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Chapter XV: The Psychological Interpretation of Culture and History

Ideology as Shared Fantasy
Richard A. Koenigsberg
Hitler's Ideology: A Study in Psychoanalytic Sociology

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"This work deserves to be an instant classic. With care and caution, Koenigsberg remains close to the data from which he adduces his theory. Koenigsberg suggests that what is at stake is larger than an explanation of Hitler, Nazism, or even nationalism: it is, rather, an explanation of culture itself. Koenigsberg's genius has unlocked many of the unconscious secrets of a timeless drama." —Howard F. Stein, Journal of Psychoanalytic Anthropology
I sometimes forget that the subtitle of my book on Hitler’s ideology is “a study in psychoanalytic sociology.” In other words, my text is not primarily a historical study, nor is it a psychoanalytic study. It is a study in sociology.

Why the sociological focus? Because explanations of social phenomena at the time I wrote the book focused on the “functionality” of institutions. The assumption was that institutions do something for society—and for members of society.

The emphasis on functionality is related to the idea that behavior is dominated by rationality. If a social institution exists, many sociologists and historians believe this is because it performs a realistic or valuable function for society. Social institutions and historical acts seek gain—based on rational decision-making.

I chose to study Hitler and the Holocaust—because the Final Solution and death camps did not seem to perform a practical function. The institution seemed entirely irrational—providing no apparent benefits for anyone. If a social institution cannot be explained in terms of its rationality or functionality, this is where psychoanalysis comes in.

Psychoanalysis seeks to explain the irrational. But unfortunately, psychoanalysis throughout its history has focused primarily on the irrational as it occurs within individuals. There are powerful resistances against recognizing that society itself—like individuals—may be governed by profoundly irrational forces.

I theorize that unconscious fantasies are played out into society. Ideologies represent containers for shared unconscious fantasies. Sociology thus moves toward understanding the psychological sources and meanings of cultural forms. While psychoanalysis expands its scope by exploring how unconscious desires and fantasies manifest—not only within individuals—but in society.

I call my project “making conscious the unconscious on the stage of social reality.” The objective is to show how unconscious fantasies are projected outward into external reality—and shared. Ideologies represent the transformation of shared unconscious fantasies.

Ideologies exist in order to allow us to bring forth our fantasies into the external world. We study unconscious fantasies by observing how psychic content is present within cultural forms. The purpose of my methodology—analysis of metaphor—is to allow us to perceive unconscious fantasies as they exist in projective containers.

The human race reveals itself through the nature of fantasies projected outward—creating culture and history. Thus, “external reality”—while existing separately from human beings—is not independent of human beings. The “external world” reflects—makes manifest—who we are.