Saturday, August 06, 2016
libraryofsocialscience | Well over 200 million people were killed in the twentieth century as a result of political violence generated by nations. Episodes of mass slaughter are given names like war, genocide, democide, social annihilation and murder by government. It seems as though the world has been living through an epidemic, or malignant disease.
Former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski states that the 20th century was dominated by the “politics of organized insanity.” Yet nowhere does one find a systematic concept of psychopathology to characterize the monumentally destructive, often bizarre events of political history.
In the privacy of a movie theater—witnessing the carnage, absurdity and futility of battle—people often think to themselves, “War is insane.” But what happens when people leave the theater? Where are studies of the “war disorder”?
Freud in 1930 proposed a "pathology of cultural communities.” Chapter I of Norman O. Brown’s classic Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytic Meaning of History (1959) is entitled “The Disease Called Man” and Chapter II, “Neurosis and History.” Neurosis, Brown says, is not an occasional aberration and not just in other people. Rather, neurosis is an “essential consequence of civilization or culture” and therefore is “in us, and in us all the time.”
Roger Griffin, an authority on Fascism, summarizes his conclusions about Nazi destructiveness on his website: “Since so many millions were involved in Nazism and the Holocaust, this can’t be explained in terms of madness or pathology: Something more basic had to be involved.” Why the a priori assumption that just because millions of people are involved, a social movement cannot be characterized as a form of madness or pathology?
In this paper, I discuss the concept of collective psychopathology. I begin by focusing on the case-study of Adolf Hitler and Nazism, specifically the behavior of Hitler and Germany during the final years of the Second World War. I will show how Hitler acted to bring about the destruction of Germany. What occurred may be understood as a form of psychopathology enacted upon the stage of society.
Hitler fought in the First World War, in which two million German men were killed and millions more maimed. In spite of the immense suffering that he and his comrades endured, Hitler refused to renounce the idea of warfare. Rather, he glorified the death of the German soldier in battle.
In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote that in 1914 his young volunteer regiment had received its baptism of fire. With “Fatherland love in our heart and songs on our lips,” Hitler wrote, they had gone into battle “as to a dance.” The most precious blood, he said, “sacrificed itself joyfully.”
Upon assuming power as Chancellor in 1933, Hitler immediately began fantasizing about the Second World War—which would necessitate the death of millions more German men. In one of a series of conversations with Herman Rauschning in the mid-30s, he stated that he would be prepared for the “blood sacrifice of another German generation;” that he would not hesitate to take the deaths of 2 or 3 million German soldiers on his conscience “fully aware of the heaviness of sacrifice.”
In another conversation with Rauschning, Hitler said, “We all know what world war means. We must shake off sentimentality and be hard.” He declared that when he took Germany to war, he would not hesitate because of the “10 million men I shall be sending to their deaths.” In planning for war, Hitler was preparing for the slaughter of German soldiers.
I am going to cite during the course of this paper an article written by psychiatrist Stuart Twemlow and psychologist George Hough published in the journal Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy. Looking at group dynamics from a clinical perspective, the authors develop the concept of a “psychotic fantasy of masochistic group death” and show how a leader can be both the “victim and perpetrator of a large group’s masochistic unconscious wishes and yearnings for death and martyrdom.”