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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