Progressives and reactionaries

Fronesis 76-77 (2022)

Reconsidering the authoritarian personality: Are progressives really on the right side of history? Can Reich’s theory of sexuality explain today’s far-right? And is the manosphere more than a reactionary self-help forum?

From a progressive point of view, it can seem incomprehensible why someone would seek the opposite of an equal world, basic human rights and a free society. But the progressive view of the reactionary brings problems of its own, write the editors of Fronesis.

When Adorno diagnosed the ‘authoritarian personality’ with having  ‘a deviant pathological mind’, he established a dominant view in progressive circles. Only recently did this come to be challenged. Cas Mudde, for example, has argued that the reactionary position is not an extreme divergence from the progressive one. Liberalism, according to Mudde, should not be considered the dominant movement, but as a mobilisation that comes and goes, constantly altering the political framework.

After a Swedish election that was more polarised than ever, the editors discuss how the progressive and the reactionary should be understood:

It is difficult to understand the increasing political polarisation of the last decade, both between parties and within public opinion, without looking at the dynamic between progressive movements and reactionary counter-movements, and how political parties have channelled these two currents in different ways.

The emotions of fascism

The promise of ‘tougher action’ on migration and crime became a winning concept during Sweden’s 2022 election. The Tidöavtalet – the deal (named after the castle in southern Sweden) signed by the new government in October with the support of the nationalist far-right Sweden Democrats – pledges to implement higher penalties for organized crime, deportations and residence bans.

Are these signs of an emergent fascism? Certainly, they speak to a craving for order that, as Shabane Barot writes, Austro-American psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich saw as a key ingredient of the fascist appeal.

Reich’s work The Mass Psychology of Fascism, published in the year 1933, raised the question that was to haunt the left for the remainder of the 20th century: how could fascism have won the support of the workers when the fascist ideology worked against them?

The fascist method offered what socialism couldn’t: fulfilment of the longing for submission. This longing was a product of sexual repression, argued Reich: the prohibition on masturbation, sex before marriage and abortion. Shame was a powerful political force that fascism had been able to mobilise.

For all its flaws and simplifications, Reich’s theory of the relationship between sexuality and fascism is worth considering, according to Barot. The liberalization of social norms has not eradicated sexual shame. When Georgia Meloni promises a restoration of the traditional family and the Sweden Democrats campaign against abortion, they are calling for restrictions on and criminalisation of the free body. The emotional core of fascism is still active.

The alfa-male

Lucas Gottzén writes on one of the greater paradoxes of our time: the men’s movement and the dream of re-masculinization.

From the late ’60s, with the dawn of the idea of gender, male liberation started to be considered as breaking the chains of masculinity. Today, the idea of male liberation has become the complete opposite. The ‘manosphere’– with its digital platforms and superstar influencers – is the most dominant of men’s liberation movements today.

Influenced by Jungian ideas, the new narrative holds that the true source of masculinity – ancient, primitive man – has been diluted. The enemy is no longer patriarchal aggression but those who want to destroy masculinity, above all women.

In the manosphere, discussions on masculinity might still serve as a form of self-help, but the explanations and solutions are new: masculinity has been lost and needs to be regained. While men might not be losing dominance, concludes Gottzén, male hegemony is definitely faltering.

Published 19 March 2023
Original in English
First published by Eurozine

Contributed by Fronesis © Eurozine



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