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The Human Body becomes a Body Politic
Richard A. Koenigsberg
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"A very thoughtful and perceptive analysis of the interplay of unconscious phantasy and cultural phenomena." —Thomas Ogden, M.D., author of The Matrix of the Mind
Totalitarianism conceives of nations as bodies that encompass and contain everyone and everything within them. In Hitler's fantasy, the German people were united within a gigantic body politic—as if constituting a single mass of flesh.

Since Hitler imagined that each German was fused with this body, therefore there was no such thing as separation. Hitler did not believe—refused to acknowledge—that there could be a domain of reality separate from the nation-state. Each human body could survive only when bound to a body politic.

Hitler conceived of Germany as a national organism consisting of people as cells. He was head or brain of the organism—the will generating collective action. At the Nuremberg rallies, Hitler materialized this bodily fantasy. He imagined that tens-of-thousands of people—gathering and marching together—constituted the flesh and blood of a single, gigantic organism.

Hitler was an embodiment theorist. He insisted that Germany was a real entity, not merely an abstraction or "imagined community." His fantasy of Germany as a body crystallized at the Nuremberg rallies, which he created in order to perceive or "witness" the German body. At the moment people marched into the stadium and moved before him, Hitler's doubts about the reality of Germany vanished.

Suddenly, a vague concept—the German nation—became a genuine "substance of flesh and blood."

Nations are imagined to be encompassed within a vast, geographic space.

"America the Beautiful:"

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

"God Bless America:"

From the mountains,
To the prairies,
To the ocean,
White with foam,
God bless America,
My home sweet home.

Identifying with one's nation, one becomes a vast, geographic space. The boundaries of one's ego expand. One imagines that what is contained within the space of one's nation is contained within the space of one's self. The ego fuses with a gigantic body of territory. The wound of separation is healed.

Freud in Civilization and Its Discontent (2010, p. 15):

Originally the ego includes everything, later it separates off an external world from itself. Our present ego-feeling is, therefore, only a shrunken residue of a much more inclusive—indeed, an all-embracing feeling which corresponds to a more intimate bond between the ego and the world about it.

The ego imagines that the entire world is contained within or bound to it. A trauma occurs when the ego recognizes that it is separate from the world. The world splits off from one's ego—and one perceives one's smallness and insignificance. Identification with one's nation allows one to recover the all-embracing ego-feeling. The world is re-incorporated into the ego.

One equates one's ego with everything that exists and occurs within the boundaries of one's nation. The ego expands to incorporate everything "out there." Chasseguet-Smirgel states (1985) that the individual's megalomania finds its expression when each person's ego is "extended to the whole group."

The group allows each member to feel himself to be, not a minute, undifferentiated particle of a vast whole, but on the contrary "identified with the totality of the group, thereby conferring on himself an omnipotent ego, a colossal body."

The nation is the fantasy of an omnipotent body—projected into the world—allowing us to recover our lost omnipotence; curing the wound of separation. This tendency or willingness to identify with one's nation seems so normal and natural and normal that we rarely reflect upon it.

To internalize one's nation into one's self is to incorporate its entire history, especially its wars, its political leaders and artistic achievements, its natural wonders and monuments, scientific achievements, cities and buildings, its economic development, crimes and criminals, its music and movies, sporting events and athletic heroes.

All of this becomes us. That which is distant from the self is experienced as very close to the self. With the mass-media and Internet, we have come to feel as if all of these things—one's "national life"—is the self. There is no feeling of separateness. We are all of it, and all of it is in us.

It is natural to make statements like "we" won (or lost) the war, or that "we" sent a man to the moon, or that "we" won a gold medal in the Olympics. Of course, we have done none of these things. Yet It seems natural to make extraordinary statements like these—so deeply embedded are we within our national life.

By virtue of incorporating one's nation into oneself, we deny or overcome our sense of smallness. Freud theorized that the ego ultimately is a body ego. If this is the case, incorporation of the nation into one's self has a psychosomatic meaning. The body politic becomes a part of one's body. One's body becomes a body politic.

Felix Deutsche states (1973, p. 80) that the process of symbolization originates in the need to "make good for the loss of the body's integrity by reintegrating into it adequate substitutes." Symbolization substitutes the amount of loss "that the lost object represented to the individual."

The essence of Nazism was the attempt to find the lost object in the external world. Rudolf Hess introduced his Fuehrer declaring, "Hitler is Germany, just as Germany is Hitler." Hitler had become the entire nation. Each and every German became part of Hitler, and therefore part of Germany.

Howard Stein has developed the concept of psychogeography (2013), the "unconscious construction of the social and physical world." Men and women, Stein says, "fashion the world out of the substance of their psyches from the experience of their bodies." Fantasies about the body transmute into descriptions of one's group. Projected outward, "the fate of the body becomes the fate of the world."

Hitler aspired to re-fashion the German nation—so that it could become a "closely knit body." Each German would fuse with each other German—like cells in a body—to create a single, cohesive entity. At the Nuremberg rallies, Hitler materialized this fantasy—of Germany as a gigantic body. Tens-of-thousands of people marched in rows and acted in unison—as if cells of an orderly, well-functioning body—with Hitler as the brain or head, dictating the body's actions.

To actualize Hitler's fantasy of the body politic, each individual was required to be obedient. Each German had to act in concert—for the benefit of the body of which he or she was a part. A cell cannot act—cannot exist—independently of its body. A cell cannot act autonomously because it does not possess autonomous existence. "Obedience" means surrendering to the requirements of the body of which one is a part.

Many Germans embraced Hitler's fantasy, imagining they were cells or components of a gigantic body politic. Hitler believed that the power of Germany derived precisely from the capacity of its people to act in unison—as a single body.

Whereas people in many societies act as individuals, Germans would abandon their individuality—their will to separate—in order to act in unison. By virtue of obedience to Hitler—union with an omnipotent body politic—enormous power would be conferred upon each person.

Hitler conceived of the German nation as the welding together of many human beings to create a single, cohesive body. Thus, no person could exist in a condition of separation from this body. No German could exist independently of the body of which it was a part.

Hitler became enraged contemplating the idea that someone might separate from or abandon the nation. In Hitler's fantasy, the essence of a nation was that it included every single human being united into a one body. Yet some human beings, Hitler imagined, could not or would not fuse with this body; were incapable of or unwilling to do so. Thus, Hitler declared In 1933, it was necessary to "exterminate the things that tear our Volk apart."


Deutsch, F. (1973). On the mysterious leap from the mind to the body : a workshop study on the theory of conversion. International Universities Press, New York.

Freud, S. & Strachey, J. (2010). Civilization and its discontents. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Smirgel, J. (1985). The ego ideal : a psychoanalytic essay on the malady of the ideal. London: Free Association Books.

Stein, H. (2013). Developmental time, cultural space : studies in psychogeography. New York, NY: Library of Social Science.