Making Conscious the Unconscious in Social Reality
by Richard A. Koenigsberg
Hitler's Ideology: A Study in Psychoanalytic Sociology
by Richard Koenigsberg
“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.”
“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’.”
- The Union of Austria and Germany
- Politics and Symbiotic Fantasy
- Return to the Mother (Country)
- Ideology and Transference
- Making Conscious the Unconscious
An ideology is a system of beliefs held in common by a group of people within a society. Why are certain ideologies or beliefs systems—among all the ideas put forth and available within a society—embraced and perpetuated? I theorize ideologies from the perspective of what they do for people psychologically. From this perspective, ideologies exist and persist to the extent that they perform psychic functions for individuals within a population. To study a particular ideology, therefore, is to reveal its psychological meaning—the desires, fantasies, conflicts and human dilemmas to which the ideology responds.
Norman O. Brown, in Life against Death: The Psychoanalytic Meaning of History, presents a paradigm for the psychological study of culture and history. The unconscious can become conscious, Brown suggests, through projection into the external world. Human culture, he said, represents a “set of projections of the repressed unconscious,” and functions as a form of transference created by the repetition compulsion—constantly producing “new editions of the infantile conflicts.” Human culture, Brown theorizes, exists to “project the infantile complexes into concrete reality, where they can be seen and mastered.”
In Hitler’s Ideology: A Study in Psychoanalytic Sociology, I develop a systematic methodology for analyzing ideology. I observe how specific images and metaphors are bound to central terms of Hitler’s ideology (e.g., “nation”, “Jew”, “the people”, etc.). By analyzing Hitler’s writing and speeches, I uncover the central fantasies that were the source of his ideology. Hitler projected his fantasies into Nazi ideology. Political acts represented the enactment of fantasies contained within the ideology.
II. THE UNION OF AUSTRIA AND GERMANY
I will focus here upon one element of Hitler’s ideology: his wish to unite the nations of Austria and Germany—and will show how this political aspiration was rooted in a fantasy that he projected into reality, and enacted. To understand why Hitler embraced this idea so fanatically—why the union of Austria and Germany meant so much to him—it is necessary to discover the meaning of this ideology, that is, the nature and shape of the fantasy that Hitler projected into it.
Hitler was born in Austria near the border with Germany. One of his earliest political aspirations was to re-unite the two separate nations—to create a “greater German Reich.” He passionately wished to break down the boundaries separating Austria and Germany so that they could merge into a single nation. As one historian put it, “Hitler became obsessed that there should be no border between these two German-speaking people.”
In the first pages of Mein Kampf, Hitler set forth his project for uniting Austria and Germany. It was providential, Hitler said, that “Fate should have chosen Braunau on the Inn” as his birthplace, for this town lies on the border between “two German states which we of the younger generation at least have made it our life work to reunite by every means at our disposal.” Austria, Hitler declared must “return to the great German mother country.” The desire for union, Hitler insisted, had nothing to do with economic considerations. The union must take place because “one blood demands one Reich.”
Hitler wrote that Austria’s destiny was so bound up with the life and development of all Germans that a separation of history into Germany and Austria “does not seem conceivable.” He described the desire for political reunification as the “elemental cry of the German-Austrian people for union with the German mother country.” This desire for re-union was the result of a longing that slumbered in the heart of the entire people to “return to the never-forgotten ancestral home.”
Hitler identified himself with the country where he was born—Austria. His deeper identification, however, was with Germany. More precisely, Hitler sought to identify with and bring into being a more inclusive political unit—the “Greater German Reich”—that would encompass both Austria and the mother country, Germany. Hitler dreamt of breaking down the boundaries separating Austria and Germany so that the two nations could fuse into a single entity.
III. POLITICS AND SYMBIOTIC FANTASY
Based on 45 years of research on the psychological sources of politics, I have discovered that the fantasy of symbiosis or “oneness” is a central motive compelling people to project their desires and lives into the political arena. People seek to “identify” with nations, cultures and ideologies. They aspire toward a sense of omnipotence through the fantasy that it is possible to fuse their bodies and selves with a “body politic.”
Margaret Mahler theorizes “symbiosis” as a central dimension of human development and psychic life. Mahler defines symbiosis as that state of “undifferentiation, of fusion with mother,” in which the “I” is “not yet differentiated from the ‘not I’.” The essential feature of symbiosis, according to Mahler, is “hallucinatory or delusional, somatopsychic omnipotent fusion with the representation of the mother” and, in particular, the delusion of a “common boundary of the two actually and physically separate individuals.”
The psychic state of symbiosis revolves around the longing for “oneness.” Under the spell of symbiotic fantasy, distinctions between self and Other blur. Brown states that the primal act of the human ego is a negative one—“not to accept reality, specifically the separation of the child’s body from the mother’s body.” Symbiotic fantasy functions to deny separateness. Instead of conceiving of oneself as a singularity, one imagines that one is contained within an “omnipotent system—a dual unity within one common boundary.”
Hitler projected his own symbiotic fantasy into political units. Austria symbolized Hitler’s body, and Germany the body of his mother. Hitler’s political ideology aimed to destroy the boundaries separating Austria and Germany—so that the two separate bodies politic could fuse into one. The actualization of this fantasy would mean that henceforth the “twofold destinies of Austria and Germany” would be “eternally one.” If Hitler had his way—fulfilled his dream—there would be “no separation of history into Germany and Austria.”
IV. RETURN TO THE MOTHER (COUNTRY)
Images and metaphors in Hitler’s writings and speeches reveal a regressive desire for union with the mother as the source of his ideology. Through the vehicle of his ideology, Hitler played out in the political arena his experiences, fantasies and conflicts surrounding union and separateness. Projecting the trauma of separation into political units, he insisted that Austria “did not want to be separated from the Reich.” Only one who had felt in his own skin what it meant to be German, Hitler said, could measure the deep longing that burns at all times in the heart of “children separated from their mother-country.”
The pain of separation elicited within Hitler the desire to abolish this pain by returning to that from which he had been separated. Hitler transferred his fantasy of reunion—the restoration of narcissistic omnipotence—into his political ideology. He projected the drama of union and separation—of separation and reunion—into the symbolic domain of politics, and enacted this drama on the stage of history.
Although Germany had been defeated in the First World War in 1918 and was in a sorry state, Austria nevertheless desired to “return to the Reich forthwith.” Hitler addressed himself to those who—detached from their mother country—“now, with poignant emotion, long for the hour which will permit them to return to the heart of their faithful mother.”
Hitler sought to annul the trauma of separation by enacting the fantasy of symbiotic union in relationship to political entities. Austria—once part of Germany—subsequently had separated from her. Hitler declared that separation was intolerable: Austria and Germany could not remain separate. He insisted that Austria must return to the mother (country).
It would appear that the ideology espoused by Hitler—revolving around the union of Austria and Germany—derived from the fantasy contained within it. Further, this fantasy provided the fuel or psychic energy driving Hitler’s political agenda. Hitler’s ideology allowed him to share his fantasies with others, becoming the modus operandi for political action and the creation of history.
V. IDEOLOGY AND TRANSFERENCE
People assume that political ideas or calls to action stem from conditions or situations in the world. What this case study suggests is that one cannot separate political aspirations from unconscious desires or fantasies. If Hitler had not externalized his symbiotic fantasy into politics, the idea of uniting Austria and Germany would have been of no interest to him. Hitler’s interest in and attachment to his political ideology derived from the fantasy that he projected into it.
When Hitler writes of his desire to reunite Austria and Germany as a longing that burns in the hearts of “children separated from their mother country,” and as a wish to “return to the heart of their faithful mother”—we witness the astonishing directness with which he projects fantasies into his ideology. We are astonished to see how primal fantasies are woven so deeply into Hitler’s political ideology, and to realize that these fantasies were the source of history.
Why do we imagine that fantasies observed within clinical settings are not expressed and enacted by human beings at all times and in all places? According to Herman Nunberg, “Transference is a projection,” meaning that the patient’s “inner and unconscious relations with his first libidinal objects are externalized.” Nunberg goes on to say that the patients “displace emotions belonging to an unconscious representation of a repressed object to a mental representation of an object in the external world.”
Freud maintained that processes within the ego can be perceived (with few exceptions) only with the help of projection. Nunberg observes that the tendency to transfer infantile experiences into reality—and to act them out—can be observed “not only in the transference situation, but also independently of it.” An urge to establish identity of perception through repetition of past experience is “undeniable.” Nunberg suggests that projection helps to “find the lost object in the outside world.”
Rudolf Hess often introduced Hitler at mass rallies declaring, “Hitler is Germany, just as Germany is Hitler.” The fantasy of symbiotic union or identification with an omnipotent object had been transferred into external reality. The dream of dual-unity was replicated or recreated in relation to a cultural object. In Hitler’s fantasy, his own body was co-extensive with the German body politic.
Ideologies, I theorize, constitute transference vehicles that act as a centrifugal force, sequestering libido or psychic energy bound to an infantile fantasy—making this energy available for reality-oriented action. Only a small fraction of people in history have developed a transference within the psychoanalytic situation. It may be that culture itself functions in a manner analogous to the transference, working to allow fantasies, anxieties and conflicts to be projected into symbolic structures.
VI. MAKING CONSCIOUS THE UNCONSCIOUS
Brown states that repressed unconscious energies must “go out into external reality before they can be perceived by consciousness.” The repressed impulses, he says, must first find “real objects in the external world and attach themselves to real objects before their nature can become manifest to the subject.” My method—consistent with Brown’s theory—enables us to apprehend unconscious fantasies. By observing how images and metaphors link to central terms of an ideology—how fantasies attach to “real objects in the external world”—it is possible to uncover the “unconscious of the text” (Ruth Stein, 2009).
Brown declares, “Human culture is one vast arena in which the logic of the transference works itself out.” The fantasies that create the human neurosis cannot themselves be directly apprehended or mastered, but “their derivatives in human culture can.” Thus, Brown concludes, “culture actually does for all mankind what the transference phenomena were supposed to do for the individual.”
The project of studying ideology as a container for shared fantasy is both theoretical and clinical. In the 20th century, more than 200 million people were killed as a result of violent political conflicts initiated by societies. Most of this violence was generated by ideologies embraced as absolutes and defended fanatically. Why do human beings attach to ideologies so passionately? What is the relationship between passionate attachment to an ideology and societal violence?
A character in James Joyce’s novel, Ulysses, said that, “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” The history of the 20th century with its horrendous episodes of brutality and mass slaughter resembles a waking nightmare—a bad dream that many people have at once. By becoming conscious of the unconscious fantasies that generate collective violence, is it possible to “awaken from the nightmare of history”? My analysis of ideology is an extension of Freud’s project of interpreting dreams. We turn to interpreting collective dreams.