23 October, 2020

Blog

Populism, Despotism And Mass Psychology

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

Mussolini the prototype authoritarian did not take power in a coup: Populism, despotism and mass psychology

The authoritarian most pertinent to the Sri Lanka scene today is not Stalin or Hitler and interestingly not JR either, because none of these stood atop a gush of populism; it is Benito Mussolini; elected by the people, admired by an array of sycophants, darling of the army and eventually strung up from a lamppost in Milan. The commonality with Lanka is the psychological bond linking Mussolini and the people. In our case at this stage in our political conjuncture we need to carry in our minds not Gota alone but the Rajapaksas as a whole into the analysis, given the waning but continuing dominance of Mahinda in the mass mind and among parliamentarians. Initially Mussolini fused mass politics and street mobilisation while the military stood aside. It’s different in Lanka, the masses and the Brass have preference for Mahinda and Gota, respectively. (I do not wish to underestimate Gota’s popularity till the 20A effort backfires and rising inflation bites). 

 What stirred my interest in the Mussolini prototype was the republication in 2019 by Veroso Books of Teodor Adrono’s (1903-1969) influential 1950 book The Authoritarian Personality. In his Introduction Peter Gordon says: “It represents one of the most sophisticated attempts to explore the origins of fascism not merely as a political phenomenon, but as the manifestation of dispositions that lie at the very core of the modern psyche”. It has spiked international interest in the context of Trump and Modi and why I want to bring it to the attention of Lankan readers is its correspondence to a humble thesis I have been pushing for a few weeks. On 20 September, I said in Colombo Telegraph and highly regarded Indian website South Asia Analysis (http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/node/2682):

“Lanka is Rajapaksa country; the mass psyche resonates with ‘Rajapaksaism’ as Medieval Europe was inured to the Church. Deep Rajapaksasim was explicit in January 2015; it was to defeated Mahinda’s ranch that thousands flocked in pilgrimage, it was to him that they vowed fealty. There is a psychological manifold embracing the Rajapaksa ethos and the Sinhalese mass. Behaviourally it manifests as political consciousness (explicit support) and in voting patterns; in the subconscious it is a deeper bond such as we have seen in history at other times in other places. Most interesting is a subliminal slice of this embrace; a willingness to overlook and forgive, corruption, crime and crudeness. Analysts can wait to see how this pans out; political activists can’t. The need is to get down to work now, not after the ship of state starts sinking. It is the subliminal that will fracture first if there is turmoil in the economic domain”.

And on the 30 of August I lamented:

“Lanka is Rajapaksa country. This bond will not be easily severed or diluted. What is its genesis? Spiritually, both resonate in their modes of thought; passions of the same genre. Politically it is populism; for the mass corruption is OK if it is populist corruption. The bond will be strained by economic adversity but it remains to be seen whether hardship will drive the mass away from the Rajapaksa ethos. The oath has person-to-masses overtone as with Mussolini and Peron; forget the SLPP, it is burlesque. The third element is Sinhala nationalism, but not exultation in war victory alone. It is abhorrence of demands to bring the military to justice in the courts. The Rajapaksas will not do so, and this is the fourth factor. These factors all gel together”. 

Adorno’s thesis about the Authoritarian Personality summarised in an introduction by Peter Gordon I find very nicely says about Mussolini what I am trying to say about the Rajapaksa phenomenon. A Gordon paragraph – after editing substantially for length – reads as follows.

“The ‘Authoritarian Personality’ challenges liberal assumptions by showing that the potential for fascism lies not at the periphery but at the heart of modern experience. Fascism is something deeper than a political form: it correlates to psychological patterns of domination and submission. It tends to conventionalism, rigidity and stereotypical thinking; it insists on a stark contrast between in-group and out-group and jealously patrols the boundaries between them. Fascism is the political manifestation of a pre-political disposition. The authoritarian personality does not always turn fascist; its politics may remain dormant, only to emerge under certain social conditions. This thesis offers an important corrective to those who prefer to see fascism as discontinuous with liberal-democratic political culture: fascism is not mysterious, and it is not something otherworldly or rare; it is the modern symptom of a psychopathology that is astonishingly widespread and threatens modern society from within”. 

https://www.versobooks.com/blogs/4421-the-authoritarian-personality

Adorno’s argument that Mussolini is the “symptom of a psychopathology that is astonishingly widespread and threatens modern society” and his view that fascism is “deeper than a political form (and) correlates with psychological patterns” corresponded unexpectedly to my argument that there is a psychological manifold embracing the Rajapaksa ethos and the masses and a behavioural bond that manifests itself in voting and I noted subconscious patterns of the same genre between these two and alsoa subliminal element. I was unaware of Adrono’s writings on this topic when I drafted these essays, so I was surprised by the similarity despite Mussolini’s consolidation of power (the infamous March on Rome was Oct 1922) and today’s polity in Lanka being separated by a century. I cannot say I am pleased by the notional parallelism because the message itself is so scary.  

The hard part comes next. It is to think through the differences between the Mussolini story and unfolding events here. I see three points of divergence: (a) Power sharing in Lanka is more complicated and contested, (b) the different role of influence-bearers on whom the main actors (Mahinda, Gota and Basil) lean, and (c) a different international milieu. Excellent though the relationship between the Rajapaksa siblings is, nevertheless the three are not one person – not the Holy Trinity nor Brahma, Vishnu and Siva. Though Gota has improved his image he still does not stand as tall as Mahinda in Parliament and in the mass mind; his personality cannot replicatethat charisma. It may not matter much now because the sibling bond is strong though it did come under pressure when Parliament and public showed distaste for 20A. The opposition (JVP, SJB, Tamil and UNP) onslaught on, and after 20A is enacted, will shake the regime and put sibling relationships under stress. Will the MR-GR joint-Bonapartism satnd, or will an alternative Gota-KamalGunaratne (I use the name for military Brass and the Viyathmaga cronies together) authoritarianism prevail? The odds now seem evenly split (what a lousy pun). It was not like that with Il Duce’s; his authority in party (Partito Nazionale Fascista), military, state and Church was unquestioned.  

Where Gota’s hand will be immeasurably strengthened is if for health or other reasons Mahinda steps aside. This is where (a) above merges into (b). The regime intends to fix the constitution via 20A so that in Mahinda’s absence Basil will be first choice for Prime Minister. Basil has neither charisma nor mass appeal but he is said to be clever. Gota will then have a smart second lieutenant at his call without needing to share the spotlight. A Siva-Vishnu alliance having eased out Brahma! But there is much chance and probability in these thoughts so it is not gainful to speculate further.

What about Muslims and Tamils on one side and Wimals, Gamanpilas, Vasudevas and Sarath Weerasekaras on the other? Il Duce’s had no noteworthy ethnic problems; and tensions between the rich North and the poor South did not become complex. Mussolini did crush the communists and the socialists; many were killed or imprisoned. King Victor Emmanuel III was a puppet in fascist hands. Overall, I am on safe ground in saying that fate has dealt a weaker hand to the Rajapaksas than the banquet that inter-war European calamity laid for the consolidation of Italian fascism. Italy not Nazi Germany, Franco’s Spain or any other, is the exemplar of Classical Fascism. 

Finally, I will make a few comments on point (c). Brevity is the soul of wit. I am aware that long columns are a soporific; readers skim not read. (Those not wishing to dispense sleeping pills must keep below 1700 words). Mussolini was popular after he built the Auto Strada, drained the swamps and trains ran on time. The 1936 invasion of Ethiopia proved that there is nothing like an “external enemy” to tumefy nationalist passions. Italian fascism also drew strength from the Nazi tide but it was Hitler’s seizure of power in 1933 that enabled the so-called Axis Alliance in 1936. Fascist Italy had strong international supports till the outbreak of war but an authoritarian state in Sri Lanka at this time will face opprobrium in human rights circles and from Western liberals and even governments. China will not say anything negative and Hindutva Modi will be pleased so long as the Lankan regime stays manifestly anti-Muslim though Indian public opinion will frown. In a nutshell, a cash-strapped Sri Lanka will be on the weak international wicket if it turns authoritarian. This too will be a significant constraint on a hard-line authoritarian project but a domestic Vissa Eppa (Iruvathu Vendam or ‘No to 20’) mobilisation is more important. Democratic opposition in Sri Lanka must be adept at melding together a multi-class, politically plural, ethnically diverse and organisationally multifarious (trade unions, monks, civil society) alliance. 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 7
    41

    This is becoming absurd. does this clown even stop to pee or eat?

    Just because a dog barks early and often a mountain does not budge.

    • 5
      14

      There is nothing in these articles other than the hatred of the Rajapakses and grandiose BS to impress simple-minded fools on this site,

  • 27
    6

    Although there can be little doubt of Gota’s popularity with the Sinhalese-Buddhist masses, he appears more of a military ass than we at first thought him.
    .
    The problem for the whole country appears to be the weakness of the opposition. Let us hope that the better people in the SJB, and the talent at the top of the NPP begin to show their capabilities when the time is ripe. Hopefully, the ripening will come sooner than expected.

    • 4
      0

      If anyone would think that Gota learned anything from USA- they should be jokers.

      Srilanken Gramasewakaya of the day would know to teach the meaning of ” circulars”.
      :

    • 6
      24

      Sinhala_Man,
      President Gotabahaya Rajapakshe is not a ‘Military Ass’. He is a military man who has a proven record for delivering results unlike the dong keys in the opposition who ruined this country.

      “he appears more of a military ass than we at first thought him.”

      • 13
        1

        Dear Eagle Eye,
        .
        I at least “know” who Gota is. I have listened to this video and a few others shot I think from different angles on the same occasion.
        .
        There are many of us who’d like to know who YOU are, and your motivation in writing as you do.
        .
        I think that you would have seen many of the comments where I have told other readers that you are NOT HLD Mahindapala. I think that by now there are many who are fed up with your anonymous comments.
        .
        There may be many who don’t like what I say, but at least there is no doubt about my identity, and I have always explained to the satisfaction of most who I am.
        .
        Why not do the like yourself?
        .
        I’ve not defended those in the opposition, have I? I don’t like what Gota is “delivering”.
        .
        Panini Edirisinhe (NIC 48 3111 444V) BTW, I think it time I stopped identifying myself so precisely. All those readers who want to know who I am know me by now.

        • 1
          3

          Dear Panini

          What is wrong with you. why do you want to find NRIC numbers and other personal information of anybody? Are you a drug dealer or a blackmailer for LTTE Terrorists. Or just simply an idiot school teacher of a dipshit school that is not even the real st Thomas?

          Collaborators like you do belong in a different heaven.

        • 2
          7

          Sinhala-Man,
          Why the fk you want to know who I am. Does it make any difference to understand what I write?
          What is the point that you are trying to make by giving your name and ID number while writing under a pseudonym? There is no way that we can find out whether that is your real name. You could be Doresamy, Ponnalingam, Kundumani or Sinnalebbe.
          One thing I know for sure. You are an sss licker of the guys in the North.

          “There are many of us who’d like to know who YOU are, and your motivation in writing as you do.”

          • 2
            0

            From this comment, EE proves his civilized nature.

            I have no doubt, his is connected with whole lot of untold stories. Why should anyone be that hateful towards own nation ?

            From what he adds, he looks at northerners as a whole- as anemies.
            :
            How can the kind of senior men ever be exemplary to sinahala race ? Not consistency at all.
            .
            His demented head is hired by Rajapakshe rascals for their political gains.

            All I can say, the levels of sinhala racism being promoted by the kind of idiots will destroy srilankeness. This is not simple problem at all.

          • 3
            0

            why on the earth we care about who fu..k you are? we all know you are a rajapakse clan ass-licking idiot. you are not even a patriotic SL monkey.

    • 3
      14

      yeah they are not ripe but rottenlike you old man

    • 6
      1

      India & America’s attention, at this time, far away from Tamils’ problem. Their own problems are heavy at home. US have election, China’s teasing and Covid -19. India has economic problems, China’s teasing and Covid-19. Unless we insist to them that Tamils’ problem also one of their problem, nothing can be expected to happen from their own initiation. Tomorrow Hartal (boycott) in North East. Making it success is Tamils’ duty. Many Sinhalese who are envisaging this dictatorship may mentally support the Hartal. Auura and Vallaththodam said remembering of relatives is basic right. As a matter of fact JVP has won this right to them. Tamils have to cooperate and Tamil parties need to be united and take responsibility to make this success. Diaspora has to offer their support too.

      • 2
        8

        India’s and US’ interests in Sri Lanka are only for their national interests and not from a interests of the Tamils, we know that. However, the Tamil leadership can leverage the Rajapaksa’s perceived closeness to China in their favour with India and the US.

    • 7
      0

      Body language to be worked out in terms of the photograph only. There’s no video, is there?
      .
      I’ve followed a couple of links, and got back here without reading carefully – to be informed that I have used up three of my ten free articles for this month – which is almost over.
      .
      However, isn’t it alarming, Rajash, how so many sites are putting up pay-walls? If the trend continues, there’ll be very little of value that can be accessed by us on the Internet.

  • 8
    0

    After 20th amendment duly approved the following words will come to remembered as those days in 1988 JVP time
    1)katta theiene kattakaranda name.bath kanda and bulath kanada vitharai.
    2)katta puncha balasidey.

  • 23
    2

    Sadly I have to agree with the author that the rajapukas at the moment are on the moon ? extremely popular.
    *
    They come from an unknown village down south and as 99.3% of the masses belong to their ilk.
    *
    These village yokels love the corruption the rowdism the thuggery and are mermised by the lies that come out of the sewer cesspit mouths of these undesirable s who have no respect or place in a decent society.
    *
    By adopting these methods they conveniently made it into a big fruit salad which seemed appetizing to the naked eyes and ears of these unsuspecting gamey petty racist Yakkos.
    *
    Another factor is that the yahapalanaya government who in 2015 gave a kick up the sordid stinky oozing backsides of the rajapukas but due to their not having an undivided loyalty they paid the price by getting a right royal thrashing at the two recent polls.
    *
    With the gift from the fairy godmother China namely the coronavirus the world is in turmoil and many an economy has gone into recession.
    Sad sorry shithole Lanka was one of the first to enter the recession club.
    There’s no money no job s no food to eat no fertilizer to cultivate the fields no clothes to wear no drugs are available at the h and to hit the nail on the heads of these gamey petty racist ignorant cookie yokels the cost of living is going up by the second.

    • 4
      18

      These ‘Para’ Bee Peas have forgotten that it is the shithole Lanka that gave citizenship to this lot who were brought to this country as slaves from Hindusthan by Portuguese and abandoned in Sinhale. Same shithole gave these Bee Peas free education and free health services.
      The mothers of these Bee Peas have not taught them to be grateful to those who helped. Shows poor upbringing.

      “ Sad sorry shithole Lanka was one of the first to enter the recession club.”

      • 1
        0

        eagle less punakku of a puntak
        #
        where did you come from you big time SOB.?
        #
        Desended off a petty criminal who were in a rowing boat chained to irons whilst being forced to flee Andaman Islands and Orissa you petty minded racist coward who just does not have the semen in his balls to reply.
        #
        A pussy coward.

  • 2
    26

    The only justification for total immunity to the president (and elite units of the military) is rising Tamil racism.

    Other than that it is totally unjustified.

    • 8
      1

      The Tamils fighting for justice and equal rights in their own land , is seen as racism by Sinhalese racists like you. Just like the way white supremacists viewed the black uprising against Apartheid in South Africa. Tamil people , the Tamil language and the Hindu religion have a far more ancient history in the island than Sinhalese and Buddhism , that came much later. Sinhalese racists like you who make up the vast majority of the present day Sinhalese population cannot accept this simple truth , as they have been brainwashed with their Mahavamsa myths and fake Aryan theories by their useless opportunistic politicians, elite and clergy. Just like the South Indian origin Tamil Dravidian converts to Islam in the island, have been brainwashed again by their opportunistic politians, elite and clergy to consider themselves as Arabs and hate their own Tamil origin and heritage. Even the so called English /western educated ones.

      • 1
        1

        This is not your land. but what you are asking for is not equal rights which you already have but exclusive rights which you will never get .

  • 17
    3

    During Chitanta government, observance of Maveerar Naal or May 19 Mullivaaikkaal Memorial day were not possible to observe. That was changed when India and West brought the Regime Change. This time Thileepan’s day is being prevented with the explanation of Covid-19. This has brought out protest in North and East. Harsh and hard line of military control is still there. But so far no major havoc is created by rapist army in fasting sites.

  • 9
    35

    These dumbos who make hue and cry about the possibility of President Gotabhaya Rajapakshe becoming an authoritarian ruler do not make any fuss about the way authoritarian Malabar Vellala Demalu (Ceylon Tamils after 1911) oppress low caste Demalu (Dalits) in Yapanaya.
    Malabar Vellala Demalu charge Sinhalayo for not giving equal status to Demala people. The truth is Sinhalayo have given equal status to Demalu irrespective of their caste but Malabar Vellala Demalu do not give equal status to their own people. In Yapanaya some very low caste people are treated like sub-humans.
    Malabar Vellala Demalu do not want to give equal status to Demalu in tea plantations. That is why Malabar Vellala Demalu want to keep the distinction ‘Ceylon Tamils’ and ‘Indian Tamils’ although all of them are Indian Tamils who came to Sinhale illegally and were granted citizenship by Registration in this country by Native Sinhalayo who are citizens by descent.

    • 3
      9

      Pit one against the other.

      e.g. Make Devananda a minister, Karuna/Pilleyan a minister, Jevan Thondaman a minister.

      That will hurt them pretty bad.

      • 9
        2

        There you are, instead of finding out ways to remedy past injustices ,again talking about pitting one Tamil group against the other to deny just Tamil rights and oppressing all Tamils . Indigenous Eelam, Indian origin and Muslim Tamils.

    • 12
      2

      Waterless puntak
      @
      Are you and or your demala menachi belong to the untouchable coolie low caste.
      @
      Whole time groaning and moaning about the high caste Tamils
      @
      The simple answer ? to resolve your frustrations is to take a cyanide capsule or two that velu Anna has kindly left with me a distinguished member of the said Tamil community.
      @
      Kill and jill yourself is my answer to your low class upbringing.

    • 14
      1

      This ultra racist repeats his hateful comments, but as literiture makes it clear that we teh sinahalyas are more related to srilanken tamils.

      https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8543296/

      Besides, if we would only hang on with ethinicities, we can only quarrel. Is that EE or the like ballige puthas expect us from srilankens ?

    • 8
      2

      Eagle Brain Dead Blind Eye

      “………………………….. were granted citizenship by Registration in this country by Native Sinhalayo who are citizens by descent.”

      I am sorry who are these Native Sinhalayos?

  • 24
    2

    Well … when the Yahapalanaya regime started self-flagellating, causing anxiety and confusion in the country, the return of the Rajapaksas to power was assured. People voted in large numbers in the last three (local, presidential and parliamentary) elections to the SLPP and the Rajapaksas knowing fully well that they were voting to bring back a corrupt and despotic rule. The people were not given a proper choice. (They are not ready for JVP yet). But by voting for the Rajapaksas, they’d at least know who is ruling them and what is going on. People prefer to return to their familiar world when they feel threatened by changes they don’t understand. Doesn’t mean people willingly embrace fascism. But that’s what they are going to get. This time the Rajapaksas will ensure there is no Jan 2015 debacle again – at least for the next 15 years or so. A period that will be relished by authoritarian personalities, racist bigots and greedy swindlers.

  • 20
    22

    President Gota is equated with Mussolini?
    =
    This man is not only of average intelligence, he must be clinically mad too.
    =
    The basis for this mad judgement is apparently, his reading a 1950s book. Read something more modern to begin with!
    =
    The good thing about such rubbish written by a bow tie wearing joker is that not many people will be exposed to such garbage, written by a desperate anti-Sri Lankan desperado.

    • 10
      14

      Our Prof. predicted 51% for his JVP and returned with 3%.
      He deserves to be nominated for a Nobel in Political Science.

      Soma

      • 8
        1

        somass

        “He deserves to be nominated for a Nobel in Political Science.”

        Since when did Norwegian Nobel Committee decide to create a new category of prize?

    • 8
      2

      Ratawate

      “President Gota is equated with Mussolini?”

      Nopes.
      Gota is just another tinpot dictator like Pol Pot.
      Gota is a Narcissist and Psychopath.

      Don’t worry Gota will take of the bow tie wearing joker once he receives some charitable donation from Hindia?

  • 2
    6

    His similes and metaphors are making argument more difficult to understand. I have a vague feeling he means same as most readers in the forum. It is better to generate article after careful analysis over several days without publishing them on daily basis. Good luck

    • 10
      1

      Jack@

      why is it that difficult to understand

      He says, if anything would have been made clear should be considered as ” the law”. And if any authorities would not react respecting president s statements would have to face the consequences ?
      :
      Now the question arises, how this fellow as FORMER DEFENCE SECRETARY made decisions based on the alarming decisions based on northern srilankens and their safety.

      Now the question arises how his lawyers to have defended him from alleged numerous crimes of high grade.
      :
      Now the question arises how he under his brother to have worked as a PUBLIC SECTOR GOVT OFFICER…
      .
      Authorities in Law ond order, over to you to reveal lot more to the public, because PUBLIC have the right to know the truths about GOTLERs behaviours.

      • 7
        1

        leelagemalli,

        Yes you are right. In North East they didn’t fight with government circulars or with UN Charter in one hand. That is a self confession. But Tamils prefer, on that issue, actual investigation and confirmation. There was a Army commander two next to Ponny said so too. I forgot his name and I have to look for that. Mahesh Senenayake too accepted some crime committed by instruction of their bosses. .

        • 8
          2

          Mallai,

          No need to go to WAR related issues, but just after war is over, how Gotabaya made decisions on

          1) Welikada unarmed prisoners killings as cats and dogs, – he should be man to have ordered the army to shoot or not ?

          2) Rathupaswala- young boys were killed injuring over 50 or more, .. shootings were reported while those protesters sought shelter in churches. All these were recorded and under investigation….. who gave the orders Army and STF to treat the protesters like barbarians
          .
          3) Lasantha Wickramanthunga was stabbed to death on broad day light, whose order should be those gun men to have acted so ? Mlechcha Rajaakshes were alleged to have committed unestimated number of high crimes
          .
          4) Those innocient young boys, that were ready to leave UK or other destinations for their higher education, were abducted and killed by NAVY, Army or Marine forces – whose command should have been there to go for such acts ?
          .
          5) This list would not stop….. please FRIENDs add your thoughts on all the high crimes bitch s sons deliberately committed.

  • 3
    2

    Prof, looks like you are prepared to write on this for indefinite period of time because I cannot see anything else for you to write about Lanka, in future.

  • 0
    2

    Dear Prof

    Action list for your analysis to work

    (1) Remove all the sectarian, ghetto making parties and make language/religious parties illegal in SL.
    (2) Bring about a law/National security act that will make any disappear should one wish to waste Nations time on sectarian politics.
    (3) Make Military service compulsory.
    (4) Remove Provincial Councils and reduce district and council elections to a minimum.
    (5) over time we need to look into a more sophisticated/advanced form of Westminister style parliament as Westminster is also not so democratic enough for the many.
    (6) Build a common memorial for all the Mother Lankan children in one place and have a National Holiday for environmental cleanup all Family participation..poor and rich together.
    (7) We need to put a bill board at the airport saying we are a Non – Aligned Nation and every Visiting head of state to go and pay respect in the memorial before any activity in SL.
    (8) Best secret services apparatus to be well integrated into every square foot of the land and minimal expenditure on armaments for the Military.
    (9) Invest in Maritime and Boarder protection/Environmental protection heavily .
    (9) We teach the world how to live in our planet sustainably.

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 7 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.