Picture of Marine Le Pen of Front National, overall winners in the French European Election
This is part one of 3 blogs on this subject of the rise of the extreme right in Europe. The first blog will address Splitting, the secondwill discussJouissance (Lacan’s term for excessive enjoyment) and the third The Collective Unconscious.
Part One Splitting
In the recent European elections there was a big rise in far right parties, for example the Front National winning in France and UKIP in the UK. Their support seems to arise from people experiencing economic deprivation from austerity measures and unemployment. The far right plays on the fear that this will get worse, and points the finger at uncontrolled immigration, claiming immigrants will swamp their country, steal jobs, and exploit welfare benefits, public housing and services. These parties also claim that the centralised European bureaucratic apparatus is increasingly disempowering citizens, and they demand anti-globalisation measures, and that power is taken back to national levels. Europe has seen this before and is haunted by the spectre of the past. This blog takes a psychoanalytic perspective, to add to our understanding of the dynamics that lead to extreme nationalist parties gaining support.
Melanie Klien (an Austrian- born British psychoanalyst) studied infant behaviour which led to the psychoanalytic understanding of splitting. She observed how infants could not tolerate some feeling within themselves, and would split the world into two parts in order to separate the parts they could and couldn’t tolerate, intowhat she called ‘good objects’and ‘bad objects’. For example, the mother who fed the hungry infant would become the ‘good breast’for the infant, and when the mother withheld the milk, the infant would see her as the ‘bad breast’. The mother was split into two part objects- good and bad – as the young age the infant could not hold the ambiguity of mother being both ‘good and bad’in their mind. In this way a whole person, is reduced to being a part-object. As the infant developed, and were able to hold the mother in their minds as a whole person, the splitting reduced.
Klein reasoned that this same process of splitting happens to us as adults, particularly if we are immature, or under duress. We can all recall times when we like to think of ourselves, or our in-group the ‘good objects’, and others as the ‘bad objects’. Yet a mature reflection will reveal that we have both good and bad within us, as does the other whom we label as bad. Another part of this process is the unconscious act of projection. The repressed fears and anxieties we cannot tolerate are split off from our conscious minds and projected outwards onto others. For example when Pastors such as the charismatic evangelist Pastor Rev Ted Haggard preach anti-gay rhetoric, it comes as no surprise to psychoanalysts when they are caught having sexual acts with other men. This is what is known as the ‘return of the repressed’. If they are comfortable with their own sexuality, why spend so much time preaching about homosexuality as a sin, when the core of message of Christianity is clearly loving our neighbour.
This psychic act of unconscious splitting is at the heart of the rightwing nationalist parties. They identify themselves and their ‘country’as pure, as a good object, and split off any bad feelings and fears and project them onto the immigrant, or the Jew, Muslim, Gypsy; whatever marginalised group is the most convenient for their cause. Their inner fears, anxieties, their lack of self-confidence and self-esteem are repressed, they speak and act as if they are strong and powerful, and these inner fears are projected outwards onto the ‘bad object’. The fantasy promised by these rightwing zealots are that if they could stop immigration their countries would return to an idealised state of goodness, and their purity would be regained. The task we face is to ‘traverse this fantasy’. Getting rid of the immigrant is a fantasy cure for a much wider problem, and getting rid of globalisation is like screaming:’stop the world I want to get off!’
The real issues Europe and other nations/regions face are to work through the challenges that arise from open-borders and globalization; yet also to celebrate and take advantage of the opportunities they present to us as well. Diversity, difference bring creativity and pleasure as well as challenges and threats. There is no such thing as a pure race or nation in Europe, and there is no turning the clock back on globalisation. Splitting the world into good and bad is infantile and it is cowardly. Turning real people, into part-objects is a very dangerous thing, and once this happens human history shows us how far we can go in our cruelty.
Unconscious repression and splitting may work for infants in the short term, but it is not a base for serious politic programs. Those exploiting citizen’s fears, using splitting to divide and oppress others should be ashamed of themselves. Freud believed that by developing an understanding of our unconscious processes, we might be able to live a more civilized life, and address our underlying fears and human conflicts rather than simply acting them out. To achieve this we must first address the internal conflicts in ourselves and in our own minds, in order to address the wider conflicts in society.
The Leadership lessons
When leading an organization be aware of this process of splitting, for example, when one department or person become the good object (especially if its you!) and the ‘other’is the bad object. I have worked in many organizations where this happens and a person is removed because they are the bad object, only for another bad object to step into their shoes and replace them. When splitting occurs a bad object will always be found as they serve a purpose for the organization. The task for leaders is to take a mature reflective stance, and to stop the splitting when it occurs.
The Coaching lessons
Don’t collude with coaching a leader who is splitting- it’s very seductive for the coach to go along with it- “yes you are the good guys and they are the bad guys, lets get tough and deal with them”…..Be courageous and challenge splitting when it arises.