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This is one of a series of excerpts from older articles put online by John Ray as a public service. The articles concerned are in general otherwise available only by special request to a University or other major library.

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J. Human Relations, 1970, 18, 700-709.

INTELLECTUAL FASCISM



Albert Ellis

If fascism is defined as the arbitrary belief that individuals possessing certain traits (such as those who are white, Aryan, or male) are intrinsically superior to individuals possessing certain other traits (such as those who are Negro, Jewish, or female), and that therefore the "superior" individuals should have distinct politico-social privileges, then the vast majority of American liberals and so-called anti-fascists are actually intellectual fascists. In fact, the more politico-economically liberal our citizens are, the more intellectually fascistic they usually tend to be.

Intellectual fascism -- in accordance with the above definition -- is the arbitrary belief that individuals possessing certain traits (such as those who are intelligent, cultured, artistic, creative, or achieving) are intrinsically superior to individuals possessing certain other traits (such as those who are stupid, uncultured, unartistic, uncreative, or unachieving). The reason why the belief of the intellectual fascist, like that of the politico-social fascist, is arbitrary is simple: there is no objective evidence to support it. At bottom, it is based on value judgments or prejudices which are definitional in character and cannot be empirically validated.

This is not to deny that verifiable differences exist among various individuals. They certainly do. Negroes, in some ways are different from whites; short people do differ from tall ones; stupid individuals can be separated from bright ones. Anyone who denies this, whatever his good intentions, is simply not accepting reality.

Human differences, moreover, usually have their distinct advantages -- and disadvantages. Under tropical conditions, the darkly pigmented Negroes seem to fare better in many respects than do the lightly pigmented whites. At the same time, many Negroes and a few whites become afflicted with sickle cell anemia. When it comes to playing basketball, tall men are generally superior to short ones. But as jockeys and coxswains, the undersized have their day. For designing and operating electric computers, a plethora of grey matter is a vital necessity; for driving a car for long distances, it is likely to prove a real handicap.

Let us face the fact, then, that under certain conditions some human traits are more advantageous -- or "better" -- than some other traits. Whether we approve the fact or not, they are. All men, in today's America, may be created free, but they certainly are not created equal.

Granting that this is so, the important question is: Does the possession of a specific advantageous endowment make an individual a better human being? Or, more concretely: Does the fact that a man is an excellent athlete, artist, author, or achiever make him a better person? Consciously or unconsciously, both the politico-social and the intellectual fascist say yes to these questions.

This is gruesomely clear when we consider the politico-social or lower-order fascist. For he honestly and openly not only tells himself and the world that being white, or Aryan, or male, or a member of the state-supported party is a grand and glorious thing; but, simultaneously, he just as honestly and openly admits that he despises, loathes, considers as the scum of the earth individuals who are not so fortunate as to be in these select categories. This lower-order fascist at least has the conscious courage of his own convictions.

Not so, alas, the intellectual or higher-order fascist. For this individual almost invariably prides himself on his liberality, his humanitarianism, and his lack of arbitrary prejudice against certain classes of people. But underneath, just because he has no insight into his fascistic beliefs, he is often more vicious, in his social effects, than his lower-order counterpart.

Take, by way of illustration, two well-educated, presumably liberal, intelligent people in our culture who are arguing with each other about some point. What, out of irritation and disgust, is one likely to call the other? A "filthy Negro," a "dirty Jew bastard," or a "black-eyed runt"? Heavens, no. But a "stupid idiot," a "nincompoop," a "misinformed numbskull"? By all means, yes. And will the note of venom, of utter despisement that is in the detractor's voice, be any different from that in the voice of the out-and-out fascist with his racial, religious, and political epithets? Honestly, now: will it?

Suppose the individual against whom a well-educated, presumably liberal, intelligent person is aiming his scorn actually is a stupid idiot, a nincompoop, or a misinformed numbskull. Is this a crime on his part? Should he, perforce, curl up and die because he is so afflicted? Is he an utterly worthless, valueless blackguard for not possessing the degree of intelligence and knowledge that his detractor thinks he should possess? And yet -- let us be ruthlessly honest with ourselves, now! -- isn't this exactly what the presumably liberal person is saying and implying -- that his adversary doesn't deserve to live? Isn't this what we (for it is not hard to recognize our own image here, is it?) frequently are alleging when we argue with, criticize, and judge others in our everyday living?

The facts, in regard to higher-order fascism, are just as incontrovertible as those in regard to lower-order prejudice. For just as everyone in our society cannot be, except through a process of arbitrary genocide of "eugenic" elimination, Aryan, or tall, or white, so cannot everyone be bright, or artistically talented, or successful in some profession. In fact, even if we deliberately bred only highly intelligent and artistically endowed individuals to each other, and forced the rest of the human race to die off, we still would be far from obtaining a race of universal achievers: since, by definition, top-flight achievement can only be attained by a relatively few leaders in most fields of endeavor, and is a relative rather than an absolute possibility.

The implicit goals of intellectual fascism, then, are, at least in today's world, impractical and utopian. Everyone can not be endowed with artistic or intellectual genius; only a small minority can be. And if we demand that all be in that minority, to what are we automatically condemning those who clearly cannot be? Obviously: to being blamed and despised for their "deficiencies"; to being lower-class citizens; to self-hatred and minimal self-esteem.

Even this, however, hardly plumbs the inherent viciousness of intellectual fascism. For whereas lower-order or politico-social fascism at least serves as a form of neurotic defensiveness for those who uphold its tenets, higher-order fascism fails to provide such defenses and actually destroys them. Thus, the politico-social fascist invariably believes that others are to be despised for not having certain "desirable" traits -- but that he is to be applauded for having them. From a psychological standpoint, he compensates for his own underlying feelings of inadequacy by insisting that he is super-adequate and that those who are not like him are far below his level.

The intellectual fascist starts out with a similar assumption in many instances but more often than not gets blown to bits by his own homemade explosive. For although he can at first assume that he is bright, talented, and potentially achieving, he must eventually prove that he is. Because, in the last analysis, he tends to define talent and intelligence in terms of concrete achievement, and because outstanding achievement in our society is mathematically restricted to a few, he rarely can have real confidence in his own possession of the values he has arbitrarily deified.

To make matters still worse, the intellectual fascist frequently tends to demand of himself, as well as of others, perfect competence and universal achievement. If he is an excellent mathematician or dancer, he demands that he be the most accomplished person in his chosen field. If he is an outstanding scientist or business man, he also must be a first-rate painter or writer. If he is a fine poet, he not only needs to be the finest poet, but likewise must be a great lover, drawing-room wit, and political expert. Naturally, only being human, he fails at many or most of these ventures. And then -- O poetic justice! -- he tends to apply to himself the same excoriations and despisements that he applies to others when they fail to be universal geniuses.

However righteous his denials, therefore -- and even though those of my readers who by now are not squirming with guilt are probably screaming with indignation, I must determinedly continue -- the typical politico-social "liberal" of our day is utterly fascistic in several significant ways. For he arbitrarily defines certain human traits as "good" or "superior"; he automatically excludes most of his fellowmen from any possibility of achieving his "good" standards; he scorns, combats, and in many ways persecutes those who do not live up to these capricious goals; and, finally, in most instances he more or less fails to live up to his own definitional standards and brings down neurotic self-pity and blame on his own head.

Let me give a case in point which I deliberately take not from my psychotherapeutic practice (since, as one might expect, it is replete with cases of all kinds of self-haters) but from my presumably less neurotic acquaintanceship. It is the case of an individual I have known for many years who, partly because of his longstanding union connections and the fact that his parents were killed by the Nazis, prides himself on his anti-fascist views. This individual, however, not only tries to avoid associations with people whom he considers unintelligent (which, of course, is his privilege, just as it is the privilege of a musician to try to associate mainly with other musicians), but goes into long diatribes against almost everybody he meets because they are "so terribly stupid" or "real idiots" or "utterly impossible." He gets quite upset whenever he encounters people who turn out to be below his accepted standards of intelligence, and says that he cannot understand "why they let people like that live. Surely the world would be much better off without such dopes."

The same individual, exactly as I would have predicted from seeing many clients with similar views, has for many years been completely ineffective in his own desires to write short stories. Every time he reads over a few paragraphs he has written, he finds them to be "stupid," "inconsequential," or "trite," and he stops right there. He obviously is trying to write not because he enjoys doing so, or feels that he must say what he wants to say, but mainly because he wants to be admired, accepted, thought intelligent by other people, particularly by other writers. His intellectual fascism not only prejudices all his human relationships, but also sabotages his own creativity and potential happiness. His name, I contend, is legion.



NOTE:

For copyright reasons, I have reproduced here only the first part of this article. The whole article can however be purchased as a pamphlet from Ellis's Institute.




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