Fighting the “Real” Enemy: Fantasizing the Liberal “Final Solution”
by Peter Bloom
“What joins men together…is not the sharing of bread but the sharing of enemies”
—Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian
- Exploring the Enemy Within and Without
- Fantasizing the Enemy
- The Paranoid Pathology of the Final Solution
- Fighting the ‘Real’ Enemy
- The Liberal Final Solution
The Final Solution stands as a historical landmark of the human capacity for evil. The sheer scale of this genocide, along with its ruthless intent, lends itself to passionate debates concerning its place in history. For some, the Final Solution is a unique event unprecedented in the annals of human history (Friedlander 1993, Katz 1996). For others, it is the culmination of a dark European historical legacy of anti-Semitism and ultra-nationalism (Arendt 1973, Friedberg 2000, Novik 1999).
Often overlooked, however, is its continuing resonance for contemporary politics. While the Holocaust has rightfully received almost universal global condemnation, the present day period is still marked by secret prison camps, official torture policies and mass killings. Moreover, politics remains seemingly wedded to a paradigm where an unquestionable conspiratorial enemy reigns supreme – from the shadow figure of the terrorist to the dangers of the immigrant.
Recognizing the importance of not engaging in simplistic moral equivalences between the horrors of the past and the injustices of the present, it is nonetheless imperative to understand how the Final Solution still haunts the politics of today. More precisely, in what ways does such paranoid psychology remain a hallmark of contemporary life and identity? History shows that dominant ideologies and political movements commonly rely on the creation of a shared enemy. To explain this phenomenon, theorists increasingly turn to psychoanalysis – revealing that demonized figures serve as a form of collective paranoia that has little basis in reality. Semelin (2007), to this effect, attributes genocides such as the Holocaust to cultural fantasies of ‘purity’, providing individuals an unconscious psychic security as social subjects. In a somewhat similar vein, Koenigsberg (2004) explains the Final Solution as a result of Hitler’s attempts to unconsciously stave off ‘death’ and achieve immortality.
It is for this reason all together insufficient to simply normatively distinguish between ‘false’ enemies and ‘true’ enemies who are assumed to really endanger social stability and progress. In this respect, the horrific Nazi figure of the ‘Jew’ is the epitome of a society ‘gone mad’ while Liberal railings against ‘neo-Nazis’ are appropriate responses to an authentic social danger.
These psychoanalytic approaches reveal that all such enemies, whether or not they constitute an actual threat, reflect an illusionary identity connected to a collective cultural fantasy. More precisely, they grant individuals a secure sense of self for fending off our ‘real’, fragmentary psychic nature (Lacan, 2001). The result is that the officially sanctioned hatred of a specific group and its members reinforces a secure, socially constructed ‘reality’ that ‘covers over’ deeper antagonisms and inequalities; this is intended in the name of realizing an ever elusive utopian fantasy promising psychic wholeness (Zizek, 1989). Hence, even if a threat is real, it is a still a pathological delusion shaping social discourse and identifications, with possibly dangerous political ends.
This paper seeks to construct a broader psychoanalytic theory for understanding the universal political and cultural role of paranoia, demonization and enemy creation. Drawing particularly on the work of Jacques Lacan, it highlights the affective ‘grip’ of ideologies (Glynos 2001) revolving around a mass fear of enemies across time and contexts. Selfhood is constructed through the presence of a ‘fantasamatic narrative’ centering on the eternal struggle to realize a promised utopian state against the constant threat of a malicious ‘Other’ (Bloom and Cederstrom 2009).
Expanding on current approaches stressing the relationship of positive social identities to the desire for ontological security (Giddens 1991), this analysis emphasizes the paradoxically stabilizing role of enemies for ‘mastering’ such existential anxiety. Identity, in this reading, is founded not in the coming of the positive fantasy itself but, rather, in the continuous striving against enemies for its achievement.
Here, selfhood is formed and reproduced in a repetitive psychic ‘history’ associated with this ongoing paranoid struggle. In this sense, individual’s fear of the ‘real’ enemy (their own fragmentary and non-coherent psychic nature) is covered over through transference onto a socially acceptable enemy. Hence, ironically, the more paranoid one feels the more secure their identity.
This broader theoretical framework, in turn, opens the space for examining the similar function of paranoia and the reliance on enemies within seemingly opposing political systems. Notably, regardless of the character of a politics– inclusive or exclusive, explicitly racist or publicly anti-prejudice, or democratic or authoritarian—always apparent is a common pathology of needing to overcome the malevolent intents of an always dangerous, officially sanctioned adversary.
In this regard, political identity is likewise assured through an affective narrative with a defining feature of paranoia. This shared paranoia is witnessed, for instance, in the similar pathologies exhibited by Nazis in their undertaking of the Final Solution, and contemporary Liberal Democracy with its pre-occupation with destroying ‘anti-liberal’ enemies of all stripes, most recently Islamic terrorists. Each, despite ideological and normative differences, relied upon a fantasmatic narrative characterized by the ‘eradication’ of its adversaries.
This analysis is structured as follows. First, it critically reviews the existing socio-psychological literature on enemy construction, highlighting its currently, and relatively underexplored, ability for revealing the affective relation between ideology, identity and paranoia. The analysis then attempts to bridge this gap by exploring the Lacanian concepts of fantasy, narrative and history. Building on this theoretical framework, it considers how the Nazi’s Final Solution was premised on a paranoid affective narrative that depended, paradoxically, on the elimination of its enemies: primarily the threat of international Jewry.
It follows this exploration of Nazism’s pathological roots by revealing the analogous paranoia present, ideologically and historically, within Liberal Democracies. Focusing in particular on the US, it shows how ongoing fantasies of American exceptionalism relied similarly upon an ‘enemy’ (ranging from Native Americans in the past to terrorist in the present) that must be exterminated. Ironically, the Liberal democracies of the time, the world over, attempted to achieve ‘psychic mastery’ over the trauma of the Holocaust through construction of their own Liberal Final Solution.
II. Exploring the Enemy Within and Without:
Bridging Social and Psychological Understandings of Enemy Formation
The creation and presence of enemies has played a fundamental role in forming and sustaining societies and collective identities across time and context. Scholars emphasize the essential function of this antagonistic other for binding communities together in a common identity and purpose (Aho 1993, Campbell 1992, Kinnvall 2004, Turner et al. 1987).
Political theorists, from Schmidt (1922) onwards, furthermore, have connected social cohesion and construction to the ‘friend/enemy’ distinction (Derrida 1997). This preoccupation with enemies has been linked to deeper processes of individual’s psychological development. Nevertheless, this growing awareness of the psychological foundations of enemies is not mutually exclusive or counter to those more interested in its social dimension. Rather, they can serve to enhance such understandings, revealing the psychology of threat and paranoia underpinning broader social identities.
The creation of enemies plays a major part in the wider formation of selfhood. The ‘image of the enemy’ is associated with a child’s discovery of their ‘place in the world’. In discovering where they are from and in the process ‘who they are’ they also assume ‘who they are not’ and more fearfully who is threatening this identity (Piaget and Weil 1951). In doing so, they are able to assume an identity based on existing categorizations of ‘allies’ and ‘enemies’.
What emerges is a deeper acceptance of ‘us’ verse ‘them’ binaries which, in turn, guide definitions of selfhood and understandings of others as well as their surrounding environment. To this end, experiments reveal that individuals find it most easy to accept the reasoning of those culturally similar to themselves while experiencing the most difficulty in understanding the perspectives of perceived cultural ‘enemies’ (Middleton et al. 1970).
While these perceived subjective differences may have some concrete basis in the wider struggle between groups for material resources (Sherif et al. 1961), their ultimate roots are more imaginary and psychological in character. Research shows that children attribute negative characteristics to pictures of supposed ‘enemies’ before having any substantive reasons for disliking or fearing them (Johnson et al. 1970). These biases continue and commonly harden in the maturation to adulthood.
Older individuals will often presume that information and sources confirming their prejudices are ‘objective’ while denigrating those that challenge their biases as ‘subjective’ and ill intentioned (Zanna, Klossen and Darley 1976; Vallone, Ross and Lepper 1985). This continuous belief in an ‘enemy’ has, moreover, positive psychological effects for actors, despite its frequently negative social consequences.
Social identity theorists reveal that individuals often create and fixate on enemies in order to increase their own self-esteem, a psychology illustrated in the fact people will regularly sacrifice maximizing their own personal gain if it means that their adversaries will lose more (Tajfel and Turner 1986).
Reflected, is the underlying paranoia marking identity. Psychoanalytic theories often attribute such enemy formation to ways children in their development try to understand how individuals can be good and bad by ‘splitting’ individuals and later countries into ‘good’ or ‘bad’ categories. It is a way to ward off the inherent anxiety about their surroundings and those around them (Volkan 1988).
As a result the maintaining of a consistent self involves the sustaining of a consistent perception of these ‘friend’ and ‘enemy’ distinctions. Thus a threatening other must remain threatening despite changing circumstances or new information challenging such assumptions. Walsh (1992) describes identification, therefore, at least in part, as a ‘classic paranoid relationship’.
The paranoid psychology linking personal identity to enemy creation has broader social ramifications. The construction of enemies relates to desires to claim a ‘sense of belonging’ to certain communities and in doing so reinforce their self of sense (Harle 1994). Social identity, hence, is a simultaneous process of assimilation and distancing. Individuals will identify more strongly with those groups which accentuate the affinities between group members while emphasizing their differences with outsiders (Huddy 2001, Monroe et al. 2000, Turner et al. 1987).
Key, in this respect, is the acceptance of the ‘morality’ of those similar to oneself and the ‘immorality’ of our accepted foes. Experiments across cultural contexts illuminate how individuals naturally and repeatedly distort the motivations of those we dis-identify with as ‘enemies’, perceiving their rather ordinary actions as having malevolent intentions (Taylor and Jaggi 1974). At the broader level of society, ideas of citizenship consistently entail, at least in one’s public performances, a ‘civic duty to hate’ based on a strong emotional abhorrence of an officially approved ‘enemy other’ (Yekelchyk 2006).
Emerging, in turn, is the function of this paranoid psychology for preserving one’s social identity. Personal notions of self-hood are not ‘set in stone’, so to speak, inalterable and rigid in their nature. An individual’s identity is never singular but multiple, spanning a range of levels from personal to intergroup to even interspecies. Consequently as self-categorization theory points out, individuals constantly and ‘fluidly’ shift back and forth between personal and collective identifications (Monroe et al. 2000, Oakes et al. 1994).
Social identities, to this effect, are strongest ironically when they are felt to be most under threat. During periods of greater social anxiety people will often cling more strongly to historically established collective identities such as those associated with a nation or religion (Kinvall 2004). This entails transferring such fears of identity loss to the threat of a social ‘enemy’ like those of an enemy nation or another faith.
These insights gesture toward the larger relation of the ways psychological and social perspectives can by synthesized for explaining the role of enemies in supporting hegemonic ideologies and social relations. A key problem with ‘self-categorization theory’ as it currently exists is that it ‘tends to treat context as if it were a given and categories as if they are largely read off from this context’ (Reicher and Hopkins 2001: 39).
This reflects a larger critical lack within social psychological perspectives regarding their treatment of ideology and its over-arching importance for identity construction (Kinvall 2004). Required, hence, is a theory which can ‘shed light on how identiﬁcations of the ‘inside’ link to the regulatory power of the discursive ‘outside’” (Barker 1999:18–19). The psychoanalytic theories of Jacques Lacan help to bridge this gap, connecting ideologies to broader psychological fantasies structuring selfhood against the eternal threats of enemies.
III. Fantasizing the Enemy
Psychoanalytic perspectives help reveal how psychological configurations of the enemy are transferred onto and serve to reinforce shared social identifications. More precisely, they illuminate the function of enemies for reaffirming the legitimacy of prevailing world views and ideologies. Emphasized, in this regard, are the affective ‘historical’ narratives structuring selfhood. These ‘stories’ provide individuals with ontological security, a security linked to the presence of culturally accepted ‘enemies’.
Highlighted is the significance of emotions, such as anxiety and fear, for identity construction, both personally and collectively (Bion 1961; Craib 1989; Kristeva 1991 and Volkan 1988). At stake in these perspectives is to prioritize ‘the inner life of human beings by seeing individuals as linked not only structurally but also through emotional intersubjectivity in which they continually receive and give emotional messages that often exist at an unconscious level’ (Kinnvall 2004: 752).
Central, in this respect, is the ontological security individuals derive from these social identities. Security refers here to a “person’s fundamental sense of safety in the world and includes a basic trust of other people. Obtaining such trust becomes necessary in order for a person to maintain a sense of psychological well-being and avoid existential anxiety” (Giddens 1991: 38–39). This ‘secure’ identity provides individuals with “a protection against future threat and dangers which allows the individual to sustain hope and courage in the face of whatever debilitating circumstances she or he might later confront” (Giddens, 1991: 39).
Importantly, this ‘sense of safety’ is assured through the production of a ‘secure reality’. For this reason, psychoanalytic perspectives study security as a “specific metaphysics of life” which “does not just explain how a security story requires the definition of threats, a referent object, etc. but also how it defines our relations to nature, to other human beings and to the self” (Huysman 1998: 231).
Significantly, this ‘reality’ is marked through and through by paranoia. Specifically, the construction of selfhood is directly associated with an individual’s own fears of otherness within him or herself. Drawing on the insights of Lacan, Kristeva (1991: 187) declares, therefore, that
whom I reject and with whom I identify, I lose my boundaries, I no longer have a container, the memory of experiences when I had been abandoned overwhelm me, I lose my composure. I feel “lost,” “indistinct,” “hazy.”
The centrality of this antagonistic other for identity, consequently, is the ironic psychological security it grants individuals. Notably, such generalized enmity is not attributable to concrete experiences. Rather they are manifested, beginning in childhood, as “a fantasy figure that presents threats to the warm and safe places in a child’s lives” (Silverstein 1992: 156). In time this becomes transferred onto broader socio-political figures often in support of broader socio-political values and regimes of power (van Dijk 1997: 32–33).
This positive relation between social ideologies on the one hand and the psychological paranoia of enemies on the other is especially highlighted in Lacanian theories of fantasy. For Lacan the subject is essentially and eternally alienated from his or her ‘self’. Individuals exist, in this sense, in a state of perpetual ‘lack’, by which they continually try to secure an ever elusive sense of self associated with an over-arching cultural fantasy.
In this respect, for Lacan (2001: 259) fantasy “in its fundamental use (exists as) the means by which (an individual) maintains himself at the level of his vanishing desire, vanishing inasmuch as the very satisfaction of demand deprives him of his object.” Importantly, this fantasy ‘knots together’, according to Lacan, an unconscious symbolic discourse with an imagined ego ideal in order to provide individuals with a precarious subjective coherence through “covering over the lack in the Other, and consequently; as filling the lack in the subject” (Stavrakakis 1999: 46).
The presence of an always threatening enemy is imperative to this fantasmatic identification. Indeed, this attempt to stabilize selfhood linked to a cultural fantasy is ironically defined by its constant and eternal failure. As Stavrakakis (1999: 29) declares “For even the idea of identity to become possible its ultimate impossibility has to be instituted. It is this constitutive impossibility that, by making full identity impossible, makes identification possible, if not necessary”.
In order to explain this failure, however, individuals turn to a ‘malevolent’ other – a demonized figure that is seen as trying to prevent them from realizing this illusionary future psychic wholeness. (Daly 1996) Accordingly, identity is contained within a fantasmatic narrative between a stabilizing and destabilizing fantasy (Bloom and Cederstrom 2009, Rhodes and Bloom 2011).
Hence, there is a universal paranoia characterizing identification despite contextual differences. Namely, selfhood is assured in the eternal struggle against an ‘enemy’. Here the ever present internal insecurities individuals have regarding their identity is assuaged, though never completely, via the imagined presence of an external foe. While the specifics of the enemy may be different, all share in a common psychological ‘history’ revolving around this threatening figure.
Accordingly, for Lacan history is not chronological but a psychic ‘repetition’ associated with a fantasmatic narrative. History, to this effect,
represents the past in its real form; it is not the physical past whose work of memory, not the historical past in which man finds the guarantor of his future, but rather the past which manifest itself in an inverted form in repetition (Lacan, 2001: 100).
Thus, the ‘enemy’ is ‘me’, in so much that one secures their identity in relation to this other. Quoting Kristeva (1982: 4) again ‘it is something rejected from which one does not part, from which one does not protect oneself as from an object.”
Revealed, in turn, is the paradox at the heart of identity. The more paranoid one feels the more secure their identification. This seeming contradiction is explained by the fact that it is not the object of our desire that structures selfhood but the constant struggle to achieve it. As Campbell and Jones (2004: 237) evocatively declare regarding the contemporary fantasy of ‘entrepreneurship’:
One secures identity not in ‘being’ an enterprising subject but in the gap between the subject and the object of desire. Not only does it not matter that the object is unattainable. This lack is central to maintaining desiring. And, as Lacan indicates, if we ever achieve the object of desire, it collapses…
As such, a state of paranoia is often embraced, indeed more strongly, when the actual threat from such enemies is relatively non-existent. Nativist identities, for instance, targeting immigrants are often more prevalent in communities with few or no immigrants. Likewise, historically, anti-Semitism thrived in Poland despite the comparatively small number of Jews living in the country (Murer 1999). The paradox of a paranoid identity gestures toward the deeper pathologies driving not only the usual suspects such as Nazi ‘final solution’ or the Stalinist gulags, but political identities universally.
IV. The Paranoid Pathology of the Final Solution
The final solution is perhaps one of the most written about and theorized events in history. The attempted genocide of an entire population, especially on such a mass scale, was arguably unprecedented. Yet despite such scrutiny, the ‘truth’ of this event remains fiercely debated. Such debates have produced in their wake a diverse set of historical perspectives for understanding the holocaust.
Amongst these, psychological approaches have been increasingly prominent. These perspectives investigate the psychology driving this genocide as well as ways communities and individuals have affectively sought to cope with it retrospectively. Specifically relevant to this analysis, is the pathology underlying these actions and its resonance with contemporary political ideologies and identities.
The final solution existed as much as a collective cultural fantasy as it did a concrete policy. Indeed, it was grounded in a tradition of ideological utopianism originating in the European enlightenment (Mosse 1978). Its legitimacy lied, in no small part, on its appeal to a ‘perfect’ German state that could be achieved only through the eradication of the Jews and other unworthy people. Consequently, this utopian politics was at its core a paranoid fantasy.
It revolved and was sustained by a common commitment and identity to fighting against the threatening enemies to this ideal. More to the point, the binding force of a broader Nazi identity was founded in its ability to cohere a wide array of ‘enemies’ into a shared vision and identification. Arno (1988: 108), putting aside the more controversial elements of his overall analysis, captures this paranoid dynamic well when notes that
Anti-Semitism did not play a decisive or even significant role in the growth of the Nazi movement and electorate. The appeals of Nazism were many and complex. People rallied to a syncretic creed of ultra-nationalism, Social Darwinism, anti-Marxism, anti-bolshevism, and anti-Semitism, as well as to a party programs calling for the revision of Versailles, the repeal of reparations, the curb of industrial capitalism, and the establishment of a v�lkisch welfare state.
This simultaneously paranoid and utopian fantasy provided the framework for an encompassing political narrative structuring Nazi reality and as such guiding its decision for undertaking the final solution. The recent groundbreaking scholarship of Herf (2008) illuminates the political character of this shared paranoid self. He maintains, in the regard, that
The Jewish Enemy is a history of the translation of radical anti-Semitic ideology into the Nazi narrative present… From the beginning to the end of the war which he and his government had launched, Hitler and his associates concluded that their paranoid fantasy of an international Jewish conspiracy was the key to contemporary history.’ (Herf 2008)
Hence, the danger posed by Jews was instrumental in framing the government’s worldview and in turn stabilize a broader German identity.
This politics reflected, furthermore, the fantasmatic narrative psychologically governing German identity during this period. The Nazi self was stabilized via an affective story where their eventual triumph had to be constantly protected and pursued against internal and external foreign enemies, most prominently amongst these the Jews. Whereas the threat of the international Jewry was always to a degree a centerpiece of the regime’s beliefs, it was this fantasmatic narrative which provided the foundation for its broader eradication policies. Returning again to the insights of Herf (2008), he contends that
the distinctly genocidal and most dangerous aspect of Nazi Germany’s anti-Semitism did not lie in reprehensible racial biology that has understandably received so much attention. Rather it lay in its paranoid, political accusation that a historical actor called “international Jewry” had become the central driving force of modern history and Germany’s main enemy. Attacking and murdering the Jews everywhere was the absurdly logical corollary of this assumption.
What emerges, to this end, is the pathology driving the final solution. Namely, it was a pathology based on a desire to achieve ‘psychic mastery’ over the past and future. Santer (1992: 144) refers, in this respect, to the narrative fetish deployed by Germans and other Europeans in the wake of the Holocaust to deal with its traumatic effects.
Specifically, through the construction of a structuring narrative, communities attempted to effectively ‘cover over’ the trauma of the past. In doing so they sought consciously to cope with a ‘past that will not go away’ and unconsciously with their own psychic anxieties. As Santer (ibid: 147) argues “far from providing a symbolic space for the recuperation of anxiety, narrative fetishism directly or indirectly offers assurances that there was no need for anxiety in the first place”.
While Santer is speaking of those living in the historical shadow of the holocaust, these psychoanalytic insights apply equally to those responsible for carrying out and tacitly supporting such crimes. The fantasmatic narrative supporting the Nazi’s paranoid politics was a fetishized narrative that secured them in their identities as Germans, against both socio-political traumas (such as loss of First World War) and existential anxieties.
Through eradicating the ‘Jew’ and other ‘undesirables’ their identification would, heretofore, be assured. Present was a pathology premised on the continual need to eradicate an ‘enemy’ other in order to preserve oneself. This pathology can be seen, for instance, in the euthanasia policies preceding and giving birth to the final solution, as those that were ‘not worthy of life’ had to be killed for the sake of protecting the health of ‘real’ Germans (Friedlander 1997).
Significantly, and not to be ignored, was that this paranoia was paradoxically essential to the stability of this identification. Whilst a key element of this narrative fetish is again the longing to ‘psychically master’ historical traumas and deeper seated anxieties, it ironically revolves around the continual and conscious recreation of these insecurities for securing the self. Semelin, to this effect, associates ontological security with the political security individuals find in a shared paranoid fueled identity of victimhood linked to the fear of an enemy other. He notes
the discourse of the other to be destroyed feeds upon a rhetoric of the threat that he represents. It is for this reason that the theme of conspiracy is often perceived, conspiracy plotted by the dangerous “them,” of whom “we” develop a paranoid representation. Such a process is above all imaginary: “as they want to kill us, we must kill them ﬁrst, as quickly as possible.” Everything happens as if it were an urgent problem of security. He who prepares to become the assassin presents himself as the victim (Semelin 2003: 197).
Represented, here, is the inexorable connection between psychic death and actual genocide. Koenigsberg (2004) illuminates, in this regard, the ‘deeper structure’ of Nazi ideology as centering on the drive for immortality. The paranoid fantasy of the Final Solution was expressed metaphorically in the image of a body who in order to become immortal had to eliminate the internal ‘destructive force’ of the Jews.
In the wider cultural realm this coping mechanism is transferred onto the struggle against a menacing other, whereby one’s identity first disappears and then can be reclaimed in the face of one’s enemies. Freud, tellingly, associated such pathologies to the ways children coped with the loss of their mother through playing a game where they restaged this loss, though now in a way they could assert control over. Yet, importantly these enemies do not and cannot disappear. It is exactly here that Lacanian notions of narrative and history are so instructive.
It is paradoxically through enhancing this constructed threat that individual’s are most psychically secure; their identity stably ensconced in a narrative battle against malicious enemies. This echoes Volkan’s (1997) later insight that socially promoted traumas in conjunction with ‘chosen glories’ can be constantly reactivated to fend off the ontological insecurity and existential anxiety characterizing our ‘real’ fragmentary psychic state. Consequently, through constantly invoking the mortal danger of the Jews, the Nazis offered German citizens an ever more secure national identity.
This paranoia, this staging of anxiety, was accordingly perversely comforting. It was, in the words of Zizek (1997: 47) “the paradoxical jouissance (enjoyment), the payment, that the exploited, the servant, receives from the Master”. In particular it allowed individuals to transfer their own fears and insecurities onto an enemy other. Lifton (1988), for example, notes from his own work with former Nazi doctors that much of their actions stemmed from their own anxieties concerning their mortality. At a broader level, this ideology was imperative for covering over the horrors involved with waging an external war and internal repression, therefore making it easier for perpetrators to carry out these acts (Lang 1990).
In the case of the Nazis, however, this paranoid political pathology took on a further paradox. On the one hand, it required an enemy to survive as an affective ideology and identity. On the other, the very paranoid nature of this pathology necessitated that this enemy be eradicated. This double paradox, as will be shown, has much contemporary relevance. Current liberal ideologies and regimes still rely on an enemy ‘other’ for their own legitimacy and psychological appeal. Yet just as importantly, it is an ‘enemy’ that must be but can never be fully destroyed.
V. Fighting the ‘Real’ Enemy: Approaching a Paranoid Liberalism
Thus far this paper, has examined the psychological basis for understanding the continuing and seeming universal importance of ‘the enemy’ for the construction of collective socio-political identities. In particular, it illuminated the paranoid pathology driving the Nazi final solution - one founded on the need for a threatening enemy that must be exterminated.
The inclusive and normatively pluralistic values of Liberalism would seem at first glance to be a polar opposite of such reactionary and genocidal policies. However, both ideologically and historically, Liberalism and liberal democracies, respectively, have similarly relied on the presence of a menacing other that must be destroyed. Reflected, in turn, are the universal paranoia and more specifically shared pathology driving these seemingly opposed politics.
As a normative political philosophy, Liberalism famously espouses the importance of tolerance and inclusiveness. Yet alongside such values lies a deep sense of paranoia. Indeed, at the heart of its philosophy resides a clear rejection and anxiety regarding ‘non-liberal’ beliefs and regimes. This threat transcends simple rational disagreements. As Shklar (2004) argues, the philosophical origins of Liberalism can be found in its emotional ‘fear’ of ‘cruelty’ and arbitrary rule.
While this fear may be normatively attractive politically, it also represents the paranoia underlying liberalism as an affective ideology and source of identification. Significantly, throughout its history this psychological ‘fear’ has been transferred onto a deeper anxiety regarding the ever present danger posed by the ‘enemies’ of Liberalism. According to Prozorov (2006: 75), Liberalism relies on an “ultra-politics of the foe” which “proceeds through the elucidation of the paradoxes of the political ontology of liberalism, which permit the exclusion of the ‘enemy of liberalism’ as an inhuman being, whose existence is `contrary to nature.”
This paranoia inherent to Liberalism has been translated into a broader paranoid politics characterizing past and present Liberal democracies. To this end, the construction of a shared Western identity – a major precursor to current shared democratic identities – always depended on a foreign ‘enemy’ (Harle 2000). The fundamental importance of this critical other has remained a key component of liberal democratic identities generally.
In the cold war, the Soviet Union famously served as a unifying enemy for psychologically binding together individuals into a common liberal democratic identity domestically and internationally (Silverstein 1992). This reflected a deeper Liberal fantasmatic narrative, whose roots can be found in the early 20th century, which drew upon the threat of a ‘totalitarian’ other for its legitimacy and appeal (Alpers 2000). Here, the menace of a non-liberal enemy helped sustain a commitment to liberal democratic identifications and their associated socio-political regimes despite internal social and economic contradictions such as racism and inequality.
This non-liberal enemy is therefore a central element for the construction and stabilizing of the liberal democratic self. Specifically, it provides subjects with ontological security in the face of social dislocation and deeper psychic anxieties associated with their identity. Outside of liberal democracies, Kinvall (2004) links the rise of religious fundamentalism to the wider changes and subsequent insecurities brought about by globalization.
This appeal to a traditional identity can be likewise seen in the rise of the American conservative reaction, most prominently in the so-called ‘Tea Party, in response, at least in part, to the recent financial crisis. Opposing what they see as the encroaching ‘socialism’ within American politics, this movement harkened back to the ‘founding principles’ (e.g. individual rights and the free market) of the country in the hopes of recapturing its lost promise. To this end, it represented a modern form of ‘outrage advocacy’ whose passionate character was a response to a perceived ‘turning point in history’, symbolized here by the adoption of the Obama health care agenda (Berry and Sobieraj 2012).
This outrage was significantly transferred onto a fantasmatic enemy, symbolizing all that was corrupt and wrong in the present system. According to Williamson et al. (2012) the anti-government stereotype of this movement is often exaggerated, as their ire is in fact more directed against perceived enemies. They note, in this regard, that “Tea Partiers are not monolithically hostile toward government; they distinguish between programs perceived as going to hard-working contributors to US society like themselves and “handouts” perceived as going to unworthy or freeloading people” (ibid:25).
Not surprisingly this conservative populism anger against the ‘lazy’ contains within traditional biases against minorities and immigrants (Enck-Wanzer, D. 2011). In this way, it treaded upon a historic construction of the liberal democratic self in relation to domestic ‘enemies’.
However, this pathology is by no means limited to the conservative right. Rather, it reflects a common framework for identifying with and acting within a liberal democratic politics. Indeed, the recent occupy movement plays upon the same paranoid utopianism underpinning the Tea Party. Wall Street is depicted here as a ‘foreign enemy’ which needs to be ‘occupied’ (Sonit 2011). Historically, these echoes progressive populist sentiments from the Great Depression and before which espoused a ‘hate’ against capitalists (Tarrow 2011).
This simultaneously paranoid and utopian psychological narrative is witnessed in leading activist Naomi Klein’s 2011 speech to the Occupy crowd in New York. Emphasizing the fundamental dislocation brought about unfettered capitalism, which has left ‘the world upside down’, she proclaims positively the need for ‘changing the underlying values that govern our society’ so that they are more egalitarian and democratic.
Yet this romanticized vision is done against the backdrop of the menacing ‘1%’ who ‘loves a crisis’ as it ‘is the ideal time to push through their wish list of pro-corporate policies: privatizing education and social security, slashing public services, getting rid of the last constraints on corporate power.’ The shared identification then comes in bridging of political differences in order to take up ‘the fight with the most powerful economic and political forces on the planet’ rather than ‘the person sitting next to you…’
An exhaustive account of Liberalism philosophically and liberal democracy politically obviously exceeds the scope of this paper. Yet these modern US political narratives are nevertheless telling. They reflect the analogous reliance on an enemy other who must be fought against for the construction of a liberal democratic identity. Moreover, each represent similar desires of their participants to use these compelling paranoid narratives to achieve ‘psychic mastery’ over past traumas threatening their sense of self.
Further, gestured too in this shared paranoid utopianism are the similar pathologies driving both the final solution and contemporary liberal democracies. The goal, here, is not to make equivalent or seek to compare the crimes of the Nazis with the historical and ongoing injustices of Liberal Democracies. Instead it is to show how each acts out of the same paranoid pathology, one which has potentially dramatic contemporary resonance.
VI. The Liberal Final Solution
Liberal Democracies both ideologically and in practice, similar to explicitly exclusive political ideologies and regimes, relies on an enemy for its affective appeal. Reflected, in turn, is that its underlying psychology is not so different than those it seeks ideologically distance itself from. Indeed, when examined through the lens of psychoanalysis there emerges definite parallels between the psychology driving the final solution and that of contemporary liberal democracies.
Both paradoxically rely on an enemy that must be exterminated. This pathology is borne out equally in historic policies of extermination as well as current demonizations of an ‘enemy’ other. At stake again is not to engage in moral equivalence but to permit for a critical challenging of liberal exceptionalism and in the process a more nuanced understanding of the continuing and worrying function of paranoia and enemy creation for contemporary politics.
Importantly, the political history of Liberalism is littered with examples of genocide and explicitly aimed policies of extermination. The most famous of these arguably is the US treatment of Native Americans, which when coupled with the original European conquest of the ‘New World’ has been referred to as a ‘genocide without parallel in recorded human history’ (Jaimes :6) and even more tellingly ‘a Holocaust’ (Stannard 1992). While it is impossible to fully detail the extent of these measures, of particular interest for this analysis is the similar paranoid politics it shares with the Final solution. Historians have noted that it contained both a historical connection and similar pathology (see for example Horsman 198, Merk 1963, Weinberg 1935).
As Friedberg (2000: 361) astutely notes, analogous to the Nazi’s own justifications for the Final Solution, in the “US heroes are made of men in America whose words were inspired by the same kind of thinking and whose actions resulted in the murder of millions of human beings considered to be members of ‘inferior’ civilizations.” Indeed it is reported that Hitler himself “expressed admiration for the ‘efficiency’ of the American genocide campaign against the Indians, viewing it as a forerunner for his own plans and programs” (Stannard 1992: 153). To this end, at the beginning of the 20th century President Theodore Roosevelt evocatively described US history as
one of expansion … That the barbarians recede or are conquered, with the attendant fact that peace follows their retrogression or conquest is due solely to the power of the mighty civilized races which have not lost the fighting instinct, and which by their expansion are gradually bringing peace to the red wastes where the barbarian peoples of this world hold sway (Drinnon 1980: 232; also taken from Friedberg 2000: 361).
Witnessed, in this regard, is how the US, akin to the Nazi’s almost a half a century later, employed an at once utopian and paranoid affective narrative to legitimate the eradication of a perceived threatening population. Yet just as significant perhaps is the continued significance of this narrative fetish for attempting to achieve ‘psychic mastery’ in regards to this event. US official discourse often suffers from a severe case of ‘imperial amnesia’ concerning its genocidal history manifested in past and present narratives of ‘American Exceptionalism’ (Huhndorf 2001).
Its continuing traumatic effects for its present victims are often enhanced by the pressure to conform and assimilate to traditional narratives of American triumphalism which largely ignores or downplays this holocaust (Duran E and Duran B 1995). Friedberg (2000: 355) for this reason advocates the need for ‘Americanizing the Final Solution’ in order to allow for “an authentic ‘working through’ or ‘mastery’ of this country’s traumatic genocidal past”.
While the worthiness of such a difficult and critical public remembrance is arguably undeniable, it is worth point out how it also reflects a broader politics revolving around the fashioning of an affective narrative centering in no small part of the construction of enemies.
It is not coincidental that Friedberg focuses so much of her attention on the culpability of an American Jewish community who ‘in a seditious reversal of national identity politics’ (ibid: 354) publicly reject the similarities of their own holocaust with that of the Native Americans. Outside of this specific debate, Lake (1991) sheds light on the efforts of the US government and Native Americans to enact competing ‘time frames’ for narrativizing American history.
However, whether through remembrance or amnesia, each represents an attempt to draw upon an affective narrative for achieving ‘psychic mastery’ over these traumatic events through the construction of threatening enemy. This can be seen, for instance, in early attempts by Native Americans during the American revolutionary war to reconfigure the myth of American exceptionalism in order to ‘turn the vocabulary of American idealism into criticism of actual social and economic practices’ (Madsen 1998: 42), a strategy that consciously or unconsciously relied upon the negative figure of the ‘unexceptional non-Americans’.
In the contemporary period this same pathology has served as a means for achieving psychic mastery over the final solution. Such genocide was scholarly and popular attributed to a ‘cult of demonic personality’ (Lifton 1986) which emphasized the uniquely evil psychological traits of leading Nazi figures (see also Black 1984, Steiner 1980).
These perspectives have rightfully been challenged for ignoring the institutional and ideological forces giving birth to such policies (Arendt 1963, Hilberg 1961, Schilling 1996). Nevertheless, despite their questionable historical pedigree, they represent a viable and appealing affective narrative for coping with the holocaust. Here, the terror of the Final Solution is drawn upon to ‘cover over’ the historical and ongoing injustices perpetuated by the US. Quoting Novik (1999: 13; also taken from Friedberg 2000: 354).
in the United States the Holocaust is explicitly used for the purpose of national self-congratulation: the Americanization of the Holocaust has involved using it to demonstrate the difference between the Old World and the New, and to celebrate, by showing its negation, the American way of life.
Present is a type of final solution to the final solution, if you will, whereby through the elimination of ‘anti-liberal’ enemies freedom and liberty can be assured, and the holocaust will never be repeated.
This liberal final solution extends beyond its historical roots of the Holocaust. Instead it gestures toward a more universal narrative framework shaping contemporary US identity and actions. Reflected is a new type of final solution in which through the eradication of ‘anti-liberal’ undesirables a liberal utopia can prevail.
Herz (1950), early in the post-war period, described what he termed the ‘security dilemma’ plaguing Liberalism’s emerging ‘international idealism’ in which such utopian longings would devolve due to external threats into a competition for power. This seeming contradiction reveals, however, the paranoid fantasmatic narrative defining the articulation and legitimization of the US specifically and liberal democracies generally.
More precisely, it is characterized by an ongoing ‘story’ whereby the US and its allies must defeat and eliminate ‘anti-liberal enemies’ so that liberalism may ultimately triumph. This narrative can be viewed across the American political spectrum, from Clinton’s appeal for a ‘New American Century’ to Bush’s neo-conservative call for spreading democracy globally to Obama’s continued demand for a ‘new era of American Leadership’.
Amidst their differences, they retain a shared commitment to ‘the defense of human rights around the world through intervention’ (Mabee 2004: 1361). In the words of one American advocate of empire ‘what is needed is a new kind of imperialism, one compatible with human rights and cosmopolitan values: an imperialism which aims to bring order and organization but which rests today on the voluntary principle’ (Cooper 2002: 27).
Remaining essential to this vision is the demonized figure of the ‘anti-liberal’ enemy. (Harris 2004) captures this continued fixation with a threatening other within Liberal discourses in his declaration that present day liberal subjects to easily ‘forget’ the dangers that Liberal democracy faces from its enemies, maintaining that
They forget that in time of danger, in the face of the enemy, they must trust and confide in each other, or perish. They forget, in short, that there has ever been a category of human experience called the enemy.
The 2001 terrorist attacks brought this fantasmatic discourse into renewed prominence, as the Islamic terrorist came to symbolize a dramatic villain whose eradication would ensure that Liberal democracy, and with it ‘freedom’ and ‘prosperity for all’, would emerge victorious.
Even those like Berman (2001) who advocated a more restrained approach, calling for the coupling of a military response with a broader ‘war on ideas’, maintained that the attacks were driven by an ‘irrational’ and ‘fantasmatic’ hatred of the US due to its commitment to liberty and democracy; required, therefore, was the complete elimination of Islamic fundamentalism either by arms or ideological persuasion.
More critically, Cloud (2004: 285) explored how images of Afghan women during the initial invasion of Afghanistan played on themes of a ‘clash of civilization’ and “white man’s burden” that evoked “a paternalistic stance toward the women of Afghanistan, and the figuration of modernity as liberation”.
Significantly, this fantasamatic narrative provides individuals with ontological security through helping to realize “psychic mastery” over both their culture’s past and their existential anxieties. Politically, Zizek (2008: 11) notes that fantasy is that “narrative (that) emerges in order to resolve some fundamental antagonism by rearranging its terms into a temporal succession”. Goldberg (2008) argues, to this effect, that the contemporary period is marked by what he terms a racial neo-liberalism, which attempts to ‘cover over’ its past and present racial injustices through the construction of positive liberal narratives of nonracialism.
This results in a ‘raceless racism’ or) whereby the trauma of racial history is hidden and new racial policies (such as profiling) are given legitimacy. Yet ironically key to this psychic ‘covering over’ is the staging of new antagonisms centering upon ever new enemies. According to Giroux (2010: 1) “The self-assigned moral imperative to ‘rid the world of evil’ comes increasingly to mean a declaration of war on a world of Others racially conceived, a project that invariably ends in the will to self-destruction.”
This translates into a seemingly eternal “war without end(s)” that “are distinguished precisely by the fact that they cannot be grasped as strategically framed political conflicts” (Chandler 2009: 243). In this respect, the final solution seemingly remains strong yet unfinished, evoked in the present age by a US superpower in the name of liberal democracy.
It has been over half a century since the Nazis undertook the total elimination of Jews and other state ‘enemies’. Yet despite the almost universal revulsion caused by the Final Solution, the demonization of enemies continues to be a fundamental part of politics and social identity. This paper has addressed this seeming contradiction through presenting a psychoanalytic, specifically Lacanian account, of identity.
The paranoid psychology underlying the Final Solution was emblematic of a deeper structuring of politics and identity around an affective story highlighting the struggle against a malicious social enemy that must be eradicated. These fantasmatic narratives, in turn, reveal the desire both of people both individually and collectively to achieve ‘psychic mastery’ over past traumas as well as their own deeper existential anxieties. To this effect, liberal democracies both past and present have constructed identities and sought legitimacy through the appeal to exterminate its enemies.
An abiding call by survivors of the holocaust was the need to ‘never forget’. Just as importantly, however, is how it is remembered. It is imperative to not fall prey to the dangers of repeating its history in our own time. More precisely, the final solution follows the script of a psychic ‘history’ in the ‘love, strife, death’ against a demonized enemy other. It is a paranoid history which still haunts the present.
The need to eliminate all ‘anti-liberal’ elements largely defines contemporary identity. Through a psychic history of demonization and eternal enemy creation we continue to demand the final solution against our imagined enemies to evade our ‘real’ enemy – the insecurity and anxieties plaguing our own constructed identities.
The Final Solution has, thus, left a lasting historical legacy on the present. Specifically, the paranoid psychology driving it remains prevalent and to an extent undiminished within the current politics of liberal democracy. While its human cost may arguably be considered unprecedented, its pathological hatred of enemies and the stabilizing of identity around their eradication still influences contemporary political narratives the world over and across the ideological spectrum.
Reflected is a universal framework for constructing identity in relation to a dominant ideology – one revolving around the affective narrative centering on the need to eliminate a menacing other for realizing a romanticized fantasy of the future. It is a paranoia whose historical roots both preceded and have continue to thrive long after the horrors of the holocaust.
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