The Psychosomatic Meaning of Nationalism
by Richard Koenigsberg
Minds are shaped by ideologies and societal discourse. But why do these exist in specific forms? Why do some cultural ideas take hold—become dominant—and not others? We now explore the psychological sources and meanings of collective representations. Books below are foundation texts for those considering the hypothesis that the world in which we exist is not separate from human beings—who have created this world.
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Developmental Time, Cultural Space

Howard Stein has one of the finest minds engaged in the study of culture in our time. —Prof. Howard Schwartz, Oakland University

Hitler's Ideology: A Study in Psychoanalytic Sociology

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

Nations Have the Right to Kill: Hitler, the Holocaust and War

A psychological inquiry of great depth and tragic urgency. —Walter A. Davis, Professor Emeritus, Ohio State University

Special Issue of the Peace Review on the Psychological Interpretation of War

The definitive publication on the psychological sources of warfare.

Symbiosis and Separation: Towards a Psychology of Culture

Lays the foundation for a theory of culture and politics by showing how objects in the external world symbolize objects in the internal world.

The Dream of Culture

What is culture? Where is it located? What is it for? Where does it come from? Why do cultures persist over time? “An enduring contribution.” —Prof. John Connor

The Myth of Africa

An important founding text of postcolonial studies and discourse analysis, envisioning British representations as arising from projections of shared unconscious fantasies.
—Prof. Keith Booker, U. of Arkansas

The Psychoanalysis of Racism, Revolution and Nationalism

A truly bold and provocative treatise.
Political Psychology (Journal)

The Withdrawal of Human Projection: Separating from the Symbolic Order

Following the path Freud laid down in Civilization and Its Discontents, M. D. Faber presents a profound analysis of the relationship between the individual and society.

What are “nations”? What does the term “body politic” mean? Why are human beings so deeply attached to entities called “countries”? What after all, is a country? What do we mean when we say that an individual “identifies” with his or her nation?

Nationalism was the essence of Nazism. Nazism was profound nationalism– nationalism carried to the nth power. Hitler explained, “You are nothing, your nation is everything.” Totalitarianism meant that the German nation was to encompass everyone and everything. And each individual German would come to encompass everyone and everything—to the extent that he abandoned his individual identity and became “at one” with the nation.

Hitler insisted that human beings could not exist apart from their nation and national life: “The nation is not merely the root of your strength, it is the root of your very life.” Hitler’s believed that Germans existed only to the extent that they were bound absolutely to Germany.  

Yet when Hitler explained to the Germans, “Your life is bound up with the life of your whole people,” wasn’t he expressing a philosophy that governs the thinking of most people? As Americans, don’t we believe that our own lives are bound to the life of our country, and to other Americans?

Sitting in front of my computer—typing this Word document—I am separate from the sound and fury of “national life.” But if I surf the Web, I immediately encounter “news” intended to command my attention: stories about politicians, elections, wars, sports and sports figures, movies, celebrities, etc.

Few in the United States would declare, as Hitler did, that there is “absolutely no room for apolitical people.” Still, we feel an intimate connection between our own lives and the “life of the nation.” We barely question what “America” means—because we don’t conceive of ourselves as separate from America. What are these “countries” to which people become so deeply attached and devoted?

What would it mean to “disidentify” with one’s nation and national life—becoming, in effect, a “man without a country”? Conceiving of one’s self as separate from one’s nation, or thinking about one’s nation as separate than one’s self—might allow deeper insight into the nature and meaning of these entities: countries that hold us in thrall.

Some suggest that the term “body politic” is outdated, even archaic. For Hitler, however, this concept lay at the heart of his ideology. He imagined the German nation as a “corporate body”—a “single organism.” The fundamental purpose of politics, he declared, was to “secure the preservation” of the German body politic.

Rudolph Hess introduced his Fuehrer at rallies with the phrase, “Hitler is Germany, just as Germany is Hitler.” At the core of Nazism was Hitler’s profound identification with Germany. Hitler so deeply identified with the German nation that it is fair to say that he experienced Germany as a part of his body.

Just as Hitler internalized the German nation into himself, so he relocated his self into Germany. I’m sitting here typing. On the other hand, I imagine that something is going on “out there” (not on the street outside my apartment). What is going on out there is national life—the life of the nation. We feel a sense of intimacy with people and places far away. The boundaries between self and country blur.  We feel that what is going on “out there” is deeply connected to our own lives.

On the other hand, even as boundaries blur between ourselves and our “fellow countrymen”—there is a tendency to erect rigid boundaries against those not identified as fellow countrymen. Nationalism involves strict demarcation between self and other. Nations seek to protect their borders. Political conflicts begin with the idea of an “enemy” that wishes to violate national boundaries.

Hitler’s preoccupation with boundaries is revealed in statements he made about German foreign policy. In Mein Kampf he declared that Germany could begin the march to obtain land in Russia only if the German “rear” was protected by England. In order to gain territory in Russia, Germany had to “free its rear” against England.

Similarly, in order to pursue its policy against England, Hitler said, Germany had to seek to “cover her rear with Russia.” Like Bismarck, Hitler welcomed the “Russian rear cover” that gave Germany a free hand in the West.

Insofar as Hitler conceived of Germany as an actual body (politic), protecting Germany’s rear suggests a preoccupation with—fear of—anal rape. National defense revolves around preventing enemies from violating the boundaries of one’s nation.

One may speak of foreign policy using the language of immunology. The “other” is conceived as that which threatens to penetrate national boundaries and to enter into the interior of the body politic. Warfare, like an immune response, seeks to eject or ward off what is identified as alien or foreign.

The national immune system also reacts to internal enemies of the people— dangerous “cells” within the body politic that endanger the life of the national organism. In the face of Bolshevik poisons flowing into Germany, Hitler said it was necessary to “immunize the people.” By fighting off the “international carrier of the bacillus,” the German people would become “immune from a Bolshevik infection.”

Believing that forces within Germany were acting to cause the nation to “disintegrate,” Hitler was confident that the Germany army would act to create “immunity” against these enemies. His National Socialist policy would work to affect an “immunization” of the German Reich against these disintegrating forces.

Nations defend themselves against others conceived as alien or foreign or not-self. Those who are alien to the national self are called “enemies.” Enemies—those that are not allowed to exist within the boundaries of one’s nation—are the opposite of the national self.

Individuals identify with their nations—identify their bodies with a body politic. They experience threats to their nation as threats to their own body. Nationalism is a psychosomatic phenomenon.