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Schmidt-Hellerau, C. (2020). How Demagogy Works: Reflections on Aggression in Politically Fraught Times. Psychoanal. Inq., 40(4):234-242.

(2020). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 40(4):234-242

How Demagogy Works: Reflections on Aggression in Politically Fraught Times

Cordelia Schmidt-Hellerau, Ph.D.

Most recent statistics show a considerable increase in violence in the U.S. (and other western countries) raising the question of how to understand this disconcerting development. The author presents her psychoanalytic conception of aggression as an intensification of the preservative and the sexual drives, and shows how political propaganda and demagogy effectively manipulate the cultural climate by speaking to and stirring primitive fears related to these primal drives and their structural modifications. Three false claims are attributed to groups of ostracized “others”: 1) they threaten the individual’s and society’s self-preservation and survival; 2) they pervert the sexual order; and 3) they destroy the social values and morale. The three-pronged assault on the social fabric and reality perception leads to group regressions, thereby enhancing the readiness for aggression and destruction in a supposedly defensive reaction to the drummed up fake danger.

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