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Alford, C.F. (1990). Reparation and Civilization: A Kleinian account of the large group. Free Associations, 1T(19):7-30.

(1990). Free Associations, 1T(19):7-30

Reparation and Civilization: A Kleinian account of the large group

C. Fred Alford

More than any other post-Freudian psychoanalytic movement, the movement begun by Melanie Klein is interested in group psychology. To be sure, this interest is not systematic. There is no Kleinian equivalent to Freud's Civilization and its Discontents. Nevertheless, several authors influenced by Klein have made a start in this direction. Some, such as Wilfred Bion and Elliott Jaques, have pursued the implications of Kleinian thought for the group in a largely empirical fashion, investigating actual groups from a Kleinian perspective. Others, such as R.E. Money-Kyrle, Michael Rustin, and Graham Little have sought to draw implications for social theory from Klein's thought. Every comprehensive political theory contains an implicit or explicit set of assumptions about human nature. Change these assumptions, and one can transform political theory.

I argue that the relationship between individual and group psychology is more subtle and complex than this second group of theorists appreciates. While agreeing that a Kleinian account of human nature reveals a potential to love and care for others that one does not find in Freud, I show why it is so difficult to realize this potential in the group. Group psychology is not a mirror of individual psychology. In fact, Kleinian group psychology is more tragic than Freud's. While the Kleinian account reveals that individuals are capable of more moral behaviour, based upon nobler motives than Freud thought possible, this moral potential is generally unavailable in the group. It is this greater discrepancy between individual moral potential and its group realization that makes Klein's account tragic.

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