Thursday, January 27th 2022, marked the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a date decided upon by The United Nations General Assembly in accordance with the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Nazi project of extermination of the Jewish population across Europe and other parts of the world was the culmination of a program executed by a regime, which at the beginning, under scientific presumptions, also performed heinous, murderess crimes against mentally ill and physically debilitated human beings, not necessarily Jews.
Moreover, a well-documented history conveys the manner in which Hitler’s Third Reich destroyed the psychoanalytic movement – the so called “Jewish science” – which by then had already developed into an operative institutional presence in Berlin and Vienna . Ever since the end of WWII, much has been discussed and argued, and quite rightfully so, concerning psychoanalysis’ dependence upon a democratic state establishment. However, the gloomy rapport between the Third Reich and psychoanalysis is not to be narrowed exclusively to the anti-democratic character of this administration or to its anti-Semitic tendencies. In order to observe the fate of psychoanalysis in anti-democratic states one does not need Nazi Germany; one can settle with what happened to psychoanalysis in Argentina under the military junta or in soviet Russia. The Nazi project was different, distinctive in its disruption of equilibrium between religion and science. This was a dictatorship unlike any other, that on the one hand aimed at obliterating all religious institutes and annihilating their political and social power, and on the other hand considered science as an ideological constituent. One could argue they elevated science to the level of religion.
Indeed, it was not an overall rule of science, but it was a regime which harnessed science to its needs. Nazi science was praised; from racial theory, going through eugenics, social Darwinism, medicine (including psychiatry), physics, chemistry, engineering and even architecture, it was considered supreme and it justified various operations and endeavors, including the disgraceful and the outrageous. It promised to send the German nation into its confident bright future. This was a culture that pushed science to the utmost extreme; to the point of becoming perverted science or pseudo-science. The peak of this trail was Auschwitz, which in several key aspects was a brutal, inhumane and atrocious “scientific” project.
The Jewish holocaust, the Shoah, holds no lesson for us. It is a desperately meaningless historical event. And its meaninglessness is exactly what makes it so horrific. It has no inherent, historical, metaphysical or transcendental sense, and no lesson can be drawn from it. However, lessons can be drawn from the conditions and circumstances which preceded it. Putting science to the fore, while eliminating all religions, as well as major portions of arts and humanities, is the royal road to barbarism, the assured path to atrocities and mayhem.
In Seminar XI, “The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis” , Jacques Lacan located psychoanalysis amid science and religion, being not exactly either one or the other. Psychoanalysis draws from these two discourses. It depends upon them and has no independent existence of its own, but all the while it functions as an opposition. Not in order to replace them, not in order to gain power over them, but in order to perforate them, to make holes while treating their real by the symbolic . And because of a sexual non-rapport between science and psychoanalysis, there can be no integration between them.
In the end of this seminar , shortly after he asserts that “re-enacting the most monstrous and supposedly superseded forms of the holocaust, is the drama of Nazism”, Lacan warns us from succumbing to the dark god, from offering an object of sacrifice to obscure gods. In Nazism, abolishing religion may have represented the abolishment of the symbolic Name-of-the-Father, and the result was a return of the Father-Führer from the real. But furthermore, might not the obscure dark gods include also the gods of science, which when worshiped to the utmost, demand a human object of sacrifice? Certainly, psychoanalysts must always be watchful, aware and on guard. Science is good, but it must not be the one and only good available.
1. Sokolowsky, L. Psychoanalysis Under Nazi Occupation – The Origins, Impact and Influence of the Berlin Institute. Routledge, October 2021.
2. Lacan, J. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis (Book XI). J.-A. Miller (Ed.), Alan Sheridan (Trans.). W. W. Norton & Company, April 1998. p. 7.
3. Ibid, p. 6.
4. Ibid, p. 275.