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Lebovici, S. Diatkine, R. (1972). Discussion on Aggression: Is it a Question of a Metapsychological Concept?. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 53:231-236.

(1972). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 53:231-236

Discussion on Aggression: Is it a Question of a Metapsychological Concept?

S. Lebovici and R. Diatkine


In this brief paper we have endeavoured to show that the tendencies to aggression are certainly known to us through numerous daily examples in child and adult, as well as clinically and in the observation of individuals or groups. They have been popularized by ethological references.

But these observations do not justify the hypothesis of a tendency to aggression with a status comparable to that of the libido.

Freud first studied these occurrences in different cases, which we have recalled here: (1) mastery of the

sexual object to overcome its resistance; (2) bringing motor activity into play in the course of impulse discharge, where the contrasted pair activity–passivity has been studied in the metapsychological theory of instincts; (3) excess of aggressivity is thus fused and poorly neutralized, while the libido is more liable to be sublimated.

But later the vicissitudes of the instincts were studied under the double aegis of Eros and Thanatos, of life and death, of fusion and defusion. The metapsychological concept of the death instinct by no means lessens the validity of earlier Freudian descriptions of aggression. It is part of a coherent theory of the mental apparatus and cannot be understood without constant reference to the destinies of libidinal and aggressive drives. It appears as a principle of mental functioning in the same way as the principle of pleasure with its corollary, the reality principle.

Our thesis has consisted in juxtaposing the two periods of Freud's theory of aggression. The result is that what we call aggressivity contains ambiguous connotations. We conclude that it would be correct to regard: (1) aggression as the result of its elaboration in the functioning of the ego; (2) aggressivity as an expression of the destiny of the death instinct which cannot be understood except by reference to the whole of Freudian metapsychology to which this instinct must belong, if one considers that it is inextricably bound to narcissism and to the difficulties of object cathexis and object relationship.

Thus aggression cannot be defined as 'a necessary evil'. It is indubitably attached to the ego's modes of functioning and, in numerous cases, psycho-analytic treatment must result in the best integration of fantasies through revival in transference, interpretative constructions and working through.

The death instinct appears to us at the same time to be a definite part of the coherent metapsychological perspectives, without justifying what is called Freudian pessimism in social and political or clinical and therapeutic matters.

Its existence teaches us nevertheless the vanity of the 'illusion' that educational and preventive efforts can suppress unconscious feelings of guilt. These feelings depend directly upon the death instinct, as do the fantasies of aggression which are its expression in the functioning of the ego.

Nevertheless, we do not think that our hypothesis leads us to neglect the interest of the works of ethologists, ethnologists or social anthropologists, who show us how our technological civilization can lend a great destructive power to individuals and groups that stir up fantasies of aggression, one of the aspects of the work of the death instinct.

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