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

Chapter XII. Postscript

IN the course of the enquiry which has just been brought to a provisional end we came across a number of side-paths which we avoided pursuing in the first instance but in which there was much that offered us promises of insight. We propose now to take up a few of the points that have been left on one side in this way.

A. The distinction between identification of the ego with an object and replacement of the ego ideal by an object finds an interesting illustration in the two great artificial groups which we began by studying, the army and the Christian church.

It is obvious that a soldier takes his superior, that is, really, the leader of the army, as his ideal, while he identifies himself with his equals, and derives from this community of their egos the obligations for giving mutual help and for sharing possessions which comradeship implies. But he becomes ridiculous if he tries to identify himself with the general. The soldier in Wallensteins Lager laughs at the sergeant for this very reason:

  • Wie er räuspert und wie er spuckt,
  • Das habt ihr ihm glücklich abgeguckt!
  • It is otherwise in the Catholic Church. Every Christian loves Christ as his ideal and feels himself united with all other Christians by the tie of identification. But the Church requires more of him. He has also to identify himself with Christ and love all other Christians as Christ loved them. At both points, therefore, the Church requires that the position of the libido which is given by a group formation should be supplemented. Identification has to be added where object-choice has taken place, and object love where there is identification. This addition evidently goes beyond the constitution of the group. One can be a good Christian and yet be far from the idea of putting oneself in Christ’s place and of having like him an all-embracing love for mankind. One need not think oneself capable, weak mortal that one is, of the Saviour’s largeness of soul and strength of love. But this further development in the distribution of libido in the group is probably the factor upon which Christianity bases its claim to have reached a higher ethical level.

    B. We have said that it would be possible to specify the point in the mental development of man at which the advance from group to individual psychology was also achieved by the individual members of the group.

    For this purpose we must return for a moment to the scientific myth of the father of the primal horde. He was later on exalted into the creator of the world, and with justice, for he had produced all the sons who composed the first group. He was the ideal of each one of them, at once feared and honoured, a fact which led later to the idea of taboo. These many individuals eventually banded themselves together, killed him and cut him in pieces. None of the group of victors could take his place, or, if one of them did, the battles began afresh, until they understood that they must all renounce their father’s heritage. They then formed the totemistic community of brothers, all with equal rights and united by the totem prohibitions which were to preserve and to expiate the memory of the murder. But the dissatisfaction with what had been achieved still remained, and it became the source of new developments. The persons who were united in this group of brothers gradually came towards a revival of the old state of things at a new level. Man became once more the chief of a family, and broke down the prerogatives of the gynaecocracy which had become established during the fatherless period. As a compensation for this he may at that time have acknowledged the mother deities, whose priests were castrated for the mother’s protection, after the example that had been given by the father of the primal horde. And yet the new family was only a shadow of the old one; there were numbers of fathers and each one was limited by the rights of the others.

    It was then, perhaps, that some individual, in the exigency of his longing, may have been moved to free himself from the group and take over the father’s part. He who did this was the first epic poet; and the advance was achieved in his imagination. This poet disguised the truth with lies in accordance with his longing. He invented the heroic myth. The hero was a man who by himself had slain the father—the father who still appeared in the myth as a totemistic monster. Just as the father had been the boy’s first ideal, so in the hero who aspires to the father’s place the poet now created the first ego ideal. The transition to the hero was probably afforded by the youngest son, the mother’s favourite, whom she had protected from paternal jealousy, and who, in the era of the primal horde, had been the father’s successor. In the lying poetic fancies of prehistoric times the woman, who had been the prize of battle and the allurement to murder, was probably turned into the seducer and instigator to the crime.

    The hero claims to have acted alone in accomplishing the deed, which certainly only the horde as a whole would have ventured upon. But, as Rank has observed, fairy tales have preserved clear traces of the facts which were disavowed. For we often find in them that the hero who has to carry out some difficult task (usually a youngest son, and not infrequently one who has represented himself to the father surrogate as being stupid, that is to say, harmless)—we often find, then, that this hero can carry out his task only by the help of a crowd of small animals, such as bees or ants. These would be the brothers in the primal horde, just as in the same way in dream symbolism insects or vermin signify brothers and sisters (contemptuously, considered as babies). Moreover every one of the tasks in myths and fairy tales is easily recognisable as a substitute for the heroic deed.

    The myth, then, is the step by which the individual emerges from group psychology. The first myth was certainly the psychological, the hero myth; the explanatory nature myth must have followed much later. The poet who had taken this step and had in this way set himself free from the group in his imagination, is nevertheless able (as Rank has further observed) to find his way back to it in reality. For he goes and relates to the group his hero’s deeds which he has invented. At bottom this hero is no one but himself. Thus he lowers himself to the level of reality, and raises his hearers to the level of imagination. But his hearers understand the poet, and in virtue of their having the same relation of longing towards the primal father, they can identify themselves, with the hero.

    The lie of the heroic myth culminates in the deification of the hero. Perhaps the deified hero may have been earlier than the Father God and may have been a precursor to the return of the primal father as a deity. The series of gods, then, would run chronologically: Mother Goddess—Hero—Father God. But it is only with the elevation of the never forgotten primal father that the deity acquires the features that we still recognise in him to-day.

    C. A great deal has been said in this paper about directly sexual instincts and those that are inhibited in their aims, and it may be hoped that this distinction will not meet with too much resistance. But a detailed discussion of the question will not be out of place, even if it only repeats what has to a great extent already been said before.

    The development of the libido in children has made us acquainted with the first but also the best example of sexual instincts which are inhibited in their aims. All the feelings which a child has towards its parents and those who look after it pass by an easy transition into the wishes which give expression to the child’s sexual tendencies. The child claims from these objects of its love all the signs of affection which it knows of; it wants to kiss them, touch them, and look at them; it is curious to see their genitals, and to be with them when they perform their intimate excremental functions; it promises to marry its mother or nurse—whatever it may understand by that; it proposes to itself to bear its father a child, etc. Direct observation, as well as the subsequent analytic investigation of the residue of childhood, leave no doubt as to the complete fusion of tender and jealous feelings and of sexual intentions, and show us in what a fundamental way the child makes the person it loves into the object of all its incompletely centred sexual tendencies.

    This first configuration of the child’s love, which in typical cases is co-ordinated with the Oedipus complex, succumbs, as we know, from the beginning of the period of latency onwards to a wave of repression. Such of it as is left over shows itself as a purely tender emotional tie, which relates to the same people, but is no longer to be described as ‘sexual’. Psycho-analysis, which illuminates the depths of mental life, has no difficulty in showing that the sexual ties of the earliest years of childhood also persist, though repressed and unconscious. It gives us courage to assert that wherever we come across a tender feeling it is the successor to a completely ‘sensual’ object tie with the person in question or rather with that person’s prototype (or imago). It cannot indeed disclose to us without a special investigation whether in a given case this former complete sexual current still exists under repression or whether it has already been exhausted. To put it still more precisely: it is quite certain that it is still there as a form and possibility, and can always be charged with cathectic energy and put into activity again by means of regression; the only question is (and it cannot always be answered) what degree of cathexis and operative force it still has at the present moment. Equal care must be taken in this connection to avoid two sources of error—the Scylla of under-estimating the importance of the repressed unconscious, and the Charybdis of judging the normal entirely by the standards of the pathological.

    A psychology which will not or cannot penetrate the depths of what is repressed regards tender emotional ties as being invariably the expression of tendencies which have no sexual aim, even though they are derived from tendencies which have such an aim.

    We are justified in saying that they have been diverted from these sexual aims, even though there is some difficulty in giving a representation of such a diversion of aim which will conform to the requirements of metapsychology. Moreover, those instincts which are inhibited in their aims always preserve some few of their original sexual aims; even an affectionate devotee, even a friend or an admirer, desires the physical proximity and the sight of the person who is now loved only in the ‘Pauline’ sense. If we choose, we may recognise in this diversion of aim a beginning of the sublimation of the sexual instincts, or on the other hand we may fix the limits of sublimation at some more distant point. Those sexual instincts which are inhibited in their aims have a great functional advantage over those which are uninhibited. Since they are not capable of really complete satisfaction, they are especially adapted to create permanent ties; while those instincts which are directly sexual incur a loss of energy each time they are satisfied, and must wait to be renewed by a fresh accumulation of sexual libido, so that meanwhile the object may have been changed. The inhibited instincts are capable of any degree of admixture with the uninhibited; they can be transformed back into them, just as they arose out of them. It is well known how easily erotic wishes develop out of emotional relations of a friendly character, based upon appreciation and admiration, (compare Molière’s ‘Embrassez-moi pour l’amour du grec’), between a master and a pupil, between a performer and a delighted listener, and especially in the case of women. In fact the growth of emotional ties of this kind, with their purposeless beginnings, provides a much frequented pathway to sexual object-choice. Pfister, in his Frömmigkeit des Grafen von Zinzendorf, has given an extremely clear and certainly not an isolated example of how easily even an intense religious tie can revert to ardent sexual excitement. On the other hand it is also very usual for directly sexual tendencies, short-lived in themselves, to be transformed into a lasting and purely tender tie; and the consolidation of a passionate love marriage rests to a large extent upon this process.

    We shall naturally not be surprised to hear that the sexual tendencies that are inhibited in their aims arise out of the directly sexual ones when inner or outer obstacles make the sexual aims unattainable. The repression during the period of latency is an inner obstacle of this kind—or rather one which has become inner. We have assumed that the father of the primal horde owing to his sexual intolerance compelled all his sons to be abstinent, and thus forced them into ties that were inhibited in their aims, while he reserved for himself freedom of sexual enjoyment and in this way remained without ties. All the ties upon which a group depends are of the character of instincts that are inhibited in their aims. But here we have approached the discussion of a new subject, which deals with the relation between directly sexual instincts and the formation of groups.

    D. The last two remarks will have prepared us for finding that directly sexual tendencies are unfavourable to the formation of groups. In the history of the development of the family there have also, it is true, been group relations of sexual love (group marriages); but the more important sexual love became for the ego, and the more it developed the characteristics of being in love, the more urgently it, required to be limited to two people—una cum uno—as is prescribed by the nature of the genital aim. Polygamous inclinations had to be content to find satisfaction in a succession of changing objects.

    Two people coming together for the purpose of sexual satisfaction, in so far as they seek for solitude, are making a demonstration against the herd instinct, the group feeling. The more they are in love, the more completely they suffice for each other. The rejection of the group’s influence is manifested in the shape of a sense of shame. The extremely violent feelings of jealousy are summoned up in order to protect the sexual object-choice from being encroached upon by a group tie. It is only when the tender, that is, the personal, factor of a love relation gives place entirely to the sensual one, that it is possible for two people to have sexual intercourse in the presence of others or for there to be simultaneous sexual acts in a group as occurs at an orgy. But at that point a regression has taken place to an early stage in sexual relations, at which being in love as yet played no part, and all sexual objects were judged to be of equal value, somewhat in the sense of Bernard Shaw’s malicious aphorism to the effect that being in love means greatly exaggerating the difference between one woman and another.

    There are abundant indications that being in love only made its appearance late on in the sexual relations between men and women; so that the opposition between sexual love and group ties is also a late development. Now it may seem as though this assumption were incompatible with our myth of the primal family. For it was after all by their love for their mothers and sisters that the troop of brothers was, as we have supposed, driven to parricide; and it is difficult to imagine this love as being anything but unbroken and primitive—that is, as an intimate union of the tender and the sensual. But further consideration resolves this objection into a confirmation. One of the reactions to the parricide was after all the institution of totemistic exogamy, the prohibition of any sexual relation with those women of the family who had been tenderly loved since childhood. In this way a wedge was driven in between a man’s tender and sensual feelings, one still firmly fixed in his erotic life to-day. As a result of this exogamy the sensual needs of men had to be satisfied with strange and unloved women.

    In the great artificial groups, the church and the army, there is no room for woman as a sexual object. The love relation between men and women remains outside these organisations. Even where groups are formed which are composed of both men and women the distinction between the sexes plays no part. There is scarcely any sense in asking whether the libido which keeps groups together is of a homosexual or of a heterosexual nature, for it is not differentiated according to the sexes, and particularly shows a complete disregard for the aims of the genital organisation of the libido.

    Even in a person who has in other respects become absorbed in a group the directly sexual tendencies preserve a little of his individual activity. If they become too strong they disintegrate every group formation. The Catholic Church had the best of motives for recommending its followers to remain unmarried and for imposing celibacy upon its priests; but falling in love has often driven even priests to leave the church. In the same way love for women breaks through the group ties of race, of national separation, and of the social class system, and it thus produces important effects as a factor in civilization. It seems certain that homosexual love is far more compatible with group ties, even when it takes the shape of uninhibited sexual tendencies—a remarkable fact, the explanation of which might carry us far.

    The psycho-analytic investigation of the psycho-neuroses has taught us that their symptoms are to be traced back to directly sexual tendencies which are repressed but still remain active. We can complete this formula by adding to it: or, to tendencies inhibited in their aims, whose inhibition has not been entirely successful or has made room for a return to the repressed sexual aim. It is in accordance with this that a neurosis should make its victim asocial and should remove him from the usual group formations. It may be said that a neurosis has the same disintegrating effect upon a group as being in love. On the other hand it appears that where a powerful impetus has been given to group formation neuroses may diminish and at all events temporarily disappear. Justifiable attempts have also been made to turn this antagonism between neuroses and group formation to therapeutic account. Even those who do not regret the disappearance of religious illusions from the civilized world of to-day will admit that so long as they were in force they offered those who were bound by them the most powerful protection against the danger of neurosis. Nor is it hard to discern in all the ties with mystico-religious or philosophico-religious sects and communities the manifestation of distorted cures of all kinds of neuroses. All of this is bound up with the contrast between directly sexual tendencies and those which are inhibited in their aims.

    If he is left to himself, a neurotic is obliged to replace by his own symptom formations the great group formations from which he is excluded. He creates his own world of imagination for himself, his own religion, his own system of delusions, and thus recapitulates the institutions of humanity in a distorted way which is clear evidence of the dominating part played by the directly sexual tendencies.

    E. In conclusion, we will add a comparative estimate, from the standpoint of the libido theory, of the states with which we have been concerned, of being in love, of hypnosis, of group formation, and of the neurosis.

    Being in love is based upon the simultaneous presence of directly sexual tendencies and of sexual tendencies that are inhibited in their aims, so that the object draws a part of the narcissistic ego-libido to itself. It is a condition in which there is only room for the ego and the object.

    Hypnosis resembles being in love in being limited to these two persons, but it is based entirely upon sexual tendencies that are inhibited in their aims and substitutes the object for the ego ideal.

    The group multiplies this process; it agrees with hypnosis in the nature of the instincts which hold it together, and in the replacement of the ego ideal by the object; but to this it adds identification with other individuals, which was perhaps originally made possible by their having the same relation to the object.

    Both states, hypnosis and group formation, are an inherited deposit from the phylogenesis of the human libido—hypnosis in the form of a predisposition, and the group, besides this, as a direct survival. The replacement of the directly sexual tendencies by those that are inhibited in their aims promotes in both states a separation between the ego and the ego ideal, a separation with which a beginning has already been made in the state of being in love.

    The neurosis stands outside this series. It also is based upon a peculiarity in the development of the human libido—the twice repeated start made by the directly sexual function, with an intervening period of latency. To this extent it resembles hypnosis and group formation in having the character of a regression, which is absent from being in love. It makes its appearance wherever the advance from directly sexual instincts to those that are inhibited in their aims has not been completely successful; and it represents a conflict between those instincts which have been received into the ego after having passed through this development and those portions of the same instincts which, like other instinctive desires that have been completely repressed, strive, from the repressed unconscious, to attain direct satisfaction. The neurosis is extraordinarily rich in content, for it embraces all possible relations between the ego and the object—both those in which the object is retained and others in which it is abandoned or erected inside the ego itself—and also the conflicting relations between the ego and its ego ideal.