File spoon-archives/bourdieu.archive/bourdieu_2004/bourdieu.0410, message 39

Subject: [BOU:] The Human Body and the Body Politic
Date: Thu, 21 Oct 2004 11:24:39 -0400

Dear Colleague,


            Whereas Foucault, Lacan and other theorists suggest that the
body is molded and shaped by discourse, I hypothesize that the structure of
discourse grows out of the experience of the human body.


            Freud stated that "The human ego is ultimately a body ego."
Perhaps conceptions of the nation and body politic represent a projection of
the human body. At least in the case of Hitler and Nazism, it is possible to
perceive the manner in which experiences and fantasies surrounding the body
are externalized to create the ideology of genocide.


With best regards,


Richard A. Koenigsberg, Ph. D.




The Human Body and the Body Politic: Genocide as an Immunological Fantasy 

By observing images and metaphors bound to central elements of an ideology,
it is possible to reveal the ideology's underlying structure. Hitler was the
deepest believer in Nazism and its most passionate advocate. Through
analysis of the central metaphors contained within his writings and
speeches, we may perceive the relationship between Hitler's ideas and the
fantasy that defined and shaped them. 


The logic of Hitler's ideology was based upon the coherence of the fantasy
that was its source. Genocide as a mode of activity represented the acting
out of a fantasy put forth by Hitler and conveyed by him to the German
people. The central fantasy that gave rise to genocide was that of Germany
as an actual body politic containing pathogenic microorganisms whose
continued presence within the nation would lead to its death. 


Hitler conceived of Germany as a gigantic body that was under attack. He
referred to the Jew as a "bacillus infecting the life of peoples" and
declared that he would devote his life to fighting the "international
carrier of the bacillus." In order to rescue Germany, it was necessary to
eliminate the cause of the nation's disease.



To read Richard Koenigsberg's groundbreaking papers on the dynamics of
genocide and war (listed below), 

please visit:



SO DOES THE NATION COME ALIVE: The Sacrificial Meaning of Warfare 
DYING FOR ONE'S COUNTRY: The Logic of War and Genocide 
THE LOGIC OF THE HOLOCAUST: Why the Nazi's Killed the Jews 
AZTEC WARFARE, WESTERN WARFARE: The Soldier as Sacrificial Victim 



The purpose of National Socialism, according to Hitler, was to "maintain the
life of Germany." He called Germany a "corporate body," a "single organism"
that consisted of the German people as cells of this organism. The Jewish
people also constituted cells of the national organism. These cells,
however, made no contribution to the life of Germany. Rather, as bacteria,
viruses and parasites, they lived and fed off the body politic, draining the
nation of its energy and capacity to exist. 


Hitler defined his mission in medical terms. Although ordinary politicians
saw the "forms of our general disease" and tried to combat them," these
politicians "blindly ignored the virus." Hitler conceived of himself as that
unique leader who had identified the nature of Germany's disease and
possessed the ability to affect a cure. In Mein Kampf, he stated that
Germans would choose as their leader the individual who "profoundly
recognizes the distress of his people" and who, after he has attained "the
ultimate clarity" with regard to the nature of the disease, "seriously tries
to cure it." 


In his diary on March 27, 1942, Goebbels described the process of
extermination as "pretty barbaric and not to be described in detail" but had
no compunctions because after all this was a "life-and- death struggle
between the Aryan race and the Jewish bacillus." In his 1935-6 propaganda
booklet Himmler observed that the battle against peoples conducted by Jews
had belonged "so far as we can look back, to the natural course of life on
our planet." Therefore one could calmly reach the conviction that the
struggle of nations against Jews--of life against death--was quite as much a
law of nature as "man's struggle against some epidemic, as the struggle of a
healthy body to eliminate plague bacillus." 


Why did Nazi leaders employ biological metaphors to articulate the genocidal
project? What was the "law of nature" that led Himmler to believe that the
struggle of nations against Jews was equivalent to the struggle of a
"healthy body against a plague bacillus?" In Mein Kampf, Hitler said: "Could
anyone believe that Germany alone was not subject to exactly the same laws
as all other human organisms?" What was the "law" that Hitler and Himmler
believed was governing the life of the German body? 


The "immune system" is that complex mechanism of chemical and biological
reactions acting to protect the organism from destructive entities within
the interior of the body. The immune system works based on its capacity to
identify cells that are foreign or "not self." Professor Fischer of the
University of Berlin stated on June 20, 1939 that when a people wants to
preserve its own nature it must reject, suppress and eliminate "alien
elements," and declared that "the Jew is such as alien." 


Jews in Nazi ideology were portrayed as bacteria, viruses and
parasites--alien elements that the German body politic recognized as "not
self." The normal or natural tendency of the national organism was to work
to eliminate or destroy the foreign cells. Genocide grew out of an
immunological fantasy. Since Jews were conceived as microorganisms, it was
necessary that every single one of them be removed from within the body of
civilization, lest they begin again to divide and multiply; thus the
fanatic, furious, hysterical will to destroy. 


On the evening of February 22, 1942, Hitler met with Himmler and a Danish SS
major and expounded his conviction that the "discovery of the Jewish virus"
was one of the "greatest revolutions that has taken place in the world." The
battle in which the Nazis were engaged, he said, was of the "same sort as
the battle waged, during the last century, by Pasteur and Koch." How many
diseases, he declared, have their origin in the Jewish virus! "We shall
regain our health only by eliminating the Jew." 


Robert Koch was a German physician who discovered the tuberculosis bacteria
in 1882. His 'germ theory' postulated that each disease had a specific cause
in a pathogenic microorganism. Hitler conceived of himself as the "Robert
Koch of Germany", the genius who had discovered the germ that was the source
of his nation's suffering. Having diagnosed the cause, he then would perform
that "heroic deed" in order to "rescue a nation which is suffering from a
fatal disease."


Hitler's actions on the stage of history followed as a consequence of his
fantasy that Germany was an actual body politic containing pathogenic
microorganisms. Did Hitler believe this fantasy, or did he put forth his
ideology in order to justify killing for other reasons? Based on thirty-five
years of research, I conclude that Hitler did believe this fantasy, indeed
experienced it as real, and thus was able to convey his ideology so
passionately to others. 


Rudolf Hess often declared that "Hitler is Germany, just as Germany is
Hitler." This statement articulated Hitler's fantasy that his body was fused
with the body politic, the boundaries of his own body co-extensive with
Germany's boundaries. Insofar as Jews were a disease within the body of
Germany, Hitler therefore experienced the Jewish disease as present within
his own body. What was the nature of Hitler's disease? 


We say that people "identify with their nations." Freud theorized that the
human ego is "first and foremost a body ego." Nations may be viewed as
projections of the body ego, vast, omnipotent extensions of the self.
Hitler, an early embodiment theorist, insisted that Germany was not merely
an abstract idea or imagined community, but rather a "real substance of
flesh and blood." Killing Jews for Hitler was equivalent to destroying a
diseased part of the body. 


Hitler put forth his plan for extermination as follows: "One must act
radically. When one pulls out a tooth, one does it with a single tug, and
the pain quickly goes away. The Jew must clear out of Europe." Hitler
conceived of genocide as an activity that was equivalent to removing an
infected part of the body that caused pain. In killing Jews, Hitler
attempted to kill off a diseased, painful part of himself. 


We may hypothesize and begin to explore the idea that genocide has a
psychosomatic dimension. The external object requires destruction because it
is experienced as if a part of the body, a disease threatening one's
existence. Killing is undertaken in order to eliminate the source of the
painful disease, that is, to remove from within the body politic a
destructive entity experienced as coterminous with the self. 



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