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Gilligan, J. (2017). Toward a psychoanalytic theory of violence, fundamentalism and terrorism. Int. Forum Psychoanal., 26(3):174-185.

(2017). International Forum of Psychoanalysis, 26(3):174-185

Toward a psychoanalytic theory of violence, fundamentalism and terrorism

James Gilligan

Why would a group of people behave in ways that appear to us as moral nihilism, such as the events of 9/11? One cause is an affective one that underlies all violent behavior, namely, narcissistic injuries severe enough to threaten the survival of the self or of the group with which the self identifies, in the absence of non-violent means of maintaining or restoring individual or collective self-esteem. But there is also a uniquely modern cognitive reason for this uniquely modern form of violence, and of the apocalyptic fundamentalism that legitimizes it: namely, that terrorists see themselves as destroying the nihilism that they perceive as coming from us, that is, from the modern Western scientific mentality that destroys the credibility of the traditional sources of moral, legal and political authority and legitimacy, God and religion. Fundamentalism originated in the United States and has spread throughout the world as a rebellion against modernity. This suggests means of curing it: by facilitating access to modern education, psychological awareness, socio-economic equality and political democracy, to help protect all societies from the affective threats of shame and humiliation, and the cognitive threats of nihilism, anomie and anarchy (and their alternatives, nationalism, dogmatism and theocracy).

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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