Forty years ago in 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected to be the president of the United States. This marked a sort-of consolidation of power by neoconservative forces in America, which is something that, more-or-less, remains with the country since. On his inauguration day, there was a coalition of forces in Eugene that held an event called “The People’s Inauguration.” This drew the largest crowd of spirited and defiant people marching through the center of the city, up until the Women’s March on the inauguration day of Donald Trump. Up to the Women’s March, it was the largest demonstration to have been held in Eugene.
As happens with these events, there is the march, and then there is a rally in which there are featured speakers. The main featured speaker for this event was a man who came up from the Bay area, Omali Yeshitela, who was what you would call a “fiery orator” and a brilliant man. He had an analysis with a lot of substance as to how this rise of Ronald Reagan and the forces behind him represented a type of consolidation of the intersection of capitalism and racism.
It was a crowd stirring speech. One of the other speakers was myself, and I chose the occasion to give a discourse on the analysis of the Austrian neo-freudian Wilhelm Reich and his analysis of the dynamics of the Weimar republic which gave rise to Nazism. This was not such a stirring speech. Thirty-nine years have gone by, and I no longer blush at the memory of what a dud of a talk that was. But this morning, I am going to go back to that theme, and subject it to you all, though in condensed form. Maybe it will stimulate more discussion.
In Germany prior to the rise of Nazis in the 1930s, in the Weimar Republic, there were two main movements that were seeking change. One of them was a counterculture movement, which had nearly all the elements of the counterculture movements of the 1960s in America. There were people who were leading “back to the land” movements, people who were interested in organic foods and alternative healing…there was new music, some use of psychoactive substances, and there was an effort to move away from sexually repressive mores. It would have been very familiar to how a number of us here spent our time in the 1960s. There was this movement on the one hand, and on the other hand, there was a strong radical political movement. The communists were very strong, and there were also elements of socialism and anarchism. At one point, it was so strong that there was an effort to overthrow the German government.
Wilhelm Reich, who originally proposed the theory of Orgone Energy, was an astute social observer and a bit of a socialist. His observation and main insight was that the counterculture [movement] was so focused on the liberation of personal expression and life, that this came to have very little relevance to the mass of people in Germany, where there were a great deal of problems that needed to be addressed. It was a country that was very wounded coming out of World War I, struggling to bounce back.
On the other side, there were the socialists and communists, whose focus was around striving to overthrow the state and put into power a system that would meet the material needs of the proletariat. Reich’s critique of the radicals, the socialists and the communists was that they did not speak to the spiritual needs of the German people. The counterculture [movement] spoke to the spiritual needs, but only in a personalized way, and was limited at that. The focus was at meeting the material needs, and not addressing the needs of the German people to find meaning, belonging, and a sense of purpose that was higher.
This void was filled by the Nazis. Hitler was exceptionally capable of articulating a vision that awakened a kind of collective passion in the people. I speak of spirituality, and not in the full sense of spirituality that we [the Ananda Seva community] may know it, but in the sense of a feeling of belonging and meaning that is connected with something greater.
In this case, it was the full rise of expression of the Aryan people [in Germany]. It was found in this kind-of “spiritual nationalism.” And the German people, at the time, embraced this quasi-spiritual vision with disastrous results. The point I want to convey is that, at the time of that event, there was a need to bring together both a support for personal liberation and a support for a collective spiritual elevation.
Last week, Philippe spoke about his inner questioning of how to be an American with the American value of individual striving and expression on the one hand, and on the other hand, moving toward cultural expression where there is more of a sense of collectivity of expression and meaning. It is not easy for these two things to come together in an easy way, and some good thoughts were shared about this topic.
One thing I want to highlight here is that when people become a bit starved for belonging and meaning, they become vulnerable to being assimilated into collective expressions that may be damaging. We see this vividly in the rise of neo-fascism in America, a nationalistic spirit not unlike the Aryan nationalism under fascist Germany. There are many young men that join right wing nationalist or skinhead groups and they find a sense of belonging and purpose. These young men throw their passion into that expression that pits the identity and the purpose of their group against that of the “other.” We see it as well in the Islamic world, and those young men who have taken up an identification with the Jihadi expression of Islamic fundamentalism. Tremendous dedication to a cause, but ending with results that tear apart that part of the world.
There is a need for connection, for belonging and purpose. Need for a purpose that transcends an attempt to provide people only with their material needs. As we move forward towards filling this need, there are also pitfalls of sublimating the individual to religion, to dogma, and to the state, or to a chauvinistic nationalism, and so forth.
What is the idea that can bring us together without leaving out others, that can bring us together without polarization of our human family? That can give us a depth of meaning that is fully authentic, not burdened by dogmas? What is the idea that allows for an expression that just as much builds the individual as it builds the collective?
This article was transcribed from a talk by Acharya Ravi given in April 2020. Transcription by Rene Tricou, editing by Michele Renee.
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