Institutional economics and psychoanalysis: how can they collaborate for a better understanding of individual-society dynamics? Arturo hermann* may 2005



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9. FREUD AS A SOCIAL REFORMER
As we have seen, Freud's theory provides important insights into the conflicts and problems of individual and collective life and the possibility of social change. However, notwithstanding these contributions, Freud is rarely regarded among social scientists as a social reformer. Rather, social scientists — owing, perhaps, to a rather pessimistic strain present in some of Freud's writings — tend to regard his theory as essentially "conservative", as it seems to imply that little can be done to reduce human aggressiveness.

Certainly, as we have seen, there is such a strain in Freud's theory. But, at the same time, as we have tried to show, his theory is more complex than this interpretation would suggest, as it contains aspects which clearly indicate the possibility of social change. For instance, in discussing the Communist revolution in Russia, he is not against such transformation but stresses the importance for social reformers, in order to build a truly better society, to have a better understanding of human nature. The following passages express these concepts clearly,



"The communists believe that they have found the path to deliverance from our evils. According to them, man is wholly good and is well-disposed to his neighbour; but the institution of private property has corrupted his nature. The ownership of private wealth gives the individual power, and with it the temptation to ill-treat his neighbour; while the man who is excluded from possession is bound to rebel in hostility against his oppressor. If private property were abolished, all wealth held in common, and everyone allowed to share in the enjoyment of it, ill-will and hostility would disappear among men. Since everyone's need would be satisfied, no one would have any reason to regard another as an enemy; all would willingly undertake the work that was necessary. I have no concern with any economic criticisms of the communist system; I cannot enquire into whether the abolition of private property is expedient or advantageous. [Here, there is a footnote in which Freud stresses that he is sympathetic towards the situations of economic deprivation] But I am able to recognize that the psychological premises on which the system is based are an untenable illusion. In abolishing private property we deprive the human love of aggression of one of its instruments, certainly a strong one, though certainly not the strongest; but we have in no way altered the differences in power and influence which are misused by aggressiveness, nor have we altered anything in its nature. Aggressiveness was not created by property. It reigned almost without limit in primitive times, when property was still very scanty...." (S.Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, The Standard Edition, New York, Norton, 1961: 70-71).
However, notwithstanding these cautious remarks, later in the paper, when discussing the difficulty of mastering human aggressiveness, he observes that,
"....At this point the ethics based on religion introduces its promises of a better after-life. But so long as virtue is not rewarded here on earth, ethics will, I fancy, preach in vain. I too think it quite certain that a real change in the relations of human beings to possessions would be of more help in this direction than any ethical commands; but the recognition of this fact among socialists has been obscured and made useless for practical purposes by a fresh idealistic misconception of human nature [Cf. p.71 above (in the text)]", (S.Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, The Standard Edition, New York, Norton, 1961: 109).
These remarks highlight the importance of considering the psychological side of every project of social reform, by centring attention on the characteristics of neurotic conflicts and on the role of psychoanalysis in understanding and overcoming such conflicts; in this sense, collaboration among psychoanalysis, Marxism and other theories of social change (including ,of course, institutional economics) would be of particular interest, also for devising policies more effective in attaining the objectives of social reforms.

In order to better illustrate these issues, let us quote at some length a number of Freud's passages containing a clear explanation of the links intervening between individual and collective psychology,


"....What means does civilization employ in order to inhibit the aggressiveness which opposes it, to make it harmless, to get rid of it, perhaps? We have already become acquainted with a few of these methods, but not yet with the one that appears to be the most important. This we can study in the history of the development of the individual. What happens in him to render his desire for aggression innocuous? Something very remarkable, which we should never have guessed and which is nevertheless quite obvious. His aggressiveness is introjected, internalized; it is, in point of fact, sent back to where it came from—that is, it is directed towards his own ego. There it is taken over by a portion of the ego, which sets itself against the rest of the ego as super-ego, and which now, in the form of 'conscience', is ready to put into action against the ego the same harsh aggressiveness that the ego would have liked to satisfy upon other, extraneous individuals. The tension between the harsh super-ego and the ego that is subjected to it, is called by us the sense of guilt; it expresses itself as a need for punishment. Civilization, therefore, obtains mastery over the individual's dangerous desire for aggression by weakening and disarming it and by setting up an agency within him to watch over it, like a garrison in a conquered city.

As to the origin of the sense of guilt, the analyst has different views from other psychologists; but even he does not find it easy to give an account of it....Perhaps, after some hesitation, we shall add that even when a person has not actually done the bad thing but has only recognized in himself an intention to do it, he may regard himself as guilty....What is bad is often not at all what is injurious or dangerous to the ego; on the contrary, it may be something which is desirable and enjoyable to the ego. Here, therefore, there is an extraneous influence at work, and it is this that decides what is to be called good or bad. Since a person's own feelings would not have led him along this path, he must have had a motive for submitting to this extraneous influence. Such a motive is easily discovered in his helplessness and his dependence on other people, and it can be best designated as fear of loss of love. If he loses the love of another person upon whom he is dependent, he also ceases to be protected from a variety of dangers. Above all, he is exposed to the danger that this stronger person will show his superiority in the form of punishment. At the beginning, therefore, what is bad is whatever causes one to be threatened with loss of love....A considerable amount of aggressiveness must be developed in the child against the authority which prevents him from having his first, but none the less his most important, satisfactions, whatever the kind of instinctual deprivation that is demanded of him may be; but he is obliged to renounce the satisfaction of this revengeful aggressiveness. He finds his way out of this economically difficult situation with the help of familiar mechanisms. By means of identification he takes the unattackable authority into himself. The authority now turns into his super-ego and enters into possession of all the aggressiveness which a child would have liked to exercise against it. The child's ego has to content itself with the unhappy role of the authority—the father—who has been thus degraded. Here, as so often, the [real] situation is reversed: 'If I were the father and you were the child, I should treat you badly.' The relationship between the super-ego and the ego is a return, distorted by a wish, of the real relationships between the ego, as yet undivided, and an external object ...I believe the line of thought which seeks to trace in the phenomena of cultural development the part played by a super-ego promises still further discoveries....If the development of civilization has such a far-reaching similarity to the development of the individual and if it employs the same methods, may we not be justified in reaching the diagnosis that, under the influence of cultural urges, some civilizations, or some epochs of civilization—possibly the whole of mankind—have become 'neurotic'? An analytic dissection of such neuroses might lead to therapeutic recommandations which could lay claim to great practical interest. I would not say that an attempt of this kind to carry psycho-analysis over to cultural communities was absurd or doomed to be fruitless. But we should have to be very cautious and not forget that, after all, we are only dealing with analogies and that it is dangerous, not only with men but also with concepts, to tear them from the sphere in which they have originated and been evolved. Moreover, the diagnosis of communal neuroses is faced with a special difficulty. In an individual neurosis we take as our starting-point the contrast that distinguishes the patient from his environment, which is assumed to be 'normal'. For a group all of whose members are affected by one and the same disorder no such background could exist; it would have to be found elsewhere. And as regards the therapeutic application of our knowledge, what would be the use of the most correct analysis of social neuroses, since no one possesses authority to impose such a therapy upon the group? But in spite of all these difficulties, we may expect that one day someone will venture to embark upon a pathology of cultural communities.", (S.Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, The Standard Edition, New York, Norton, 1961: 83, 84, 85, 91, 92, 109, 110).
These concepts constitute the basis of Freud's inquiries into the psychological processes and conflicts of collective life as set out more extensively in Massenpsychologie undIich-Analyse and Totem und Tabu. In particular, such insights may cast a deeper understanding on the (neurotic) characteristics of group cohesion, which is mainly based, as observed before, on the following (mostly unconscious) processes: i) libidinal38 links among the members of the group; ii) projection of individual aggressiveness towards people and/or institutions lying outside the group; iii) identification with the group leader — who symbolizes the parental instance (typically, the father) — in order to remove the conflicts related to the Oedipus complex.


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