Thoughts on economics and liberty

Category: Philosophy

Mass formation #2 – Link with mass hypnosis

These are some other references I’ve located.

CANELAS, José Martins. Psychoanalysis, mass formation and democracy. Ide (São Paulo) [online]. 2018, vol.40, n.66, pp. 75-79. ISSN 0101-3106.

Freudian theory and the pattern of fascist propaganda

And an article

Freud’s Mass Hypnosis with Spinoza’s Superstitious Wonder: Balibar’s Multiple Transindividuality – Christopher Davidson



Balibar. Politics. Transindividual. Freud. Spinoza. Foucault.


This response focuses on Balibar’s method of thinking transindividuality through multiple figures, in their similarities as well as their productive differences. His essay ‘Philosophies of the Transindividual: Spinoza, Marx, Freud’ combines the three titular figures in order to better think the multifaceted idea of ‘classical’ transindividuality. Balibar’s method combines the three but nonetheless maintains their dissimilarities as real differences. This response attempts to test or apply that method in two ways. The first application links Balibar’s analysis of Freud’s hypnotic leader with a theme Balibar does not here discuss: wonder’s connection to superstition in Spinoza. At the level of their effects, superstitious wonder and hypnosis are nearly identical transindividual processes which lead to affective mass formation. However, their causes are quite distinct. This response details the similar effects and different causes, then asks the question: does their difference render them irreconcilable or complementary? Given the prominent role Spinoza plays in Balibar’s work, and the strong overall equivalence of wonder and hypnosis, this first application of Balibar’s method of multiple combination likely presents a complementarity rather than a conflict. This response’s second application, attempting to integrate another figure into the transindividual multiple, presents greater difficulties: what role, if any, could Foucault play in Balibar’s transindividuality? With Foucault, the tensions or differences perhaps amount to fundamental and thoroughgoing incompatibilities. However, combining Foucault with ‘classical’ transindividuality potentially extends and deepens each. This response concludes with examples of these problematic tensions as well as possibly fruitful combinations.


In Balibar’s ‘Philosophies of the Transindividual: Spinoza, Marx, Freud’, readers familiar with his previous writings can sense the continual unfolding of his thinking. He is willing to let his ideas undergo modification as he adds qualifications to certain earlier theses. He admits there may be something which exceeds, as a line of flight, what philosophies of transindividuality can express. All three thinkers have been treated in his previous works, but here their combination is more sustained. He also acknowledges certain differences between the three thinkers he here connects: for instance, the divergent roles that imagination plays in Marx and Spinoza. My response takes the productive tension generated by such differences, between different thinkers aligned within transindividuality, as its theme.

Their alignment is not strict equivalence: rather than a single, set  ‘object’, the transindividuality these three express is a ‘programmatic name… opening onto multiple, perhaps mutually contradictory possible interpretations’ [2]. Re-reading thinkers through ‘what they have in common and what distinguishes them’ [4] generates a productive tension. The formal method seems to mirror the content: transindividuality is multiple, and, his conceptual resources also are multiple. Balibar uses this re-reading style to great effect, multiplying the impact of each of these three thinkers. However, for those of us attempting to build upon Balibar’s insights, it raises an issue of how we can best re-read other possible contributions to the multiple transindividual. Little would be gained by multiplying infinite nearly identical examples, but conversely, no productive tension would be established with fundamentally incompatible thinkers who contest, not complement, his most recent expression of transindividuality.

Since the working of his method is best seen in the practice of philosophy which his re-readings enact, my response itself practices a comparative re-reading. Wonder’s link to superstition in Spinoza is almost exactly equivalent to the hypnotic Freudian leader—except they also involve fundamentally different causes and desires. Balibar’s essay contains a possible response, but a question lingers: what greater difficulties may face an attempt to integrate another philosophy into Balibar’s classical philosophies of transindividuality?

Freud on Hypnosis

Balibar’s essay speaks of the two major processes through which identification sets up mass formation in Freud. As with transindividuality in general, these processes are ‘reversible’ [18] : they can be analyzed at an individual level (libidinal desire) and at the mass level (a group identity through the shared love object of the leader). Through libidinal impulses directed toward the leader, narcissistic antisociality is minimized, permitting the mass to bind together. I will focus on the hypnotic means to this identification, rather than the amorous process.

When hypnotized, a state is induced in which the world falls away, as in sleep. ‘The hypnotist is the sole object; no other object… receives any attention’ [Freud 1921: 67]. Disconnected from the real world, one accepts the hypnotist’s description of reality. If the hypnotist says, ‘you are on an island,’ one ‘sees’ the island. Hypnosis prevents the ego from thinking conscious thoughts of its own. Further, one becomes suggestible in terms of action. As with ‘the fright hypnosis of animals’ [ibid.: 68], hypnosis causes ‘reduced narcissism’ [ibid.: 66] and a ‘soaking up of personal initiative’ [ibid.: 67] to such an extent that it paralyzes the individual and can even lead to self-harm. Paralysis is broken only on the command of the leader. As Balibar notes, hypnosis causes a ‘suspension of the judgment of reality’[19]  as the hypnotist supplants the functioning of the superego.

What distinguishes hypnosis from the mass is merely the number, Freud says: hypnotized and hypnotist fuse into a mass of two. Two are not yet a social mass, which requires that the ego is identified with other egos—which further reduces narcissistic aggression since ‘he is me’. In short, on the basis of one’s hypnotic/libidinal attachment the leader, one identifies with the mass as comrades or siblings, since each has an attachment to the same object. This produces non-narcissistic submission as a precondition for the mass. But there is an original precondition allowing for such attachment: the desire to appease guilt related to the primal horde’s slaying of the father (and correlative Oedipal desires). Before any hypnosis, the individual already “wishes to be dominated by an absolute power, it is in the highest degree addicted to authority’ [Freud 1921: 82]. Institutions nurture and stabilize this addiction. The paradigmatic institutions of army and church work differently, but have similar foundations and functions. Balibar notes these institution’s differences without reducing them to species of an identical general process [22]: a specific example of transindividual multiplicity. A transindividual is not one process churning out an infinity of instances, but many irreducible levels and co-constitutions, working as an ensemble in their differences to make a metastable transindividual.

Spinoza on Wonder

The following comparison of hypnosis with Spinoza’s wonder will put Balibar’s comparative method into practice. Wonder (re-read after Freud) is nearly identical to hypnosis. However, the two remain fundamentally different. The tension of this difference-in-similarity, once addressed, can assist us if we later expand the multiplicity already established by Balibar to other conceptual resources.

Spinoza’s Ethics shows wonder in its initial state. Wonder is caused when one is affected by something so new and so incomprehensible that one cannot connect it to —or think of— anything else. Spinoza defines wonder in Part III, Proposition 52: ‘When … we imagine in an object something singular, which we have never seen before,… there is nothing in itself which [the mind] is led to consider from considering that’ singular thing [1985: 523]. Part V, Proposition 9 further specifies: wonder ‘prevents the mind from being able to think [because it] engages the Mind solely in considering one [object], so that it cannot think of others’ [ibid.: 601] Like hypnosis, conscious thought is blocked in wonder as the mind focuses intensely on only one thing.

If fear accompanies wonder, desire is paralyzed and the ability to strive for self-preservation is reduced. ‘Consternation is attributed to one whose desire to avoid an evil is restrained by Wonder at the evil he fears.  … But because consternation arises from a double timidity, it can be more conveniently defined as a fear that keeps a man senseless or vacillating so that he cannot avert the evil’ [ibid: 540], as Spinoza says in Part III, Definition of the Affects XLII.  Beyond wonder’s stunning of thought, fearful consternation stuns one at the level of desire, too—we cannot act, as with the paralysis of hypnosis.

Wonder is related to the affect of ambition in leaders, through the link of superstition, which is how wonder becomes transindividual. Wonder is ignorance by definition: one cannot understand the object. Wonder’s void of thought and action typically does not go unfilled: the world always has more than enough ambitious people ready to suggest their own superstitious ideas and theological-political rules for action. Part 3, proposition 31 of the Ethics defines ambition generally as the desire ‘that everyone should love what he loves, and hate what he hates… This striving to bring it about that everyone should approve his love and hate is really Ambition.’ In the Ethics’ Appendix to Part I, wonder is repeatedly linked to priestly ambition: for instance, ‘those whom the people honor as interpreters of Nature and the Gods… know that if ignorance is taken away, then foolish wonder, the only means they have of arguing and defending their Authority, is also taken away.’

In addition to wonder at God, or Nature, consternation about fortune or political events also calls up a flight to leaders. Superstition builds on natural ignorance, by proclaiming seductive imaginative ideas to fill the hole wonder leaves in the mind, and claiming that those in authority must be followed to avoid consternating fears. This is seen most clearly in the Theological-Political Treatise, which bears out the same affective relational nexus as the Ethics and extends it to leaders’ use of institutions. ‘But since people are often reduced to such desperate straits that they cannot arrive at any judgment… [they] are quite ready to believe anything… When the mind is in a state of doubt, the slightest impulse can easily steer it in any direction’ [Spinoza 2007: 3]. As with hypnotic suggestibility, the paralyzing fear and vacillating doubt of consternation can be broken by the advice—or command—of a leader on matters moral and political. Wonder can even lead to self-harm, circumventing the desire for self-preservation, as in hypnotic suggestibility. On the command of the leader, people “will fight for their servitude … and will not think it humiliating but supremely glorious to spill their blood and sacrifice their lives’ [ibid.: 6].

As with Freud, individual affects prepare the way for a relation to a leader, which then has a mass effect as the superstitious are bound together in obedience and institutionalized ceremonies. Theological-political authority requires obedience, that is, similar actions amongst members of the group. Because over time laws and customs modify the ingenium or character of the people, wonder’s receptivity to following advice and instruction is not a matter only of an individual’s inadequate ideas, but affects the thoughts and characteristic behaviors of the people as a whole: a transindividual process which up to this point, resembles Freud’s hypnosis point for point.

I will now briefly note tensions between Spinoza and Freud within the just-described process of transindividuality. Wonder has very similar effects to hypnosis but its cause is prior to any leader and requires no intermediary: sheer ignorance in the face of a singular event. That is, in Spinoza, it is possible to be ‘hypnotized’ in wonder without a relation to a hypnotist, whereas pre-existing love of the leader (… and a father-figure, and an archaic relation to the primal father) is a cause or condition of Freudian hypnosis. Further, wonder catches us completely by surprise: one cannot desire even unconsciously to be in wonder since it is defined by its heretofore-unmet singularity. However, in Freud, one always already desires to be hypnotized: the individual is already reaching out, begging for a leader. At a minimum, the initial desire pre-exists in Freud and has a father-figure object. Depending on how one reads the myth of the primal horde, this desire might be a horde instinct. In Spinoza’s wonder, there is initially neither a desire directed to an object nor a relevant relational—let alone mass—affect.

Finally, the desires which wonder does prompt (to truly know and to have confidence in one’s power of acting) can be satisfied through increased knowledge and power, before any leader presents the pseudo-satisfaction of superstition. This is of course rare but it is possible. However, it appears that only a father-figure of some sort can resolve the desire for domination which lies behind hypnosis. (Even if the reader thinks these distinctions fail to show any significant difference between hypnosis and wonder, at a minimum, hopefully the reader will find that the affect of consternation specified Balibar’s remarks on the political double relation of utility-affect, and that the connection to Freud illuminated Balibar’s comments on the role of hypnosis in mass formation.)

Despite wonder and hypnosis being so close in many ways, the different causes and desires which they involve can hardly be ignored. Let us recall, however, that Balibar’s method of comparison does not require exact identity among its multiple constitutive references. In fact, much like a transindividual, his work is robust and resilient precisely through its maintenance of certain tensions between multiple factors. It is in this way that Balibar’s essay contains a possible response to the divergences between Freud and Spinoza. Balibar noted that the Freudian transindividual is constituted in multiple, non-identical principles (amorous and hypnotic) and in multiple, non-identical institutions (army and church). Balibar states that their non-identity is complementary. These “antithetical principles” nonetheless support “an intrinsic duality” of narcissism-reducing mass identification [19], thus securing the transindividual more comprehensively. In a roughly similar fashion, the divergence of hypnosis and wonder could presumably be complementary despite their different principles.


However, questions remain: how might the three classical transindividual thinkers be usefully compared to other thinkers, and what kind of divergences would cause unsolvable problems rather than productive tensions? Can a thinker explicitly opposed to elements of Marxian and Freudian thought nonetheless be placed alongside them in the element of transindividuality? This is a rather higher hurdle to clear than the wonder-hypnosis divergence. Let us again query Balibar’s comparative method, but now through Michel Foucault. (Forgive my temptation to go a step beyond the multiplicity of Marx-Spinoza-Freud, as Balibar was tempted to go a step beyond the letter of Spinoza.) Is there a place for Foucault within this multiplicity? If not, whichever specific aspects of Foucault bar him from it will be instructive about how the comparative method works.

Some of Balibar’s fellow travelers have made valuable contributions to transindividuality which might establish a tentative rapport with Foucault, though I am most curious what Balibar himself would say in this regard. Jason Read notes that Foucault occasionally links his own theory of subject formation to Marx [2015: 233]. Warren Montag has discussed Foucault and Louis Althusser through their tension on ideology alongside their shared antihumanism [1995]. Althusser himself briefly links between Spinoza on religious ceremonies and Foucault on disciplinary power [1997: 3]. Pierre Macherey, at greater length, connects Foucault to aspects of Spinoza which are relevant to transindividuality [1989].

There are allusions to Foucault in Balibar’s essay, such as ‘the episteme underlying the “human sciences”’ [18] and quasi-transcendentals [27-8]). It also contains themes Balibar has discussed alongside Foucault in other works, such as philosophical anthropology [2017], points of heresy [2015a], and Foucault’s productive tensions with post-Marxian political thought [2015b; 1992]. The complexity of Balibar’s thought in these works cannot be done justice here, let alone their relation to transindividuality. However, speaking generally, such references to Foucault seem to require neither his exclusion nor his inclusion in the multiple constitution of the transindividual.

The question remains, then: might specific aspects of Foucault contribute substantially to transindividuality? Conversely, which parts of Foucault might be obstacles to thinking the transindividual? I offer some initial thoughts here.

Balibar speaks in this essay of multiple levels (Spinoza’s individual conatus, interpersonal imitation, and broader political totality; Marx’s doublet of commodity fetishism and juridical fetishism), and of horizontal and vertical relations (Freud’s identification with other egos, and relation to the model). These relations are distinct in their functioning, much as Foucault’s three “axes” (knowledges, power-relations, and ethical subjectivity) are co-constitutive of experience through distinct operations which cannot be reduced to each other. In Foucault and Balibar both, the divergence of axes, which also cross at the very heart of the subject, generates complex and non-reductive accounts.

Practices of the self and governmentality (governing oneself in order to better govern others, as well as governing others so that they can eventually govern themselves) seem to be transindividual at their very core. Both exist socially—one finds oneself already born into a mode of subjectivation or governmentality—and yet that social mode offers specific practices by which the individual works upon and transforms itself.

Power in Foucault can work on pre-individual parts of a person, as in disciplinary power’s fragmenting of the body, just as much as it can work on the transindividual population, as in biopolitics’ use of statistical norms. On a certain reading of Foucault, power is—to employ Balibar’s description of transindividuality—not a monolithic, top-down totality which would ‘pre-exist’ individuals but instead needs to ‘be individualised’ in different bodies [2]. Power is productive: it is not a strictly negative, repressive prohibition of what is, but leads to the not-yet.  Foucault constantly underscores the inherent mobility of history, which Balibar locates in Marx’s Veränderbarkeit and Spinoza’s shifting ratio of utility and affects.

Further, at every point of its operation, power produces unpredictable resistances to its functioning. This puts one in mind of psychosis in Freud, which Balibar says is a radical anti-sociality caused precisely by processes of socialization: psychosis reveals the  ‘the edge of the transindividual, where it “decomposes”, or tends to exceed itself, by destabilizing the figures of individuality and of community it instituted’ [27]. As but one example, Foucault claims that confession produced a rash of cases of demonic possession in nuns [1999: 204-17]. The very process of regulating bodies sometimes provokes unforeseen outbursts. Knowledge-power (itself a relation of relations) similarly constructs forms of knowledge that inevitably render unknowable their privileged objects. The norm is constructed on the basis of analyzing the abnormal, yet the definition of “abnormal” is constantly reformulated since it never quite captures its intended object.

There are difficulties, however, in integrating Foucault into transindividuality. If Foucault has no ontology, then that likely blocks him from transindividuality, the thinking together of ontology and politics. Or perhaps he has the wrong ontology: other readers of Foucault argue that he presents not un ensemble but das Ganze—an abstraction of ‘social being to the detriment of the individual’ [3]—just that which Balibar critiques. Also, Balibar has charted Foucault’s complex contestation of Marxist thought. Given certain post-Marxian themes in Balibar’s transindividuality, do any specific disagreements disqualify Foucault from the transindividual multiple?

What Balibar has established—and what his newer work further elaborates—about multiple classical discourses of transindividuality needs no assistance from Foucault, nor from me. However, I thought it worthwhile to raise these questions, to follow Balibar’s indication ‘that it may be profitable, at this stage of exploration and of construction of a new “grammar” for philosophy… to unfold—as far as possible—all the potentialities’ [3] of transindividual thinking.



Althusser, Louis 1997. The Only Materialist Tradition, Part 1: Spinoza, in The New Spinoza, ed. Warren Montag and Ted Stolze, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Balibar, Étienne 1992. The Question of Nominalism, in Michel Foucault: Philosopher, ed. Timothy Armstrong, New York: Routledge.

Balibar, Étienne 2015a. Foucault’s Point of Heresy: ‘Quasi-transcendentals’ and the Transdisciplinary Function of the Episteme, Theory, Culture & Society 32/5&6: 45-77.

Balibar, Étienne 2015b. L’anti-Marx de Michel Foucault, in Marx & Foucault: Lectures, Usages, Confrontations, eds. Christian Laval, Luca Paltrinieri, and Ferhat Taylan, Paris: La Découverte.

Balibar, Étienne 2017. Citizen Subject: Foundations for Philosophical Anthropology, trans. Steven Miller, New York: Fordham University Press.

Foucault, Michel 1999 (2003). Abnormal: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1974-1975, New York: Picador.

Freud, Sigmund 1921 (2004). Mass Psychology and Other Writings, trans. J.A. Underwood, London: Penguin Books.

Macherey, Pierre 1989 (1992). Towards a Natural History of Norms, in Michel Foucault: Philosopher, ed. Timothy Armstrong, New York: Routledge.

Montag, Warren 1995. ‘The Soul is the Prison of the Body’: Althusser and Foucault, 1970-1975, Yale French Studies 88: 53-77.

Read, Jason 2015. The Politics of Transindividuality, Chicago: Haymarket Books.

Spinoza, Benedict 1985. Ethics, in The Collected Works of Spinoza, Volume 1, trans. and ed. Edwin Curley, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Spinoza, Benedict 2007. Theological-Political Treatise, trans. and ed. Jonathan Israel, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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“Mass formation” #1 – A concept invented by Freud in 1921

This concept has recently surfaced and I thought I’d have a quick look at its origin. There seems to be no standard book on this topic but this 1988 article has a discussion:

GROUP FORMATION AND IDEOLOGY. TEXT AND CONTEXT by MAX HERNANDEZ – The International Journal of Psycho-Analysis; Jan 1, 1988; 69, Periodicals Archive Online pg. 163. The paper was presented at the 35th International Psychoanalytical Congress, July 1987, Montreal, Canada.

Durch die gleiche Ubertragung ihrer Gesichtspunkte, Voraussetzungen and Erkenntnisse wird die Psychoanalyse befahigt. Licht auf die Urspriinge unserer grossen kulturellen- Institutionen, der Religion, der Sittlichkeit, des Rechts, der Philosophie zu werfen. (S. Freud, 1913.)

The relationship established by psychoanalysis with the ideological and social field must take account of the questions posed by the social sciences on the one hand and psychoanalysis itself on the other. We may perhaps only be able to confer validity on our own ideas by a continuous and constant comparison of the psychoanalytic viewpoint, which asserts the radical individuality of man, with that of sociology, which takes into account the totality of social relationships (cf. Dahmer, 1983). It is a difficult task, therefore it is necessary to dispel the confusions that have arisen by equating social conflicts with conflicts within and between individuals. We are confronted with a twofold demand from the very start.

Freud (1913) suggested a critical function rather than a systematic contribution by psychoanalysis to the fields of culture and society. I will confine myself to this point of view. Namely that the purpose of psychoanalysis is not to provide answers but to open, or re-open, questions. This at least has the virtue of reminding us that these answers are in vain unless we do maintain the wish to know what gave rise to the question, i.e. if they do not leave enough space for further questioning.

‘The claims of psycho-analysis to scientific interest’ (Freud, 1913) was written during the  period when Freud was establishing his definitive views on transference (1912, 19 I 4a, 1915). It contains a precise reference to the ‘transference’ of viewpoints, hypotheses and knowledge which enables psychoanalysis to throw light on the origins of our major cultural institutions. It is interesting to note that Strachey, in the passage quoted in the epigraph at the beginning of this paper, translated Obertragung by application (Freud, 1913, p. 185). So if it is a transference that allows us to apply psychoanalysis, we are obliged, beyond the play on words, to apply to the study of applied psychoanalysis what psychoanalysis has discovered on the relationship of the thinker to his objects—in this case, cultural or social objects.

The understanding of mass psychology and ideology calls for an examination of social realities. The challenges presented by these realities are just as numerous as the possibilities they offer when we endeavour to grasp them through our conceptual instruments. The possible recourse to social analysis and the presence of a particular historical perspective in this paper point towards a better understanding of the situation of the psychoanalytic research worker investigating mass phenomena and the production of ideology.

I shall consider in particular one aspect of the very broad subject which brings us together: the relationship between the nature of the tie that links the mass and its leader, on the one hand, and ideological discourse, on the other. The field of inquiry must obviously be circumscribed for this purpose. Furthermore, in order to understand this, we must briefly review some of the realities whose historical unfolding has required a long period of time (longue duree).

We shall begin with a point emphasized by Moscovici (1985): the individual appears simultaneously with the appearance of the masses (in the modern sense of the term). This being said, it should be recalled that individual consciousness arose parallel to the passage of centuries of human history. As Freud said: ‘In the course of our development we have effected a separation of our mental existence into a coherent ego and into an unconscious and repressed portion which is left outside it; and we know that the stability of this new acquisition is exposed to constant knocks’ (1921, p. 131). This process began at the dawn of mankind, but it only became a matter for reflection when man shrugged off the ‘happiness’ in which he had supposedly lived in classical Greece, seen as an Arcadian image. The Greek polls was based on social relations that knew nothing of subjectivity and the unique value of the individual. ‘In the Apollonian order of citizens who were equal and united in the common weal, the person, the “self”, had not yet arisen: the individual was merely “an unreal shadow”‘ (Papaioannou, 1978, p. 8).

The social development that took place over a period of centuries was marked by fractures, discontinuities and regressions and involved the gradual realization of individuality—or, in Hegelian terms, the emergence of the self from its unreality. The history of the West is to an important degree that of the emancipation of the individual. The appearance of the individual coincided with the formation of two fundamental creations of modern times: the state and civil society.

In the field of ideas, even a cursory review of the development of the concept ‘person’ shows that it is one of great complexity, built up over a long period of time by way of a set of mediations occurring within the Judaeo-Christian tradition. The construction of this concept constitutes another aspect of the development of the notion of the subjective, shaped and defined in relation to the concept of the objective. This, in turn, was gradually worked out starting from the dichotomy introduced by the Ionian philosophers, between the psychic and physical worlds; internal representation and external reality. All this has had its effects, both on the representation of the self and on men’s awareness of themselves. It also confined our thoughts to those aspects of experience defined by the concept ‘person’.

It was just at the time when the ‘principle of subjectivity’ (Hegel, 1821) was being taken to the extremes of personal particularity that Freud’s critical ideas emerged. These made it possible for man to recognize himself as the subject of drives and drive derivatives. The ego was ousted from its presumed central position by the discovery of the unconscious. We can now return to Moscovici’s observation concerning the coincidence of the appearance of the individual and of the masses. This simultaneous event is grasped by Freud’s thought in both its aspects; on the one hand, the pathetic helplessness of the emancipated individual and, on the other, its dissolution in the mass. Thus harrassed, the human subject takes refuge in the narcissistic satisfactions of pathology or in the homogenizing gregariousness of the mass. If there is no acknowledgement of the split between conscious and unconscious, this will result in individual and mass pathology.

Two types of processes converge to make the appearance of modern masses possible. The first is a socio-historical phenomenon which is specifically urban and modern: the massification of society. As a result of the increased pace of demographic change, the individual particles, with their unsatisfied libidinal and aggressive valencies, are placed in a highly receptive position for them to be acted on by the psychological mechanisms which give rise to ‘mass formation’ (Massenbildung), which is the second type of process.

Freud’s study of the phenomenon of mass formation was undertaken through the analysis of a large number of examples (Freud, 1921). Thus, he considers the unruly crowds seized by panic, as described by le Bon and other nineteenth-century writers terrified by the possibility of a regression by civilized humanity to earlier and primitive forms of social organization (cf. Miller, 1983); the organized ‘masses’ of the Church and the Army; the primal horde and the phenomenon of a ‘group formation with two members’ (Freud, 1921, p. 115) in hypnosis, i.e. a mass of two.

Psychoanalysis has made vital contributions to our knowledge of the phenomenon of mass formation and to explaining the nature of the bond that unites the individuals in the group. From this point of view, ‘On narcissism: an introduction’ (Freud, 1914b) and ‘Group psychology and the analysis of the ego’ (Freud, 1921) offer us an approach that is the key to such an explanation. To oversimplify somewhat, a mass forms when the individual puts the leader in the place of his ego ideal. In this way the individual making up the mass can feel idealized because of the approval obtained from his ideal, i.e. idealized like an ideal ego. In this way, the unsatisfied libidinal valencies give way to a narcissistic saturation. The translations of the original text by Strachey into English and Lopez-Ballesteros into Spanish have not always respected the subtleties of the concepts Ideal, Idealich, das ideale ich and Ichideal (cf. De Gregorio, 1977). This has caused us some difficulty in our understanding of the formation of the ideal.

These ideas had, at the time, an enormous influence on the psychoanalytic technique and the theory of the therapeutic effects of psychoanalysis. This is clearly evident in three classical papers by Alexander (1925), Rado (1925) and Sachs (1925). For our purposes, these papers demonstrate the theoretical efforts to free the analytical couple from the condition of a ‘group formation with two members’ to which it might have been confined by a specific theory of technique. This was no easy matter because such a situation arose at least in the early stages of treatment. At the same time, the very corn-  position of the papers shows that the process as described does not escape the connotations of an indoctrination.

In the light of these essays, one clearly sees the reasons which explain the suggestibility of the masses as well as that of the hypnotized subject. The leader and the hypnotist are both in structurally homologous situations: they both occupy the position of the ego ideal, for the hypnotized subject no less than for the member of the mass.[1] Whether in the ‘group formation with two members’ or in the crowd, the fundamental motivation of the phenomenon is that it emerges as a response to helplessness. This is what causes the subject to lose himself in the fusion with an ego ideal. In this way he obtains the illusory security of having recovered his lost narcissism.

On the theoretical level, the ego referred to in ‘Group psychology …’ shows its essential bondages. Beyond any illusion of mastery, it is an ego dependent on the leader, ensnared in a mass formation in which it becomes alienated, liable to fascination and falling in love and the willing victim of suggestion and hypnosis. We may wonder with Repetto ‘what developments of his own theory Freud would have made to take account of the transition between the Narcissus who looked at his reflection in the pool and this “universal” man lost in mass psychology’ (1984, p. 101).

Certain aspects remain insufficiently developed in Freud’s formulation. One of these is the place of the early relationship between mother and child. The only reference to this in Freud’s text is in a footnote (Freud, 1921, p. 101). Another concerns the amplification and reverberation of violence and hostility in groups.[2] Guttman points out the following in a paper on Waelder’s contributions to the application of psychoanalysis to political and social phenomena: ‘The presence of free aggression in those who make up the mass, the intensity of motives for its formation, the desperateness of the population, their susceptibility to the intoxication of merging in the adventure of war all are factors which contribute to the generation of group volatility’ (1986, p. 846). In explaining the extreme forms of group hostility, Bion (1955) states that the classical concept of the primal scene is insufficient to explain group phenomena and he suggests that it should be reformulated in accordance with its group expressions. Both aspects might help us to arrive at a more accurate interpretation of aggressive phenomena in group behaviour.

Analysis of the tie that is at the base of mass formation throws some light on the relationship between the leader and the individual. Examination of the leader’s speech when he speaks as if he embodied the will of the mass can help us to understand some of the factors underlying ideological formations. Through his oratory, the leader appears to give shape and expression to widely scattered contents and wishes. An additional advantage is that the use of formulae means that no effort of thinking is necessary.

Freud reminds us that le Bon refers to ‘the truly magical power of words’ (1921, p. 80), that ‘Reason and arguments are incapable of combating certain words and formulas’ and that the individual forming part of a group ‘is no longer himself, but has become an automaton who has ceased to be guided by his will’ (p. 76).

To an important extent there is a direct relationship, an internal kinship, between the leader’s words and what is commonly understood by ideology. The word ‘ideology’ seems to have been coined by de Tracy (1754-1836). With Cabanis and a group of philosophers, he used it to refer to the correct way of approaching the study of the role of the human mind in the formation of ideas: a kind of genetic theory of ideas. In Die Deutsche Ideologie, Marx uses the term in a different sense, referring to the system of ideas governing the spirit of a man or social group. Mannheim (1936), from the point of view of the sociology of knowledge, and Reich (1946) and Money-Kyrle (1951), from the psychoanalytic approach, contribute to the clarification—and complication—of the term in a period which witnessed bitter ideological feuds.

Together with ‘Civilization and its discontents’ (1930), ‘The future of an illusion’ (1927) is the work of Freud which is most directly related to a psychoanalytic understanding of contemporary history and society. The two works are closely connected with each other and the propositions they contain enable us to determine the connexions between the social dimension of ideology and its intrapsychic function.

On the basis of Mannheim’s ideas (1966), we consider that ideology embraces a particular human group’s vision of the world, history and its relationship with these; it therefore conforms to the logical criteria proper to the culture which produces it. As Geertz (1971, p. 13) points out, ‘one of the minor ironies of modern intellectual history is that the term “ideology” itself has come to be entirely ideologized’. Mannheim’s attempts to arrive at a value-free conception of ideology are clear proof of the difficulties inherent in the very notion of ideology. With this reservation, we can attempt a definition of ideology suitable for our purposes. Ideology assembles a set of values, beliefs and ideals by which people take account of their social reality.

The aspect of ideology which I wish to discuss is that connected with forms of thinking in which, on the basis of ‘one overriding hypothesis’ (Freud, 1933, p. 159), it is claimed that answers can be given to all questions. It is true, and Ricoeur (1974) has argued this convincingly, that social groups need an image which represents them in order to take part in the scene of the social drama in which it has fallen to them to live, and this is why ideology is constitutive of all social action. It is also true that some ideological propositions contain positive critical aspects, often in the form of utopian aspirations (Habermas, 1982), I will concentrate, however, on the aspects of ideology which approximate error and falsehood, i.e. those configurations of ideology which are at best illusory if not actually delusional (cf. Reich, 1933). As such, they are the rationalized aspects of complicated unconscious motivations.

I am referring to that cognitive strategy which subordinates facts to ideas and proves to be schematic in relation to the reality which it claims to take account of and which it often distorts. Ideology thus sets itself up as a discourse which aims to rule the behaviour of the so-called agents of history. It is inherent in the constitution of ideology that, rather than purporting to be a mental map of reality, by its nature it seeks to guide reality in a specific direction. It is therefore clear that ideology is always connoted. One of the objects of the ideological proposition is to impose its logic on other groups. Hence there are ideologies which uphold the status quo and others which call it into question.

By analogy with Freud’s comments on the term Weltanschauung (1933), it seems necessary to locate ideology as an ideo-affective structure and compare it with beliefs, religious conceptions, world views and cognitive organizations of the type of scientific paradigms. As a systematic set of attitudes, beliefs and explanations, ideology straddles belief and critical thought. It may be noted that while some ideological formations appear to arise from a consensus or a tradition, others have apparently been constructed and put into circulation by ideologists or politicians. Again, the acceptance of ideologies may be particularly important for the psychical economy of certain individuals—for instance, when the ideological affiliations take the form of defences against depressive feelings or persecutory anxieties—but they may also be accepted for conventional reasons (Money-Kyrle, 1951).

From the psychoanalytic viewpoint, ideology then shows the effects of the omnipotence of thought.[3] This narcissistic hypercathexis of ideas is at the root of the production of a defensive structure which excludes painful aspects of reality—by selective idealizations and denigrations—at the same time as it furnishes the illusory and immediate satisfaction of wishes trapped by mechanisms of idealization and set in circulation by identificatory processes. In this way, it is shared by a group. Just as investigation of the aspect of identification is the key to an understanding of mass psychology, the study of the processes of idealization is fundamental to the understanding of ideology.

The question that immediately arises is: what is the form taken by the type of affective, ethical and aesthetic sensitivity which upholds the set of shared beliefs which can be maintained only at the cost of denial of the perception of everyday reality? As already stated, we are for the present leaving aside the elements of ideology which can  contribute to lucid criticism and appropriate action with regard to current social and political situations. We are concentrating on the aspects of ideology which form a kind of ‘false consciousness’ which, although claiming to be all-embracing, is segmental and partial.

In discussing the ‘belief complex’, Rosolato (1978, 1983) proposes that, in addition to the suppression of the individual’s own drives, we must take into account an ‘abandonment of the very powers of reason [in a] .. . mental sacrifice’ (1978, p. 18). This attitude of belief which predominates in ideological affiliations may perhaps explain the co-existence of pi-opositions which bear witness to the presence of an appropriate reality testing and forms of reasoning that are so distorted by pathological mechanisms as to appear as delusional ideas. I am referring principally to those caused by splitting, denial and disavowal.

The hinge-mechanism which joins the phenomena of group formation and the production and propagation of ideology (in the sense in which we have been using the term) is provided by the convergence of unconscious processes which establish, on the one hand, the bond between the individual in the mass and the leader and, on the other, enable the latter to internalize and take over the massive support which activates the omnipotence of ideas which, in turn, sets in motion the production of the ideological discourse. The individual in the mass relates to the leader in such a way that he accepts the leader’s discourse as if it were his own. On the emotional level, it is a matter of the denial of any lack, whether in the field of suffering, renunciation of pleasure or the brevity of life. From the standpoint of ideas what is involved is sharing in an omnipotent ideation. The formation of the mass contains the germ of acceptance of the ideological proposition.

It is worth repeating that, just as both masses and the individual are modern creations, so too are ideologies. Ideologies, in the strict sense of the term, replace the traditional legitimations of the hierarchies of order and domination. As Habermas says, ‘legitimations that are no longer (1927, pp. 30-1) and arises from our inability to accept our helplessness and defencelessness. In order to develop emotionally and unfold his creative potential, man requires a more realistic vision of the world; he ‘will have to admit to [himself] the full extent of [his] helplessness and [his] insignificance in the machinery of the universe’ (p. 49).

This need for protection and this intolerance of helplessness may explain the function of domination conveyed by ideology and the acceptance of this domination it engenders (even in the dominating groups themselves). Submission to the leader is explained by the fact that he has been granted the function of absolute dominion over the individual. The granting of this function is based on surrender of the idealized powers of the individual himself. In this way the leader ‘acquired’ control of the imaginary means of control and reproduction of the social universe. As the anthropologist Godelier nicely put it, ‘in this way the dominant groups in pre-statal societies assumed the imaginary monopoly of the social imaginary’ (1979).

Ideology, constructed from the remains of the shipwreck of the magico-religious systems of social legitimation and explanation of the world on the reefs of scientific thought, presents itself to the individual consumer as a means to deny differences and lacks, and as a commodity that enables him to participate in an illusion of omniscience. The structure of an ideology takes the form of a system of ideas which sets out to explain the world and society, its coherence conceals the error on which it is based and its simplicity glides over the shortcomings it conceals. As a restitutive formation, it endeavours to cover the narcissistic wound caused to mankind by the progress of rational knowledge. To paraphrase Freud, we may say that ideology is the delusion of mankind and delusion the ideology of the individual. The schematic nature of this formulation warns us that it might itself be ideological.

This effort to apply psychoanalysis to the understanding of ideology, in its relationship to mass psychology, has followed the displacements of a ‘transference’ of psychoanalytic viewpoints, hypotheses and findings. It is this transference which enables us to consider and evaluate social deeds beyond our clinical practice. A critical sound are replaced by new ones which, on the one hand, stem from criticism of the dogmatism of traditional interpretations of the world and thus lay claim to scientific character and, on the other hand, maintain legitimating functions . . (1982, p. 75). Because of these two aspects of ideology—its claims to scientific validity and its dogmatic function—ideologies tend to be held immune from analysis and they are thereby enabled to take refuge in the individual’s split consciousness.

From the point of view of this paper, the presence of mystifying elements in ideologies which go beyond the illusory—in Winnicott’s (1971) sense of the word—and border on the delusional, may be understood as the result of a complex process whereby the individual remains fixated in a narcissistic posture. As a result of the omnipotence of ideas on the one hand and the ‘mental sacrifice’ effected by splitting, projection, denial and disavowal on the other, the narcissistic posture is maintained, fluctuating between feelings of narcissistic depletion which guarantee submission to the leader alternating with oceanic feelings of elation which are experienced as the conjunction of opposites.

Let us accept that this happens at the level of individuals. If we now turn to the social aspects of the phenomenon, we see that groups need to have a representation of themselves. The root of the problem is that individuals are apparently bringing to the group ideology the representation of the relationship which they perceive as existing between themselves as individuals and the conditions of their existence (Althusser, 1973, 1984). Althusser advanced the following thesis: ‘It is the imaginary nature of this relationship [not with the real world but with its conditions of existence] that sustains . . . the imaginary distortion that can be observed . . . in all ideologies’ (1984, p. 56). The convergence of individual, partial and distorted points of view in the figure of the leader helps to maintain the illusion of possessing an all-embracing, transcendental and transubjective vision.

An error of judgement of the same kind as illusion contributes to the formation and persistence of ideology. However, as Freud reminds us, an illusion ‘is not the same thing as an error; nor is it necessarily an error’; it is characteristically ‘derived from human wishes’ analysis of this paper could prevent it becoming an ideological projection of personal or institutional viewpoints. The explicit presence of a psychoanalytic theory of ideology could mean our reading of social phenomena avoids being distorted by the excessive weight of the ideological dimension. The theory underlying our clinical practice together with our institutions play a role of the utmost importance in our relation to society at large. The inclusion of this theme in the agenda of this Congress allows us to reflect on the conditions upon which our thinking is based.

Having said this, I should like to point out that soon we shall be celebrating the 500th anniversary of the voyage which not only proved that the Earth was round but also incorporated the geographical realities of this hemisphere in the Western Empires. It subjected the inhabitants of these human realities to domination and transposed the centre of this new world to Europe. What happened, and sometimes still happens, is that ‘the men who form the peoples marginal to the culture that gave birth to Western philosophy are put in parentheses: their humanity is viewed with suspicion’ (Zea, 1984, p. 61). During the last two centuries, Western rationalism, whose narrow-mindedness was demonstrated by Freud, dominated social and cultural thought. However, the flourishing of reason also opened up the way to critical reflection without arrogance. We believe that psychoanalysis facilitates a radical understanding of the problems of subjectivity and its place in society when structures of domination are internalized. It also supplies us with the tools to overcome ignorance due to forgetfulness, amnesia, suppression or denial. It also helps us to work through the traumas of a past which weighs down the historical present.

Now that we are gradually discovering the roundness of the world, we are beginning to realize that each of the large number of cultures that has existed is merely a circumstantial expression of the universe. Beyond ideological fictions, reality invalidates any attempt to impose any form of cultural monopoly. Gradually, painfully and fortunately, we are beginning to see that we belong to a single species: the human race. Within the values of truth, justice and respect for the individual, there is room for a thousand different expressions of humanity. It is up to our science to help to enhance the status of our vision and the breadth of our tolerance.


The relationship between the phenomenon of ‘mass formation’ (Massenbildung) and the production and circulation of ideologies is examined. The explanation of the said relationship must take into account both the social dimension as well as the intrapsychic structure of the ideological. To achieve this a brief review of Freud’s ideas on group psychology and of some definitions of ideology, namely those proposed by Ricoeur, Althusser and Habermas is expounded. In the same way as the understanding of the vicissitudes of identification is crucial to gain insight into ‘mass formation’, the investigation of the processes of idealization is vital to the understanding of the ideological.


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[1] It should be noted that Klein tells us that, on re-reading ‘Group psychology …’ she had the impression that, although Freud concentrated on introjective mechanisms, he was to some extent describing processes of projective identification (Klein, 1955)

[2] It is appropriate to remember that ‘this violence .. . has nothing to do with the struggle for life. The object of aggression in the primitive ceremonies of death is … biologically speaking indifferent: the subject eliminates it … for pleasure so to speak … so as to complete the loss of the maternal object’ (Lacan, 1978, p. 51).

[3] In Freud’s thought, the separation of the level of representations from that of affects which follows from the concept of drive, facilitates location of omnipotence in a specifically ideational and wishful dimension. In the Kleinian model, the overall notion of fantasy makes the separation of ideas and affects a defensive artifice (cf. Costantino & Seiguer, 1987; Seiguer, 1987).

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My father’s message to the world – including a suggested message of ethics and harmony

My father is going to undergo some pretty severe therapy to try to control his rather aggressive cancer which could – if things don’t work out well – debilitate his cognitive and other functions. A couple of days I asked him to summarise his life and also his message for his children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces. He has written it down and also spoken it aloud. (I’ll provide the written version in a day or two).

I’ve made a collage, so there’s visual context to his message.

His message is of great interest to our family but his moral teachings might be relevant to others – see from 3 minutes 40 seconds.

If interested in reading his book on Vedic Metaphysics, you can visit:

He has written a few other things at:

You can write to him at He will appreciate your moral support.



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A theology article from 1975 which confirms that the Pope and the Church have breached the basic message of the Bible

Came across this: Man’s Basic Freedom and Freedom of Conscience in the Bible Cooper, Eugene J. Irish Theological Quarterly , Volume 42 (4): 12 – Dec 1, 1975

The article can’t be shared – which is a great pity, since this document shows clearly that the Church has breached the basic principles of the Bible.


Jesus assimilated the Golden Rule into his moral message. In Matthew’s Gospel one finds both the positive and the negative expression of the Golden Rule. In the more generally expressed form the Golden Rule is stated positively: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ (Mt 7: 12). The concrete form, where the Golden Rule is applied to judging and justice, is expressed as a negative admonition: ‘Do not judge, that you may not be judged. For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged; and with what measure you measure, it shall be measured to you’ (Mt 7: 1.2). The latter statement refers to the danger of judging according to human standards. This insight is related to the wise old saying, errare humanum est — to err is human. It is one of man’s limitations that he makes mistakes. But here in Matthew’s Gospel it is more than a case of repeating ancient wisdom. The allusion is to the Kingdom of God. The Christian should not sit in judgment on his neighbour because he believes in God the Father, who is the only and ultimate judge.

The statement ‘Do not Judge’ underscores basic Christian liberty, even in the case of an erring conscience, and excludes the possibility of condemnation as a sinner. Whether or not one’s neighbour’s action is a sin, it is up to the judgment of the sole judge, the Father. Paul expresses the same thought: ‘I have nothing on my conscience, yet I am not thereby justified; but he who judges me is the Lord. Therefore, pass no judgment before the time; until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the things hidden in darkness and make manifest the counsels of hearts; and then everyone will have his praise from God’ (1 Cor 4: 4-5).

Since the conscience is the ultimate norm, a condemnation of the decision as sinful from anyone else is excluded.


Paul gives one concrete example of the limits placed on freedom of conscience in his first letter to the community of Christians at Corinth. Chapters eight to ten of this epistle are concerned with a controversy in this early community regarding the eating of meat sacrificed to idols. The meat, used as offerings in pagan rites, was later sold on the open market in Corinth. The Christians were divided in their opinion as to whether they could buy and eat such meat in good conscience. Some said, the meat has been used in pagan rites and therefore cannot be consumed by Christians. Others were of the opinion that, since Christians knew there was only one true God and no idols and did not believe in the idols of the pagan cult, they could in good conscience eat such meat. Paul’s answer is that both those who in conscience cannot eat the meat (referred to as the ‘weak’ in Romans 14: 1-2) and those whose conscience allows them to eat the meat sacrificed to idols (the ‘strong’) do well, for both are following their respective consciences. For each must act according to his conscience. Yet he demands of the strong in conscience that they should take consideration of the weak and not give scandal. Paul states the right of each to follow his conscience, but then speaks of the obligation of love of neighbour.

In the situation described by Paul in his letter to the community of Corinth, there were two main rules of conduct. Each of the two — eating meat sacrificed to idols and not eating it — found a large group of followers, so that one could say there were two mutually exclusive patterns of behaviour, both practised by Christians, which led to the conflict Paul was asked to resolve. This is similar to today’s situation within the Church. The individual Christian can today more easily find a group of Christians who share his views on a particular aspect of morality or Christian practice. Whether in the realm of liturgical practice or in the strictly moral matter of family planning, one can find adherents of contradictory practices, each group calling itself Christian. Although one can appeal to all to compare their decision of conscience and moral behaviour to the norm of divine revelation in the Bible, the Scriptures offer no concrete solution in the way of a decision for one particular manner of behaviour in a plural situation. Paul himself did not decide that one group was behaving immorally, but requested the one group to be considerate of the other and to avoid scandalizing them. He did not prohibit their eating the meat.


By way of summary it can be said that the foundation for Christian freedom of conscience is man’s basic freedom and need for freedom of movement and a private domain of free self-determination. This basic freedom is reinforced by the belief in liberation from sin, death and evil through the Spirit in the Christian message. The individual has access to the objective True and Good through his subjective, however limited, faculties of recognition (reason) and the experience of being able to choose freely (free will). Baptized in the Spirit, the Christian lives in a bond with Jesus Christ as a son in the Son. This bond with Christ does not give the individual Christian any private illumination or revelation as to what is true and good, yet it is an important aspect of his formation of a decision of conscience, namely the Christian dimension of God’s Dominion and Kingdom, which enters every decision. His knowledge of the Christian message, for example, his knowledge of the morality of Jesus, and his life in the believing community are aids to the formation of his conscience.

It is evident that the individual Christian must take the life and opinion of his fellow Christians into consideration when making a decision of conscience. He may include the way of life and opinion of a few associates and friends. Should he discover that these share his opinion as to his choice of a Christian response to a moral question, he may refer to Matthew’s statement, that where Christians are gathered together in Christ’s name in the effort to seek God’s will, then God is with them, not in the sense that their decision is infallible, but in the sense that their striving to find God’s will is to be taken seriously and their decision must be regarded as a contribution to the general search for a Christian answer to a new moral problem. At the same time, the reverse is true. If the behaviour of a fellow Christian is regarded as non-acceptable to the community and even as sinful, one must first of all enter into dialogue with him and talk about his manner of behaviour. An individual’s response to a moral question may be regarded as wrong by the Christian community, which has the obligation and opportunity to take part in his further formation of conscience. The tradition of the whole Church must also be consulted and taken into account in the formation of the individual decision of conscience, but the experience of the whole Church may often be expressed in abstract, unified norms for all which do not adequately take into consideration the concrete situation of decision of the individual.



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