I like this piece by Umair Haque as it works well with my earlier post on the Allure of Fascism. Of course fascists never think they are what they actually are. Haque is an economist and not a psychologist, but he takes a good stab at at least some of the dynamics that undergird fascism.
To this, I would add the work of T. W. Adorno (2019) of the Frankfurt School. He wrote a widely-read book in the wake of Nazi Germany titled, The Authoritarian Personality. In that text, he writes of individuals who are uniquely predisposed toward fascist ideologies in that they are rule-governed, conformist, and aggressive. Gordon Allport's classic book on The Nature of Prejudice, also comes to mind.
The short of it is that they have authoritarian personalities that make them vulnerable to leaders that are themselves authoritarian. While still touching the surface here, my friends, I think we all know people like this, right? Plus, the alignment across these two posts caught my attention.
Adorno, T. (2019). The authoritarian personality. Verso Books.
Allport, G. (1954). The nature of prejudice. New York: Addison-Wesley.
The Psychology of the New Global Wave of Fascism
“I’m not a fascist! They’re the real fascists!! The students, the leftists, the woke mob, the anti-fascists, the teachers, the LGBTQ! They’re putting me in danger! They’re taking away my rights! My rights matter most of all! I’m being persecuted, violently and viciously!! I have a right to be heard — and what I have to say is that I’m superior, and they’re inferior! And if you don’t allow me this view — then you’re the real fascist!!”
LOL — do you see how funny and warped all this is the moment you think about it?
Needless to say, what makes a person a “fascist,” at least in terms of beliefs, is pretty straightforward. That some people are biologically inferior, inherently less valuable, hence need to be dehumanized, and cleansed away from society, their personhood, livelihoods, socio-cultural existences, and possibly even lives, removed. Nobody on the left is saying any of that to the kind of person I’m describing — and so quite obviously, the “real fascist” is the one who believes these crackpot theories of inherent supremacy, and then desires political “solutions” to the “problems” of people who are not human. The question we are answering today is: why would anyone believe in such obviously false notions, to begin with? Why would they need so desperately to?
Let’s start at the beginning — I’ll try to really explain the psychology of the new wave of fascism. You can judge for yourself whether it carries any water — I’ll only say this much: if you see these traits in yourself, you should stop and yourself: “Wait, am I what he’s describing?”
Fascists never think they are fascists. A fascist never thinks of himself or herself as a “fascist”, anything at all carrying a negative or malicious connotation. They think of themselves, first, as victims. Victims of great and grand conspiracies — the Great Replacement, the LGBTQ+ destroying them, women murdering babies as birth control, woke teachers indoctrinating their kids, immigrants out to destroy their culture, the liberals want to drink the blood of kids, the Jews are doing this, the Muslims are doing that, blah blah, and on and on the insanity goes.
To the fascist, those behind these conspiracies are not regular people — they are especially cunning and vicious especially greedy and unscrupulous, especially seditious and slothful, especially bad. They are especially powerful, in other words. They have the power to completely destroy the way of the life, the whole existence, of the person being victimized.
Now. See what has really gone on here. Victimhood is a kind of paranoid delusion. Of a very specific kind — a histrionic persecution fantasy. That is one which carries a special note of alarm, a kind of cry for help. An LGBTQ kid, or a Jewish teenager, doesn’t have the power to destroy anyone, really. Victimhood is imagined. And yet it’s a fantasy that has created monsters — beings with supernatural powers. Supernatural persistence, cunning, cruelty, far beyond what is actually possible, let alone for a vulnerable person. The supernatural is not real — there’s nobody persecuting the fascist, pursuing them and hounding and hunting them, devoted to their destruction, like a relentless phantasm which never gives an inch, never tires, and never forgives.
The truth is that nobody cares about him — or her, of course, but for the purposes of this article let’s talk about “him”— very much at all. He’s a “loser,” just another nobody, with very much money or status or power — a point I’ll return to. But precisely because nobody cares about him very much, the truth must be denied against in more and more histrionic ways — ways designed specifically to be noticed, so somebody does care. And now the psychology of the fascist goes from unreal to warped.
Hence, the fascist is always projecting, in baffling and labyrinthine ways. “I’m not the fascist — they’re the real fascists! The ones who don’t listen to me!! Those are the fascists!! The ones who are taking away my right to abuse and hurt people!! The ones who won’t believe that I’m superior!! The ones who don’t make me the center of their world! The leftists and students and Muslims and Jews and Mexicans — they’re the true fascists — they want to oppress and subjugate me!!”
LOL — to engage even for a moment with a neo-fascist is to be drawn into a bizarre, mirror-world, where everything is upside down and backward, turned in on itself. The fascist isn’t the fascist — everyone else is the real fascist. Nobody is his victim — because he is history’s greatest victim. To speak a word to a fascist is to have battle through endless layers and forms of projection — an impossible task, usually, at which a reasonable person, shakes their heads and gives up.
(Hence, to the fascist, the one who doesn’t conform, submit, and surrender, unquestioningly to his “views”, “attitudes”, and opinions” — which is really just all the above, that he is a noble, benevolent victim, persecuted unfairly by malign, supernatural forces, and grant their superiority, is always the “real fascist”, that is, the persecutor, no matter how much one tries to reason with them. It is a matter of power — not logic.)
Now the psychology of the fascist goes from warped to twisted. What’s the primary moral duty of a person who feels as if they are being victimized at a grand and epic scale, persecuted and destroyed existentially by monsters? It is to destroy the monsters, and that way, become a hero. Now there is a glimmer of hope. The fascist has twisted the world upon itself — imagining himself a victim, he’s projected supernatural powers onto his imagined persecutors, making them monsters, who must be destroyed. But this is a perilous task because those monsters have such fearsome powers.
Ah! Now he can prove himself at last. He can earn strength and courage. He can earn belonging and purpose, too. Now there’s meaning to his little life — “I will be someone, someone to respect and admire and prize if I destroy the monsters. I will be a hero! I will be great again!!”
So now the person who was a noble victim on a moral crusade. His whole being becomes oriented towards destruction — not anything creative, productive, useful, anything of happiness or truth. But towards the ruin and devastation of another, who he imagines has the power to exterminate him — and therefore, must be eliminated first. And if he undertakes this fearsome and dangerous quest, then, like anyone who undertakes such a quest — he will be a hero. A knight, a conqueror, perhaps a king. He can even be a savior — respected and cherished by others. Now he has something to live for again — and dedicate himself to with a kind of single-minded fury and passion.
Any remnant of an individual self, with freedom, self-directedness, self-governance, has collapsed and been absorbed into the fascist mission. There is no other way for him to achieve any of his primary psychological functions now — to maintain a sense of belonging, to evaluate himself as a moral being, to assign meaning to his life — except to destroy the imagined monsters and be a shining hero. Because the stakes are so dramatic, he can perhaps be a great hero — not just an average one. A savior, a soldier, a knight, and a priest — all in one. In his own mind, the fascist is something like St George, Alexander, and Joan of Arc — all in one. He is David, Perseus, and Pericles. Do you see how soothing and powerful such a fantasy would be?
But the price is that the world is now black or white. There are only the destroyers and the destroyed. The heroes and the monsters. The saviors and the corrupt. The pure and the impure. The inferior and the superior. And that brings us full circle — right back to the central question. Why did the fascist need to imagine himself as a victim to begin with? After all, people who are functioning at a healthy, or normal level, do not need to do that. They’re quite happy to admit their faults and weaknesses.
But the fascist is different. He has to imagine himself as a victim — which is what kicks off the vicious spiral of fascist psychology — because he lives in a world where no weakness can be admitted, ever. He lives in a hostile and predatory world. A cruel and unsafe one. Where the stakes are too high — so high, that they have imbalanced him mentally, left him shattered inside. In such a world, admitting weakness is a kind of death. One cannot say, in a hostile and unsafe world, “well, I am a little bit weak, just a little bit not determined enough, persistent enough, intelligent enough, courageous enough. I am a little slow and lazy sometimes, a little blind and foolish sometimes.” If you do that — bang! Panic and terror soon set in. How will you survive, in a world that is ruthless to weakness?
In a predatory world, you cannot tell yourself that you are flawed and that it is OK to be flawed. Instead, you must tell yourself that you are a victim. You are the righteous one, the good one, the one who deserved to be superior — but found himself bitterly unfairly treated. That is what you must you do, mentally, to survive, as a functioning being, all too often. Now you must make the world just again — and that means that, because you are not a flawed human being, but the superior one who deserved to be on top, making a world that cherishes and prizes you as the flawless being you are. Hence, the moral crusade against the monsters — who are the truly inferior ones.
In other words, the fascist is projecting his own flaws and weaknesses outwards. At the very ones who are dehumanized and scapegoated and demonized. They are assigned all the unwanted and unacceptable parts of him. Hence, the Muslim is the corrupt and seditious one who wants to run society according to religious law — not the evangelical living next door. Hence, the LGBTQ teacher is indoctrinating his kid — not his own narrow world view, which is the only acceptable one. Hence, the proud and lustful one is the liberated woman — but the president found liable for sexual abuse is a hero. Hence, the fascist has been taught that weakness is intolerable because the weak cannot survive in a predatory world — and so he has no other choice, if he wants to function mentally at all, than to project his own weaknesses and flaws outwards.
But whom does he project them onto? Those less powerful than him, of course, not those more powerful. He can’t win the moral crusade by taking on his true oppressors — capitalists, robber barons, and so on — but he can subjugate and do great violence to those weaker than him. So they are the natural targets which are unconsciously chosen — never, not once, anyone stronger than him: only ever weaker, and that is the great giveaway that there is a process of unconscious projection happening — because how can anyone less powerful than you really ever be your oppressor — much less a monster with supernatural powers to destroy you?
Do you see how great a giveaway of fascist psychology this unerring trait of scapegoating the less powerful — never the more powerful — is? It is the Big Bang that implodes a mind into an empty vessel for fascism. It is from that fundamental act of projection — projecting his own weakness onto the less powerful, his own sloth, laziness, arrogance, egotism, cruelty, pride, envy, avarice and so on — that propels and motivates all his later projections. Remember those? “I’m not the fascist! They are! The ones that don’t listen to me! The ones that tell me I’m wrong! I have a right to be heard! And what I have to say is that I’m superior!! The fascists are the ones who are taking that right, and all my rights, away from me!! The ones who are persecuting me!! The monsters!”
Now the fascist, not a fascist at all. He never was, never has been. He is a victim, the supreme one, unrecognized, treated shabbily — who will become a victor, by making the world a just place again, one which recognizes him for the superior and perfect being that he is. He is not a fascist. He is a noble and worthy person, on a just and moral crusade. And that way, he will be recognized as victor, savior, and conqueror. He is a victim on the way to becoming a hero, in his own mind. And in the world he lives in, there are only such things — heroes and victims, monsters and saviors, conquerors and conquered. Pure and impure. Inferior and superior.
He has no choice, the poor thing, to believe all this — or else he will shatter like glass. That is because the fascist lives in that world because it is the world that capitalism has created, unfortunately. Capitalism has taught him that weakness is unforgivable, a crime to be punished with abandonment, exile, and death. Because, of course, under capitalism, weakness is worse than useless — it is a liability, a burden, a cost — and so, as in America today, capitalist societies are prone to fascist collapses, as the world becomes a hostile place, which destabilizes people mentally, until all that is left is self-preservation through extreme, savage, and total destruction. Of others, of norms, of values, of democracy itself.
The fascist is a histrionic delusional paranoid person, with malignant tendencies, operating at a borderline level, often descending to a psychotic one. His primary mission is a kind of total, absolute, merciless vengeance. It’s only through total vengeance that psychological functioning is achieved — basic levels of meaning, belonging, esteem, purpose, which prevent total breakdown.
The world is a dangerous place, populated with supernatural beings, and he must preemptively destroy them, not just to survive — but to restore the world to a just state, in which the strong survive, and the weak perish. And yet what the fascist has never quite understood is that is the problem — that his world became a place in which the strong survive, and the weak perish. He is only perpetuating the world which broke him and left him a shell of a person. He is not a hero. What is he?
The truth is that he has always hated his weakness, found it intolerable, panicking and dreading it — and so he has had to project it onto the less powerful, in order to destroy it that way. He is a thing without freedom, selfhood, authenticity. He has become everything he hates because he lives in a hall of mirrors. A predatory world has made a predator of him. Imagining monsters, he has become the monster. And yet the moment his jaws dull, and his limbs grow feeble, all those just like him will feast on him, too.
But in just that way he has reproduced the very world he couldn’t survive in. He has become the very world which ruined him. The world in which the strong survive and the weak perish lives on, through him. And in that way, his life is the emptiest one of all. Neither a tragic nor heroic thing. But just a hollow and meaningless one.