The Mass Psychology of Fascism: Not a New Problem
By Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall
As a long time progressive, I am very alarmed to see low income Americans flock to the reactionary Tea Party and Patriot movement and the ultra conservative candidates they support. Especially after similar trends in 1980, 1994 and 2000 installed ultra-conservative Republican governments that enacted legislation that significantly worsened the economic standing of the political base that put them into office. It raises a question I have struggled with for three decades now why the New Right is so successful in engaging the working poor. Surely this is a group that should be supporting progressive candidates and policies that offer genuine solutions to their economic difficulties.
I recently picked up Wilhelm Reich's 1933 Mass Psychology of Fascism for the first time in thirty years. I was amazed to rediscover that Reich, a trail-blazing, independent-minded psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who shared some Marxist beliefs, also struggled with this issue. In short he relates the allure of fascism and reactionary politics for low income workers to an innate fear of social responsibility stemming from the authoritarian child rearing styles that characterize industrialized society. I believe there is clear merit in revisiting Reich's work. It suggests that progressives may be headed in the wrong direction in their efforts to organize the working class.
The Allure of Fascism and Reactionary Politics for the Working Class
Reich's primary premise is that immense success of fascism in Germany, Italy, Spain and Japan (he is also concerned about Islamic fundamentalism and mentions "Arab" societies) is based in a perverse tendency of working people to support and vote for conservative and reactionary candidates. He feels this tendency is universal to all industrialized societies. He also asserts, with detailed anthropological, psychological, economic and political data, that it operates totally independently of national, cultural or ideological factors or the personal characteristics of right wing leaders who seek to exploit it.
According to Reich, the strong allure of reactionary politics and overt fascism is based in mankind's 6,000 year history of rigid patriarchal, authoritarian and hierarchical social organization, particularly in its effect on childrearing practices. He believes the end result is a population of adults with a strong inner conflict between a biologically innate desire for freedom and the responsibility that goes along with that freedom. And that this conflict is based in an inability to accept that we, as human beings, are basically biologic creatures.