Contemporary Issues in Politics – Who Will Tell Me What is Fascism?

George Bataille

‘What is fascism? Why do good people accept fascism?’ are important questions that arise in our society.   Why fascism has mass appeal?  Here I shall introduce three important thinkers who have addressed the issue.  This study is simply a descriptive analysis aimed to understand the condition of our society today.  it simply attempts to indicate what is Fascism and leaves it the intelligent reader to spot it working in his/her life, as well as trace it at work in our society at large. 

Mathew Lyons raises the question of what Fascism is and Wilhelm Reich, George Bataille and Theodor Adorno take up why it has mass appeal.  Lyons in his paper, ‘what is Fascism?’ offers us general ideological features of fascism.   He teaches that it starts off as a heterogeneous movement and moves towards homogeneity by expelling those who are deemed as unfit for the organic society envisioned by it.  It celebrates the nation or race or an organic community.  The organic community that rises on the wings of fascism transcends all other loyalties.  It acquires power by a myth of national or racial rebirth that offers a promised future after a period of decline and destruction.  It also attempts to urge moral decay and clean up society. Fascism is populist and elitist and is led by one supreme leader. It is a leader and not the people that become important as it offers a vision that he/she will bring all spheres of the society to submit to the organic community and is usually thought to be achieved through a totalitarian state. 

Wilhelm Reich in his book, Mass Psychology of Fascism of 1933, teaches that Sexual repulsion gives us a fear of revolt and a fear of sexuality.  It parallelizes rebellious forces.  It produces an individual who is adjusted to the authoritarian structure. The family is not the basis of an authoritarian state but it produces conservative and obedient children that will then submit to it.  Arguing in a similar fashion, Deleuze and Guattari teach that control of the body leads to Fascism.  The stare is the new father and the individual submits to it and we become Oedipalized and submit to the authoritarian state.  Reich thinks that family produces fear of revolt and fear of sexuality and disposes the individual to fascism. 

George Battaile a philosopher of excess in his 1933  paper psychological structure of Fascism with the analysis of the homogenous. In the homogenous everything is measurable.   The fascists think that Homogenous is productive and useful to society while the heterogeneous get excluded as useless.  In a homogenous society, each part is thought to be useful to the other.  Money becomes the measure of usefulness.   If one is not producing one becomes disposable. He says money cannot be the measure of all work.   In a homogenous society, production leads to existence for itself while a heterogeneous society expenditure leads to existence for someone else.  He mainly sees workers as existing for someone else while the owners exist for themselves.  Bataille thinks that it is economic poverty that forces people to act as a heterogeneous force.  The heterogeneous force tends to correspond to the unconscious.  The exclusion of the heterogeneous in a homogenous society is that which is being repressed in the unconscious.  The heterogeneous does not give us use-value. He thinks that fascism is driven by a heterogeneous force that leads it to homogeneity.  The common consciousness of the people become excessively violent and has excessive energy and is widely available through a charismatic leader. To stay in power paradoxically the homogenous has to expel the heterogeneous.   One is sovereign because he/ she is heterogeneous. The sovereign belongs to the useless economy of excess.  King/ Monarch is heterogeneous and is no longer part of the productive process. Sovereignty is consumption. A sovereign person consumes and does not work. Sovereign is living life beyond the limit.  Thus, we can see that Bataille has a special meaning of sovereignty.  Bataille teaches that the king stays sovereign because of his destructive passion or useless expenditure that he directs against the other kings or inwards towards the impoverished classes. Charismatic leaders become sovereign by indulging in wasteful expenditure like wars, memorial, war machines, riots, etc.  In representative democracies, the heterogeneous imperative tends to be a trophy.  He says Marx focused only on production but his aim was to focus on the non-productive expenditure and consumption.  Battaile is trying to teach us that its leaders and ideologues of Fascism enjoy sovereignty and enjoy consumption while the ordinary masses become homogenized and foot soldiers of the movement of Fascism. 

 Theodor Adorno, the founding figure of the Frankfurt School, also takes up the psychology of Fascism in his 1951 essay Freudian Theory in the Pattern of Fascist propaganda.  He tries to apply Freudian principles of psychoanalysis to Fascists propaganda.  Fascism creates an imaginary enemy. It generates fear and anger.  Alongside this, a narcissistic leader is projected as an all-powerful primal father. The fear and anger of the enemy lead to the blind acceptance of the projected masculine leader although in reality he/she may be incredibly feeble. People accept the fantasy by projecting onto the leader their own ego.    It is a kind of wish fulfilment.  The leader has to be self-confident and independent. For the leader to be loved he must not love himself. This means the leader has to be narcissistic so that the masses can develop libidinal ties with him/her.  The masses then identify with the leader and feel a perfect love that one is not actually getting in life but is expressed by that leader.   The leader is expressing the love that people are not getting. This love cannot be taken from the people. It is a substitution for actual love.  This is why even if the leader does not deliver on policy and governance it does not matter.    This means the fascistic cult following is not rational.  People live a fantasy even if it is against their own interest. Maybe this is why Adorno says psychology is what happens when ethics fails. 

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao