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Sigmund Freud (1856–1939). Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego. 1922.

Chapter IV. Suggestion and Libido

WE started from the fundamental fact that an individual in a group is subjected through its influence to what is often a profound alteration in his mental activity. His emotions become extraordinarily intensified, while his intellectual ability becomes markedly reduced, both processes being evidently in the direction of an approximation to the other individuals in the group; and this result can only be reached by the removal of those inhibitions upon his instincts which are peculiar to each individual, and by his resigning those expressions of his inclinations which are especially his own. We have heard that these often unwelcome consequences are to some extent at least prevented by a higher ‘organisation’ of the group; but this does not contradict the fundamental fact of Group Psychology—the two theses as to the intensification of the emotions and the inhibition of the intellect in primitive groups. Our interest is now directed to discovering the psychological explanation of this mental change which is experienced by the individual in a group.

It is clear that rational factors (such as the intimidation of the individual which has already been mentioned, that is, the action of his instinct of self-preservation) do not cover the observable phenomena. Beyond this what we are offered as an explanation by authorities upon Sociology and Group Psychology is always the same, even though it is given various names, and that is—the magic word ‘suggestion’. Tarde calls it ‘imitation’; but we cannot help agreeing with a writer who protests that imitation comes under the concept of suggestion, and is in fact one of its results. Le Bon traces back all the puzzling features of social phenomena to two factors: the mutual suggestion of individuals and the prestige of leaders. But prestige, again, is only recognizable by its capacity for evoking suggestion. McDougall for a moment gives us an impression that his principle of ‘primitive induction of emotion’ might enable us to do without the assumption of suggestion. But on further consideration we are forced to perceive that this principle says no more than the familiar assertions about ‘imitation’ or ‘contagion’, except for a decided stress upon the emotional factor. There is no doubt that something exists in us which, when we become aware of signs of an emotion in someone else, tends to make us fall into the same emotion; but how often do we not successfully oppose it, resist the emotion, and react in quite an opposite way? Why, therefore, do we invariably give way to this contagion when we are in a group? Once more we should have to say that what compels us to obey this tendency is imitation, and what induces the emotion in us is the group’s suggestive influence. Moreover, quite apart from this, McDougall does not enable us to evade suggestion; we hear from him as well as from other writers that groups are distinguished by their special suggestibility.

We shall therefore be prepared for the statement that suggestion (or more correctly suggestibility) is actually an irreducible, primitive phenomenon, a fundamental fact in the mental life of man. Such, too, was the opinion of Bernheim, of whose astonishing arts I was a witness in the year 1889. But I can remember even then feeling a muffled hostility to this tyranny of suggestion. When a patient who showed himself unamenable was met with the shout: ‘What are you doing? Vous vous contresuggestionnez!’, I said to myself that this was an evident injustice and an act of violence. For the man certainly had a right to counter-suggestions if they were trying to subdue him with suggestions. Later on my resistance took the direction of protesting against the view that suggestion, which explained everything, was itself to be preserved from explanation. Thinking of it, I repeated the old conundrum:

  • Christoph trug Christum,
  • Christus trug die ganze Welt,
  • Sag’ wo hat Christoph
  • Damals hin den Fuss gestellt?
  • Christophorus Christum, sed Christus sustulit orbem:
  • Constiterit pedibus dic ubi Christophorus?
  • Now that I once more approach the riddle of suggestion after having kept away from it for some thirty years, I find there is no change in the situation. To this statement I can discover only a single exception, which I need not mention, since it is one which bears witness to the influence of psycho-analysis. I notice that particular efforts are being made to formulate the concept of suggestion correctly, that is, to fix the conventional use of the name. And this is by no means superfluous, for the word is acquiring a more and more extended use and a looser and looser meaning, and will soon come to designate any sort of influence whatever, just as in English, where ‘to suggest’ and ‘suggestion’ correspond to our nahelegen and Auregung. But there has been no explanation of the nature of suggestion, that is, of the conditions under which influence without adequate logical foundation takes place. I should not avoid the task of supporting this statement by an analysis of the literature of the last thirty years, if I were not aware that an exhaustive inquiry is being undertaken close at hand which has in view the fulfilment of this very task.

    Instead of this I shall make an attempt at using the concept of libido for the purpose of throwing light upon Group Psychology, a concept which has done us such good service in the study of psycho-neuroses.

    Libido is an expression taken from the theory of the emotions. We call by that name the energy (regarded as a quantitative magnitude, though not at present actually mensurable) of those instincts which have to do with all that may be comprised under the word ‘love’. The nucleus of what we mean by love naturally consists (and this is what is commonly called love, and what the poets sing of) in sexual love with sexual union as its aim. But we do not separate from this—what in any case has a share in the name ‘love’—on the one hand, self-love, and on the other, love for parents and children, friendship and love for humanity in general, and also devotion to concrete objects and to abstract ideas. Our justification lies in the fact that psycho-analytic research has taught us that all these tendencies are an expression of the same instinctive activities; in relations between the sexes these instincts force their way towards sexual union, but in other circumstances they are diverted from this aim or are prevented from reaching it, though always preserving enough of their original nature to keep their identity recognizable (as in such features as the longing for proximity, and self-sacrifice).

    We are of opinion, then, that language has carried out an entirely justifiable piece of unification in creating the word ‘love’ with its numerous uses, and that we cannot do better than take it as the basis of our scientific discussions and expositions as well. By coming to this decision, psycho-analysis has let loose a storm of indignation, as though it had been guilty of an act of outrageous innovation. Yet psycho-analysis has done nothing original in taking love in this ‘wider’ sense. In its origin, function, and relation to sexual love, the ‘Eros’ of the philosopher Plato coincides exactly with the love force, the libido, of psycho-analysis, as has been shown in detail by Nachmansohn and Pfister; and when the apostle Paul, in his famous epistle to the Corinthians, prizes love above all else, he certainly understands it in the same ‘wider’ sense. But this only shows that men do not always take their great thinkers seriously, even when they profess most to admire them.

    Psycho-analysis, then, gives these love instincts the name of sexual instincts, a potiori and by reason of their origin. The majority of ‘educated’ people have regarded this nomenclature as an insult, and have taken their revenge by retorting upon psycho-analysis with the reproach of ‘pan-sexualism’. Anyone who considers sex as something mortifying and humiliating to human nature is at liberty to make use of the more genteel expressions ‘Eros’ and ‘erotic’. I might have done so myself from the first and thus have spared myself much opposition. But I did not want to, for I like to avoid concessions to faintheartedness. One can never tell where that road may lead one; one gives way first in words, and then little by little in substance too. I cannot see any merit in being ashamed of sex; the Greek word ‘Eros’, which is to soften the affront, is in the end nothing more than a translation of our German word Liebe [love]; and finally, he who knows how to wait need make no concessions.

    We will try our fortune, then, with the supposition that love relationships (or, to use a more neutral expression, emotional ties) also constitute the essence of the group mind. Let us remember that the authorities make no mention of any such relations. What would correspond to them is evidently concealed behind the shelter, the screen, of suggestion. Our hypothesis finds support in the first instance from two passing thoughts. First, that a group is clearly held together by a power of some kind: and to what power could this feat be better ascribed than to Eros, who holds together everything in the world? Secondly, that if an individual gives up his distinctiveness in a group and lets its other members influence him by suggestion, it gives one the impression that he does it because he feels the need of being in harmony with them rather than in opposition to them—so that perhaps after all he does it ‘ihnen zu Liebe’.