National Socialism and Blood-Sacrifice in Zora Neale Hurston's Moses, Man of the Mountain

Article excerpt

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. …