Fighting the “Real” Enemy: Fantasizing the Liberal “Final Solution”
by Peter Bloom
This issue of the LSS Newsletter presents the First Part of Peter Bloom's paper, consisting of the sections below:
I. Introduction
II. Exploring the Enemy Within and Without
III. Fantasizing the Enemy
IV. The Paranoid Pathology of the Final Solution
About the Author

Dr. Peter Bloom is a lecturer in the Department of People and Organisations at the Open University. His primary research interests include ideology, subjectivity and power, specifically as they relate to broader discourses and everyday practices of capitalism and democracy. He is currently completing a manuscript entitled Authoritarian Capitalism in the Age of Globalization to be published by Edward Elgar Press.

I. Introduction

The Final Solution stands as a historical landmark of the human capacity for evil. The sheer scale of this genocide, along with its ruthless intent, lends itself to passionate debates concerning its place in history. For some, the Final Solution is a unique event unprecedented in the annals of human history. For others, it is the culmination of a dark European historical legacy of anti-Semitism and ultra-nationalism.

Often overlooked, however, is its continuing resonance for contemporary politics. While the Holocaust has rightfully received almost universal global condemnation, the present day period is still marked by secret prison camps, official torture policies and mass killings. Moreover, politics remains seemingly wedded to a paradigm where an unquestionable conspiratorial enemy reigns supreme–from the shadow figure of the terrorist to the dangers of the immigrant.

History shows that dominant ideologies and political movements commonly rely on the creation of a shared enemy. To explain this phenomenon, theorists increasingly turn to psychoanalysis – revealing that demonized figures serve as a form of collective paranoia that has little basis in reality. Semelin (2007), to this effect, attributes genocides such as the Holocaust to cultural fantasies of ‘purity’, providing individuals an unconscious psychic security as social subjects.

These approaches reveal that all such enemies, whether or not they constitute an actual threat, reflect an illusionary identity connected to a collective cultural fantasy. This paper seeks to construct a broader theory for understanding the universal political and cultural role of paranoia, demonization and enemy creation. Selfhood is constructed through the presence of a ‘fantasamatic narrative’ centering on the eternal struggle to realize a promised utopian state against the constant threat of a malicious ‘Other’. 

This analysis emphasizes the paradoxically stabilizing role of enemies for ‘mastering’ such existential anxiety. Identity, in this reading, is founded not in the coming of the positive fantasy itself but, rather, in the continuous striving against enemies for its achievement. Selfhood is formed and reproduced in a repetitive psychic ‘history’ associated with this ongoing paranoid struggle. Hence, ironically, the more paranoid one feels—the more secure their identity.

This broader theoretical framework opens space for examining the similar function of paranoia and the reliance on enemies within seemingly opposing political systems. Notably, regardless of the character of a politics—inclusive or exclusive, explicitly racist or publicly anti-prejudice, or democratic or authoritarian—always apparent is a common pathology of needing to overcome the malevolent intents of an always dangerous, officially sanctioned adversary.

In this regard, political identity is likewise assured through an affective narrative with a defining feature of paranoia. This shared paranoia is witnessed, for instance, in the similar pathologies exhibited by Nazis in their undertaking of the Final Solution, and contemporary Liberal Democracy with its pre-occupation with destroying ‘anti-liberal’ enemies of all stripes, most recently Islamic terrorists. Each, despite ideological and normative differences, relied upon a fantasmatic narrative characterized by the ‘eradication’ of its adversaries.

II. Exploring the Enemy Within and Without

The creation and presence of enemies has played a fundamental role in forming and sustaining societies and collective identities across time and context. Scholars emphasize the essential function of this antagonistic other for binding communities together in a common identity and purpose.

Political theorists, from Schmidt (1922) onwards, have connected social cohesion and construction to the ‘friend/enemy’ distinction. This preoccupation with enemies has been linked to deeper processes of individual psychological development.

The creation of enemies plays a major part in the wider formation of selfhood. The ‘image of the enemy’ is associated with a child’s discovery of their ‘place in the world’. In discovering where they are from and in the process ‘who they are’, they also assume ‘who they are not’—and more fearfully who is threatening this identity.

III. Fantasizing the Enemy

Psychoanalytic perspectives illuminate the function of enemies for reaffirming the legitimacy of prevailing world views and ideologies. The presence of an always threatening enemy is imperative to this fantasmatic identification. Indeed, this attempt to stabilize selfhood linked to a cultural fantasy is ironically defined by its constant and eternal failure. In order to explain this failure, however, individuals turn to a ‘malevolent’ other—a demonized figure that is seen as trying to prevent them from realizing this illusionary future psychic wholeness.

Revealed, in turn, is the paradox at the heart of identity. The more paranoid one feels the more secure their identification. This seeming contradiction is explained by the fact that it is not the object of our desire that structures selfhood, but the constant struggle to achieve it.

A state of paranoia is often embraced, indeed more strongly, when the actual threat from such enemies is relatively non-existent.  Nativist identities, for instance, targeting immigrants—are often more prevalent in communities with few or no immigrants.

Likewise, historically, anti-Semitism thrived in Poland despite the comparatively small number of Jews living in the country. The paradox of a paranoid identity gestures toward the deeper pathologies driving not only the usual suspects such as Nazi ‘final solution’ or the Stalinist gulags, but political identities universally.

III. The Paranoid Pathology of the Final Solution

The final solution existed as much as a collective cultural fantasy as it did a concrete policy. Indeed, it was grounded in a tradition of ideological utopianism originating in the European enlightenment.  Its legitimacy lied, in no small part, on its appeal to a ‘perfect’ German state that could be achieved only through the eradication of the Jews and other unworthy people. This utopian politics was at its core a paranoid fantasy.

It revolved and was sustained by a common commitment and identity to fighting against enemies who threatened the ideal. More to the point, the binding force of a broader Nazi identity was founded in its ability to cohere a wide array of ‘enemies’ into a shared vision and identification.

Whereas the threat of the international Jewry was always to a degree a centerpiece of the regime’s beliefs, it was a fantasmatic narrative which provided the foundation for its broader eradication policies. Jeffrey Herf (2008) contends that

the distinctly genocidal and most dangerous aspect of Nazi Germany’s anti-Semitism did not lie in reprehensible racial biology that has understandably received so much attention. Rather it lay in its paranoid, political accusation that a historical actor called “international Jewry” had become the central driving force of modern history and Germany’s main enemy. Attacking and murdering the Jews everywhere was the absurdly logical corollary of this assumption.

Semelin associates ontological security with the political security individuals find in a shared paranoid fueled identity of victimhood—linked to the fear of an enemy other. He notes

the discourse of the other to be destroyed feeds upon a rhetoric of the threat that he represents. It is for this reason that the theme of conspiracy is often perceived, conspiracy plotted by the dangerous “them,” of whom “we” develop a paranoid representation. Such a process is above all imaginary: “as they want to kill us, we must kill them first, as quickly as possible.” Everything happens as if it were an urgent problem of security. He who prepares to become the assassin presents himself as the victim (Semelin 2003).

Represented, here, is the inexorable connection between psychic death and actual genocide.  Koenigsberg illuminates, in this regard, the ‘deeper structure’ of Nazi ideology as centering on the drive for immortality. The paranoid fantasy of the Final Solution was expressed metaphorically in the image of a body which—in order to become immortal—had to eliminate the internal ‘destructive force’ of the Jew.

It is paradoxically through enhancing this constructed threat that individuals are most psychically secure; their identity stably ensconced in a narrative battle against malicious enemies.

In the case of the Nazis, however, this paranoid political pathology took on a further paradox. On the one hand, it required an enemy to survive as an affective ideology and identity. On the other, the very paranoid nature of this pathology necessitated that this enemy be eradicated.