The Psychology of Fascism

Fear of Father and Fear of Freedom

We  suppose that fascism is a product of a poisoned heart, of hate. That is not really true. Fascism is a product of mind. Immature and stunted mind, that can’t find a way to grow. The fascist mind, I will suggest, is caught in a trap — between fear of a father figure and fear of freedom.

Our first thought is “I”. As we grow, we learn this is a table, this is a chair, and so on. This first requires the thought: I am not that. We learn to separate the world into subject and object.

But not all objects are created equal: some are desirable, prizes, and some are undesirable, threats. As we mature, we become able to to learn the relationship of the “I” to the elements of the world. We think this is appropriate, that is not appropriate, this is desirable, that is undesirable, and so on. For most of us, maturity ends here. We are safe — but now lack meaning in our lives because we never take the next, and most significant step: learning to outgrow the “I” altogether. When we learn to become selfless — not in a small way, but in a real one. Not with little acts of charity, but to feel our emotions and express our feelings, so we can have genuine relationships, give and contribute to the world whole-heartedly, and so on. Genuine maturity is learning that “I” is a limiting way of being in the world.

Now let us come back to fascism. What happens in fascism? The “I” never fully develops at all. Instead of growing into and then through the “I”, the fascist identifies with a father figure. He subsumes his identity, his emotions, his needs, his appetites — everything — in that father figure.

Why does he need to? Because the fascist is profoundly insecure. He is afraid, somehow, of the act of living, of freedom itself. There is a threat out there, a menace, a poison, which outweighs freedom itself. No mind can abide that kind of all pervading insecurity. He must either bury it, which takes constant work and energy. Or he can simply alleviate it through obedience to the father figure. If father says it, then we must do it — that is how everything will be alright again.

That brings us to the first conclusion. You will never convince fascists that they are wrong. Not with reason, facts, logic, or evidence. You cannot. They have replaced inner morality with obedience to begin with. There is no right and wrong for the immature mind of a fascist — there is only obedience and disobedience, only safety and danger. Hence, “fake news” being so credulously spread. Obedience is how they maintain their sense of security, and more importantly, sanity. They have sacrificed their moral and intellectual agency, so how can you appeal to it?

The fascist’s bond with the father figure is the bond of the child with the parent. In many ways, it is even greater — the child ougrows the parent, he learns and plays and rebels. But the fascist doesn’t. The fascist has identified with the father figure to the point that the father figure is the fascist — his spirit, his heart, his will.

That brings me to my second conclusion. The bond between a fascist and a father figure is even stronger than that of a parent with a child. It is not a superficial bond, like the bond of, say, a coach and an athlete, or a patient and a shrink. It is a bond that is too powerful. The fascist, throughout history, has been obedient to a point that it is incomprehensible to us. He will sacrifice himself — the Kamikazes. He will offer up his family — the Nazis. He will destroy everything that a sane person holds sacred, simply for the soothing caress of the father. Most of us would not do these things if our parents asked us, would we?

Why not? Because our moral agency, our consciences — and at last, our instincts for self-preservation — would kick in. Those do not exist in fascists. That is what a fear of freedom really means: you are willing even to give up on self preservation, which, of course, is an essential part of being a self. That is my second conclusion.

Where did they go? Remember the “I”? Our greatest drive in this life isn’t to satisfy the I. But to extinguish it. That’s why chase sex, money, power, and so on. How does the fascist extinguish the “I”? Through the “we”. The fascist loses the boundaries of the self by identifying his whole being with the father figure. That is how he satisfies his drive for transcendence. That is why the bond between the fascist and the father figure is so strong that it defies reason, logic, facts, evidence, argument. How strong is it? So strong that it has broken even the instinct for self-preservation in the fascist.

A mature mind does none of this. It seeks healthy ways to extinguish the I. Healthy means: ways that do not damage any life, including the thinker’s. What are some healthy ways? You commune with nature, you have a child, you read great books, you rise and fall and laugh, and so on. In these ways, we mature by learning the limits of the “I”. As we gain empathy, compassion, forgiveness, mercy, imagination, so we learn how to love. In that way, maturity is the constant act of becoming a more loving person.

But the fascist is stuck. He has regressed to an infantile state, and there he stays. His immature mind does not learn how to become a more loving person. It refuses and rejects the challenge. It simply transfers its anxiety and fear to the father figure, who, in exchange, soothes and calms it. The price is obedience, not freedom, which is the precondition of love.

Father can always withdraw that soothing. The existential fear can return at a moment’s notice. And so father has total control over the fascist. The fascists is caught in a trap — between fear of father, and fear of freedom.

Now the question is: why does all this come to be? Why doesn’t the fascist mature? That is the greatest question of all. Let me answer this in an oblique way.

The presentation of logic and facts seems to have the opposite effect that we intend, doesn’t it? It causes the fascist to grow more attached to the father figure, not less. But that much is obvious: if I come along and tell you, a child, that your parents, the source of your strength and safety, are bad people, you will instantly despise me, and cling to them all the more. Why? I am a threat to the very safety that you value.

That holds a very deep truth about fascism, which is my third conclusion. The fascist is traumatized, and that is why he cannot mature. Only if you were traumatized would you be willing to give up your whole being for safety. Why? Because the threat you are afraid of must be existential, absolute, total. It must be worse than hell if you are willing to give up living. The fascist has regressed to an infantile state — and that infant is himself stunted. He is not just “child-like”. In all the ways that count, the fascist is like a traumatized child. He is ever playing back in his head the reel, real or imaginary, of an existential injury, whichis leaving him paralyzed, enraged, broken, stuck.

The fascist does not mature because he is like a traumatized child who is constantly guarding against the threat of reliving his greatest fear, through obedience to the father figure. Remember, the fascist has no self-preservation instinct. He will sacrifice everything for the father. He is willing to give up the limits of his possibility for a moment of safety. Only the thought of an injury of the deepest kind could produce that fruitless exchange. Hence, when the father figure comes along and offers to soothe it, the fascist desperately sacrifices his whole self for that.

But the flip side is also true, which is my fourth conclusion. There has never been a way in which the fascist has learned to see the “I” in anyone else. The faculties of empathy, curiosity, creativity, compassion have never developed, because the threat of insecurity is total. That is what sacrificing safety for possibility really means: the fascist has never grown as a person, is stuck in the mode of a traumatized child, and as long as the bond between the fascist and the father is the truest thing in his life, he never can.

That brings us my last conclusion. To truly undo fascism, a society must unravel the bond between the fascist and the father figure. Unravel — not break. You can’t break such a bond. If someone comes along and hurts your father, you will only hate them for it. So trying to forcibly sever the bond between fascist and father is an oxymoron. Even if it succeeds, the fascist will stay a fascist, even more susceptible to another father figure.

There is only one way, in the end. Somehow, a society must offer the fascists the safety they are really seeking. No, of course: that doesn’t mean “be nice to fascists”. But it does mean that trying to break the bond of the parent with the hurt child is a waste of time. The only thing that can really break is it, if there is anything at all, another parent. A better one. One that offers not just safety for obedience, at the price of possibility. But who can offer safety from such a desperate need for safety in the first place.

February 2017


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