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What I'm Doing (Part I): Identifying the
Fantasies That Give Rise to Political Violence
Richard Koenigsberg
I study the shared fantasies that lie at the heart and soul of societies, and that generate and define the historical process. I focus on collective fantasies that give rise to cultural forms of violence, such as war, genocide and terrorism. I use the phrase “making conscious the unconscious on the stage of social reality” to refer to the process of identifying and revealing central fantasies that generate societal violence.

“History” is often conceived as if coming from a place other than the self—as if a dimension or domain of reality separate from human intention. I seek to reconnect the outer world with the inner: to show how historical events—war and genocide—manifest human desires and fantasies. We are the source.

Ideologies contain psychic meaning. For any ideology, I pose the question: Why does this ideology exist? Why was it created? What needs, desires, anxieties and fantasies does this ideology contain and express?

I’m an empiricist with formal training in experimental psychology. My theories derive from case studies; specific historical events or phenomena.

I’ve developed a methodology called “analysis of metaphor” that consists of identifying recurring words and images in rhetoric of political leaders. Metaphors are not merely metaphors. They are pregnant with psychological meaning.

The meaning of an ideology is revealed through the metaphors contained within political language. The leader expresses his own fantasies, and conveys these to an audience. A political movement is created when the fantasies of a leader resonate with the fantasies of an audience.

The Fuehrer’s followers expressed their agreement with what he said by standing on their feet, lifting their right arm, and screaming, “Heil Hitler.” Successful political rhetoric of any kind elicits a “heil.” Something the leader says excites his followers.

What are the nature of those fantasies and desires that give rise to—are the sources of—significant political ideologies and movements? What does an ideology “do” for a leader and his or her followers? How may we account for the excitement?

According to Rudolph Rummel, 262 million people died in the 20th century because of political violence generated by governments. Of course, each episode of violence had a unique “history.” But are each one of these events unique? Very doubtful. Is it possible to develop theories accounting for disparate cases of political violence?