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Below are excerpts from Library of Social Science Review Essays. Please click any book title (or photo) to read the complete text. Some of the books we’ve reviewed are recent, some not. We select titles based on the insights they contain—and their capacity to shape the development of thought. We focus on books that illuminate the sources and meanings of political forms of violence.




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Library of Social Science Book Reviews is an established, unique resource for scholars, educators, students and publishers. We identify new and significant books—and bring them to the attention of readers around the world through our Library of Social Science Newsletter, which reaches 57,230 people. A review is not an end in itself. A book review—like the book itself—is a vehicle to transmit ideas and generate change. Our thoughtful, substantial review essays—written by top scholars—zero in on a book’s most consequential ideas or theories. They engage the author’s arguments and articulate their implications—in order to generate new insights and knowledge.

With the Internet and World Wide Web, scholars can no longer cloister themselves within an idiosyncratic, circumscribed discourse. The Internet not only enables interdisciplinary work, but requires it. Library of Social Science Book Reviews embraces interdisciplinarity. We are open to insights from every scholarly discipline and perspective, including History, Sociology, Anthropology, Political Science, Religious Studies, Psychology and the Humanities.

We live now within an “attention economy.” Whereas once it was exceedingly difficult for people to be heard (to publish or “proclaim”), now nearly everyone has a voice. A new problem arises: in a sea of publications and authors, how does one identify those that are most significant—having something wise and original to say?

Though a publication may be of the highest quality, if it is not found by readers, it is useless. For a piece of writing to have an impact, an audience is required. Library of Social Science does not leave this to chance. By virtue of our Newsletter, tens of thousands of people read our review essays in a single day. Whereas once it took years to be “cited,” the pace of scholarly work has quickened. A new dynamic has emerged.

It is no longer possible to think of books as fixed entities. As the world flows on, so scholarship partakes in the reality of change. The Internet means that no argument is fixed, finished or complete. Our authors become part of an ongoing “developmental dialogue.” By bringing forth significant ideas and insights, Library of Social Science Book Reviews aspires to shape the course of scholarship—and perhaps history itself.

Published Review Essays

Click any book title below to read the complete review.

Brown, Norman O.
Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History
Who created the symbolic order? What is the source of the “power” of society?” Freud observed that the mythological conception of the universe is fundamentally psychology projected into the external world. Brown suggests that not just mythology, but the entirety of culture is a projection. In the words of Stephen Spender: “The world which we create—the world of slums and telegrams and newspapers—is a kind of language of our inner wishes and thoughts.”

Fornari, Franco
The Psychoanalysis of War
The spirit of sacrifice is intimately related to an ideology in the name of which one may sacrifice oneself. What is this “absolute and unconditional something” that would somehow justify the “establishment of a masochistic-sacrificial position?” The masochistic-sacrificial position (e.g., the role of a soldier) is idealized—becoming a kind of “supervalue”—because it is put into the service of “that absolute and unconditional something.”

Gentile, Emilio
Politics as Religion
The “fusion of the individual and the masses in the organic union of the nation” is combined with persecution against those outside the community. According to this totalitarian fantasy, there can be no separation between the individual and the state: they must exist in a condition of “perfect union.” Those Others who disrupt the experience of perfect union are branded enemies of the state who must be eliminated or removed.

Griffin, Roger
Modernism and Fascism
Fascist ideology revolves around the vision of a nation being capable of “imminent phoenix like rebirth.” The quest for rebirth gives rise to a revolutionary new political and cultural order that embraces all of the “‘true’ members of the national community.” Fascism constitutes a radical form of nationalism growing out of the perception that one’s country is in imminent danger—seeking resurrection.

Hauerwas, Stanley
War and the American Difference: Theological Reflections on Violence and National Identity
The sacrificial metaphor at the heart of citizenship, and inextricably tied to war, has incredible power, all the more so because most citizens are unconscious of its active impact in our lives. 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 so profoundly shapes their understandings of citizenship and the nation.

Herf, Jeffrey
The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda During World War II and the Holocaust
National Socialism explained why a private war with Poland resulted in Germany fighting a life or death struggle against the combined might of the British Empire, the Soviet Union and the United States. Only Hitler and the Nazis could explain the war: the result of Jewish financial plutocrats in London and New York, and Jewish Communists in Moscow, working together to fulfill the Jewish dream of world domination. Only Germany understood the truth and was fighting to annihilate the Jewish threat.

Jones, James
Blood that Cries Out from the Earth: The Psychology of Religious Terrorism
Violent religious actions are linked to a particular image of God, namely that of a “vengeful, punitive and overpowering patriarchal divine being.” The believer who engages in acts of violence is relating to an omnipotent being who “appears to will the believer’s destruction.” This punitive God must be “appeased and placated.” In the face of such a God, the believer must “humiliate and abject himself.”

Kantorowicz, Ernst
The King’s Two Bodies
Nations function—like the Second Body of the King—as a double of one’s self: a larger, “more ample” body with which we identify. Our nation is a Body Politic that seems more powerful than our actual body. We project our bodies into a Body Politic and wage war to defend the fantasy of an omnipotent body that will live forever.

Kramer, Alan
Dynamic of Destruction: Culture and Mass Killing in the First World War
The brutal combination of human and cultural destruction was not some kind of natural disaster, nor the logical extension of human (or masculine) violence. Instead, it “arose from strategic, political, and economic calculation.” This is the book’s most important contribution: awareness that people and cultural artifacts were not destroyed by a “whirlwind” or a “machine,” but by specific decisions of specific commanders, by orders decreed from above and carried out by armed men on the ground.

Lifton, Robert Jay
The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide
The central fantasy uncovered by Lifton was that of the German nation as an organism that could succumb to an illness. Lifton cites Dr. Johann S. who spoke about being “doctor to the Volkskorper” (‘national body’ or ‘people’s body’). National Socialism, Dr. Johann S. said, is a movement rather than a party, constantly growing and changing according to the “health” requirements of the people’s body. “Just as a body may succumb to illness,” the doctor declared, so “the Volkskorper could do the same.”

Marvin, Carolyn & David Ingle
Blood Sacrifice and the Nation: Totem Rituals and the American Flag
What is really true in any community is “what its members can agree is worth killing for,” or what they can be compelled to sacrifice their lives for. What is “sacred” within a given society is that set of beliefs “for which we ought to shed our own blood.” Warfare constitutes the central ritual allowing societies to enact or demonstrate faith in the nation.

Miller, Steven E.
Military Strategy and the Origins of the First World War
The ideology of the offensive at all costs grew out of the desire to demonstrate the moral courage and will of one’s troops, and therefore the greatness of one’s nation. Such a strategy rarely resulted in breakthroughs. By virtue of attacking—even when slaughter was the result—soldiers exemplified the will to national self-sacrifice for the sake of one’s nation.

Mineau, André
SS Thinking and the Holocaust
Total war is total health, and the Nazi party portrayed Germany as a patient in danger of racial infection. The SS translated its biological worldview into dispassionate practice. War was a matter of self-defense, a prophylactic, and therefore ethical. In SS thinking, Mineau claims, Operation Barbarossa and the Holocaust combined to act as one “gigantic sanitary operation,” representing the “politics of antibiotics par excellence.”

Scarry, Elaine
The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World
The desire to resolve disputes through waging war revolves around the fact that the maiming and destruction of human bodies is necessary—a requirement. War seeks to establish the validity—the truth—of a sacred ideal. Warfare is characterized or constituted by a unique, radical form of verification: the maiming and destruction of human bodies.

Schantz, Mark S.
Awaiting the Heavenly Country: The Civil War and America’s Culture of Death
The political system of U.S. society in the Civil War era demanded that its citizens sacrifice their lives and commit violence against their fellow countrymen so the nation as a whole could survive. The dominant religious ideology of the time required citizens to voluntarily exchange the mundane world for the heavenly rewards of the afterlife. The individual could achieve the eternal life in heaven and could be commemorated as a hero if he was ready to sacrifice himself.

Skya, Walter. A
Japan’s Holy War: The Ideology of Radical Shinto Ultranationalism
To achieve the state of “one heart, same body,” the individual had to discard or annihilate the self. Any consideration of one’s own personal needs was wrong: one had to totally submerge the self into the collectivity. When Kakehi spoke of the bad aspects of Western culture that had entered Japan, he was referring to the evils of Western secularism and individualism. The Western focus on the value of the individual was the “greatest threat to the Japanese nation.”

Stein, Ruth
For Love of the Father: A Psychoanalytic Study of Religious Terrorism
Collective forms of violence are perpetuated in the name of an ideal that binds the group together and functions to “sanctify the actions of a (collective) perpetrator on a (collective) victim.” Large scale forms of violence are undertaken in the name of an ideal object that can move groups to decree the liquidation of anything that “challenges its validity and superiority.” Forms of behavior deemed criminal on the individual level may be “condoned and encouraged when perpetrated collectively.”

Strenski, Ivan
Contesting Sacrifice: Religion, Nationalism, and Social Thought in France
Nationalists attacked the deplorable state of French morale. Intellectuals were derided for “egoism” and “lazy melancholy;” workers for lack of enthusiasm for collective causes. War represented a spiritual force that would “bind citizens into common service for the nation,” incubating a spirit of national unity. Just as Jesus’ death cleansed the sins of humanity, so common soldiers’ self-sacrifices were seen as expiation for France’s sins.

Weitz, Eric
A Century of Genocide: Utopias of Race and Nation
The key term is “individual.” It is individuality that must be eliminated in the genocidal process, the individuality of perpetrators as well as victims. Although the rituals enforcing mass compliance that Weitz studies help account for the passive and active participation of people in dominating groups, it is the abandonment of self-reflective thought that lies at the heart of “the banality of evil.”

Wittman, Laura
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Modern Mourning, and the Reinvention of the Mystical Body
The tombs give aesthetic expression to the need of modern man for redemptive myths despite, or maybe because of, the “death of God”. They marked yet another point where the modern West collectively expressed existential dissatisfaction and intimations of nihilism—and hence the concomitant longing to return to the ancestral state of mythic consciousness that had given rise to the first burial ceremonies.

Call for Reviewer: US War-culture, Sacrifice, and Salvation

Kelly Denton-Borhaug’s US War-culture, Sacrifice and Salvation is one of the most insightful books ever written on the dynamics of warfare. Excerpts from the book appear below. We seek an author to write a review essay on this exciting study. Please respond directly to this email or write to

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During the period of the First World War, with the experience of literally hundreds of thousands sacrificing themselves for the nation, the cognitive connection between war and Christianity grew even stronger. As one scholar writes: “Christian symbols, indeed, the very figure of Christ, were present in the cult of the fallen soldier—and in Germany, Italy and France, familiar Christian symbols represented nation sacrifice. The First World War was a climax in the evolution of modern nationalism, and in its quest for totality, the nation sought to co-opt Christianity.”

Nationalism has frequently been described and analyzed as a religion, yet with insufficient attention to the dominant theme of sacrifice that binds the experiences of nationalism and Christian religion, forming a sacred canopy encompassing both religious and national self-identity and representation.

The extensiveness of human resort to sacrifice makes it so ubiquitous as to reside largely ‘off the radar screen,’ of overt awareness and consciousness. As a result, analysis of sacrifice is simultaneously all the more difficult and all the more important. But the infusion of the sacred tone that justifies such sacrifice makes this construction impervious to moral analysis and criticism.

Thus, even while sacrificial practices lubricate patriarchal exchanges of power, this dynamic is mystified through its connection to religious understandings and practices. Blood sacrifice is at the heart of war-culture’s and the warrior’s ‘religiosity.’ Because of this, to question the cognitive framework of sacrifice, residing as a deep and largely unexamined anchor for warriors’ identity, is tantamount to a kind of heresy.

Christian proclamation that portrays the work of Christ as a sacrifice cements the architecture of this social structure in Western cultures such as the United States. To cast doubt on the soldier’s mission as sacrifice is as unsettling, challenging and frankly, jarring to common sensibility, as to question the sacrality of Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross.


In Germany, Greek ideals melded with Christian frameworks to create a grounding from which the actual experience of war would be confronted and transcended. In ‘the cult of the fallen soldier,’ Greek values of harmony, balanced proportions and controlled strength—celebrated as aspects of youth—meshed with popular Christian piety. The deaths of young soldiers were justified as a sign of military commitment, and glorified as a type of idealized inner control. At the same time, popular exclamations, such as ‘Now we are made sacred,’ juxtaposed the sacrifice of soldiers with the death and resurrection of Christ.

In this way, the passion of Christ became an analogy for the experience of the nation as a whole: through these sacrificial deaths of the most worthy citizens, Christ was understood to illuminate the very world, such that war itself was interpreted as a strategy for Christological revelation. Suffering as a purifying force was recommended to the troops in the trenches; more widely, suffering was advised to the nation as a whole, to lead to a stronger and purified Germany, ‘encased in armor.’

This popular piety grew into an important resource that could be manipulated to overcome fear of death itself. Eternal life, assured to those who had sacrificed themselves for the nation, now outweighed any value of the importance of living in the here and now. The expectation of an eternal and meaningful life—the continuation of a patriotic mission – not only seemed to transcend death itself, but also inspired life before death.

The corresponding growth of war memorials and cemeteries for the war-dead cemented and extended these same frameworks. These sites became popular destinations and shrines of public worship and pilgrimage in Europe following the war, and the development of commercial measures, such as cheap tours for mourners, enabled increasing numbers of civilians to participate in the growing cult.

The actual experience and dread of war thereby was ‘cleansed,’ or we might say, thrust into the distance. And once this took place, it was all too easy for the ‘Myth of the War Experience’ successfully to refocus the memory of war. Not long after, the Nazis reinvigorated this cult and made their own martyred dead central in its observance of the ‘Myth of the War Experience’.


If the search for greater honesty about ourselves requires peeling back the layers of sacrificial logic, memorials have the effect of tying our hands behind our backs. We are invited to honor those who participated in the war and especially, to mourn and honor those U.S. military who died, but we are not invited to question or ponder further. Ultimately, this memorial continues the process of reification of a particular national identity, an identity that comes from war, and from a deep cognitive framework regarding belief in the redemptive nature of violence and the necessity of sacrifice to achieve freedom and justice.

But such questioning leads to serious consequences, for once we begin to understand and interrogate these destructive connections, the cognitive ‘transcendentalization’ of war and war-culture begins to dismantle in our minds. A new kind of consciousness or awareness about our reality begins to dawn upon us. This is not necessarily a comfortable awareness or consciousness, because it is attended by many new questions.

‘Detranscendentalizing’ war and war-culture unsettles formerly unquestioned assumptions and values. How then should we think about what soldiers do? How will we describe their deaths if not as sacred sacrifice? Moreover, how will we understand the nation, its purpose, and our connection to it? What will we do differently with respect to decision-making regarding conflict and the use of armed force?

Finally, the exploration of these links also forces the question about the relationship of Christian following to American civil religion. What will it mean to uncouple Jesus’ death on the cross from the powerful national narrative of Christ’s sacrificial death as the archetype for the necessary sacrifices made in war to preserve ‘the American way of life’?
Detranscendentalizing war-culture means taking up these important questions, destabilizing some dominant frames of understanding, and reemphasizing others.

Parameters of a Library of Social Science Book Review Essay

  • Essays will be written in the spirit of the LSS Mission Statement.
  • Essays should be approximately 3,000 words in length (for a sample essay, click here).
  • Essays are to be completed no later than three months after receipt of the book.
  • Beginning with the text, reviewers may focus on important issues in order to present and develop their own views and theories on the topics treated.
  • Reviews will be edited by the staff of Library of Social Science.
  • Reviews will be announced through the Library of Social Science Newsletter, which reaches over 60,481 people in the U.S. and around the world.
  • With each review, LSS will promote a book authored by the reviewer (and/or will publicize an author event).
  • LSS reserves the right to decline publication of any review.

The Psychology of Totalitarianism

Walter A. Skya. Japan’s Holy War: The Ideology of Radical Shinto Ultranationalism
(Duke University Press)

Japan's Holy War
Japan’s Holy War reveals how a radical religious ideology drove the Japanese to imperial expansion and global war. Bringing to light a wealth of new information, Walter A. Skya demonstrates that whatever other motives the Japanese had for waging war in Asia and the Pacific, for many the war was the fulfillment of a religious mandate.Publisher: Duke U. Press
Author: Walter A. SkyaFormat: Paperback
Published: 2009
ISBN-10: 0822344238
Language: English
Pages: 400“Japan’s Holy War is an absolutely outstanding and necessary work, a major contribution to international scholarly debate.”
—Klaus Antoni, University of Tübingen

Walter Skya is Assistant Professor of History and Asian Studies at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Japan’s Holy War is available directly from Duke University Press, or through Amazon at discounted rates.

Click here for information on how to purchase from

Click here for information on how to purchase directly from Duke University Pres

Totalitarianism seeks fusion of self and society, declaring there shall be no such thing as separation. The totalitarian fantasy is that individual and society are one—that human beings are bound inseparably to their nation.

In totalitarianism, the body of the individual is imagined to merge with an actual body politic that can live forever. Human beings embrace totalitarianism—abandon their separate selves—in order to partake of the “immortality” of the body politic. Unlike humans, the nation is conceived as an organism that can “live on.”

What is totalitarianism? Why did the Axis powers stick together? What did Japan have in common with Germany? This essential book articulates the ideology and psychology underlying Japanese ultra-nationalism.

Skya explicates the thinking of Japanese social theorist, Hozumi Yatsuka (1860-1912). According to Hozumi, the individual exists in society—and society within the individual. The clash between individualism and socialism is resolved through the concept of g­odo seizon (literally, fused or amalgamated existence), meaning the merging of the individual into society. Human beings fuse together to create “society.”

The ideal person, Hozumi explained, is one who desires assimilation into the “higher organic totality” of society. The purpose of ethics and morality is to direct the individual toward kodoshin: submergence of the self into the social totality.

For Hozumi and many other Japanese thinkers, Skya says, Enlightenment thought was a threat to the Japanese ethnic state. The struggle against Western liberalism focused on the idea of “the individual” as an entity separate from society. Hozumi stated that “the individual does not exist in isolation. It is a mistake to think that society is made up of isolated, self-supporting individuals.”

Hozumi sought to wage war against Western civilization. This, essentially, was a war against the idea that it is possible for human beings to exist in a condition of separation from society. The bond between the individual and society had to be rock-solid and eternal.

Minobe Tatsukichi (1873-1948) was one of the hundreds of Japanese students who flocked to German universities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and absorbed German thought. These students were influenced by theories pioneered by G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831), who asserted that the state was not a contractual relationship between individuals, but was “itself an individuality, independent of and superior to all other individuals.”

Sovereignty, according to Hegel, was not the right or power of the individual or individuals, but stemmed from the state itself, an “organic unity with a personality of its own.” From a Japanese perspective, the state was conceived as a person or “individual organism,” and the emperor as an “organ of the state.”

Hegel’s theory easily transferred to Japanese society. Uesugi Shinkichi (1878-1929), a constitutional law scholar, also conceived of the state as an organism. In Japan, the emperor was the ultimate source of the nation’s organizational will, representing the ideal embodiment of the state organism.

Obeying the emperor was not only a moral action that contributed to this “collective being as a totality,” but also to the highest realization of the self—of one’s “essential being.” To absorb the self into the emperor, Skya says—to become part of the emperor—was to “accomplish man’s essential being.”

An important thinker shaping religious nationalism in Japan was Kakehi Katsuhiko (1872-1961), who developed the theory of “one heart, same body,” which advocated abandoning the self and offering one’s entire body and soul to the emperor. A true Japanese does not think of self-interest, but rather “forgets one’s own concerns and completely offers oneself to the emperor.” This was especially true for soldiers.

When one enlisted in the military, one “died and was reborn again to the armed forces under the command of the emperor.” According to Kakehi, “You give up your life, and do not think for a moment that you are what you are.” One abandoned one’s personal will in order to fulfill the will of the emperor.

To achieve the state of “one heart, same body,” the individual had to discard or annihilate the self. According to Kakehi, any consideration of one’s own personal needs was wrong: one had to totally submerge the self into the collectivity. When Kakehi spoke of the bad aspects of Western culture that had entered Japan, Skya explains, he was referring to the evils of Western secularism and individualism. Kakehi believed that the Western focus on the value of the individual was the “greatest threat to the Japanese nation.”

What is the nature and meaning of this threat of “individualism” that pervaded Japanese political theory? I have found this same idea—that the nation is threatened by individualism—at the heart of Nazi ideology. Why should the idea of individual freedom be conceived as a threat to the existence of one’s nation? Here we encounter a fundamental dynamic revolving around the idea of separation or separateness.

Individualism” for the radical nationalist is equated with the idea of separation from the nation, thus disrupting the idea of “one heart, same body.” Totalitarianism revolves around the nation as an actual organism or body politic. Individualism or separateness, therefore, implies the idea of a human being (a body or organism) that is not merged or fused with the national body. What terrifies is the idea that the human body might become separated from—no longer united with—the body politic.

The totalitarian dream or fantasy, common to both Japanese ultra-nationalism and Nazism, is that all human bodies must unite to constitute one body: the omnipotent body politic. In totalitarianism, each and every human being is expected to abandon the “will to separation” (individualism), and to subordinate the self to the “national will.”

But what becomes of the self after individual consciousness is denied? In Kakehi’s political theology, according to Skya, the individual “enters into the mystical body of the emperor once one’s own individuality is abandoned.”

Kakehi claims that subjects “cast aside their individual selves and enter into the emperor.” He asserts that all Japanese living at the present time exist inside the emperor, indeed that all Japanese who have ever lived—from the origin of the state onward—exist within the emperor. The emperor, in other words, symbolizes an immortal body in which all Japanese bodies are contained.

Skya concludes that the “total assimilation of the individual into a collective body is the goal of all totalitarian movements,” of which Shinto ultra-nationalism was “only one variety.” I agree with this assessment. What’s more, the assimilation of the individual into the collective body is conceived as a moral imperative. The fundamental dictum of totalitarianism is: “There shall be nothing separate from the collective body.” Taking this a step further, one is justified to take measures to kill or destroy those individuals who embrace the heretical view that separation from society is possible.

Those who embrace totalitarian ideals, I hypothesize, react with panic and rage to the possibility that anything could exist in a condition of separation from the national body. Ultra-nationalism builds upon a symbiotic fantasy: people and nation are one, the leader and nation are one, the leader and the people are one, the people are merged with one another.

The idea of separation or separateness acts to shatter the fantasy of perfect union with an omnipotent body (politic). Perfect union is achieved when the individual abandons his will in order to internalize the will of the nation and its leaders. Hitler informed the German people, “You are nothing, your nation is everything.” The advantage of becoming “nothing” is that one can incorporate the nation into the self—thus becoming “everything.”

Soldiers occupy a special role in this totalitarian ideology of fusion. Kakehi singled out the armed forces, which he thought occupied a special position among the emperor’s subjects in the Japanese state. In his “One Spirit, Same Body” address, he quoted a passage from the Gunjin Chokuyu (Imperial Rescript to the Armed Forces):

Soldiers and Sailors, We are your supreme commander-in-chief. Our relations with you will be the most intimate when We rely upon you as Our limbs and you look up to Us as your head. If the majesty and power of Our Empire be impaired, you share with Us the sorrow; if the glory of Our arms shine resplendent, we will share with you the honor.

This passage, Skya observes, emphasizes the “direct and intimate ties between the Emperor and the soldier.”

However, the relationship between leaders and led is more than “direct and intimate.” The soldiers and sailors are relied upon as “limbs,” and should look up to their commanders as their “head.” In short, soldiers are conceived as if part of the same body. When a soldier carries out the will of his superior, he is not simply “obeying.” He can no more resist the order of his superior than an arm can resist the brain’s command.

In his The Waffen SS (1990), Bernd Wegner observed that the SS saw the individual as an “integrated element of a social organism.” The value of the SS-man—justification for his very existence—“depended solely on the advantages he furnished the national community.” The individual was, in the eyes of the SS, only a “fragment of the body politic to which he owed his allegiance.”

As a “fragment of the body politic,” the SS-man had no alternative but to obey the body politic. Like the Japanese soldier in his relationship to the emperor, the SS-man was expected to abandon his subjective will, and to execute the “will of the Reich,” that is, Hitler’s will. Himmler informed his SS that “everyone should be fully aware that our lives do not belong to us, but to the Fuehrer and Reich.”

The body of the SS-man belonged to the Reich because his own body was not separate from the body politic. This is the meaning of “obedience.” The nation was an enormous body politic existing within the body of the SS-man, and thus could not be resisted. Thus, the “organic theory of the state” that political theorists write about—seemingly an obscure, mystical ideology—has very real, practical consequences.

The goal of the ideal self in Japan prior to the Second World War was to “absorb the self into the emperor:” to become “a part of the emperor.” Similarly, the Nazis’ ideal German citizen sought to absorb Germany into himself: to identify with Hitler. “National identification,” for the soldier, meant giving over one’s body to the body politic. When the body politic exists within the self, this larger body overwhelms the smaller body, compelling the smaller body to do the bidding of the larger body.

The aspiration of totalitarian ideology is to destroy the boundaries between self and society; between one’s own body and the body politic. Totalitarian ideologies seek to actualize a symbiotic fantasy of no separation.

Totalitarianism glorifies the ideal of “the community” at the expense of individuals, building upon the fantasy of a “national organism,” the survival of which is given priority over the survival of individual human beings.

Hitler asserted that “the individual is transitory, the People is permanent.” When he spoke of “the People,” Hitler was referring to an abstract idea or ideal—his “national organism”—not to concrete human beings. The German nation was conceived as an actual body that could live forever.

Japanese and German totalitarianism grew out of a mystical theory: the idea of nations or bodies politic as real entities that have the capacity to live forever. Nations are conceived as omnipotent bodies that embrace and contain everything. Political violence seeks to assert the reality of these mystical entities: to kill off those human beings who do not acknowledge or agree that this entity is omnipotent.

Call for a Reviewer: This Republic of Suffering

Library of Social Science seeks an author to write a review essay on This Republic of Suffering. To read an excerpt, please click here. A review appears in the New York Times.

The parameters for writing an LSS review essay are directly below. Please send an abstract of approximately 200 words to, telling us how you will approach writing your essay.

When I presented my plenary talk at the Colloquium on Violence and Religion on June 4, 1999 (with Rene Girard sitting in the front row), the concept of “sacrifice” was barely on the radar. It seemed that John Lennon’s dream of “nothing to kill or die for” was coming true. I myself felt I was providing a “wrap up:” explaining the sources and meanings of the massive political violence that had characterized the Twentieth Century.

It seemed, however, that the end of history was not to be. September 11, 2001 reminded us that some human beings still believed in and were willing to die for an idea. George Bush’s rejoinder was that Americans too possessed sacred ideals for which we were willing to sacrifice our lives.

Since 9/11—and particularly in the last four years—books have regularly appeared on the sacrificial meaning of political violence. The idea that war, genocide and terrorism reflect a sacrificial dynamic has been a central theme of the Library of Social Science Newsletter, as well as of our Ideologies of War website.

Drew Gilpin Faust states that the “work of death was the Civil War America’s most fundamental and demanding undertaking.” In the soldier’s emotional and moral universe, dying “assumed clear preeminence over killing.” The Civil war produced destruction, suffering and death that seemed meaningless. However, the war also “created the modern American union,” not just by shaping enduring national survival, but by putting in place “enduring national structures and commitments.”

Paul Kahn argues (in Sacred Violence, 2008) that the “sacrifice of the self is the creative act of destruction that is the realization of the presence of the sacred.” A nation with neglible external enemies created in the Civil War a “frenzy of killing and being killed.” This violence, Kahn says, may be understood as the practice of sacrifice for the sake of “maintaining the material reality of a transcendent idea.” In the Civil War, Americans died in order to preserve their “sacred union”—and to validate the idea that all men are created equal.

Library of Social Science Book Reviews is recognized as the premier website publishing substantial, thoughtful review essays of scholarly books. Please read our Mission Statement, and a sample Review Essay. For details on writing a review essay for Library of Social Science, please click here or see directly below.

We seek an author to write a review essay on This Republic of Suffering. To read an excerpt, please click here. A review appears in the New York Times.

Please an abstract of approximately 200 words to, telling us how you will approach writing your essay. We look forward to hearing from you.

With regards,

Richard Koenigsberg

Parameters of a Library of Social Science Book Review Essay

  • Essays will be written in the spirit of the LSS Mission Statement that appears here.
  • Essays should be approximately 3,000 words in length (for a sample essay, click here).
  • Essays are to be completed no later than three months after receipt of the book.
  • Beginning with the text, reviewers may focus on important issues in order to present and develop their own views and theories on the topics treated.
  • Reviews will be edited by the staff of Library of Social Science.
  • Reviews will be announced through the Library of Social Science Newsletter, which reaches over 60,481 people in the U.S. and around the world.
  • With each review, LSS will promote a book authored by the reviewer (and/or will publicize an author event).

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Delusion and Belief

Developmental Time, Cultural Space

Publisher: Harvard University Press

Author: Jeffrey Herf

Format: Paperback
Published on: May, 2010
ISBN-10: 0674027388
Language: English
Pages: 400

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

The Jewish Enemy is the first extensive study of how anti-Semitism pervaded and shaped Nazi propaganda during World War II and the Holocaust, and how it pulled together the diverse elements of a delusionary Nazi worldview. In an era when both anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories continue to influence world politics, Herf offers a timely reminder of their dangers along with a fresh interpretation of the paranoia underlying the ideology of the Third Reich.

Jeffrey Herf is professor of Modern European History at the University of Maryland.

About the Reviewer

David M. Walker, PhD is professor of History at Boise State University. Dr. Walker teaches classes in military and diplomatic history, specializing in US Military history, World War II, the History of Firearms and Tactics, and the History of US Foreign Relations.

Dr. Walker’s publications include: “The Early Nuclear Age and Visions of Future War” (2009), part of the anthology The Atomic Bomb and American Society: New Perspectives.

A video interview with him can be accessed here.

The Atomic Bomb and American Society: New Perspectives

Editors: Rosemary B. Mariner and G. Kurt Piehler

Publisher: U. of Tennessee Press
Format: Hardcover
Published: 2009
ISBN-10: 157233648X
Language: English
Pages: 470

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

Drawing on the latest research on the atomic bomb and its history, the contributors to this provocative collection of eighteen essays set out to answer two key questions: First, how did the atomic bomb shape U.S. foreign policy and society as a whole? And second, how has American society’s perception of the bomb evolved under the influence of mass media, scientists, public intellectuals, and the entertainment industry?

This is the third in a series of essays in the LSS Newsletter exploring the Holocaust and Second World War as enactment of a paranoid fantasy.

The most important thing to understand about the Nazis is that they believed what they said—and that their actions followed as a consequence of what they believed. The greatest impediment to understanding the Nazis is the assumption that they were “rational actors.”

In November 1941, Joseph Goebbels published an article titled “The Jews are Guilty” in a news magazine . In this historical dispute, Goebbels wrote, “every Jew is our enemy, whether he vegetates in a Polish ghetto, or scrapes out his parasitic existence in Berlin or Hamburg, or blows war trumpets in New York or Washington.” Owing to their birth and race, Goebbels continued, all Jews belong to an “international conspiracy against National Socialist Germany.” The Jews wished for Germany’s “defeat and annihilation,” and did “everything in their power to help to bring it about.”

David Walker’s complete review essay of The Jewish Enemy appears on our website.

Click here to read the complete review essay.

We would appreciate your comments on this Newsletter — or the entire review essay. Leave your reflections and commentary below.

Reacting to those who did not share his view of the Jewish threat, Goebbels wrote: “One suddenly has the impression that the Berlin Jewish population consists only of little babies whose childish helplessness might move us, or else fragile old ladies.” By sending out the pitiable, the Jews might confuse some people, “but not us. We know exactly what the situation is.” If Germany lost the war, Goebbels explained, these “harmless-looking Jewish chaps would suddenly become raging wolves. They would attack our women and children to carry out revenge.”

Goebbels goes on to “tell it like it is”:

The Jews must be removed from the German community, for they endanger our national unity. When Mr. Bramsig or Mrs. Knöterich feel pity for an old woman wearing the Jewish star, they should also remember that a distant nephew of this old woman by the name of Nathan Kaufmann sits in New York and has prepared a plan by which all Germans under the age of 60 will be sterilized.

They should recall that a son of her distant uncle is a warmonger named Baruch or Morgenthau or Untermayer who stands behind Mr. Roosevelt, driving him to war, and that if they succeed, a fine but ignorant U.S. soldier may one day shoot dead the only son of Mr. Bramsig or Mrs. Knöterich. It will all be for the benefit of Jewry, to which this old woman also belongs, no matter how fragile and pitiable she may seem.

In June 1943, Goebbels stated. “Wherever one looks among our enemies, one sees Jew after Jew.” The Jews, Goebbels said, were “behind Roosevelt & his brain trust.” They were “behind Churchill as his prompters.” Jews were the “rabble-rousers behind the entire English-American-Soviet Press.” What’s more, Jews “are hidden in the Kremlin and are the real bearers of Bolshevism.”

How was one to understand the fact that capitalist nations like the United States and Great Britain joined hands with a communist nation—the Soviet Union—in the struggle against Germany? “The international Jew is the mortar that holds the enemy coalition together. With his world-spanning connections, he builds the bridges between Moscow, London & Washington. The war is his doing, he directs it from the shadows, and he will be its only beneficiary.”

Reading Goebbels’ remarks, one feels one is in the presence of a raving lunatic. Yet—as Herf demonstrates—statements like Goebbels’ embodied the ideology that generated both the Holocaust and Second World War. Goebbels’ thinking may seem insane or psychotic. However, the Nazi leadership promoted these ideas, and was able to persuade many Germans that they were true.

People dominated by the Enlightenment belief that human beings think and act based on rationality might react to Goebbels’ writings and speeches by reflecting or declaring, “He could not possibly have truly believed such fantastic ideas.” But why, then, would he make such claims about the Jews unless he believed they were true?

Herf confronts our natural tendency to be “skeptical” as follows:

Neither in the thousands of wartime memos nor in more private documents, such as the Goebbels’ diaries, does one find evidence that Hitler, Goebbels, Dietrich [the press chief], or their staffs disbelieved what they were writing, or viewed their anti-Semitic assertions as a cynical stratagem to fool the gullible masses. However intelligent or clever these men were, they were in the grip of an obsession that profoundly distorted their understanding of reality.

If sheer repetition, in public and private contexts, can be taken as proof of belief, then it appears that Hitler, Goebbels, Dietrich, their staffs, and an undetermined percentage of German listeners and readers, believed that an international Jewish conspiracy was the driving force behind the anti-Hitler coalition in World War II. If they regarded this aspect of their own propaganda with cynicism, they did not leave much trace of that skepticism behind. The sources point to the presence of true believers.

In David Walker’s review essay on The Jewish Enemy, he poses the question of why it has taken so long for historians to recognize that a fundamental cause of the Second World War was the Nazis’ beliefs about Jews. He suggests that one important reason is the “very human reaction of incredulity.” It is difficult to imagine or conceive that a war of the Second World War’s magnitude—causing death and suffering on a monumental scale—could have been “driven by a conspiracy theory.”

David Walker’s complete review essay of The Jewish Enemy appears on our website.

Click here to read the complete review essay.

We would appreciate your comments on this Newsletter — or the entire review essay. Leave your reflections and commentary below.

Presumably, it would be easier to believe that 60 million people died in the name of motives like territorial conquest, or wealth or power acquisition. Walker goes on to say:

It is often remarked that the barbarism of the Holocaust appears incomprehensible in light of Germany’s status as an educated, cultured and advanced society. Perhaps more unsettling is that the leadership of such an advanced nation believed in conspiracy theories—that the tremendous destruction of human life stemmed from belief in imaginary demons.

Why do we find it difficult to believe that people can be educated or cultured, and also barbaric? Why do we imagine that people cannot be intelligent—and at the same time possessed by “imaginary demons”? The problem is the common assumption that intelligence exists alongside rationality. Just because people are educated and intelligent doesn’t mean they cannot be possessed by irrational beliefs or fantasies.

One of the most irrational fantasies I’ve encountered in my study of Hitler, Nazi Germany and the Holocaust—one of the most profound impediments to understanding—is the belief the human beings make political decisions based on “rationality.” Why do we assume that humans’ thinking and actions are guided by “rationality”? Indeed, why do we find it difficult to imagine that entire societies or cultures may be “wrong”: that their belief-systems have no grounding in “reality”?

Having presented voluminous evidence supporting his thesis about the role of the Jewish enemy as the source of both the Holocaust and the Second World War, Herf concludes that the Nazi leadership

pushed to the extreme the widespread human capacity for delusion and belief in illusions. The assumption that these men did not believe these fantasies relies on an optimistic view of the power of human rationality, justified neither by the events of modern history nor by our now widespread awareness of the role of nonrational forces in human experience.

The weight of evidence leads to the conclusion that members of the Nazi leadership viewed the world in the way that they said they did, and supplied a narrative of events that seemed to offer an iron-clad explanation of them, as well as justification for uniting ideology and practice in war and mass murder.

The Nazis were in the grip of a paranoid fantasy. Hitler believed that if Germany did not destroy the Jews, the Jews would destroy Germany. Because the Jews sought to destroy Germany, it was imperative that Germany destroy the Jews. As Goebbels put it in the Fall of 1941: “World Jewry…is now suffering a gradual process of extermination that it intended for us, and that it would without question have carried out if it had the power to do so.”

The Holocaust and Second World War were generated when Germany acted on the basis of their illusions or delusions. We often associate delusions with mental illness. However, when many people within a society embrace a delusional idea, these people are no longer psychotic.

One may suggest that people who embrace a delusional idea within a culture are in the grip of a shared fantasy. Another term for shared fantasy is ideology. Nazi ideology reflected or embodied a shared fantasy. At this point, our inquiry genuinely begins. What was the nature of the fantasy that gave rise to and supported Nazi ideology? How may we account for the attraction or power of this fantasy? What was the meaning of the term “Jew” within the Nazis’ symbolic system?

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