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By Mark Neocleous

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Extra resources for Imagining the State

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Is that the analogy was delivered its death-blow by the new empirical medicine and natural science of the seventeenth century, which viewed the body less as the template of cosmic or political order, than as a self-contained machine’. 51 An argument developed by Claude Lefort, Phillipe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy, and appropriated by many others, connects this supposed demise of the metaphor of the body politic to the rise of bourgeois democracy from the late eighteenth century. They claim that a democratic political discourse has little intellectual time for an essentially pre-modern metaphor such as that of the body politic, and that the democratic regime is one in which any notion of the organic unity of the polity is dissolved.

The leader as the new embodiment of sovereign power appears to offer the chance to incorporate and personify the previously ‘faceless’ entity of the liberal state. It is in this context that the health and virility of the leadership is of crucial importance (regardless of the fact that most fascist leaders fail to conform to their own ideological stereotype of the virile body). On the other hand, and more pertinent to the argument here, is the fact that fascist campaigns of terror reveal an image of the body politic in which the enemy of the people is regarded as a parasite or a waste product to be eliminated.

83 Such comments enable us to rethink some of the non-lethal but standard fascist practices such as the force-feeding of castor oil to anyone remotely disorderly or resistant. After recounting some of the ‘castor oil experiences’ of ordinary civilians, including sometimes the force-feeding of whole villages, Luisa Passerini notes that: The ritual of castor oil drew on the parallel between the social and physical body. If the human body particularly lent itself to symbolis- BODY 31 ing the social system (so that control over it could be taken as an expression of social control), this was possible because the symbolic codes relating to the two bodies had a significant bearing on each other.

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