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Ideology, Metaphor and Unconscious Fantasy

by Richard A. Koenigsberg

Hitler's Ideology: A Study in Psychoanalytic Sociology

by Richard Koenigsberg

Why did Hitler initiate the Final Solution and take Germany to war? Through analysis of the images and metaphors contained within Hitler's writings and speeches, Koenigsberg reveals the deep structure of Hitler's belief system.

Hitler's Ideology is now available at a special discount rate. For information on purchasing through Amazon, click here.

“When political figures refer to national crises as "cancers," Richard Koenigsberg feels it's no accident. Such expressions echo a nation's hidden belief systems. If you can understand the fantasies that provide politicians with such rhetoric, then you can understand the country. This book presents an ingenious technique for identifying the psychological origins of political and social events.”
  —The Village Voice

“The best critical analysis in English of Hitler s thought.”
  —Colin Day

Koenigsberg's genius has unlocked the secrets of a timeless drama.”
  —Journal of Psychoanalytic Anthropology

From Hitler’s Ideology

“How may we account for the shape and form of specific cultural ideas and ideologies? Why are certain ideas ‘passed along,’ and not others? How may we account for the intensity of affect that is attached to certain ideas?

“We have not dealt adequately with the problem of the causes of the popularity of an ideology within a given culture. Once an ideology has attained a degree of power, conventional explanations may come into play as a means of explaining the continuing power of this ideology.

“These modes of explanation, however, cannot tell us why a given ideology has gained currency within a culture. They cannot explain why some ideas, among all the ideas present within a culture, have been “selected out” and, consequently, ‘passed along’.”


  1. Ideology and Metaphor
  2. Conceptual Metaphors
  3. Fantasy and the Embodied Mind
  4. Psychic Determinism
  5. The Human Body and the Body Politic

I. Ideology and Metaphor

Ideologies contain and articulate psychological meanings. How is it possible to decipher the latent content of ideological texts? My method, analyzing metaphor, consists of identifying recurring images and figures of speech in the writings and speeches of individuals who have been significant in defining and promulgating an ideology. Through this method, I reveal the fantasies that the ideology seeks to express.

An ideology functions, I hypothesize, in order to structure and externalize fantasies shared by a group. An ideology may be compared to the manifest content of a dream—that many people are having at once. The psychological study of culture focuses—not on the idiosyncrasies of individuals—but upon how shared desires, fantasies, anxieties and conflicts give rise to collective representations. We seek to reveal the sources and meanings of belief systems that define or constitute a given societal group.

Within a given ideological system, certain words or terms recur and become salient. In the case of Nazism, the central terms were “Germany”, “the people” and “the Jew”, which together condensed the fantasies upon which Nazi ideology was constructed.

Ideologies exist as cultural and linguistic forms within societies. But culture and language do not explain the existence of the ideology. Ideologies perform psychological functions. An ideology exists as an element or dimension of culture because it allows desires and fantasies to become articulated as social reality.

II. Conceptual Metaphors

The theories of George Lakoff and Mark L. Johnson have become influential in Cognitive Psychology. According to their concept of metaphorical mapping, slots in a “source domain schema” get mapped into slots in a “target domain,” shaping our perceptions. Target domains are abstract concepts, whereas source domains are familiar, most often physical, ideas.

In The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination, and Reason(1990), Johnsonwrites about “imaginative projection,” a principle whereby the body (i.e., physical experience and its structures) works its way up into the mind (i.e., mental operations). Johnson states that metaphors are not simply “figures of speech.” Rather, metaphors constitute “pervasive, indispensable structures of understanding by means of which we comprehend our world.”

Johnson states that the image-schematic structures of imagination (derived from the body and physical experience) are “extended and elaborated as abstract structures of meaning and patterns of thought.” Metaphors in speech and text convey the presence of the body within the mind. Structures of embodied experience generate “conceptual metaphors.”

My analysis of metaphor grows out of research on Hitler and Nazism, which began with my book Hitler’s Ideology: A Study in Psychoanalytic Sociology (1975). Identifying recurring images and metaphors within the rhetoric of Hitler and other Nazis, I conclude that Nazi ideology was defined, supported and sustained by a coherent fantasy: that Germany was an enormous body politic suffering from a potentially fatal disease.

Hitler’s entire worldview grew out of his belief that Germany was an actual body—and that Jews were pathogenic organisms whose continued presence within the German body politic would threaten to destroy the nation. These images and metaphors occur again and again in his writings and speeches.

The Final Solution grew out of Hitler’s perception of reality, representing the performance of an immunological fantasy. Hitler and the Nazis sought to destroy Jews—imagined to be the source of Germany’s disease—in order to prevent the death of the body politic.

Somehow, Hitler was able to convey this fantasy to his closest colleagues, and eventually to the German people. A sufficient number of Germans plugged into—embraced—this fantasy such that Hitler was able to enact it. A shared fantasy generated an ideology—and was the source of the history that the Nazis created.

In Analogies of War (1992),Y. F. Khong points to the importance of studying the rhetoric of leaders and decision-makers in order to find “systematic metaphors.” The repeated use of the same set of analogies over time allows one to be confident that metaphors are playing “truly a cognitive function” within political leaders’ rhetoric.

The metaphor that occurs most frequently in Hitler’s writings and speeches is that of Germany as a living organism. The Jew is depicted as a bacterium, virus, parasite and “force of disintegration” working to destroy the national organism. Hitler’s fundamental life mission was to destroy the Jewish pathogens—in order to rescue Germany.

The notion that Hitler and other Nazi leaders used these images in order to “dehumanize” Jews—and thus to kill them more easily—is erroneous. Hitler and his colleagues believed in the fantasies that they created and promoted.

Hitler’s conception of the Jew grew out of a certain kind of experience. Hitler experienced the idea of the Jew in a certain way. This experience of the Jew generated Hitler’s perception of reality. It is as if this idea or object—“the Jew”—was present within Hitler’s body. The Jew was Hitler’s psychosomatic symptom. The “disease within the body politic” was a disease within Hitler’s own body.

Hitler’s rhetoric demonstrates how a source domain (the human body) becomes mapped onto a target domain (the body politic), thereby shaping one’s perception of reality. Hitler’s rhetorical metaphors play a cognitive function, revealing the source of his perceptions. Because Hitler projects the idea of a human body (his own) into the body politic, therefore he infers that Germany is suffering from a disease requiring diagnosis and cure.

According to Lakoff and Johnson, conceptual schemas organize our knowledge about, or perception of, reality. Our minds contain models about some aspect of the world that we use to comprehend our experience and reason about it. The central insight of conceptual metaphor theory is that schemas and cognitive models that organize our perceptions grow out of structures developed in relationship to our bodies: bodily experiences are projected into mental operations.

III. Fantasy and the Embodied Mind

The psychoanalytic concept of fantasy (or phantasy as it was spelled in the early rendering of this term) refers to an intermediate mental state existing between body and mind. According to Freud, impulses and desires located within the body give rise to mental corollaries, i.e., fantasies, which represent the transformation of the impulse or desire into a form of ideation.

Presenting Melanie Klein’s psychoanalytic theory, Thomas Ogden states that fantasy “never loses its connection to the body.” Fantasy content is always ultimately traceable to thoughts and feelings about the “workings and contents of one’s own body in relationship to the workings and contents of the body of the other.”

If ideologies articulate fantasies and fantasies derive from the body, it follows that ideologies are bound to—not separate from—our bodies. How may we understand the relationship between body, fantasy and mental operations in the case of ideology? Textual metaphors, I suggest, convey the presence of the body and allow fantasies about the body to enter social reality.

It is by virtue of embodied metaphors that the body with its fantasies makes its way into discourse. Linguistically, entities, attributes and processes in the target domain (the body politic) are lexicalized from the source domain (the human body).

Nazi ideology represented a fantasy about Germany as an organism suffering from a potentially fatal disease. This fantasy about the body was conveyed through the vehicle of images and metaphors that appear endlessly in ideological texts that the Nazis produced. The Nazis created culture and history based on a fantasy about the body projected into their ideology.

IV. Psychic Determinism

Freud’s principle of “psychic determinism” asserts that there is no such thing as chance occurrences or randomness in the life of the mind. According to this principle, dreams, jokes, slips-of-the-tongue and psychosomatic symptoms possess psychological meaning.

Dream images, for example, are strictly determined, reflecting the mind’s desire to bring forth thoughts from a state of unconsciousness into consciousness. Slips-of-the-tongue represent the breakthrough of repressed ideas. In the case of psychosomatic symptoms, an idea or fantasy makes its way into reality in the form of a bodily symptom. One may say that the body speaks through its symptoms: the body has a mind of its own.

Metaphors appearing within speech and texts do not exactly “break in” to consciousness. Rather, they are contained within ordinary patterns of language. Lakoff suggests that a community’s worldviews are articulated through figurative language. Metaphors are the vehicles through which unconscious fantasies and desires make their way into everyday life.

According to this view, unconscious fantasies (about the body) continually enter into language and consciousness—through the vehicle of metaphor. Thus, there is no clear distinction between fantasy and ordinary mental operations, which are infused with fantasies about the body.

Reality is continually constructed—as metaphors bring the body and its fantasies into the external world. Ideologies are those culturally defined structures that allow fantasies to become part of the “external” world. Ideologies are shared fantasies, transforming desires and anxieties into socially-defined structures of thought.

Analyzing ideologies is analogous to interpreting dreams. We play close attention to images and metaphors. As dreams reveal the unconscious fantasies of individuals, so ideologies reveal fantasies shared by members of a group. To analyze an ideology is to interpret a collective dream.

V. The Human Body and the Body Politic

Nazi ideology represented a fantasy about the body externalized into the world. The reality that the Nazis constructed cannot be separated from bodily fantasy. If ideas about a target domain are derived from experiences in a source domain, it follows that ideas about bodies politic cannot be separated from the experience of our own bodies. Recent social theory has focused on the ways that discourse shapes the body. I hypothesize that our bodies—and bodily experience—give rise to and structure discourse.

In the case of nationalism, the experience of one’s body is projected into the idea of a body politic. Often, the line of demarcation between the two blurs. When Rudolf Hess declares, “Hitler is Germany, just as Germany is Hitler,” he implies that there is no separation between Hitler and Germany. Hitler’s small body has fused with the large body. Hitler himself has become a body politic. Two have merged into one.

Hitler’s rhetoric about the German body politic contains a narrative about himself. When Hitler speaks about Germany as a body containing a disease, he is also speaking about his own diseased body. The disease within the body politic symbolizes Hitler’s own. What was the nature of Hitler’s disease—that led him to devise the Final Solution as a means to kill the disease within the body politic?