It wasn’t long after involuntarily celibate men, or “incels,” began forming their own online communities in the early 2010s that they endeavored to define themselves as an ideological group and to pinpoint the exemplary traits of inceldom.
Over time, this militant contingent of extremely online, misogynistic men built an elaborate, expansive pseudo-religion, replete with its own heroes, subcultures and landmark events. To catalog it all, they developed a wiki of their own — but of course. In the now-robust Incels Wiki, historical timelines, critical definitions and basic philosophies of inceldom coalesce to help codify their ideal identity.
To be sure, that identity is constantly in flux, but the foundational traits mostly remain the same: They believe themselves to be lone wolves, striking out against the oppressive society that disproportionately favors women at the expense of men. Incels often fancy themselves to be misunderstood geniuses, too smart and unruly to be accepted by wider society. At the same time, they blame gender and social equality movements for their celibacy, which results in an overarching worldview based in hostility and violence towards women.
With that in mind, incels have taken it upon themselves to sift through the annals of history to point out people they believe to be “notable incels” and add them to their Incels Wiki. That is, historical figures who, besides being purportedly celibate, have said or done things that incels see as representative of their worldview. Some figures, like Brett Kavanaugh and Ted Kaczynski, may be more obvious. But others, like Friedrich Nietzsche and Ludwig van Beethoven, aren’t as clear.
History is certainly wrought with lovestruck artists and thinkers, but would they have been incels? I asked some experts and scholars about what these men — whom incels have claimed as icons of their community — would have made of such a misogynistic, self-pitying ideology.
According to the Incels Wiki, the 19th century German philosopher was “famously rebuffed by every woman he approached, and never had a genuine romance,” which “some would argue [led to a number of] misogynistic phrases” in his philosophies.
“There is now a vast literature out there testifying to how very complicated Nietzsche’s attitude toward women is,” explains Drew Hyland, professor of philosophy at Trinity College. “I share the view that it is indeed complicated, but certainly not violent.”
“Although he said some nasty things about women, something rather common at the time, he was by no means a misogynist any more than he was an anti-Semite or an early Nazi,” adds Alexander Nehamas, professor of philosophy and comparative literature at Princeton University. “Nietzsche would NEVER join the ranks of a group that is based on resentment, which is just what this group is all about. It’s his fate to be misappropriated again and again.”
Hyland concludes his argument by explaining, “Nietzsche had many, many women friends, and they testify that he wasn’t just courteous toward them, but sympathetic and kind in every way. Not much, but, I suspect, much too complicated for him to be labeled an ‘incel.’”
Ludwig van Beethoven
Due to the famous composer’s “extreme introversion, facial asymmetry and shortness, beethoven [sic] was never able to attract women,” the Incels Wiki states. In the next section, “Failures with Women,” the wiki outlines Beethoven’s romantic escapades by decrying his first love, Eleonore von Breuning, as well as Frau Koch’s “beautiful daughter” Babbette for, respectively, “friendzoning” and “ghosting” him.
While there’s no arguing with the documented episodes of Beehtoven’s love life, the incels have taken a few liberties in their descriptions. “By way of inference, [incels] are suggesting that Beethoven, who never married, was hostile to women,” says David Levy, author of the book Beethoven: The Ninth Symphony. “While he did express hostility toward one particular woman, Johanna, who was married to one of Beethoven’s brothers, this doesn’t make him a misogynistic person. Had he found the right woman at the right time, he most certainly would have married, and he had warm relationships with many women throughout his life.”
“It’s simply not accurate to include him with the incels — he was both interested in, and successful in, having a romantic and sexual life,” adds John Platoff, professor of music at Trinity College. “As a young man in Vienna, he was said to have been rather dashing, and there’s no doubt that he had a number of love affairs.”
Plus, Platoff says, “Beethoven biographers, above all Maynard Solomon, have asserted that Beethoven was deeply ambivalent about marriage, and perhaps was afraid that a settled marital relationship might interfere with his creative work as an artist. And according to Solomon’s biography, despite how bizarre it sounds, in his late years, there were married male friends of Beethoven who made their wives available to him to have sex with.”
“I dare say that Beethoven himself would never have subscribed to ‘incel’ violence, either rhetorical or real,” Levy concludes. “But the revelation that the ‘incels’ and their various subcategories have sought to identify Beethoven as one of their own isn’t surprising, given that any number of diverse worldviews have historically sought to use this significant cultural icon to justify a particular political or other philosophy. After all, Adolf Hitler sought to use Beethoven and his music as representations of Aryan superiority.”
Per the Incels Wiki, some within the manosphere view Nikola Tesla as a “protocel,” while others believe he was a voluntarily celibate (or a “volcel”), “given he stated about his celibacy as a choice sparked by his negative reaction to feminism rather than him describing anything as involuntary.” With that in mind, the wiki suggests he may even be an example of a MGTOW, or part of the Men Going Their Own Way movement.
“Tesla’s sexual identity is, as you might expect, complicated by the fact that we have to be careful not to project current values or concerns onto the past,” explains W. Bernard Carlson, a professor of humanities at University of Virginia and author of the book Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age. “We tend to view sexuality in binary [male/female] categories when individuals living a century ago had more fluid notions of sexuality.”
After 15 years of studying Tesla, Carlson says he “came to the conclusion that [Tesla] was most likely gay and had two significant emotional relationships with men. In this sense, he was hardly celibate.”
Celibacy aside, what separates Tesla most from incels is that he “seems to have held [women] in high esteem, and as a result, had high expectations about behavior and appearance,” Carlson explains. “He thought the world of his mother, was close friends with New York socialite Katherine Johnson and in at least one interview from the 1920s talked about women as the smarter and superior sex.”
“Given his pacific and generous nature, he would have no desire to promote violence toward women or any other group,” Carlson concludes.
Sir Isaac Newton
After conceding that “not too much is known about his sex life,” the Incels Wiki argues that Sir Isaac Newton was a protocel. They point to quotes from Voltaire and Aldous Huxley, who note Newton never “had any commerce with women” and that the price he paid for “being a supreme intellect was that he was incapable of friendship, love, fatherhood and many other desirable things.”
Robert Hatch, a history professor at University of Florida, disagrees. “Newton himself was a loner, though we know that when he got to Trinity College in Cambridge, he was hardly alone,” he explains. While it’s true that very little is known about Newton’s personal life, he kept a running list of expenses as an undergraduate that show he wasn’t a stranger to taverns or the occasional card game. Still, Hatch says, “being at Trinity meant you couldn’t marry, so you were basically celibate.”
In fact, the strongest semblance of a romantic relationship comes from his “fixation with a Swiss mathematician named Nicolas Fatio de Duillier.” “As far as we know, they never had a consummated relationship; there was no physical relationship,” Hatch says. “It was platonic, according to most biographers, and eventually broken off due to both fearing what might happen because they were both so religiously embroiled. Which is true of many historical figures who were celibate — they were celibate because they were members of the church or they were rampantly religious.”
“But as far as hostility toward women, there’s no evidence whatsoever. He shunned them, and didn’t show much interest in them either way,” Hatch continues. “But surely if Newton was in any way violent toward women, even verbally, we would have records of it. And we don’t.”
The Incels Wiki entry describes childhood H.P. Lovecraft as a hermit. He rarely left his house, the entry reads, “perhaps due to the influence of his controlling, spiteful, insecure mother, who had chided and nagged him constantly throughout his childhood.” Needless to say, that’s all the evidence incels need to show that the renowned American sci-fi author was “likely incel for most of his life, and almost certainly a virgin until he was 31.”
Sunand Tryambak Joshi, an American literary critic and leading authority on Lovecraft, says he’s dismayed by the idea that Lovecraft is “being roped into the incel phenomenon.” “It’s true that Lovecraft remained a virgin until he was almost 34, when he married Sonia Greene on March 3, 1924,” Yoshi explains, adding that Lovecraft “apparently didn’t have sexual relations with any other woman following his divorce from her in 1929.” But for what it’s worth, in their five years of marriage, Greene “addressed the issue of how Lovecraft ‘performed,’ famously writing that he was an ‘adequately excellent lover.’”
Like Tesla, incels are inclined to define Lovecraft as a volcel since his celibacy was, by all accounts, a personal choice. Joshi argues, however, that that’s about the only thing Lovecraft would have in common with incels. “The plain fact is that Lovecraft, like many others, was asexual,” Joshi explains. “This sort of physical intimacy simply wasn’t of any interest to him, as he had many other things to engage his attention.”
Moreover, Joshi says, “There is certainly no evidence that Lovecraft was a misogynist of any kind. He had numerous cordial relations with women of all different sorts, ranging from his own aunts to such writers as C.L. Moore and Zealia Bishop. He was unfailingly courteous to these women, both in his correspondence and in his personal meetings with them, and he also expressed a high regard for them as writers and intellectuals.”
The American writer and poet was an incel until 24 years old, the Incels Wiki claims, “which was pretty late for 1940s America.” Incels hold Bukowski in high regard for his allegedly involuntary celibacy and his “brutally honest writings about his life, low-status men, disappointment with women, masturbation, severe acne, unemployment, suicide, alcoholism, physical deformity and prostitutes.”
“It’s true that Bukowski didn’t have any sort of sexual relationships until he was an adult, but he would never have considered himself an incel,” explains Jeff Weddle, professor of library and information studies at the University of Alabama. “He was married twice and had many girlfriends and at least three great loves in his life — Jane Cooney Baker, Linda King and Linda Lee Beighle.”
To be sure, Bukowski “was often disappointed with the world, and made no effort to hide this,” Weddle continues. “He was a complicated, largely misunderstood man, but he was a sensitive soul and found beauty where others saw darkness.” More than anything else, Bukowski “wasn’t angry with women or men or anyone, really — nor did he think anyone owed him anything, and that goes for women and sex as well as anything else.”
Weddle points to one of his favorite Bukowski poems, “Layover,” that depicts the tender way in which Bukowski portrayed his capacity for love. “It shows even though the relationships weren’t forever, Bukowski had lovers,” Weddle says. “He knew love. He was no incel.”
“It would be impossible to point to one or two things Bukowski said that would disprove what those idiots want to say or claim about him,” says Hannah Phillips, administrator of Bukowski.net adds. “They could find a dozen things he wrote to counter any argument, but the idea that Bukowski would join or support such a group is absurd. Bukowski was a loner, that’s why he didn’t have a lot of interaction with women when he was younger. He had zero in common with anyone who would call themselves an incel. Less than zero.”
Weddle couldn’t agree more: “Bukowski would’ve made roaring fun of the incels; he would’ve had nothing whatsoever to do with them. I guarantee it.”