Monthly Archives: November 2013

Job Opening: Library of Social Science


Library of Social Science produces and promotes scholarship. Our Newsletter reaches 70,000 people around the world. Our Ideologies of War Website selects and publishes significant writings on the sources of collective forms of violence. Library of Social Science Book Reviews publishes review essays on recent and significant titles.

Director of Library of Social Science, Dr. Richard Koenigsberg, is an author known for acclaimed books such as Hitler’s Ideology and Nations Have the Right to Kill. His essays are published and distributed through the Library of Social Science Newsletter and Blog.

What We Seek

We seek a strong, intelligent individual to assist Orion Anderson (head of Library of Social Science Book Reviews) and Dr. Koenigsberg with the organization and management of documents in our office.

Dr. Koenigsberg’s focus is on the First World War, Nazism, and the Holocaust. He theorizes on the relationship between the human body and the body political (national “identification”), as well as on the role of sacrificial desire and fantasy in the generation of warfare.

The core of this job is the organization, control and management of documents, including:

  • Creation of bibliographies.
  • Tracking of the Newsletter.
  • Organization of online publications.
  • Creation of database of books we are reviewing.
  • Creation of database of authors who publish with Library of Social Science.

The position will begin two days a week, with the opportunity to engage in a developmental process—leading to additional days per week, and possibly full-time.

Library of Social Science selects and promotes significant scholarship. Marketing skills are a significant dimension of this position, as the Internet allows us to reach scholars around the world—and to advance knowledge by publishing and coordinating their research.

We are located in Elmhurst (Queens), New York City, an easy twenty minute subway ride from Manhattan.

Please write telling us why you think/feel you are qualified for/capable of performing this job.

Best regards,

Library of Social Science Staff

  Richard Koenigsberg, Ph.D.

Formerly a college professor, Dr. Koenigsberg received his Ph.D. in Social Psychology from the Graduate Faculty of the New School for Social Research. He founded Library of Social Science in 1975 with the publication of his Hitler’s Ideology, called an “instant classic” and the “best critical analysis in English of Hitler’s thought.” Richard’s most recent book, Nations Have the Right to Kill, has been acclaimed as a groundbreaking approach to the study of collective forms of violence. 

  Orion Anderson

Orion is our artistic director and webmaster. He has established a world-wide reputation as Editor of the Library of Social Science Newsletter and Blog, and head of Library of Social Science Book Reviews. He works with Dr. Koenigsberg selecting books to review, editing review essays and communicating with our book reviewers.

  Mei Ha Chan-Koenigsberg

Mei Ha is head of Library of Social Science Book Exhibits. She works closely with publishers and authors to ensure their significant titles are represented at each of our conference book exhibits. She manages our publisher database, and is in charge of sales and marketing.

  Hugh Galford

Hugh is a graduate of Yale University, and received his Master’s Degree in Middle Eastern Studies from Oxford University. In addition to researching publishers’ titles for conferences, he works with conference organizers and event managers to locate our book exhibits in the best possible spaces. He is Editor for Library of Social Science, Publishers.

  Mary Helen Guider-Shaw

Mary Helen comes to Library of Social Science with a Master’s Degree in Sociology from DePaul University (Chicago), and an enthusiasm for research. Topics of special interest include the relationship between food and society, and the social psychology of cities. She is our main personality managing book exhibits on-site.

Sacrifice, American Exceptionalism and War-Culture (part I of II)

Review Essay of Stanley Hauerwas’s book War and the American Difference: Theological Reflections on Violence and National Identity

by Kelly Denton-Borhaug

Developmental Time, Cultural Space
Baker Academic
Author: Stanley Hauerwas
Format: Paperback
Published on: Oct. 2011
ISBN-10: 0801039290
Language: English
Pages: 208

For information on purchasing this book through Amazon at a special, discounted price, click here.

How are American identity and America’s presence in the world shaped by war, and what does God have to do with it? Esteemed theologian Stanley Hauerwas helps readers reflect theologically on war, church, justice, and nonviolence in this compelling volume, exploring issues such as how America depends on war for its identity, how war affects the soul of a nation, the sacrifices that war entails, and why war is considered “necessary,” especially in America. He also examines the views of nonviolence held by Martin Luther King Jr. and C. S. Lewis, how Jesus constitutes the justice of God, and the relationship between congregational ministry and Christian formation in America.

About the author: Stanley Hauerwas (Ph.D., Yale University) is the Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. He is the author of numerous books, including Cross-Shattered Christ, A Cross-Shattered Church, With the Grain of the Universe, A Better Hope, and Matthew in the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible.

About the Reviewer

Rev. Kelly Denton-Borhaug, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA. She holds a Ph.D. from the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley. Her teaching and scholarly interests include Christian theology and ethics with a particular focus on the ethics of models of redemption in liberation theologies. She is the author US War-culture, Sacrifice and Salvation. More information is available through her blog.

US War-culture, Sacrifice and Salvation

By Kelly Denton-Borhaug

Publisher: Equinox Publishing Ltd.
Author:Kelly Denton-Borhaug
Format: Paperback
Published on: Dec 15, 2010
ISBN-10: 1845537114
Language: English
Pages: 298

For information on purchasing this book through Amazon at a special, discounted price, click here.

The military-industrial complex in the U.S. has grown exponentially in recent decades, yet the realities of war remain invisible to most Americans. A culture has been created where sacrificial rhetoric is the norm when dealing in war. This culture has been partly enabled to flourish because popular American Christian understandings of redemption rely so heavily on the sacrificial. U.S. War-culture, Sacrifice and Salvation explores how formulations of Christian redemption have been manipulated to create a world and a time of necessary sacrifice. It reveals the links between Christian notions of salvation and sacrifice and the aims of the military-industrial complex.

Dear Colleague,

Professor Kelly Denton-Borhaug’s review essay of Stanley Hauerwas’ book, War and the American Difference, represents a major breakthrough in our understand of the sacrificial dynamics of warfare.

Building on Hauerwas’ central themes, she argues that the “sacrificial war narrative”— profoundly embedded in American culture, historical memory and national consciousness— is “our national story.” Subsequent to the Civil War, “sacrifice and the (American) state became inseparably intertwined.”

This sacrificial metaphor at the heart of citizenship—inextricably tied to war—has incredible power, all the more so because “most citizens are unconscious of its active impact in our lives.” In fact, Denton-Borhaug says, most citizens are “blithely unaware” of the “sacrificial war-culture that profoundly shapes their understandings of citizenship and the nation.”

The text which appears below is a summary or edited version of the first two sections of Denton-Borhaug’s review essay. We urge to read the essay in its entirety here.

We are grateful for Professor Denton-Borhaug’s valuable contribution.

Best regards,
Richard Koenigsberg

Richard A. Koenigsberg, Ph.D
Telephone: 718-393-1081
Fax: 413-832-8145

PS: The text below covers the first two sections of the review essay. A summary of the balance of the essay will appear in a subsequent edition of the Library of Social Science Newsletter.

“Sacrifice, American
Exceptionalism and War Culture”

Review Essay by Kelly Denton-Borhaug

There is a story that informs American attitudes and identity. Hauerwas traces the impact of this story on Americans in this book. This is a story about “the sacrifice of war,” and how it shapes our understanding of the nation and citizenship. As Hauerwas explores this story, especially through its development in the experience of the American Civil War, the connection between “the sacrifice of war” and a common moral identity for American citizens becomes clear.

The experience of the Civil War defined and unified the nation: “The story of the transformation of the Civil War from limited to total war is also the story of how America became the nation we call America”. We should not miss the ways that Christian sacrificial formulations influenced the development of this national narrative.

I expand here upon Hauerwas list: from President Lincoln as a Christ figure; to the many sermons comparing the war to “a vicarious atonement” made for the developing nation; to the growing need to justify the unbearable and overwhelming accumulation of death over the course of the war through sacralizing death; and through the sacrificial national commemorations that developed both during and after the war, including those that continue up to the present day. Thus, “sacrifice and the state became inseparably intertwined”.

The text that appears in this issue of the Library of Social Science Newsletter (Part I of II) is a summary or condensed version of the first two parts of Denton-Borhaug’s essay.

Please click here to read the complete review essay. If you wish to comment on this excerpt—or the entire review essay—leave your reflections and commentary below.

This is our national story. Yet we tend not to think consciously about this as our “story” – certainly not as consciously as we think about other national stories that shape us as citizens—such as those about the separation of church and state, freedom of religious choice and freedom of the state from religion. These others stories tend to push (quasi)religious factors into the background.

I argue that the sacrificial war narrative—so profoundly embedded in American culture, historical memory and national consciousness—shapes us in a subterranean, subconscious fashion. As George Lakoff has demonstrated, we cognitively internalize certain metaphors that shape the way we value, make decisions, and generally go about living our lives—but tend not to be conscious of these same metaphors.

The sacrificial metaphor at the heart of citizenship—inextricably tied to war—has incredible power, all the more so because most citizens are unconscious of its active impact in our lives. In fact, most citizens are blithely unaware of the contradiction between their assumptions regarding “the separation of church and state”—and the deeply religious sacrificial war-culture that profoundly shapes their understandings of citizenship and the nation. Legal and political theorist Paul W. Kahn has explored this dimension:

Through our secular faith as U.S. citizens, our identity is affirmed by way of those who sacrificed themselves for the conception and maintenance of the nation. In addition, through ongoing sacrifice (with war as the apotheosis), citizens are linked to “the organic body that is the mystical corpus of the state.”

This national narrative—alive in commemorative national rhetoric and ritual, but subconscious in terms of its religious reality—has enormous power. I argue that this is the story we must investigate more deeply if we are to truly understand the morally compelling nature of war for people of the United States. Hauerwas explicates the consequences of U.S. sacrificial war-culture that were cemented in the experience of the Civil War and beyond.

He quotes historian Mark Noll: “War is America’s altar. . . our church”. What does this mean? We can identify a host of consequences. I expand on Hauerwas’ list: first, war becomes a central component in the story of American exceptionalism. Second, the compulsion toward war increases in ratio to our connection to war as our most dynamic moral reality. Third, the dying and killing of war become attached to certain understandings of redemption, both personal and national.

Fourth, the sacrifices of war create the very mechanism through which the nation achieves and maintains its transcendent status. President Lincoln declared that it is through war that the nation achieved the right to exist “in perpetuity”: “The baptism of blood in war unveils the transcendent dimensions of the union” (note the religious language!). Fifth, not only does war transcendentalize the nation—the nation must return to war again and again in order to maintain this transcendentalized status.

For the very dysfunction Hauerwas describes is in fact an addiction to sacrificial dynamics. “American wars,” he writes, “must be wars in which the sacrifices of those doing the dying and the killing have redemptive purpose and justification”. Just war analysis is not so much the attempt to investigate whether a given war will rise to the level of just war principles, but is revealed as “an attempt to control the description, ‘war’”.

The text that appears in this issue of the Library of Social Science Newsletter (Part I of II) is a summary or condensed version of the first two parts of Denton-Borhaug’s essay.

Please click here to read the complete review essay. If you wish to comment on this excerpt—or the entire review essay—leave your reflections and commentary below.

In other words, to understand the dynamics of sacrificial war-culture in the United States, we must investigate our language, and how it shapes our very ways of knowing, for “War possesses our imaginations, our everyday habits and scholarly assumptions”. One way to investigate this keen insight would be to explore more deeply the utilization of sacrificial formulations in just war discourse.

American popular political culture is a most revealing site to discover these dynamics at play. For instance, a 2008 television ad for the presidential republican candidate featured a veteran of the Iraq war speaking directly to the camera—to the American people as it were— passionately arguing that Obama is unfit to be president because “he doesn’t understand or respect the sacrifices of war.” The word, “sacrifice” surfaces repeatedly in this short speech, while the camera focuses on his upper body, only at the end panning out to show his entire figure—and the loss of his limb—to make very visually specific the “sacrifice” he has endured.

The ad powerfully warns the American public that not to ascribe to commitment and faith in this sacrificial construction is a type of (religious?) political heresy that casts suspicion. In fact, not to ascribe wholeheartedly to this belief is to be cast out: marked as “other” from patriotic, faithful Americans. The veteran concludes his sacrificial logic, “It is a fundamental truth that freedom is always worth the price.”

Hauerwas includes a chapter that suggests a way forward, expanding upon his colleague Enda McDonagh’s suggestion that one way to counter the bulwark of just war thinking, and its self-imposed discipline and paucity of imagination, is to begin to use a different rhetorical formulation: “start a discussion about war that would make war as morally problematic as slavery”. In other words, develop an argument regarding the “abolition” of war in similar terms to the abolition of slavery.

The text that appears in this issue of the Library of Social Science Newsletter (Part I of II) is a summary or condensed version of the first two parts of Denton-Borhaug’s essay.

Please click here to read the complete review essay. If you wish to comment on this excerpt—or the entire review essay—leave your reflections and commentary below.

Radical nationalism: “You will love your country, or we will bash your head in”

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.

Hitler proclaimed:

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 crystalize 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.”


“We Don't Need Another Hero”: American Foreign Policy 1990-2000

During the years 1990-2000, I presented papers at scholarly conferences to audiences in nearly every academic discipline that I thought might be receptive to my ideas: political psychologists, anthropologists, psychoanalysts, sociologists, historians, and specialists in Holocaust Studies. Although the decade was not without political violence, warfare was unpopular. It seemed that we had reached The End of History (Fukuyama, 1992). And that John Lennon’s dream (1971) was coming true: “Nothing to kill or die for.”

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

What’s more, the study of warfare (and military history) was not in vogue among academics.

Nevertheless, my mandate was clear. I sought to “wrap up the 20th century” by providing insight into the causes and meanings of the episodes of massive political violence that had dominated the century.

After September 11, 2001, the world experienced a “return of the repressed.” Suddenly, political violence was again on the map. Bob Hall—owner of Learning to Live with Conflict—encouraged me to go beyond my research on the First World War, Nazism, and the Holocaust: to apply my understanding of the dynamics of societal violence to contemporary conflicts (the flyer on the right describes one of the lectures I presented).

American Aversion to Casualties

On January 20, 1964, John F. Kennedy declared: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Kennedy spoke in the traditional language of “national sacrifice.” After JFK, however—and up until 9/11—politicians rarely asked Americans to embrace sacrifice.

Subsequent to Vietnam, Americans became disenchanted with warfare and with the idea of dying for a cause. The televised return of body bags brought home the reality of what occurs in battle. America began to abandon romantic—romanticized— conceptions of warfare.

The United States became a nation focused on personal gratification and material gain. Christopher Lasch’s The Culture of Narcissism (1979) identified and analyzed this trend. In 1985, Tina Turner belted out the anthem of a generation: “We don’t need another hero.”

In his paper, “Army Professionalism, the Military Ethic, and Officership in the 21st Century” (December, 1999), Army colonel and professor at West Point, Dr. Don. M. Snider, wrote about the military policy of “casualty aversion.” Snider tells the story of a combat-arms officer lecturing to cadets at West Point (January 25, 1999) about his service in Bosnia: “I tell my men every day that there is nothing there [in Bosnia] worth one of them dying for.” Queried by a cadet as to why he had communicated this to his men, the lieutenant responded, “Because minimizing, really prohibiting casualties is the top priority mission I have been given by my battalion commander.”

Military policy echoed the feelings of the general public. The life of each and every soldier was considered precious. Americans seemed to be unwilling to send troops into battle—even for a good cause—if there was a slight possibility that a soldier might be killed.

In September 1994, Senator John Glenn stated that the case for intervention in Haiti could not pass the “Dover test”: the return of dead bodies from Haiti to the air force base at Dover, Delaware. Dick Cheney, appearing on Meet the Press, agreed that Haiti was “not worth American lives.”

In his October 1994 article in Newsweek Magazine—while the invasion of Haiti was being considered—Jacob Weisberg noted that only about 400 US Soldiers had been killed in action in the 20 years since the end of the Vietnam War. This meant that serving in the armed forces was a relatively safe job. Driving a truck was three times riskier than being in the military; driving a taxi six times riskier.

Writing in The New York Times on July 16, 1995, Roger Cohen suggested that unwillingness to intervene in Bosnia spelled the “death of Western honor.” Eric Gans noted on June 26, 1999, that the model of heroism constituted by the sacrifice of the individual life for the sake of the collective was “rapidly losing its viability.”


Political observers trace the American policy of casualty aversion to what occurred in Mogadishu in October 1993—when the US withdrew from Somalia after 19 Americans were killed in battle. Fear of a repeat of the events in Somalia shaped American foreign policy in subsequent years. Many commentators identified the “graphic consequence of the Battle of Mogadishu as the key reason behind the US’s failure to intervene in later conflicts such as the Rwandan genocide” (see Wikipedia on “The Battle of Mogadishu”).

What occurred in Mogadishu played a significant role in the thinking and rhetoric of Bin Laden. Writing about this event in his “Declaration of War Against the Americans” (August, 1996), Bin Laden taunted Defense Secretary William Perry, calling Somalia “the US’s most disgraceful case.”

“After vigorous propaganda about the power of the USA,” Bin Laden wrote, a pilot was dragged through the street—and the US left the area “carrying disappointment, humiliation, defeat and your dead with you.” President Clinton’s threats had been merely a “preparation for withdrawal.”

“We love death the way you Americans love life.”

Prior to the Gulf War in 1991, Saddam Hussein expressed similar doubts about American courage and resolve (see Mark Bowden’s article in The Atlantic Monthly, May 2002). Hussein proposed to his generals—several weeks before the American offensive—that Iraq would capture US soldiers, tie them to tanks, and use the soldiers as human shields.

“The Americans will never fire on their own soldiers,” Hussein claimed triumphantly—as if such squeamishness were a fatal flaw. There would be many casualties on both sides. However, Hussein explained, “Only we are willing to accept casualties—Americans are not.” Hussein concluded: “The American people are weak. They will not accept the loss of their soldiers.” Both Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein equated national “weakness” with the unwillingness to accept casualties—to sacrifice one’s own soldiers. Hussein felt that the Iraqi people were superior: they were willing to die for their country, whereas Americans were not.

In his 1996 declaration, Bin Laden addressed Defense Secretary William Perry, expressing pride in his followers: “Our youths love death as you love life.” His young people, Bin Laden explained, were different from American soldiers. Whereas the American problem would be convincing troops to fight, Bin Laden’s problem would be how to “restrain our youths to wait for their turn in fighting.”

Both Saddam Hussein and Bin Laden felt that their culture and people were superior to the culture and people of the US. They measured this superiority in simple terms. Whereas their followers were willing to die—sacrifice their lives—for a cause, young Americans were not so willing. Americans were weak and inferior because they did not possess a sacred ideal for which they would sacrifice their lives.

Would Americans retreat when dead soldiers returned in body bags?

The US attacked Afghanistan in October 7, 2001. Now, a question arose: given the policy of casualty aversion that had dominated American foreign policy for so many years, what would happen when American soldiers began to die? Would the United States retreat? Would Americans turn against war once dead soldiers began returning in body bags?

Why Does War Exist?

Warfare is a culturally-defined institution or form of behavior that has existed within many societies throughout history. But why has warfare existed? Why does it continue to exist? What is the “function” of a societal institution that has produced massive destruction and self-destruction? Why have human beings created ideologies of war? And why do we enact these ideologies?

Are we to believe that each instance or manifestation of war has unique, idiosyncratic causes—that can be uncovered or revealed only through a study of the particular cultural and historical contexts in which a given war occurs? Or does war manifest a fundamental complex—a dynamic that is enacted in similar ways—at many times and in many places?

The Psychological Interpretation of Culture

I suggest that—in order to answer this question—what is required is a psychological approach to the study of ideology, culture and history. This approach seeks to identify the sources and meanings of society’s cultural formations. For any ideology or institution, I pose the question: “Why does it exist?”

Speaking broadly, contemporary cultural theory postulates that mind is shaped by discourse. Warfare constitutes a particular mode of discourse: an ideology or way of thinking about the social world. But why does the discourse of warfare exist?Why is the ideology of warfare a “dominant discourse”?

Cultures are social constructions. But constructed on what foundation, and for what purpose? To understand an element of culture requires uncovering the psychic function it provides or performs. For any belief system or institution within a society, one may pose the question: What psychological work does this element of culture perform for members of the society? What is the nature of the gratification that it provides? An ideology or institution comes into being—and is embraced and perpetuated—insofar as it does something (psychologically) for individuals within that society.

We tend to assume that there is a reality that exists “out there” (constituted by language, discourse, etc.). We feel that the “external world” exists separately from the minds of the human beings who experience this reality. Of course, each of us is born into a symbolic system that is present before we exist. Thus, we say that mind is shaped by discourse.

Still, we may pose the question: Why does any particular symbolic system exist in the first place? Why does each symbolic system assume a particular form? Why has this particular ideology been perpetuated (and not others)? Or—in the old language of cultural anthropology—why are certain ideas and institutions “passed along” (while others are not)?

Because we experience symbolic systems as overwhelming in their impact, we imagine that they constitute “objective realities”—separate from actual human beings. We experience society as an entity “out there”; up above us. Based on this experience, we forget the human source of our social world. We embrace cultural creations, but forget that we have created them.

Psychic Determinism: The Human Source of Cultural Forms

Freud’s analysis of dreams, slips of the tongue and psychosomatic symptoms was guided by the principle of psychic determinism, which asserted that there are no accidents in the life of the mind. Our mental life is the source of the images we dream at night, the mistakes and blunders of our everyday life and the pains in our bodies.

A psychological approach extends the principle of psychic determinism into the study of culture. We examine belief systems, ideologies, institutions and historical events based on the assumption that these cultural forms and events have not arisen by chance. We are the source of that which exists.

Why do people imagine or pretend that ideologies and institutions have a “life of their own”: as if they exist and are perpetuated independently of the human beings who create and embrace them? Why do we experience culture or society as something that descends upon us from above, as if it constitutes another domain of existence—separate from human beings?
Societies were created by human beings, and continue to exist in certain forms by virtue of the fact that we embrace that which we have created. Cultural forms exist to the extent that they allow us to externalize, work through and come to terms with our deepest desires, fears, conflicts and fantasies. Cultural ideas and institutions are not separate from the psychic functions that they perform.

Norman O. Brown: Culture as Shared Fantasy

Norman O. Brown (1959) suggests that culture exists in order to “project unconscious fantasies into external reality.” By virtue of their projection into the cultural world, we are able to “see”—and attempt to master—our fantasies. The creation of culture is thus analogous to the creation of the transference in the psychoanalytic situation: inner desires and fantasies become externalized into objects in the world.

Culture or society functions as a canvas—or transference screen—into which we project our desires, conflicts and existential dilemmas, seeking to enact our fantasies in the external world. Weston La Barre (1954) stated that man in culture is “man dreaming while awake.” To understand a particular culture, therefore, is to decipher the nature of the dream or dreams that define that society.

Dreams and desires, anxieties and fantasies—are the source of our cultural creations: “We are that.” We are not separate from that which we have created. It is not as if society—those inventions, ideologies and institutions that constitute society—are independent of human beings, although often we prefer to believe that this is the case.

We have little trouble acknowledging that we are the source, for example, of air conditioners. Writing an essay during the summer is far more pleasant working in a room where the temperature is 75 degrees rather than 100 degrees. It’s clear that we human beings created air conditioners because we wanted them to exist.

Air Conditioners Fulfill our Desires. What About War?

Air conditioners fulfill a need. This cultural creation articulates a human desire. We are the cause of this creation. We brought it into existence. The same can be said of light bulbs, airplanes and numerous other inventions that fulfill—in an obvious way—human needs, desires and fantasies. We have no trouble acknowledging—in these cases—that we are the source.

When it comes to the institution or cultural form of behavior called “war,” on the other hand, we are less likely or willing to recognize that we are the source; that we have created and embraced warfare because it represents the fulfillment of human desires. We tend to experience war as originating in a place outside of the self, as if warfare manifests against our will. Wars “break out.” They seem inevitable. They happen because they have to happen. Wars have always happened. This is the way things are. We are not responsible.

The unconscious becomes conscious, Brown says, only through “projection into the external world.” We project our fantasies into the world—share our fantasies through an ideology—and thus create reality. Ideologies are constructed based upon shared fantasies that are projected into the world. Warfare represents the enactment of a shared fantasy. By virtue of the enactment of a shared fantasy, war becomes a form of reality.

What are the nature of those desires and fantasies that give rise to warfare? How does the ideology of war represent a response to human needs? Why have we created an ideology or social institution whose main consequence is destruction and self-destruction? What is the nature of the fulfillment that warfare provides?

When I speak of “awakening from the nightmare of history,” I’m referring to the process of becoming aware of the desires, fantasies, anxieties and psychic conflicts that give rise to the ideology of warfare, and to enactments of war within specific societies at specific times and places. Many people are “against” war. We assume that we know what war is. But do we really?