It’s hard to be the son of a powerful man.
Just ask Saadi and Hannibal Gaddafi, Pier Berlusconi and Saudi Prince Majed al-Saud, or Prince Harry, Yair Netanyahu and Robert Mugabe Jr, Hunter Biden and Gerald Ford’s son Steven Ford, or Uday and Qusay Hussein. Spoiler alert: you can’t ask the last two because they’re dead.
The list goes on.
While high-born daughters from Ivanka Trump and Chelsea Clinton to Jenna Bush and Kim Yo-jong have tended to fare better, their male counterparts have often floundered.
It’s time for you to meet the archetypal failson.
Steven Ford is an alcoholic soap opera actor who dropped out of the 1978 movie Grease due to stage fright.
Hunter Biden is a crack-smoking sex enthusiast.
Saadi Gaddafi is a drug-loving playboy and former fugitive.
Hannibal Gaddafi is a wife-beating drunk-driver.
Prince Harry is a fake environmentalist social justice warrior.
Pier Berlusconi is a tax fraudster and embezzler.
Prince Majed Al Saud is a druggie with a fart fetish.
Yair Netanyahu spends government money on stripper binges and jokes about political corruption, sex trafficking and killing critics.
Robert Mugabe Jr is a drunken party animal and a trust-fund kid college dropout.
Uday Hussein was a murderous rapist who tortured soccer players who lost or tied games.
Qusay Hussein was a war criminal and environment-destroying psychopath.
Failsons — defined as ‘incompetent, unsuccessful middle-class or upper-class’ men who are ‘protected from economic duress by his family’s wealth or influence’ — have existed for centuries in royalty, business, and aristocratic military households.
The bar to not being a failson is pretty low: you just need to avoid drugs, torture, murder and whoring around whenever possible.
However, the sons of wealth and privilege, especially the progeny of strong national leaders — beneficent or authoritarian — are particularly vulnerable to a kind of dangerous recklessness. Empowered from a young age in often masculine-favoring cultures, they are given a degree of unparalleled freedom that is the envy of even the upper classes of their nations, moving with near-untouchable immunity in whichever orbits they wish.
While fatherly expectations and hopes of succession often linger, in many cases the experience of unearned power on the one hand and protection from consequences on the other creates a toxic brew of hedonism, entitlement and…well, failure.
Perhaps the best depiction of the standard upper-middle-class failson can be found in an old Onion Ted Talk parody video from 2014.
In the video, a young, rich man tells an audience to ‘get it together and have your rich dad hook you up with a job at his company.’
‘Everyone needs to stop making excuses about how hard it is to find a job and just go get a job at their dad’s dog food company,’ he declares. ‘Harness the power of your dad.’
This is, in essence, what all of the above examples did: except in most cases they just used whatever positions they got to ace the failson formula, instead of becoming powerful or competent themselves.
‘Also, don’t be afraid to network. Talk to your dad’s friends. Try and turn them against your dad,’ the besweatered man concludes in the video. ‘They might give you a better job, you never know.’
This brings to mind what happened with Ashraf Marwan — the son-in-law of the great Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser — who transitioned from prominent Egyptian government official to Israeli spy.
Though not technically Nasser’s son, the dynamics are similar, and though some would claim that becoming a Mossad agent is far from a ‘fail’, Marwan ultimately plummeted from a balcony under suspicious circumstances at the age of 63, after years of betraying the father of the woman he supposedly loved.
Not exactly success.
The failson thrives in an environment of fear and privilege, coasting off daddy’s money and cachet in order to remain a pampered man-child. He never truly takes responsibility and is always looking for an ‘edge’.
In his seminal 1927 book The Crisis of the Modern World, René Guénon provides valuable insights about the kind of cultural miasma that leads to an overproduction of failsons.
‘Nothing and nobody is any longer in the right place; men no longer recognize any effective authority in the spiritual order or any legitimate power in the temporal; the “profane” presume to discuss what is sacred, and to contest its character and even its existence; the inferior judges the superior, ignorance sets bounds to wisdom, error prevails over truth, the human is substituted for the Divine, earth has priority over Heaven, the individual sets the measure for all things and claims to dictate to the universe laws drawn entirely from his own relative and fallible reason,’ Guénon writes.
Failsons are the consequence of a declining civilization; they are a rancid relic rotting in a post-cultural wasteland.
Like the sons of aristocrats who used to grow out their fingernails to grotesque lengths and fornicate and frolic freely while eschewing the jobs and concerns of commoners — even hiring servants to help them go to the bathroom — failsons are fortunate sons with unfortunate personalities.
Failsons arguably include individuals like Prince Harry, who recently mused about how people could be raindrops and all but said we deserve COVID-19 for hurting Mother Nature. That was after buying a $14 million, environmentally-wasteful Santa Barbara mansion.
The failson is often secretly servile and hides a withering insecurity under a brittle outer shell of bravado.
Indeed, when not being told what to do by his wife Meghan, Harry sometimes gets riled up about what the unwashed masses are saying about him!
‘It’s a sick part of the society we are living in today and no one is doing anything about it. Where’s the positivity? Why is everyone so miserable and angry?’ Harry asked after seeing negative comments online, as British workers drudge through the real struggles of everyday life.
Failsons don’t really understand or particularly care why the peasants are agitated, but now and then it confounds them that not everyone lives with a silver spoon in their mouth — guaranteed a comfortable living, no matter what.
Even Harry’s uncle, Prince Andrew, another failson, is doing quite well all things considered.
Failsons are the tragic story of the manchild— someone who never needed to grow up or experience the real, harsh consequences of the world. Failsons are perpetually trying to outrun adults who don’t seem like good role models, but failing to find an adequate ideal to live up to themselves.
As Jordan Peterson says of Peter Pan:
‘He’s got some adults around him, but the main adult is Captain Hook. Well, who the hell wants to grow up to be Captain Hook? First of all, you’ve got a hook. Second, you’re a tyrant. And third you’re chased by the dragon of chaos with a clock in its stomach.’
Instead of becoming an adult, Peter ends up in Neverland, a kind of eternal incel fantasyland, where he contents himself with what Peterson calls a ‘porn fairy’ — Tinkerbell — instead of a real woman — Wendy.
Insert: cocaine, whores, drunken binges, overpriced fashion, fast cars, getting bailed out of incredibly stupid crimes, and the prototypical biography of the failson. A common script at this stage.
The sons of powerful men skim the cream off the top and enjoy the sausage without seeing how it was made.
While failsons may become true monsters like Uday and Qusay in harsher nations like Iraq, they tend to become licentious man whores and substance addicts in the softer climes of the West.
To varying degrees, the failson enjoys the freedom that comes from the slavery of others, imbibing drugs bought with daddy’s booming child-slavery-mined cobalt stocks, or sometimes starting wars with other people’s kids and tax dollars.
It wouldn’t be so tragic if these barely-men weren’t usually the sons of great leaders — sometimes morally depraved, certainly, but great in the sense that they made something of their lives and cemented themselves in history.
To be Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, or Robert Mugabe — or even Joe Biden — you have to be a man of extraordinary abilities. You most definitely need determination, ingenuity, and discipline to name just a few. And yet, all too often, the sons of these men of history are the complete opposite.
Failsons are all around us, leering from the edge of political portraits and waiting to pop out during the next election cycle oppo dump or dictatorial purge.
Failsons generally won’t be recalled as particularly evil or good. They will be mentioned — if at all — as products of a broken age when power abounded without any real rhyme or reason beyond money and ruthless, ever-changing machinations. It would also be hard to call them hypocrites, since they simply revelled in some way or another in the moral vacuum bestowed to them.