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Bartolomei, G. Filippini, S. (2000). Sindromi psicosociali. La psicoanalisi e le patologie sociali [Psychosocial syndromes. Psychoanalysis and social pathologies]: Giuseppe Di Chiara. Milan: Raffaello Cortina. 1999. Pp. 109.. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 81(3):616-618.

(2000). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 81(3):616-618

Sindromi psicosociali. La psicoanalisi e le patologie sociali [Psychosocial syndromes. Psychoanalysis and social pathologies]: Giuseppe Di Chiara. Milan: Raffaello Cortina. 1999. Pp. 109.

Review by:
Giangaetano Bartolomei

Sandra Filippini

Giuseppe Di Chiara has for some time taken a particular interest in the psychoanalytic exploration of social phenomena, His previous writings on nature and culture have concerned destructiveness as a psychosocial syndrome, tolerance in relation to processes of integration and disintegration, psychoanalysis and politics, groups, and so on. With this slender and concise volume, he now returns to the subject of psycho-social syndromes, this time using psychoanalysis as an instrument for understanding some of the fundamental mechanisms that underlie social pathologies.

‘Psychosocial syndromes’ are social situations that can serve as pathological defences. They constitute forms of collective behaviour that cause predictable immediate or future problems. However, such behaviour persists despite the predictability of its adverse effects. While Di Chiara argues that its motivating forces can, in principle, be reduced in strength, he believes that such behaviour is an expression of powerful anxieties of unconscious origin that are shared by society (p. 3f.).

In the volume's twelve short chapters, the author identifies and briefly defines some of the principal psychosocial syndromes. A good example is narcissism, understood in the same sense as in Lasch's well-known The Culture of Narcissism, which Di Chiara quotes—that is, as a social group defence ‘in the direction of selfishness, hedonistic satisfaction … and competitiveness’ (p. 12). Other instances are some of the specific forms assumed by class-consciousness, and the exercise of power as an end in itself, distinct from the function of ‘government’, with which it is contrasted. ‘Government is exercised in the context of a working group’, Di Chiara writes, ‘and power in that of a “basic-assumption” group’ (p. 55). The mechanisms of legitimisation of the leader therefore differ greatly in the two cases. The charismatic leader of a totalitarian regime is held to be ‘the Lord's anointed’: ‘Hitler was deemed Führer not because of his appointment as Reich Chancellor but on account of his personal qualities, which were regarded as exceptional. Conversely, a pope or a king owes his legitimacy to his office’ (p. 54).

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