Monday, November 12, 2012

#123. The Psychological Origins of Patriarchy

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Post #123 is about a book I received in error, but which turned out to be both fascinating and disturbing, and the clearest understanding I've ever seen of the psychological origins of the patriarchal masculine.



TITLE Male fantasies / Klaus Theweleit ; translated by Stephen Conway in collaboration with Erica Carter and Chris Turner ; foreword by Barbara Ehrenreich.

PUBLISHER Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, c1987-

SUBJECTS Germany. Heer. Freikorps. * Soldiers -- Germany -- Sexual behavior. * Fascism and sex. * Fascism and women. * Psychoanalysis and culture Germany. * Fantasy.


This book is especially helpful in showing the nature of the hierarchical and/or patriarchal masculine at its most blatant extreme. It also allows for some good insights into the authoritarianism of Western religion. It was originally published in German in 1977.

It is many things. Essentially, it is a psychoanalytic study of fascism, with its male mystique of war and violence.

Fascism, which developed in the 1920s and early 30s, between WW I and WW II, provided the sociological context out of which Nazism emerged.

This study is based on the “archeological find” of several hundred novels and memoirs written by members of the fascist Freikorps (private armies of former WWI soldiers, adventurers and drifters-- not, apparently, unlike contemporary groups such as the Montana Freemen).

At fascism’s core is a hierarchical authoritarianism, with a primacy of violence; its origin is the fear and hatred of the feminine and a repudiation of the quotidian world. Although explicit sexual language is a major element in fascism, it is in fact anti-erotic; indeed, it is against everything that constitutes enjoyment and pleasure.

The book is a deconstruction of the male myth of war: that war is a rite of passage which turns boys into men. It shows instead that war is a repudiation of one’s own body as well as of femininity, and that war identifies masculinity with hardness, destruction and self-denial.

The book maintains that what the Freikorpsmen enacted is the common psychic property of all males in a hierarchical, patriarchal culture.

Fascism is a radical right-wing military cult of male camaraderie and heroic youth; it is anti-liberal, anti-Jewish, anti-democratic, anti-Marxist, anti-feminine. (Fascism differs from Nazism in that Nazism puts anti-Semitism in a more central position than fear and hatred of women.)

Fascism is marked above all else by its veneration of the transformations undergone by those fighting in a war, transformations which are described as a “resurrection and rebirth of dead life in the masses.”

This book shows that, for the fascist soldier, male identity is defined in terms of flight from the feminine due to fear of ego dissolution, and of warfare as the fulfillment of longing for fusion with the military machine and explosion in battle. (“Explosion” seems to mean something like “going berserk.”)

From background information, I learned that Volume One deals with images of the feminine found in the collective un-conscious of the fascist warrior. This second volume, the one I received "by error," focuses on images of the male body and the boundaries of the self (i.e., ego) which the war experience provides.

The feminine is understood to be all that threatens to flood or deluge the boundaries of the male ego; it includes the material world and the unconscious as well as real women and even the male’s own body.

The organization of the male cult against dis-integration-- the very essence of fascist militarism-- is mechanized by various ego-hardening “techniques of self,” techniques which include, especially, military drill and ritual flogging.

These constitute a system of ego-self regulation arising from the dread of any outside life which threatens to fragment the ego’s stability. “A ‘man of steel’ (sic) must pursue, dam in, and subdue any force which threatens transformation back into the jumble of flesh, hair, skin, intestines and feelings (sic) that calls itself human.”

In the fascist perspective, the body constructs the external world: fear of the inner body with its inchoate mass of viscera and entrails, its soft genitals, its lower half, is translated into the threat of the masses, especially focusing on women and children.

The feminine is soft, fluid, liquid; it is negation, and as the “other” which lurks inside the male body as the subversive source of pleasure and pain, it must be sealed off.

All this contrasts with the hard, organized, phallic male body, the ideal of which is the machine. A mechanized body is the fascist male’s utopia: “The new man is one whose physique has been machine-ized and his psyche eliminated.”

Thus, to be disemboweled and disembodied is a mechanism for eluding feminine liquidity, warmth, sensuality, and responsiveness to other human beings.

Again, the key to this rage and destructive violence against women-- indeed, against one’s own physical being and all material reality-- is terror at the threat of ego destruction. These men “kill to remain whole,” i.e., to keep their ego intact.

The great fear of fusion with the mother-unconscious is based on lack of pre-oedipal separation from it.

Such men were never fully born. They never differentiated enough to relate, as a separate ego, to an other. They can not distinguish themselves from the other, and can only feel the integrity of the ego-self and sustain a sense of bodily boundaries by inflicting violence on others.

The fascist soldier’s desire to “fuck the earth” is not a desire for incestuous union but rather a repudiation of all maternal qualities, of all warmth and sensuality: the desire to destroy the mother. (What he does desire to fuse with is other men like himself: his soldier-brother-mirror.)

The book contains a lot of art work from the 1920’s; much of it is from the Freikorp literature and most of it is ugly. (Some of it looks very much like the ugly comic book drawings widespread today. And some of it reminds me of the Maria Lach school of liturgical art that used to appear in old missals and is found at St. John’s Abbey in Minnesota. What I used to call “Egyptian.”)

For me, the most disturbing picture is a poster which says, “Make yourself happy, fuck the world.” It shows a youth doing just that, draped around a globe, with an idiot smile on his face. What is so especially disturbing is that he appears to be no more than 14 or 15 years old.

Note that fascism is not a “search for father,” nor an attempt to deal with “father-wounds,” as so much of the contemporary men’s movement literature is concerned with. It is, rather, a defense against the need for a mother. “Long ago as a child he was denied nurturing and feminine warmth and sensuality, and he replaced those with physical pain and discipline.”

The Freikorp texts are themselves attempts to eradicate fear of ego-dissolution. They are not writings about war so much as themselves acts of destruction: “imperialistic acts which attempt to annihilate any form of independently moving life.”

But they don’t just create empty space. Any hole produces dread and must be filled with something reassuring. So this writing is a kind of protective shield that secures the boundaries of the body no less than do the other “techniques of self.”

Against the threat of ego-dissolution in the face of the masses and the feminine is the defense, “I stiffened.” (“The male member is a complete miniature ego.”) A male is to be upstanding, to have “backbone.” The backbone of honor is loyalty (“and neither is the business of women”).

The military front is a clear boundary, while everything behind the lines is threatening. All effort is aimed at standing erect, becoming phallus. Any question of meaning is barred in advance; order, not meaning, is the great preference.

“Culture” is equated with the army battalion, and all relationships at the military academy are hierarchical. Military drill and ritual beatings cause the youths to black out, but the blackout is seen as a sign of strength, demonstrating that one has gone beyond his limits.

In battle, the ultimate goal is “to explode against the enemy.” This going berserk emotionally is equated with the birth of a flesh-less body having metal armor. The ideal is to become “a living gun.”



We have become aware in recent years/decades about such things as the flight from the feminine, the disdain for the world, the hatred of the body and the ascetic denial of pleasure, as primary characteristics of religious dualism and as specifically negative features of the patriarchal mentality.

And while the author is neither Jungian nor (here) interested in religion, there is little in this book which could be excluded from a Jungian perspective, and there is much that is helpful in understanding the extremes of patriarchal religion.

The institutional church’s fear and hatred of women, for example, as well as things like the aberrations of monastic asceticism, the practice of ritual humiliation in religious orders, and power politics among the clergy and hierarchy, all can be seen as versions of this same fascist mentality: the need of the upstanding phallic ego to defend itself from the threat of non-existence which it perceives as coming from all that is not itself.

The book is also helpful in better understanding the meaning of “the recovery of sacred manhood.”

When during the time of the Neolithic Age male sacredness was lost to mainstream global culture, with the loss of hunting as the primary way of earning a living, males eventually became little more than domesticated (i.e., castrated) pets of the Mother Goddess (or, at best, stud-bulls for breeding).

The whole early history and mythology of the Near East would seem to be a memory of this time of subjugation by females. And patriarchy is its backlash.

Fear of the feminine, flight from the earth, reason standing up against the very existence of intuition, the use of asceticism and pain to make oneself into a stiffened ego-- all this would seem to have its historical source in the domestication and subjugation of males during the Neolithic Age of the Great Mother.

Just as fascism’s fear of the feminine comes from the lack of a mother good enough to allow and encourage the male child to differentiate himself from the feminine sufficiently for him to become a separate ego, so something similar must have been the case historically, with Western culture as a whole.

And at least from the time of St. Augustine, all this was proclaimed to be of the very essence of Christianity. Salvation from the body, escape from the earth, suffering as the means for making oneself worthy of salvation, the feminine as the principal tempter preventing salvation, the body itself as evil.

The understanding that the male soldier can only be an ego by killing others also helps to make clear how contemporary exploitation and destruction of the natural environment is motivated not just by greed but by fear of the feminine.

The same is true with regard to CEOs making millions of dollars at the expense of the little people who lose their jobs due to corporate merges.

Those CEOs don’t just want money; they want to be something, to be somebody. And they can only do that by destroying their underling-employees. It even helps make sense of why athletes keep plugging away at being better than others: they have to, simply to be anything themselves.

There is a scene described in the book about a military officer masturbating while presiding at a ritual flogging. He is utterly indifferent to the presence of the rabble watching (who know that any indication on their part of awareness of his activity would mean death). And once he “finishes himself off,” as the text says, he turns and walks away utterly unconcerned.

How often we have experienced this kind of total indifference to the presence and fate of others in pastors, religious superiors, school administrators and other authority figures!

Finally, it seems important to repeat that none of this, as the author says, has to do with the absence of a father. It comes, rather, from an earlier stage of development: the lack of a good experience of one’s source. The feeling of not being nurtured by a mother, of not being cared for by Mother Earth, of not being wanted by the universe!

Only such a lack could allow a man who thus experiences himself as only a partial or incomplete ego to say, “Piss on you, Earth!” Or to be willing, as a way of pushing away the fear of being swallowed up by existence itself, to “fuck the world” with a little-boy smile on his face.

Reality itself, says patriarchal dualism, is not to be trusted! No wonder the essence of the gospel is, “Fear not."


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