[Rushtalk] The Psychology of Totalitarianism

Carl William Spitzer IV cwsiv at copper.net
Mon Aug 18 21:23:56 MDT 2014

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The Psychology of Totalitarianism
Wed, 16 Jul 2014 16:20:58 -0400
Library of Social Science
<oanderson at libraryofsocialscience.com>

                            THE PSYCHOLOGY OF TOTALITARIANISM 
      Review Essay of Japan's Holy War: The Ideology of Radical Shinto
                         by Richard Koenigsberg
      Walter A. Skya. Japan's Holy War: The Ideology of Radical Shinto
                                    (Duke University Press) 
        Description: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41B4%
  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 University Press
                        Author:  Walter A. Skya
                           Format: 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 Amazon.com
                            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
 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
 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
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.


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