Socialism and the individual
The extreme forms of socialism (Nazism, Communism, Fascism) show us vividly what lies beneath the "good intentions" of "Progressives" generally. Writing below, Richard A. Koenigsberg shows us how inimical to conservative ideas of individual liberty socialist ideas are.
From their devotion to the collective rather than the personal, it is hard to avoid the impression that socialists must have dismal personal lives. Love of family must be largely alien to them. It is certainly true that Marx hated just about everybody; Hitler's largely unconnected personal life is well-known and Stuckart (excerpted below) appears to have been a "mother's boy" well into his adulthood
Incidentally, the quote from Stuckart could well have been from Hegel, the philosophical tutor of Karl Marx. The ideas are just about identical -- JR
Bob Dylan’s song “Like a Rolling Stone” —one of the most popular of the twentieth century—may contain esoteric meanings:
How does it feel
How does it feel
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?
However, it also serves as a description of one’s emotional reaction upon coming to live in New York City—the ultimate “Gesellschaft society.”
Sociologists define the “Gemeinschaft society” as one characterized by personal interaction: one’s relationship with other human beings defines the community. The Gesellschaft or urban society, on the other hand, is characterized by the absence of interaction and intimacy among people in the physical environment.
One of the first questions I asked myself when I began living in New York City was, “How can I connect with other human beings?” I knew no one on my block (West 95th Street near Central Park West) and barely spoke to people in my apartment building. What was my “community,” and how would I develop a relationship to it?
I began reading The New York Post and The New York Times—and following the Knicks. Like so many others, my relationship to the community came to be constituted by a relationship with the mass media and “famous people.”
The mass media are so ubiquitous now that we take them for granted. We forget that one has to learn—be socialized into—this feeling that we have an intimate and personal relationship with events and people in the “outer world.”
When I was young, there was a clear distinction between one’s personal life and life presented by the mass media. One had to be seduced into paying attention to “current events” (David Letterman uses the term current events in a satirical way, bringing us back to a time when we didn’t take public events so seriously). We clearly distinguished between our “real lives,” on the one hand, and what was happening “out there”: what we read about in newspapers, heard on the radio, and saw on television.
What is totalitarianism? It is an ideology insisting that public life—the national community—is far more significant than one’s personal life. Totalitarian ideologies insist that there is no such thing as private life: one’s personal existence should be subordinated—always and forever—to the “life” of one’s nation.
Hitler explained to his people, “You are nothing, your nation is everything.” Nazi legal expert Wilhelm Stuckart described the German “Volk community”:
"The community of the Volk is the primary value in the life of the whole as well as of the individual. National Socialism does not recognize a separate individual sphere which, apart from the community, is to be painstakingly protected from any interference by the state. The moral personality can prove itself only within the community. Every activity of daily life has meaning and value only as a service to the whole."
Totalitarian ideology revolves around the idea that there is no domain of life or sphere of reality separate from the national community. Totalitarianism means devotion to “the whole.” The significance of the individual is denied. Totalitarianism means denial of separateness and separation.
The development of the modern nation-state is dependent upon accepting the proposition that one’s own fate and destiny are intimately linked with the fate and destiny of one’s nation. Totalitarian ideology takes nationalism a step further, insisting that the fate of the individual and the nation are entirely bound together: there can be no domain of reality where individuals pursue desires unrelated to the state’s goals.
Embracing the Volksgemeinschaft, Hitler required that individuals identify absolutely with Germany. It was necessary to overcome “bourgeois privatism” in order to “unconditionally equate the individual fate with the fate of the nation.” The Volk would encompass each and every German: “No one is excepted from this crisis of the Reich,” Hitler declared. “There may not be a single person who excludes himself from this joint obligation.” The Volk, Hitler explained, “is but yourself.”
Karl Marx similarly embraced the proposition that separation of the individual from society was intolerable, explaining that “liberty as a right of man” is not founded on the relations between men, but rather upon the “separation of man from man.” Human rights were founded on the “right of such separation”—the right of the “circumscribed individual withdrawn into himself.”
“Man as a member of civil society,” Marx said, is an individual separated from the community—“wholly preoccupied with his private interest and private caprice.” Like Hitler, Marx disdained “bourgeois individualism”: a mode of existence insisting upon the individual’s freedom to pursue personal interests and private aspirations.
According to Marx, “Human life is the true social life of man.” Only by virtue of one’s relationship to society did one become a human being. The ideology of freedom or the “rights of man”—asserting the individual’s right to act in accord with private interests—produced an exclusion from societal life that was “more complete, unbearable and dreadful” than exclusion from political life.
The liberal idea of freedom, from Marx’s point of view—the right to become “released from the shackles and limitations imposed by man”—was the expression of man’s “absolute enslavement and loss of human nature.” Liberation from society was a form of slavery.
The true achievement of “human emancipation,” Marx insisted, would occur only when the individual man had “absorbed into himself the abstract citizen.” Liberation would occur when the individual—in his everyday life, work and relationships—had become a “species being.”
What Nazism and Communism had in common, philosophically, was the idea that there could be no truly human existence unless one’s life was devoted to the life of the community or collective. “Society” was all. The individual was required to subordinate himself to, and live for, “the whole.”
Hitler’s life consisted of his determination to kill off the idea of separation or separateness. This is precisely what “the Jew” meant: someone who was incapable of integrating into a national society. The Jew symbolized a “free-floating individual,” unable to bind to a nation-state—like a bacterium that roamed within a body, but was unable to find a permanent, stable place within it.
In killing “Jewish bacteria,” Hitler, Himmler and Goebbels sought to kill off the idea of individuality: exterminate individuals who were imagined to exist in a condition of separateness from the nation-state. As one ideologue put it, “You will be a Nazi—or we will bash your head in.” “You are one of us—part of the German nation—or you have no right to exist.”
Hitler’s Official Programme (Feder, 1927) put forth as its central plank, “The Common Interest before Self-Interest,” condemning leaders of public life who “worship the same god—Individualism” and “make personal interest the sole incentive.” Nazi totalitarianism was a revolution against individualism—the idea that a human being can exist in a state of separateness from society, the national community.
Germany was everything. That which was or desired to become separate from Germany could not—would not—be permitted to exist. Hitler’s fantasy of mass-murder was generated by his desire or need to destroy anyone and everything that was not part of the German self.
Received via email from Richard A. Koenigsberg, author of "The Psychoanalysis of Racism, Revolution and Nationalism"