- Written by Claudio Rosso
- Category: Events
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Although he was never directly involved in politics himself, Sigmund Freud’s contribution to political thinking cannot be overstated. He was fascinated with the way that our internal conflicts as individuals have outward consequences in the world at large – and many of his ideas laid down the basis of what has become an enormous body of thought on how society works.
He questioned the origin and structure of society in “Totem and Taboo”. He discussed illusions and dogmas in “The Future of an Illusion” and “Civilization and itsDiscontents”. He was critical of some aspects of Bolshevism in the “New Introductory Lecture on Psychoanalysis”, and he described the foundation of a people in “Moses and Monotheism”.
In this series of talks with leading psychoanalysts, we invite you to explore these influential theories with us, and discover how they can illuminate our understanding of political and social conflict around the world.
It’s interesting to imagine what Freud would have made of the world today, a time of polarising politics, social shifts and radical movements.
In “Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego” he explored crowd psychology, arguing that becoming a member of a crowd serves to unlock the unconscious mind. This happens as the super-ego, or moral centre of consciousness, is displaced by the larger crowd and the charisma of leaders.
In the agency of the superego, our conscious moral centre, Freud attributed values, ideals, and imperatives associated with morality and society. He also analysed the effects of repressed sexuality, naming “civilised sexual morality” as the source of “the nervous illness of modern times.”
Freud argued that a combination of forces in our psyche – the sexual drive, the death drive, and the instinct for mastery – have been inescapable drivers of change throughout humanity’s development.
And they’re especially relevant to a discussion of contemporary issues such as racism, terrorism, totalitarian thinking, NHS, the market economy, gender and sexuality. Scroll down to see the range of subjects we’ll be addressing in our programme.
Many of Freud’s ideas intersect with political thinkers such as Machiavelli, Hobbes, Marx, and Weber. For example, the radical rejection of all forms of illusion, the will to lucidity based on a flexible rationality, the dismantling of connections within communities, the emphasis on the autonomy and responsibility of the individual subject.
Over time, many other psychoanalysts have continued to contribute to political and social theory. Donald Winnicott argues that the development of our character is based on our environment, particularly our early relationships in life. That society provides the factors that support or undermine these early relationships – and that pathological or criminal acts can be seen as external manifestations of our internal conflicts.
Melanie Klein reiterated Freud’s belief that the human is riven with conflict, and how aggression and libido play themselves out in the individual, family, society and world politics. She emphasised the need to recognise guilt and make reparation, and argued that to achieve this there must be a difficult integration of love and hate – a lifelong struggle that has its equivalents in social and political scenarios throughout the world.
These theories on the mind provide the basis for psychoanalysts to understand political and social conflict that cause such distress and anxiety in our world.
I hope that you’ll join us for what’s set to be a brilliant set of lectures, discussions and debates about the nature of violence, both in the mind and in wider society. To book your place, click here.
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