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Death of the Father

An Anthropology of the End in Political Authority

Edited by John Borneman

256 pages, index

ISBN  978-1-57181-111-0 $120.00/£75.00 Hb Published (December 2003)

ISBN  978-1-57181-389-3 $34.95/£22.00 Pb Published (December 2004)

eISBN 978-0-85745-715-8 eBook

Hb Pb
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The death of authority figures like fathers or leaders can be experienced as either liberation or loss. In the twentieth century, the authority of the father and of the leader became closely intertwined; constraints and affective attachments intensified in ways that had major effects on the organization of regimes of authority. This comparative volume examines the resulting crisis in symbolic identification, the national traumas that had crystallized around four state political forms: Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and East European Communism. The defeat of Imperial and Fascist regimes in 1945 and the implosion of Communist regimes in 1989 were critical moments of rupture, of "death of the father." What was the experience of their ends, and what is the reconstruction of those ends in memory?

This volume represents is the beginning of a comparative social anthropology of caesurae: the end of traumatic political regimes, of their symbolic forms, political consequences, and probable futures.

John Borneman, Professor of Anthropology at Princeton University, specializes in political and legal anthropology. He has written widely on national identification and symbolic form in Germany and on the relation of culture to international order. His most recent work is on accountability and the use of retributive justice in preventing cycles of violence.

Related Link: For more information on John Borneman, you can also visit the author's website.

LC: GN492.25 .D43 2004

BL: YC.2004.a.8192

BISAC: SOC002010 SOCIAL SCIENCE/Anthropology/Cultural; HIS037070 HISTORY/Modern/20th Century; HIS010000 HISTORY/Europe/General

BIC: JHMC Social & cultural anthropology, ethnography; HBJD European history

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Theorizing Regime Ends

The death of authority figures such as fathers or leaders can be experienced as either liberation or loss. Liberation because relations to such fig-ures constrain through the exercise of authority, loss because these relations bind through emotional ties. In the twentieth century, the authority of the father and of the leader became closely intertwined; constraints and affective attachments intensified in ways that had major effects on the organization of regimes of authority. Fathers and leaders sent their sons and followers to die in gruesome wars of mass destruction and lured them into internal purification campaigns in the name of the collective body. Indeed, as sovereigns, their exercise of power in everyday life was more intimate if not more invasive than ever in recorded history. In those cases where the exercise of sovereignty by fathers and the leader involved events such as arbitrary and widespread killing, torture, and repression, domestic authority and national political leadership have produced trauma—a temporally delayed and repeated suffering of these events that can only be grasped retrospectively. The defeat of imperial and fascist regimes in 1945, and the implosion of communist regimes in 1989, were critical moments of rupture, or potential rupture, in the production of national trauma. Most self-representations of these breaks reconstruct the dissolution of authority as both liberation and loss. I am calling this end "Death of the Father."

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From Future to Past

A Duce's Trajectory

At the dawn of the twentieth century, groups of dashing young European men propelled themselves to the front of the political scene to play a role that would have been beyond their reach if genealogical rules had to be followed. Thus an era of effervescence started, breaking normative ties that seemed to be everlasting. Nowhere was this breach brought about in a more fruitful way and in more spheres of the intellectual, political, and artistic life than in Austria. Names such as Sigmund Freud, Joseph Roth, Stefan Zweig, Robert Musil, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Oskar Kokoschka, Gustav Mahler, Arnold Schönberg, and so forth, only point to the richness of the period in that country. But it was also in Austria, in 1914, that its emperor, Franz Joseph, whose long reign went from 1848 to 1916, declared war on Serbia, after the assassination of the emperor's nephew (28 June), the archduke Frantz Ferdinand, in Sarajevo (Bosnia). For the old emperor understood that the two bodies of the Habsburg's monarch (Kantorowicz 1957) were now permanently torn apart and that the Habsburg's rule would probably end with him. The Great War he decided upon has also to be seen as a loud utterance of grief for his dying dynasty, a grief that took the lives of millions of young men. In this period of convulsions— before democracy was finally accepted as the best way to govern— men eager to establish new hereditary lines but with no pedigree came along, boasting that they would be their country's saviors. After Lenin, but before Hitler, Benito Mussolini was one of them.

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Gottvater, Landesvater, Familienvater

Identification and Authority in Germany

Hitler's Death and the Afterlife of His Image After months of heavy fighting outside the city, the Russian army finally surrounded Berlin, where Adolf Hitler was sheltered in the bunker of the Reichskanzlei. Sometime during the day of 29 April 1945, Hitler had been informed about Mussolini's fate: shot along with his mistress and hung by their feet in a gas station in central Milan where crowds kicked and spit at the bodies. Rather than face such humiliation, he ordered two hundred liters of gasoline to be brought to the bunker and to be used, following his suicide, to burn his body and make it unrecognizable. In preparation, Hitler summoned a civil servant to wed him to Eva Braun, his longtime companion, in order to take her, as he explained in his personal testament, "as my spouse with me into death" (cited in Fest 1973: 1015). During his twelve-year rule, he had refused to marry, claiming that his dedication to the life of the Volk precluded such a personal bond. With his death impending, marriage appeared in a new light, as a personal completion, a final closure and legitimation of life. Hitler's doctor had provided him with cyanide tablets, but fearing they might not work, he first tried them on Blondi, his beloved German shepherd, who died within an hour. Shortly before 3:30 A.M. on 30 April, Hitler followed his bride and swallowed cyanide tablets, after which the two bodies were burned and buried in a granite grave.

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Two Deaths of Hirohito in Japan

This chapter examines the two deaths of Hirohito: one in 1945/1946, and the other in 1988/1989. In it, I will focus on three themes. First, the emperor system, and perhaps the emperor's life, was saved by the negation of the Emperor-Father's divine nature and his Fatherhood of the Japanese nation after Japan's defeat in 1945. Discarding his strong father image, Hirohito transformed himself into a gentle, friendly, and vulnerable figure. This elimination of the strong father at the national level was paralleled by the decline of the father's authority and marginalization of the father in the postwar Japanese family.

Second, through the juggling of the boundary between the secular and the religious by the Japanese government, Hirohito's funeral became a state affair attended by representatives from all over the world, and the emperor system was fully legitimated as the ancient and unique tradition of the Japanese nation. The continuity and unity of the Japanese nation was affirmed publicly and solemnly. The tremendous success of Japanese capitalism was fully displayed. Through Hirohito's second death, the emperor system again became the very identity of, and the symbol for, the unity of the Japanese people.

Third, in this effort to legitimate the emperor system, the timing of Hirohito's death was very important. Through his incredibly timely death on the first Saturday of 1989, possible inconvenience and conflicts were minimized. Indeed, it effectively deprived many critical groups of a chance to voice their opposition to the emperor system. It also effectively decreased disruptions in the everyday lives of ordinary Japanese, thus preventing them from reflecting seriously upon the nature of the emperor system.

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The Undead

Nicolae Ceausescu and Paternalist Politics in Romanian Society and Culture

One day, to discover what people really thought of him, the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu disguised himself as a poor peasant to travel among the masses. At the Bucharest train station he asked an old man his opinion of Ceausescu. The old man looked to make sure no one was listening. Then he beckoned the disguised Ceaus¸ escu to follow as he led him through labyrinthine twists and turns on Bucharest streets. Arriving at a place far "off the beaten path," and again after making absolutely sure they were alone, the old man whispered in Ceausescu's ear, "I like him!"

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The Peaceful Death of Tito and the Violent End of Yugoslavia

This chapter places the dissolution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) and the subsequent wars in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina in the context of the leadership and death of Yugoslavia's post–World War II leader, Josip Broz Tito. The violent destruction of Yugoslavia beginning in 1991 contrasted starkly with the peaceful passing of its creator eleven years earlier. Yet while the actual death of Yugoslavia and of its leader were very different, the slow weakening and disintegration preceding the death of both the leader and the state he had ruled were similar and interconnected. Furthermore, the violent death of the state structure and the destruction of the country's social fabric that paved the way for the birth of ethnonationalist independent states were more akin to the violent birth of the same state structure as a result of the Tito-led partisan struggle during World War II.

It could be argued that the war starting in 1991 was not the final destruction of Yugoslavia—it had been gradually disintegrating—but rather the instrument with which Tito's successors would implement a new social and administrative order: the ethnically homogeneous or "pure" communities and nation states. A precondition for this process to start was the absence and death of Tito. For the new social and political order to be implemented, Yugoslavia not only had to be destroyed as a state structure, but its very founding ideas had to be purged. These were ideas that had been expressed through state sponsored symbols and rituals for more than forty years and with the participation of the state's citizens from all organizational levels: the school, the workplace, and governmental bodies. The ideas, symbols, and rituals became so much part of the experience of growing up in Yugoslavia (and ultimately of identity) that they had to be purged not only from politics and public structures but from people's minds and emotions, too.

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Doubtful Dead Fathers and Musical Corpses

What to Do with the Dead Stalin, Lenin, and Tsar Nicholas?

The Soviet experience is replete with authoritarian bodysnatching. Either the body must be rendered eternal, like Lenin's waxy remains lying forever in state on Red Square, or the body must be spirited away, like Stalin's corpse taken to commune with the Kremlin wall after a short joint residence in Lenin's tomb. Actually, a sly combination of posterity and oblivion is the ideal: simultaneous extermination and resuscitation. Eliminating the god-king while seeking to retain the symbolic structure of his authority. Political patricide and visitation of the shrine to the dead father. That Stalin has been difficult to kill off is a well-known fact of Soviet life. The year of Stalin's death, 1953, was neither the end nor the beginning of adulatory ambivalence about his mortality. During the Gorbachev glasnost era, a film was made in Stalin's homeland of Georgia, called Penitence (Abuladze 1986). In it, the unfortunate children of a perished father—a man whose identity is unmistakably Stalin writ small—are plagued with his reappearing corpse. Since the end of glasnost, Stalin has reappeared ever more frequently on the exalting lips of former-Soviet citizens wishing to resuscitate him. Khrushchev meant to do away with him already in 1956 with his "secret speech" to the Twentieth Party Congress. But a few years later, Stalin revived to silence Khrushchev instead, and many hoped the unpredictable if benign Khrushchev would be succeeded by someone more similar to Stalin.

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