The Authoritarian Personality

The Mass Psychology of Fascism

Why do people vote against their own economic interests? Why do people willingly support authoritarian governments? Why would a virtual pauper vote for a candidate who wants to dismantle the “liberal” safety net? A candidate who calls him a “moocher”, a “taker”, a “welfare queen”? Why would a woman vote for a candidate who opposes her access to contraception let alone her right to choose?  Who practically calls her a slut?  Who insists on sticking the government’s nose in his or her private life and bedroom? Why do about half of the 99% support those pauperizing America? Why don’t people revolt?

Good questions.

Classical orthodox Marxism states that the “workers”, those who have nothing to sell but their labor, who have maybe saved two weeks worth of salary, who are “wage slaves” should rationally vote for the left.  Marxism believes such people are it’s natural constituents.

Yet tens of millions are not.

Just last week in South Carolina a man who never bought health insurance (“I pay my own health costs!) went blind from diabetes.  Suddenly he had no income but figured that (a) he could always buy Obamacare and (b) if he had little income then Medicaid would step in.   He had opposed both Obamacare and Medicaid.  Well he found out there is a deadline for signing up for Obamacare each year and (b) South Carolina had refused the federal monies to expand Medicaid.

He is now up the creek as they say.  He had opposed Obamacare (socialism ya know!) and the expansion of Medicaid.  So who does he blame for his predicament?  Obama.

Now I don’t love Obamacare.  I think everyone should have access to health care  as a human right.  Medicare for all.  This guy, however is a perfect example of not voting your own economic interests.

See the article here:

Millions of “prols” (to use the Marxist term) not only support candidates who do not have their economic and social interests at heart but they cheer wildly! They vehemently argue for their austerity programs and no matter how often the fallacies are pointed out to them, they do not change their minds. They won’t even listen. How many old people here in Florida living on social security support candidates who want to do away with it? Where is the Marxist rationality?

Why did Germans in the midst of the worst depression in history turn to Nazism and Hitler rather than the socialist left?

I hope you weren’t expecting an answer from me  I don’t know. I’m just a retired old crank living in Florida who tries to act rationally. I’ve thought about this issue for a long time while watching impoverished Floridians vote for right wing Republicans time and time again. I don’t have an answer.

The best I can come up with was articulated by Wilhelm Reich in his “Mass Psychology of Fascism” published in Berlin in 1932 during the rise of Adolph Hitler. (Pretty ballsy if you ask me!) .  It begins, according to Reich, in the family.

“The goal of sexual suppression is that of producing an individual who is adjusted to the authoritarian order and who will submit to it in spite of all misery and degradation. At first the child has to submit to the structure of the authoritarian miniature state, the family; this makes it capable of later subordination to the general authoritarian system.”

Reich argued that the traditional nuclear hierarchical family with the father at the top of the pyramid, mom and then the children begins to teach the child obedience to “rules”; the sexual repression of curious children and adolescents imposed by parents and an exposure and indoctrination into an anti-sexual religion molds the adult into being most comfortable in the authoritarian society. The authoritarian oriented adult says Reich, experiences anxiety when faced with revolution, sexual impulses and a lack of “order”.

Reich looked at fascism from a psychological perspective; he tried to examine the coming of Nazism scientifically since he rightly felt that it’s rise was irrational.

It clearly wasn’t because people were stupid, ignorant, jobless or crazy.  Smart educated people with jobs became fascists. Poor people and workers became fascists too when the left was the rational choice for them. Reich clearly thought something else was at play.

He believed sexual repression was the root cause – “Be clean” “Be pure” “Self control”. “Abstinence”. “Honor”. “Sex is a sin”. “I am sinful”. “I am dirty”.

Hierarchical families (Dad – Mom – child) and churches (God – Satan – mortal) inculcate the sexual repression from childhood.

The resulting adult is now a perfect fit for hierarchical economies (Rich – middle class – poor), and race relations (Whites – Asians – Blacks),

The authoritarian oriented adult knows his place in the hierarchy and supports it; those who would threaten authority or change it through progressivism or revolution are to be opposed; just the thought creates anxiety in these individuals. They will close their eyes, not listen to reason, deny proof – even scientific proof.  Change, to them, equals disorder which creates anxiety.

Was Reich right? Who knows. I certainly don’t; but I must say it makes a lot of sense to me.  One need look no further than the right’s war on women.

The Nazis burned his books. The Communists didn’t like him either and a number of psychoanalytical societies expelled him – sounded like he was advocating teen sex. Can’t have that now can we?

Now some of Reich’s writings I honestly don’t bother with – his writings on why people get sick landed him in jail for two years here in the United States for violating FDA orders not to sell his “orgon collectiors”  . He died several days before he was supposed to get out of prison. We also burned is books by the way – right here in the U. S. – including Mass Psychology of Fascism.

When last I put up this post Dr. Stuart Bramhall (we read each other) commented that Reich was a manic-depressive and late in life in a manic state he wrote of the “orgon collectors” which landed him in trouble with the FDA and then prison.  He had previously done great work in the study of the psychology of fascism as well as character analysis.

Now just because someone may not be right all the time doesn’t mean he is never right. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

“From the standpoint of social development, the family cannot be considered the basis of the authoritarian state, only as one of the most important institutions which support it. It is, however, its central reactionary germ cell, the most important place of reproduction of the reactionary and conservative individual. Being itself caused by the authoritarian system, the family becomes the most important institution for its conservation.”

So progressives take heed – right wing reaction, for example the “war on women”, cannot be defeated by reason and logic alone – there is more at play here than meets the eye.




About toritto

I was born during year four of the reign of Emperor Tiberius Claudius on the outskirts of the empire in Brooklyn. I married my high school sweetheart, the girl I took to the prom and we were together for forty years until her passing in 2004. We had four kids together and buried two together. I had a successful career in Corporate America (never got rich but made a living) and traveled the world. I am currently retired in the Tampa Bay metro area and live alone. One of my daughters is close by and one within a morning’s drive. They call their pops everyday. I try to write poetry (not very well), and about family. Occasionally I will try a historical piece relating to politics. :-)
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11 Responses to The Authoritarian Personality

  1. beetleypete says:

    I ask myself the same questions over here, and have done all my life. My conclusion- not answer- is more simple. Every human is inherently jealous, greedy, and acquisitive by nature. Even when they have next to nothing, they worry that someone else will take it away. They don’t want to give anything to anyone else, unless it is tax-deductible, and they fear change and loss of possessions and property. If they have only one chair left in an empty house, their paranoia will make them think that someone else wants it. Human nature is its own worst enemy.
    Best wishes, Pete.


  2. sojourner says:

    Brilliant! There is no other word, except perhaps, WISDOM and REASON!


  3. sojourner says:

    Reblogged this on An Outsider's Sojourn II and commented:
    For all of you ‘god fearing, family worshiping’ folk out there, here is an article you might want to read and contemplate, deeply!

    “From the standpoint of social development, the family cannot be considered the basis of the authoritarian state, only as one of the most important institutions which support it. It is, however, its central reactionary germ cell, the most important place of reproduction of the reactionary and conservative individual. Being itself caused by the authoritarian system, the family becomes the most important institution for its conservation.”


  4. Norman Pilon says:

    I agree: we are indeed in many respects ‘irrational,’ even against our own better judgement or when we know better. However, we are not entirely the slaves of our ‘irrational’ impulses or to the cultural dogmas and delusions that we could not but inherit in the course of our upbringing.

    We are capable of this thing called reflection, which to some limited degree permits us to step back from or out of ourselves to glimpse the patterns of our immersion in the world, to grasp the ‘structure’ of the patterns (emotional, cognitive, cultural, institutional, economic, material, and so on . . .) that inhabit us within and constrain us without. And it so happens that sometimes this faculty of reflection, of trying to sort out the shape of things, does yield sharp and precise insights into the nature of things, such that we actually understand what would ensue if something were altered in a particular way, and furthermore, what actions we can undertake to help change what needs to be changed for the better.

    Today, better than in times past, on account of the cultural achievements of people like Marx, Kuhn, Freud or even Reich, I think ‘we’ have a better notion of the direction in which we should evolve (the hints are everywhere in your post) and what needs to happen to move things in that direction: social change is dependent upon a) changing the institutions which structure (by suasion or violence) our modes of daily intercourse and b) changing the ‘mindset’ of the individual in its cultural dimensions.

    Admitedly, all of this is a tall order: one only has to think of how much effort is required to change oneself in one’s own habits of mind or behavior to grasp the difficulty of what might be involved in trying to successfully influence those same habits in others. And yet, it does happen: the Bourgeois revolution, the triumph of capitalism over feudalism, did happen, and this successive mode of life is now ascendant, both in an institutional and ideological sense, the world over. But it only took four or five centuries for it to finally take root in Europe.

    The ‘system’ was born in iniquity and continues to breathe on the bases of enslavement, conquest, expropriation and murder. More and more people understand this and, like you, speak openly about it. Open mass revolts have ever began in the murmurings of a few which, under the right conditions, eventually became the denunciations of the many. But it can take a long time or never happen. No one knows exactly how to make a revolution. But these things do happen, over long periods of misery and time.

    Our ‘historical present’ extends to more than the most recent decades in the past or those of our future: it is to be measured in centuries. And for certain, progressive change cannot happen without the righteous grumbling that would aim to incite. So keep grumbling, old man. It may yet bear fruit.


  5. toritto says:

    Norman – this old man will keep grumbling although I’m coming to the conclusion that we can’t affect change because we simply don’t live long enough. By the time most of us realize the realities of life we are too old. It would be nice if we could start by voting our economic interests – we could change things for the better but we are split apart by racism, religion, the boogaboo of “socialism” etc. We don’t even use the rights we have – it’s difficult to make change when 49% support the status quo. Why do those have have so little stake in the system support the status quo?

    Got me.

    Regards and thanks for reading and the extensive comment. You should write a post on this subject!


    • Norman Pilon says:

      “…I’m coming to the conclusion that we can’t affect change because we simply don’t live long enough.”

      Rather, given where we are in historical terms, given what we are in human and cultural terms, you and I and probably everyone alive today will not live long enough to see the ‘effects’ of the influence we may have had on others. Social change is a cumulative and subteranean process: one dissenting voice speaks a truth, points out something obvious but heretofore unnoticed, highlights an injustice, or a misconceived belief about where one’s interests truly lie, and though he may not have an audience, another hears the truth and understands it and speaks it in turn. Now two speak the same truth and so it goes. The insight may not spread and become part of a common store of knowledge. But if our two dissenters never speak out, if at first even only quietly and modestly, the insight may be lost forever and never see the light of day, or take generations more to be rediscovered and emerge. But otherwise, there is a higher probability that its emergence will be hastened, however small that chance may be. It’s all that we have, and because it is at its inception small and fragile, it needs all the tending that we can give it.

      You gave the example of the South Carolina man. A powerful and straightforward illustration of how those who have absolutely no stake in the regime believe that they do and end up acting against their own interests. I assure you that many of us who have read your post will remember that story, the powerful simplicity of the way you related the incident, and we will use it in subsequent encounters with others in an attempt to either disabuse them of their misplaced loyalties or help them arm themselves with yet another sharp weapon in the fight to undermine the dominance of an ideology detrimental to our working class peers.

      You want change. Keep writting what you write in the way that you do. People are reading. People are seeing things for the first time. People will borrow to effect. You don’t think you are having much of an influence because you can’t see what that influence may be or how its playing out or will play out. But you are causing ripples. People read you and take things away with them from you. That’s the natrue of human interaction. That’s how the light finds its way into a darkness if it ever does.

      You are right, logic and reason alone are not enough. But neither can you do without them. Not if you have a purpose but have yet to figure out a way of realizing that purpose, or realize that your purpose cannot be realized without the assent and collaboration of others.

      Okay, I’ll try to write a post on this subject. Don’t know if I will or can pull it off. But I’ll try. It’s a daunting and complicated subject. And its time I tried to explain to myself why, all discouraging evidence to the contrary, I think I might be making a difference in the world, as small as that difference ultimately must be and why it nevertheless and crucially matters in the greater scheme of things.


  6. Great article. I ask those questions (1st para) all the time. I think Reich was onto something.

    I have also wondered if voting Republican, even when it’s against their own interests, is a way some people try to catch onto the coattails of success – as if it will rub off on them. It’s a way to disassociate from the bottom-of-the-barrel.

    Another theory: Repeated, consistent subliminal messages are very powerful. Advertising knows this. Hypnotists know this. The less attention people pay to the message, the less likely they are to reject it. Example: A guy watches a TV commercial, and he thinks, ‘That’s ridiculous, how can one deodorant make me sexier than another? Just as long as I use one…’ But the TV commercial effectively becomes ‘subliminal’ when the guy gets off the couch to raid the refrigerator – he is no longer paying attention, but he can still hear the commercial in the background and now his subconscious mind is wide open. In essence, all the time we are not in active critical-thinking mode, we absorb the propaganda bombarding us all day long from every side. If the message is consistent and endlessly repeated, it becomes embedded like a belief. No logic necessary. And no logic can dislodge it. (You have to fight fire with fire here – hypno-therapy required!)

    The basic problem seems to be that people can get attached to certain beliefs that undermine their own well-being. Thinking and believing are simply two different mental activities. Beliefs – right brain (emotions, imagination, brainwashing). Thinking – left-brain (logic, reality, learning).

    Along with that, the Republican Party is very good at tapping into the right-brains of their constituents. So, instead of trying to reason with the other side, maybe Progressives need to stir emotions and paint pictures.

    I noticed that Rep. Alan Grayson’s ‘Fake Trade Agreements’ video is a slick production – it engages the emotions and presents images that set off the imagination. We need more of that coming from our side!


  7. dougstuber says:

    How about this: “No Man Shall Profit from another man’s labor.” This piece is about the role of religion in pushing one culture into another, specifically in South Korea via Christianity. read it at


  8. Pingback: Trumpism | toritto

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