"Thirst for Obedience": A Freudian Analysis of the Father-Leader in Adorno and Beauvoir
"Thirst for Obedience": A Freudian Analysis of the Father-Leader in Adorno and Beauvoir
Ostro 0 “Thirst for Obedience”: A Freudian Analysis of the Father-Leader in Adorno and Beauvoir By Jules Ostro Professor Andrew Arato Contemporary Sociological Theory Spring 2019 © 2019 Jules Ostro
Ostro 1 I. INTRODUCTION Theodor W. Adorno’s 1951 essay, “A Freudian analysis of Fascist Propaganda,” is a fertile ground for comparison with the work of feminist existential philosopher Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, which was published just a couple of years earlier in 1949. The following exposition of Adorno’s essay and the “Introductory" and “Independent Woman” chapters in Beauvoir’s The Second Sex examines how Adorno’s application of Freudian psychoanalytic theory of mass psychology and the modern authoritarian state aligns with Beauvoir’s theoretical dialectic of the man as transcendent Subject versus the woman as immanent Other.
The connective thread in both contexts is a hegemonic teleology of dominance. This hegemony is the apparatus and function of both predominately male fascist dictators and sexist social actors who pander to collective entities of followers captivated by the ostensible auspices of the Father-Leader. The following use of the term Father-Leader will be used as a symbolic gesture and catch-all term to simplify the analogy between Adorno’s fascist dictator and the historically paternalistic man. The symbolic authority of the Father-Leader lies in his ability to generate an affect-driven, hypnotic libidinal bond through the mechanisms of identification and idealization with a mass ancillary entity, in this case either a fascist following of a nation or a large majority of the population, thus maintaining social and political privilege, influence, and control.
II. ADORNO AND THE PATTERN OF FASCIST PROPAGANDA Theodor W. Adorno’s theoretical project on fascist propaganda is rooted in Freudian psychoanalysis, specifically that derived from Sigmund Freud’s 1922 text, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego. What is compelling to Adorno, and the impetus behind his application of Freud, is psychoanalysis’s capacity to unearth the psychological mechanisms that underlie social phenomena, in this case fascist propaganda. Adorno begins his argument by distinguishing between rational political aims and the intentionally calculative aims of the fascist dictator.
The fascist dictator, or “agitator,” uses © 2019 Jules Ostro
Ostro 2 manipulative, psychological strategies, or “devices” that impart a rhetoric whose basis is simplicity and repetition (Adorno 119). These psychological devices are implemented mainly because fascism is unable to propagandize through rational arguments. Because fascist aims often contradict the material interests of the masses, the fascist leader must tap into the frustration and disillusionment a people have toward the heteronomy of modern society, thereby mobilizing “irrational, unconscious, regressive processes” (Adorno 134).
Adorno discloses what he claims to be the secret of fascist propaganda ] it simply takes men for what they are: the true children of today’s standardized mass culture” (Adorno 134).
In addition, the success of a fascist agitator relies on what tends to be expected and characteristic of a group, namely, what Freud articulates as simple and exaggerated feelings and excessive extremes, with force and violence respected and kindness considered weak (Freud 15). Adorno appreciates how Freud presciently sought to make sense of the crisis of the individual within the construct of mass psychology all before the rise and mass following of Hitler and Mussolini; specifically, Freud’s foresight for ] the profound crisis and willingness to yield unquestioningly to powerful outside, collective agencies” (Adorno 120).
Freud importunes a precise definition of a group in Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego and how it comes to have such influence over an individual, pulling from polymath Gustave Le Bon to define the self-state of the individual when transformed into a group as in possession of a “collective mind” (Freud 7). Freud writes how group dynamics can change one’s psychosocial disposition: “Isolated, he may be a cultivated individual; in a crowd, he is a barbarian,” with the group characteristic of that which is credulous, imperious, and self-denying (Freud 13). What Freud concludes and Adorno assents to, is that being a part of the group allows certain unconscious and formerly repressed instincts and drives of the individual to surface due to the effacement of one’s self-responsibility.
Clearly, group psychology under a fascist dictator has the power to evince one’s unconscious psychic history. As Freud maintains, © 2019 Jules Ostro
Ostro 3 “[the] apparently new characteristics which he then displays [...] in fact the manifestations of this unconscious, in which all that is evil in the human mind is contained as a predisposition” (Freud 9). Another formative dimension to group psychology is the idea of a hypnotic contagion, which is an effect of the suggestibility of a fascist dictator. As Adorno affirms, Freud’s work pulls from the description Le Bon uses when relaying what occurs when the “mass mind” is pulled under the influence of suggestion (Adorno 120). As Freud writes, “There is no doubt that something exists in us which, when we become aware of signs of an emotion in someone else, tends to make us fall into the same emotion; but how often do we not successfully oppose it, resist the emotion, and react in quite an opposite way? Why, therefore, do we invariably give way to this contagion when we are in a group?” (Freud 27).
Suggestibility is of huge import in the analysis of authoritarianism because it is one of the psychological devices that fascist agitators use to compel the masses into a specific emotional state that approximates fascination (Freud 11), likening suggestibility to the libidinal, or emotional, contagion one feels when hypnotized.
Freud defines group psychology as addressing the individual as ] a member of a race, of a nation, of a caste, of a profession, of an institution, or as a component part of a crowd of people who have been organized into a group at some particular time for some definite purpose” (Freud 4). While Adorno generally agrees with Freud for rejecting surgeon and social psychologist Wilfred Trotter’s notion of the herd instinct when explaining mass psychology, he believes that Freud considers the social or herd instinct as indicative of the problem of the masses, not the solution (Adorno 121). However, when looking closely at Freud’s text, one finds that Freud neither considers this a solution nor a problem, for he rejects the notion of the herd instinct in its primitive entirety in lieu of ] a narrower circle, such as that of the family” (Freud 5).
Freud again negates the notion of the herd instinct as the problem because it undermines the role of the leader in the group, and “it is impossible to grasp the nature of a group if the leader is disregarded. The herd instinct leaves no room at all for the leader” (Freud 65). Nevertheless, © 2019 Jules Ostro
Ostro 4 Adorno may have construed Freud’s appropriation of Le Bon’s language differently when conveying the group as an obedient herd with a “thirst for obedience” (Freud 17). Yet, here Freud is not emphasizing the group-instinct in this respect; instead, he is rather imparting what could be called an obedience-instinct and how it is initiated under an authority and is thereby a formative part of the problem of the modern authoritarian state. According to Freud, a group wants to obey: “It wants to be ruled and oppressed and to fear its masters. Fundamentally it is entirely conservative, and it has a deep aversion to all innovations and advances, with an unbounded respect for tradition” (Freud 15).
This “thirst for obedience” is a fitting segue into the problem of the fascist leader as articulated vis-à-vis the symbolic authority of the Father-Leader.
III. ADORNO, FREUD AND THE MAKING OF THE FATHER-LEADER Which traits facilitate the fascist leader’s ostensibly seamless transcendence into the almighty Father-Leader figure? One of the most significant aspects of a leader is his ability to control by means of fascination, by hypnotic contagion and the use of his prestige and “strong and imposing will, which the group, which has no will of its own, can accept from him” (Freud 17). As mentioned earlier, Freud suggests it is force and not kindness that allures the group, with Adorno notably adding how any reference to love is largely excluded from fascist masses; in fact, Adorno astutely assimilates Hitler with the authoritarian father instead of the loving father, with any notion of love directed toward Germany through National Socialist aims (Adorno 123).
The only love that the leader purposes is his love for himself and whatever impregnable ideological edifice he believes in and exacts onto his subjects. As Adorno writes, the image of the fascist leader “[reanimates] the idea of the all-powerful and threatening primal father” (Adorno 124). This Father-Leader has the aptitude to tap into the capaciousness of one’s “archaic inheritance,” or what Freud terms the “archaic heritage” (Freud 76) of the unconscious, that is, to personalize fascist propaganda through a “reawakened irrationality” (Adorno 124). Freud believes that the © 2019 Jules Ostro
Ostro 5 individual derives pleasure from awakening formerly repressed instincts and inhibitions, for “in obedience to the new authority he may put his former ‘conscience’ out of action” (Freud 23). Another dimension of the Father-Leader that encourages obedience is how he befits the portrait of Superman (Freud 71). However, while the fascist leader may be idealized as Superman, he is also necessarily just an average person ] a great little man [...] just as Hitler posed as a composite of King Kong and the suburban barber” (Adorno 127). Gino Germani may not have disagreed here, for what Adorno is speaking to vis-à-vis Freud is an activating and mobilizing energy fascist dictators instill in their citizens through their authoritarian political ideology.
Germani wrote that the telos of modern authoritarian regimes is not to diminish its citizens into passive individuals ] but politicization according to a certain specific ideology” (10). Germani also speaks to the psychosocial affects of fascism à la psychoanalyst Erich Fromm, maintaining how modern individuals living in a society founded in individuation and rationalism may come to develop defense mechanisms to safeguard against the isolation and insecurity of atomized modern life, specifically, psychosocial mechanisms that give rise to “[...] authoritarianism, destructiveness, and automaton conformity” (Germani 48-49).
Germani thereby may have agreed then that the manipulative force of the Father-Leader inspires subjects to make choices that adhere to what they believe they wish, yet, with a conferred freedom that is an illusion. Although the mechanisms undergirding the manipulation of the Father-Leader has been addressed, the techniques of the fascist leader and mass psychology is a two-way street, with the techniques of the subject-follower turned what one could call the hypnotized child-follower is attendant to the techniques of the fascist leader turned Father-Leader. Adorno suggests à la Freud that the answer lies in the libidinal bond that the demagogue exploits as a means of mass manipulation, causing individuals to become followers and adherents of his ideology, thereby negating their ego ideal in lieu of a group ideal through the mechanisms of identification and idealization.
The ego ideal is essentially the idealized image of one’s self, and because the self has been largely subsumed to suffice the group, one’s individual ego © 2019 Jules Ostro
Ostro 6 becomes relegated to a group ego, with the group ideal created in the image of the fascist leader. As Freud writes, “The leader of the group is still the dreaded primal father; the group still wishes to be governed by unrestricted force; it has an extreme passion for authority; in Le Bon’s phrase, it has a thirst for obedience” (Freud 76). Likewise, as Adorno applies Freud’s analysis, he writes how the primal father is the group ideal that replaces the ego ideal (Adorno 124). This group ideal creates a mental homogeneity (Freud 22), or group mind in psychologist William McDougall’s terms, which is similar to the idea of mimesis, in that the interpersonal dynamics of the group or crowd often take on an isomorphic quality that lead to “[...] the nature of a compulsion to do the same as the others, to remain in harmony with the many” (Freud 22).
The influence in effect that the collective group has over the individual may be from the individual’s drive toward group harmony over conflict and opposition, therefore pre-empting isolation and anomie. Perhaps here one finds it best to act in accordance to “ihnen zu Liebe,” a German idiom meaning “for their sake,” or literally, “for love of them” (Freud 31). This type of liebe is more obedience than love, though, for while consolidating the group harmony and collective ethos into a type of “malicious egalitarianism,” it both represses and empowers, causing a negative cathexis of hatred, hostility, and rejection of the out-group (Adorno 130-131), and therefore total integration of the in-group.
The symbolic power of the Father-Leader, that which is a mainstay and catalyst for the symbolic political power of this unconscious yet committed group ideal, is articulated by Pierre Bourdieu ] that invisible power which can be exercised only with the complicity of those who do not want to know that they are subject to it or even that they themselves exercise it” (Bourdieu 164).
IV. IDENTIFICATION, IDEALIZATION, AND THE FATHER-LEADER IN ADORNO A crucial dimension in the pattern of fascist propaganda is the libidinal attachment the follower develops for the Father-Leader. Freud defines libido, in the simplest terms, as energy, that which derives © 2019 Jules Ostro
Ostro 7 from the instincts of love (Freud 29). This libidinal energy within the group is manifested as emotional ties from both an individual group member to fellow group members as well as from individual group members to the leader, with the underlying cause of this libidinal bond two essential qualities that are antecedent to the libidinal attachment itself, that of identification and idealization.
Identification is one of the steadfast psychological mechanisms human beings rely on as a substrate for social connection. Freud defines identification as ] the earliest expression of an emotional tie with another person” and connects it to the Oedipus complex’s reliance on the father as the earliest ego ideal and subject of the ego, since the father is often the person the child would like to be, which is in contrast to the mother as the object of the ego for the Oedipal child, that which the child would like to have (Freud 47). There is a degree of mimesis here, too, for the child is self-fashioning their ego into a likeness of their father, who has become their primary model (Freud 48).
In many respects, the superego is what happens when the ego ideal fails to live up to its model — it becomes internalized in the form of a normativity that can leave one hamstrung. Likewise, fear is what happens when one’s emotional bond, or libidinal cathexis, to the ego ideal disintegrates, for this libidinal bond precludes the followers of a fascist leader from entering into a state of fear (Freud 37). But when one is a part of a mass fascist following, the fascist leader’s reiterative propaganda and mass of followers stabilizes the ego ideal into a group ideal that is reified in a collective ethos.
Adorno writes of the narcissistic element of identification via the ego ideal, in that the object one wishes to incorporate into oneself becomes a mere form of self-reflection because it is the idealized version of oneself or an ] enlargement of the subject’s own personality, a collective project of himself, rather than the image of the father ( Adorno 125). In this sense, the technique of narcissism appears to enable a safe emotional distance from the symbolic consequence of the leader saliently actualizing the role of Father-Leader. A narcissistic identification would essentially allow the father image to fade into the background, for what results from this mechanism of narcissistic identification with © 2019 Jules Ostro
Ostro 8 an object, in this case the fascist leader, is the idealization of the leader: “We see that the object is being treated in the same way as our own ego, so that [...] a considerable amount of narcissistic libido overflows on to the object” with the object “[serving] as a substitute for some unattained ego ideal of our own” (56). Adorno likens the object of the ego ideal, in this case, the fascist leader, to Freud’s examples of legitimated authorities like Jesus Christ in the Catholic Church or the Commander-in-Chief of an army, the “substitute fathers” (Freud 33), due to the similar nature and implications of narcissistic identification and idealization.
However, there is also an ambivalence toward the leader because the follower wants to both submit to the authority of the leader and become the authority himself, yet this ambivalence is conciliated through the dual mechanisms of identification and idealization (Adorno 127-128), along with the messages received from propaganda itself. Adorno mentions how fascist leaders encourage hierarchical organization in their propaganda thus maintaining the Us vs. Them dialectic, the in-group and out-group dynamics of othering. Adorno references Hitler’s famous formula, Verantwortung each oben, Autoritat each unten, which, when translated to English reads “responsibility towards above, authority towards below” (128) as a way of exemplifying how the fascist leader infects his penchant for persecution into his followers like a plague.
This ambivalence is reconciled once one has cathected to their new ego ideal by idealizing both the fascist leader and idealizing the group; by necessity, one can do nothing but love oneself and exalt oneself since the mechanism of identification with both the leader and the group precedes idealization (Adorno 126).
What this underscores is one of the most powerful aspects of Freudian analysis applied to the problem of fascism. When one’s unconscious drives and ego ideals are reconciled through one’s membership in a group that effusively advocates for a fascist political ideology, this group membership becomes an adequate sublimation for eschewing membership in a civil society based in civic and humanitarian engagement, political freedom and agency, and self-accountability. As Freud writes, “At © 2019 Jules Ostro
Ostro 9 bottom this hero is no one but himself” (88).
The hero here, manifested through idealized projections and identifications of what one could call the Father-Hero, is really just a distorted and displaced version of one’s own tortured self. As history has demonstrated, it is a tragic, inestimable loss when the narcissistic object supplanting the ego ideal is a fascist dictator. V. BEAUVOIR AND TRANSCENDENCE VS. IMMANENCE IN THE SECOND SEX Simone de Beauvoir’s intellectual project in writing The Second Sex was to analyze the history, character, and consequence of the secondary status of women in society to ask why it was that women had become subordinated as the inferior sex.
The “Introduction” and “Independent Woman” chapters are especially relevant in this discussion because they underscore how Beauvoir considers the becoming of woman’s immanent situation existing only as a relational provision to the transcendence of man. Beauvoir emphasizes the immanent situation of women as contingent on men’s transcendence, for the agentive subjectivity of men is what allows for their superior status in the upper strata as social absolutes, whereas the subjectivity of women is wholly considered in terms of embodiment and limitation. Beauvoir quotes Aristotle to support this: “The female is female by virtue of a certain lack of qualities,” and Saint Thomas, who qualified a woman as an “‘incomplete man,’ an ‘incidental’ being” (5).
What these fatalistic descriptions suggest is that the historical situation of women renders them as essentially inessential in binary schemas: “She is determined and differentiated in relation to man, while he is not in relation to her; she is the inessential in front of the essential. He is the Subject; he is the Absolute. She is the Other” (Beauvoir 6). What Beauvoir means in her use of the word transcendence is freedom, and how both personal freedom and social mobility are lacking in the concept of the immanent woman, which one could consider in terms of a material determinism of sorts ] an attempt is made to freeze her as an object and doom her to immanence” (17).
Through the following poetic prose, Beauvoir qualifies this problem © 2019 Jules Ostro
Ostro 10 of immanence: “The spirit with all its riches must project itself in an empty sky that is its to fill; but if a thousand fine bonds tie it to the earth, its surge is broken” (Beauvoir 749). Beauvoir has an acute awareness of how the alterity of women is unlike any other historical cases of alterity, such as colonial conquests, genocides, and slavery: “In these cases, for the oppressed there was a before: they share a past, a tradition, sometimes a religion or a culture” (8). After that, something happened that changed a group’s status and locus of experience, which Beauvoir believes is different from the othering women experience: “Alterity here appears to be an absolute, partly because it falls outside the accidental nature of historical fact” (8).
Women have, since time immemorial, been considered the second sex, for ] the myth of the Woman, of the Other, remains precious for many reasons” (Beauvoir 14). The historical truth and perpetuation of subjugation is not, however, simply a result of man’s dominion due to his essential and transcendent status, it is also, as Beauvoir illuminates, due to woman’s material reliance and, at times, satisfaction from remaining as the provisional Other to man. What Beauvoir is suggesting in this existential dialectic is how the historical ontology of women finds them in a seemingly fixed situation of alterity due to the static polarity and historical binary of the sexes; yet, what may not be as vividly patent, is how Beauvoir subtly probes women to absolve their fealty as sexed lieges and realize their agency, freedom, and equally essential transcendence.
VI. BEAUVOIR AND THE TRANSCENDENCE OF THE FATHER-LEADER The following addresses Beauvoir’s transcendent Subject vis-à-vis the paternalistic man and symbolic Father-Leader. The deceptive characteristics undergirding the Father-Leader’s transcendence are believable because of how normative his transcendence becomes. The women of a society that believe men are more transcendent and thereby the primary and more powerful sex, cherish this belief because they are indoctrinated by social and cultural inscriptions that decree a value differential between the sexes, with men capable of transcending their physical, embodied form and elevating to a higher social © 2019 Jules Ostro
Ostro 11 and intellectual strata, while women remain as immanent, embodied objects because their bodies are their sole economic currency. As Beauvoir writes, at some point women begin to believe in their secondary status and may even derive satisfaction from it since men’s transcendence feels too out of reach ... ] woman makes no claim for herself as subject because she lacks the concrete means, because she senses the necessary link connecting her to man” (Beauvoir 10). When Beauvoir also writes of Mitsein (17), Heidegger’s concept of Being-with, she imparts her hope for the future of women after millennia of otherness, yet one could consider the only Mitsein of Beauvoir’s woman as the bond she has with man.
Nancy Bauer’s articulation of Mitsein is useful in conveying the social deficit of women: “the idea, very roughly speaking, is that an absolutely, ontologically, basic feature of being human is experiencing oneself as part of a fellowship about which one is bound to care ” (Bauer 130). Aside from the privileged elite, for most of history, women never had their own public, their own fraternal collective aside from the familial bonds of domestic life.
In many ways, one could consider the women who abide by social norms and remain in their domestic milieu as the in-group women, those who identify with and perhaps idealize femininity, and those who transgress in hopes of finding transcendence as the out-group, those who find identification with and idealization of masculinity. The in-group women are paternalistically embedded within their in-group because society is under the dominion of the privileged sex who rationalize the subjugation of women, exalting those who abide by the logos that decrees that which is “natural and universal.” This logos maintains women in a stratified state of subjection, for many subsequently come to believe that it is right to abide and obey as followers saturated with a thirst for obedience, especially when voluntary associations and horizontal bonds of alliance catalyze in-group women-followers to assimilate their objects and ideals of identification and idealization.
Adorno alludes to an illusory transcendence that followers may assume when identifying with and idealizing the in-group and its leader ] the follower, simply through belonging to the in-group, is better, higher and purer than those who are © 2019 Jules Ostro
Ostro 12 excluded” (130). Women who are inculcated with the belief that their social place is as followers beneath men learned at some point in their lives that this is what a good woman does: She follows the rules and obeys so to maintain her purity, virtue, and decided follower status in the in-group. Thus the transcendence of men is accepted and consolidated by both the privileged and subordinated sexes who buy into the culturally-inscribed propaganda and manipulative logic for establishing women as inferior in strength, fortitude, intellectual acuity, and economic know-how.
For this last point, one must simply call on Marx and Engels’ studies of capital, particularly their writing on historical materialism (Marx and Engels 150), to see the historical process of women’s exclusion from the general domain of economic opportunity, specifically, labor, land, and money through most of agrarian and industrial history.
Referencing Marx here in the context of The Frankfurt School is apropos, for Adorno and friends sought to create a synthesis between Marx and Freud to demonstrate how one’s inner nature is dominated by the repression of emotions, in this case, perhaps as a way of trying to make sense of the oppressive, patriarchal superstructures that reinforce women’s material reliance on men. Beauvoir suggests economic freedom as the zenith for women’s self-reliance and the development of proprietary rights for accumulating and sustaining their material and economic livelihood, for “[...] work alone can guarantee her concrete freedom” (Beauvoir 721).
Yet, one sees how the influx of women who left the duties of domestic labor for more agentive and autonomous roles in the industrial factories ended up with double the workload. Once women were able to work outside the home, following their monotonous work, they would return home to fulfill their domestic, quotidian duties, along with the emotional labor that is part and parcel of being a mother and wife: “She will be a double for her husband at the same time as being herself; she will take charge of his worries, she will participate in his successes just as much as taking are of her own lot, and sometimes even more so” (Beauvoir 734).
Many women have been desperate to achieve the transcendence that is gained when one is declared equal rights, status, power, and prestige, a freedom and agency that is often sought in work, and often difficult to negotiate © 2019 Jules Ostro
Ostro 13 with motherhood. Most women during the time Beauvoir wrote were not as freed by their work as they may have hoped to be, and the consequence of this is still being felt today. In the example of America, it was only once more women started joining the workforce that new types of feminist circles began to provide a public network for women, whereas prior to this, women's groups were largely private and considered in relation to concerns of the domestic housewife (Ikegami 60). Beauvoir speaks to how a woman grows up nurtured by the domestic, familial fellowship of her mother and other seasoned women.
These older woman are to be respected for their own capaciousness for the eternal feminine: “Her mother and other older women have fostered her nesting instinct: a home of her own was the earliest form of her dream of independence; she would not think of discarding it, even when she finds freedom in other ways” (Beauvoir 725). This domestic apprenticeship that women are grown into and through is instilled by the values of the older and more respected women in their horizontally-bonded milieux. Perhaps then the historically subjugated woman may have learned that there is a special fellowship in domestic unfreedom, that the immanence she was taught to value would be what ultimately connects her to her procreative purpose among an exclusive coven of like-minded, negligible Others.
Nevertheless, there is also a salient tension here, for the woman grows up within the domestic feminine only to soon learn of all the unfreedom she has in comparison to her transcendent counterpart. This tension is the duality that women are faced with when trying to reconcile the domestic feminine with the masculine public: “Haunted by childhood and adolescent dreams; she has difficulty reconciling the inheritance of her past with the interest of her future” (Beauvoir 737). Beauvoir herself recognizes this tension as psychological, although it has the capacity to translate to and manifest in the body, sometimes as physical ailments ] because of all the tasks they take on and the contradictions they struggle against,” for ] a situation does not depend on the body; it is rather the body that depends on it” (736).
Indeed, the question remains after the dearth of social, material, and political opportunities women have been denied are hereto expressed — what about the psychological © 2019 Jules Ostro
Ostro 14 dimension Beauvoir dimly references? Or, borrowing from the title of one of Judith Butler’s books, what about the “psychic life of power” in the context of the Father-Leader and subjugated second sex? What are the psychoanalytic mechanisms that sustain women in a state of alterity? The answer lies in the same dimensions one finds in the mass psychology of a group under the dominance of a fascist leader — identification and idealization. Yet, what Beauvoir offers as an ancillary to the prestige and Superman characteristics of the fascist leader is the notion of the paternalistic man as transcendent Subject.
The trappings of transcendence, i.e. prestige, privilege, and superior influence is what allows for the devices of identification and idealization and what makes the hypnotic power and contagion of the Father-Leader diffuse.
These trappings derive from the ideological exaltation that has positioned men into an elevated social position since time immemorial. The stratification and binary model of the sexes has allowed men to become the voice of the world and arbiter of how one best adjudicates social, moral, and political life. This voice is mentioned by Adorno in his discussion of how the fascist leader comes to appropriate such savvy in mass manipulation, with ] the leaders [...] generally oral character types, with a compulsion to speak incessantly and to befool the others” (Adorno 132). It is understandable how men come to have such command over speech and rhetoric, for it is men who have had the access and means for literacy and education to so artfully use language to their advantage.
The socially constructed yet seemingly universal higher status of men is what sets the stage for both their transcendence and the mechanisms of identification and idealization that create the psychic underbelly and ubiquity of the Father-Leader. VII. IDENTIFICATION, IDEALIZATION, AND THE FATHER-LEADER IN BEAUVOIR Beauvoir begins her analysis in The Second Sex by speaking to the social myth of the “eternal feminine” that underlies the situation of how women become women. This becoming is actualized by some women through the embodiment of femininity in such a way that allows them to either identify with © 2019 Jules Ostro
Ostro 15 and idealize femininity, thereby alleging femininity as an immanent, objective status, declaring “Tota muller in utero: she is a womb,” or to remain in ardent denial of being representative of any feminine qualifier, as seen through the more defiant women who identify with and idealize masculinity. Beauvoir writes of her observations of American women: “She was denying her feminine frailty; but it was for the love of a militant man she wanted to be equal to. The defiant position that American women occupy proves they are haunted by the sentiment of their own femininity” (Beauvoir 3-4).
This emphasizes how dualistic the situation of many women really is, for women are forced to either assume their immanent lot and all normativity attendant to the feminine stereotype, or resist the norms around performatively doing femininity. What this may presuppose is the identification with a different embodiment than that which they were born — that which is the other side of the binary and is diametrically opposed to their primary and learned, gendered body, in this case, espousing the characteristics of masculinity. It is relevant to briefly address the genealogy of how gender and sex has been historically interpreted.
Gender, at least through the progressive left, is now largely accepted as a culturally-prescribed injunction rather than a natural, universal, and uniform disposition, and gender performativity, or doing gender, took nearly forty years after Beauvoir wrote The Second Sex to enter the postmodern turn of phrase. It was not until 1987 with Candace West and Don H. Zimmerman’s seminal article, “Doing Gender,” and Judith Butler’s popularization with her influential 1990 book, Gender Trouble, that gender became, as Judith Butler writes, “the cultural meanings that the sexed body assumes” (Butler 474).
Beauvoir mentions what happens when women become frustrated by the servility of doing femininity, and therefore attempt the doing of masculinity ] she tries to take her revenge by playing the game with masculine weapons: she talks instead of listening, she flaunts clever ideas, unusual feelings; she contradicts her interlocutor instead of going along with him, she tries to outdo him” (Beauvoir 726). When women transgress and absolve themselves of feminine norms, they automatically assume the social status of rebel, which is a “risky tactic,” as Beauvoir writes (724), to both their © 2019 Jules Ostro
Ostro 16 reputation and career (Beauvoir 726). Much time and energy is expended in order to, as one could say, do risk in a right and safe way. If women mingle risk and sexuality, they are prone to more sexual diseases and less sexual satisfaction, along with the risk of pregnancy and rape (Beauvoir 727-728). Yet, when the woman subverts from the feminine norm, she is then just a re-qualified woman: She then becomes something else, in this case, the risky woman or rebellious woman, rather than the feminine or sophisticated woman. The point is, regardless of how women present themselves socially, they are unable to escape their sexed being.
Beauvoir elucidates this: “The woman [...] knows that when people look at her, they do not distinguish her from her appearance: she is judged, respected, or desired in relation to how she looks” (724). When a woman undoes her femininity and rebels against the social mores that prescribe who, how, and what she should be, the only behavior left to emulate is that of the powerful and transcendent.
Therefore, like the fascist follower, out of unconscious necessity, the woman identifies and idealizes the social, material, and political freedom and sexual prowess of man in order to work with what her options are within the binary order. In many respects, the female identification with masculinity may be one that is necessary for the woman because that is the safest ego ideal. If women choose men as their ego ideal, they have an ideal model that allows for their own mimetic transcendence, that which circumvents the transcendence of man’s “essential and sovereign consciousness” (Beauvoir 17).
As Beauvoir elegantly writes ] she could only win by losing,” for ] it is out of the question to think of her as simply free” (730). What women must then do to compensate for the immanence they have been taught to abide and stay obedient toward is to identify and idealize with something that has been oppressive, yet, once re-appropriated, may be empowering ] the woman who chooses to reason, to express herself using masculine techniques, will do her best to stifle an originality she distrusts; like a female student, she will be assiduous and pedantic; she will imitate rigor and virile vigor” (Beauvoir 745).
It could then be argued that transcendence, or freedom, for a woman is identifying and idealizing man’s © 2019 Jules Ostro
Ostro 17 transcendence and incorporating his own deeds, desires, and practices, into her habitus. As Beauvoir writes ] when she is productive and active, she regains her transcendence; she affirms herself concretely as subject in her projects; she senses her responsibility relative to the goals she pursues and to the money and rights she appropriates” (721). In addition, Beauvoir would believe that the reason why many women are so quick to feed their “thirst for obedience” is because they recognize that what men want from women is obedience, and in order for men to willingly provide the social and material resources that women rely on, women must deliver obedience, or at least postured obedience.
As Beauvoir asserts, “She needs to please men to succeed in her life as a woman,” for because women ] do not receive the moral and social benefits they could legitimately expect in exchange for their work, they simply resign themselves to its constraints “ (722). This suggests that the process Adorno applies to the fascist leader, that of Freud’s notion of libidinal attachment and subsequent mechanisms of identification and idealization, are really just conciliatory stopgaps for managing alterity. Even once women do identify and idealize, establishing a solid model-object as an ego ideal, they are still bridled and fettered by the chains of their bodies and womb, all of the particulars that encourage the myth of the eternal feminine and aggrandizement of the Father-Leader.
In fact, in many respects, part of the process of women’s identification and idealization with the paternalistic Father-Leader is having men’s desires necessarily presuppose their own. Robert Pippin speaks to this vis-à-vis Rene Girard’s notion of mimetic desire ] their desires are everywhere dependent on ‘mediators,’ on others who certify or make worthy their desire, others whom, given the extreme importance of the desirer’s self-image as independent, they eventually come to hate and compete with” (Pippin 34). If the desires of women are mimetic, and therefore mediated by the desires of men, does it not follow tautologically that men become the ego ideal of women? In a way, men’s desires, that which one could call desire-ideals, presuppose women’s and make it seem true to course for women to use the Father-Leader as the placeholder for their identification and idealization of transcendence.
2019 Jules Ostro
Ostro 18 This emphasizes a crucial point in applying Freudian analysis to Beauvoir: Even once women identify with the transcendence that is arguably only idealized because of their immanence and unprivileged social status, they are then just living a double life and consciousness. Beauvoir speaks to this, as ] most working women do not escape the traditional feminine world; neither society nor their husbands give them the help needed to become, in concrete terms, the equals of men” (722). The reason for this is because women are without the same prestige and essentiality as men. Beauvoir discerned this prestige as one that endows men with virility, the phallic sovereignty that ignites the collective spirit and primacy of patriarchal hegemony.
How are women to create anything of value when they are not even granted the rights to create themselves? As Beauvoir writes, “As long as she still has to fight to become a human being, she cannot be a creator” (750).
The lack of freedom of Beauvoir’s woman strikes many parallels to that of the fascist follower, yet, the power of the Father-Leader in the case of fascism differs from that of sexism. The Father-Leader in Adorno is both the fascist leader and fascist following of the in-group. In the eyes of Beauvoir’s subjugated woman-Other, the Father-Leader is sex and gender because the Father-Leader and group ideal are the institutional constructs of sex and gender. There is no one Father-Leader, but instead an enormous mass of in-group followers that abide by this social and cultural construct. Most everyone abides, or has at some point in their life, abided by a binary ideology that deems biological divergence as symbolically instituting and substantiating inequality — at least up until the emergence of revolutionary women’s coalitions and first wave feminism.
The consequences of this is that the libidinal attachment foregrounding the mechanisms of identification and idealization begins as an attachment to an ideological artifice that is then translated into a material object through in-group relations realized through mass society. The manifest world renders this visible through manifold institutions, from the family to the school, to the church — through all of Foucault’s disciplines. In fact, one could argue that the dominion of this Father-Leader is so pervasive that it is internalized at an early age by many women not as an ego © 2019 Jules Ostro
Ostro 19 ideal or supplanted group ideal, but instead, as mentioned earlier, the superego — an internalized version of the Adorno’s “great little man,” for it is the consequence of a failed ego ideal that leaves one having to negotiate the crippling effects of superego self-judgment. Beauvoir mentions how any negative judgment or appraisal is difficult for women to overcome, for “worth is not a given essence” (739). This is especially true for the sensitive woman, the woman that is inured to devaluation because of the perpetual sense of failure she feels responsible for compensating for, with this failure arguably derived from a belief that is both reinstated by and descended from her failed ego ideal/superego.
Therefore, the Father-Leader in Beauvoir’s The Second Sex begins as a symbolic construct, a psychic manifestation of Freud’s superego — an artifice of authority that might as well be as divine and powerful as any other invisible religious or juridical power, and then is reified by people and institutions. In many respects, the Freudian analytic frame for understanding how totalitarian authorities are legitimated is illuminated even more greatly in the case of patriarchal relations. With fascism, the Father-Leader must be Adorno’s “great little man,” because people must be changed through the propaganda of the fascist leader’s political ideology — this makes the great little man provisionally essential.
Whereas in the case of Beauvoir and the problem of sexism, there is no change or provision to the essentiality of the Father-Leader because the heteronomy of the Father-Leader is foregrounded in a monolith of congenital ideological constructs that are soon realized through the transcendent man and immanent woman binary.
VIII. CONCLUSION This paper applied Freudian psychoanalytic theory to parts of Beauvoir’s The Second Sex to demonstrate how the fascist dictator and corollary of group followers are analogous to Beauvoir's dialectic of the transcendent Subject-man and immanent Other-woman. The theoretical consequence of likening the fascist leader to the paternalistic man is the symbolic classification of the Father-Leader. © 2019 Jules Ostro
Ostro 20 Pursuing a comparative analysis of Adorno and Beauvoir in this representative context requires one to align the techniques of power, control, and manipulation implemented by a fascist leader and accepted by a dominant nationalist collective with that of a patriarchal ideology that subjugates and others women into a subaltern social echelon.
This is why one may view with great surprise how the final pages of Adorno’s essay reveals his negation, or better yet, denial of the salience of psychological mechanisms undergirding fascism. The reason for this is Adorno’s belief that once the ego ideal has been replaced by the group ideal through the narcissistic object of the fascist leader, a psychic transference and translation takes place that brings the unconscious into consciousness and results in a psychic resolve. Adorno finds that once fascist leaders tap into mass psychology and exploit the masses through their propagandistic scheme of social control, once they “take it into their own hands, it ceases to exist in a certain sense” (Adorno 136).
It appears that Adorno loses faith in psychoanalysis at this point because there is no actual resolve as fascism remains to be a problem. However, the theoretical purpose of Freudian psychoanalysis is not to eliminate the evils of the world, but to provide the instruments that allow one to confront and better understand the psychic processes that are the most troubling; yet processes that, like that of metaphysical origin, cannot be empirically proven — which may change now that psychoanalysis has teamed up with cognitive neuroscience vis-à-vis Neuropsychoanalysis.
By placing segments of Beauvoir’s The Second Sex in conversation with Adorno’s essay on fascist propaganda, greater attention has been directed toward the psychic underpinnings of the symbolic authority of the Father-Leader, which has been a convenient term for applying Freudian psychoanalysis to the mechanisms underlying alterity in both authors’ work. The theoretical consequence of aligning Adorno with Beauvoir is that it merges conventional distinctions between psychoanalysis, feminism, and fascist political regimes, a nexus that would appear compelling to some and appalling to others.
However, what this paper hopes to demonstrate is how psychoanalytic schemas may be used as powerful and constructive nodes for seemingly divergent historical trajectories. Whether it is through the Frankfurt © 2019 Jules Ostro
Ostro 21 School or feminist philosophy, a remarkable characteristic of Freudian psychoanalysis lies in its ability to translate and improvise itself across a range of contexts and disciplines. Both Adorno and Beauvoir devoted their lives to critical thought and the problem of alterity, which we have much to thank them for. As for the fate of the Father-Leader, Adorno and Beauvoir, in all of their bleak realism, would not be without hope for the future. Beauvoir’s dim view of living in a sexed world is temporarily dwarfed by her optimism ] the historical past cannot be considered as defining an eternal truth; it merely translates a situation that is showing itself to be historical precisely in that it is in the process of changing” (Beauvoir 750).
The hopeful truth that change brings is what allows women to learn confidence and create in themselves their very own ego ideal that encourages a positive image of self-worth. Likewise, Adorno remained hopeful in his conviction that the social forces operating within the very mass group of followers lies in those who can lead in collective resistance, “and in the end awaken those who keep their eyes shut though they are no longer asleep” (Adorno 137). Beauvoir would not disagree, and perhaps she would also add that just as any historical tragedy has demonstrated, those who have suffered the most, whether under the totalitarian reign of fascism or sexism, must use their agency to try and become something else.
2019 Jules Ostro