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There is something so disturbingly tragic in this idea of the wealthiest country in the world bombing one of the poorest countries. It reminds me of the well-known joke about the idiot who loses a key in the dark and looks for it beneath the light. When asked why, he says: 'I know I lost it over there, but it's easier to look for it here.' But at the same time I must confess that the left also deeply disappointed me. Falling back into this safe pacifist attitude — violence never stops violence, give peace a chance — is abstract and doesn't work here. First, because this is not a universal rule. I always ask my leftist friends who repeat that mantra: What would you have said in 1941 with Hitler. Would you also say: 'We shouldn't resist, because violence never helps?' It is simply a fact that at some point you have to fight. You have to return violence with violence. The problem is not that for me, but that this war can never be a solution.

violent revolution

This acceptance of violence, this "political suspension of the ethical," is the limit of that which even the most "tolerant" liberal stance is unable to trespass - witness the uneasiness of "radical" post-colonialist Afro-American studies apropos of Frantz Fanon's fundamental insight into the unavoidability of violence in the process of effective decolonization. One should recall here Fredric Jameson's idea that violence plays in a revolutionary process the same role as worldly wealth in the Calvinist logic of predestination: although it has no intrinsic value, it is a sign of the authenticity of the revolutionary process, of the fact that this process is effectively disturbing the existing power relations. In other words, the dream of the revolution without violence is precisely the dream of a "revolution without revolution"(Robespierre). On the other hand, the role of the Fascist spectacle of violence is exactly opposite: it is a violence whose aim is to PREVENT the true change - something spectacular should happen all the time so that, precisely, nothing would really happen.[1]


The word violence derives from an Indo-European root that refers to life. The natural instinct of violence is thus not a destructive instinct, much less a death instinct, but a natural life and survival instinct that corresponds to the instinct of self-preservation in Sigmund Freud's first theory of the instincts.

It involves what Freud saw as a sort of natural "imaginary cruelty" in 1897 and described in "Instincts and Their Vicissitudes" (1915c) as being common to humans and animals. This instinct's goal is above all to protect life and the narcissistic integrity of the subject. This holds regardless of the potential effects caused secondarily to an object that as yet has only a narcissistic status in the subject's imagination. Instinctual violence has nothing to do with aggressiveness, sadism, or hatred, whose libidinal components Freud showed to be aimed at an object that had otherwise attained an oedipal genital status.

In Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905), Freud very clearly showed that this brutal instinct can attract to itself a part of the sexual instincts, producing aggressive components. In 1915 he attributed a narcissistic and phallic character to violent dynamism and advanced the hypothesis of a logically necessary anaclisis of the sexual instincts on the brutal self-preservation instincts, so as to reinforce the energy of the sexual instincts in the direction of love and creativity.

The role of the instinct of violence was gradually specified in European and American psychoanalytic studies that since 1960 have focused on a veritable metapsychology of narcissism. In La Violence fondamentale (Fundamental violence; 1984) Jean Bergeret, based on such studies and Freud's first hypotheses, proposed an attempted synthesis, forming a theory of instinctual violence. He gave special emphasis to the difficulties Freud encountered in trying to account for the stage of primitive violence within the totality of the Oedipus myth. The first acts of the drama (the oracle of Apollo and the episode of Mount Cithaeron in particular) bear witness to human beings' deep intuitive awareness of their fundamental instinct of brutality in the service of self-preservation.

Freud was never satisfied with his successive theories about the instincts. Rather, he decided to focus on the synchronic aspect of a conflict arising between tendencies within the same psychogenetic generation. His theory of instinctual anaclisis, however, would have enabled him to conceptualize a diachronic conflict pitting the violent pregenital tendencies against the sexual tendencies, with all the possible configurations linked to fusion, defusion, and the different modes of articulation of these two fundamental groups of instincts. His choice of a synchronic model of conflict prevented Freud from better integrating into his psychodynamic and economic conception this brutal instinct of violence and defense, which he had nevertheless clearly described.

See Also


  1. Nothing
  • Freud, Sigmund. (1905d). Three essays on the theory of sexuality. SE, 7: 123-243.
  • ——. (1915c). Instincts and their vicissitudes. SE, 14: 109-140.