Philosophy and Global Affairs

Volume 1, Issue 2, 2021

Special Forum on Creolizing Social and Political Theory

Barnaby B. Barratt
Pages 179-208

Reassessing Wilhelm Reich’s Mass Psychology: Libidinality, Authoritarianism and the Rise of Fascism

Explanations for the contemporary rise of fascistic attitudes and activism solely in terms of historical, political, and socioeconomic determinants, because they tend to assume the individual is a “rational actor,” are often limited in their capacity to account for the significance of individual enchantment with, and passion for, authoritarian movements. The article argues for the urgent need for greater understanding of the psychodynamic allure of fascist and authoritarian politics. In this context, Wilhelm Reich’s 1933 essay, “The Mass Psychology of Fascism,” is reassessed. It is suggested that he presents a valid and profoundly significant thesis when he points to the connections among the attraction and ardor for fascism, societal oppression of sexuality, and the individual’s libidinal inhibitions, conflicts, and frustrations. But his essay needs substantial correction and modification in three respects: (1) His ideas about “natural sexuality”; (2) his assumptions about matriarchal bliss; and (3) his pervasive heteronormativity or homophobia. The critique of these three aspects is primarily theoretical but also touches on Reich’s life history to the extent that it contextualizes his blind spots. Finally, it is suggested that, in subsequent psychoanalytic writings on the dynamics of authoritarianism and the rise of fascism (from Theodor Adorno and Erich Fromm, to Christina Wieland and Jonathan Sklar), far too little attention has been paid to the libidinal underpinnings of these phenomena, to which Reich’s thesis should draw our attention.