The Ego at War
The Ego at War
From the Death Instinct to Precarious Life
This chapter examines political Freudian thinking concerning war during World War I, World War II, and the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Freud believed that aggression was a normal and healthy part of civilization, but only insofar as its roots in vulnerability, dependence, and in the continued presence of infantile states in the adult mind were recognized. The century’s earliest approach to war rested on the warrior ethic associated with such ideals as glory, honor, and self-sacrifice. The shell shock incident of World War I led Freud to formulate his theory of the ego, which challenged those ideals. Hence the political Freudian tradition reflects a shift from the classical Cartesian or Kantian view of the rational, independent, “bounded” ego to the view that the ego is formed through recognition, object relations, and language. While this shift deepened the Freudian interrogation of vulnerability, it also threatened to lose the focus on ego autonomy that gave psychoanalysis its critical force.
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