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Sternbach, O. (2006). Aggression, the Death Drive and the Problem of Sadomasochism: A Reinterpretation of Freud's Second Drive Theory. Psychoanal. Rev., 93(6):857-880.

(2006). Psychoanalytic Review, 93(6):857-880

Aggression, the Death Drive and the Problem of Sadomasochism: A Reinterpretation of Freud's Second Drive Theory

Oscar Sternbach

The 17th International Psychoanalytic Congress in Vienna in 1971, which was devoted to the problem of aggression; acknowledged that no essential progress had been made in the theoretical exploration of aggression since 1920, the year when “Beyond the Pleasure Principle” was published, the work in which Freud presented to the psychoanalytic world his second drive theory.

I believe that this situation regarding one of the most widely used concepts of psychoanalysis today justifies an attempt to reconsider Freud's unpopular second drive theory, which pointed the way to a scientific approach to the problem of aggression but opened a door to theoretical ambivalence and emotionally determined attitudes which hindered the very progress it was meant to initiate. In this attempt I propose to focus on one of its aspects which has been disregarded in all the discussions (pro or con) as if it concerned a side issue of little importance. This is the theory of the primary tendency toward tension increase and decrease in the organism, which Freud considered the essence of his theory of drives since 1920. Curiously enough, Freud himself failed to develop the potentialities of this concept consistently.

One remembers in this connection that Freud introduced his new drive theory with the apology that it was a product of his speculation and rather far from clinical experience (Freud, 1920).

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