Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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pre-Hitler Germanic ideology The Politics of Cultural Despair. And he ascribed to a leading creator of that ideology, Paul de Lagarde, the motivation of a “mounting disgust with modernity” which led him to explore over several decades “the causes, the symptoms, and the cure of Germany’s spiritual collapse.”7

Post-First World War confusion, the experience of the Weimar Republic as “an era of dissolution, without guidance,” was at least in part a continuation of that earlier process. By then German culture had begun to divide itself into two camps: the artistic and social experimentalists who tried out every variety of new form in a great rush of creativity and excess; and the right-wing political restorationists who “despised … precisely this free-floating spirit of experimentation.”8

Both camps were dealing with an intense experience of loss. There was an immediate sense of disintegration, separation, and stasis; and an ultimate breakdown in larger human connection, in the symbolization of cultural continuity or of collective immortality. Thus one historian could describe the political atmosphere in Germany from 1919 to 1923 as “oppressive with doom, almost eschatological.”9 The atmosphere, that is, was dominated by "last things,” by both death and a sense of doom.

The pattern was intensified by the perpetual German cultural sense of “cleavage,” or the “torn condition” mentioned previously. Also important is a cultural corollary, what could be called a German immortality hunger; the constant quest for experiences of transcendence and affirmations of ultimate meaning and connectedness. Goethe mocked that immortality hunger when he declared in 1826, “It is now about twenty years since the whole race of Germans began to ‘transcend.’ Should they ever wake up to this fact, they will look very odd to themselves.”10
Failed Regeneration 
But the First World War holds the key to the pre-Nazi, Nazi pre-genocidal German perception of collective historical illness. For in that experience we find not only death immersion on an extraordinary scale but a survivor, experience so intense as to remain even now difficult to grasp. The First World War for Germany represented still another crucial psychological dimension, the profound experience of failed regeneration.

The outbreak of the war was marked by exultation or “war fever”
* Here I follow a long-standing principle of a trinity of influences affecting all collective behavior: psychobiological universals (that which is common to all people in all cultures in all eras); cultural emphasis (that which is given particularly intense expression over a long course of cultural experience); and recent historical forces (those currents of a specific, identifiable historical period that act upon the other two parts of the trinity). In this case the psychobiological universal would be susceptibility to death imagery in response to impairments at both proximate and ultimate levels of psychological function; the cultural emphasis would be the perennially “torn condition” of the German self; and the relevant historical forces would be the rapid industrialization and modernization of the latter part of the nineteenth century and the inundation with death and disillusionment in association with the First World War.   
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

Robert J. Lifton
ISBN 0-465-09094
© 1986
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