Are you gagging? Are you thinking (while gagging), “Why is this person evoking a psychopathology that makes me think about someone getting sexually excited over a corpse?”
Because that isn’t the only definition of necrophilia. I’m thinking on a much, much larger scale, one that involves millions of corpses.
First, though, to break down the word, “nekros” is the Greek word for “corpse,” and “philia,” means “fondness.”
My psychiatric dictionary (1975, but somehow I doubt the definition has changed in the past 45 years) defines it thusly:
A sexual perversion, whose condition is that the love object…must be dead before orgasm can be achieved.
Merriam-Webster has a similar definition: “…obsession with and usually erotic interest in or stimulation by corpses.”
In the 1970s, I was reading a lot of textbooks on psychopathology. At the same time, I was reading biographies and analyses of Hitler. Which is how I came upon a broader definition of necrophilia linked to Hitler.
I picked it up from Erich Fromm, the German-Jewish psychoanalyst, who wrote a number of best-selling books which, beginning with Escape From Freedom, made a big impression on me, led me into new ways of thinking about history and human beings. He discussed necrophilia in his 1973, Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, in which he analyzed the causes of human violence.
Here’s a paragraph from Wikipedia describing what Fromm covered in that book. I’ve highlighted a couple of phrases which will probably resonate with you, as they did with me:
Fromm’s pathography follows largely Sigmund Freud’s concept of psychoanalysis and states that Hitler was an immature, self-centered dreamer who did not overcome his childish narcissism; as a result of his lack of adaptation to reality he was exposed to humiliations which he tried to overcome by means of lust-ridden destructiveness (“necrophilia”). The evidence of this desire to destroy – including the so-called Nero Decree – was so outrageous that one must assume that Hitler had not only acted destructively, but was driven by a “destructive character.”
I don’t know how many times such apt comparisons have been and will be made. Destroying, because pleasure is gained by watching the destruction and knowing you had the power to cause it.
Now, here’s something more recent, involving that “destructive character,” now called “dangerous leader disorder.” More of my bolding:
The personality psychologist John D. Mayer (University of New Hampshire) published an essay in 1993 in which he suggested an independent psychiatric category for destructive personalities like Hitler: A dangerous leader disorder (DLD). Mayer identified three groups of symptomatic behavioral singularities: 1. indifference (becoming manifest for example in murder of opponents, family members or citizens, or in genocide); 2. intolerance (practicing press censorship, running a secret police or condoning torture); 3. self-aggrandizement (self-assessment as a “unifier” of a people, overestimation of own military power, identification with religion or nationalism or proclamation of a “grand plan”).
Does that give you chills? More:
Mayer compared Hitler to Stalin and Saddam Hussein; the stated aim of this proposition of a psychiatric categorization was to provide the international community with a diagnostic instrument which would make it easier to recognize dangerous leader personalities in mutual consensus and to take action against them. (See also Toxic leader.)
Mayer wrote that in 1993. We may be able to recognize “dangerous leader personalities,” but I don’t know that we’ve figured out how to “take action against them.”
And something more I remembered reading those years ago, also in Fromm’s Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, in the chapter “Malignant Aggression: Necrophilia.” This one will chill you to the bone. To deep freeze the chill, I’m bolding:
…the necrophiliac persons are concerned with bad odors [which] frequently [give] such persons the appearance of being “sniffers”. (H. von Hentig, 1964). Not infrequently this sniffing tendency even shows in their facial expression. Many necrophilous individuals give the impression of constantly smelling a bad odor. Anybody who studies the many pictures of Hitler, for instance, can easily discover this sniffing expression in his face… Another characteristic element in the facial expression is the necrophile’s incapacity to laugh. His laughter is actually a kind of smirk; it is unalive and lacks the liberating and joyous quality of normal laughter...When watching television, one can sometimes observe a speaker whose face remains completely unmoved when he is speaking; he grins only at the beginning or the end of his speech when, according to American custom, he knows that he is expected to smile…their smile is not spontaneous but planned, like the unspontaneous gestures of a poor actor. The language of a necrophilous person is characterized by the predominant use of words referring to destruction…
Erich Fromm, in 1973.
January 2017. “This American carnage.” Trump wasn’t describing America. He was promising to destroy us — because only by standing over thousands of dead bodies does he get an erotic charge.