PSYCHOLOGICAL INTERPRETATION OF
IDEOLOGY AND DISCOURSE
Richard A. Koenigsberg
WHY DO SOME DISCOURSES BECOME DOMINANT?
Reality is socially constructed, but constructed based on what? People
continually construct various forms of reality, but only a very few take
hold and become structures of society. Is it possible to explain why some
discourses become dominant and not others?
Writing about the Holocaust, Hannah Arendt claims that anti-Semitism
"explains everything and therefore nothing." One may suggest that concepts
like "discourse" and "narrative" similarly explain everything and therefore
nothing. What requires explanation is why certain discourses or narratives
become salient and significant. To comprehend the meaning of an ideology, we
pose the question: "Why does it exist?"
My studies on Nazi ideology (see, for example, IDEOLOGY,
> PERCEPTION AND GENOCIDE:
How Fantasy Generates History) begin by identifying recurring images and
metaphors in the rhetoric of political leaders such as Hitler, Himmler and
Goebbels in order to ascertain the ideology's underlying meaning. Hitler
conceived of the German nation as a living organism invaded by Jewish
bacteria. Genocide enacted an immunological fantasy: killing the pathogenic
microorganisms in order to prevent the death of Germany.
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IDEOLOGY AS SHARED FANTASY
Hitler's ideology derived from a coherent fantasy projected into reality.
Nazi ideology was articulated through the vehicle of language, but language
was not the source of Nazi ideology. Nazi ideology was constituted by a
shared fantasy projected into the external world. Ideologies represent
symbolic structures functioning to contain and shape primal desires,
anxieties, and conflicts. Ideologies are cognitive structures that permit
unconscious fantasies to become shared--and articulated as social reality.
Ideologies or discourses become established as elements of culture to the
extent that they represent unique "solutions" to fundamental psychic
dilemmas. An ideology that is significant in society is one that has served
as the modus operandi for the expression of powerful desires, conflicts and
fantasies. Ideologies capture energy bound to latent fantasies, bringing
forth this energy into society as the basis for collective forms of action.
Read the online publication:
> DO IDEOLOGIES EXIST:
The Psychological Function of Culture
THE UNCONSCIOUS CONTAINED WITHIN THE TEXT
An ideology is conveyed through rhetoric presented by political and social
leaders--people on the public stage who have embraced the ideology and seek
to persuade others of its validity. We uncover the roots of ideologies by
analyzing the writings and speeches of leaders who have been instrumental in
bringing forth their ideologies into reality. Identification of recurring
images, metaphors and figures of speech reveals the unconscious contained
within the text.
Once we understand the meaning of a discourse or ideology--what it seeks to
express or convey--we are on our way toward explanation. Explanation
consists of revealing the psychological functions that the discourse or
ideology performs for members of a given society. By asking the question,
"What does this ideology or discourse do (psychologically) for people?" we
pose the question: "Why does this ideology exist?"
Richard Koenigsberg is an author, lecturer and teacher focusing on the roots
of collective forms of violence. He received his Ph.D. in Social Psychology
from the Graduate Faculty of the New School for Social Research. He is a
Faculty Member of the Institute for the Study of Violence at the Boston
Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. New editions of his books--Hitler's
Ideology: Embodied Metaphor, Fantasy and History and The Nation: A Study in
Ideology and Fantasy--recently have been released by Information Age