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Samme Sheikh

12/13/2012
Sources of Authority in the Formation of Groups
In discussing the workings of group psychology as discussed by Le Bon,
McDougal and others, Freud comes to express an uneasiness with the lack of
individual agency implied in an otherwise accurate evaluation of the group mind as
a space for the manifestation of primitive instinct. Though Freud is able to agree
with the assertion that the individual must regress and repress in order to take part
in the mental activity of the group mind, Freud is reticent to attribute this fact of
group psychology to a simple human tendency toward surrendering individuality.
Instead, Freud argues for the relevance of certain psychical structures and processes
that shed light on the root workings of a group psychology. The structure of the
unconscious and the inter-related workings of the libido and the ego serve to
complicate the motives toward forming a group and designating authority within it.
For Freud, the fundamental premise of group psychology is the heightening
of emotional expression that exists alongside a collective inhibition of critical
capacity and intellect. (GP 23, 33) This condition was previously explained by the
need for similarity of sentiment amongst members in order for a group to come
together, specifically through powers termed suggestion, contagion, and imitation.
However, this constitutes too descriptive an analysis for Freud and he offers the
concept of the libido as a universal drive that brings individuals into groups and
accounts for the nature of group hierarchies, specifically in regard to the relations
between the members of a group and its leader.
Libido as Evidenced by Panic
Moving from the theoretical proposition of libido as a constitutive force in
the formation of groups, Freud analyzes two social groupings in order to reveal the
libidos concrete functions in cohering members of a group under a leader. Using the
church and the army as ideal types for this analysis, Freud shows the libido as
having a double character in both social groups. In the case of church, its structures
are maintained out of the strong emotional connection that arises out of shared
belief and is even further strengthened by the doctrinal emphasis in Christianity on
brotherly love. Along with this reinforcement of libidinal ties between the members
of a church, Freud points to another libidinal tie that connects every individual
member of that religious community to the religious entity already constitutes the
discrete ties amongst individuals. Similarly, the army is a group that exists out of the
libidinal ties between the soldiers who must view themselves as comrades and the
connection that all soldiers feel for their superiors and the army leader.
This network of libidinal associations that exists amongst individuals in a
group that also rises up out of them for a libidinal connection to a figure of authority
is evidenced in times of a groups decay. In the case of an army, soldiers are able to
confront the inherent perils of their enterprise because their groups cohesion.
Freud posits that in the event that an army is confronted with dangers greater than
a groups cohesive properties can ameliorate or assuage, soldiers can enter into a
state of panic. This panic for Freud is defined less by an increase in danger but by a
breakdown of libidinal ties that shielded soldiers from an individual rationalizing of
their lives.