The Allure of Fascism and Reactionary Politics for Low Income Workers
(From Reich’s Mass Psychology of Fascism)
Reich begins with the observation – which he carefully documents – that fascism and reactionary political movements have a strong allure for oppressed and economically deprived people. He believes this attraction is based is based in a nearly universal conflict between an innate desire for freedom and the responsibility that accompanies this freedom. A conflict he believes develops during childhood and persists into adulthood and is based in an inability to accept that we, as human beings, are basically biologic creatures.
The Role of Sexual Repression
Reich devotes a large portion of his book to the concept of sexual repression. This makes sense to me, as anxiety about sexual functioning has always been the most troublesome aspect of our biologic make-up (obviously TV advertisers already know this). However his analysis of humankind’s universal struggle with our fundamental biologic nature goes far beyond the health of our sex lives. Moreover he is far more concerned about political, religious and economic institutions that deny women and adolescents, in particular, full expression of their sexuality. Mainly because the authoritarian family structures which enforce sexual repression, cause considerable psychic injury that children carry into adulthood – and which makes them extremely susceptible to right wing ideological propaganda.
Reich traces how “civilization’s” systematic suppression of normal biological (mainly sexual) functioning becomes perverted into “sadistic” social institutions (murder, war, torture, prostitution, rape, pornography, racial hatred, wage exploitation and slavery) that are rarely found in primitive societies that have yet to adopt paternalist and authoritarian social structures.
He describes in some detail early matriarchal (woman run) societies, which were the norm before our ancestors figured out where babies came from. In these societies both women and men were free to have sex with anyone they wanted as soon as they reached sexual maturity – and children were free to play doctor with other willing children. The potential for sexual excess or exploitation was dealt with via self-regulation and – where necessary – group pressure. As he and many anthropologists have noted, murder, war, rape, prostitution and the other atrocities noted above are considered aberrations in these societies.
The reasons why all primitive societies shifted to patriarchal (male run) social structures with the agricultural revolution (raising livestock and crops instead of hunting and picking berries) is widely debated. However there is general agreement that the ability to produce crops immediately led to the ability to produce agricultural surpluses and “wealth.” With it came a desire for men who accumulated wealth to bequeath it to their offspring. Which only became possible by instituting control over their partner’s (but not their own) sexuality.
The Role of Rigid Authoritarian Families
For many millennia this control was exerted through political and religious mandates under which women literally became the property of men. Although women are no longer regarded as property in most industrialized society (except for states that operate under fundamentalist Islamic law), Reich – and many contemporary feminists – assert that women and adolescents continue to be denied full enjoyment of their sexuality under male-controlled political, economic and religious institutions that continue to reinforce a rigid authoritarian family structure.
And, as Reich convincingly argues, it is not just women, children and adolescents (who eventually grow up) who suffer the harmful psychological effects of these structures. What results, according to Reich, is an inbred fear, anxiety and guilt about inner drives that most adults find very confusing – unpleasant feelings that are constantly reinforced by the power structure that controls public information.
All successful right wing propagandists (from Hitler’s propagandist Goebbels to Rush Limbaugh and Karl Rove) have been tuned in to this fear and confusion and exactly how to convey that they alone have the answer – through even more rigid, hierarchal structures.
To be continued – with Reich’s detailed analysis of the passive, non-voting majority that is characteristic of authoritarian “democracies.”