A Conservative Explains Why Right-Wingers Have No Compassion
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Altemeyer cites clinical data to show us how certain people score high on psychological tests measuring authoritarian traits and that these high scores strongly correlate with right-wing political preferences. What Altemeyer is lacking is a satisfactory explanation as to why a significant percentage of human beings should develop these traits. We obtain some clues in Wilhelm Reich's "The Mass Psychology of Fascism," written in 1933 and unfortunately only obtainable in a stilted 1945 translation full of odd psychological jargon. One does not have to agree with Reich's questionable later career path and personal eccentricities (1) to notice that his 1933 work is a perceptive analysis of the character of the authoritarian political movements that were rising in Europe. Anyone reading it then and taking it seriously could have predicted the new totalitarian regimes' comprehensive repressiveness, extreme intolerance and, within a few years, nihilistic destructiveness.
Reich appears to see fascism as the political manifestation of an authoritarian psychology. Who are the authoritarians?
Fascist mentality is the mentality of the subjugated "little man" who craves authority and rebels against it at the same time. It is not by accident that all fascist dictators stem from the milieu of the little reactionary man. The captains of industry and the feudal militarist make use of this social fact for their own purposes. A mechanistic authoritarian civilization only reaps, in the form of fascism, from the little, suppressed man what for hundreds of years it has sown in the masses of little, suppressed individuals in the form of mysticism, top-sergeant mentality and automatism.
Here again we see the paradoxical nature of the authoritarian personality: rebelling against authority while hungering for it - exactly as the contemporary right wing fancies it is rebelling against big government while calling for intrusive social legislation and militarism. In the midst of dire economic circumstances, why do they expend inordinate energy brooding over contraception, abortion, abstinence education, gay marriage and so forth and attempt to transform their obsessions into law? Reich said:
The formation of the authoritarian structure takes place through the anchoring of sexual inhibition and sexual anxiety.... The result of this process is fear of freedom and a conservative, reactionary mentality. Sexual repression aids political reaction not only through this process which makes the mass individual passive and unpolitical but also by creating in his structure an interest in actively supporting the authoritarian order. The suppression of natural sexual gratification leads to various kinds of substitute gratifications. Natural aggression, for example, becomes brutal sadism which then is an essential mass-psychological factor in imperialistic wars.
According to Reich, a patriarchal, sexually repressive family life, reinforced by strict and punitive religious dogma, is the "factory" of a reactionary political order. Hence, the right wing's ongoing attempts to erase the separation of church and state, its crusade against Planned Parenthood, its strange obsession with gays. Consider the following political platform, which sounds almost as if it were taken from a speech by Rick Santorum:
The preservation of the family with many children is a matter of biological concept and national feeling. The family with many children must be preserved ... because it is a highly valuable, indispensable part of the ... nation. Valuable and indispensable not only because it alone guarantees the maintenance of the population in the future but because it is the strongest basis of national morality and national culture ... The preservation of this family form is a necessity of national and cultural politics ... This concept is strictly at variance with the demands for an abolition of paragraph 218; it considers unborn life as sacrosanct. For the legalization of abortion is at variance with the function of the family, which is to produce children and would lead to the definite destruction of the family with many children.