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Parin, P. (1985). Freedom and independence: On the psychoanalysis of political commitment. Free Associations, 1(3):65-79.

(1985). Free Associations, 1(3):65-79

Freedom and independence: On the psychoanalysis of political commitment

Paul Parin, M.D.


In his autobiographical novel Uomini e no, the prominent Italian writer Elio Vittorini describes the leader of a group of anti-fascist resistance fighters operating underground in occupied Milan. Vittorini details how his protagonist owes the brave and successful execution of terrorist actions, serving high political ideals, to his death wish. An unhappy love affair has severely shaken his self-esteem, and he wishes to die. However, as suicide would rob him of the last remnant of his self-respect, he recklessly fights his people's oppressors in the hope that he will be killed by them; thus his active feats will be rewarded by the satisfaction of his passive death wish.

The implication that a heroic freedom-fighter could be inspired by motives arising from his personal problems was greeted with great hostility by Vittorini's political friends. Literary criticism found fault with his connection between universal political motives and personal, all too human ones. Critics proclaimed it psychologically inconsistent to ascribe to a man of action motives which belong to a passive character, moved by weak emotions.


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