Freud and psychology
by Chetan Parikh
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In a must-read book, “The Age of the Crowd”, the author, Serge Moscovici, writes on Freud and crowd psychology.


“Present-day Freudians simply seek to strengthen the certainties of readers who are already converted. Their linguistic brilliance, their intellectual artificiality and the outlandish situations they choose to study are all intended to flatter the sensibilities of the true believers. Psychoanalytical works written exclusively for psychoanalysts and those philosophers who, so to speak, read over their shoulders are overloaded with conniving winks, esoteric formulas and gnostic shibboleths. We too shall have to return to basic things and the painful task of analysis couched in universally accessible language. The simplicity of concepts must be maintained, and things that are normally veiled in artistic obscurity must be expressed plainly, for the crowd psychology of both Freud and his precursors is still unknown to us. We are suspicious and consequently ignorant of it, and the only way we can move towards an understanding is by means of the elementary and the familiar.


To start with, we must accept a basic fact: Freud shared with Le Bon and Tarde the conviction that everything depends on and is explained by psychic factors. To speak plainly, only one science, psychology, reaches the heart of reality. When reflecting on the great social problems, on world religions, on social movements, he was thinking of the various categories of crowds. We might ask what part sociology played in all that. For Freud, sociology was simply a form of applied psychology:


For sociology too, dealing as it does with the behaviour of people in society, cannot be anything but applied psychology. Strictly speaking, there are only two sciences: psychology, pure and applied, and the natural sciences. (Freud: XXII, 79)


This much is clear. Psychology is not a discipline sharing the cake of truth with the other branches of knowledge and trying to grab the lion's share. It embraces the whole of human reality, including history and culture, and no part of that reality is alien to it. This means that, contrary to what is commonly thought, Freud's various studies are not contributions to this or that branch of knowledge. Totem and Taboo is not a contribution to anthropology, The Future of an Illusion is not a contribution to the study of religions, Moses and Monotheism is not a contribution to history, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego is not a contribution to sociology and so on. He certainly studied the evidence amassed by these disciplines and discussed current interpretations of it, but only with the aim of relating it to psychology and in particular to crowd psychology, of which each of these disciplines was a facet. One American writer on Freud concludes that with Nietzsche, Freud declared that the master science of the future was not history but psychology, and that history would become mass psychology. With regard to the neurotic phenomena of religion:


The only really satisfactory analogy, Freud thought, was to be found in psychopathology, the genesis of human neurosis; that is to say, in a discipline belonging to individual psychology, whereas religious phenomena must of course be regarded as a part of mass psychology. (Rieff, 1979: 210)


All the works I have just mentioned belong to that kind of psychology for historical and, primarily, logical reasons. They are mysterious and superb creations which narrate the birth of a work, the story of a novel of the mind which has several different beginnings and which, like Finnegans Wake, never reaches the conclusion which it can of course never have. Nevertheless, as if we were listening to some final symphony or watching the last burst of an elaborate display of fireworks, we can see in it all the major themes of crowd psychology - the fusion of individuals into the mass, the power of leaders, the origin of beliefs and religion and their preservation in the ‘unconscious’ of the tribe, the enigma of the submission of men and the art of ruling them. For us, and by that I mean all those who are interested in that kind of psychology, they are worth a complete treatise. That is the perspective we must see and understand them in, even if they are twilight works.”