Norman Mailer on the “Unsatisfactory Lives” of Fascists

In the wake of Charlottesville and Donald Trump’s spectacular failure to denounce white supremacy and Neo-Nazism, conscientious Americans are justifiably concerned about fascism going mainstream in their country. 

I stumbled upon a painfully astute quote from Norman Mailer that sheds light on why fascism is on the rise in a country that went to war 70 years ago to defeat it: 

I really am a pessimist. I’ve always felt that fascism is a more natural governmental condition than democracy. Democracy is a grace. It’s something essentially splendid because it’s not at all routine or automatic. Fascism goes back to our infancy and childhood, where we were always told how to live. We were told, Yes, you may do this; no, you may not do that. So the secret of fascism is that it has this appeal to people whose later lives are not satisfactory.

Fascism is ultimately a paternalistic ideology that cedes all authority to the state and industry. In return for total acquiescence and subservience to male authority figures, members of a fascist state are theoretically given good jobs, protected from rampaging immigrants and fed a steady diet of propaganda that bolsters the male sense of self esteem. 

The marching white nationalists at Charlottesville are clearly struggling with their sense of identity and only feel comfortable in a country run by white people for white people. This was a major factor in the Right’s descent into madness after the election of Obama in 2008 — they simply couldn’t identify with their country any more given it was being run by a black man. Donald Trump capitalized on this, promising to “Make America Great Again” and return the country to its former (white) glory. The fascists marching in Charlottesville were explicit about this, with former KKK leader and prominent white supremacist David Duke stating that he was going to “fulfill the promises of Donald Trump”:

Those with self esteem not derived from manufacture identities (nations, states, religion etc.) tend not to join hate filled social movements that attempt to diminish and denigrate others, hence the “unsatisfactory” lives of most of the people marching in Charlottesville. Fascism appeals to them because it relieves them of taking responsibility for their own failures in life, provides an easy scapegoat, and gives them pride in something they haven’t had to work for — their skin color. 

Fascism is the most toxic of all human ideologies as it appeals to the worst aspects of our nature — fear of other, greed, and hatred. It thrives off of belittling and exploiting the weak, admires strength and reveres authority. Those drawn to it cannot be happy individuals, and it says much about a society that produces so many of them.

Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.