This 2010 commentary by Stuart Jeanne Bramhall (http://www.counterpunch.org/2010/08/06/wilhelm-reich-and-the-tea-party/) looks at the Tea Party movement through the lens of the work of radical Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich. Although Reich coined the term ‘sexual revolution,’ he is no longer a household name outside of academia, perhaps in part because the US Food and Drug Administration arranged to have him imprisoned and have his work burned during the 1950s.
Reich was a Marxist and a student of Freud. Working in Germany in the early 1930s, he struggled to understand the political success of the Nazi party, whose economic program appeared to him inferior to the plan offered by the Communists. In his work ‘The Mass Psychology of Facism,’ Reich identifies a source of the attraction for fascist movements – not just in Germany, but also in Italy, Japan, the Islamic world, and elsewhere. In his view, sexual repression and rigid household environments create psychological tension for which authoritarian political leadership provides relief.
Reich’s analysis was controversial at the time: it got him kicked out of the Communist Party and made him unwelcome in Nazi Germany. Fleeing to Norway and then to the United States, his work eventually crossed over, in my view, into pseudoscience.
But just because his later work was pseudoscience doesn’t make it uninteresting. Working in the US, he developed the ‘orgone energy accumulator,’ a multi-layered box designed to concentrate ‘orgone’ – an ethereal substance that could basically be thought of as human orgasm energy. His eventual imprisonment was a consequence of illegally transporting an orgone box across state lines; the FDA put him in jail for the rest of his life. Burning all of his books was probably excessive, but sometimes even the best bureaucrats will overreact.
For what it’s worth, the author Norman Mailer had a number of orgone boxes and swore by them. William Burroughs had one as well; a famous picture of Kurt Cobain, taken just before his death, shows him peering out through the glass porthole of Burroughs’ orgone box.
Reich also developed the ‘cloudbuster,’ a tool designed to induce rain by shooting rays of orgasm energy into the sky. Cloudbusters are out of fashion now. You can find old pictures of them online; whether they worked or not, they were very interesting pieces of machinery.
Preaching sexual liberation, Reich’s personal sexual behavior was both predatory and illegal. This pattern, combined with his late-life turn in the direction of pseudoscience, makes me a little bit shy about recommending reconsideration of his early work. Nonetheless, seeing the distinctly sexual nature of some of the alt-right taunting of groups who oppose Trump leads me to believe that reading Reich again could be useful.
I believe that a Reich-Ian plan for creating a society more resistant to fascism would include regular psychotherapy, reiki, and sex-positive sexual education. Curious to see if anybody else is familiar with Reich and willing to admit finding his work still relevant.
Good luck, America!
I always used to enjoy leafing through Reich’s books and pamphlets in the old bookshops around the British Library, when it was housed in the British Museum (you could also get all sorts of little books by Sylvia Plath, put out by her husband posthumously–kids’ books, her senior thesis at Wellesley, a book of watercolors she made during her honeymoon in–Venice? etc). There were still people who went to the Library every day to work on, e.g., their “wingless aeroplane,” and it made me think of a time when people thought a lot about what the world needed, and dreamed up projects to make it better. Goofy perhaps, but lovable. God must have temporarily thought kindly of his goofy creation. And the bureaucrats in England refrained from burning all Reich’s books.
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