Psychopathology and politics – Mass psychology of fascism

Fascistic Irrationalism, by Wilhelm Reich, M.D.

From the book The Mass Psychology of Fascism, by Wilhelm Reich, M.D., FS&G, New York 1970.

Preface to the Third Edition, Revised and Enlarged

Extensive and painstaking therapeutic work on the human character has led me to the conclusion that, as a rule, we are dealing with three different layers of the biopsychic structure in the evaluation of human reactions. As I demonstrated in my book Character-Analysis, these layers of the character structure are deposits of social development, which function autonomously. On the surface layer of his personality the average man is reserved, polite, compassionate, responsible, conscien­tious. There would be no social tragedy of the human animal if this surface layer of the personality were in direct contact with the deep natural core. This, unfortunately, is not the case. The surface layer of social cooperation is not in contact with the deep biologic core of one’s selfhood; it is borne by a second, an intermediate character layer, which consists exclusively of cruel, sadistic, lascivious, rapacious, and envious impulses. It represents the Freudian “unconscious” or “what is re­pressed”; to put it in the language of sex-economy, it represents the sum total of all so-called “secondary drives.”

Orgone biophysics made it possible to comprehend the Freudian unconscious, that which is antisocial in man, as a secondary result of the repression of primary biologic urges. If one penetrates through this destructive second layer, deeper into the biologic substratum of the human animal, one always discovers the third, deepest, layer, which we call the biologic core. In this core, under favorable social conditions, man is an essentially honest, industrious, cooperative, loving, and, if motivated, rationally hating animal. Yet it is not at all possible to bring about a loosening of the character structure of present-day man by penetrating to this deepest and so promising layer without first eliminat­ing the nongenuine, spuriously social surface. Drop the mask of cultiva­tion, and it is not natural sociality that prevails at first, but only the perverse, sadistic character layer.

It is this unfortunate structuralization that is responsible for the fact that every natural, social, or libidinous impulse that wants to spring into action from the biologic core has to pass through the layer of secondary perverse drives and is thereby distorted. This distortion trans­forms the original social nature of the natural impulses and makes it perverse, thus inhibiting every genuine expression of life.

Let us now transpose our human structure into the social and political sphere.

It is not difficult to see that the various political and ideological groupings of human society correspond to the various layers of the structure of the human character. We, however, decline to accept the error of idealistic philosophy, namely that this human structure is im­mutable to all eternity. After social conditions and changes have trans­muted man’s original biologic demands and made them a part of his character structure, the latter reproduces the social structure of society in the form of ideologies.

Since the breakdown of the primitive work-democratic form of social organization, the biologic core of man has been without social representation. The “natural” and “sublime” in man, that which links him to his cosmos, has found genuine expression only in great works of art, especially in music and in painting. Until now, however, it has not exercised a fundamental influence on the shaping of human society, if by society we mean the community of mankind and not the culture of a small, rich upper class.

In the ethical and social ideals of liberalism we recognize the advocacy of the characteristics of the surface layer of the character, which is intent upon self-control and tolerance. This liberalism lays stress upon its ethics for the purpose of holding in suppression the “monster in man,” our layer of “secondary drives,” the Freudian “un­conscious.” The natural sociability of the deepest third layer, the core layer, is foreign to the liberal. He deplores the perversion of the human character and seeks to overcome it by means of ethical norms, but the social catastrophes of the twentieth century show that he did not get very far with this approach.

Everything that is genuinely revolutionary, every genuine art and science, stems from man’s natural biologic core. Thus far, neither the genuine revolutionary nor the artist nor scientist has won favor with masses of people and acted as their leader, or if he has, he has not been able to hold them in the sphere of vital interest for any length of time.

The case of fascism, in contrast to liberalism and genuine revolu­tion, is quite different. Its essence embodies neither the surface nor the depth, but by and large the second, intermediate character layer of secondary drives.

When this book was first written, fascism was generally regarded as a “political party,” which, as other “social groups,” advocated an orga­nized “political idea.” According to this appraisal “the fascist party was instituting fascism by means of force or through ‘political maneuver.’ ”

Contrary to this, my medical experiences with men and women of various classes, races, nations, religious beliefs, etc., taught me that “fascism” is only the organized political expression of the structure of the average man’s character, a structure that is confined neither to certain races or nations nor to certain parties, but is general and inter­national. Viewed with respect to man’s character, “fascism” is the basic emotional attitude of the suppressed man of our authoritarian machine civilization and its mechanistic-mystical conception of life.

It is the mechanistic-mystical character of modem man that pro­duces fascist parties, and not vice versa.

The result of erroneous political thinking is that even today fascism is conceived as a specific national characteristic of the Germans or the Japanese. All further erroneous interpretations follow from this initial erroneous conception.

To the detriment of genuine efforts to achieve freedom, fascism was and is still conceived as the dictatorship of a small reactionary clique. The tenacity with which this error persists is to be ascribed to our fear of recognizing the true state of affairs: fascism is an international phe­nomenon, which pervades all bodies of human society of all nations. This conclusion is in agreement with the international events of the past fifteen years.

My character-analytic experiences have convinced me that there is not a single individual who does not bear the elements of fascist feeling and thinking in his structure. As a political movement fascism differs from other reactionary parties inasmuch as it is borne and championed by masses of people.

I am fully conscious of the enormous responsibility involved in making such an assertion. And in the interest of this lacerated world I should like the toiling masses to be just as clear about their responsibil­ity for fascism.

A sharp distinction must be made between ordinary militarism and fascism. Wilhelmian Germany was militaristic, but it was not fascistic.

Since fascism, whenever and wherever it makes its appearance, is a movement borne by masses of people, it betrays all the characteristics and contradictions present in the character structure of the mass indi­vidual. It is not, as is commonly believed, a purely reactionary move­ment—it represents an amalgam between rebellious emotions and reactionary social ideas.

If we conceive of being revolutionary as the rational rebellion against intolerable conditions in human society, the rational will “to get to the root of all things” (“radical” = “radic” = “root”) and to improve them, then fascism is never revolutionary. It can of course appear in the guise of revolutionary emotions. But it is not the physician who tackles a disease with reckless invectives whom we call revolutionary, but the one who examines the causes of the disease quietly, courageously, and pains­takingly, and fights it. Fascist rebelliousness always accrues where a revolutionary emotion, out of fear of the truth, is distorted into illusion.

In its pure form fascism is the sum total of all the irrational reac­tions of the average human character. To the obtuse sociologist who lacks the mettle to recognize the supreme role played by irrationality in the history of man, the fascist racial theory appears to be nothing more than an imperialistic interest, or, more mildly speaking, a “prejudice.” The same holds true for the irresponsible glib politician. The scope and widespread dissemination of these “racial prejudices” are evidence of their origin in the irrational part of the human character. The racial theory is not a product of fascism. On the contrary: it is fascism that is a product of racial hatred and is its politically organized expression. It follows from this that there is a German, Italian, Spanish, Anglo-Saxon, Jewish, and Arabian fascism. Race ideology is a pure biopathic expres­sion of the character structure of the orgastically impotent man.

The sadistically perverse character of race ideology is also betrayed in its attitude toward religion. Fascism is supposed to be a reversion to paganism and an archenemy of religion. Far from it—fascism is the supreme expression of religious mysticism. As such, it comes into being in a peculiar social form. Fascism countenances that religiosity that stems from sexual perversion, and it transforms the masochistic char­acter of the old patriarchal religion of suffering into a sadistic religion. In short, it transposes religion from the “other-worldliness” of the phi­losophy of suffering to the “this worldliness” of sadistic murder.

Fascist mentality is the mentality of the “little man,” who is en­slaved and craves authority and is at the same time rebellious. It is no coincidence that all fascist dictators stem from the reactionary milieu of the little man. The industrial magnate and the feudal militarist exploit this social fact for their own purposes, after it has evolved within the framework of the general suppression of life-impulses. In the form of fascism, mechanistic, authoritarian civilization reaps from the sup­pressed little man only what it has sown in the masses of subjugated human beings in the way of mysticism, militarism, automatism, over the centuries. This little man has studied the big man’s behavior all too well, and he reproduces it in a distorted and grotesque fashion. The fascist is the drill sergeant in the colossal army of our deeply sick, highly industrialized civilization. It is not with impunity that the hullabaloo of high politics is made a show of in front of the little man. The little sergeant has surpassed the imperialistic general in everything: in martial music; in goose-stepping; in commanding and obeying; in cowering before ideas; in diplomacy, strategy, and tactic; in dressing and parad­ing; in decorating and “honorating.” A Kaiser Wilhelm was a miserable duffer in all these things compared with the famished civil servant’s son, Hitler. When a “proletarian” general pins his chest full of medals, he gives a demonstration of the little man who will not be “outclassed” by the “genuine” big general.

An extensive and thorough study of the suppressed little man’s character, an intimate knowledge of his backstage life, are indispensable prerequisites to an understanding of the forces fascism builds upon.

In the rebellion of vast numbers of abused human animals against the hollow civilities of false liberalism (not to be mistaken with genuine liberalism and genuine tolerance), it was the character layer, consisting of secondary drives, that appeared.

The fascist madman cannot be made innocuous if he is sought, according to the prevailing political circumstances, only in the German or the Italian and not in the American and the Chinese man as well; if he is not tracked down in oneself; if we are not conversant with the social institutions that hatch him daily.

Fascism can be crushed only if it is countered objectively and prac­tically, with a well-grounded knowledge of life’s processes. In political maneuver, acts of diplomacy and making a show, it is without peer. But it has no answer to the practical questions of life, for it sees everything merely in the speculum of ideology or in the shape of the national uniform.

When a fascist character, regardless of hue, is heard sermonizing about the “honor of the nation” (instead of talking about the honor of man) or the “salvation of the sacred family and the race” (instead of the community of toiling mankind); when he is seen puffing himself up and has his chops full of slogans, let him be asked quietly and simply in public:

“What are you doing in a practical way to feed the nation, without murdering other nations? What are you doing as a physician to combat chronic diseases, what as an educator to intensify the child’s joy of living, what as an economist to erase poverty, what as a social worker to alleviate the weariness of mothers having too many children, what as an architect to promote hygienic conditions in living quarters? Let’s have no more of your chatter. Give us a straightforward, concrete answer or shut up!”

It follows from this that international fascism will never be over­come by political maneuver. It will fall victim to the natural organiza­tion of work, love, and knowledge on an international scale.

In our society, love and knowledge still do not have the power at their disposal to regulate human existence. In fact, these great forces of the positive principle of life are not conscious of their enormity, their indispensability, their overwhelming importance for social existence. It is for this reason that human society today, one year after the military victory over party fascism, still finds itself on the brink of the abyss. The fall of our civilization is inevitable if those who work, the natural scien­tists of all living (not dead) branches of knowledge and the givers and receivers of natural love, should not become conscious of their enormous responsibility quickly enough.

The life-impulse can exist without fascism, but fascism cannot exist without the life-impulse. Fascism is the vampire leeched to the body of the living, the impulse to murder given free rein, when love calls for fulfillment in spring.

Will individual and social freedom, will the self-regulation of our lives and of the lives of our offspring, advance peacefully or violently? It is a fearful question. No one knows the answer.

Yet, he who understands the living functions in an animal and in a newborn babe, he who knows the meaning of devoted work, be he a mechanic, researcher, or artist, knows. He ceases to think with the concepts that party manipulators have spread in this world. The life-impulse cannot “seize power violently,” for it would not know what to do with power. Does this conclusion mean that the life-impulse will always be at the mercy of political gangsterism, will always be its victim, its martyr? Does it mean that the would-be politician will always suck life’s blood? This would be a false conclusion.

As a physician it is my job to heal diseases. As a researcher I must shed light upon unknown relationships in nature. Now if a political windbag should come along and try to force me to leave my patients in the lurch and to put aside my microscope, I would not let myself be inconvenienced. I would simply throw him out, if he refused to leave voluntarily. Whether I have to use force against intruders to protect my work on life does not depend on me or on my work, but on the in­truders’ degree of insolence. But just imagine now that all those who are engaged in vital living work could recognize the political windbag in time. They would act in the same way. Perhaps this simplified example con­tains some intimation of the answer to the question how the life-impulse will have to defend itself sooner or later against intruders and destroyers.


It is generally clear today that “fascism” is not the act of a Hitler or a Mussolini, but that it is the expression of the irrational structure of mass man. It is more clear today than it was ten years ago that the race theory is biologic mysticism. We also have far more knowledge at our disposal, which enables us to understand man’s orgastic yearnings, and we have already begun to divine that fascist mysticism is orgastic yearn­ing, restricted by mystic distortion and inhibition of natural sexuality. The sex-economic statements about fascism are more valid today than they were ten years ago. On the other hand the Marxist party concepts used in this book had to be completely eliminated and replaced by new concepts.