Dialogue on the Threshold

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Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Chimerical wish-fantasies

Rational argument can be conducted with some prospect of success only so long as the emotionality of a given situation does not exceed a certain critical degree. If the affective temperature rises above this level, the possibility of reason's having any effect ceases and its place is taken by slogans and chimerical wish-fantasies. That is to say, a sort of collective possession results which rapidly develops into a psychic epidemic. In this state all those elements whose existence is merely tolerated as asocial under the rule of reason come to the top. Such individuals are by no means rare curiosities to be met with only in prisons and lunatic asylums. For every manifest case of insanity there are, in my estimation, at least ten latent cases who seldom get to the point of breaking out openly but whose views and behaviour, for all their appearance of normality, are influenced by unconsciously morbid and perverse factors. (...) But even if their number should amount to less than ten times that of the manifest psychoses and of manifest criminality, the relatively small percentage of the population figures they represent is more than compensated for by the peculiar dangerousness of these people. Their mental state is that of a collectively excited group ruled by affective judgements and wish-fantasies. In a state of "collective possession" they are the adapted ones and consequently they feel quite at home in it. (...) Their chimerical ideas, upborne by fanatical resentment, appeal to the collective irrationality and find fruitful soil there, for they express all those motives and resentments which lurk in more normal people under the cloak of reason and insight. 

Carl Gustav Jung, The Undiscovered Self (translation of Gegenwart und Zukunft, 1957), 
Routledge, London, 2002, pp. 2-3

Monday, 14 November 2016

Pseudologia phantastica

A more accurate diagnosis of Hitler's condition would be pseudologia phantastica, that form of hysteria which is characterized by a peculiar talent for believing one's own lies. For a short spell, such people usually meet with astounding success, and for that reason are socially dangerous. Nothing has such a convincing effect as a lie one invents and believes oneself, or an evil deed or intention whose righteousness one regards as self-evident. At any rate they carry far more conviction than the good man and the good deed, or even the wicked man and his purely wicked deed. Hitler's theatrical, obviously hysterical gestures struck all foreigners (with a few amazing exceptions) as purely ridiculous. When I saw him with my own eyes, he suggested a psychic scarecrow (with a broomstick for an outstretched arm) rather than a human being. It is also difficult to understand how his ranting speeches, delivered in shrill, grating, womanish tones, could have made such an impression. But the German people would never have been taken in and carried away so completely if this figure had not been a reflected image of the collective German hysteria. It is not without serious misgivings that one ventures to pin the label of "psychopathic inferiority" on to a whole nation, and yet, heaven knows, it is the only explanation which could in any way account for the effect this scarecrow had on the masses. A sorry lack of education, conceit that bordered on madness, a very mediocre intelligence, combined with the hysteric's cunning and the power fantasies of an adolescent, were written all over this demagogue's face. 

Carl Gustav Jung, "After the Catastrophe", Essays on Contemporary Events, 1936-1946
translated by R. F. C. Hull, Routledge, London, 2002, pp. 70-71

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Collective narcissism

In order to allow narcissistic identification, the [fascist] leader has to appear himself as absolutely narcissistic, and it is from this insight that Freud derives the portrait of the ‘primal father of the horde’ which might as well be Hitler’s.
He, at the very beginning of the history of mankind, was the Superman whom Nietzsche only expected from the future. Even today, the members of a group stand in need of the illusion that they are equally and justly loved by their leader, but the leader himself need love no one else, he may be of a masterly nature, absolutely narcissistic, but self-confident and independent. We know that love puts a check upon narcissism, and it would be possible to show how, by operating in this way, it became a factor of civilization.

One of the most conspicuous features of the agitator’s speeches, namely the absence of a positive programme and of anything [he] might ‘give’, as well as the paradoxical prevalence of threat and denial, is thus being accounted for; the leader can be loved only if he himself does not love. Yet Freud is aware of another aspect of the leader image which apparently contradicts the first one. While appearing as a superman, the leader must at the same time work the miracle of appearing as an average person, just as Hitler posed as a composite of King Kong and the suburban barber. […] Even the fascist leader’s startling symptoms of inferiority, his resemblance to ham actors and asocial psychopaths, is thus anticipated in Freud’s theory. For the sake of those parts of the follower’s narcissistic libido which have not been thrown into the leader image but remain attached to the follower’s own ego, the superman must still resemble the follower and appear as his ‘enlargement’. Accordingly, one of the basic devices of personalized fascist propaganda is the concept of the ‘great little man’, a person who suggests both omnipotence and the idea that he is just one of the folks, a plain, red-blooded American, untainted by material or spiritual wealth. Psychological ambivalence helps to work a social miracle. The leader image gratifies the follower’s twofold wish to submit to authority and to be the authority himself. 

Theodor W. Adorno, "Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda", The Culture Industry. Selected essays on mass culture, ed. J. M. Bernstein, Routledge, London, 1991, pp. 141-142