Thoughts on economics and liberty

Category: Philosophy

Gandhi on voluntary cow protection (he disliked coercion or laws)

I’m extracting here a few of Gandhi’s comments recorded in his Complete Works – (these are available from my server)

Vol. 10 : 5 August, 1909 – 9 April, 1910

From Hind Swaraj, 22-11-1909

READER: Now I would like to know your views about cow-protection.

EDITOR: I myself respect the cow, that is, I look upon her with affectionate reverence. The cow is the protector of India because, being an agricultural country, she is dependent on the cow. The cow is a most useful animal in hundreds of ways. Our Mahomedan brethren will admit this.

But, just as I respect the cow, so do I respect my fellow-men. A man is just as useful as a cow no matter whether he be a Mahomedan or a Hindu. Am I, then, to fight with or kill a Mahomedan in order to save a cow? In doing so, I would become an enemy of the Mahomedan as well as of the cow. Therefore, the only method I know of protecting the cow is that I should approach my Mahomedan brother and urge him for the sake of the country to join me in protecting her. If he would not listen to me I should let the cow go for the simple reason that the matter is beyond my ability. If I were overfull of pity for the cow, I should sacrifice my life to save her but not take my brother’s. This, I hold, is the law of our religion.

When men become obstinate, it is a difficult thing. If I pull one way, my Moslem brother will pull another. If I put on superior airs, he will return the compliment. If I bow to him gently, he will do it much more so; and if he does not, I shall not be considered to have done wrong in having bowed. When the Hindus became insistent, the killing of cows increased. In my opinion, cow-protection societies may be considered cow-killing societies. It is a disgrace to us that we should need such societies. When we forgot how to protect cows, I suppose we needed such societies.

What am I to do when a blood-brother is on the point of killing a cow? Am I to kill him, or to fall down at his feet and implore him? If you admit that I should adopt the latter course, I must do the same to my Moslem brother.

Who protects the cow from destruction by Hindus when they cruelly ill-treat her? Whoever reasons with the Hindus when they mercilessly belabour the progeny of the cow with their sticks? But this has not prevented us from remaining one nation.

Lastly, if it be true that the Hindus believe in the doctrine of non-killing and the Mahomedans do not, what, pray, is the duty of the former? It is not written that a follower of the religion of Ahimsa (nonkilling) may kill a fellow-man. For him the way is straight. In order to save one being, he may not kill another. He can only plead— therein lies his sole duty.

But does every Hindu believe in Ahimsa? Going to the root of the matter, not one man really practises such a religion because we do destroy life. We are said to follow that religion because we want to obtain freedom from liability to kill any kind of life. Generally speaking, we may observe that many Hindus partake of meat and are not, therefore, followers of Ahimsa. It is, therefore, preposterous to suggest that the two cannot live together amicably because the Hindus believe in Ahimsa and the Mahomedans do not.

Those who do not wish to misunderstand things may read up the Koran, and they will find therein hundreds of passages acceptable to the Hindus; and the Bhagavad-gita contains passages to which not a Mahomedan can take exception. Am I to dislike a Mahomedan because there are passages in the Koran I do not understand or like? It takes two to make a quarrel. If I do not want to quarrel with a Mahomedan, the latter will be powerless to foist a quarrel on me; and, similarly, I should be powerless if a Mahomedan refuses his assistance to quarrel with me. An arm striking the air will become disjointed. If everyone will try to understand the core of his own religion and adhere to it, and will not allow false teachers to dictate to him, there will be no room left for quarrelling.


In calling the cow-protection societies cow-killing societies, I have but stated the truth; for their object is to rescue the cow or protect her by bringing pressure on Mussalmans.

To rescue the cow by paying money is no protection of the cow; it is a way to teach the butcher to be deceitful. If we try to coerce the Mussalmans they will slaughter more cows. But if we persuade them or offer satyagraha against them they will protect her. No cow-protection society is necessary for doing this. That body should be for teaching Hinduism to the Hindus. It is better to kill an ox by a single blow of the sword than to kill it by starving it, by pricking it, by over-working it and thus torturing it.

Vol. 16: 1 September, 1917 – 23 April, 1918

Speech on Cow Protection, Bettiah (About October 9, 1917)

I am thankful to the Gaurakshini Sabha and to you all for inviting me to lay the foundation-stone of the gaushala4 in this town. For the Hindus, this is sacred work. Protection of the cow is a primary duty for every Indian. It has been my experience, however, that the way we set about this important work leaves much to be desired. I have given some thought to this serious problem and wish to place before you the conclusions I have formed.

These days cow protection has come to mean only two things: first, to save cows from the hands of our Muslim brethren on occasions like the Bakr-i-Id and, secondly, to put up gaushalas for decrepit cows.

We do not go the right way to work for protecting the cows against our Muslim brethren. The result has been that these two great communities of India are always at odds with each other and cherish mutual distrust. Occasionally, they even fight. The riot at Shahabad a few days ago bears out my statement. The problem calls for some serious thinking on the part of both the communities. Hundreds of Hindu friends indulged in rioting and looted the property of innocent Muslims. What virtue could there be in this? In fact, it was a very sinful thing to do.

The activities of the Gaurakshini Sabha result in a far larger number of cows being killed than are saved. Hinduism attaches special importance to non-violence. It is the very opposite of religious conduct to kill a Muslim in order to save a cow. If we wish the Muslims not to kill cows, we should bring about a change of heart in them. We shall not succeed by force. We should reach their hearts with prayer and entreaty and achieve our purpose by awakening their sense of compassion. In adopting this course, we should take a pledge that, while seeking to protect the cows, we shall bear no ill-will or malice towards Muslims or be angry with them or fight with them. It is when we have taken up such a reassuring attitude that we shall be qualified to raise the matter with them. It should be remembered that what we regard as sin is not seen in the same light by our Muslim brethren. On the contrary, for them it is a meritorious act to kill cows on certain occasions. Every person should follow his own religion. If it were true that killing of cows was enjoined by Islam, India would have had no genuine peace any time; as I understand the matter, however, killing of cows on occasions like Bakr-i-Id is not obligatory, but Muslim friends imagine it their duty to do so when we seek to prevent them by force. Be this as it may, I have no doubt in my mind that this problem can be solved only by tapascharya. The height of tapascharya on such occasions is to lay down one’s life for the sake of cows.

However, all Hindus are not qualified for such supreme tapascharya. Those who want to stop others from sinning must be free from sin themselves. Hindu society has been inflicting terrible cruelty on the cow and her progeny. The present condition of our cows is a direct proof of this. My heart bleeds when I see thousands of bullocks with no blood and flesh on them, their bones plainly visible beneath their skin, ill-nourished and made to carry excessive burdens, while the driver twists their tails and goads them on. I shudder when I see all this and ask myself how we can say anything to our Muslim friends so long as we do not refrain from such terrible violence. We are so intensely selfish that we feel no shame in milking the cow to the last drop. If you go to dairies in Calcutta, you will find that the calves there are forced to go without the mother’s milk and that all the milk is extracted with the help of a process known as blowing. The proprietors and managers of these dairies are none other than Hindus and most of those who consume the milk are also Hindus. So long as such dairies flourish and we consume the milk supplied by them, what right have we to argue with our Muslim brethren? It should be borne in mind, besides, that there are slaughter-houses. in all the big cities of India. Thousands of cows and bullocks are slaughtered in these. It is mostly from them that beef is supplied to the British. Hindu society keeps silent about this slaughter, thinking that it is helpless in the matter.

As long as we do not get this terrible slaughter stopped, I think it is impossible that we can produce any effect on the hearts of Muslims or protect the cows against them. Our second task, therefore, is to carry on agitation among our British friends. We are in no position to use brute strength against them. They also should be won over by tapascharya and gentleness. For them eating of beef is no religious act. It should be easier to that extent to persuade them. It is only after we have rid ourselves of the taint of violence which I mentioned earlier and have succeeded in persuading our British friends not to eat beef and kill cows and bullocks, it is only then that we shall be entitled to say something to our Muslim friends. I can assure you that, when we have won over the British, our Muslim brethren will also have more sympathy for us and perform their religious rites with some other kind of offering. Once we admit that we are also guilty of violence, the working of our gaushalas will change. We shall not reserve them merely for decrepit cows but maintain there well-nourished cows and bullocks as well. We shall endeavour to improve the breed of cattle and will also be able to produce pure milk, ghee, etc. This is not merely a religious issue. It is an issue on which hinges the economic progress of India. Economists have furnished irrefutable figures to prove that the quality of cattle in India is so poor that the income from their milk is much less than the cost of their maintenance. We can turn our gaushalas into centres for the study of economics and for the solution of this big problem. Gaushalas cost a great deal and at present we have to provide the expenses. The gaushalas of my conception will become self-supporting in future. They will not be located in the midst of cities. We may buy land in the neighbourhood of a city to the tune of hundreds of acres and locate these gaushalas there. We can raise on this land crops to serve as fodder for the cows and every variety of grass. We shall find good use for the valuable manure they yield by way of excrement and urine. I hope you will all give the utmost thought to what I have said. The Gaurakshini Sabha in Motihari has accepted this suggestion. It is my request, in the end, that both these institutions come together and undertake this big task.



I have a feeling that you are saddened after I have taken up my work for Bhangis. I could not, and I cannot, give up my work for Bhangis. But your being unhappy makes me sad and so, when I received your letter, I knew that, though you disapprove of my work for Bhangis, on the whole you don’t disapprove of all my activities. This came to me as a blessing. But I hope for more. In the name of Vaishnava dharma that most sacred dharma is being destroyed; in the name of cow-protection, destruction of cows is brought about; in the name of religion, the most irreligious practices are prevalent; posing to be men of religion, irreligious people lay down the law on religious matters. If I can see these things, how is it that you, who cherish Vaishnava dharma, should not see them? I find myself constantly asking this question. Contact with a Bhangi can never be sinful; killing a Muslim for [saving] cows can never be a righteous act; the holy books can never have enjoined untruth; men who give free rein to their desires ought not to rule in matters of religion; all this is axiomatic. How can there be any difference of opinion about this? Would you not like to use the influence you have acquired over the Vaishnava community towards this end? Can you not help men like me at least with your verbal support? What tapascharya can I go through to make you see things as I see them? I keep asking these questions. Please think [of them] inwardly again.

Letter to the Statesman, 16 January 1918

I said at the meeting that the Hindus had no warrant for resenting the slaughter of cows by their Mahomedan brethren, who kill them from religious conviction, so long as they themselves were a party to the killing by inches of thousands of cattle who were horribly ill-treated by their Hindu owners, to the drinking of milk drawn from cows in the inhuman dairies of Calcutta, and so long as they calmly contemplated the slaughter of thousands of cattle in the slaughterhouses of India for providing beef for the European and Christian residents of India. I suggested that the first step towards procuring full protection for cows was to put their own house in order by securing absolute immunity from ill-treatment of their cattle by Hindus themselves, and then to appeal to the Europeans to abstain from beef-eating whilst resident in India, or at least to procure beef from outside India. I added that in no case could the cow-protection propaganda, if it was to be based upon religious conviction, tolerate a sacrifice of Mahomedans for the sake of saving cows, that the religious method of securing protection from Christians and Mahomedans alike was for Hindus to offer themselves a willing sacrifice of sufficient magnitude to draw out the merciful nature of Christians and Mahomedans. Rightly or wrongly, worship of the cow is ingrained in the Hindu nature and I see no escape from a most bigoted and sanguinary strife over this question between Christians and Mahomedans on the one hand and Hindus on the other except in the fullest recognition and practice by the Hindus of the religion of ahimsa, which it is my self-imposed and humble mission in life to preach. Let the truth be faced. It must not be supposed that Hindus feel nothing about the cow slaughter going on for the European. I know that their wrath is today being buried under the awe inspired by the English rule. But there is not a Hindu throughout the length and breadth of India who does not expect one day to free his land from cow slaughter. But contrary to the genius of Hinduism as I know it, he would not mind forcing, even at the point of the sword, either the Christian or the Mahomedan to abandon cow slaughter. I wish to play my humble part in preventing such a catastrophe and I thank Mr. Irwin for having provided me with an opportunity of inviting him and your readers to help me in my onerous mission. The mission may fail to prevent cow slaughter. But there is no reason why by patient plodding and consistent practice it should not succeed in showing the folly, the stupidity and the inhumanity of committing the crime of killing a fellow human being for the sake of saving a fellow animal.

Vol.17 : 26 April, 1918 – April, 1919

THE VOW OF HINDU-MUSLIM UNITY – April 8, 1919, a leaflet on Hindu-Muslim unity:

The standing complaint of the Hindus against the Mussulmans is that the latter are beef-eaters and that they purposely sacrifice cows on the Bakr-i-ld day. Now it is impossible to unite the Hindus and Mahomedans so long as the Hindus do not hesitate to kill their Mahomedan brethren in order to protect a cow. For I think it is futile to expect that our violence will ever compel the Mahomedans to refrain from cow-slaughter. I do not believe the efforts of our cow-protection societies have availed in the least to lessen the number of cows killed every day. I have had no reason to believe so. I believe myself to be an orthodox Hindu and it is my conviction that no one who scrupulously practises the Hindu religion may kill a cow-killer to protect a cow. There is one and only one means open to a Hindu to protect a cow and that is that he should offer himself a sacrifice if he cannot stand its slaughter. Even if a very few enlightened Hindus thus sacrificed themselves, I have no doubt that our Mussulman brethren would abandon cow-slaughter. But this is satyagraha; this is equity; even as, if I want my brother to redress a grievance, I must do so by taking upon my head a certain amount of sacrifice and not by inflicting injury on him. I may not demand it as of right. My only right against my brother is that I can offer myself a sacrifice.

Vol. 21 : 1 July, 1920 – 21 November, 1920

COW PROTECTION, Young India, 4-8-1920

Cow protection is an article of faith in Hinduism. Apart from its religious sanctity, it is an ennobling creed. But we, Hindus, have today little regard for the cow and her progeny. In no country in the world are cattle so ill-fed and ill-kept as in India. In beef-eating England it would be difficult to find cattle with bones sticking out of their flesh. Most of our pinjrapoles are ill-managed and ill-kept. Instead of being a real blessing to the animal world, they are perhaps simply receiving-depots for dying animals. We say nothing to the English in India for whose sake hundreds of cows are slaughtered daily. Our rajas do not hesitate to provide beef for their English guests. Our protection of the cow, therefore, extends to rescuing her from Mussulman hands.

This reverse method of cow protection has led to endless feuds and bad blood between Hindus and Mussulmans. It has probably caused greater slaughter of cows than otherwise would have been the case if we had begun the propaganda in the right order.

We should have commenced, as we ought now to commence, with ourselves and cover the land with useful propaganda leading to kindness in the treatment of cattle and scientific knowledge in the management of cattle farms, dairies and pinjrapoles. We should devote our attention to propaganda among Englishmen in the shape of inducing them voluntarily to abandon beef, or, if they will not do so, at least be satisfied with imported beef.

Continue Reading

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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Max Hernandez

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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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