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Atkin, S. (1971). Notes on Motivations for War Toward a Psychoanalytic Social Psychology. Psychoanal Q., 40:549-583.

(1971). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 40:549-583

Notes on Motivations for War Toward a Psychoanalytic Social Psychology

Samuel Atkin, M.D.


Thirty-five years ago Freud, in dealing with the question, Why War?, applied his dual instinct theory. How does that question present itself today to a psychoanalyst? And how does he go about answering it?

As analysts our first inclination is to look for the instinctual sources of war. It is the study of man's aggressivity that immediately engages us, although we know that there have been cultures in which war, as organized social activity, did not exist. Still this particularly destructive variety of cultural expression persistently begs for an explanation in terms of drive theory, since we assume that the evolution of man's instinctual equipment goes very far back and that the resultant psychic organization must have remained essentially unaltered since the dawn of human history.

We are at once challenged by the fact that war is a social institution, rather than a direct, individual expression of man's aggressive drives. Psychoanalysis so far offers no clear-cut idea of the innate psychological factors that enter into the social behavior involved in the institution of war.

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