THE PSYCHOANALYTIC INTERPRETATION OF REALITY: Theory and Method
By Richard Koenigsberg
My study Hitler’s Ideology: A Study in Psychoanalytic Sociology reconstructs the fantasies that were the source of Nazism based on analysis of the words, images and metaphors contained within Hitler’s writing and speeches. Hitler articulated his fantasies through the vehicle of his ideology. National Socialism “caught on” because what Hitler said resonated with ideas or desires present within the minds of other Germans. In creating their movement, the Nazis were involved in the “social construction of reality.” The reality constructed by the Nazis grew out of fantasies contained within Hitler’s ideology.
Nazism articulated a fantasy about the body. Hitler conceived of Germany as a “living organism” consisting of German people as “cells” bound together to form a body politic. Hitler referred to Jews as “bacteria” or “virus”—source of a “disease within the body politic” whose continued presence within Germany would lead to the nation’s demise. The Final Solution grew out of this fantasy of Germany suffering from a potentially fatal disease. Jews were conceived as pathogenic micro-organisms that needed to be destroyed if the nation was to survive. The Nazi movement revolved around “saving the life” of Germany.
I reconstruct the fantasies underlying Nazi ideology based upon a method I call “analysis of metaphor.” This method consists of observing and recording recurring words, images and metaphors that appear in the writing and speeches of political leaders: in propaganda, theoretical treatises, and other pronouncements conveying the ideas and thinking of a social movement or regime. Analysis of images and metaphors bound to the central terms of an ideology (e. g., “the German people,” “the Jew”) permit one to uncover the latent fantasies that are the source of the ideology.
I theorize that ideologies exist as modus operandi for the expression of fantasies shared by members of a population. Ideologies become articulated as social reality by harnessing and focusing latent desires, anxieties, conflicts and fantasies. Ideologies—like “funnels”—draw forth energy bound within unconscious fantasies in order to make this energy available for reality-oriented action. Ideologies are societally defined discourses that transform dimensions of psychic experience into elements of culture.
My approach is not psycho-biography. I focus on the ideas put forth by political leaders. Germans embraced Hitler and his ideology because they liked what he was saying. The words and phrases and metaphors that he used in his speeches conveyed a message that struck a chord within the German people. Hitler’s ideas evoked a deep response. His ideology transformed vague desires, undefined fears and inchoate longings into a system of belief capable of generating action on the stage of political reality.
Hitler entered politics and created National Socialism in order to express his own desires, emotions and fantasies. When he “spoke,” what was within Hitler came bursting out, gushing forth into reality. Hitler claimed that Germany was ill and presented himself as that unique politician capable of diagnosing and curing the nation’s disease. He empathized with the suffering of his people and insisted he would act to bring about the “resurrection” of Germany. Hitler’s hysteria was contagious, generating mass hysteria.
Hitler’s created an ideology that expressed the desires and fantasies of the German people. When Hitler spoke, people in the audience jumped to their feet and shouted “Heil Hitler.” Germans shouted “Heil” because they agreed with what Hitler was saying. Hitler encouraged people to abandon their inhibitions in order to perform whatever actions were necessary to achieve the goal of saving Germany. He released indignation and rage against those whom he believed were acting to oppress or harm the nation. “We may be inhumane,” Hitler declared, “but if we rescue Germany we have performed the greatest deed in the world.”
Nazi political theorist Ernst Rudolf Huber in his Constitutional Law of the Third Reich stated that the Führer was the “bearer of the collective will of the people.” In the will of the leader, Huber said, the “will of the people is realized.” Hitler’s will was not the “subjective will of a single man.” Rather, the “collective national will” was embodied within the leader. A people’s collective will, Huber explained, is rooted in the “political idea which is given to a people.” The political idea is present in the people, but the Führer “raises it to consciousness and discloses it.”
The role of the leader according to Huber is to “disclose” a people’s political idea, that is, to bring into consciousness that which had been unconscious. The leader functions to bring forth or make manifest ideas and desires that are latent within a people. His ideology reveals and crystallizes a people’s shared fantasies. The leader invents images, metaphors and phrases to convey these fantasies. The leader processes his own fantasies and those of his people—and “returns” information to his audience in the form of a societal discourse.
By virtue of being transformed into a societal discourse, energies and passions bound to unconscious fantasies are released for action. The ideology transforms latent desires and fantasies into the “collective will” to act. The will to act is generated by the wish to actualize or bring into reality fantasies contained within the ideology. Thus, the role of the leader is not only to bring into consciousness fantasies shared by members of society, but also to devise a plan or program allowing these fantasies to transform into reality.
A nation or people become capable of creating “History” when they unite to engage in concerted action. Historical actions come into being as the manifestation of a people’s collective will; as a result of their desire to transform reality in accordance with fantasies contained within an ideology. History is a socially constructed reality representing the projection of shared fantasies into the external world. The leader’s ideology embodies the shared fantasies of a population and shows people how they can make their dreams come true.
Ideologies consist of interrelated propositions or theorems. They are “programs” capable of dictating forms of action. Political actions undertaken in the name of an ideology are based upon propositions or theorems contained within the ideology. Ideologies possess logic. Logic does not imply rationality. The logic of an ideology is based upon the coherence of the fantasy that is its source.
Historical actions manifest the logic of fantasies contained within ideologies. The Final Solution, for example, grew out of Hitler’s proposition that the German nation was an actual body (politic) and that Jews were bacteria within this body. Insofar as Jews were bacteria, every single one of them needed to be destroyed, lest they begin again to multiply and divide. The fantasy contained within Hitler’s ideology was the source of genocide.
Howard F. Stein states that “history has to happen in a certain way.” What he means is that political acts are generated or undertaken according to structures of thought that act as “templates.” Ideological templates present within societies dictate what can happen and what will happen. Ideological templates are the source of history. The template precedes the act; the fantasy is prior to reality. History represents the unfolding or acting out of unconscious fantasies contained within ideologies.
When people speak of “History,” we usually think of “big” events that transform the world: wars, acts of genocide, revolutions, etc. History books narrate this tale of wars, genocides, and revolutions. The human race possesses, of course, another history that is not the narration of collective acts of violence undertaken in the name of societies, religions and nations. Human beings act within “ordinary life.” They have sexual relations, get married, and raise families; they become educated; they build houses, streets, highways and bridges; they engage in business; they become patients in psychotherapy; they suffer from disease and old age.
However, the term History usually brings to mind “world historic events” rather than actions that occur in ordinary life. The domain of History is constituted by collective acts of violence undertaken by societies. History occurs when people kill and die in massive numbers; when they act to destroy the artifacts of civilization. The dimension of human reality that we call History is that location where “sound and the fury” takes place. History is a privileged domain—split off from the reality-of-everyday-life.
Within this privileged domain called History, norms that govern ordinary existence are abandoned. Actions customarily deemed abnormal—even bizarre or psychotic—are judged to be normative. Within the dimension of History, massive acts of destruction and self-destruction—murdering and being murdered—are taken for granted. History is that domain of reality where it is permissible to act upon or to act out infantile fantasies.
In 1992, Francis Fukuyama wrote about the “death of history.” An earlier generation of scholars debated the “end of ideology.” These phrases suggest the advent of a world where people have abandoned the hope of actualizing fantasies of omnipotence through the creation of History. A world without History would be one where people no longer project their fantasies into ideologies; where human beings resign themselves to day-to-day existence; where there is “nothing to kill or die for” (John Lennon). With no hope of fulfilling fantasies contained within sacred ideologies, people would have to be content with going to work, earning a living, decorating their apartments, watching television, going to the gym, fulfilling their medical prescriptions, etc.
For a time, it appeared that people were moving toward embracing a world without History; a society bereft of “grand narratives.” Recently, however, the sound and the fury have returned. Religious and political ideologies have been restored to center-stage. The world is focused upon the fulfillment of omnipotent fantasies through the creation of History. Once again, people imagine “another world” beyond day-to-day existence; a world where momentous issues are at stake and momentous activities tale place. The resurrection of History—killing and dying through collective acts of violence—reflects peoples’ persisting attachment to sacred ideologies.