Patho-Teleology and the Spirit of War: The Psychoanalytic Inheritance of National Psychology



The article provides a historical overview of the proposed discipline of Völker-psychologie (“national psychology”), which claimed national identity as the defining element of the human psyche. In the incarnations of founders Moritz Lazarus and Heymann Steinthal (1860-1890) and their successor Wilhelm Wundt (1900-1920), Völkerpsychologie adopts the Hegelian conception of Ger-many as the motivating cultural force of world history. Lazarus’, Steinthal’s, and Wundt’s conceptions of the “national spirit” (Volksgeist) and “national soul” (Volksseele), respectively, prove compatible with an ideology of war centered around German unification and expansion. The article then moves forward to the encounter between Völkerpsychologie and Freudian psychoanalysis in Freud’s Totem and Taboo (1912). Psychoanalyis, in its inheritance of the Völkerpsychologie project, not only provides the tools for a critique of a nationalist ideology of war grounded on the assumption of historical continuity and progress, but also renders the assumption of national identity itself problematic. (DJR)

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