Thursday, January 29, 2015
Rescuing the Nation from Death
by Richard Koenigsberg
“There is a profound connection between the idea of one’s nation and the idea of an enemy. The enemy is the Siamese twin of one’s nation—what must be destroyed if one’s nation is to survive. Nationalism revolves around rescuing one’s nation—saving the country from death. The enemy is the source of death. For Hitler and the Nazis, Jews were the enemy par excellence.”
Writing about the Final Solution, Hannah Arendt explained that anti-Semitism “explains everything and therefore nothing.” To say Hitler and the Nazis hated and wanted to eliminate the Jews because they were anti-Semitic is equivalent to saying, “Hitler and the Nazis hated and wanted to eliminate the Jews because they hated and wanted to eliminate the Jews.” Recalling freshman philosophy, I believe this is what is called a tautology.
The question is: what did anti-Semitism mean to people like Hitler, Himmler and Goebbels? Why did the idea of “the Jew” arouse such a passionate, hysterical response? Why did Nazi leaders—and many other Germans—feel it was necessary to destroy or eliminate the Jews, conceiving of the Final Solution as a moral imperative?
Hitler said, “We may be inhumane, but if we rescue Germany, we have performed the greatest deed in the world.” Hitler’s ideology grew out of a rescue fantasy. He wanted to “save the nation.” This is not an unusual motive. Much of politics grows out of this idea that one must act to “save” one’s nation—from external and internal enemies.
Indeed, this motive—the desire to “save one’s nation”—is so ordinary that we barely reflect upon it. What is it that individuals wish to save? What is the nature and meaning of these threats to one’s nation—that often evoke such radical, violent forms of action?
There is a profound connection between the idea of one’s nation and the idea of an enemy. The enemy is the Siamese twin of one’s nation, that which must be destroyed if one’s nation is to survive. Nationalism revolves around rescuing one’s nation—saving the country from death. The enemy is the source of death. For Hitler and the Nazis, Jews were the enemy par excellence.
In a previous essay, I hypothesized that “identification with one’s country” is equivalent to equating one’s actual body with a body politic. This is why threats to one’s nation evoke such passion. The idea of an attack upon the nation is experienced as if an attack upon the self—upon one’s own body.
Thus, “national defense” can be understood as a form of paranoia. The enemy is imagined to be violating the boundaries of one’s body. Likewise, the struggle against “internal enemies” (foreign “cells”) may be experienced as if a “disease within the body of one’s people.” In either case, the enemy is experienced as a threat to one’s body.
Hitler identified deeply with the Germany body politic: “Hitler is Germany, just as Germany is Hitler,” as Rudolf Hess put it. Hitler experienced threats to Germany as a threat to his body. Politics was deeply personal for Hitler. There was little separation between the ideology he put forth and his experience as a human being.
When he spoke to the German people, he conveyed this experience—through words and gestures. It’s not as if Hitler invented his ideology for an ulterior purpose. His ideology grew out of his bodily experience. Hitler transformed his deeply emotional experience into an ideology and plan of action.
Hitler understood Jews in terms of a force of disintegration that threatened to destroy the German body politic. He called the Jew a “ferment of decomposition among peoples,” the “demon of disintegration,” symbol of the “unceasing destruction” of a people’s life. As he rose to power, Hitler believed the German nation was in the midst of a “process of dissolution.”
Hitler called communists the “international disintegrators of a people.” Jews “destroyed the state organization.” Bolshevism sought to “tear the world asunder.” Democracy acted continually to “disintegrate the European states.” Hitler looked out into the world, and saw the “increasingly rapid falling to pieces of the organic structure of the nation.”
Hitler’s anti-Semitism was not separate from his attachment to Germany. His response to the Jews was based on his belief that they were acting to bring about Germany’s demise. What did Hitler’s life amount to, after all the history books have been written? His struggle to “save Germany from death” by destroying Jews.
Hitler declared that Germany would not capitulate: he would act to prevent the “threatening dissolution” of Germany’s political life in order to ban the “spread of the process of disintegration.” It was necessary to establish a “clear separation” between the two races. A new body politic would be formed that could overcome the “ferments of decomposition.”
The Final Solution grew out of Hitler’s experience of German disintegration. Because he identified so deeply with his nation, he experienced threats to Germany as a threat to his body. Hitler imagined that if Germany disintegrated, he would too.
The Final Solution revolved around removing the “force of disintegration” from within Germany, Europe and the world. Hitler’s ideology was rooted in paranoia, or hysteria. “The Jew” was experienced by Hitler as a painful entity within his body. There was no separation between Hitler’s inner world and the policies he enacted.
When it comes to Hitler, there are no secrets: what he said was what he was. This is why the German people loved him. He embraced German nationalism hook, line and sinker. When he spoke, he spoke for the German people.
The Jew was the cause of Germany’s pain, and therefore had to be removed from the body politic. Germany’s suffering was Hitler’s suffering. He experienced the pain of the German people (the Jew) within his own body.
The Final Solution was undertaken to “save the nation” by removing the force of disintegration operating within the body politic. When thinking about eliminating the Jews, Hitler said, it was necessary to “act radically.” When one pulls out a tooth, one does it with a “single tug,” and the pain goes away quickly. In order to eliminate the malady, the Jew had to “clear out of Europe.”
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