Who Makes the Nazis?: Freud, Fascism and the Death Instinct

Introduction: “Beyond the Pleasure Principle”and Freud’s Controversial Death Instinct

and the death instinct, Freud was ..

'Beyond the Pleasure Principle' was an essay published by Freud in 1920 in which he introduced the idea of innate drives or impulses. These instinctual drives included the already established Eros (the love impulse), and the Libido (the sexual impulse), as well as the Thanatos (the death impulse opposing the Eros), and the Destrudo (the destruction impulse opposing the Libido).

As Noland (1999) explains, Freud believed that all humans have a death instinct ..

The ontological grounds of the death instinct in Freud.

However, under certain circumstances evolution does self-select the demise of the individual in favor of the propagation of the species. Male sea lions engage in near-fatal battles over mating territory, selecting the stronger of them for the gene pool. Salmon die when they return to the site of their origins to spawn their young, a perfect example of what Freud meant by a death instinct. Humans regularly die in wars on behalf of their country and their cherished beliefs. Many instances of a so-called death instinct involve the element of sacrifice. The part dies for the sake of the whole or for the Other. The individual dies for the sake of the preservation of the group. The child or the domestic partner suffers abuse in order to preserve a faulty attachment. Or, psychoanalytically speaking, the child’s omnipotence dies in order to enter the depressive position (Klein) and become part of the symbolic order (Lacan), a development which also supports its own survival. Indeed, a case could be made for the presence of a sacrificial instinct. Living systems appear widely programmed to enable the survival of the species at the expense of individuals, and of the organism at the expense of its cellular components.

Freud believed that every human had a life and death instinct.

It argues that Freud’s essay with its reading of Hoffmann’s as an instance of the uncanny is a thought experiment for his playing out in displaced form of the theoretical crisis that produced the Death Instinct, as he did with his turn to the tragedies of Sophocles and Shakespeare in the theoretical crisis of the seduction theory of 1897.

The Death Instinct (Freud, #2) by Jed Rubenfeld — …

Death essay freud from lacan pleasure

In “Beyond the Pleasure Principle,” this contradiction is especially salient in two problematic concepts invoked to build a rationale for a universal impulse towards death: pleasure as tension-reduction and the teleological notion of drive or instinct. Regarding the pleasure principle, Freud was aware that pleasure can come from arousal and excitement (increase in tension) as much as from the state of ease which he called the “nirvana principle.” Yet, neurologically in accord with the Reymond-Brucke pledge, he attributes all pleasure to a reduction of nervous excitation and a tendency towards quiescence. For instance, the infant, having sucked at the breast, is satisfied and calm. Thus, he regards the functions of perception and consciousness as maintaining a state of minimal tension, ignoring the contradictory fact that sensory input and stimulation are actively sought and maintain normal functioning, as we now know from sensory deprivation experiments and the like. The idea of tension reduction as the principle of neural functioning came to Freud from the neuroscience of his time, which emphasized the way in which neurons remained in a state of low excitation until triggered by stimulation, as Helmholtz had demonstrated regarding muscle contractions. Freud goes on to say that the unconscious-as-a-system and its psychosomatic core cannot maintain this low tension state by themselves, so they require the protection of a cortical shield of nerve cells that regulate consciousness and perception to prevent a catastrophic buildup of energy leading to illness or death. This leads to a notion on Freud’s part that death is active rather than passive, that some X factor propels towards repetition, regression, and death unless it is controlled and regulated by conscious reality (perception), just as in the libido theory, sexual impulses will go unbridled unless checked by the ego and superego.

'at bottom no one believes in his own death'

Freud begins by asking whether the pleasure principle alone guides human mentation and behavior. He examines instances such as sadism and masochism where people actively seek pain and discomfort, and finds that they nevertheless can be accounted for in terms of pleasurable drives and affects. He believes that the one phenomenon that cannot be accounted for by the pleasure principle is the repetition compulsion. He gives two examples: post-traumatic stress with its flashback dreams, where the traumatic experiences are re-played despite the suffering they evoke; and the spool game of “Fort-Da” where the child never tires of throwing the spool and retrieving it as a way of coping with mother’s absence. He also cites as un-pleasurable repetitions the transference neurosis and real life maladaptive patterns that are repeated despite their negative consequences. He concludes that the pleasure principle cannot, in itself, account for such recurrent encounters. He contemplates the possibility of a destructive or death drive that has no pleasurable consequences. (Importantly, the terms Eros and Thanatos as classes of instincts do not appear in this work. Freud is here talking about specific biological drives.)