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Mitscherlich, A. Francis, J.J. (1970). Panel on 'Protest and Revolution'. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 51:211-218.

(1970). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 51:211-218

Panel on 'Protest and Revolution'

Alexander Mitscherlich and John J. Francis


The discussion at this panel centred on the previously published paper and the four questions proposed by its Chairman, Alexander Mitscherlich, in his opening remarks. There was general agreement that the protest of several years has now developed to the stage of revolution at least in many areas of the world. It is worldwide to a large extent because of the great technological advances in the communication media so that events in one part of the world are seen, heard, and known almost immediately everywhere. A small fire is now impossible. Also, the widespread use of television by young children has served to inform them of social injustices that a generation ago would have been known about only very vaguely. Though the conflict between classes, between privileged and underprivileged has always been present, the current alienation and revolution in the youth of the upper and middle classes seems to have arisen from many causes, both internal and external. The internal causes include the normal need to protest which occurs especially at times of transition from one phase to another in the development of the child which, depending upon many factors, can aid or prevent further maturation. Another important factor is the child-rearing patterns, especially in the educated middle and upper classes, in which the children have been encouraged to speak out and express themselves. The protesting youth often seems to be doing nothing more than expressing a well-developed identity derived from the previous training by their parents. In many, rebellion seems to be an attempt to overthrow institutions which represent unbelievable or discredited values. Some discussants felt this to be an attempt on the part of the ego to resolve conflict arising from the failure of the ego-ideal, the essence of which, that which is ideal, must be believable or realizable to succeed. Another suggested possibility is that in the rebellion the idealistic youth is seeking an alloplastic solution of an internal conflict. When the id is united with the ego-ideal, the ego achieves a measure of peace. The most important external factor seems to be the wars—World War II with its sequelae and the Vietnam War. The other significant factors are the inequities in the present society, the development of exceedingly destructive weapons and the threat of total destruction, and inconsistency in and disenchantment with the parents and the older generation and their institutions.

There was a great deal of disagreement among the discussants about whether or not the protest and revolutionary activities are pathological. Many considered it not only normal, but healthy and progressive action in young people. Others felt it was an expression of the tensions of the developmental phase; whereas in the opinion of others there were in the rebellion both normal and abnormal aspects. For example, one discussant maintained that it was normal for the students to protest inequities and injustices on the part of the administration of the university, but to set fires and defecate in the office of the president and use violence represented acting out and could in no way contribute to progress. Several others, however, felt that the pathology was not in the young people and their activity, but rather in the older generation which had made unjust demands for patience on the young people, that has denied and been silent in the presence of real injustices (as for example the persecution of Jews and Negroes), at which times protest and attempts to correct the inequities would have been more adaptive than silence.

There was general agreement that the analyst has an important role to play in furthering the understanding and resolution of this serious social problem. In addition to his role as a medical psychoanalyst, he has an important function as a social psychologist, following Freud's example, as illustrated by his 'Civilization and Its Discontents' and many other works. Psychoanalysis as a psychology of human behaviour and a research tool also has much to offer. A psychoanalyst involved in the study of this problem should, of course, attempt to maintain the same degree of objectivity he has achieved in the consultation room with his patient. The difficulty involved, however, in

maintaining such objectivity in the study of social turmoil in which the analyst and his family are also deeply enmeshed was well illustrated in this discussion by the intensity of the feeling about this topic in the audience and many of the discussants.

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