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Building a Wall: Nationalism as Immunology
Richard A. Koenigsberg
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"Koenigsberg's genius has unlocked the secrets of a timeless drama."
Journal of Psychoanalytic Anthropology
The function of the immune system is to distinguish self from not-self. The immune system is the "ever-vigilant protector of the environment of the body" (Martin, 1990). Anything foreign that invades this environment must be "rapidly detected and removed."

Nations—like bodies—possess sharply defined boundaries, and frequently are imagined to be besieged or threatened. The imperiled nation must continuously work to "quell alien invaders" (Martin, 1990).

When a nation feels that its borders or boundaries are fragile or porous, it may seek to create "walls" to prevent alien cells from entering the body politic. Nationalism thus becomes a form of immunology.

University of Berlin Professor Eugen Fischer asserted in a lecture on June 20, 1939 (Lifton, 1986) that when a people wants to preserve its own nature it must "reject alien elements." When these elements already have insinuated themselves, the people must "suppress and eliminate them." The Jew, Fischer declared is such an alien, and therefore when he wants to insinuate himself, he must be "warded off." Such actions were merely self-defense. "I reject Jewry," Fischer concluded, "with every means in my power."

Hitler imagined the German nation as a body with an immune system." Identifying Jews as foreign or not-self cells, the German body politic—with its immune system—could not act otherwise but to "reject" or destroy these alien entities.

In Mein Kampf (1923), Hitler posed the question, "Could anyone believe that Germany was not subject to exactly the same laws as all other human organisms?" Conceiving of Germany as an organism, Hitler was suggesting that Germany—like any other organism—possessed an immune system and was compelled to function according to the "law" of the immune system—automatically detecting and destroying entities identified as foreign.

In the United States today, the policy of the President is based on his conception of the nation as a body possessing an immune system. In order to maintain the nation's boundaries, a wall must be constructed—and laws passed—to prevent "foreign elements" from entering into the nation.

According to Nazi philosopher Alfred Rosenberg (1970), nations act to "assimilate everything racially and spiritually akin," and to "eliminate and suppress everything foreign." Members of alien groups needed to be prevented from entering the body politic because they were "out of tune with our kind and violate the inner construction of our being."

The American President, it would appear, equates his own body with the American body politic. He has presented a policy—that some people embrace—insisting that Americans protect their own "geographic space" (Stein, 2013). A wall is necessary in order to firm up "porous boundaries"—to prevent alien elements from seeping into the national body.


Hitler, A. (2003). Mein Kampf. Newport Beach, CA: The Noontide Press. Retrieved from: http://www.angelfire.com/folk/bigbaldbob88/MeinKampf.pdf

Lifton, Robert J. (1986). The Nazi doctors : medical killing and the psychology of genocide. New York: Basic Books.

Martin, E. (1990). Toward an Anthropology of Immunology: The Body as Nation State. Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 4(4), new series, 410-426.

Rosenberg, A. & Pois, R. (1970). Selected writings [of] Alfred Rosenberg. London: Cape.

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