Modern totalitarian movements, whether of the right or of the left, have been peculiarly—and revealingly—inclined to use disease imagery. The Nazis declared that someone of mixed “racial” origin was like a syphilitic. European Jewry was repeatedly analogized to syphilis, and to a cancer that must be excised. Disease metaphors were a staple of Bolshevik polemics, and Trotsky, the most gifted of all communist polemicists, used them with the greatest profusion—particularly after his banishment from the Soviet Union in 1929. Stalinism was called a cholera, a syphilis, and a cancer. To use only fatal diseases for imagery in politics gives the metaphor a much more pointed character. Now, to liken a political event or situation to an illness is to impute guilt, to prescribe punishment.
This is particularly true of the use of cancer as a metaphor. It amounts to saying, first of all, that the event or situation is unqualifiedly and unredeemably wicked. It enormously ups the ante. Hitler, in his first political tract, an anti-Semitic diatribe written in September 1919, accused the Jews of producing “a racial tuberculosis among nations.” Tuberculosis still retained its prestige as the overdetermined, culpable illness of the nineteenth century. (Recall Hugo’s comparison of monasticism with TB.) But the Nazis quickly modernized their rhetoric, and indeed the imagery of cancer was far more apt for their purposes. As was said in speeches about “the Jewish problem” throughout the 1930s, to treat a cancer one must cut out much of the healthy tissue around it. The imagery of cancer for the Nazis prescribes “radical” treatment, in contrast to the “soft” treatment thought appropriate for tuberculosis—the difference between sanatoria (that is, exile) and surgery (that is, crematoria). The Jews were also identified with, and became a metaphor for, city life—with Nazi rhetoric echoing all the Romantic clichés about cities as a debilitating, merely cerebral, morally contaminated, unhealthy environment.
To describe a phenomenon as a cancer is an incitement to violence. The use of cancer in political discourse encourages fatalism and justifies “severe” measures—as well as strongly reinforcing the widespread notion that the disease is necessarily fatal. While disease metaphors are never innocent, it could be argued that the cancer metaphor is a worst case: implicitly genocidal. No specific political view has a monopoly on this metaphor. Trotsky called Stalinism the cancer of Marxism; in China in the last year, the Gang of Four have become, among other things, “the cancer of China.” John Dean explained Watergate to Nixon: “We have a cancer within—close to the Presidency—that’s growing.” The standard metaphor of Arab polemics—heard by Israelis on the radio every day for the last twenty years—is that Israel is “a cancer in the heart of the Arab world” or “the cancer of the Middle East,” and an officer with the Christian Lebanese rightist forces besieging the Palestine refugee camp of Tal Zaatar in August 1976 called the camp “a cancer in the Lebanese body.” The cancer metaphor seems hard to resist for those who wish to register indignation. Thus, Neal Ascherson wrote in 1969 that the Slansky Affair “was—is—a huge cancer in the body of the Czechoslovak state and nation”; Simon Leys, in Chinese Shadows, speaks of “the Maoist cancer that is gnawing away at the face of China”; D. H. Lawrence called masturbation “the deepest and most dangerous cancer of our civilization”; and I once wrote, in the heat of despair over America’s war on Vietnam, that “the white race is the cancer of human history.”
“[The Jew’s] power is the power of money which in the form of interest effortlessly and interminably multiplies itself in his hands and forces upon nations that most dangerous of yokes.… Everything which makes men strive for higher things, whether religion, socialism, or democracy, is for him only a means to an end, to the satisfaction of a lust for money and domination. His activities produce a racial tuberculosis among nations.…” A late-nineteenth-century precursor of Nazi ideology, Julius Langbehn, called the Jews “only a passing pest and cholera.” But in Hitler’s TB image there is already something easily transferred to cancer: the idea that Jewish power “effortlessly and interminably multiplies.”
(Eng. p.164) One set of messages of the society we live in is: Consume. Grow. Do what you want. Amuse yourselves. The very working of this economic system, (p.165) which has bestowed these unprecedented liberties, most cherished in the form of physical mobility and material prosperity, depends on encouraging people to defy limits. Appetite is supposed (斜体) to be immoderate. The ideology of capit...
(Eng. p.164) One set of messages of the society we live in is: Consume. Grow. Do what you want. Amuse yourselves. The very working of this economic system, (p.165) which has bestowed these unprecedented liberties, most cherished in the form of physical mobility and material prosperity, depends on encouraging people to defy limits. Appetite is supposed (斜体) to be immoderate. The ideology of capitalism makes us all into connoisseurs of liberty - of the indefinite expansion of possibility. Virtually every kind of advocacy claims to offer first of all or also some increment of freedom. Not every freedom, to be sure. In rich countries, freedom has come to be identified more and more with “personal fulfillment” - a freedom enjoyed or practiced alone (or as (斜体) alone). Hence much of recent discourse about the body, reimagined as the instrument with which to enact, increasingly, various programs of self-improvement, of the heightening of powers. Given the imperatives about consumption and the virtually unquestioned value attached to the expression of self, how could sexuality not (斜体) have come to be, for some, a consumer option: an exercise of liberty, of increased mobility, of the pushing back of limits. Hardly an invention of the male homosexual subculture, recreational, risk-free sexuality is an inevitable reinvention of the culture of capitalism, and was guaranteed by medicine as well. The advent of AIDS seems to have changed all that, irrevocably.