe, who finally gets to say and act on their desires. As Toscano argues:

What we need to dwell on to discern the fascist potentials in the anti-state state are those subjective investments in the naturalizations of violent mastery that go together with the promotion of possessive and racialized conceptions of freedom. Here we need to reflect not just on the fact that neoliberalism operates through a racial state, or that, as commentators have begun to recognize and detail, it is shaped by a racist and civilizational imaginary that delimits who is capable of market freedoms. We must also attend to the fact that the anti-state state could become an object of popular attachment, or better, populist investment, only through the mediation of race.5

Toscano’s emphasis is on race in this passage, but it could arguably apply to sexism, homophobia, etc.—to the enforcement and maintenance of any of the old hierarchies. Toscano cites Maria Antonietta Macciocchi later in the book: “You can’t talk about fascism unless you are also prepared to discuss patriarchy.”6 Possessiveness includes the family as the first and most vital possession.7 At this point, fascism does not sound too different from classical conservatism, especially if you take the definition of the latter to be the following: “Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.”8 However, what Toscano emphasizes is the libidinal pleasure that comes with this. It’s not just a matter of who is in and who is not, who is protected and who is not, but the pleasure one gets from such exclusion, a pleasure that is extended and almost deputized to the masses. While conservative hierarchies and asymmetries are passed through the hallowed institutions of the state and the courts, the fascist deputies take to the streets and the virtual street fights of social media. As Toscano argues, pitting Foucault’s remarks about the sexual politics of fascism in the seventies against Guattari’s analysis:

For Foucault, to the extent that there is an eroticization of power under Nazism, it is conditioned by a logic of delegation, deputizing and decentralization of what remains in form and content a vertical, exclusionary, and murderous kind of power. Fascism is not just the apotheosis of the leader above the sheeplike masses of his followers; it is also, in a less spectacular but perhaps more consequential manner the reinvention of the settle logic of petty sovereignty, a highly conditional but very real “liberalising” and “privatising” of the monopoly of violence … Foucault’s insight into the “erotic” of a power based on the deputizing of violence is a more fecund frame, I would argue, for the analysis of both classical and late fascisms than Guattari’s hyperbolic claim that “the masses invested a fantastic collective death instinct in … the fascist machine”—which misses out on the materiality of that “transfer of power” to a “specific fringe of the masses” that Foucault diagnosed as critical to fascism’s desirability.9

I think that Toscano’s analysis picks up an important thread that runs through discussions of fascism from Benjamin to Foucault (and beyond). As Benjamin writes in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”:

The growing proletarianization of modern man and the increasing formation of masses are two aspects of the same process. Fascism attempts to organize the newly created proletarian masses without affecting the property structure which the masses strive to eliminate. Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves. The masses have a right to change property relations; Fascism seeks to give them an expression while preserving property. The logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life.10

Today we could say that the right to expression includes a deputization of power and the pleasure in exercising it. In a capitalist society, in which the material conditions of existence must belong to the capitalist class, the only thing that can be extended to the masses is the power and pleasure to dominate others. Real wages keep on declining, but fascism offers the wages of whiteness, maleness, cisness, and so on, extending not the material control over one’s existence but libidinal investment in the perks of one’s identity.

All of which brings me to Taylor Swift. I have watched with amusement and some horror as the fringes of the Fox News Expanded Universe have freaked out about Swift attending football games and, occasionally, being seen on television watching and enjoying the games. It’s hard to spend even a moment thinking about something that has all the subtlety of the “He-Man Woman Hater’s Club,”11 but I think it’s an interesting example of the kind of micro-fascism that sustains and makes possible the tendency towards macro-fascism. Three things are worth noting about this. First, most of the conspiracy theories about Swift are not predicated on things that she has actually done, but what she might do—endorse Biden, campaign for Biden, etc. I think this has to be seen as a mutation of conspiracy thinking from the actual effects of an action or event—Covid undermining Trump’s presidency, for example—to an imagined possible effect. One of the asymmetries of contemporary power is that it treats the fantasies or paranoid fears of one group as more valid than the actual conditions and dominations of another group. Second, and to be a little more dialectical, the fear of Swift on the right recognizes to what extent politics has been entirely subsumed by the spectacle fan form. Trump’s real opponent for hearts and minds, not to mention huge rallies, is not Biden but Swift. Lastly—and this really deserves its own essay—some of the anger about Swift being at football games brings to mind Kate Manne’s theory of misogyny, which at its core is about keeping women in their place.12 I would imagine that many of the men who object to seeing Swift at these games do not object to the cutaway shots of cheerleaders during the same games. It’s not seeing women during a football game that draws the ire of these men, but seeing a woman out of her place—one who is enjoying being there, and is not there for their enjoyment.

I used to be follow a fairly vulgar materialist line when it came to fascism. Give people—which is to say workers—actual control over their work, their lives, and their conditions, and the appeal of the spectacle of fascist power will dissipate. It’s a simple matter of real power versus its appearance, I thought. However, it increasingly seems that such an opposition overlooks the pleasures that today’s mass-media fascism makes possible and extends to so many. It’s hard to imagine a politics that could counter this, one that would not be a politics of affect, of the imagination, and of desire. Libidinal economy and the micro-politics of desire seem less like relics from the days of high theory and more like necessary conditions for thinking through the intertwining webs of desire and resentment that make up the intersection of culture, media, and politics. I think one of the pressing issues of the moment is recognizing that the junk politics of pop-cultural grievance should be taken seriously as the affective antechamber of fascism, while at the same time not accepting this politics on its own terms.

This text first appeared at Unemployed Negativity and has been lightly edited.


In Guattari, Chaosophy: Texts and Interviews 1972–1977 (Semiotext(e), 2008) .


See Jason Read, “Reading Deleuze and Guattari as Marxist/Spinozists: On Guillaume Sibertin-Blanc’s State and Politics,” Unemployed Negativity (blog), July 6, 2016 .


“Dialectic of the Donald: Or, Not Trump Again,” Unemployed Negativity, May 6, 2017 .


“Fascism, from Fordism to Trumpism,” sometim3s (blog), December 17, 2015 .


Late Fascism (Verso, 2023), 68. See also Richard A. Lee and Jason Read, “Episode 86: Fascism (with Alberto Toscano),” March 3, 2023, in Hotel Bar Sessions, podcast .




See Read, “Return to Doppelgängerland: Naomi Klein’s Mirror World,” Unemployed Negativity, September 24, 2023 .


Frank Wilhoit, quoted in Henry Grabar, “The Pithiest Critique of Modern Conservatism Keeps Getting Credited to the Wrong Man,” Slate, June 3, 2022 .




In Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn (Schocken Books, 1969) .


See .


Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny (Oxford University Press, 2018).

Pop Culture

Jason Read is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southern Maine. He is the author of The Micro-Politics of Capital: Marx and the Prehistory of the Present (SUNY 2003), The Politics of Transindividuality (Haymarket 2018), The Production of Subjectivity: Marx and Philosophy (Haymarket 2023), and The Double Shift: Spinoza and Marx on the Politics of Work (Verso 2024). He blogs about philosophy, politics, and culture at unemployednegativity.com.


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