THE REVOLUTIONARY ASCETIC: Evolution of a Political Type by Bruce Mazlish

THE REVOLUTIONARY ASCETIC: Evolution of a Political Type

Email this review


Mazlish grafts a little Freudian lingo onto Max Weber's Protestant Ethic--et voila!--he's got a snazzy theory of the professional revolutionary. Whether you call him an ascetic or a puritan, the idea is hardly new. Mazlish starts out by wondering why Robespierre always wins out over Danton. He suggests that it's because the successful revolutionary has displaced his ""libidinal drives"" from family, friends and lovers onto some grand abstraction: The People, The Working Class, The Revolution. By abjuring family ties, embracing discipline and hard work, and renouncing the appetites, some men acquire a strange power--magnetic, hypnotic, charismatic, call it what you will--it can be used to rivet and control the masses; the leader becomes somehow ""superhuman."" In tracing the emergence of the modern and modernizing revolutionary Mazlish looks over the lives of Cromwell, Robespierre, Lenin and Mao. None of them fits the ""ideal type"" exactly, though Lenin comes closest. Mazlish even squeezes in English Utilitarianism--it secularized the work ethic and eventually influenced Lenin via Chernyshevsky. All this leads Mazlish to some unlikely conjectures--like Mao's titanic ""Oedipal complex"" in a Confucian cultural matrix. Lenin's ""passionate emotional side"" which erupted in his love for Inessa Armand is also something of a problem. The key word for the ascetic revolutionary is ""control""; softness, sentimentality and sex debilitate him. The psychological dynamics of all this involve narcissism, displacement, masochism and transference--in a political crucible they are the psychological source of the revolutionary's power over others. Despite the overload of high-powered theories, none of this is very illuminating. Mazlish's recent James and John Stuart Mill (1975) was psychohistory at its best. This time around, working largely from warmed-over secondary sources on a dubious paradigm, he flounders badly.

Pub Date: March 12th, 1976
Publisher: Basic Books