NATIONS ARE BODIES
By Richard Koenigsberg
Nations may be conceived as bodies. Nationalism represents a collective dream about geographic spaces or masses of people constituting bodies politic. I wish to interpret this collective dream; to elucidate its unconscious meaning; to reveal the bodily fantasies that are the source of and that sustain the dream of the nation.
The contribution of Hitler and the Nazis was to have insisted upon taking the dream of the nation more seriously than it had ever been taken before. The Nazis imagined that there really were such things as bodies politic. They treated Germany as a biological entity containing a disease that had to be removed if the nation was to survive. By articulating and acting upon their ideology, Hitler and the Nazis revealed the dream of the nation as a fantasy about the body.
The bodily dream of nationalism was the source of genocide and war. I wish to reveal the grotesque biological fantasy that was the source of—that sustained—the historical drama. I seek to analyze, interpret and to reveal the meaning and significance of the collective dream that the Nazis acted out; the fantasy of the nation as an actual body politic.
In Nazism, your body belongs to the state. Your body is part of—an extension of—the nation. Nazism imagines that all bodies within Germany fuse to create a national organism. The body politic represents a projection of the human body. By connecting with a nation, one embraces the fantasy that one's actual body is fused with an omnipotent body.
Nationalism is the dream of the nation as an omnipotent extension of the self. One imagines one's own body as a body politic. Nationalism is a collective fantasy: the idea that omnipotent bodies exist as a part of the outer world—hurdling through space and time.
Nationalism builds upon the fantasy that many bodies have fused to create one body. The idea of the nation comes into being when many people embrace the fantasy that their bodies are connected to an omnipotent body politic. The idea of the nation—a collective representation—symbolizes many bodies fused to create one body.
Hitler's extraordinary feat was to have put forth the view that the nation was an actual body—a biological reality—and to have persuaded people to believe in and to act upon this view. He aspired to become "doctor of the German people." He would remove the Jewish disease from Germany (and Europe). Hitler put forth his fantasy that Jews were bacteria. Nazism meant destroying Jewish bacteria—the source of Germany's disease—so that civilization could survive.
Bodily fantasy was the source of Nazism and of the history that the Nazis created. Hitler believed that Germany was an omnipotent body that could live on. The Nazis embraced and played out this fantasy on the stage of history. Nations represent the fantasy of omnipotent bodies that exist within a vast space and are propelled through time. Everyone believes in the fantasy that nations exist.
The Nazis aspired to kill death, that is, to kill Jews who symbolized the principle of death. Hitler's project was to overcome or negate the proposition that all organisms die. The Nazis struggled to destroy the idea that death comes to all organisms. They affirmed the "impossible dream:" that some organisms are not subject to death and decay.
The German nation was imagined to be a unique kind of organism, a body politic that—unlike other bodies—was not subject to death and decay. However, no matter how violently the Nazis affirmed the proposition that Germany was immortal, they could not crush the idea of death. No matter what Hitler did, he could not escape the feeling that Germany was in the process of disintegrating.
Abstract concepts cannot be separate from their source within the organism. Bodies politic cannot be detached from actual bodies. Hitler imagined that Germany—the body politic—was diseased and decomposing. He had projected his own experience of disease and disintegration outward. Hitler's fantasies about his own body were externalized into the body politic.
Hitler projected the disease operating within his own body into the outer world and imagined that Germany was diseased. Hitler was engaged in an endless struggle to destroy death—the death he experienced within his own body. Hitler projected the idea of death into the Jew and aspired to destroy Jews. By killing Jews, Hitler imagined he could kill death.
However, since Hitler's perceptions emanated from within his own mind and body, Hitler could not rid himself of the idea of death—no matter how many Jews he killed. Hitler was never able to shut out the feeling or idea that the German body politic was in mortal danger. The Nazi movement revolved around an endless—futile—struggle to kill death.
Nazism was a spiritual movement seeking eternal life through identification with the nation. Germany represented the idea of an immortal body that would never die. The Jew was the principle of materialism, or "world affirmation" as Hitler's mentor Dietrich Eckhart put it. Nazism was "other worldly," even as it was part of the world. The Nazis needed to kill the material world in order to maintain their religious belief in the immortality of Germany.
The German nation was imagined to be a gigantic body suffering from a disease or illness. This disease had to be mastered or destroyed if the collective body was to survive. What was this dream all about? What were the Nazis trying to achieve? Why did the Nazis believe that collective action could help them to actualize their dream? Hitler's life consisted of affirming, promulgating and acting upon his fantasy that Germany was an immortal organism that could live forever.
In nationalism, one exists as a selfobject in a condition of projective identification. The idea of one's self or body is "split off." One imagines that one exists as a projective symbol of one's self: "Hitler is Germany, just as Germany is Hitler." Identification with one's nation means that a massive body politic replaces—stands in for—one's own body.
The sense that one is "oppressed" is precisely the result of this fantasy of a massive body attached to one's own body: experience of an omnipotent body politic fused to the self. The omnipotent body with which one imagines oneself to be connected weighs one down. One imagines that one is "bigger" than one actually is, but also that one is smaller. One is diminished by the massive object with which one has identified.
In the Nazi fantasy of the nation as an organism, the individual is conceived as a cell within a gigantic body; a leaf upon a tree. According to this fantasy, one cannot exist or operate in a condition of separateness from this organism. One can only act in relation to the omnipotent body with which one is fused.
The "Volk" constituted a double of the self; a representation or representative of the self. Insofar as the Fuhrer was the volk, identification with Hitler was equivalent to identification with Germany. Just as Hitler was Germany, so every German was Hitler. Hitler symbolized an immortal self contained within the immortality of the nation.
Totalitarianism meant that everyone had to identify with the volk. There could be only one body, one Reich, one Fuhrer and one people. Everything that existed had to be contained within or encompassed by this single body. In Hitler's fantasy, each human being within Germany (cells of the body politic) had to exist in a state of fusion with the national organism.
Hitler refused to conceive of the possibility that any thing can exist in a condition of separation from the body politic. The omnipotent body (the nation) had to contain everything. For Hitler, there was no such thing as "external reality" in the sense of people or events that existed separately from the nation or national life. According to this totalitarian perspective, the nation was total: embracing—encompassing—everything.
For Hitler, nothing could exist in a condition of separation from the omnipotent organism—Germany. The nation contained everything within its own body. People were cells of this body. The German people were imagined to be fused to constitute a common body with a single blood stream. When a soldier died in war, the nation had lost one of its cells; its blood supply had been diminished.
The dream of Nazism is the dream of an immortal organism not subject to death and decay. Hitler was not satisfied with the idea of the nation as an abstract idea or imaginary community. He declared that Germany was an actual organism—a true "substance of flesh and blood." Hitler conceived of the nation as a real body politic consisting of millions of people as its cells.
Identification with a body politic implies escape from one's own body. In nationalism, the self is relocated. The idea or image of one's actual body is projected into a new body: the omnipotent body politic. The nation sequesters the libidinal energies of individuals. People become devoted to this entity and are willing to "sacrifice" in its name.
When Hitler imagines that an individual might wish to separate from the national organism, he becomes enraged. The idea of separation or separateness implies that the people of Germany are not united into one body. Hitler's ideology does not allow a conception of separation or separateness. How can a cell exist separately from the body to which it is bound? If the nation is an organism, then naturally it encompasses or incorporates everything within its boundaries.
The Nazis embraced Hitler's depiction of the nation as a real organism; an actual "volkskorper" (peoples' body) functioning according to principles that govern actual bodies. The Jew was conceived as a foreign element or "not self" microorganism within the German body—that needed to be rejected. Genocide constituted the immune response of the body politic. SS-men were antigens or "killer cells" mobilized to destroy the source of Germany's disease.