Tag Archives: Wilhelm Reich

The Mass Psychology of Fascism

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Mass Psychology of Fascism by Wilhelm Reich.

Reich The Mass Psychology of Fascism

Wilhelm Reich wrote The Mass Psychology of Fascism in 1930-33 and revised and expanded it in 1942. He thus began it in an effort to explain the rise to power of the Nazis and other fascist parties of the interwar period, and developed it with a view to the likely demise of these particular governments and concern about what would succeed them. He also discussed the development of the Soviet system towards authoritarianism and away from its original socialist ideals. When I first read the book in the 1980s, it was fascinating as a piece of firsthand history, but my 2019 reread found me and contemporary society back in the position faced by Reich: the perplexing ascendancy of authoritarian governments throughout the “developed” world.

Reich is not a fan of “great man theories”–how could he be, when confronted with the “failed house painter” at the helm of Nazism? (How can we be, with our failed casino operator?) Nor does he attribute causal primacy to ideology or party programs; “National Socialism” was even more incoherent than the neoliberal capitalism of the Republican party. For Reich, the blame rests squarely with the mass population and their “character structure,” formed and reproduced through conditioning in the patriarchal home, the superstitious church, and the exploitative workplace. Such people possess a pervasive fear of freedom which is channeled into authoritarian politics. All other things being equal, then, fascism could be expected to regrow after the defeat of the Axis powers:

“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 modern man that produces fascist parties, and not vice versa.” (xiii, ital. in original)

Reich has an idiosyncratic use of the word translated here as “mysticism.” He seems to treat it as a synonym for metaphysical and superstitious thought, and rather than being a neighbor or subset of religion, it serves as a superset embracing various irrationalisms. At some points, though, he expressly defines it as sexual abstinence (140 e.g.). When using it in a more conventional sense, he scare-quotes the term:

“… religion’s attitude toward sexuality underwent a change in patriarchal society. Originally, it was a religion of sexuality; later it became an anti-sexual religion. The ‘mysticism’ of the primitives who were members of a sexually affirmative society is partially direct orgastic experience and partially animistic interpretation of natural processes.” (138)
“When sexual feelings and religious feelings became separated from one another, that which is sexual was forced to become the bad, the infernal, the diabolical.” (148)

Reich’s program for escaping the abiding hazard of totalitarianism is thus not focused on politics but pathology, what he calls the “emotional plague” of sexual self-revulsion that expresses itself in imperial projects of enslavement and war. In his own time, he endorsed and supported a campaign for “sex hygiene” that would affirm and protect the sexuality of children, believing that only a generation raised in this fashion could instigate the real social changes needed to transcend the cycle of internalized and projected hatreds. He found opposition to this effort in all established social factions, of course.

“‘Away from the animal; away from sexuality!’ are the guiding principles of the formation of all human ideology. This is the case whether it is the communist form of proletarian class honor, the Christian form of man’s ‘spiritual and ethical nature,’ or the liberal form of ‘higher human values.’ All these ideas harp on the same monotonous tune: ‘We are not animals; it was we who discovered the machine–not the animal! And we don’t have genitals like the animals!‘” (339) When Reich wrote that “Race ideology is the pure biopathic expression of the character structure of the orgastically impotent man” (xiv), he was discussing the racist social theories that “can have meaning only to a numbskull” (78). But the same ideological germ can be seen in mass monoculture farming, antibiotic abuse, and other blunders of our teetering civilization.

Reich’s social ideal is one that he insists is already extant in the fabric of everyday life, even though in some respects it seems as utopian as the anticipated socialism of Fourier or communist future of Marx. What Reich calls “work democracy” is the “voluntary association and self-government” that he claims to have been prevalent “in pagan society” (238) and persistent in practical work at the scale of the individual shop. He refuses to reduce it to a political ideology or an economic theory, instead asserting that it is nothing other than the proper organic social expression of humanity through meaningful participation.

“More than anything else it is a matter of changing the nature of work so that it ceases to be an onerous duty and becomes a gratifying fulfillment of a need.” (286, i.e. “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.”)

Character Analysis

Character Analysis by Wilhelm Reich, edited by Mary Boyd Higgins and Chester M Raphael, translated by Vincent R Carfagno, from The Noonday Press, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Wilhelm Reich Vincent Carfagno Character analysis from Noonday

“In 1933 Reich first published, in German, Charakteranalyse. A second, English, edition (1945) went further, adding the inevitable leap from depth psychology to biology predicted by Freud.

This third, enlarged edition includes all the previously published material as well as a new section expounding Reich’s later discoveries. It reveals how his study of character led to a comprehension of the biological basis of neuroses and finally to the discovery of the cosmic orgone energy. Thus, character analysis is taken out of the realm of psychology and put on the firm basis of natural science, in the form of orgone biophysics.” — back cover

Wilhelm Reich: Selected Writings

Selected Writings: An Introduction to Orgonomy by Wilhelm Reich, foreword by Mary Boyd Higgins, from The Noonday Press, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Wilhelm Reich Selected Writings from Noonday

“This anthology is not intended to replace any of the works of Wilhelm Reich, but rather to serve as an introduction to them. The chapters include material from The Function of the the Orgasm; The Cancer Biopathy; Character Analysis; Ether, God and Devil; Cosmic Superimposition and The Murder of Christ. In addition the volume reprints many important later articles from various journals.” — back cover

Listen, Little Man

Listen, Little Man! by Wilhelm Reich, translated by Theodore P Wolfe, illustrations by William Steig, from The Noonday Press, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Wilhelm Reich Listen, Little Man from Noonday

Listen, Little Man! tells of the inner storms and conflicts of a scientist and physician who watched, over decades, first naïvely, then with amazement and finally with horror, what the Little Man does to himself; how he suffers and rebels, how he esteems his enemies and murders his friends; how, wherever he gains power as a ‘representative of the people,’ he misuses that power and makes it into something more cruel than the power which previously he had to suffer at the hands of individual sadists of the upper classes.” — back cover

The Sexual Revolution

The Sexual Revolution (subtitled inside: “Toward a Self-Governing Character Structure”) by Wilhelm Reich, translated by Therese Pol, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Wilhelm Reich The Sexual Revolution

“Sexuality vs. Society

Reich’s theory of orgone energy—that total mental and physical health is impossible in the absence of complete sexual gratification—is perhaps the most radical, most widely acclaimed theory of contemporary psychology.

In THe Sexual Revolution, Freud’s most controversial disciple shows that orgone energy cannot be suppressed without permanent damage to the social structure. And that only when the genital rights of adults and adolescents are protected by law will there be no need for external regulation of the individual, for, indeed, one who is biologically satisfied has no impulses which call for moral inhibition.” — front matter

Wilhelm Reich: A Personal Biography

Wilhelm Reich: A Personal Biography by Ilse Ollendorff Reich, introduction by Paul Goodman, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Ilse Ollendorff Reich Wilhelm Reich A Personal Biography

“His books and papers were being burned by order of a United States court. he was in a federal penitentiary, in disgrace, his sanity questioned. Seminal works such as Character Analysis, The Mass Psychology of Fascism, The Murder of Christ, were being obliterated by the government of the United States. Yet it was Wilhelm Reich’s faith that history would justify him, that his cause would prevail.

Now Reich’s central ideas: the need of individual freedom and autonomy and the the elimination of psychic ‘armor’—cramped, self-limiting defences against human contact—and the identification of social and political forces as either life-serving or destructive of life, are being discovered by a generation which questions the conventional wisdom it has been handed. Wilhelm Reich has become an important source of ideas for young radicals and his books have been re-issued and are widely read. Ilse Ollendorff Reich has now set down the moving story of her late husband’s life and work, his torments and his triumphs, his theories and the controversies that surrounded them. Her book will inspire and enlighten a world that is only now discovering its indebtedness to Reich.” — back cover

Wilhelm Reich and Orgonomy

Wilhelm Reich and Orgonomy: The controversial theory of life energy by Ola Raknes, foreword by Elsworth F Baker, cover by Walter Brooks, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Ola Raknes Wilhelm Reich and Orgonomy

“Here is an authoritative introduction to Wilhelm Reich’s science of life energy, or orgonomy. Ola Raknes covers every aspect of this controversial subject, explaining among much else the liberation of sexual energy, the nature of functional thinking, mind-body functional identity, the four-beat orgasm formula, and the bearing of life energy on religion, education, medicine, and psychology. In addition, his own reminiscences provide an unexpected personal dimension. … At the time of Reich’s death in a federal penitentiary, Raknes was one of the few men still loyal to him and one of the few to enjoy his full confidence. Because Raknes worked so closely with Reich and later followed every development of orgonomic research, Wilhelm Reich and Orgonomy fills an important place both in the context of Reich’s own writings and in current studies of life energy.” — back cover