Revolutionary Asceticism

The demand for “revolution” is not simply a libidinal resolution; it occurs in certain political, social, and cultural settings — in fact, revolution itself as we have maintained, is, properly speaking, only to be found in modern history — and for all sorts of conscious reasons.  With this qualification we can profit from Anna Freud’s theory.  In general, our revolutionaries do deal with libidinal impulses in terms of both asceticism and intellectualization.  What distinguishes them from most young people is that they make these “defenses” central to their lives even after adolescence.  More importantly, for our purposes, asceticism (and intellectualization) becomes “adaptive,” providing great political strength for our revolutionaries.

It is this problem — political as well as psychological — that is at the heart of this book.  Displaced libido and asceticism have functional significance on the political as well as the psychological level; the two levels joining in what we may call the psychohistorical realm.  We are postulating, in fact, that there is an enormously explosive power in “revolutionary asceticism,” that the traits of displaced libido and asceticism are highly functional in the real world of revolution.  Control over other people is a key political issue, often approached in terms of the question of authority.  We claim that the subject must also be approached psychologically; that we must inquire how “control” over one’s instinctual desires fosters and facilitates “control” over one’s followers in the political arena. (33-34)

Bruce Mazlish | The Revolutionary Ascetic: Evolution of a Political Type