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Erikson, E.H. (1946). Ego Development and Historical Change—Clinical Notes. Psychoanal. St. Child, 2:359-396.

(1946). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 2:359-396

Ego Development and Historical Change—Clinical Notes

Erik Homburger Erikson

Men who share an ethnic area, an historical era, or an economic pursuit are guided by common images of good and evil. Infinitely varied, these images reflect the elusive nature of historical change; yet in the form of contemporary social models, of compelling prototypes of good and evil, they assume decisive concreteness in every individual's ego development. Psychoanalytic ego psychology has not matched this concreteness with sufficient theoretical specificity. The present collection of notes offers questions, illustrations, and theoretical considerations concerning the relation of the child's ego to the social prototypes of his day.

I. Group Identity and Ego Identity


Freud's original formulations concerning the ego and its relation to society necessarily depended on the general trend of his analytic argument at the time and on the sociological formulations of his era. In general, the concept of the ego was first delineated by previous definitions of its better-known opposites, the biological id and the sociological "masses": the ego, the individual center of organized experience and reasonable planning, stood endangered by both the anarchy of the primeval instincts and the lawlessness of the group spirit. One might say that where Kant gave as the coordinates of the moral burgher "the stars above him" and "the moral law within him", the early Freud placed his fearful ego between the id within him and the mob around him.

To take account of this encircled ego's precarious morality Freud instituted within the ego the ego-ideal or superego. The emphasis, at first, was again on the foreign burden which was thus imposed on the ego.

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