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The Mass Psychology of Fascism

The Mass Psychology of Fascism (pdf)

By Wilhelm Reich

Preface to the Third Edition

Extensive and conscientious therapeutic work on the human character has taught me that, in judging human reactions, we have to take into account three different layers of the biopsychic structure. As I have shown in my book, CHARACTER-ANALYSIS, these layers are autonomously functioning representations of social development. In the superficial layer, the average individual is restrained, polite, compassionate and conscientious. There would be no social tragedy of the animal, man, if this superficial layer were in immediate contact with his deep natural core. His tragedy is that such is not the case. The superficial layer of social cooperation is not in contact with the biological core of the person, but separated from it by a second, intermediary character layer consisting of cruel, sadistic, lascivious, predatory and envious impulses. This is the Freudian "unconscious" or "repressed"; in sexeconomic language, it is the sum total of the "secondary impulses." Orgone biophysics has shown that the Freudian unconscious, the antisocial element in the human structure, is a secondary result of the repression of primary biological impulses. If one penetrates through this second, perverse and antisocial layer, one arrives regularly at a third, the deepest layer, which we call the biological core. In this deepest layer, man, under favorable social conditions, is an honest, industrious, cooperative animal capable of love and also of rational hatred. In character-analytic work, one cannot penetrate to this deep, promising layer without first eliminating the false, sham-social surface. What makes its appearance when this cultivated mask falls away, however, is not natural sociality, but the perverse antisocial layer of the character.

As a result of this unfortunate structure, every natural social or libidinous impulse from the biological core must, on its way to action, pass the layer of the perverse secondary impulses where it becomes deflected. This deflection changes the originally social [viii] character of the natural impulse into a perverse impulse and thus inhibits any natural life manifestation.

We can now apply our insights into human structure to the social and political field. It is not difficult to see that the diverse political and ideological groups in human society correspond to the various layers of human character structure. We do, of course, not follow idealistic philosophy in its belief that this human structure is eternal and unalterable. After social conditions and changes have formed the original biological needs into the character structure, the latter, in the form of ideologies, reproduces the social structure.

Since the decline of the primitive work-democratic organization, the biological core of man has remained without social representation. That which is "natural" in man, which makes him one with the cosmos, has found its genuine expression only in the arts, particularly in music and painting. Until now, however, it has remained without any essential influence upon the form of human society, if by society is meant not the culture of a small rich upper crust but the community of all people.

In the ethical and social ideals of liberalism we recognize the representation of the superficial layer of the character, of self-control and tolerance. The ethics of this liberalism serve to keep down "the beast" in man, the second layer, our "secondary impulses," the Freudian "unconscious." The natural sociality of the deepest, nuclear layer is alien to the liberal. He deplores the perversion of human character and fights it with ethical norms, but the social catastrophes of this century show the inadequacy of this approach.

All that which is genuinely revolutionary, all genuine art and science stems from the natural biological nucleus. Neither the genuine revolutionary nor the artist or scientist has been able thus far to win over and lead masses or, if so, to keep them in the realm of the life interests.

In contradistinction to liberalism, which represents the superficial character layer, and to genuine revolution, which repre-[ix]sents the deepest layer, fascism represents essentially the second character layer, that of the secondary impulses.

At the time when this book was originally written, fascism was generally regarded a "political party" which, like any other "social group," was an organized representation of a "political idea." According to this concept, the fascist party "introduced" fascism by force or by "political manoeuvre."

Contrary to this concept, my medical experience with individuals from all kinds of social strata, races, nationalities and religions showed me that "fascism" is only the politically organized expression of the average human character structure, a character structure which has nothing to do with this or that race, nation or party but which is general and international. In this characterological sense, "fascism" is the basic emotional attitude of 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.

Even today, as a result of fallacious political thinking, fascism is still being considered a specific national characteristic of the Germans or the Japanese. The stubborn persistence of this fallacy is due to the fear of recognizing the truth: fascism is an international phenomenon which permeates all organizations of human society in all nations. This conclusion is confirmed by the international events of the past 15 years.

From this first fallacy all other misinterpretations follow logically. To the detriment of genuine endeavors for freedom, fascism is still regarded as the dictatorship of a small reactionary clique. My character-analytic experience, however, shows that there is today not a single individual who does not have the elements of fascist feeling and thinking in his structure. Fascism as a political movement differs from other reactionary parties in that it is supported and championed by masses of people. I am fully conscious of the responsibility involved in such statements. I could only wish, in the interest of this battered world, that the [x] working masses had an equal realization of their responsibility for fascism.

One has to distinguish ordinary militarism from fascism. Germany under the Kaiser was militaristic, but not fascist.

Since fascism, always and everywhere, appears as a movement which is supported by the masses of people, it also displays all the traits and contradictions present in the average character structure: Fascism is not, as is generally believed, a purely reactionary movement; rather, it is a mixture of rebellious emotions and reactionary social ideas.

If, by being revolutionary, one means rational rebellion against intolerable social conditions, if, by being radical, one means "going to the root of things," the rational will to improve them, then fascism is never revolutionary. True, it may have the aspect of revolutionary emotions. But one would not call that physician revolutionary who proceeds against a disease with violent cursing but the other who quietly, courageously and conscientiously studies and fights the causes of the disease. Fascist rebelliousness always occurs where fear of the truth turns a revolutionary emotion into illusions.

In its pure form, fascism is the sum total of all irrational reactions of the average human character. To the narrow-minded sociologist who lacks the courage to recognize the enormous role played by the irrational in human history, the fascist race theory appears as nothing but an imperialistic interest or even a mere "prejudice." The violence and the ubiquity of these "race prejudices" show their origin from the irrational part of the human character. The race theory is not a creation of fascism. No: fascism is a creation of race hatred and its politically organized expression. Correspondingly, there is a German, Italian, Spanish, Anglo-Saxon, Jewish and Arabian fascism. The race ideology is a true biopathic character symptom of the orgastically impotent individual.

The sadistic perverse character of the race ideology is also seen in the attitude toward religion. Fascism, we are told, is the [xi] arch-enemy of religion, and a regression to paganism. On the contrary, fascism is the extreme expression of religious mysticism. As such it appears in a specific social form. Fascism is based on that religiosity which stems from sexual perversion; it changes the masochistic character of the old patriarchal religions into a sadistic religion. It takes religion out of the other-world philosophy of suffering and places it in the sadistic murder in this world.

Fascist mentality is the mentality of the subjugated "little man" who craves authority and rebels against it at the same time. It is not by accident that all fascist dictators stem from the milieu of the little reactionary man. The captains of industry and the feudal militarist make use of this social fact for their own purposes. A mechanistic authoritarian civilization only reaps, in the form of fascism, from the little, suppressed man what for hundreds of years it has sown in the masses of little, suppressed individuals in the form of mysticism, top-sergeant mentality and automatism. This little man has only too well learned the way of the big man and now gives it back, enlarged and distorted. The Fascist is the top-sergeant type in the vast army of our sick civilization. One cannot with impunity beat the tom-tom of high politics before the little man. The little top-sergeant has outdone the imperialistic general in everything: in martial music, in goose-stepping, in giving orders and obeying them, in the deadly fear of thinking, in diplomacy, strategy and tactics, in uniformed strutting and in medals. In all these things a Kaiser Wilhelm appears as a poor bungler compared with Hitler. When a "proletarian" general covers his chest with medals, on both sides, and from the shoulders to the belt, he demonstrates the little man trying to outdo the "real" great general.

One must have thoroughly studied the character of the suppressed little man and must have learned to see things as they take place behind the facade, if one is to understand the forces on which fascism is based. In the rebellion of the masses of abused people against the empty niceties of a false liberalism (I do not mean genuine lib-[xii]eralism and genuine tolerance) the character layer of the secondary impulses was expressed.

One cannot make the Fascist harmless if, according to the politics of the day, one looks for him only in the German or Italian, or the American or the Chinese; if one does not look for him in oneself; if one does not know the social institutions which hatch him every day. One can beat fascism only if one meets it objectively and practically, with a well-grounded knowledge of the life processes. One cannot equal it in politics, in diplomacy or strutting. But it has no answer to practical questions of living, for it sees everything only in the mirror of ideology or in the form of the state uniform. When one hears a fascist character of whatever hue preach about the "honor of the nation" (instead of the honor of man) or about the "salvation of the sacred family and the race" (instead of the society of working individuals), if he lets out a stream of empty slogans, one only has to ask him this:

"What are you doing to feed the nation, without plundering or killing other nations? What do you, as a physician, do against the chronic diseases, or as an educator for the happiness of children, or as an economist for the elimination of poverty, or as a social worker for the mothers of too many children, or as a builder for more hygienic living conditions? Give us a concrete, practical answer or shut up!"

Clearly, international fascism will never be vanquished by political manoeuvres. It can only be vanquished by the natural organization of work, love and knowledge on an international scale.

As yet, work, love and knowledge have not the power to determine human existence. More than that, these great forces of the positive life principle are not even conscious of their strength, their indispensability and their decisive role in the determination of human existence. For this reason, human society, even after the military defeat of party fascism, continues to hover at the brink of the abyss. The downfall of our civilization is inevitable if those who work, and the natural scientists in all branches of life (not death), and those who give and receive natural love, do [xiii] not become conscious, in time, of their gigantic responsibility.

Will human and social freedom, will self-regulation of our lives and that of our children come about peacefully or by force? Nobody can tell. But those who know the living function in the animal, in the newborn or in the true worker, be he a mechanic, a researcher or an artist, cease to think in those terms created by party systems. The living function cannot "seize power by force," for it would not know what to do with power. Does that mean that life will forever be at the mercy of political gangsterdom, that the politicians will forever suck its blood? No, it would be wrong to draw this conclusion.

As a physician, I have to treat diseases, as a researcher I have to disclose unknown facts in nature. If, now, a political wind-bag were to try to force me to leave my patients and my microscope, I would not let myself be disturbed but would, if necessary, throw him out. Whether or not I have to use force in order to protect my work on the living function against intruders does not depend on me or my work but on the intruders' degree of impertinence. Let us assume that all those who do work on the living function were able to recognize the political wind-bag in time. They would act in the same way. Perhaps this over-simplified example gives a partial answer to the question as to how the living function, sooner or later, will defend itself against its intruders and destroyers.

Tags: fascism, icarus, reich, work
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