Thursday, December 3, 2015

Still trying to understand WWI

by Richard Koenigsberg

I. Aztec warfare: feeding the sun god

In our conventional thinking, warfare occurs when one group of people attacks another group of people. We imagine that this attack is occasioned by the perception of a threat to one’s own group, by a desire to conquer or plunder the other group, or to obtain revenge for past injustices. In any case, people believe that warfare constitutes a condition or state-of-being characterized by human beings performing acts that are "aggressive."

I propose to reconceptualize the nature and meaning of warfare. Aztec warfare provides a beginning case study. Aztec warfare did revolve around conquest and plunder, but more fundamentally, its purpose was to capture warriors from the opposing city-state—in order to sacrifice them.

When the Aztecs waged war, they did not try to kill their adversaries. Rather, they captured soldiers and brought them back home to the sacrificial block at the top of a pyramid—where priests cut open their chests, extracted their hearts and offered the warrior’s heart to the sun god.

According to historian Alfredo Lopez Austin (1988), as long as men could offer the blood and hearts of captives taken in combat, the "power of the sun god would not decline"—he would "continue on his course above the earth." To keep the sun moving in its course so that "darkness should not overwhelm the world forever," anthropologist Jacques Soustelle explains(2002) that it was necessary to "feed it every day with its food"—the "precious water," that is, with human blood.

Unlike the Aztecs, we in the West imagine that wars are fought for "real" reasons or purposes. We understand the death or maiming of soldiers in battle as the by-product that occurs as societies seek to attain practical or political objectives. We do not claim that warfare’s purpose is to produce sacrificial victims, although the result of every war is a multitude of dead soldiers.

II. Sacrifice for gods called France, Germany and Great Britain

In the course of the First World War (1914-1918) approximately 9 million men were killed, 21 million injured, and 8 million captured or reported missing. This war was one of the greatest instances of mass slaughter in the history of the human race. The death toll for one five-month period in 1916—during which the Battles of the Somme Verdun took place—was almost a million men. This represented more than 6,600 men killed every day: 277 every hour, or nearly five each minute.

World War I is famous for the strange way in which battles were fought. Men were asked by the leaders of their nations to get out of trenches and to advance toward the enemy line, where they were met with and torn apart by artillery shells and machine gun fire. In spite of the futility of this strategy, it was never abandoned. The result: four years of perpetual slaughter.

What was going on? Why were leaders willing to continue to push men into battle—and why did young men continue to fight—knowing there was a high probability that they would be killed and a low probability that anything would be accomplished?

We're dealing with something extraordinary. Historians to this day despair when they attempt to explain the monumental carnage. Joanna Bourke in Dismembering the Male (1996) states that during the First World War the male body was "intended to be mutilated." How can we comprehend an event—created by human beings—whose primary product was death and the maiming of men’s bodies?

When war was declared in 1914, excited crowds celebrated in every major city. One million volunteers joined the British army during the first year. War Office recruiting stands were inundated with men persuaded of their duty to fight. The soldiers were cheered on as they rushed off to battle.

The First World War cannot be understood apart from peoples’ attachment to entities called "countries." Leaders, combatants and populaces alike believed that they were acting to defend and preserve their nations. A monumental orgy of destruction was undertaken and justified in the name of regenerating gods called "France”, "Germany”, and "Great Britain”.

Perhaps the Aztec case throws light upon the First World War. British Prime Minister David Lloyd George described the war as a "perpetual, driving force" that "shoveled warm human hearts and bodies by the millions into the furnace."

III. The individual must die so the nation might live

In the midst of the First World War, nationalist writer Maurice Barrès praised French soldiers (in The Faith of France,1918) who were dying on a daily basis:

Oh you young men whose value is so much greater than ours! They love life, but even were they dead, France will be rebuilt from their souls. The sublime sun of youth sinks into the sea and becomes the dawn which will hereafter rise again.

Soustelle notes that the Aztecs believed that the warrior who died in battle or upon the stone of sacrifice "brought the sun to life" and became a "companion of the sun." The rising sun was the "reincarnation of a dead warrior."

Barrès declared that French soldiers—the "sublime sun of youth"—would sink into the sea to become the dawn that would "rise again." Just as the Aztecs believed that the bodies and blood of sacrificed warriors kept the sun god alive, so Barrès believed that the French nation would be regenerated based on the bodies and souls of dead soldiers.

According to historian Burr Brundage (1986), Aztec warriors who died or were cremated on the field of battle "spilled their blood on the bosom of mother earth" and then in flames ascended to "enter the sun god’s entourage." Commenting on the First World War in 1915, P. H. Pearse, founder of the Irish Revolutionary movement, gushed that the previous 16 months had been the "most glorious in the history of Europe." The earth, he said, needed to be "warmed with the red wine of the battlefields." He described the carnage as an offering to God: millions of lives "given gladly for love of country."

The First World War was undertaken, justified and perpetuated in the name of countries. The assumption seems to have been that the "lives" of nations were more significant than the lives of human beings. Germany, France and Great Britain were fed with the bodies and blood of soldiers—sacrificial victims—in order to keep these entities alive.

"The individual must die so that the nation might live" has been uttered throughout the history of modern warfare. But what does this proposition mean? The First World War represented an extraordinary enactment of this idea or fantasy: the nation was imagined to come alive insofar as it was fed with the bodies and blood of sacrificed soldiers. Warfare represented the enactment of a fantasy of death and resurrection.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Was WWII Japan Fascist?

By Walter Skya

What was the ideology that mobilized the Japanese masses to fight to the death—and inspired the elite to wage war in Asia and the Pacific? Writings on Japanese history have referred to it by a number of names such as “Japanism,” “State Shintō,” “ultranationalism,” “emperor-system fascism,” but most often just plain “militarism”—which of course tells one nothing about the ideology.

The question of Japanese ideology has generated debate among scholars since the end of the Second World War. One reason for the lack of clarity is the fact that there was no single individual or group of individuals who came to power on a specific date—such as Benito Mussolini and his Fascist Party in 1922, or Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist German Worker’s Party in 1933. Further, one cannot point to a single piece of writing such as Mein Kampf that served as an authoritative text.

The central debate has revolved around the question: was Japan fascist or not? Some scholars argued that the Japanese case was so different from Fascist Italy or Nazi Germany that it could not be characterized as “fascist”. This view dominated the discussion for several decades. Scholars Daniel Okimoto and Peter Duus, for example, in “Fascism and the History of Pre-War Japan: The Failure of a Concept” (1979) argued that comparing prewar Japan to German Nazism and Italian Fascism was misguided.

Other scholars disagreed. Maruyama Masao, Japan’s leading postwar political scientist, argued that Japan’s prewar ideology was “fascism from above,” emphasizing that Japan’s ultranationalistic bureaucratic elites engineered Japan’s slide into World War II. Harvard’s Andrew Gordon found enough similarities among Italian Fascism, Nazism, and prewar Japan to conclude that “fascism” was a useful concept to describe the prewar Japanese ideological-political system.

In short, in the early decades after the postwar period, the majority of Japanese historians held the opinion that prewar Japan was different from European fascism, and that the parallel was a misleading one. Recently, the scales have shifted. In The Culture of Japanese Fascism (Tansman, 2009), Marilyn Ivy observes that the consensus that the term fascism was not applicable to Japan has been broken. In Japan in the Fascism Era (Reynolds, 2004), Joseph Sottile shifted the debate by looking at prewar Italy, Germany, and Japan within a broader framework of “Axis Powers” studies.

Curiously, there has been almost no analysis of the influence of prewar Japanese thinkers on Italian Fascists and German Nazis—despite the fact that arguably Japanese thinkers had a much more profound effect on both Italian Fascists and German Nazis than either had on Japan. A close examination of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf shows that Japan was very much on Hitler’s mind in the early 1920s. He referred to Japan numerous times and praised the Japanese for making right choices in history. In 1936, he recognized the Japanese as “honorary Aryans.”

Heinrich Himmler was another admirer of Japan and the Japanese. In 1937, he wrote the forward to the book Die Samurai: Ritter Des Reiches in Ehre und Treue (The Samurai: Knights of the Empire in Honor and Loyalty) by Heinz Corazza. Although Corazza was not a member of the SS, the book was written primarily for SS troops. The focus on Japanese samurai (or bushi) loyalty mirrored the ideology of Himmler’s SS. The SS are identified with the Japanese samurai—glorification of the Japanese! Accordingly, the moral authority and leadership of the samurai in Japanese society became simultaneously the expression of the role of the SS in German society.

Giovanni Gentile, the great Italian philosopher, dreamt that the immortal spirit of Rome would be reborn in Fascism. Gentile pointed to Japan as another model for his Fascist dream, stating that the Japanese spirit lived on in “immortal unification of the living and the dead.” Gentile was in awe of Japan.

In Japan in the Fascist Era, Klaus Antoni observes that German admiration for Japanese ideology can be seen in a report compiled by the SS from 1938 to 1945 (Meldungen aus dem Reich, Reports from the Reich). In one report (August 6, 1942), the SS authors seek to understand the reasons for Japan’s astonishing power—entering the war against the West in alliance with Germany despite fighting a war in China for many years.The report revealed a German inferiority complex—in face of the Japanese willingness to sacrifice the self. The Japanese appeared to be “Teutons squared.” There was even fear that the “Japanese power might one day turn against us.”

Considering the massive influence of Japan on German Nazism and Italian Fascism, one wonders why American scholars have been so keen to equate prewar Japan with European fascism. Why not think of Fascism and Nazism as local manifestations of Japan’s wartime ideology? So—what was the nature of the Japanese ideology that awed both the Italian Fascists and German Nazis, and that prompted Fujiwara Chikao to proclaim that Japan was the ideological leader of the Axis Alliance powers? 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Rescuing the Nation from Death

by Richard Koenigsberg

“There is a profound connection between the idea of one’s nation and the idea of an enemy. The enemy is the Siamese twin of one’s nation—what must be destroyed if one’s nation is to survive. Nationalism revolves around rescuing one’s nation—saving the country from death. The enemy is the source of death. For Hitler and the Nazis, Jews were the enemy par excellence.”

Writing about the Final Solution, Hannah Arendt explained that anti-Semitism “explains everything and therefore nothing.” To say Hitler and the Nazis hated and wanted to eliminate the Jews because they were anti-Semitic is equivalent to saying, “Hitler and the Nazis hated and wanted to eliminate the Jews because they hated and wanted to eliminate the Jews.” Recalling freshman philosophy, I believe this is what is called a tautology.

The question is: what did anti-Semitism mean to people like Hitler, Himmler and Goebbels? Why did the idea of “the Jew” arouse such a passionate, hysterical response? Why did Nazi leaders—and many other Germans—feel it was necessary to destroy or eliminate the Jews, conceiving of the Final Solution as a moral imperative?

Hitler said, “We may be inhumane, but if we rescue Germany, we have performed the greatest deed in the world.” Hitler’s ideology grew out of a rescue fantasy. He wanted to “save the nation.” This is not an unusual motive. Much of politics grows out of this idea that one must act to “save” one’s nation—from external and internal enemies.

Indeed, this motive—the desire to “save one’s nation”—is so ordinary that we barely reflect upon it. What is it that individuals wish to save? What is the nature and meaning of these threats to one’s nation—that often evoke such radical, violent forms of action?

There is a profound connection between the idea of one’s nation and the idea of an enemy. The enemy is the Siamese twin of one’s nation, that which must be destroyed if one’s nation is to survive. Nationalism revolves around rescuing one’s nation—saving the country from death. The enemy is the source of death. For Hitler and the Nazis, Jews were the enemy par excellence.

In a previous essay, I hypothesized that “identification with one’s country” is equivalent to equating one’s actual body with a body politic. This is why threats to one’s nation evoke such passion. The idea of an attack upon the nation is experienced as if an attack upon the self—upon one’s own body.

Thus, “national defense” can be understood as a form of paranoia. The enemy is imagined to be violating the boundaries of one’s body. Likewise, the struggle against “internal enemies” (foreign “cells”) may be experienced as if a “disease within the body of one’s people.” In either case, the enemy is experienced as a threat to one’s body.

Hitler identified deeply with the Germany body politic: “Hitler is Germany, just as Germany is Hitler,” as Rudolf Hess put it. Hitler experienced threats to Germany as a threat to his body. Politics was deeply personal for Hitler. There was little separation between the ideology he put forth and his experience as a human being.

When he spoke to the German people, he conveyed this experience—through words and gestures. It’s not as if Hitler invented his ideology for an ulterior purpose. His ideology grew out of his bodily experience. Hitler transformed his deeply emotional experience into an ideology and plan of action.

Hitler understood Jews in terms of a force of disintegration that threatened to destroy the German body politic. He called the Jew a “ferment of decomposition among peoples,” the “demon of disintegration,” symbol of the “unceasing destruction” of a people’s life. As he rose to power, Hitler believed the German nation was in the midst of a “process of dissolution.”

Hitler called communists the “international disintegrators of a people.” Jews “destroyed the state organization.” Bolshevism sought to “tear the world asunder.” Democracy acted continually to “disintegrate the European states.” Hitler looked out into the world, and saw the “increasingly rapid falling to pieces of the organic structure of the nation.”

Hitler’s anti-Semitism was not separate from his attachment to Germany. His response to the Jews was based on his belief that they were acting to bring about Germany’s demise. What did Hitler’s life amount to, after all the history books have been written? His struggle to “save Germany from death” by destroying Jews.

Hitler declared that Germany would not capitulate: he would act to prevent the “threatening dissolution” of Germany’s political life in order to ban the “spread of the process of disintegration.” It was necessary to establish a “clear separation” between the two races. A new body politic would be formed that could overcome the “ferments of decomposition.”

The Final Solution grew out of Hitler’s experience of German disintegration. Because he identified so deeply with his nation, he experienced threats to Germany as a threat to his body. Hitler imagined that if Germany disintegrated, he would too.

The Final Solution revolved around removing the “force of disintegration” from within Germany, Europe and the world. Hitler’s ideology was rooted in paranoia, or hysteria. “The Jew” was experienced by Hitler as a painful entity within his body. There was no separation between Hitler’s inner world and the policies he enacted.

When it comes to Hitler, there are no secrets: what he said was what he was. This is why the German people loved him. He embraced German nationalism hook, line and sinker. When he spoke, he spoke for the German people.

The Jew was the cause of Germany’s pain, and therefore had to be removed from the body politic. Germany’s suffering was Hitler’s suffering. He experienced the pain of the German people (the Jew) within his own body.

The Final Solution was undertaken to “save the nation” by removing the force of disintegration operating within the body politic. When thinking about eliminating the Jews, Hitler said, it was necessary to “act radically.” When one pulls out a tooth, one does it with a “single tug,” and the pain goes away quickly. In order to eliminate the malady, the Jew had to “clear out of Europe.”

Email from Library of Social Science

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Can whole groups be insane?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV, 2000, cited in the “Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy”) defines a delusion as a False belief based on incorrect inference about external reality that is firmly sustained despite what almost everybody else believes and despite what constitutes incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary. The belief is not one ordinarily accepted by other members of the person’s culture or subculture.

Delusions are beliefs “held with great conviction in spite of little empirical support.” A delusion is a “false belief based on incorrect inferences about external reality that is firmly sustained.” A person is deluded when he hold a particular belief with a “degree of firmness utterly unwarranted by the evidence at hand.”

We have observed that Hitler and the Nazis embraced a delusion about the Jews and Jewish power. They believed that Jews were acting to destroy the German people and the civilized world; they asserted that Jews were equivalent to bacteria or viruses; they claimed that “international Jewry” stood behind Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin, working to unite these leaders and their nations in a conspiracy to cause Germany to disintegrate.

The term “delusion” usually refers to a clinical syndrome associated with paranoid schizophrenia. How, then, are we to characterize a delusion that is widespread within a society? What can we say about delusions that are embraced by large numbers of people within a culture?

Collective Delusion

Although Nazi leaders such as Hitler, Himmler and Goebbels were deluded regarding to their beliefs about Jews, they were not psychotic. Indeed, according to the conventional psychiatric definition, these men could not be considered psychotic. In response to my essay on “Social Madness/Collective Delusion,” a newsletter subscriber commented that ‘Madness’ understood as mental illness — a psychotic break from reality — does not apply in situations where a substantial portion of individuals from a given group share their beliefs, no matter how irrational or fantastic or bizarre those beliefs may seem. A common belief within a group becomes a norm, and as such, the act of believing is not abnormal. Therefore the postulate that Nazis were ‘mad’ or ‘insane’ does not apply.

In spite of this psychiatric definition, we can’t help but feel that — however “normative” their cultural beliefs or behavior — the Nazis’ ideas and actions were “mad.” Somehow, gassing people en masse, incinerating them in ovens (“the Jew goes out the chimney”), endlessly torturing and brutalizing Jews (before killing them) does not seem normal.

Yet we hesitate to apply the term abnormality to actions performed within the framework of politics and history. If the Nazis’ beliefs and behavior were mad or insane, how are we to characterize the twentieth century itself and the numerous episodes of revolution, war and genocide that resulted in the deaths of over 200 million people? On the one hand, one might say that if certain forms of behavior occur with great frequency in history — however bizarre, weird or destructive they may be — they are normal simply because they have occurred so frequently.

Or we can consider the possibility that psychopathology is contained within the political or historical process. Perhaps “madness” is a central characteristic or quality of this domain. Yet we hesitate to say that political history is a place of madness or psychopathology.

The Politics of the Slaughterhouse

Our difficulty in using the term psychopathology is related to our belief or fantasy that the behavior of political leaders is governed by “rationality.” In Terror and Liberalism (2004), Paul Berman discusses not only suicide bombers, but also Nazis and the history of the twentieth century. He points to our reluctance to say that political behaviors are irrational and manifest severe psychopathology.

Writing in a satirical tone:

It is very odd to think that millions or tens of millions of people, relying on their own best judgments, might end up joining a pathological political movement. Individual madmen might step forward – yes, that is unquestionable. The Reverend Jim Jones might lead the demented residents of his pathetic Jonestown in Guyana to their collective suicide.

But, surely, millions of people are not going to choose death, and the Jonestowns of this world are not going to take over entire societies. Is the world truly a place where mass movements bedeck themselves in shrouds and march to the cemetery? The very idea of a pathological mass movement seems too far-fetched to be believable.

I have frequently written about the destructive, suicidal quality of political behavior, for example, in my online essays “The Goal of War is Death,” “Mass-Murder by Government,” and “Civilization and Self-Destruction.” I have hesitated to use terms like pathology or psychopathology — because they are not useful from an analytic perspective.

Still, there is value to the term pathology — lest we begin to conceive of episodes of mass murder as normal simply because they occur frequently. Berman writes again satirically:

Is the world truly a place where mass movements bedeck themselves in shrouds and march to the cemetery? This seems unthinkable. And, all over the world, the temptation becomes great, irresistible, to conclude that, no, the world remains a rational place, and pathological movements do not exist.

Finally, Berman concludes that, yes, “from time to time, mass political movements get drunk on the idea of slaughter.”

The evidence of the twentieth century suggests that Berman is correct: Societies frequently get “drunk with slaughter.” Indeed, why should he — we — hesitate to draw this conclusion? Simply because we would prefer not to acknowledge or look closely at this reality: the political history of the twentieth century as the politics of the slaughterhouse.

Normality as Pathology

In THE 'EVIL' MIND: Pt. 1: GENOCIDE AND MASS KILLINGS, Johan M.G. van der Dennen says:

We may imagine that so-called normal people could never believe in anything as ludicrous as the delusional systems of the insane. Yet, historical evidence suggests the opposite. Whole societies have been persuaded without much difficulty to accept the most absurd calumnies about minority groups (e.g., witches, heretics, Jews, 'enemies of the people') portrayed as enemies of the majority. Such accusations originate from a particular type of fantasy which is comparable with, indeed equivalent to, paranoid delusions of the kind found in psychotic subjects.

How may one characterize beliefs or delusions that seem fantastic and generate destructive acts of extraordinary magnitude — but that are embraced by many people within a given society? When an entire culture embraces a massively destructive ideology that seems bizarre, one can’t call the people who embrace this ideology psychotic. On the other hand, certain ideas embraced and actions performed by cultural groups do possess a psychotic quality.

We aren’t used to saying that ordinary forms of political behavior are pathological. Psychiatric institutions are ready, willing and able to classify the behavior of individuals as disordered, yet hesitate to identify collective forms of behavior as manifestations of psychological disorders — even though the cost of these episodes of political destruction and self-destruction have probably been greater than the costs of individual disorders.

By gentleman’s agreement, we decide that only individuals can suffer from psychopathology — not entire societies. We have created a sphere of reality — the domain of international relations — where human beings are released from the rules and laws that govern behavior outside. In this privileged place, strange and crazy things occur, but we agree not to call these forms of behavior strange or crazy — much less to characterize them as psychopathology.

International politics and “history” constitute domains where the massive acting out of fantasies occurs. Humans collectively release their despair, anger, violence and self-destructiveness here — knowing that behavior in this realm will not be labeled pathological. The political sphere allows the enactment of psychopathology — while simultaneously denying psychopathology. How can things that occur so frequently be pathological?

Many people deeply identify with the political world in which “nations” play a leading role. We don’t want to abandon our identification with this world (it is the place where “immortality” occurs). If we were to acknowledge that this domain is the site of profound, destructive pathology, we might be tempted to abandon our identification... We simply prefer not to do so.

Richard A. Koenigsberg, Ph.D., Director, LIBRARY OF SOCIAL SCIENCE

Monday, March 3, 2014


by Richard A. Koenigsberg

Based on Jeffrey Herf’s research, it is reasonable to conclude that the Nazis’ beliefs about the Jews—and actions that were generated based on their beliefs—grew out of a paranoid fantasy. Hitler put forth and promoted an idea about the Jews’ character—and the power and danger that they represented—that was, fundamentally, a delusion.

“The Jews” were not an organized group, had no power and constituted no threat to Germany or the German people. This is usually the starting point for my own research (see, for example, Koenigsberg, 2009). I begin with the assumption that Hitler and the Nazis were in the grip of an ideological fantasy or delusion, and then pose the question: “What was the symbolic significance of the Jew within Hitler’s mind and Nazi ideology?” Why did the word or idea “the Jew” evoke such anxiety and rage?

I’ve begun to understand, however, that a “prolegomenon” is necessary before I pose and attempt to answer this question. Many people assume that there must have been something that the Jews did—or were—that evoked such a radical response. It is difficult to imagine or conceive that such monumentally destructive actions proceeded based on nothing, or that they grew out of a fantasy.

People in Western culture are under the spell of another fantasy or delusion, namely the belief that human ideas and actions grow out of rational thought or decision-making. I often ask people (who are not experts on the Nazi period) to guess how many Jews there were in Germany in 1930 out of a German population of approximately 66 million. You—the reader—might like to guess now, before the next paragraph.

I posed this question recently to a highly intelligent, sophisticated graduate student in psychology. She estimated that there were 30 million Jews in Germany in 1930. A prominent anthropologist guessed 20 million. Even when I remind people that most of the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust were not Germans, I get guesses like 5 and 10 million.

According to Herf, the 1925 census identified 565,379 Jews in Germany, less than 1% of the population. Ingo Muller (1992) reports that 0.76% of Germans were Jews in 1930, substantially less than 1% of the population.

Another charge made by the Nazis was that the German government had been “riddled” with Jews. However, according to Milton Meltzer (1991), in the 19 cabinets of the Weimar Republic up to 1932, of a total of 237 ministers, only three had been Jews, while four or more were described as “of Jewish descent.” The final few governments preceding Hitler’s had no Jewish ministers.

Herf reports that in the central forum of political representation, the Reichstag, Jews were significantly underrepresented. Of the 577 members of parliament elected on September 14, 1930, 17 were of Jewish origin, and of the 608 members elected on July 31, 1932, 14 were. Herf says that the “notion of vast Jewish power had no factual basis,” and Meltzer concludes that the truth was “the opposite of what Hitler said it was.” Rather than an all-powerful threat, the Jews were the “weakest enemy Hitler could have chosen.” They had “no land of their own, no government, no central authority, no allies, no political weight.”

Despite these facts, we hesitate to draw the conclusion: that Hitler and the Nazis waged war for no reason at all, that is, on the basis of a paranoid fantasy. Why is it difficult to embrace this truth? Because we are under the dominion of the Enlightenment fantasy of rationality—which continues to dominate the academic world. Even 100 years after Freud, we don’t wish to acknowledge that human beings are driven by irrational, unconscious motives.

One may say that the beliefs and actions of Hitler and the Nazis were irrational; that many Germans were under the spell of a paranoid fantasy. Taking this a step further, Daniel Goldhagen (1996) suggests that the Nazis were in the grip of a “hallucinatory ideology,” and that their writings about Jews were so divorced from reality that anyone reading them might conclude that they were the product of the “collective scribes of an insane asylum.”

Looking at what the Nazis believed—as well as the extraordinarily destructive, horrific things they actually did, it is not difficult to conclude that the Nazis were mad. However, we find it disturbing to say this. In his essay on Nazism (2000), Ronald Aronson reflects upon our hesitance:

The rigorous use of ‘madness’ is deeply disturbing, which is perhaps one reason why it has been so conspicuously avoided in a century rife with madness. The functionalist bias of most systematic thought assumes that there is a reason for every societal act, a more or less rational intention behind political action. It offends the intellect to suggest that there is no reason behind a major policy — or that indeed its reason is profoundly & systematically irrational. ‘Madness’ is even more unsettling in suggesting that we may be living amidst a profound and destructive irrationality.

Terms like mad, or insane, typically are used to characterize individuals. But what are we to say about madness when it takes hold of an entire society? How are we to conceptualize madness that becomes normative within a particular culture?

Richard A. Koenigsberg, Ph.D. , Director, LIBRARY OF SOCIAL SCIENCE [rak@libraryofsocialscience]

Friday, November 8, 2013


“You will love your country or we will bash your head in.”

by Richard A. Koenigsberg

I’ve been writing about societal slaughter in recent issues of the LSS Newsletter: how millions of people have died in wars and episodes of genocide. But what about the other side of the coin: What is all this dying and killing for? What is the nature of that dynamic that generates slaughter?

I study Hitler—not as an idiosyncratic personality, but as a vehicle toward understanding and revealing the template for societal slaughter. In terms of the ideology Hitler put forth, he was not unusual. What Hitler did was to embrace and promote certain very popular, conventional political ideas—and carry them to a bizarre fulfillment.

John Kennedy (1961) exhorted the American people: “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” This is a classic expression of nationalistic ideology: one should be less concerned with the fulfillment of one’s own needs and aspirations, and more concerned with fulfilling the “needs” of one’s country. Nationalism and self-renunciation—sacrifice—go hand in hand.

Hitler explained to the German people: “You are nothing, your nation is everything.” This is a radical expression of the nationalistic ideology contained in JFK’s words. The nation is more significant than the individual. Indeed, according to Hitler, the individual is nothing compared to the nation. Nazism took this proposition—the insignificance of the individual in relationship to one’s nation—and carried it to an extreme conclusion.

The nation, according to Nazi ideology, should become the exclusive object of devotion. Hitler asserted, “We do not want to have any other God, only Germany.” Hitler was a fanatic preacher, whipping up excitement: imploring people to devote their lives to the same god to which he himself had devoted his life.

Hitler proclaimed:

Our future is Germany. Our today is Germany. And our past is Germany. Let us take a vow this morning, at every hour, in each day, to think of Germany, of the nation, of our German people. You cannot be unfaithful to something that has given sense and meaning to your whole existence.

At the core of Nazism was the idea of faith: faith in the German nation and people, and faith in Hitler as the perfect representative or embodiment of Germany.

The terms “obedience” and “obedience to authority”—often used in relation to the Nazi case—are highly misleading, suggesting the mechanical following of orders. Rather, at the core of Nazism was love of Germany and faith in Hitler, which led people to want to carry out orders that the leader issued.

Hitler explained: “Our love towards our people will never falter, and our faith in this Germany of ours is imperishable.” He called Deutschland ueber Alles (“Germany above all”) a profession of faith, which today “fills millions with a greater strength, with that faith which is mightier than any earthly might.” Nationalism for Hitler meant willingness to act with a “boundless, all embracing love for the Volk and, if necessary, to die for it.”

We prefer not to acknowledge the truth of Nazism: that the massive brutality and destruction that this movement generated grew out of love of country, and faith in the leader. To understand Nazism, one must begin by recognizing that one cannot separate these three variables: love, faith and mass murder.

All forms of nationalistic ideology rest upon the identification of the individual with his nation. In order for nationalism to work, one must be willing to connect one’s personal aspirations with the aspirations put forth by one’s nation. One’s personal life has to become bound to national life.

At the core of Nazism was the assertion that there could be no separation between self and nation. Hitler asked the German people to embrace this intimate bond—to acknowledge their profound closeness—dependence—upon Germany:

Our Nation is not just an idea in which you have no part; you yourself support the nation; to it you belong; you cannot separate yourself from it; your life is bound up with the life of your whole people; the nation is not merely the root of your strength, it is the root of your very life.

If I had to crystallize Nazi ideology after studying it for 40 years (see Hitler’s Ideology), I would use two words: “no separation”: thou shalt not be separate from one’s country. Thou shalt not acknowledge the possibility of separation. Hitler was in a rage against separateness.

The idea of Germany, for Hitler, was everything. He refused to contemplate that there could be anything other than Germany. What’s more, he insisted that everyone embrace Germany, proclaiming:

No one person is excepted from the crisis of the Reich. This Volk is but yourselves. There may not be a single person who excludes himself from this joint obligation.

Hitler claimed that one’s Volk and one’s self were one and the same. No one could be “excepted” from the obligation to devote one’s life to Germany. One had to overcome “bourgeois privatism” in order to “unconditionally equate the individual fate and fate of the nation.”

Hitler’s mission as a leader was to get everyone to share his love for and devotion to Germany: to seduce the people to share his passion. He sought national unity: the people as one, united and sharing a common emotion. Nothing was as thrilling to Hitler as the Nuremberg rallies.

Although Hitler felt that he had fulfilled his dream—of uniting the German people under the banner of National Socialism—he often had doubt. Perhaps there were some people who did not share his enthusiasm: who refused to join in.

Our aim is the dictatorship of the whole people, the community. I began to win men to the idea of an eternal national and social ideal—to subordinate one’s own interests to the interest of the whole society. There are, nevertheless, a few incurables who had never understood the happiness of belonging to this great, inspiring community.

Those who did not share Hitler’s enthusiasm—who did not understand the happiness of belonging to the “great, inspiring community”—were the “incurables.” Those who refused to join in were the “disease within the body of the people”: people who refused to love Germany and to join in expressing their devotion.

Loyalty and faith in one’s nation is accompanied by the idea that some human beings are not loyal and do not possess adequate faith. Love of country is not separate from the idea of disloyalty. There are numerous examples of political movements focused on hounding those who are identified as disloyal—not giving full support to the nation and its government.

Those accused of being disloyal to their nation may be called traitors or internal enemies or terrorists. We in the US are quite familiar with how dissenters can be condemned in this way. Nazi Germany was quantitatively, but not qualitatively, different from many other nationalistic cultures.

In Nazi Germany everyone was required to embrace and to love the German nation, and to make enormous sacrifices in her name. Hitler did not allow for the existence of a private sphere—a place within society where people were not obligated to love and devote themselves to the nation.

And this is where violence comes into being. Political violence was directed toward those who were perceived as being insufficiently devoted to Germany. Hitler declared:

"We are fanatic in our love for our people. We can go as loyally as a dog with those who share our sincerity, but we will pursue with fanatic hatred the man who believes that he can play tricks with this love of ours."

Hitler’s hatred was directed toward those who—he imagined—did not love Germany enough: refused to embrace her “goodness” and the national purpose. Nazi rage was directed toward those who—it seemed—had doubts about Hitler’s capacity to bring about the resurrection of Germany. Perhaps the ideology of Nazism—radical nationalism—might be summed up in the following phrase: “You will love your country—or we will bash your head in.”

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Saturday, June 1, 2013

BOOK REVIEW of Hitler's Ideology: A Study in Psychoanalytic Sociology By Richard A. Koenigsberg

On my reading of Hitler's words and deeds, the analysis below is pretty right.  American Progressives of the time thought similarly.  The human body as a model for a nation seems to have been pretty popular in both Europe and America in the first half of the 20th century  -- JR

Once again available, Hitler’s Ideology identifies and conveys the central images and metaphors contained in the writings and speeches of the leader who defined and articulated Nazi ideology.

Rigorously examining the empirical data, Koenigsberg identifies recurring metaphors in Hitler’s rhetoric in order to reconstruct the central fantasy underlying, defining and supporting Nazism: the idea that Germany was a real body politic in danger of disintegrating—unless radical actions were undertaken.

Hitler’s political role was to maintain the life of the body politic—to prevent Germany from falling apart. To keep Germany from disintegrating, Hitler would bind Germans into a “closely united body.” Hitler’s strategy was to throw his people into the “great melting pot,” the nation, so that they would “weld one to another” into a “single block of steel.”

Hitler was not satisfied with abstract concepts of the nation. He refused to embrace a theory of nations as “imagined communities.” Rather, Hitler conceived of Germany as a “national organism:” an actual “substance of flesh and blood.”

Hitler devoted his life to this German organism—a substance of flesh and blood—and asked his people to do the same. In Hitler’s ideology, the body politic was more important than the bodies of individuals. Hitler mobilized a struggle to “maintain that body—which is the people.”

Nazism conceived of each citizen as a cell of a gigantic organism. Hitler acted to unite these cells to create a single, indestructible body. Out of the “weak will of 60 million individuals,” Hitler would forge a “gigantic mighty compressed will of all.” To prevent national disintegration, the German people had to “hold together as a single block of steel.” If Germany did not succeed in creating a body politic “hard as iron,” then—lacking internal consolidation—the nation would “fall into final ruin.”

The Psychology of Ideology

Hitler’s Ideology is a study in the psychology of ideology and culture. What is the source of an ideology’s power? How may we account for the shape and form of specific cultural ideas or beliefs? Why are certain discourses embraced with such passion? What was the source of Nazism’s appeal?

“Obedience to authority” is not an explanation. Hitler lured the Germany people by presenting a fantasy of omnipotence that they could share and embrace. Each citizen would partake of—become one with—the massive, powerful German body politic.

The Nuremberg rallies (see photo to the left) conveyed the heart of Hitler’s ideology. In these rallies, tens of thousands of people massed together in a stadium. Here at last was the German organism of Hitler’s dreams: the people as cells united to form a single, massive body. Hitler was ecstatic.

The Nuremberg rallies persuaded Hitler that Germany was real—not simply an imagined community. The people at these rallies embodied the nation: Germany had materialized. Hitler saw and experienced the nation with his own eyes: an actual “substance of flesh and blood.”

Fighting for the Resurrection of Germany

Hitler entered politics because he felt that German nation was weak and ill—in danger of succumbing to a fatal disease. He feared the “political disintegration of the body of the people;” believed he was witnessing the “slowly spreading decomposition” of Germany.

Hitler would persuade the German people to undertake a “fight against death.” Either Germany and the German people would sink, or they would enter a “fight against death and rise up against the fate that has been planned for us.”

Hitler’s leadership was based on his belief that the German body politic was in the process of disintegrating. He would reverse the process: make certain that the nation did not disintegrate. Still, the nation was in critical condition. “Drastic measures” were required if Germany was to survive.

Hitler justified the need for political risk by comparing Germany’s plight to that of a “cancer victim whose death is otherwise certain”—who would be willing to attempt an operation even if it promised “only half a percent likelihood of cure.” He compared the nation’s plight to that of a man who “appears to have cancer and is unconditionally doomed to die.” Under these circumstances, it would be senseless to refuse an operation just because the possibility of success was slight.

Would Germany be able to survive? Hitler possessed the “inner assurance” that the people’s fight to live would be brought to a successful conclusion. In spite of Germany’s desperate plight, Hitler remained optimistic, claiming that a national state could sometimes withstand long period of the worst leadership without disintegrating. At such times it seemed as if there were “no more life in such a body”—as though it were dead and done for. But one fine day the supposed corpse suddenly rises and “gives the rest of humanity astonishing indications of its unquenchable vital force.”

Hitler became Fuehrer in order to help Germany recover from her disease. Soon, Hitler believed that he had achieved his goal. Germany had “found herself.” The nation had “risen again.” The people could rejoice in the “renewal of a body that had fallen into senility.” Hitler proudly announced the “mighty miracle of the German resurrection.”

Hitler’s Ideology shows how Nazism grew out of the fantasy of Germany as an actual body—and Hitler’s belief that the purpose of politics was to maintain the life of this body. As a result of actions undertaken by the Nazis, Hitler believed that he had brought the nation back to life: Germany had been resurrected.

Maintaining the Life of the Body Politic

Hitler’s ideology revolved around devotion to this second body—the German body politic. Hitler explained to his people: “You are nothing, your nation is everything.” In Nazism, individual human lives were insignificant compared to the life of the body politic. Why? Because individual bodies pass away, whereas the Reich had the potential to live eternally.

Hitler explained: “The individual is transitory, the people is permanent.” Men come and die, but “this community shall last forever.” Hitler asked the German people to disregard their own lives—to place no value on their actual bodies. Rather, the existence of each person would be devoted to maintaining the life of a second body: the body politic.

Hitler was not content with an abstract idea of national immortality. Rather, the permanent element—what would endure—was “that substance of flesh and blood which we call the German people.” The nation, Hitler believed, was an actual body consisting of the German people as its flesh and blood.

Politics revolves around devotion to entities called nations that human beings imagine possess an existence separate from their own lives. Citizens sacrifice their bodies—die and kill—in order to make certain that national bodies “live on.” In order to maintain the lives of nations—to assure their immortality—anything and everything is deemed permissible. “We may be inhumane,” Hitler said, “But if we rescue Germany we have performed the greatest deed in the world.”

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