The chief feature of the fascist dynamic is a process that, in the German historical context, was referred to as Gleichschaltung. Gleichschaltung (pronounced like “glykshaltung”) is a difficult word to translate into English. Literally, it means something akin to “like-switching”, but generally it describes how gears interlock and intermesh, like in the transmission of a car or as the power-train of the automobile (or a factory, for that matter). Gleichschaltung is literally, then, about turning everything into a “cog in the machine”. “Nazification” is often used as a synonym for Gleichschaltung, although that is not very accurate in my opinion. Both terms refer to a process of “totalitarian coordination” of all aspects of society with the State, although, in effect, the State is represented in the will of the Maximum Leader, which was called der Führerprinzip, and the “great personality” in whom the magic and mysticism of all-powerful “will” was made manifest. Hence Leni Riefenstahl’s famous film and Nazi propaganda “masterpiece” called “Triumph of the Will“.

In essence, the old saying “where there’s a will, there’s a way” defines fascist movement, and the magic and mysticism of the pure will, and it is indifferent to reason or truth.

Gleichschaltung, as totalitarian coordination and control of all parts of society, meets the meaning of Blake’s fear of “the dark Satanic Mill” and “Single Vision”, and is, in effect, what Gebser refers to as mere “rationalisation”, or what Roderick Seidenberg refers to as “organisation” (in Post-historic Man), or what is referred to as “systematisation”, and is implicated in what Algis Mikunas refers to as “technocratic shamanism” in his essay on “Magic and Technological Culture”. In effect, Gleichschaltung is synonymous with “technocratic shamanism” and this is what Gebser is also describing here from his Ever-Present Origin.

“In every extreme rationalization there is not just a violation of the psyche by the ratio, that is, a negatively magical element, but also the graver danger, graver because of its avenging and incalculable nature: the violation of the ratio by the psyche, where both become deficient. The authentic relation to the psyche, the mental, is perverted into its opposite, to the disadvantage of the ego that has become blind through isolation. In such an instance, man has become isolated and his basic ties have been cut; the moderating, measuring bond of menis and menos is severed. Cut, severed: what was again the meaning of the root da-? It is this “cut off, severed, divided,” the “demonic”. The gates to the “demonic forces” have been opened; nothing exists out of itself, everything follows upon something else, everything has become a consequence. We may well ask: a consequence leading to what?” (p. 97)

So, where you hear or read concerns about “hyper-normalisation”, or “rationalisation”, or “hyper-organisation”, or of the “Organisation Man”, or Jacque Ellul’s technocratic “systematisation” and excessive concerns with “efficiency” or with “law & order”, what underlies that is fear of  Gleichschaltung, and all that refers to Blake’s “dark Satanic Mill” as technocratic, or totalitarian, coordination, and the “negatively magical element” mentioned by Gebser is the mystique of the all-powerful will that effects the Gleichschaltung.

In effect, Gleichschaltung corresponds to what Marty Glass, in his book Yuga, calls “the Mutation into Machinery” as one of the five aspects of the Kali Yuga or “Dark Age” — the others being “the Fall Into Time”, “the End of Nature”, “the Reign of Quantity”, and “the Prison of Unreality”. Many books have been written about each one of these separately, although, in effect, all of them follow from the “Fall into Time” which, for William Blake, was the “dark Satanic Mill”. The “Fall into Time” is what Blake calls the false world “Ulro”, and is otherwise known as “samsara” and the clutches of the karmic law of action and reaction (ie, which Gebser refers to as “time-energy”).

Totalitarian coordination, or Gleichschaltung, is especially offended by pluralism and by “the multiformity of man”, as Rosenstock-Huessy calls that, which accounts for its intolerance of difference, it’s refusal of dialogue in preference to monologue, and is reflected in its often racist and misogynistic attitudes. And during episodes of “chaotic transition”, totalitarian coordination becomes a great temptation, along with the investiture of absolute power in the will of the “strong man” and the cult of personality — that is, in someone who “will make the trains run on time”, which is also a meme associated with Gleichschaltung as technocratic or totalitarian coordination. And it’s here that magic and technology (as Gebser’s “ratio“) intersect and become confused with one another as “technocratic shamanism”. That’s implied in the very meaning of the word “fascism” — which, on the one hand, means “to bind” but also is related to the word “fascinum” which means, also, “a magic spell” or “enchantment” or a “fascination”. Gleichschaltung, therefore, has an implicit (and negatively) magical element to it, and especially as that form of “word-magic” called “propaganda” or “perception management”.  Propaganda (or what we today also call “branding”) is one of the aspects of Gleichschaltung.

It’s this that marks the distinction Gebser makes between reason and its “deficient” form as “rationality” or “rationalisation”. Where Gebser uses the hyphenated term “mental-rational” to describe perspective consciousness (or modern consciousness) it’s to describe “reason” as the effective form of the mental, while “rational” or “rationality” represents the defective or deficient mode of the mental. Rosenstock-Huessy makes the same distinction between “the reasonable” and “the rational”. This is another parallel that draws attention to the contemporary confusion of Whole with the mere Totality of things.

Needless to say, Gleichschaltung is very antipathetic towards more holistic or ecological modes of thought where pluralism, or diversity, is celebrated as healthy. The negative reaction to “globalism” (as something distinct from “neo-liberal globalisation” or commercialisation and global consumerism) also contains an implicit rejection of more ecological and holistic modes of thought as well. So, when people speak and write about their dread of “techno-fascism”, it’s this process of Gleichschaltung that they are referring to. There is in this, then, an element of necromancy or voodoo, and, in those terms, of mystification of reality, along with a very perverse understanding of “human nature”.

It suffices, I think, to appreciate how Gleichschaltung relates to Blake’s “dark Satanic Mill” and “single vision”, and in that respect meets with the meaning of Gebser’s “demonic”.



13 responses to “Gleichschaltung

  1. mikemackd says :

    As usual, Scott, this post set me off on another fascinating journey of discovery, including, as mentioned in the free download of Roderick Seidenberg’s Anatomy of the Future, that he and Lewis Mumford were friends. It’s at:

    So, as totalitarian coordination and control of all parts of society, gleichschaltung looks to governance including but by no means limited to strategies of shock and awe, via a full spectrum dominance of which dominance in war is but a part.

    Maybe we should ask Nora Bateson for a word in English for this. It’s a pity “machination” is already taken: maybe “machinisation” or “robotization”?

    I hardly ever watch movies, but I was stuck somewhere and watched “Snowden”. One interesting part of several was when they asked candidates if they considered the USA to be the greatest country in the world. Whatever that is supposed to mean.

    Like all nation states, the USA is a social imaginary: it’s only reality is as a manifestation of the myth of the machine, energised by identity couplings with that machine via frustrated power hungers.

    “L’etat, c’est moi”, is a common delusion, for it never anything of the sort. It is only a machine. It may have great extrinsic value, but a mosquito is of higher intrinsic value. And the so deluded value those delusions above the lives of other humans!

    As Mumford says, the machine is not born alone, and as another Roderick, this time Tweedy, points out, that twin of the Machine is Urizen, he of full spectrum dominance, and murderous hatred of all who do not worship him enough. The light-bringer is thereby transformed into Satan, and his people made dominantly demonic.

    Not everyone has been quite as successful as Jesus of resisting the temptations he faced in his 40 days in the wilderness. Fascist Faustuses rule, O.K., and a major technique is this gleichschaltung you mention.

    • mikemackd says :

      As Shelley put it:

      “Nature rejects the monarch, not the man. The subject, not the citizen, for kings and subjects, mutual foes, forever play a losing game into each others’ hands, whose stakes are vice and misery.

      The man of virtuous soul commands not, nor obeys. Power, like a desolating pestilence, pollutes whate’er it touches, and obedience, bane of all genius, virtue, freedom, truth, makes slaves of men, and of the human frame, a mechanized automaton.”

      Queen Mab, lines 170-179.

      PS My Star key site has been reborn somewhere else! I have no idea how, but now it’s at:

      If it’s a reader of your site whodunit: my grateful thanks.

    • mikemackd says :

      Another interesting point from Snowden the movie was when the guys all got drunk at a party one night, and spoke about the people they were killing by drone strikes et al.

      As the state is an artefact produced by social imaginaries, morally it can no more be blamed for such murders that other kinds of artefacts, such as guns and cars. The legal judgements at Nuremberg, as they pointed out in that scene, legally confirmed the moral position, and sheeted the responsibilities to the natural persons who performed those acts, both directly and by ordering same.

      If they were not in self-defence – and it is arguable but not necessarily so that the “self” being defended is that which identifies with the state being defended (should one be permitted to kill for other artefacts from social imaginaries such as football teams?) – then such perpetrators are clearly murderers and, as such, traitors to professed principles of the very state they purport to defend, that being at present the vast majority of nation states.

      Murder is murder, and manslaughter is manslaughter, even if a polite veil is drawn over it by words such as “collateral damage” and “national security”.
      Yet the perpetraitors are let off scot free.

      Why? I would have thought part of the way to spike gleichschaltung would be to apply the laws of Nuremberg universally, without fear or favour.

      Clearly, I must be missing something here, because, of course, the principles and practice of gleichschaltung stopped when the Nazis were defeated.

      Like hell they did. To be more specific, like Mumford’s “A Brief Outline of Hell”, as applied to the present day at

      • mikemackd says :

        I thought I had posted Mumford’s “Brief Outline of Hell” here before, but can’t see it. Here it is again, just in case:

        (Mumford 1938, The culture of cities, Harcourt, Brace and company)
        A Brief Outline of Hell.

        Behold the present moment in Western Civilization. Examine the economic state of the metropolis during the last century and note how its infirmities have piled up.

        The main economic problem for the metropolitan regime, even on its own premises, is to reduce its tendency to swing violently from prosperity to bankruptcy. To overcome this manic-depressive economic cycle without flattening out into a stable economic regime that would curb the further acquisition of wealth by the minority, presents, however, an inherent contradiction. For the metropolis is by its very nature in a state of permanent unbalance: its proletariat lacks good housing and an adequate diet, to say nothing of other opportunities, even during the most flatulent periods of prosperity. Hence its financiers and statesmen seek to prevent the pyramid of values from falling by broadening the base. American motor car manufacturers, choked at home, seek outlets in Europe: Japanese cotton mills seek buyers in India and Africa: surplus capital, unable to find investment markets at home or lured abroad by the less modest returns offered, exposes itself to forces beyond its control.

        These new centers of economic gravity often fall within the base of another state or people. Conflicts result, sometimes with the states or peoples themselves. To command new areas for raw materials, to conquer new markets, to ensure the safety of new investment areas, to collect tribute from unsafe or irregular investments, to seize territory from weaker peoples, every state must devote itself to the expansion of its army and navy. Once the territory is partitioned, the states that were slow to join the scramble look enviously upon those in possession: they demand their share in the loot, their portion of the real or illusory benefits; and their threats constitute a further menace to this unstable order.

        So far from improving conditions, imperialistic expansion only complicates the disorder: it increases the insecurity of the home areas, and it drains away economic vitality by concentrating production upon the materials of war and all its accessory equipment. To maintain the armed forces in a state of ready aggression, the proletariat must be further exploited and taxed: even the rich, to keep their wealth at all, must part with a share of it. The sense of insecurity thus produced tempts every class to keep its savings in a liquid form; and this in turn discourages long term investments at low interest rates, upon which improved production and far-sighted expenditures in consumptive equipment, such as housing and municipal utilities, depends.

        Meanwhile, psychological tensions increase: belligerent impulses demand expression. The simple love of country and home and soil, a love that needs neither reasons nor justifications, is turned by the official apologists of the state into the demented cult of “patriotism”: coercive group unanimity: blind support of the rulers of the state: maudlin national egoism: an imbecile willingness to commit collective atrocities for the sake of “national glory.”

        The buildings of the imperial metropolis serve as an appropriate background for these war-ceremonies and reinforce these pretensions. From Washington to Tokyo, from Berlin to Rome, the architecture of imperialism is a monotonous reflection of the military-bureaucratic mind.

        They exhibit the extravagance of the financial arriviste, without a touch of creative warmth: the dull facades of endless columns, the heavy armor of stone in which they are usually encrusted, their pompous emphasis of their historic predecessor, Rome, the solemn tomb-like quality of their offices and halls mark that failure in life-efficiency which is characteristic of this regime. And the quarters of the bureaucracy are planned with so little discretion that a few bombs strategically dropped from the air might paralyze the major government services for weeks at a time: except for the building of occasional vaults and underground chambers, this war-regime has not in the matter of planning and building and layout mastered the most elementary demands of war-protection.

        But the growing war-bureaucracy presents an outward front of power: power as expressed in wide avenues, endless vistas of useless columns, and huge stadiums fit for martial exercises and games: the element of feeling, completely lacking in the stereotypes of architectural form, is provided by the crowds on the street: the children assembled for the singing of vainglorious national anthems, the crowds marching in parades, or the mob that assembles in the public square to behold, at a discreet distance, the leader of the state. This is the crowd whose simple hates, fueled by propaganda, transfers to foreign devils the unconscious hatred it dare not express for the classes that exploit it, or the unconscious contempt each member feels for his own thwarted self. Essential to this metropolitan regime are these passive atoms: metropolitan barbarians: a million cowards upon whose blank minds the leader writes: Bravery. A million scattered, bewildered individuals whom the rulers cajole, bully, and terrorize into a state of unity.

        What follows? External conflicts pile upon internal contradictions. Psychologically, a violent paranoia, with pronounced delusions of grandeur, takes hold of the ruling classes: the alternative is something like collective dementia praecox: suspicion, hatred, isolation, desire to inflict destruction, appear in extreme forms. These psychological states are deliberately fostered by a positive cult of irrationality: intellectual disintegration is expressed in wishful systems of anthropology, sociology, and philosophy, which hold in contempt the most elementary obligations to respect fact or ‘to establish new truths by the discipline of objective verification. The inactivity of despair alternates with national delusions of persecution, followed by attempts to inflict damage upon the putative persecutors. Read the tirades of hate that accompanied the first World War, from the Hassgesang of the Germans to the Hang the Kaiser campaign conducted by the righteous Lloyd George. Recall the extravagant hatreds expressed by the Italian fascists for the “sanctionist” powers: that is, for a major part of the civilized world. These exhibitions plainly belong to the domain of collective psychopathology.

        Imperialism, pretending to conquer the wilderness and civilize the natives of backward areas of the planet, actually helps the wilderness creep in on civilization. It was so in the Roman era and it is so again today: only today the Romes have multiplied and the whole surface of the earth is now endangered. A regiment of eight-year-old children, learning the first formations of military drill, represents a lower state of savagery than that of the most ferocious cannibals: those who drill them are rejecting the birthright of civilization, and are thus more reprehensible than those who have never reached civilization. And truly it has been said: one can NOT forgive them, for they know what they do, even as they know what they do when they bomb defenseless cities and torpedo defenseless ships.

        This systematic barbarism spreads like a cancer through the healthy tissue of urban life: the war capital, through its organs of indoctrination, makes every subordinate province war-minded. The actual conflict, when it finally takes place, is a mere bursting of a vast pus-bag of vulgar pretense and power. But the intervening period, although sometimes fantastically referred to as “peace,” is equally a state of war: the passive war of war-propaganda, war indoctrination, war-rehearsal: a preliminary maneuvering for position.

        The metropolis, which is the focus of these war forces, thus comes to represent the maximum possible assault upon the processes of civilization. Observe one of the concrete results: periodic preparation for defense against an attack by air: the materialization of a skillfully evoked nightmare.

        The sirens sound. School-children, factory hands, housewives, office workers, one and all don their gas masks. Whirring planes overhead lay down a blanket of protective smoke. Cellars open to receive their refugees. Red Cross stations to succor the stricken and the wounded are opened at improvised shelters: underground vaults yawn to receive the gold and securities of the banks: masked men in asbestos suits attempt to gather up the fallen incendiary bombs. Presently the anti-aircraft guns sputter. Fear vomits: poison crawls through the pores, Whether the attack is arranged or real, it produces similar psychological effects. Plainly, terrors more devastating and demoralizing than any known in the ancient jungle or cave have been re-introduced into modern urban existence.

        Panting, choking, spluttering, cringing, hating, the dweller in Megalopolis dies, by anticipation, a thousand deaths. Fear is thus fixed into routine: the constant anxiety over war produces by itself a collective psychosis comparable to that which active warfare might develop. Waves of fear and hatred rise in the metropolis and spread by means of the newspaper and the newsreel and the radio program to the most distant provinces.

        Here is the final contradiction in metropolitan civilization. The city arose as a special kind of environment, favorable to co-operative association, favorable to nurture and education, because it was a protected environment. It was a collective utility that ensured order and regularity in the comings and goings of men, that diminished the force of nature’s random onslaughts, and reduced the menace of wild animals and the more predatory tribes of men. Permanent settlement meant not only continuity but security. In the city, as in the agricultural villages, domestic functions and co-operative actions prevailed over the more predatory and destructive modes of life; man thus made himself the greatest of the domesticated animals.

        A humane life, a civic life, is one that restricts the fear-producing elements and reduces fear to a prudent provision against the common mischances of existence. Only in a well-wrought domesticated environment, protected against disaster and the gnawing anticipations of disaster, can the higher activities for long flourish: solicitude for the young, tenderness for the aged, an underlying co-operation between rival groups and interests, prolonged and systematic thought directed toward truth, free expression in the arts, and creative release, under the discipline of humane standards, in the arts of living: in short, a mode of life in which man’s biological and social needs are artfully wrought into a many-threaded and variegated cultural pattern.

        Concentrated upon war, the metropolitan regime opposes these domestic and civic functions: it subordinates life to organized destruction, and it must therefore regiment, limit, and constrict every exhibition of real life and culture. Result: the paralysis of all the higher activities of society: truth shorn or defaced to fit the needs of propaganda: the organs of co-operation stiffened into a reflex system of obedience: the order of the drill sergeant and the bureaucrat. Such a regime may reach unheard-of heights in external coordination and discipline, and those who endure it may make superb soldiers and juicy cannonfodder; but it is for the same reason deeply antagonistic to every valuable manifestation of life.

        Plainly, a civilization that terminates in a cult of barbarism has disintegrated as civilization; and the war-metropolis, as an expression of these institutions, is an anti-civilizing agent: a non-city. To assume that this process can go on indefinitely is to betray an ignorance of social facts: decay at last halts itself. While the tasks of building, co-operation, and integration are never finished, unbuilding may be completed in a few generations. The chief question now before the Western World today is whether disintegration must be complete before a fresh start is made.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    Yes, you posted that earlier, but it’s always a good one to bring back to mind now and then.

    Yesterday, I attended a “summit” on “transformational change”. It was organised as a counter to the Saskatchewan government’s project for “transformational change”. It didn’t take me long to realise that both were “technocratic” or managerial in approach. I’m in process now of writing up a “critique of transformational change” to submit to both groups.

    I only read, this morning, about the Sask government’s own programme for “transformational change” and realised that it is “gleichschaltung” by another name and very much resembles what Algis Mikunas described as “technocratic shamanism”.

    I gave a brief presentation in one of the workshops on what was wrong in this approach to “transformational change”. I might as well have been talking to the wind, I think. Only a couple of people got it and, as I found out later talking to them, they were teachers with long experience teaching in indigenous communities. But even the First Nations participants there didn’t seem to get it either — “integralism” as “reconciliation” because they didn’t make that connection between reconciliation and integrality. So, there continues to be these “two solitudes”, as it were which takes the notion of multiple “sovereign nations” that ends up looking like segregation and not integration.

    And my fear of that, of course, is what Mumford states about “disintegration” needing to be complete before a fresh start is made, which now looks like fate, like inevitability along with it’s more drastic response and counter-measure, “gleichschaltung”.

    • mikemackd says :

      I regularly encounter similar solitudes. It’s like my colour deficiency: I cannot see Apollinaire’s “colours rarely seen”, or in my case never seen, that others can. Similarly, they cannot see “out there” in my more limited (but still to me very colourful) framings, than I can in theirs.

      But theirs transcend and include what I can see, but mine do not theirs. Those colours I cannot see are as clear as day to them, just as all of the above is now as clear as day to me.

      Perhaps in some cases the best we can hope for, both with others and ourselves is an attitude of “I don’t know, but I want to find out the how, who, what, when, where and why” of another’s views, within a process of symmathesy. However, there was a time when I would have been just as flummoxed by what is now clear to me as you described the listeners to your presentation were.

      Understanding is difficult. We can but try. We must but try, the “we” of all us humans, not to succumb to the myth of the machine, and instead, be what we were born to be: humane. Billions succeed in that most of the time. It’s just that when we encounter the combination of Caliban and the Machine, it is so very hard to transcend. If we fail, though, we are as lost as those lost souls in Snowden.

      That abovementioned book by Seidenberg includes this quote from Oswald Spengler: “the brain rules because the soul abdicates”: it’s time for our souls to take charge once more, especially those souls now locked inside the Machine. The how, who, what, when, where and why of that is for all those souls to decide, not yours or mine. All I can advise is that their means must be worthy of the end, and to value all humans intrinsically rather than just extrinsically.

        • Scott Preston says :

          That’s an interesting piece on “Green Hermeticism”. You can see resemblances, then, to Blake’s own Hermetic code and traces of Gebser’s cultural philosophy, as well as Rumi’s poetry.

          So… this is the direction, I’ve suggested in The Chrysalis, that any “New Renaissance” will move in, being the “stone that the builders rejected” in the Old Renaissance, and by one seemingly simple amendment to the consciousness structure — the admission of the paradoxical (which is rather key to Rosenstock-Huessy’s own “grammatical method” as well).

          In essence, the cosmic picture and what we call “human nature” are co-evolutionary (as is the form of society). This is the principle of “as above/so below”, and is pretty much accepted by many physicists today — ie, that the cosmic picture has consequences for the organisation of consciousness and society.

          The second principle: “to know the thing you must become the thing you want to know”. That’s the principle of empathy, realised in its fullest form, and corresponds to “healing” — ie, rectification of the dichtomisation of Being into discrete and separate and incommensurate realms of subject and object This is the “sickness” referred to in the essay by Bamford.

        • mikemackd says :

          Thanks, Steve. I had not heard of Green Hermeticism before. I guess you posted it here and now to include the words “Our language, based as it is on a dualistic worldview, is denotative. Words have fixed meanings and appear to point to things. Hermetic-alchemical language is connotative, contextual. It is its own reality”?

          The management professor emeritus Bill Torbert also used the term “alchemist”.

          And, as Shankara put it, “the feeling that I am doing it is the bondage”.

          • Scott Preston says :

            Alchemy also had its baser practitioners, who were dismissed by Hermeticists as “Puffers” (which may be where we get the term “puffery” from). Apparently, the name “Puffer” applied to those who furiously worked the bellows in the belief that they would literally turn base metals into gold (literalists), so they were motivated by cupidity and avarice. so they were considered fraudsters and pretenders and con-men.

  3. Steve Lavendusky says :

    If anyone is interested, Bamford has written a magisterial introduction for a book called NATURE WORD by the great R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz.

  4. Charles says :

    ife is a mystery. Some are willing to appreciate and embrace the mystery. Most of the mass of people just accept whatever they learn to be a person in their culture. Some people are can express their ideas better than others. Momentum is a very significant determinate in the way history unfolds. One
    could suggest that whatever is imagined as “human nature” goes (plays) through a cycle through a certain momentum and then loses its momentum because the map doesn’t fit the territory. I appreciate this insight:

    “Every society tends to makes a virtue of its necessities.”

  5. Charles says :

    There are many good ideas in all these discussions. I agree with most every idea that is articulated. People talk about transformative change. I feel the transformative change is moving from production values to relationship values.

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