Father Hunger: Why Fascism Sells Like Hotcakes

Julie Hotard
8 min readNov 19, 2019

Political Manipulation

Fascism sells like hotcakes. One reason is father hunger: the emptiness and longings experienced by people whose fathers didn’t meet their needs well in childhood. The term “father hunger” was coined by James M. Herzog, who wrote about it in a book by that name.


The emptiness from lack of a father, or lack of a father who meets the child’s needs, can lead to numerous problems, including vulnerability to authoritarian demagogue leaders.

The Right Wing spends many millions of dollars on propaganda research. That insures that just about ANYTHING the Right Wing wants to sell, will sell. Right Wingers keep testing everything in sight until they find what works.

Superior Use of Science and Technology Won the 2016 Election

In contrast, Democrats spend a lot less time and money testing to find out how effectively spread the truth. In fact, sometimes they don’t test at all. Often they simply have their consultants take a wild guess about what kinds of messages to market. They seem to think truth spreads itself. Most Democrats are science deniers in the area of political messaging.

How to Avoid Being Manipulated

Some Right Wing research looks deeply into subconscious motivations for behaviors, in order to use and manipulate voters’ inner needs and feelings One such motivation is father hunger. The best defense against manipulation is to take what is subconscious, and to make it conscious so that we are aware of it — to discover things we don’t know about ourselves. If we know our own needs, desires, fears, frustrations and disappointments, then people can’t use them against us as easily.

Some people don’t see why we should dig up beliefs or feelings that are buried. Why would we do that? It’s to give ourselves more freedom of choice. We are a lot freer to choose our responses when we know where they’re coming from. Otherwise, we can get jerked around like puppets by con artists who know our needs better than we do.

For example, one person sees a demagogue and automatically falls for him — showering him with adulation, feeling powerful by identifying with this powerful seeming figure. Although such a figure is more often male, this kind of parent hunger can also work with a female demagogue, as long as she shows the kind of toughness required for this kind of role, and is able to get the political support to push herself forward.

Another person sees the same demagogue and says “Yes, I have father hunger. Yes, I’d like a powerful leader who can do well for me and for the nation. I have so much father hunger that I just feel like falling for this leader who looks and sounds and feels right. But I’m going to protect myself from being conned. I’m going to carefully research the background and qualifications of this person, so I can be realistic about what he and other leaders can offer.”

George Monbiot said in his TED talk about a new political story, that “We’re a nation of altruists ruled by psychopaths.” Father hunger is one reason why this is so.

Father Hunger’s Origins

Novelist and screenwriter Michael Chabon mentioned in his recent New Yorker story, the ways that his father came up short of his expectations. Millions of other comments and stories could be written on this theme. It’s a problem shared by many of us.


Most cultures and most people want a lot from fathers — more than most fathers can or do deliver. Was your father distant? Or cruel? Or absent? Or hypercritical? Or a poor mentor? Or emotionally unavailable? Welcome to the club.

Are you a human who breathes oxygen? Well then, chances are high that you have father hunger. There ought to be no shame in having it. The problem comes if you let it control you Maybe you have stars in your eyes, with your fond hopes for an ideal father figure. If so, you can benefit from getting the stars out of your eyes, so you can see reality, instead of only seeing your dreams.

Males may have more intense father hunger than females, on average. A male lacking a constructive father figure is not just missing a parent. He’s also missing a constructive role model for how a person of his gender should act, think and feel. A greater intensity of father hunger among males may be one reason for the large gender gap in approval ratings of the job Trump is doing as president.


Maybe there should be a new kind of Twelve Step group. “My name is __________ and I have father hunger.”

How Father Hunger Causes Us to Act and Why

If you suffer from father hunger, you may overlook serious flaws in a person because he acts in ways that conjure up your ideal father figure image. This image is different for different people and consists of qualities you most needed or wanted in a father — qualities your own father doesn’t or didn’t have.

If a man appears to have these qualities, the follower may bond with him and defend him valiantly. The leader may in fact be quite irresponsible — throwing childish temper tantrums, lying to get his way, committing crimes etc. The follower may end up defending the father figure, even though he’s only faking admirable qualities.

Having bonded with the fake ideal father figure, the follower may then ignore the very qualities he or she desires in a leader — if they occur in a woman, or if they occur in a man who doesn’t act larger than life by faking perfection. The humble talented potential leader or mentor waits alone in the wings, while the fake one magnetically draws everyone out of the building and into his vehicle. Then he drives everyone over the cliff.

If you have intense father hunger, you may crave that feeling of connection with that ideal father figure so much that you overlook the reality — that this person is not fair or smart or responsible. He’s not your protector. Maybe he’s even a con artist, rapist, psychopath or malignant narcissist.

This is like the fairy tale of Cinderella, slightly altered. The Charming Prince is not a suitor for a young woman but a perfect Daddy for people of either gender. He isn’t going to make you quickly into a prince or princess. He’s going to require that you work for what you get. But it won’t be hard, because he’ll mentor you. He’ll make everything fair. His university will train you to become a billionaire, just like he is — or just like he says he is. The fantasy story says that his rule over the nation is going to make you feel great and make your life go so well that it’s going to be like magic.

Father hunger is a strong drive, associated with intense feelings and magical fantasies. It may be stronger than the sex drive, because it’s based on the survival instinct. Demagogues tend to use fear mongering and hate mongering. They instill or increase fears of being harmed by immigrants, members of the opposing political party or other scapegoats. Then the survival instinct kicks in, triggering a desire to be saved from harm, by clinging to a leader who has super powers.

This may harken back to the primal desire of children early in human history, for protection from large wild animals by the stronger more muscular parent — typically the male one. However, our most common dangers today are not wild animals. They’re usually situations involving other humans — situations that could be handled equally well both by competent women and competent men.

What We Are Blind to and Need to Open Our Eyes to

Of course it’s a good thing to have competent men — and competent women — in various roles in our lives. However, we are better off if we don’t let that stop us from choosing the best leaders. The most qualified person for a public office may be a woman. Or it may be a man who seems to be ordinary — not superhuman at all.

When the role we seek to fill is as serious as it is in a presidential or a Congressional election, it’s better to be aware of our desires. That way, if we are pulled toward a candidate by an image of a superhuman father figure, we can know this is happening. Then we can stop ourselves from letting our gut feelings mark our ballot, with disastrous results.

Father hunger may feel so very strong, and we may feel so very empty of what we desire, that we may long to find someone with superhuman strength, intelligence, confidence, certainty or knowledge.

The problem is that there aren’t any super humans. And those who pretend to be are likely to be either mentally unstable or else con artists faking these qualities so they can con people. Maria Konnikova’s book The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It . . . Every Time, describes well the experience of being conned. Although the book is not about political con artistry, the same rules apply.


What to Do about Father Hunger

So what do we do about father hunger? If we shame other people for having father hunger that leads them to follow a tough gangster type of leader, we are missing the point. Some people belittle others for this, are themselves following intellectual strongmen. Such men appear intellectual at first glance. But they have logical holes in their arguments so wide you could drive a Mack truck through them. Father hunger is not just an affliction of certain categories of people. Many people have it — maybe most.

To deal with it, we need to face it directly. Once we admit we long for an ideal father figure who seems to have the qualities our own father lacked, we are then freer to look at the realities of which men and women really have the qualities of true leaders, and which ones are only faking.

Unfortunately, what modern people tend to do about father hunger is to suppress it, to lie to ourselves about having it, to feel guilty about having it, or to see it in other people and to belittle them for having it. Then we can feel superior to others by believing that we ourselves don’t have this problem. None of this is healthy.

The healthy way is to feel free to have father hunger — to feel it, to hear it, to see and observe it clearly in ourselves. That way, we can choose freely what we want to do in situations where it comes up — instead of letting father hunger automatically control us, without realizing why we are doing what we are doing.

At its most intense, father hunger and the fantasy of satisfaction can be so strong that a person can float along in it for years. The person can blissfully luxuriate in the sweet comfort of being protected and nurtured in the father’s womb, inside his muscular stomach.

“But wait a minute”, you say. “Fathers don’t usually have wombs.” But this isn’t reality. It’s fantasy. Do you want that feeling? Then you’ve got it.

The only limit comes when one day the person suddenly bumps their head up against the results of the criminal behaviors of the con artist they elected. There are no limits to fantasy. But reality — that’s a different story. That’s why it pays to act competently — to face reality and to deal with it. That way, you are not following an automatic reaction that without thinking — a reaction that causes disaster for yourself and your country.