Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Heteronomous & Authoritarian Character Structure in a (homegrown) Fascist Political Environment

A FB friend asked me this morning, “Do you think the brownshirts may be coming?” Herewith my reply (composed before my first cup of tea):

They’re already here (indeed, they’ve been here for some time), although they’re of uniform mind not costume (apart from white hoods and robes). And now they’re leaving footprints in the muck and mire. They’re willing to render themselves more visible to the rest of us because social and mass media has both deliberately (owing to its uncritical fawning deference to any sort of fame or celebrity) and inadvertently fanned the flames of demagogic fascist leadership, exemplified most egregiously in the presidential campaign of Donald Trump. Their individual and collectively shameless motivational structures having been awakened, xenophobic nationalism and fascism finds sufficient fuel in the ever-increasing number of immature and developmentally distorted character-types. With ample ideological sanction from above, as it were, the unconscious libidinal and aggressive forces are now strong enough to thwart any potential for or tendency toward developmental individuation (i.e., the moral and psychological autonomy that makes for true sociality and humane fellowship or the kind of communities that foster and require the mutual cultivation and creative eudaimonistic expression of myriad and interdependent values): the insider-group trumps the individual (pun intended). The kind of social psychological soil being tilled in the current political climate provides propitious conditions for the emergence of harmful and deadly social-psychological bacteria: illusion and delusion, including individual and collective states of denial and self-deception, as well as passions untethered from moral reason and unconscious forces or drives incapable of sublimation.

At this juncture, an impartial and thus objective observer of our society will diagnose symptoms if not forms of widespread incipient and actual shared mental illness. At the very least, we discover the authoritarian (patriarchal?) character structures and proto-fascist and fascist tendencies among motley individuals and groups, not a few of whom were heretofore ostensibly “conservative” or “moderate,” perhaps even liberal in manifest orientation and outlook. And these tendencies are exhibited among several social classes, not just the so-called lumpenproletariat. Members of these classes respect, admire and envy those assuming or holding various types of power (apparent or actual: in word or deed).

Compassion toward, let alone solidarity or identification with strangers, the out-group, the weak or vulnerable, and so forth is suspect if not dangerous for these individuals, as it is perceived as an immediate threat to their fragile and artificial sense of individual and collective identity. Such identity is shorn of viable notions of human dignity and self-respect, or what it is to be a human person, in other words, we’re left with individuals incapable of incarnating all that is “bright and beautiful” or understanding what is “sweetness and light” in the Arnoldian sense. These psychologically stunted (in a developmental sense) and morally defective individuals evidence insufficient appreciation of the developmental processes of human nature that make for “perfectibility” in a Godwinian sense, either unable or unwilling to self-actualize or even attain moments of self-transcendence or human fulfillment in the deepest sense (this need not mean, nor should it mean we blame them or hold them fully responsible for this state of affairs). Such individuals are dispositionally or constitutionally afflicted with feelings of worthlessness, self-doubt if not impotence, and anxiety, a noxious brew that gives rise to identification with those who display power and aggression, a will to dominate, hurt and humiliate or control members of out-groups, thereby exhibiting the darkest traits of heteronomous and authoritarian character. In short, the current political climate makes for what Fromm termed “the pathology of normalcy” (a locution that, conceptually speaking, has long-standing religious and philosophical pedigree), or the consensus, conformity and false consciousness that provide the necessary if not sufficient conditions for fascism.

Further Reading:
  • Burston, Daniel. The Legacy of Erich Fromm. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991. 
  • Friedman, Lawrence J. The Lives of Erich Fromm: Love’s Prophet. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013.
  • Fromm, Erich. Escape from Freedom. New York: Avon Books, 1965 (1941).
  • Fromm, Erich (Barbara Weinberger, tr. and Wolfgang Bonss, ed.) The Working Class in Weimar Germany: A Psychological and Sociological Study. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984.
  • Griffin, Roger. The Nature of Fascism. New York: Routledge, 1993.  
  • Griffin, Roger, ed. Fascism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.


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