In Zora Neale Hurston's Moses, Man of the Mountain (1939), Pharaoh establishes his new rule of law by penetrating the Hebrew womb with his "rod of state," which is intent upon genocide:
Pharaoh had entered the bedrooms of Israel. The birthing beds of the Hebrews were matters of state. The Hebrew womb had fallen under the heel of Pharaoh. A ruler great in his newness and new in his greatness had arisen in Egypt and he had said, "This is law. Hebrew boys shall not be born. All offenders against this law shall suffer death by drowning." (1; italics added)
So ends the first paragraph of Zora Neale Hurston's Moses, Man of the Mountain, establishing the novel as a meditation on the nature of the authoritarian state and of absolute political power. "Hardly less than Machiavelli in The Prince," Blyden Jackson observed in his 1984 Introduction to Moses, "she discusses power--the kind of power, political in its nature, which is the prime object of concern for the Florentine in his famous treatise on statesmanship" (152). Yet is it Machiavellian political power Hurston discusses, or, in 1939, Hitlerian? This essay shows that Hurston's Machiavellian turn serves to orient her analysis of absolute political power not toward Florence, but Berlin (Gilroy 234-35). Moses' Pharaoh presents Hurston's examination of the ideological content invested in the creation of the fascist state along the lines of the Fuhrerprinzip (Fuhrer principle, or principle of the male, charismatic, authoritarian guide or leader) at work in National Socialist Germany, and the role that ultranationalism plays as a religious faith in supporting fascist political power. Through not only the figure of Pharaoh, but of Moses himself, Hurston critiques the ideological premises of National Socialism while at the same time conceding the value of generic European fascism for a program of African American uplift via black cultural nationalism. Indeed, the black cultural nationalism that Hurston advocates with her appropriation of the Mosaic myth is achieved according to the dictates of "generic" fascist ideology.
By generic fascism and generic fascist ideology, I mean the operative terms of the current scholarly discourse in which characteristics of the various fascisms present before and during WWII are synthesized or discarded in order to create a working theory of fascism in general. (1) Indeed, in however diverse national manifestations it appeared or however contradictory its impulses and ideology within a single, national political milieu, the various European fascisms consistently propounded certain principles and ideological precepts. Historians and theorists of fascism gather these characteristics under the heading of "generic" fascism as a correlate to the study of any one given form of historical fascism, and as a field of study in its own right. In other words, "generic fascism" means no specific manifestation of the phenomenon, such as Italian Fascism, or, if one considers it a form of fascism, Nazism. There has been considerable debate in the field of the study of fascism as to whether Nazism can be considered a form of fascism, owing usually to the virulent racism central to Nazi ideology. I am of the mind that Nazism was a form of fascism; for, as Roger Griffin asserts, "[t]o treat Nazism as a form of fascism is not to deny its uniqueness, but to claim that some of its causal factors and empirical aspects are thrown into relief if it is seen as a permutation of a generic phenomenon called 'fascism'" (Griffin 96). (2)
Removing the national specificity and virulent racism of a general notion of fascism informed solely by Nazism, Stanley G. Payne lists six characteristics of generic fascist ideology under the heading "Style and Organization," five of which will be central to this book:
Emphasis on esthetic structure of meetings, symbols, and political choreography, stressing romantic and mystical aspects. Attempted mass mobilization with militarization of political relationships and style and with the goal of mass party militia. Positive evaluation and use of, or willingness to use, violence. Extreme stress on the masculine principle and male dominance, while espousing the organic view of society. ... Specific tendency toward an authoritarian, charismatic, personal style of command, whether or not the command is to some degree initially elective. (7) (3)
As shown in this essay's third part, each of these five characteristics will find its "Negro expression" in Hurston's Moses, with regard to the character's style of leadership and his alignment of the new nation in terms of a mystified cultural-biological conception of race. The first third of this essay concerns Hurston's attitude toward fascism, and the body of scholarly work surrounding her novel. Part Two examines her Pharaoh, finding in the character both Hurston's trenchant criticisms of National Socialism and fascism in general, and the very fascist elements she appropriates for her Moses.
Killing Me Softly With His Snake
Dust Tracks On a Road (1942) finds Hurston speculating as to the viability and desirability of race purity:
There will have to be something harder to get across than an ocean to keep East and West from meeting. But maybe Old Maker will have a remedy. Maybe even He has given up. Perhaps in a moment of discouragement He turned the job over to Adolph Hitler and went on about His business of making more beetles. (192)
Hurston asserts that maintaining racial purity cannot be done; this does not mean, however, that she denies an originary state of racial purity, but that the vicissitudes of sexual license prohibit a lasting lineage of racial integrity without compromise. The joke targets Hitler as a would-be god who knows no better than to believe that human sexuality can be contained and directed, and that racial purity, obliterated by the very instinct Hitler denies free reign, can still be found.
Thus Hurston tacitly assumes in her autobiography that the sexual admixture of race brings with it a corruption and then reformulation of culture, which, in itself, carries an obsolete but traceable kernel of racial purity. Informing her anthropological work, she carried this assumption with her to Haiti: "All over Haiti it is well established that Damballah is identified as Moses, whose symbol was the serpent. This worship of Moses recalls the hard-to-explain fact that wherever the Negro is found, there are traditional tales of Moses and his supernatural powers that are not in the Bible; nor can they be found in any written life of Moses. The rod of Moses is said to have been a subtle serpent and hence came his great powers" (TMH 116). As he appears in Haiti and in a mythological and cultural nexus of racial identity and certification, Moses cannot function as a measure of racial purity but signifies a hybrid iconographic genealogy that manifests itself as the locus of a new pantheon apart from Voodoo or Christian churches. A collage of Voodoo, Christianity and Judaism, the image of Moses surpasses the sum of its cultural parts. For Hurston, culture, like blood, makes no claim to a functional racial purity, but carries within it an all but forgotten originary instance of its constitutive, undifferentiated elements. Moses, as a cultural artifact, assembles within him the specific people he represents at the moment of his appearance. He embodies the signifier (understanding "race" here to be a product of a hybrid, yet unified culture) par excellence that marks the racial integrity of a Volk. To the extent that Moses inhabits a protean body of mythological discourse, he displays the ability to suit himself to the needs of a people by conditioning them as their most effective, powerful leader and, more important, their undeniably masculine redeemer, to obey the dictates of his will. Moses represents the beliefs, values, and communal bond of a racially coded Volk while creating the very aspects of a people he represents.
In this respect, Moses presents an absolutely singular (yet hybrid) cultural figure; he takes the place of an originary event that demands continued racial purity by raising miscegenation to the apex of cultural production. As an absolutely singular creative force, Moses gives birth to a racially coded and culturally bound nation informed by the power of his inevitably masculine rod of power. He kills whatever divisiveness may have existed within the Volk in its material existence and as aporetic moments in its philosophical constitution. Thus, in Hurston's short story and rehearsal for Moses, titled "Fire and the Cloud" (1934), we find a Moses near death who has constructed his own tomb, mistaken by a talking lizard to be Moses' love nest:
From the top of a low bush near the left foot of Moses the lizard studied the work. "It is good. But you have been a long time in the building of your nest. Your female must be near death from retaining her eggs." "No fecund female awaits this labor." "A man alone!" "A man alone." (CS 117)
"A man alone" has no need of a "fecund female": his sex exercises in his solitary use of his rod of power, which he draws out as a measure for how far he has been "drawn-out" by the practice of nation-building:
"How do you say that you are alone if of your kind such hosts of multitudes be at hand?" "I am that I am and so I am alone. I am Moses, The-drawn-out. It is given me to call God by his power-compelling names. I bear his rod. The blind and the mute have companionship, but I am a leader." (CS 118)
His claim to a brood limited to those influenced by his productive act of creating a Volk, Moses transmits his legacy not by blood but by the transferal of masculinist power. "A man alone" nevertheless keeps the company of another man, to whom he gives his rod of power at the moment of his death in order that the nation may be born: "'But wait, O Moses!' the lizard squeaked after him. 'You have left your rod behind.' 'Oh, Joshua will pick it up,' he called back and strode on" (CS 121).
Sovereignty passes between men without women, men with no other love than the State. The rule of law that defines the race is not passed from one ruler to the next by blood lineage, but by the cultural inheritance of sovereign masculinity. Blood plays no part in Hurston's thinking on racial purity. She construes it instead as a cultural bond between people who construct a Volk, a bond uniting discrete racial and cultural entities into a hybrid formation that nevertheless transcends its status as a hybrid to become a protean purity without origin and transmitted via the homosocial rather than the hetero- or homosexual. Moses, in other words, bequeaths his rod as a means of maintaining racial purity found not in the blood, but in "pure" cultural products--an insight to which Hitler, according to Hurston, remains blind. Hurston's interest in fascist dictators went beyond speculation as to what Hitler could and could not see. As we have seen, Hurston's fascination with fascist authoritarians is evident in her sexual attraction to a Haitian colonel during one of her 1936-37 stays on the island. (4) What she finds attractive is, of course, not any man in uniform, but one who embodies the promise of a strong masculine, militaristic, authoritarian hand setting to the task of transforming a "moribund political system" into the mechanism of Haitian progress. Hurston's enthusiasm for the promise presented by the quasi-fascistic image of the colonel was one she apparently did not feel for U.S.-based Black Nationalist political programs, especially the Garveyite movement, despite the fact that Marcus Mosiah Garvey shared with Hurston an attraction to fascism.
Despite their shared affinity for fascism, in Hurston's Moses there is no understanding of the new nation in terms of a biological conception of race, and therefore there is no positive evaluation of the Garveyite movement. The black cultural nationalism Hurston describes in the novel disavows that of Garveyism, which is, biologically speaking, race-specific. Although "Garvey acknowledges ... that racial purity is a project not a condition" ("Black Fascism" 72-73), as Gilroy points out this does not mean that for Garvey the biology of race eluded the extreme limit and originary moment of the idea of "racial purity," an idea that Hurston found worthy of scathing sarcasm. Tony Martin reminds us that Hurston "benefited from early exposure in …