Presenter: Eli Sagan
Discussant: Don Carveth
Date: September 12, 2012
In Freud, Women and Morality: The Psychology of Good and Evil (1988), sociologist, Freud scholar, and psycho-historian Eli Sagan proposes that conscience arises in the pre-Oedipal phase through identification with the nurturer, as distinct from the superego, which, according to Freud, arises much later, at the end of the Oedipal phase, through an identification with the aggressor. As the later Freud viewed human beings as driven by conflict between Eros and Thanatos, and Klein between the forces of love and hate, Sagan postulates conflict between our competing identifications with the nurturer and the aggressor as a driving force in human social evolution.
In a series of monographs—Cannibalism: Human Aggression and Cultural Form (1974), The Lust to Annihilate: A Psychoanalytic Study of Violence in Ancient Greek Culture (1979), At the Dawn of Tyranny: The Origins of Individualism, Political Oppression and the State (1985), The Honey and the Hemlock: Democracy and Paranoia in Ancient Athens and Modern America (1991), and Citizens and Cannibals: The French Revolution, the Struggle for Modernity, and the Origins of Ideological Terror (2001)—Sagan elaborated his psychoanalytically informed theory of social evolution. The breakdown of the kinship system that served as a psychic container for primitive man released intense separation and persecutory anxieties that human societies have since attempted to bind in differing ways: through magic and religion, the institution of the omnipotent god-king, practices of human sacrifice, and various forms of domination. The emergence of the ideas of human rights, equality, and democracy and the gradual de-legitimation of virtually all forms of domination in modernity (racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, childism) has resulted, for many people, in the forms of extreme reaction or “backlash” that Sagan calls “modernity psychosis”—a perspective that is very relevant for an understanding of our contemporary social and political condition.
The first two chapters of Eli Sagan's Freud, Women & Morality: The Psychology of Good and Evil
are available online here
for reading prior to the meeting. The paper is also available for download from the Member's area.
Open to all