This will be a two-part mini essay
giving a Pagan perspective on Fascism. Part II in particular will present arguments not likely to be made by either secularists or Christians,
although Pagans do not have a monopoly on the points I have in mind.
Part I will also address the relationship of Paganism to Fascism, although in a
more traditional way. It lays the foundation for Part 2.
People who don’t know much history,
or are blinded by their ideological preconceptions, have often argued that
Pagan religion has a tendency towards devolving into Fascism. I’ve encountered such stuff over the
years, and had a debate with Peter Staudenmaier in the journal Pomegranate on this issue with special reference to environmentalism.
Frosting and Cakes
As examples to buttress their case,
our critics point to the Nazi use of the swastika an ancient and (before the Nazis) very popular symbol. Some Nazis were also
intrigued by the Pagan Germanic deities, with Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, being the most important. There are continual
reports of Hitler’s being interested in the occult, and while to the best of my
knowledge these reports are grotesque exaggerations, to the degree they are
true, because many contemporary Pagans (including this one) came to this path by way of the occult,
some people claim there is a connection.
To these examples we can add some explicitly racist Aasatru groups (NOT
all by ANY means) and nationalist
Pagan movements in eastern Europe examples where Paganism and fascism might
potentially reinforce one another.
But those who point to these
factors completely confuse the frosting with the cake. We would make the same mistake today
were we to associate Christianity, or even groups like Fundamentalists, with
the Fascist rumblings now emerging from the radical right and their many
enablers. America’s right-wing fascists and proto-fascists are about as
Christian in the traditional sense of the term as Heinrich Himmler was a Pagan. Something else is going on.
Ritual, Symbol, and Resentment
There is most definitely a
quasi-religious redemptive appeal to fascism for many people, but what this
appeal is to is not religious in the Christian sense, and only by a very strange
route, in a Pagan sense. Part 2
will explore this issue.
In an earlier post I brought my readers’
attention to a post on Alternet by Sara Robinson. I agree with her that Robert
Paxton’s book The Anatomy of Fascism, is the best general study of this
problem. With her, I quote his
brief definition of the thing.
a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandon democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.
In this post I want to emphasize
this obsession with victimhood, humiliation, and decline of the community. This complex of beliefs provides the
emotional basis for fascism. It is
the frame of mind able to so fill people with resentment and anger that their
reasonable faculties are overwhelmed.
All that needs doing then is to push the appropriate buttons. This is why fascist movements are so
Because they are irrational their
leaders need other means to instill loyalty, preferably fanatical loyalty. And
as any experienced Pagan knows, ritual moves the mind from rational analysis
towards other kinds of experience.
Fascist movements of the past have
invested heavily in ritual events that give a sense of energetic unity and
power that overwhelms people’s critical faculties. They make use of symbols for the same reason, especially
powerful symbols that do not have to be religious at all. Mussolini’s symbol for fascism, the
hearkened back to Roman power, when the Italian peninsula ruled much of the
world around it, not to Roman religion.
In Romania the fascist party was named the “Legion of the Archangel
Michael” and Belgium’s fascist movement of the 1930s grew out of an
organization of Catholic students and a Catholic publishing house. (Paxton, p.
The contemporary emphasis on flags,
crosses, collective prayer, and the Founding Fathers as symbols of a lost American
purity and nobility (while ignoring what they actually believed) are a hint of
what is to come in pageantry and theater if America’s fascist rumblings develop
into a full fledged fascist movement.
Note that flags, crosses, and collective prayer are not Pagan
symbols. Fascism makes use of
whatever symbols a society has that elicit unthinking loyalty. So long as
American fascists use swastikas, they will be irrelevant except for acts of
violence. When they do, as they are now, start using crosses, flags, and public
prayers, then they are finally beginning to merge with the elements
of American society vulnerable to their appeal.
Who Is Attracted?
Fascism is first and foremost a philosophy
of victimization. It’s emotional
appeal is to victims, and its style of appeal is focused on the powerless, not
the powerful. But they are a
special kind of victim.
A while ago a very interesting article appeared demonstrating that feelings of powerlessness led to a greater tendency towards superstition, conspiracy theories, and false conclusions. I think these findings shed considerable light on the root causes of America’s fascist rumblings.
As our institutions have become increasingly removed from sensitivity towards real people we increasingly feel utterly powerless in society. While often not as powerless as we feel, our actual influence is often indirect and takes a long time to manifest. And often we are as powerless as we feel. The conservative and mainstream media encourage this perception for various reasons. But one result is to gradually build a social powder keg of people who feel powerless and filled with resentment over it. What is especially significant is that they are not the traditionally exploited.
While full of complaints about how they have been mistreated by other groups, almost without exception the people attracted to fascism are not Black, Hispanic, Native American, or non-Christian. And they are disproportionately male. They are part of what had traditionally been considered the mainstream.
The groups they accuse of
oppressing them have historically been very weak, and only recently began to
achieve greater acceptance. Jews
in Germany were such a case, as are Blacks and Hispanics in America. In both countries women were also achieving
greater independence, threatening traditional male fantasies. Here is where we as a community need to
be very aware. We and other
non-Christians are rapidly becoming more accepted and visible, and as we do we
can expect similar attention.
The rank and file fascist has been
victimized, but does not look very closely at where their oppression is coming
from. While fascists make
rhetorical flourishes against bankers and big businessmen, no where have
fascists ever really taken them on, even when in power. Rather, they focus on groups weaker
than they who seem to be gaining strength. Since they are being victimized while some other group is
growing in power, obviously the group growing in power is the villain.
With this observation we dig to a
deeper level of the fascist appeai.
Future fascists do not so much
resent being subordinated by others as from losing their sense that others are subordinated
to them, so they are not at the bottom of the pecking order. They accept their place with ‘their
betters’ but resent not being recognized by inferiors who also accept their
This gives us a clue to what I
believe the real “religion” of fascism is: unity in hierarchy devoted to Power
and Domination. Power and Domination
are their Gods. Part 2 will
explore this issue further.
UPDATE: I have made very small grammatical improvements from when this was first posted.