Biedermann und die Brandstifter

One of my favorite small books is The Arsonists by the Swiss playwright Max Frisch, a short play which can be read in a few hours. The original title was Biedermann und die Brandstifter. Written in 1958, it is an abject lesson on how ill-informed "do-good" impulses and guilt-ridden emotions, mixed with fearful timidity in the face of aggressive pathology, immobilize people under the persuasion of smooth-talking emotional plague characters. Bioenergetically, it is similar to the way a mouse freezes at the moment before a snake would strike. The result is then a social catastrophe.

Biedermann is a decent fellow, a respected member of the community with a loving wife and flourishing business. He is self-assured and always ready to help others. Confident in his moral compass, never daring to ask a difficult question, nothing can get to him. He is a great philanthropist, happy to fulfill his civic duty and give shelter to two new houseguests whom he knows nothing about. And when they start filling the attic with petrol drums, he feels troubled — but certainly such nice chaps could not be the ones burning down houses in the neighborhood! So he is only happy to help them wire the fuses, and even ignores his troubled feeling when handing them the requested book of matches. Frisch’s play about our accommodating the very thing that will destroy us was written in 1958, but touches so deeply upon the human condition, its lessons are contemporary.

The Arsonists naturally raises open consideration of Wilhelm Reich’s discussions on the Emotional Plague of Mankind, which lies at the foundation of every fascist social movement — left or right-wing — and was masterfully laid bare in his books Character Analysis, Mass Psychology of Fascism, and also Murder of Christ. Fascism is not merely one ruthless character who lies and befuddles everyone. He is carried forth on the shoulders of the willing masses, who drink deep of his superficial charm and messages of great empowerment and salvation, and enact the plague’s programs, even while "fires keep breaking out in the neighborhood". "You don’t really believe I would light a match right now, with all that gasoline lying around, do you? This is for getting rid of the vermin of the neighborhood, not You, my friend! Just what kind of person do you think I am…? Really have you become so cynical towards your fellow mankind?" !!!!

In a world so happily running, or slouching towards a new Socialist Utopia, Frisch’s play helps ring the alarm bells.

The OBRL bookstore just got a small quantity of copies of The Arsonists, in the "Saharasia Today" section, here:
or here:


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