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Please begin with an informative title:

There was a diary by Tim Wise on the Recommended list describing sociopathy on the Right. It is a very good read and an indictiment of Ayn Rand. But, in my view, there is something lacking - the sociological and psychological context of the Republican party, which makes it somewhat inaccurate.

While this is simply my opinion, an opinion of an interested European observer, I'd say that, contrary to appearances, the teabagging wing of the Republican Party by and large fits the authoritarian character type, as is was masterfully described in Erich Fromm's best-known work, The Fear of Freedom. I've been planning to review the book for a while, so I thought, why not?

Of course, my "review" is essentially a summary of Fromm's best-known work, which contains a summary, selection, interpretation, and my application to the modern Republican Party. On each of these counts, I may be right - or I may be completely and utterly wrong. In any case, I would recommend that readers buy this book and read it - it is eye-opening, to say the least.

WARNING: My diary is long. If you do not have the time, return to it later. If you do not have the reading stamina, kindly go play with Legos.


You must enter an Intro for your Diary Entry between 300 and 1150 characters long (that's approximately 50-175 words without any html or formatting markup).

1. Introduction

a) The Middle Ages

Fromm spends the first part of the book describing changes in economic status, which in turn lead to changes in the character structure of various social classes from the Middle Ages onwards.

His point of origin are the Middle Ages: A time when the individual was not yet fully individualised, but was tied to society by primary bonds. The medieval man had a more or less rigid status in life: While it was difficult to advance your station, it was exceedingly difficult to lose it as well. Furthermore, medieval society believed it had the world explained: Its beginning, its purpose, and man's place in it. No matter how dysfunctional the system objectively was (from our point of view) in psychological terms that worldview implied a peace of mind, a certainty.

In the Middle Ages both sides of human consciousness - that which was turned within as that which was turned without - lay dreaming or half awake beneath a common veil. The veil was woven of faith, illusion, and childish prepossession ... Man was conscious of himself only as member of a race, a people, party, family, or corporation - only through some general category. [all bold emphases mine] (p.36)
Most interestingly, medieval faith, especially scholars that Luther latter derisively called the Sau Theologen (the Schoolmen) also stressed the importance of free will in acheving one's own salvation. Man's fate was determined by himself. Even letters of indulgence served that goal: While they were grace you could get by paying the Church, you could still influence your own fate.

What we see here is a society in which there is very little freedom to do something. But there is also very little freedom from something, since individuation is lacking.

b) The Reformation

Did the Reformation cause capitalism or did capitalism cause the Reformation? While it may be impossible to say (and there is no reason for influence to flow in only one direction) by the end of the Middle Ages, as Fromm notes, society changed. The old order was breaking down and the Renaissance dawned. A good thing.


During the Renaissance man became an individual. He was freed from those primary bonds and could succeed or fail according to his ability. He was free to win - or to fail miserably. As Fromm notes, the culture of the Renaissance was the culture of the upper classes. The rest lost their old security and became a shapeless mass.

And it was during this time that a dynamic characteristic of nazism first appeared: The escape from freedom. Fromm notes that freedom from everything is psychologically an untenable position: The self wants a focal point, a determinant. To let Fromm speak:

The individual is freed from the bondage of economic and political ties. He also gains in positive freedom by the active and independent role which he has to play in the new system. But simultaneously he is freed from those ties which used to give him a feeling of belonging. ... the world has become limitless and at the same time threatening. By losing his fixed place in a closed world man loses the meaning of his life; the result is doubt ... He is threatened by powerful suprapersonal forces, capital and the market. His relationship to his fellow men, with everyone a potential competitor, has become hostile and estranged. ... Paradise is lost forever. ... The new freedom is bound  to create a deep feeling of insecurity, powerlessness, doubt, aloneness, and anxiety. These feelings must be alleviated if the individual is to function successfully. (p.53-54)
And in these social circumstances the Reformation occurred. That was no accident. It was an adaptation of Christianity better suited to the age. When we examine a movement we find that the character type of the leader tends to match that of its followers. It is basically closer to a Platonic form: The character type of his followers, only more pronounced. And Luther was, as we'll later see, a typical authoritarian character (as was Calvin), as were his followers. He was torn between authority which he hated and that which he loved (his father and his superiors in the monastery; the church and the princes). He hated himself, the world, everything; and from hatred came a desire to be loved. It was only natural that his doctrine would appeal to those in a similar psychological state.

A solution to his psychological conundrum lies in his faith: Luther's God demands submission. There is no free will which could be the instrument of man's salvation. Since man's nature is utterly corrupt according to Luther (naturaliter et inevitabiliter mala et vitiata natura) free will cannot save man. As Luther wrote:

to leave out this theme (of free will) altogether (which would be most safe and also most religious we may, nevertheless, with a good conscience teach that it be used so far as to allow man "free will", not in respect of those who are above him but in respect only of those beings who are below him... Godward man has no "free will", but is a captive, slave, and servant either to the will of God or the will of Satan. (domination of those below and submission to those above is a characteristic of the authoritarian character - diarist) (p.65-66)
His solution, which came to Luther in a revelation, is simple: Faith. Man can only be saved by irrevocably submitting himself to God, by losing himself to God. He accepted his own insignificance, abased himself before God to be acceptable to God. This appealed to the middle class of early capitalism, who, like Luther, were ridden by doubt. They had something to lose and could not rebel, yet were tossed by the winds of chance, of the market, of the powerful. It was a psychological solution to their doubt: Lose yourself. Debase yourself.

In part, Luther's solution also appealed to the rabble he quite openly despised. And he was fine with them - as long as they rebelled against the authority Luther denounced. When they rebelled against the princes, Luther wrote:

God would prefer to suffer the government to exist, no matter how evil, rather than allow the rabble to riot, no matter how justified they are in doing so... A prince should remain a prince, no matter how tyrannical he may be. He beheads necessarily only a few since he must have subjects in order to be a ruler.

Therefore let everyone who can, smite, slay, and stab, secretly or openly, remembering that nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful, or devilish than a rebel. It is just as when one must kill a mad dog...

- Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants (1525) (The Fear of Freedom, p.71)

Calvin's theology was psychologically very similar, so there is no need to repeat Fromm's arguments, save for one: Predestination. Calvin's God is a tyrant who shows His power by arbitrarirly condemning people either to Heaven or Hell. And the associacion that wealth hints at one's salvation has a distinctly obsessive-compulsive character. Man wants to remove doubt - in effect, to divine the future - by engaging in an activity, such as counting windows. Wealth is such an indicator in Calvinism. Such theology, of course, makes human rights and the equality of man superflous: If men are condemned to Heaven or Hell, then they are fundamentally unequal (comp. nazism's Untermenschen).

2. The Authoritarian Character Revealed

It should now be clear what the basic characteristics of the authoritarian character are: He seeks to escape an unbearable feeling of freedom from, uncertainty, by submitting himself to an authority he perceives as strong (who would submit to a runt?). At the same time, that character type despises those he perceives as weak and seeks to destroy them. As Fromm writes:

The courage of the authoritarian character is essentially a courage to suffer what fate or its personal representative or "leader" may have destined him for. To suffer without complaining is his highest virtue - not the courage of trying to end suffering or at least to diminish it. Not to change fate, but to submit to it, is the heroism of the authoritarian character.

He has belief in authority as long as it is strong and commanding. His belief is rooted ultimately in his doubts and constitutes an attempt to compensate them. But he has no faith, if we mean by faith the secure confidence of what now exists only as a potentiality. Authoritarian philosophy is essentially relativistic and nihilistic, in spite of the fact that it often claims so violently to have conquered relativism and in spite of its show of activity. ...

In the authoritarian character the concept of equality does not exist. The authoritarian character may sometimes use the word either coventionally or because it suits his purposes. But it has no real weight or meaning for him, since it concerns something outside the reach of his emotional experience. For him the world is composed of people with power and those without it, superior ones and inferior ones. On the basis of his sado-masochistic strivings, he experiences only domination or submission, but never solidarity. Differences, whether of sex or race, to him are necessarily signs of superiority or inferiority. ... (p.148-9)

Interestingly enough, the authoritarian character is often a rebel - but never a revolutionary. If he perceives authority as weak, he will rebel against it. But he will not do so in the name of changing the social order, but in the name of tradition. He is sterile. And communism differs from Nazism in this respect: The Nazis acted in the name of tradition, of race, of righting wrongs. Communists desired a utopia, a society radically different from ours.

Of course, the authoritarian character is not the only mechanism of escape. There are, among others, also neuroses (Presenting me. I'm obsessive-compulsive and a hypochondriac. Charming indeed.) and the automaton (a character type whose personality is a reflection of other people's expectations; I am as you desire me, the Stepford wife). With that character a pseudo-self is (un)consciously) imposed atop the original self.

3. The Development of Monopolistic Capitalism (Freedom for Modern Man)

Fromm is not some atavistic advocate for Catholicism and feudalism - quite the contrary. He praises capitalism for its impact on the development of self, for the fact that it did increase freedom, both positive and negative. In the positive sense in enabled man to become an active, critical, and reponsible self.

However, we are thinking in dialectic terms. It is important to remember that dialectically the same cause can produce two opposite effects. To wax poetic, two trees may spring from the same root.

At the same time man, free from old bonds, has become powerless and insignificant - at least in his mind. Protestantism, with its subjective relation to God and a doctrine of asceticism, prepared man for his role in the economic system. Asceticism is a vital part of capitalism, because only through renunciation can enough capital be invested to increase production, with an increase in production becoming the goal of society. When will we enjoy the fruits of our labours? Never.

This structure of domination is characteristic of the whole capitalstic society: A worker is subjected to the whims of his employer. He is employed in much the same way a machine is. On the other hand, for a worker the employer is only a source of revenue. Personal relations have become instrumental. Consider modern tendencies in marriage: A contract between two equal and free individuals. Where is love in this? Mutual dependence? Affirmation of another person? It's about as warm as the daily stock index. All relations begin to follow the logic of the market. A customer becomes an object of manipulation, not someone whose needs need to be satisfied. We are no longer even proud of our work, since it's only a means to generate profit.

Why prostitution is illegal is beyond me. We're all a society of whores anyway. Perhaps it's because we don't want to admit to ourselves that we all sell ourselves? The manual laborer sells his labour. Those who are not manual labourers sell their services as well as their personality. Only those at the top and those at the bottom can retain their personality, pleasing or not. The rest? We have to act, to be pleasing to potential customers. That smile? It's fake.

And that is how freedom to is lost. In time, wishes and peronalities become suppressed and a pseudo-self imposed on top of them, which is composed of society's expectations. That is one, our mechanism of escape. The other is Nazism.

If we look at European society at the end of the 19th century, we find both trends, freedom to and from. Men, by and large, felt insignificant. The only areas where they could feel like someone were the family (in a patriarchic structure of domination) and through class pride. As cogs in a larger whole.

Enter monopolistic capitalism.

Monopolistic capitalism weakened characteristics of capitalism which bring positive freedom and strengthened negative freedom. The freedom from traditional bonds is pronounced, while the freedom to do something is reduced. This is a consequence of the concentration of capital. Concentrated capital destroys economic independence. This is especially true for the middle class, which, even if it retains its economic status, loses its independence. And, even if parts of it do preserve it, the threat looms over their heads.

Consider a shopkeeper in the 19th century. He had a variety of suppliers to choose from, and needed to know his customers personally, their tastes. While he was subjected to the whims of the market, he was still able to act independently.

Now consider a petrol station owner. While his economic situation might be identical, he is not independent. He sells what the company he works for wants, and cannot set price. His work is mechanical, and requires little skill or initiative. He has become a cog in the distribution system.

Add propaganda and advertising to this. The old individual had to behave rationally: He could and did know and assess merchandise according to rational criteria. Today, advertising appeals to emotion. Its purpose is to dull critical thought.

What is true of the economic sphere is also true of the political sphere. Candidates are often chosen by party machines and the relationship between a voter and a candidate has become impersonal due to the media (no need to meet the candidate in person) and propaganda. Let's be honest: How many Kossacks, to use a modern example, uncritically used Obama's slogans "Yes, we can" and "Change we can believe in?" Quite a few, and they did not dig deeper into them.

Of course, advertising adds to the feeling of powerlessness. As does the threat of war, global warming, and so on.

Do we feel this powerlessness? As Fromm notes, we don't. It's so terrible a feeling that it is repressed by our routine activities and distractions.

4. The Psychology of Nazism

Fromm writes that we cannot explain nazism solely by using psychological or economic factors. It stems from both economic and psychologica factors.

We can discern two basic tendencies among the supporters of the Nazi regime: Certain groups bowed to it without resistance, and others were attracted to the new ideology and became staunch supporters.

a) Those who did not

The working class, the liberal and Catholic bourgeoisie fall into the first category. They opposed Hitler's rise to power, but did not oppose it afterward, even though they were well-organised. There simply wasn't a will to resist that their convictions would seemingly imply (except for a small, heroic minority).

There were two factors which played a role: The tiredness and resignation that modern man feels, and the defeat of these classes during the Weimar Republic. The working class had high hopes for the betterment of its position. Those hopes were dashed by 1930 and these classes efforts became largely empty form.

Additionally, Hitler's government became synonymous with Germany. To oppose it was seen as opposing Germany. And is there anything worse than not identifying with a larger group? Even if a citizen was opposed to Nazism, when he faced the choice of aloneness and belonging, he usually chose to belong. Most people do.

b) Meet the Supporters

The base of Nazism was the lower middle class. They embraced Nazi ideology, the shopkeepers, artisans, and white-collar workers.

The older generation of the lower middle class passively supported Nazsim. Their children, on the other hand, were active fighters.

Why did Nazism have such emotional appeal for them? The authoritarian character type was typical of the lower middle class, more so than of the working class. We all know what is typical of the petty bourgeois: Love of the strong (Our troops! Our army!), hatred of the weak (Get a job, slackers!), pettiness (I'll show them all!), thriftiness (A penny upon a penny towards riches) and asceticism (Waste not want not), as well as curiousness and envy rationalised as moral indignation (The slut!). A life of economic and psychological scarcity.

While the lower middle class tends to have these traits in different societies and throughout history the war of 1914 intensified these traits. While the lower middle class was in decline its position was still relatively stable.

It identified with the monarchy, the security it provided, and with the state. Furthermore, the authority of the traditional family and morality still endured. The lower middle class's position was still safe enough that submission to traditional authority sufficed.

After the Great War the monarchy was abolished and the state shattered. Their economic position worsened because of inflation in 1923-4, and just when things began to improve the Great Depression  their hopes in 1929.

But besides the economic factors there were psychological considerations that aggravated the situation. The defeat in the war and the downfall of the monarchy was one. While the monarchy and the state had been the solid rock on which, psychologically, the petty bourgeois had built his existence, their failure and defeat shattered his own life. ... He had identified himself in his subaltern manner with these institutions; now, since they had gone, where was he to go?

The inflation, too, played both an economic and a psychological role. ... If the savings of many years, for which one had sacrificed so many little pleasures, could be lost through no fault of one's own, what was the point of saving, anyway? (p.184-5)

Finally, the family, the last refuge of the lower middle class, was shattered. The father's authority was lost. The older generation became passively resentful, while the younger generation, whose independent future was under threat, were driven to action, especially young officers who fought in the Great War, acquired a taste of command and liked it, and could not resign themselves to becoming clerks.

All these social woes were projected on the unjust Treaty of Versailles, on the nation and its humiliation at the hands of the entente.

c) The rich and the powerful

They despised Hitler and his supporters. However, 40% of the German Parliament was composed of Communists and Socialists. Industrialists and half-feudal landowners claimed that democracy didn't work; in fact, it worked too well. The Parliament's representation mirrored the interests of different social groups. They could only direct popular anger away from themselves and into other channels.

This was the role which Hitler played beautifully. Certainly, the rich could not control Hitler. However, the most powerful elements of German industry prospered, even though Nazism was detrimental to all other classes. In this respect Nazism served the cause of German imperialism and continued where the monarchy had failed.

There is a very important point here: Hitler combined the characteristics of a petty bourgeois with those of a shameless opportunist. He promised the lower middle class the destruction of department stores and banks. He never delivered, and secured popular support in other ways. Many lower middle class members, for example, got a slice of the upper classes' wealth and prestige as members of the Nazi bureaucracy. The essence of Nazism is its unabased opportunism. Others got jobs taken away from the Jews and other "undesirables." The rest did not get bread, but did get circuses - Nazi spectacles, which are still jaw-dropping. Thus the lower middle class was resurrected psychologically while its socio-economic position was destroyed.

c) Hitler as the archetype of the authoritarian character

Hitler was not just a manipulator, as Fromm notes. He was probably the purest example of the authoritarian character that ever lived. With information presented in the book, Hitler's own pen, through Mein Kampf, illustrates that perfectly. He evidently had both sadistic and masochistic drives in him: Sadisic drives, to dominate another, usually mixed with destructiveness, and masochistic drives, which aim at dissolving an individual in something else's glory. In this way the isolated individual overcomes his feeling of aloneness.

As Hitler writes of the masses, "What they want is the victory of the stronger and annihilation of the weaker (Mein Kampf, p. 469). He also describes the mass suggestion of a mass meeting as crucial.

Perhaps the best description of the sadistic side of the authoritarian character is to be found in Goebbels' novel Michael: "Leader and masses is as little a problem as painter and colour." (Joseph Goebbles, Michael, F. Eher, Muenchen. 1936, p.57). And, in another book: "Sometimes one is gripped by a deep depression. One can only overcome it, if one is in front of the masses again. The people are the fountain of our power."

The dual theme of sadistic and masochistic drives is found throughout Mein Kampf. On one hand, Hitler demands that children be taught domination and superiority (p. 618); on the other, he demands that they be taught to suffer injustice without rebelling.

The Nazi elite was driven by a wish for power over the masses of people and over other nations. Sometimes, that is admitted frankly, but often it is rationalised by the people's/the world's best interests/correcting injustice/whatever.

This can reach schizophrenic levels: For example, Hitler decries the Treaty of Versailles and condemns France for trying to destroy Germany - but admits that he would have acted like Clemenceau had he been in his place. He decries the Communists' brutal organisation - but wishes Germans had it.

But where is the second part of the authoritarian character hidden? The striving for submission? Hitler was surely not an authoritarian character!

Yes, he was. The theme of subjugation is present throughout Mein Kampf, as shewn by various invocations of Fate, Providence, and Nature, which Hitler considers "The Cruel Queen of All Wisdom." His Nature, however, is one of crude Darwinism, where he projects his sadistic strivings onto evolution and Nature. In this way Hitler finds an authority outside himself to submit to, much like Luther did. Not to mention Calvin.

This is the structure of Nazism: The Leader at the top who dominates society and submits to a higher power. Lower orders who dominate those below them and submit to those above them. The lowest of the low who dominate the "lesser peoples." The difficulty of freedom abolished, everyone with his place and purpose, dominating and hating, submitting and belonging.

These new bonds, however, are not like the old primary bonds. They are pale simulacra. Their function is like that of neurotic symptoms, which resolve an unbearable situation and make life possible, but tend to stunt it, since they leave the situation which is the source of anxiety unchanged. The symbiosis that Nazism represents is a drug: It alleviates suffering but does not eliminate it.

5. Democracy and Freedom

This may be the weakest part of Fromm's work, since the solution he offers appears somewhat unrealistic (the full realisation of man's potential, the affirmation of life), but does provide a utopian goal. Suffice to say that any democracy must avoid devolving into Nazism as well as into a society of automata, pathetic pseudo-selves.

6. The Authoritarian Character and the Republican Party

I believe Fromm's work is crucial in understanding the modern Republican party's extreme wing. Ayn Rand is not an ideological leader of the extreme right. It serves the same role Hitler's Nature did. It provides a rationalisation for their pettiness, their quest for domination and submission.

It seems paradoxical that these extreme libertarians would be authoritarian characters. They want total freedom, do they not? Err, no. I would say that the authoritarian character is quite prevalent among them. They usually belong to various rather domineering churches, they oppose abortion, and are in favour of torturing "inferior people." The first trait would suggest masochistic drives and the second sadistic drives characteristic of the authoritarian character.

And could not the same be said for many politicians, some Republican and others Democratic?

The history of Nazism provides us with clues on how to deal with such people. Bipartisanship will not work. Even if they believe it is what they want, bipartisanship is only a way of assessing an opponent's weakness. Being right isn't relevant. What matters is the perception of strength or of weakness. Kick them (metaphorically) and show them their place in the corner and they will love you. Discussing issues with them is not only a waste of our time, but dangerous: If they see compromise as weakness, and weakness arouses their contempt and drive to destroy, we should not give them that appearance, for our safety, if nothing else.

But I'm not certain of this. Hitler filled a void which the lower middle class in Germany suffered after the fall of the monarchy. He did not have to break old allegiances. I'm not sure the teabaggers can be pacified in that way. If they believe they are on a mission from God, how can any secular authority compare? Will it ever be perceived as strong in comparison with God? I do not know.

We do know, however, what not to do with dealing with the authoritarian character. We do not show weakness or understanding.

7. Healthcare and Other Reforms

If positive freedom is antithetical to Nazism, then the only way to suppress authoritarian tendencies is not to increase negative freedom, but to limit negative freedom with measures which also serve to increase positive freedom.

Take the public option, or, even better, state-run healthcare. Both measures expand the power of the state and limit negative freedom, but provide people with safety which allows them to safely try to improve their own lot in life, of achieving their goals without fear of being left ill without healthcare.

Success or failure of welfare reforms may prove to be not only instrumental for determining the citizens' standard of living, but also for the survival of democracy in the US.

8. Bibliography

Erich Fromm: The Fear of Freedom, Routledge Classics, 2003 (2nd reprint)
Adolph Hitler: Mein Kampf, Hurst and Blackett, London 1939, as quoted in the Fear of Freedom
Joseph Goebbels: Michael, F. Eher, Muenchen 1936, as quoted in the Fear of Freedom

9. Addendum

Astute readers will note that I have not mentioned the Holocaust. There are two reasons for this. The first is that Fromm's work was first published in 1942, and thus Fromm wasn't aware of the Holocaust at the time of his writing. Furthermore, the Holocaust can be explained by the dynamics of domination.


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Originally posted to Dauphin on Wed Sep 16, 2009 at 09:08 AM PDT.

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