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Freud’s Rejection

For Freud, the state is an entity that restricts the freedom of action of individuals. Because the state is composed of individuals and groups, the aim of authority therefore is the satisfaction of the needs and demands of particular groups in power. Hence, some individuals or groups are restricted from pursuing their own interests and aspirations. Restriction of freedom therefore is the definitive characteristic of the group/s in power. “It is necessary,” according to Freud, “for those who are above to restrain the actions of those who are above” (Strong, 1984).

These restrictions, according to Freud, appear in many forms. One form can be substituted to another, depending on the circumstance. The group in power can always manipulate public opinion to reflect their own self-biases. These biases, of course, are generally concealed in ‘moralistic standards’; standards that are assumed to be consistent with the general principles of social democracy. The ‘restriction principle’ therefore is directly related to the level of political authority that a particular group holds in a state.

Hence, it would be ‘irrational’ for the ‘master’ group to concede to every demand of the ‘subject’ group because it would contradict the basic aims of their authority. At this point, Freud echoes the Marxian concept of ‘dialectical group dominance. ’ Freud argued that when a political group or institution declines, it signals the rise of another group or institution. Freud takes the case of Rome. The decline of imperial political authority of the Roman emperors during the 4th century A. D. is one of the causes of the fall of Rome (hence, the fall of imperial authority).

The Roman Church replaced the emperor as the legitimate authority in the West. Its standards became the law; its head became the bearer of both religious and political authority. Here, the standard of the ‘master’ group became the standard of the society (which it governed). Are standards (imposed by the ‘master’ group legitimate foundations of political authority? In a broad sense, Freud rejected the proposition that standards can become basis of political authority. Standards for Freud are generally moral propositions imposed by the ruling group to other groups and individuals.

In order to strengthen the group’s hold to power, the group needs to construct (or modify) moral standards that suit their interests. Law, government, social class, and religion are the general sources of moral standards in society. By engaging in monopolistic manipulation, the group achieves legitimacy. The ‘master’ group then implements policies that will divert ‘libidinal energy’ (which is the source of rebellion) to work activities (which, according to Freud, are the foundations of civilizations). What is then the proper basis of political authority?

Freud pondered on this question for many years. He constantly weighed the implications of social revolt and coercion to the necessity of the law. Society, according to him, is repressive. Because every individual aspire for fame and power, those who are in power will constantly seek means to suppress it. This unconscious drive to retain authority is associated with the unconscious drive to rebel. In any case, the desire for power is a contagious phenomenon. Nobody is exempted. These ‘unconscious drives’ are greatly concealed in elaborate rules, practices, and affectionate activities.

Hence, Freud posited the proposition that libido is the main source of political unity (Strong, 1984). Sexual feelings drive the unity of the people at its limit. Individuals, seeing the fruits of true freedom unveiled, will phase out work activities, and unite to a common principle. The drive for power is substituted by the drive to sexual belonging. Here, the standards are not replaced; they are modified. Reference Strong, Tracy. 1984. Psychoanalysis as a Vocation. Political Theory, Vol. 12(1), pp. 51-79.

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