“Identificatory Belonging & the Desire to Destroy”
Part II of Roger Griffin's Paper
Longing to Belong: Transcultural Humanism as a Source of Identity
An excerpt of Roger Griffin’s paper appears below.
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The mission of Library of Social Science is to study the psychological roots of ideology, culture and history—by publishing writings by the world's greatest thinkers. And to provide a space of freedom for the presentation and discussion of new insights and theories.

Roger Griffin is professor in Modern History at Oxford Brookes University. He is the author of over 100 publications — and is considered one of the world’s leading authorities on Fascism. Read more about him on Wikipedia.

Video on "The dangerous dream of reshaping a clean, original civilization"

Militant forms of ultranationalism and racism would explode into orgies of slaughter and ‘sacrifice’ on behalf of organically conceived nations in the First World War—as energies liberated from the decay of theological Christianity became channeled into defending the ‘nation’ or ‘people’, and asserting its rights to exist at the expense of the individual.

The 1930s saw the rise of two ‘modernist’ states that between them would lead to the deaths of millions of soldiers and even more millions of civilians in the pursuit of their utopias—based on fostering collective fanaticism in support for or submission to visions of a radical new order.

To identify with the Nazi Volksgemeinschaft or Soviet Union meant colluding with genocides, or actively contributing to them: the extermination of millions of demonized others. Such regimes originate in the urge to protect ‘the home’, ‘one’s own kind’ from outsiders.

Book by Roger Griffin
Terrorist's Creed: Fanatical Violence and the Human Need for Meaning

For information on ordering through Amazon, PLEASE CLICK HERE.
Terrorist's Creed casts a penetrating beam of understanding into the disturbing and murky psychological world of fanatical violence, explaining how the fanaticism it demands stems from the profoundly human need to imbue existence with meaning and transcendence.

Arthur Koestler discusses how—in the 20th Century—patriotism and political ideologies replaced religion to provide objects of worship:

Religious wars were superseded by patriotic, then by ideological, wars, fought with the same self-immolating loyalty and fervor. The opium of revealed religions was replaced by the heroin of secular religions, which commanded the same bemused surrender of the individuality to their doctrines, and the same worshipful love offered by their prophets. The devils and succubi were replaced by a new demonology: sub-human Jews plotting world dominions; bourgeois capitalists promoting starvation. [7]

The secularization and fragmentation of modern society has generated periodic waves of collective commitment to ideologies in which some individuals become caught up in the type of group mentality which often goes by the name ‘crowd psychology’. The uncanny strength of the human mythopoeic faculty allows the monk alone in his cell to still feel embraced by the love of God.

Someone does not need to commingle physically with a crowd to be part of a mass movement.
By the twentieth century, millions of ordinary citizens enlisted in the battle for ‘the Classless Society,’ or the ‘Millennial Reich’. They were lured—not by their egotism, but by their unselfishness, idealism, and urge to place their lives in the service of a higher cause. Their secular creeds allowed them to feel they belonged to a ‘national community’ or ‘socialist community’—as intensely as any religions in the past convinced believers they were part of a community of the saved.

In the case of fascism, its core myth of the regenerated national community led by a revolutionary elite calls a priori for an act of identification which excludes a vast array of demonized others from humanity. This engenders a paranoid, dualistic mind-set conducive to boundless idealism and fanatical devotion towards the embryonic new or reborn nation, coupled with ruthless violence directed at its alleged enemies. [9]

Fromm and Koestler offer a comprehensive explanation for the paradoxical, Janus-headed behavior of human beings throughout their history, both destructive, cruel, barbaric, ‘inhuman’—and almost in the same breath creative, compassionate, sublime and ‘humane’. The narratives of destruction and creation, of identificatory and integrative belonging, interweave their way through our species’ time on earth like the double-helix structure of DNA.

There is a continuous history of war, colonization, subjugation, enslavement, persecution and genocide, which taken on its own suggest that human beings are intrinsically violent, territorial, xenophobic, and sadistic. [10] The chronicles of the past are littered with examples of cultural, ethnic, or religious ‘communities of destiny’—where the corollary of belonging to an ‘in-group’ was the license to commit atrocities on unimaginable scales of cruelty and sadism on ‘out-groups’.

Running alongside and intertwined with this story, however, is the less familiar one of individual human beings, and at times entire communities, demonstrating their capacity for rising above their sense of belonging only to one exclusive kinship system, group, ethnicity, culture, language, faith, or way of being—so as to engage lovingly and creatively with the humanity of those of other cultures.

Pathological forms of xenophobia and ethnocentrism have always coexisted with the potential for xenophilia and what I propose to call ‘transcultural humanism’, whether religious or secular. Just how ancient this capacity is can be glimpsed in the Epicurean Inscription of Diogenes of Oineanda, a forerunner of secular humanism, which dates back to the 2nd century AD, which declares:

We Epicureans bring these truths, not to all men whatsoever, but only to those men who are benevolent and capable of receiving this wisdom. This includes those who are called “foreigners,” though they are not really so, for the compass of the world gives all people a single country and home. But it does not include all people whatsoever, and I am not pressuring any of you to testify thoughtlessly and unreflectively.

Perhaps the most powerful testimony to the millennial power of integrative belonging and transcultural humanism is to be found not in the sphere of politics or anthropology, but in the histories of language, pottery, mythology, weaving, cooking, dance, trade, multilingualism, mixed marriages, multicultural and multi-faith societies, heredity, and genetics.

All of these point to a constant process of transhistorical and transcultural phenomena, of cultural and religious hybridization produced by a profound, innate capacity of human beings to communicate, trade, love, marry, work, learn, and create cooperatively across ethnic and cultural borders and divides.

Modernity and Belonging

It is generally agreed that the rise of a globalizing modernity—that nexus of the rise of science, rationalism, urbanization, literacy, the machine age, mass communications and transport systems, mass social mobility, materialism, and intensified inter-cultural exchange—has had a devastating impact on traditional religious societies and the sense of belonging they afforded.

Max Weber saw rationalization as ‘disenchanting’ society, Emile Durkheim as creating ‘anomie’, Joseph Schumpeter as a process of continual ‘creative destruction’, Peter Berger as eroding the ‘nomos’, the sacred canopy, Anthony Giddens as disembedding humans from time and space, Zygmunt Bauman as creating an age of ambivalence, of the ‘liquefaction’ of time and space, Marshall Berman as creating a ‘vortex’ of shifting, swirling realities, as making ‘all that is solid melt into thin air’, a phrase taken from Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto.

Such a world of flux—of proliferating and conflicting realities—places a permanent stress on, and is a profound threat to, a naïve, unreflecting sense of belonging, generating the need to find new sources of total belonging and culture, of purpose and mission, However, whatever ‘hold’ individuals may find, it is constantly being undermined by skepticism, relativism, and the liquefaction of reality—provoking a deep nomic crisis in the life of individuals with a need for coherent meaning and identity. If they are brought within a religious or ideological ‘home’, this crisis may drive them into the defensive or aggressive fanaticism to protect a beleaguered set of traditional values and beliefs.

Those without a faith—who desperately seek a new source of belonging and purpose—will tend either to be prone to bouts of despair and depression, or become engaged in various forms of addictive behavior to numb the pain. Another possibility is that they solve the nomic crisis by seeking out a new life mission, finding a creative activity driven by their craving for meaning, or by zealously adopting a belief system that allows them to put back up the fallen sky protecting them from nihilism. This new belief system may be integrative or identificatory.

In the early 20th century, militant forms of ultranationalism and racism were in the air and would explode into the orgy of slaughter and ‘sacrifice’ on behalf of the organically conceived nation in the First World War—as energies released from the decay of theological Christianity and Islam became liberated to be channeled into defending the ‘nation’ or ‘people’, and asserting its rights to exist at the expense of the individual.

The 1930s saw the rise of two ‘modernist’ states that between them would directly or indirectly lead to the deaths of millions of soldiers and even more millions of civilians in the pursuit of their utopias, because these were identificatory utopias, based on fostering collective fanaticism in support for or collective submission to visions of a radical new order, an alternative modernity which would bring about a temporal and anthropological revolution: a new era and a new man.

To belong affectively to and identify with the Nazi Volksgemeinschaft or the Soviet Union, and later the Maoist Revolution meant colluding with genocides, or actively contributing to them: the extermination of demonized others in their millions who had been stripped of their humanity by an identificatory political religion. With or without the backing of a spontaneous mass movement of populist support, such regimes originate in the urge to protect ‘the home’, ‘one’s own kind’ from outsiders, the threat of the foreigner—who become dehumanized in the process of institutionalizing and militarizing the defense of the ‘homeland’ or ‘ideal society’.

In their compulsion to defend liberal values, purportedly democratic states can also succumb to the temptation to identificatory sources of belonging—in their appeals to patriotism and readiness to commit war-crimes on behalf of ‘civilization’, as the mass killing of civilians by Britain and the US in both world wars and the Second Gulf War exemplifies, not to mention the horrors inflicted on the Vietnamese in the Vietnam War.

Jihadism is the latest manifestation of identificatory belonging to erupt into modern history, spawning Isis in its defense of the imagined community of a global Caliphate conceived as under attack from the ‘West’ yet destined to triumph over the decadence of the world and save it from moral decadence and apostasy. If our only yardstick for judging the state of ‘belonging’ in the modern world was current affairs a causal observer could be forgiven for thinking that only identificatory forms of it had prevailed.