The Information icon (an i in a circle) will give you valuable information about PEP Web data and features. You can find it besides a PEP Web feature and the author’s name in every journal article. Simply move the mouse pointer over the icon and click on it for the information to appear.
For the complete list of tips, see PEP-Web Tips on the PEP-Web support page.
Warburg, B. (1935). Lettre Sur L'Etiologie Et L'Evolution Des Psychoses Collectives, Suivie De Quelques Remarques Sociologiques Concernant La Situation Historique Actuelle. (A Letter Dealing with the Etiology and Evolution of the Collective Psychoses Followed by Some Sociological Considerations Concerning the History of the Present Situation.): By Robert Waelder (Vienna). Abstract from the French translation by Anne Berman in collaboration with Princess Marie Bonaparte, revised by the author. Letter from the Third Series Correspondance entitled L'Esprit, L'Ethique et la Guerre (Intellect, Ethics and War). Institut International de Coopération Intellectuelle. Société des Nations 1934. P. 85–150.. Psychoanal Q., 4:633-639.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: Lettre Sur L'Etiologie Et L'Evolution Des Psychoses Collectives, Suivie De Quelques Remarques Sociologiques Concernant La Situation Historique Actuelle. (A Letter Dealing with the Etiology and Evolution of the Collective Psychoses Followed by Some Sociological Considerations Concerning the History of the Present Situation.): By Robert Waelder (Vienna). Abstract from the French translation by Anne Berman in collaboration with Princess Marie Bonaparte, revised by the author. Letter from the Third Series Correspondance entitled L'Esprit, L'Ethique et la Guerre (Intellect, Ethics and War). Institut International de Coopération Intellectuelle. Société des Nations 1934. P. 85–150.
Dr. Waelder has selected the collective psychoses for special investigation because of their importance in provoking and sustaining war. He discusses the topic from the point of view of promoting an understanding of the causation and evolution of these collective psychoses, rather than with the hope of discovering a sterilisatio magna to prevent their future occurrence.
There is an apparent contradiction implicit in the term "collective psychoses", since the outstanding characteristic of the psychotic is his withdrawal from collective human activities, and his partial or total lack of participation in the social life, the thoughts, and the feelings of other people. How then can a group be subject to a psychosis when the sufferers from this common malady not only do not lose contact with each other, but are the more closely bound to each other because of it? Such individuals are not, psychiatrically speaking, mentally ill, since they behave in quite a normal fashion so long as the boundaries of their collective psychosis are not infringed upon. On the other hand, the ideational content of a collective psychosis is impervious to logic, and is quite comparable to the systematized delusions of a true psychosis. It seems paradoxical that only normal people fall prey to a collective psychosis precisely because they establish contacts easily and seek to avoid a break with society. True psychotics, on the other hand, take cover behind their own narcissism, run no risk of being affected by collective psychoses, and rarely abandon their private world of fantasy in favor of the imaginary collective world of socialized man. It
- 633 -
is characteristic of the collective psychoses that they are transitory and dependent upon external etiological factors for their existence.
Particularly significant are the conditions for the release of aggression in wartime, that is, of the tendency to destroy and annihilate. Under other circumstances this drive gives way to the erotic or love instinct, favoring the conservation of life, or the creation of more highly organized entities. Normally the aggressive forces are not isolated, and do not manifest themselves in an actual destruction of the outside world. The Eros so modifies aggression that the latter is not exercised in a dangerous form. It is in the object libidinal relationship between man and woman that the aggressive instinct is rendered inoffensive and neutralized to the maximum extent. The aggressive component is then directed toward the possession of the partner, and is at that point so enveloped in eroticism that it no longer preserves its original aggressive form. The other manifestations of aggression are generally inhibited by education, and break through only under special conditions, as in criminal acts or in certain mental illnesses.
In a collective psychosis a part of the aggressive drive is set free and directed against the enemy of the moment. Since the inhibition of the aggressive instinct is perhaps the outstanding cultural achievement of thousands of generations, how is it possible that this release is permitted by that social conscience which has been developed throughout the ages, and which is recreated in each individual from the time of infancy?
In all collective situations a part of the function of the individual conscience is ceded to a leader. Each individual substitutes the personality of the leader, that is, a person in the outside world, for his superego. The leader takes the place of that external conscience which was represented by the parents in childhood. This is the binding link between the crowd and its leader. The individuals themselves are united by this common factor and identified with each other because of it. "If the leader permits aggression, or even orders it, the individual may give himself up to the instinctive act without restraint. This would perhaps be less acceptable if he were urged to surrender to his instinct openly, that is to say, to massacre his enemy. It is necessary to create an ideal so that men do not become conscious that their act is instinctive rather than moral." They are consequently urged to serve God, country, future social order, etc. "Aggression can be released for the greater glory
- 634 -
of an elevated concept. The conscience is reassured, and men may taste the joy of satisfying an instinct, usually so carefully restrained, and at the same time attain one of their ideals."
A review of the domestication of the instincts in the service of civilization follows, emphasizing the partial emasculation of the instinctive forces, and the resulting conflict between that irreducible minimum of aggression which is essential to the survival of the individual in reality, and the real demands of present day society which militate against the instinctive drives in their original form.
In the collective psychoses there is an impairment of reality testing, and it is here that the collective and the true psychoses most nearly approach one another. This alone justifies the term "psychosis". Paranoid delusions differ from simple errors precisely in that these erroneous concepts are in no way amenable to correction by actual facts. Mass psychoses are also characterized by the falsification of reality. In war time incorrigible delusional ideas are entertained about the enemy for a certain period of time. The psychological reasons for this invalidation of the sense of reality are two-fold:
1. Reality testing is a function of the superego. In so far as the superego of the individual is partly replaced by, or projected upon, the leader, the individual foregoes a part of his faculty of autoobservation which is a function of that portion of the superego which he has ceded. Consequently his capacity to separate his fantasies from the reality situation is also invalidated.
2. Normally, ambivalence results from the interrelation of the aggressive and erotic forces: a man may be considered as a colleague of the same profession, or as a competitor. There is a redistribution and dissociation of the aggressive and erotic drives in a circumscribed group subject to a collective psychosis. Love is exclusively confined to members of the group and hatred militates only against outsiders. This dissociation of love and hatred is like that found in true paranoia, where only a few intimate friends and relatives are considered as love objects, whereas all the rest are hated persecutors.
It appears then that although the etiological factors of the collective psychoses are numerous, reënforced aggression is of special significance. Necessity and want may add a powerful precipitating cause. It is generally known that man, forced to renounce his
- 635 -
desires both in simple and complex situations, responds to this frustration by aggression. A second situation arises, where the aggression, turned back upon the self, is intolerably strong, and is again turned outward to relieve the individual. Faulty educational principles are often to blame, since education disposes over certain means of attenuating the aggression of children: "If one is careful not to impose upon the child more restrictions than the exigencies of civilized society demand; if, when these restrictions are inevitable, one tries to offer the child a compensatory satisfaction by showing him a constant benevolence; if adults will acknowledge their own aggressive drives which frequently manifest themselves unconsciously at the expense of the child himself; and if they will learn how to control themselves, the aggression of the child can be maintained at that low level which remains useful and necessary in the struggle for life, leaving no dangerous excess. It is necessary to teach the child to adapt himself to reality gently, so that superfluous hostility will become a menace neither to the community nor to the individual in turning it back upon himself. In general adults do not behave toward children in this way. On the contrary, certain types of education in various countries and surroundings, tend to augment the aggression appreciably." It is this dammed up aggression which is released in the service of war.
The evolution of a collective psychosis of the type here under discussion, in which the aggressive drives tend to explode into the outside world, may take place in one of two ways: either before the damaging aggressive act or after the harm has already been done. In the first instance the aggression may dissipate itself either because a stronger external force "prevents the hostility from manifesting itself, and so to say shuts the man up in a dungeon with his aggression, or else because certain erotic drives are sufficiently powerful to interfere with the development of the aggression". The aggression is thrown against the solid wall of necessity, turns itself inward, and is transformed into remorse and depression, but the blind force of destruction is dissipated. "If the hostility has been acted out and the aggression satisfied, the erotic drive can recover its power." Reconciliation and repentance follow. This process is analogous to the first moral manifestations of childhood: "The aggressive tendencies of the child, face to face with an external object, for example a brother or a sister, sometimes find themselves checked … either by an external force which interferes with the realization
- 636 -
of the hostile wishes, or by the child's own ambivalence, if he also feels love and tenderness for the object of his hostility, which interfere with the expression of his aggression. In either case the hostility is turned inward and the child may beat himself because he wishes to beat others. The tendency towards self-punishment, the moral aggression against the self, makes its appearance. But if the aggression has not been interfered with before the undesirable act, if it has been acted out, then the interaction of friendly and hostile tendencies is modified by the satisfaction of the aggression, to the advantage of the erotic elements. The resulting regeneration expresses itself in contrition, in the effort made toward a reconciliation, and in the feeling of having contracted a debt toward the victim."
"But to what extent does the acting out of the hostility satisfy the aggression? How much harm must be done to appease the aggression and to allow the Eros to take its place? This depends upon the relative power of the aggressive and erotic drives." If we turn to history, we find that whenever less domesticated aggressive people have conquered more civilized ones, they assimilated the civilization of the vanquished, so that little by little they themselves became domesticated.
A Few Sociological Remarks: The present situation
The present economic situation is discussed at considerable length and with great clarity. The problem of specialized production and its relation to periods of financial depression and inflation, as well as its influence upon a dense population which is of necessity driven into cities because of it, is shown to be the axis about which the present difficulties revolve. Comparing the situation today with that of the declining Greek civilization of the third century B.C. which survived the crisis, and with that of the Roman Empire of the third century A.D. which failed to do so, certain similarities become evident. In each instance capitalism was disintegrating, with the inevitable result that specialized production could not be maintained, and social conditions became completely disequilibrated. A new equilibrium had to be established with the tendency to depopulate the cities and recreate the dominance of the self-supporting villages. These represent the only stable form of society, since they have no need to rely upon the fluctuations of the currency. Economic interventions, which are harmless and easily controlled
- 637 -
at the level of one stage production, do not remain so when they pertain to specialized mass production. The problem of the immediate present lies in the fact that a complete regression to the status of the self-sufficient peasantry is for many reasons no longer possible nor desirable, and that inflation and devaluation of all currencies create a constantly shifting equilibrium which may, in the end, prove to be an insufficient means to avoid disaster.
Urban civilization, dependent upon specialized production, is subject to insecurity not only from the economic but also from the psychological point of view. At best, city dwelling predicates conditions of life which are contrary to the native desires of the individual and which constantly demand difficult psychic reorganization. Myriads of men are engaged in professions far removed from the soil and are no longer aware of the end product of their labor, so that the identification of the man with his work no longer exists. Further, when mass production fluctuates downward, as at present, the continual adaptation to a new equilibrium demands that a man pass from one stratum of society to another, and from one activity to another, so that he becomes heimatlos and uprooted. The consequence is that the conditions of life become more difficult, the standard of living is lowered, and certain desires must be renounced. "Following one of our most general rules, a rule already mentioned above, man reacts to renunciations with aggression. For this reason we may expect an increase of human aggression all along the line. At this point our train of thought rejoins the observations which were previously made in regard to the etiology of the collective psychoses: we know that one of the wellsprings of all augmented aggression is human misery and renunciation." "The growing aggressive drive may manifest itself in various ways: it may spend itself on the outside world, it may turn back upon the individual and disturb his internal equilibrium, or finally, it may alternately break out in the one form or in the other."
"The situation seems to be determined by the contradiction of the exigencies of external reality, and the psychological needs of man. External reality demands a division of labor, and that man constantly be subjected to reality in order to maintain the accepted bypaths of production." Man revolts against this mechanization at the expense of the ideals of human "existence". The question then arises, "Is it true that mechanization must necessarily entail the decadence of life, or is it necessary to realize certain psychological
- 638 -
conditions so that life may come to its full expression within this complicated machine age?" Calling to mind that the nomad might have considered the village dweller's existence as sedentary, confined, and comparable to a sort of mechanization and decadence, Dr. Waelder concludes that perhaps today also the contradiction between mechanization and the psychological needs of man is only a matter of tension between the instinctive life and the adjustment to reality. "Then, for psychological reasons, men will again destroy that part of the reality created by previous generations which surpassed human capacity. But as the life instinct is powerful and irrevocable, when the number of men has been decreased and reality has been simplified, adaptation will come at last and man will be able to create an existence entirely in conformity with his dignity in the very heart of mechanization."
Occidental civilization has, for the most part, been alloplastic in character, and has developed such complexities "that man has had difficulty in adapting himself to it". Psychoanalysis could contribute a good deal toward the autoplastic changes required of the individual in adapting to reality.
- 639 -
Warburg, B. (1935). Lettre Sur L'Etiologie Et L'Evolution Des Psychoses Collectives, Suivie De Quelques Remarques Sociologiques Concernant La Situation Historique Actuelle. (A Letter Dealing with the Etiology and Evolution of the Collective Psychoses Followed by Some Sociological Considerations Concerning the History of the Present Situation.). Psychoanal. Q., 4:633-639