Critically assess psychological theories of fascism.
According to the Oxford dictionary, Fascism is “an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization. In general use extreme right-wing, authoritarian, or intolerant views or practices: this is yet another example of health fascism in action. The term Fascism was first used of the totalitarian right-wing nationalist regime of Mussolini in Italy (1922–43); the regimes of the Nazis in Germany and Franco in Spain.
Fascism tends to include a belief in the supremacy of one national or ethnic group, a contempt for democracy, an insistence on obedience to a powerful leader, and a strong demagogic approach”.
Geoffrey Gorer (1935:199) noted in 1935: “Mr Wells thinks that he hates fascism; he is horror-struck as any liberal at its brutality, its barbarism, its philistinism, its illogicality and its narrow nationalism; but he puts all the blame on the last quality; if it was only international, it wouldn’t really be so bad”. It is clear from Gorer’s satire that even as early as 1935, to understand Fascism only as a negative thought process, was rejected and intellectuals started taking a kinder view of the movement (if it could be called thus?). Many started analysing and assessing its psychological theories, which, precisely, we will endeavour to do in the following essay. Though a critical assessment of these theories is expected, it would suffice to say that a positive view regarding Fascism at the onset will serve our purpose sufficiently, for the ideology has already been seen in a very bad light for the repercussions that it entailed and the miseries the world had to face, in the light of a consolidated fascistic onslaught during the world war II. However, what we shall try and understand is the modern view that Fascistic tendencies have existed in all ages and in all humans universally, and that they found an explosive eruption during an unfortunate period and consequently a set of nations and people had to bear the brunt of being blamed for it.
Universality of Fascist psychology
So, this understanding of Fascism has now come a long way from the understanding of it as purely a political/mass movement. It was believed that the fascist party “introduced” fascism by force or by “political man oeuvre”. Contrary to this, Reich (1946:6) says that his medical experience with individuals from all kinds of social strata, races, nationalities and religions shows that “fascism” is the only politically organized expression of the average human character structure. Furthermore, it is a character structure which has nothing to do with race, nation or party but which is general and international. In this characterological sense, “fascism” is the basic emotional attitude of a man in authoritarian society, with its machine civilization and its mechanistic-mystical view of life. It is the mechanistic-mystical character of man in our times which creates fascist parties and not vice versa.”
Fascism according to modern sociologists and psychologists, therefore, is not a purely reactionary movement; rather it is a mixture of rebellious emotions and reactionary social ideas. Now if this is true, then we cannot limit fascism specifically to a national character of Germany or Japan. If understood as a mixture of rebellious emotions and reactionary social ideas, it can be considered an international phenomenon, which permeates all organizations of human society in all nations. This means that there could be German, Italian, Spanish, Anglo-Saxon, Jewish and Arabian fascism (Riech, 1946:7)
Basis of Fascistic psychology
In its pure form, Fascism is the sum total of all irrational reactions of the average human character. Its origins are from the basic human tendencies. In Freudian explanation of the unconscious, the superficial layer in the nature of an average individual consists of that of conscientiousness and compassion. This superficial layer is similar to the biological core of human nature which too is co-operative and love based. But unfortunately, the superficial layer and the biological core are separated from each other by an intermediary layer which makes an individual cruel and sadistic. This intermediary layer is also known as “secondary impulses” or the unconscious, the anti-social structure in human structure which is the secondary result of the repression of primary biological impulses. As the contact between the “superficial layer” and the “biological core” is hard to obtain, what makes appearance is the perverse antisocial layer of the character (viii). Since irrational part of the human nature becomes prominent, both the other layers become subservient to the subversive, irrational tendencies, thus giving birth to prejudices.
All prejudices show their origin from irrational part of human character whether they be race prejudices, national prejudices, ethnic prejudices or even, violence. Since Fascism is an emotional outburst whether it be against intolerable social conditions or depravity of any sort, it cannot be understood solely as a political phenomenon. It is a human phenomenon, a psychological-human- phenomena which cannot be tied to a boundary of nationality or race, but that which is universal, pervading the entire world, across all nationalities. And this is very clear from the history of the 20th century that no society has remained untouched from violence or irrational behaviour. In addition, irrational behaviour has played a vital role in human history and has achieved results which have not always been negative. If negative at all, we cannot make fascism harmless if we only look for it in Americans or Germans and we do not look for it in oneself and the social institutions which hatch him every day (Reich:7). He argues (p.11) Hitlerism is not confined to Germany; it penetrates worker’s organizations and all kinds of liberal and democratic circles. Fascism is not a political party, but a specific Weltanschuung and a specific attitude toward people, toward love and work. So this proves that fascism more than being a political, subversive movement is a part of human psychology, which though a maligned movement has positive elements too. We shall now analyze Fascistic psychology in relation to its aesthetics, people, and work.
The fact that fascism is a psychology also entails that it has a psychology of its own. This psychology of Fascism can be unearthed by understanding its aesthetics. Alan Tansman in (Fall 2008:144-153), analysing Japanese Fascist prose says, “…so captivated, we can still seek to trace the fascist moment by paying attention to form not primarily as embodiments of concepts that need elucidation (though they need that too), but rather as patterns of fascistic feelings that require feelings and unravelling. To trace the movement of fascist aesthetics within or across works would mean to follow it as a style of thought and representation, a style embodied in forms that leave their content behind and have in Henri Focillon’s (1992: 69) words, “a mobile life in a changing world”. Similarly Starbinski, (1989:116-21), praising another Japanese Yasuda’s work says, “The uncomfortable truth that Yasuda’s work was more than mere dangerous incitement, but was also powerful poetry, reminds us that even after we account for the political implications of his language there remains a formal quality that resists both being analysed critically and used politically” .
The undeniable aesthetics of the Fascists was similarly emphasized by Tansman ( 2008:146) saying, “this allows us to see in action Kobayashi’s aesthetics, his evocation of “ fascist moments” that attempted to shut down his reader’s critical intelligence and make self-abnegation, sacrifice and violence feel alluringly beautiful”. These examples of the readings of Japanese fascistic writers reveals that in spite of the fact that these writers were following an agenda, there still remains a subtle aesthetic beauty to be unearthed, understood and appreciated. And this again proves our initial assertion that tendencies of fascistic psychology have been present at all times as we find the same crisis with general literary men too.
Fascistic psychology towards people
Franklin D. Roosevelt said “The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself…” Henry Wallace too said “Still another danger is represented by those who, paying lip service to democracy and the common welfare, in their insatiable greed for money and the power which money gives, do not hesitate surreptitiously to evade the laws designed to safeguard the public from monopolistic extortion. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection.
They claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They are patriotic in time of war because it is to their interest to be so, but in time of peace they follow power and the dollar, wherever that may lead.” This sort of disillusionment caused by democracy sought being redressed by Fascism. Fascism became popular because it could do what liberalism and socialism did not succeed in doing. People have the need to belong to something greater, something superior than themselves. During crisis, the common people crave for unity and purpose of life and this in turn causes them to seek strength and guidance. Fascism provided that. Fascist psychology is the mentality of the subjugate “little man” who craves authority and he is both a ‘revolutionary’ who believes in rational rebellion against intolerable social conditions and a ‘radical’ for he believes in going to the root’. With this aspect in view, we could say that Fascism brought the inferiority instincts of the suppressed human to the core and created an emotional crisis in which the aspirations of common people started being given the due importance.
Fascistic psychology towards work
Fascism was a wave which brought extreme nationalism into vogue and had national pride and development at its core. The fascists in Italy and Germany wanted to see their countries as super-powers. Therefore the work ethics as outlined by Fascists was hard work. As Corradini tells us that for Italy to become an economic power “what was required was a marshalling, rationalization, and disciplining of human and natural resources to the tasks such a process would inevitably entail. Sacrifice and discipline were advocated as cardinal virtues for a nation of “producers” (1924:214-29). National pride in nation building was the mantra. And though being blatantly anti-modern, Mussolini piloting his own aircraft and tooling the Italian hills in his red sports car were public displays of this modernizing temper. The public policies of introducing the work ethic among civil servants, of insistence that the trains run on time, and plans for the development of a modern road system were the first overt indications of the character of Fascism’s modernizing disposition (Gregor, 1974:370-384). This work ethic of disciplining and progress according to Volpe (1928) gave a “massive impulse” to economic development. It was this work ethic in which pauperized masses of workers developed a sharp consciousness of their social situation, and also developed a will to eliminate their social misery. As Reich (1946:16) says, “It was exactly the pauperized masses who carried Fascism, the ultimate in political reaction, to power”.
Here, it would not be impertinent to discuss the Fascistic attitude towards Modernization too. Though generally believed to be anti-modernistic in its approach, in hearkening back to pre-modern ideals and recreating a utopian “ancient Rome”, Fascism had undeniable modernistic tendencies. Turner (1972:548) conceives of modernization as being a complex process “involving industrialization, urbanization, secularization, and rationalization”. These elements which form the crux of what we try to ascertain as modern, though Modernity in itself is a vague and ambiguous term. However, if these markers enlisted by Turner form the base of being modern, then by that standard, fascists were near moderns. The principal constituents that entered into the coalition that became Fascism-Futurism, Italian Nationalism and Revolutionary National Syndicalism, seem to have all been clearly modernizing in intention (Gregor, 1974:373). All of this conjoined with the Fascist programs of urban redevelopment and expansion made Rome, Milan, Turin, and Genoa heavily populated modern industrial and commercial centres. This suggests that Fascism could hardly be conceived as a “utopian anti-modernism” in intention (Gregor, 1974:377). Maddison (1964) points out that in 1938, using 1913 as a base, the index of aggregate volume of output of Italy had risen to 153.8 compared more than favourably with that of France (109.4), and Germany (149.9). Again using 1913 as a base, the aggregate index for output per man in 1938 stood at 145.2 for Italy, 136.5 for France, 122.4 for Germany, 143.6 for United Kingdom, and 136.0 for the United States. This proves that the Fascist work culture had borne productive fruits and that in spite of the fact that they declared themselves to be anti-Modernism, Fascists were inclined totally towards industrialization, one of the most important and universally accepted tenets of the modernization process.
This evaluation of the psychology of the Fascists on a human, personal and socio-economic level leads us to the belief that there was not much wrong with the aggressive policies pursued by the fascists. The problem arose with the execution of those policies and their repercussions thereafter. The only thing that the writer has tried to prove in this paper is that Fascistic tendencies were not something new that had descended suddenly upon the earth, but that they are latent forces locked in all individuals and ages as History has shown. Therefore, to label a set of countries or people as fascists is not warranted. We all are fascists in some way or the other and the need of the hour is to control this fascism in each of us for the furtherance of a more beneficial and humane human psychology.
1) Reich, Wilhelm. (1946:6) The mass psychology of Fascism: Orgone Institute Press
2) Tansman, Alan. Reading Fascism’s Form. Representations, vol 104. No1 (Fall2008), pp.144-153
3) Focillon, Henri. (1992:69) The life of Forms in Art :New York.
4) Starobinski, Jean.(1989:116-21) “The Critical Relation” in The Living Eye, trans.Arthur Gothammer, Cambridge, 1989.
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7) Gregor, James. ( April,1974:370-384) Fascism and Modernization .World Politics, vol.26. No.3.
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