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.”
Received by email from Library of Social Science