Friday, November 8, 2013
NAZISM AS RADICAL NATIONALISM:
“You will love your country or we will bash your head in.”
by Richard A. Koenigsberg
I’ve been writing about societal slaughter in recent issues of the LSS Newsletter: how millions of people have died in wars and episodes of genocide. But what about the other side of the coin: What is all this dying and killing for? What is the nature of that dynamic that generates slaughter?
I study Hitler—not as an idiosyncratic personality, but as a vehicle toward understanding and revealing the template for societal slaughter. In terms of the ideology Hitler put forth, he was not unusual. What Hitler did was to embrace and promote certain very popular, conventional political ideas—and carry them to a bizarre fulfillment.
John Kennedy (1961) exhorted the American people: “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” This is a classic expression of nationalistic ideology: one should be less concerned with the fulfillment of one’s own needs and aspirations, and more concerned with fulfilling the “needs” of one’s country. Nationalism and self-renunciation—sacrifice—go hand in hand.
Hitler explained to the German people: “You are nothing, your nation is everything.” This is a radical expression of the nationalistic ideology contained in JFK’s words. The nation is more significant than the individual. Indeed, according to Hitler, the individual is nothing compared to the nation. Nazism took this proposition—the insignificance of the individual in relationship to one’s nation—and carried it to an extreme conclusion.
The nation, according to Nazi ideology, should become the exclusive object of devotion. Hitler asserted, “We do not want to have any other God, only Germany.” Hitler was a fanatic preacher, whipping up excitement: imploring people to devote their lives to the same god to which he himself had devoted his life.
Our future is Germany. Our today is Germany. And our past is Germany. Let us take a vow this morning, at every hour, in each day, to think of Germany, of the nation, of our German people. You cannot be unfaithful to something that has given sense and meaning to your whole existence.
At the core of Nazism was the idea of faith: faith in the German nation and people, and faith in Hitler as the perfect representative or embodiment of Germany.
The terms “obedience” and “obedience to authority”—often used in relation to the Nazi case—are highly misleading, suggesting the mechanical following of orders. Rather, at the core of Nazism was love of Germany and faith in Hitler, which led people to want to carry out orders that the leader issued.
Hitler explained: “Our love towards our people will never falter, and our faith in this Germany of ours is imperishable.” He called Deutschland ueber Alles (“Germany above all”) a profession of faith, which today “fills millions with a greater strength, with that faith which is mightier than any earthly might.” Nationalism for Hitler meant willingness to act with a “boundless, all embracing love for the Volk and, if necessary, to die for it.”
We prefer not to acknowledge the truth of Nazism: that the massive brutality and destruction that this movement generated grew out of love of country, and faith in the leader. To understand Nazism, one must begin by recognizing that one cannot separate these three variables: love, faith and mass murder.
All forms of nationalistic ideology rest upon the identification of the individual with his nation. In order for nationalism to work, one must be willing to connect one’s personal aspirations with the aspirations put forth by one’s nation. One’s personal life has to become bound to national life.
At the core of Nazism was the assertion that there could be no separation between self and nation. Hitler asked the German people to embrace this intimate bond—to acknowledge their profound closeness—dependence—upon Germany:
Our Nation is not just an idea in which you have no part; you yourself support the nation; to it you belong; you cannot separate yourself from it; your life is bound up with the life of your whole people; the nation is not merely the root of your strength, it is the root of your very life.
If I had to crystallize Nazi ideology after studying it for 40 years (see Hitler’s Ideology), I would use two words: “no separation”: thou shalt not be separate from one’s country. Thou shalt not acknowledge the possibility of separation. Hitler was in a rage against separateness.
The idea of Germany, for Hitler, was everything. He refused to contemplate that there could be anything other than Germany. What’s more, he insisted that everyone embrace Germany, proclaiming:
No one person is excepted from the crisis of the Reich. This Volk is but yourselves. There may not be a single person who excludes himself from this joint obligation.
Hitler claimed that one’s Volk and one’s self were one and the same. No one could be “excepted” from the obligation to devote one’s life to Germany. One had to overcome “bourgeois privatism” in order to “unconditionally equate the individual fate and fate of the nation.”
Hitler’s mission as a leader was to get everyone to share his love for and devotion to Germany: to seduce the people to share his passion. He sought national unity: the people as one, united and sharing a common emotion. Nothing was as thrilling to Hitler as the Nuremberg rallies.
Although Hitler felt that he had fulfilled his dream—of uniting the German people under the banner of National Socialism—he often had doubt. Perhaps there were some people who did not share his enthusiasm: who refused to join in.
Our aim is the dictatorship of the whole people, the community. I began to win men to the idea of an eternal national and social ideal—to subordinate one’s own interests to the interest of the whole society. There are, nevertheless, a few incurables who had never understood the happiness of belonging to this great, inspiring community.
Those who did not share Hitler’s enthusiasm—who did not understand the happiness of belonging to the “great, inspiring community”—were the “incurables.” Those who refused to join in were the “disease within the body of the people”: people who refused to love Germany and to join in expressing their devotion.
Loyalty and faith in one’s nation is accompanied by the idea that some human beings are not loyal and do not possess adequate faith. Love of country is not separate from the idea of disloyalty. There are numerous examples of political movements focused on hounding those who are identified as disloyal—not giving full support to the nation and its government.
Those accused of being disloyal to their nation may be called traitors or internal enemies or terrorists. We in the US are quite familiar with how dissenters can be condemned in this way. Nazi Germany was quantitatively, but not qualitatively, different from many other nationalistic cultures.
In Nazi Germany everyone was required to embrace and to love the German nation, and to make enormous sacrifices in her name. Hitler did not allow for the existence of a private sphere—a place within society where people were not obligated to love and devote themselves to the nation.
And this is where violence comes into being. Political violence was directed toward those who were perceived as being insufficiently devoted to Germany. Hitler declared:
"We are fanatic in our love for our people. We can go as loyally as a dog with those who share our sincerity, but we will pursue with fanatic hatred the man who believes that he can play tricks with this love of ours."
Hitler’s hatred was directed toward those who—he imagined—did not love Germany enough: refused to embrace her “goodness” and the national purpose. Nazi rage was directed toward those who—it seemed—had doubts about Hitler’s capacity to bring about the resurrection of Germany. Perhaps the ideology of Nazism—radical nationalism—might be summed up in the following phrase: “You will love your country—or we will bash your head in.”
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Saturday, June 1, 2013
BOOK REVIEW of Hitler's Ideology: A Study in Psychoanalytic Sociology By Richard A. Koenigsberg
On my reading of Hitler's words and deeds, the analysis below is pretty right. American Progressives of the time thought similarly. The human body as a model for a nation seems to have been pretty popular in both Europe and America in the first half of the 20th century -- JR
Once again available, Hitler’s Ideology identifies and conveys the central images and metaphors contained in the writings and speeches of the leader who defined and articulated Nazi ideology.
Rigorously examining the empirical data, Koenigsberg identifies recurring metaphors in Hitler’s rhetoric in order to reconstruct the central fantasy underlying, defining and supporting Nazism: the idea that Germany was a real body politic in danger of disintegrating—unless radical actions were undertaken.
Hitler’s political role was to maintain the life of the body politic—to prevent Germany from falling apart. To keep Germany from disintegrating, Hitler would bind Germans into a “closely united body.” Hitler’s strategy was to throw his people into the “great melting pot,” the nation, so that they would “weld one to another” into a “single block of steel.”
Hitler was not satisfied with abstract concepts of the nation. He refused to embrace a theory of nations as “imagined communities.” Rather, Hitler conceived of Germany as a “national organism:” an actual “substance of flesh and blood.”
Hitler devoted his life to this German organism—a substance of flesh and blood—and asked his people to do the same. In Hitler’s ideology, the body politic was more important than the bodies of individuals. Hitler mobilized a struggle to “maintain that body—which is the people.”
Nazism conceived of each citizen as a cell of a gigantic organism. Hitler acted to unite these cells to create a single, indestructible body. Out of the “weak will of 60 million individuals,” Hitler would forge a “gigantic mighty compressed will of all.” To prevent national disintegration, the German people had to “hold together as a single block of steel.” If Germany did not succeed in creating a body politic “hard as iron,” then—lacking internal consolidation—the nation would “fall into final ruin.”
The Psychology of Ideology
Hitler’s Ideology is a study in the psychology of ideology and culture. What is the source of an ideology’s power? How may we account for the shape and form of specific cultural ideas or beliefs? Why are certain discourses embraced with such passion? What was the source of Nazism’s appeal?
“Obedience to authority” is not an explanation. Hitler lured the Germany people by presenting a fantasy of omnipotence that they could share and embrace. Each citizen would partake of—become one with—the massive, powerful German body politic.
The Nuremberg rallies (see photo to the left) conveyed the heart of Hitler’s ideology. In these rallies, tens of thousands of people massed together in a stadium. Here at last was the German organism of Hitler’s dreams: the people as cells united to form a single, massive body. Hitler was ecstatic.
The Nuremberg rallies persuaded Hitler that Germany was real—not simply an imagined community. The people at these rallies embodied the nation: Germany had materialized. Hitler saw and experienced the nation with his own eyes: an actual “substance of flesh and blood.”
Fighting for the Resurrection of Germany
Hitler entered politics because he felt that German nation was weak and ill—in danger of succumbing to a fatal disease. He feared the “political disintegration of the body of the people;” believed he was witnessing the “slowly spreading decomposition” of Germany.
Hitler would persuade the German people to undertake a “fight against death.” Either Germany and the German people would sink, or they would enter a “fight against death and rise up against the fate that has been planned for us.”
Hitler’s leadership was based on his belief that the German body politic was in the process of disintegrating. He would reverse the process: make certain that the nation did not disintegrate. Still, the nation was in critical condition. “Drastic measures” were required if Germany was to survive.
Hitler justified the need for political risk by comparing Germany’s plight to that of a “cancer victim whose death is otherwise certain”—who would be willing to attempt an operation even if it promised “only half a percent likelihood of cure.” He compared the nation’s plight to that of a man who “appears to have cancer and is unconditionally doomed to die.” Under these circumstances, it would be senseless to refuse an operation just because the possibility of success was slight.
Would Germany be able to survive? Hitler possessed the “inner assurance” that the people’s fight to live would be brought to a successful conclusion. In spite of Germany’s desperate plight, Hitler remained optimistic, claiming that a national state could sometimes withstand long period of the worst leadership without disintegrating. At such times it seemed as if there were “no more life in such a body”—as though it were dead and done for. But one fine day the supposed corpse suddenly rises and “gives the rest of humanity astonishing indications of its unquenchable vital force.”
Hitler became Fuehrer in order to help Germany recover from her disease. Soon, Hitler believed that he had achieved his goal. Germany had “found herself.” The nation had “risen again.” The people could rejoice in the “renewal of a body that had fallen into senility.” Hitler proudly announced the “mighty miracle of the German resurrection.”
Hitler’s Ideology shows how Nazism grew out of the fantasy of Germany as an actual body—and Hitler’s belief that the purpose of politics was to maintain the life of this body. As a result of actions undertaken by the Nazis, Hitler believed that he had brought the nation back to life: Germany had been resurrected.
Maintaining the Life of the Body Politic
Hitler’s ideology revolved around devotion to this second body—the German body politic. Hitler explained to his people: “You are nothing, your nation is everything.” In Nazism, individual human lives were insignificant compared to the life of the body politic. Why? Because individual bodies pass away, whereas the Reich had the potential to live eternally.
Hitler explained: “The individual is transitory, the people is permanent.” Men come and die, but “this community shall last forever.” Hitler asked the German people to disregard their own lives—to place no value on their actual bodies. Rather, the existence of each person would be devoted to maintaining the life of a second body: the body politic.
Hitler was not content with an abstract idea of national immortality. Rather, the permanent element—what would endure—was “that substance of flesh and blood which we call the German people.” The nation, Hitler believed, was an actual body consisting of the German people as its flesh and blood.
Politics revolves around devotion to entities called nations that human beings imagine possess an existence separate from their own lives. Citizens sacrifice their bodies—die and kill—in order to make certain that national bodies “live on.” In order to maintain the lives of nations—to assure their immortality—anything and everything is deemed permissible. “We may be inhumane,” Hitler said, “But if we rescue Germany we have performed the greatest deed in the world.”
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