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 Hypothesis
- Nazism and the Ideology of Nationalism
- Hitler’s Ideology
- Nazi Ideology
- The Dream of Nazism as the Dream of Nationalism
I. THE HYPOTHESIS
The Nazi movement grew out of an ideology embraced and shared by millions of people. The actions of the Nazis grew out of their ideology: they acted out propositions or theorems contained within it. In this paper, I delineate the underlying structure of Nazi ideology: a coherent fantasy that shaped the ideology and was the source of the energy invested in it.
I hypothesize that an ideology evokes enthusiasm—elicits an emotional response—to the extent that it articulates a fantasy that is shared by members of a population. Hitler was passionate about his ideas. When he spoke, he conveyed his passion—and elicited comparable passion within others. Hitler’s ideas excited the German people. What he said struck a responsive chord in the minds and hearts of millions of other Germans. It was an ideology that united the German people and gave rise to Nazi culture.
Hitler and Nazism often are portrayed as if an aberration; outside the norms of civilization. I have found, on the contrary, that Hitler’s ideas were fully within the mainstream of Western political culture. National Socialism was a subset of the ideology of nationalism. One may characterize Hitler as a radical conformist. Hitler embraced and promoted certain ordinary ideas—fundamental propositions contained within the ideology of nationalism—and carried them to an extreme, bizarre conclusion.
II. NAZISM AND THE IDEOLOGY OF NATIONALISM
According to the ideology of nationalism, the central entity or unit governing political and cultural life is the nation. Each individual “belongs to” a particular nation and attains identity by virtue of his or her relationship to the nation, and its “national life.” Nationalism assumes that people identify with, become attached to, and experience “emotions”—often intense ones—in relationship to one’s nations (people often “love” their nation, and sometimes hate it).
Within the ideology of nationalism it also is assumed that people will have opinions about and emotional responses toward other nations. One’s emotional response toward other nations typically will be less positive than one’s response toward one’s own nation, and usually less intense (except when the other nation is the “enemy” of one’s nation).
National entities seek to be “strong,” or powerful. A nation manifests strength by virtue of its capacity to defend itself—or conquer other nations. It is assumed that each nation has “enemies” bent upon harming or seeking to destroy one’s nation. This assumption generates institutions and vast expenditures devoted to “national defense.”
Nazism represented an extreme form of nationalism. Hitler preached to his people: “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.” He asked his people to acknowledge their profound dependence upon Germany, declaring:
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.
Nazism insisted that Germany be everything to Germans: “Our future is Germany. Our today is Germany. And our past is Germany. Let us take a vow this evening, at every hour, in each day, to think of Germany, of the nation, of our German people.”
Hitler declared that Deutschland uber Alles (Germany above all) was a “profession of faith” that fills millions with a great strength, with “that faith which is mightier than any earthly might.” Hitler presented himself as a model of faith and devotion. His oratory revolved around persuading others to share his faith and devotion: to love Germany as deeply as he did. By virtue of faith in and devotion to Germany, Hitler promised Germans that they would become endowed with “great strength.”
Hitler explained to his people, “You are nothing, your nation is everything.” This was the dialectic that defined Nazi Germany. Human beings in and of themselves, according to Hitler, were “nothing.” On the other hand, one’s nation was “everything.” Therefore, in order to become something—overcome one’s nothingness—one needed to identify with one’s nation.
Or, one might say, in order to become “everything” (by virtue of identification with one’s nation), one had to become nothing. Self-inflation required self-negation. In order to internalize the power of one’s nation—partake of its omnipotence—one had to erase one’s individuality. Hitler’s Nazism simultaneously was an orgy of nationalistic self-glorification and of self-abnegation. What was glorified was the collective. What was abnegated was the actual human being, who traded in his or her individuality in order to become “at one” with Germany.
Rudolf Hess often introduced his Fueher at mass-rallies declaring, “Hitler is Germany, just as Germany is Hitler.” Hitler reveled in his identification with Germany. At the core of Nazism was the mystical sense of “oneness” between Hitler and Germany. Nazism did not differ from ordinary nationalism that posits an intimate tie between the life of the individual and national life. What Hitler did was to carry the ordinary idea of “identification with one’s nation” to an extreme, bizarre conclusion. Nazism revealed the heart of darkness contained within “love of country.”
III. HITLER’S IDEOLOGY
Hitler’s ideology grew out of his fantasy of the German nation as an actual organism, or body (politic). “Our movement alone,” Hitler declared, “was capable of creating a national organism.” In place of the State, Hitler said, must be set “the living organism—the people.” Hitler conceived of Germany as a body politic consisting of German people as its cells.
It followed that the purpose of politics was to preserve the body politic: to “maintain the substance of the people in bodily and mental health, in good order and purity.” According to Hitler, the supreme test of every politic institution was: “Does it serve to preserve the people or not.”
Germany, however, had a problem. An otherwise healthy body politic, Hitler believed, was being assailed or assaulted by forces that threatened to destroy it; bring about the demise of the nation. National Socialism came into being as a response to the desire of Hitler and others to rescue or “save” the nation; to prevent it from dying. Hitler was determined to “prevent our Germany from suffering, as Another did, the death upon the cross.”
Throughout his political career, Hitler was tormented by his conviction that an unprecedented, cosmic force was working toward the destruction, not only of Germany, but of Western civilization. Hitler declared that it was only rarely that the life of peoples “suffers from such convulsions that the deepest foundations of the edifice of social order are shaken” and threatened with destruction.
“Who will refuse to see or even deny,” Hitler said, that today we find ourselves in the midst of a struggle that is not concerned merely with the problems of frontiers between peoples or States, but rather with the question of the maintenance or annihilation of the whole inherited human order of society and its civilizations?”
The phrase that appears most frequently in Hitler’s speeches describing this threat to Germany and Western civilization is translated as “force of disintegration.” The German word “zersetzung” is a term from chemistry meaning “decomposition:” that which breaks things down into their component parts.
Hitler claimed Jews were working to bring about the “political disintegration of the body of a people.” Hitler believed that the Jewish force of disintegration within the body politic was working to cause the nation to fragment; break into pieces.
Given the danger that Germany would fall to pieces, one of Hitler’s fundamental political strategies was to act to unite or unify the German people: bind them together into a single, indestructible body. To solve the problems of Germany, Hitler said, it was essential to bring people together so that “millions of individuals could be fused into a unity.” Hitler would act to bring about the “inner welding together of the body of our people,” insisting that men throw themselves into the “great melting pot, the nation” so that they could be “welded one to another.”
We’ve observed that Hitler conceived of Germany as a gigantic “national organism” consisting of people as cells of this body. Hitler’s efforts to unify or unite the German people, therefore, reflected his desire to fuse together the cells of the German nation into a cohesive body (politic). National Socialism grew out of Hitler’s belief that Germany was disintegrating. His struggle (Mein Kampf) reflected his desire to create a German body politic that was so cohesive—powerful—that it would not succumb to the internal force that threatened to cause it to disintegrate.
Hitler’s ideology, then, revolved around his conception of a unified German body politic, on the one hand, and a Jewish force of destruction, on the other, that was acting to cause Germany to fall apart. Hitler called the Jew the “demon of the disintegration of peoples,” symbol of the “unceasing destruction of their life.” The project of National Socialism, therefore, was “glorification of the national creative will over against the conception of international disintegration.”
As National Socialism consolidated its power, Hitler believed he had achieved his goal of welding the German people into a single, omnipotent body politic. Affirming his determination to protect his accomplishment, Hitler declared, “Our people have become one, and this unity in Germany will never break into pieces.” He insisted that his Movement would leave behind a German body politic “completely renewed internally,” intolerant of anyone who sins against the nation and its interests, intolerant and pitiless against anyone who shall “attempt once more to destroy or disintegrate this body politic.”
If the first most frequently used phrase by Hitler to describe the threat to Germany was that of a “force of disintegration,” the second was that of a “disease within the body politic” whose continued presence within the nation could lead to its death. The balance of this paper will focus on the belief of Hitler and other Nazis that Germany was suffering from a potentially fatal disease whose source was “Jewish bacteria.”
Hitler approached politics as if a physician, observing that “Every distress has some root or other.” In order to cure the nation’s disease, it was not sufficient to behave like conventional politicians who merely “doctored around on the circumference of the distress” and only occasionally tried to “lance the cancerous ulcer.” Rather, Hitler believed, in order to cure Germany’s disease, it was necessary to “penetrate to the seat of the inflammation—to the cause.” It was relatively unimportant, Hitler said, whether this irritating cause was discovered or removed “today or tomorrow.” The essential thing to realize was that unless the cause was removed “no cure is possible.”
IV. NAZI IDEOLOGY
My initial research on Nazi ideology focused on Hitler’s rhetoric. I subsequently turned to the writings of other Nazi leaders in order to develop a general theory of the relationship between ideology and fantasy. I had discovered a coherent fantasy at the root of Hitler’s ideology. Would it be possible to discern a similar fantasy within the rhetoric of other Nazi ideologues?
Robert J. Lifton’s book, The Nazi Doctors (1986) provides evidence that the fantasy that drove Hitler’s thinking drove the thinking of other Nazis as well. Lifton spent several years interviewing 29 men who had been significantly involved at high levels with Nazi medicine. Lifton’s reconstruction of the deep-structure of Nazi ideology presented in his book is based upon these interviews, combined with an analysis of written accounts, documents, speeches, diaries, and letters.
The central fantasy uncovered by Lifton was that of the German nation as an organism that could succumb to an illness. Lifton cites Dr. Johann S. who spoke about being “doctor to the Volkskorper (‘national body’ or ‘people’s’ body).” National Socialism, Dr. Johann S. said, is a movement rather than a party, constantly growing and changing according to the “health” requirements of the people’s body. “Just as a body may succumb to illness,” the doctor declared, so “the Volkskorper could do the same.”
When Lifton asked another doctor, Fritz Klein, how he could reconcile the concentration camps with his Hippocratic Oath to save lives, he replied “Of course I am a doctor and I want to preserve life. And out of respect for human life, I would remove a gangrenous appendix from a diseased body. The Jew is the gangrenous appendix in the body of mankind.” Lifton mentioned this phrase “gangrenous appendix” to another Nazi, Dr. B., who quickly answered that his overall feeling and that of the other Nazi doctors was that “Whether you want to call it an appendix or not, it must be extirpated (ausgerottet, meaning also “exterminated,” “destroyed,” “eradicated”).
A number of the Nazi doctors interviewed by Lifton expressed a fantasy, then, that closely resembles the fantasy that I uncovered as the core Hitler’s ideology. In this Nazi fantasy, the nation is conceived as if a gigantic organism. Jews in this fantasy are imagined to be diseased entities within this organism whose presence might cause the body politic to die. According to this Nazi fantasy, preventing the death of the German organism required the “removal” of these diseased entities.
Let me provide additional examples of Nazi rhetoric that reveals this fantasy of (to use Lifton’s phrase) “killing as a therapeutic imperative”). Dr. Werner Best, Heydrich’s deputy in the Secret Police Office, stated that the National Socialist State was an institution that “carefully supervises the political health of the German body politic.” The Nazi state, Best said, was quick to recognize all symptoms of disease and germs of destruction and to “remove them by every suitable means.”
In one of his Table Talks in 1942, Hitler referred to the transport of Jews to the eastern regions by asking what possible objection could be raised when in the interest of the state an “obvious canker of the people has to be eliminated.” In 1943 when the policy of the gas chambers was operative, Hitler said to the Hungarian Regent Horthy that Jews should be treated like “tubercles which can infect a healthy body.” Nobody could call this cruelty, he said, considering the necessity of “killing innocent creatures of nature like hares and roes to prevent them from causing damage.”
Goebbels put it this way: “Our task here is surgical; drastic incisions, or some day Europe will perish of the Jewish disease.” Hans Frank, General Governor of Poland during the Nazi occupation, called Jews “a lower species of life, a kind of vermin, which upon contact infected the German people with deadly diseases.” When the Jews in the area he ruled had been killed, he declared that, “Now a sick Europe will become healthy again.” Finally, on February 22, 1942, Hitler made the following astonishing statement: “The discovery of the Jewish virus is one of the greatest revolutions that have taken place in the world. The battle we are engaged in is of the same sort as the battle waged during the last century, by Pasteur and Koch.”
Nazi ideology, it would appear, grew out of a systematic fantasy projected into reality. This fantasy revolved around the idea of Germany as an actual body (politic) containing a deadly disease. The Final Solution and death camps represented a response to this fantasy; an enactment. The death camps—a massive social institution—represents an excellent case study in the “social construction of reality.” The nature and shape of the reality constructed by the Nazis derived from the fantasy contained within their ideology.
Hitler in Mein Kampf plaintively asks, “Could anyone believe that Germany alone was not subject to the same laws as all other human organisms?” In their influential book that laid the groundwork for what was to follow—The Permission to Destroy Life Unworthy of Life (1920)—German professors Karl Binding and Alfred Hoche advocated euthanasia or state killing. They described the state as an “organism with its own laws and rights, much like one self-contained human organism” which “in the interest of the welfare of the whole—as we doctors know—abandons and rejects parts or particles that have become worthless or dangerous.”
What was this organismic “law” to which these men alluded? I hypothesize that they were referring to the “law of the immune system,” that bio-chemically based system operative within each organism that acts automatically to “reject” entities that enter the body and are identified as foreign or “not self.” The Final Solution represented the enactment of an immunological fantasy. According to this Nazi fantasy, genocide represented the “automatic” response of the German body politic to a “law of nature:” the national organism reacting to reject or destroy those alien cells (e. g., Jewish bacteria) that had entered its bloodstream.
The Final Solution and death camps, then, may be understood as a response to the fantasy that Jews constituted bacteria or viruses that needed to be removed from the German body politic if the nation was to survive. One Nazi doctor stated that National Socialism was “nothing but applied biology.” Lifton suggests that this image of Nazism was not just one doctor’s perception, but was the “vision put forward by the movement.” The unifying principle of the biomedical ideology, Lifton concludes, was “that of a deadly racial disease, the sickness of the Aryan race: the cure, the killing of all Jews.”
V. THE DREAM OF NAZISM AS THE DREAM OF NATIONALISM
The National Socialistic movement was based upon an ideology that was a subset of the ideology of nationalism. Nazism represented a frenzy of nationalistic hysteria. Jane Roberts states that Hitler brought to flower all of the “most morbid nationalistic fantasies” that had been growing for centuries. The grandiose celebration of a nation’s “inalienable right to seek domination,” she says, focused finally in Hitler’s Germany. Nazism enacted the deepest, darkest dreams contained within the ideology of nationalism.
Adolf Jost, a theorist of scientific racism who had issued an early call for direct medical killing in his book, The Right to Death (1895) argued that “control over the death of the individual must ultimately belong to the social organism, the state.” Jost was pointing to the “state’s right to kill.” Jost pointed out that the state already exercised those “rights” in war, where thousands of individuals are sacrificed for the good of the State. The state must own death—must kill—Jost asserted, in order to “keep the social organism alive and healthy.”
Jost draws our attention to a fundamental theme at the heart of nationalism, namely the human tendency to reify and idealize nation-states; to relate to nations as if real entities that exist separate and apart from the individuals who constitute them. Such omnipotent nation-states or social organisms require—like the gods of the Aztecs—“sacrifices” if they are to be kept alive. This fantasy of the nation as an entity existing above and beyond actual individuals constitutes the fundamental political ideology of our time.
The data I’ve presented suggests that the Nazis projected a fantasy into their ideology—allowing us to perceive the deep structure of their ideology. Nazism revolved around the fantasy of Germany as an actual body (politic); a concrete “substance of flesh and blood.” Jews were conceived as bacteria or viruses, source of a disease within the body politic. The Final Solution was undertaken in order to eliminate pathogenic microorganisms from within the body politic, thus removing the source of Germany’s disease and enabling the nation to survive.
Identification of recurring metaphors and images reveals bodily fantasies as the source of Nazi ideology. This Nazi fantasy about the body (politic) was always present, part of the warp and woof of Nazi ideology. By paying attention to metaphorical language contained within Nazi ideology, we are able to perceive this fantasy. Having articulated the fantasy that was the source of Nazism, the next step will be to interpret it; to uncover its meaning; the source of the fantasy’s appeal and power.