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A Freudian Model of contemporary Democracy


The ego of the society - harmony, viewing ruin of anarchic societies, at hands of interconflict and lawlessness, reasons out to maintain itself, just as the citizen reasons out that it is worth surrendering certain whimsical freedoms and nonconformist maverick idiosyncrasies in order to accede and accord to the social contract and inhabit the society.

by Pitamber Kaushik

What if we treat democracy as a consciousness - a singular persona, and psychoanalyse through a Freudian lens?

Fascism is commonly seen, if not definitively understood to be the very antithesis of democracy. However this correspondence is inherently flawed. Consider the three pillars of democracy as they were defined by the French Revolution - libertite, fraternite, egalite i.e. liberty, fraternity, and equality. It is commonly believed that the decline of liberty invariable accompanies that of equality, and vice-versa. The recent resurgence in right-wing authoritarian regimes have frequently led to a concerted decline in the integrity of all three pillars. However, one needn't look any further than either pre- or even post-Deng China, or the Hermit Kingdom, to realise its futility. In fact, communist regimes, which reasonably provide high social justice and economic equality, invariably rely on an iron-fisted grip over the populace. "It is true that liberty is precious; so precious that it must be carefully rationed". The quote, perhaps the first explicit, modern reacknowledgement of the tantanlising integrity and alienation between egalitarian and libertarian interests, is said to be made by a champion of freedom, french revolution values, and the revolutionary cause - a man who toppled years of ongoing imperialism. The man is said to be none other than Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. However, many contend the quote to be a misattribution - a creeping-in of what the bourgeoisie want him to say whilst penning history. Anarchistically-inclined allies or revolutionary strains as Trotsky and Guevara who advocate internationalism, universal proletarian brotherhood and perpetual revolution, suffer an inevitable dichotomy - they are either sidelined or of their own volition wander away in search of fresh pastures with revolutionary, emancipatory scope. "It is better to let half of the people die so that the other half can eat their fill.", said Mao. "Under no pretext should arms and ammunition be surrendered; any attempt to disarm the workers must be frustrated, by force if necessary", wrote Marx. These beg the question as to just how entangled are liberty and equality, or rather how are they entangled?

Voters in India ( File image) 

In a Popperian dilemma, as total tolerance entails tolerance of the intolerant, total freedom entails the freedom of the individual to curb that of another. Just like the three pillars, individual freedoms are seldom allied and mutually non-invasive, and almost never disjoint. Non-overlapping freedoms at all tiers are increasingly rarifying with population, transport, communication and interdependence growth. We must understand that the real dilemma is not the aforequoted Popperian dogmatic inquiry of 'whether we should tolerate the intolerant (as well)' per se, but rather if an absolute intolerant can be identified, ascertained and unanimously agreed upon. It is thus subjectiveness that constitutes the dilemma. A true democratic spirit must shield its concord and unison from being dictated by majoritarianism, intimidation and numerical supremacy of coherent groups. Diversity and marginalisation need always be artificially accounted for democracy, lest the term itself become an insidious euphemism for majoritarianism. Pluralism needs to be constantly monitored and enforced in a democracy, and it is subject to the implicit unisons of communities. Here, we can introduce the concept of dynamic or shifting majoritarianism where allegiances might switch over issues but groupisms are indelible. The dilemma is sort of like that of disorderness or chaos. Is an even distribution the most disorderly? After all it seems to be the most obvious order. Is perfect homogeneity in lack of any groups, agglomerations or clusters, utmost diversity? Perfect homogeneity - sounds bleak and barren, doesn't it?

The oversimplification of viewing the three liberal values as mutually allied is a neglectful treatment of the complex trichotomy that these expansive concepts entail. So let us try another approach, a radically different one. Let us treat society as a single psyche, and analyse its components from a Freudian perspective.

A textbook definition of the three Freudian agents goes somewhat likes this "The id, ego, and super-ego are the three distinct, interacting agents in the psychic apparatus defined in Sigmund Freud's structural model of the psyche. The three agents are theoretical constructs that describe the activities and interactions of the mental life of a person. In the ego psychology model of the psyche, the id is the set of uncoordinated instinctual desires; the super-ego plays the critical and moralizing role; and the ego is the organized, realistic agent that mediates, between the instinctual desires of the id and the critical super-ego."

If liberty, fraternity and equality respectively correspond to the id, the ego and the superego, we can examine social consciousness as a Freudian structural model. The three pillars together constitute the collective social psyche, just as they comprise the democratic edifice's structure. Having assigned the respective roles, we can now proceed to scrutinise how true our assumptions are, and explore the interplay and subtle ramifications of the three cogs. In the process, the answer to whether democracy is as monolithic as it is assumed, or otherwise, shall likely be yielded.

Commencing with first principles and definitions, we seek to verify how apt our assumptions were, in the first place.

Let us first analyse the contribution of the three agents in an individual towards a democracy. What part do they play as they collimate to yield what we call a society?

At its core, the ego plays the role of a mediator, reconciling the savage and brutish id, and the orderly and overlying super-ego. The ego is naturally sensible, pragmatic and realistic, making optimal compromises. This is the very nature of fraternity, the very basis of how humans adjust, accommodate and amicably live in a society, surrendering just the optimal amount of free-will and 'having their way' in favour of striking a long-term peace and guaranteed basal well-being. This moderation and investment in delayed gratification is a triumph of eudaimonism over myopic, reckless, inconsiderate and idiosyncratic hedonism. Instinctive hedonism would rather invest in two units of pleasure, disregarding and not envisioning its possible consequence of yielding eight units of discomfort some time later. On the other hand, the rationale of the ego would lead it to abandon momentary pleasure if it can envision its effect of yielding much more, some time into the future. Despite possessing the same foresight, the non-materialist superego, unconcerned with deriving personal gratification and fulfillment, would rather advocate a stand irrespective of its benefit to the individual, claiming a high moral ground and perfectionist, conformant standpoint. Just as an arbitrator, fraternity, harmonisation and cooperation reconcile and balance individual freedom to act wholly in maximising the pursuit of its personal, instinctive pleasure-seeking interests, and utmost social ethos and norm-conformance. 

Democracy is thus an ongoing process rather than an achieved state. As a bicycle, or a tightrope walker, it has got to keep moving, adapting, evolving, constantly vigilant and watchful of any missteps and stay dynamic, in order to stay stable. When the society's constituent's ids dominate, it turns into an anarchy and when their superegos teeter the balance, it transitions into an autocracy, theocracy or any other sort of authoritarian, codified-morality-governed regime. The instinctive urge of a society is to devolve, that's its id. It consumes energy to exercise restraint and stability. The id of the society aligns with the ids of its individuals, just as the ego of the society aligns with the ego of the individual, in the form of optimal compromises that enable the society to cohere together from the level of the whole, and permits the individual to inhabit and enjoy the membership (and the powers and entitlements vested thereby) of the society. However, the case with the superego expresses and manifests discriminately at the individual and whole levels. The superego of the individual can be anything from his faith, say Judeo-Christian morality, Confucian ethos, or a belief in Sharia, to a philosophical framework, the latter itself varying from deontology to consequentialism and dialectic materialism or marxism to anti-natalism. However the superego of the society is not merely a summation, or a weighted mean of the superegos of its members. The superego of the milieu is not as subjective as that of what consists it. The superego of the society - its sense of morality is near-absolute, determined by the most instinctive and overwhelming sense of justice - equality. Primates have been shown to exhibit jealousy when given more than their apportioned quota of rewards, solely because their neighbour was given even more. The sense of equality at times transcends our individual desire for good. Certain communist regime have ensured and enforced equality, effectively of the sort "We are both starving, but at least we are starving equally". 

It is merely an expression of the same tendency to be relatively placid and satiate when receiving less, as long as the other is not receiving more. Thus, the superego can at times overpower instinctive desires and suppress the incessant pursuit of instant gratification. This is why communist regimes inevitably liberalise, but retain a degree of authoritarianism - they restore their ego, bouncing back from an excess of superego tipping the scales. Ego is the central, stable state, and the individual must return to it to ensure its sustenance and continued survival in its semblance and framework. This is also why theocracies in Islamic republics often work more effectively and stably than imported democracy. Theocracy might be aligned with the superego of the individuals but it is the best practical compromise, borne of the nature of the land. Long-range authoritarianism can often have short-range anarchy, as the case with India and particularly its largest state Uttar Pradesh, where mob lynchings and crowd vigilantism run rampant while ordinary crime prevails as well. This is all withstanding the quasi-theocracy that reigns it, with rape victims being charged, rapist and criminal conspiratorial evangelists and politicians being let off scot-free, aggrieved dissentors and vocal victims having their families miraculously vanished, and media personnel being intimidated, criminally-charged and shuttered. Another illustration is the case of post-NATO strategically intervened republics in the middle east. Secular, authoritarian leaders are displaced, paving way for a central theocratic figure, such as Baghdadi to assume control, while beneath him, sheer anarchy and chaos reign at the grassroots, with his unregulated lieutenants having their way, and petty warlords being plagued with interconflict, despite sharing an overarching zealously-pursued common goal.

Freud says "Thus, in its relation to the id, [the ego] is like a man on horseback, who has to hold in check the superior strength of the horse; with this difference, that the rider tries to do so with his own strength, while the ego uses borrowed forces. The analogy may be carried a little further. Often, a rider, if he is not to be parted from his horse, is obliged to guide [the horse] where it wants to go; so, in the same way, the ego is in the habit of transforming the id's will into action, as if it were its own." One needn't look any further than contemporary India to observe an illustration of this. With unemployment and hunger statistics soaring, the economic rift widening, an expansion of impoverishment, and declining happiness and fulfillment indices, India's id is harnessed by its incumbent regime. The irresolved discontent in the people, self-misattributed and misidentified, is craftily channelled to serve the regime's interests. As a wild horse, who knows not what perturbed him in the first place and indiscriminately stomps and gallops his way, the unemployed, impoverished Indian stratum is utilised by the right-wing regime, by directing their discontent and will to express their identity (id) into disruption of the social order and keeping them occupied and delusionally ego-satiate with mass-violence against the marginalised and the minorities. By busying them among themselves, the regime has managed to tie a knot, literally harnessing the wild horse, and tapping into its energy to take the nation where it wants it - an autocratic theocracy. The individual youth's desperation to leave a mark, make a name for ownself, and do something they deem worthwhile, memorable, and glorious lead them to violence, radicalism and even crime. The mischannelled energies find their ways out, manifesting in myriad sinister ways. The rise in Id obviously corresponds to a suppression of the superego of a democracy - equality. As gender equality, minority safety, communal harmony, interfaith alienation and economic indices plummet, and the top nine Indians hold as much wealth as the bottom half (about 650 million), the democracy's moral beacon - egalitarianism decays and crumbles. Misdirection of the youth who have nothing to do owing to the failures and shortcomings of the government in creating jobs and opportunities, towards staple scapegoat minorities, ancient invaders, bygone temples, neighbouring nations and the opposition, serves to distract from real, pressing, attending issues. The irrational, indiscriminate id of the nation possesses little conscience, besides seeking desperate instant gratification, and manifests in everything from rapes to acts of terror. Indeed, the id of the society is bloating, however the manipulative ego that overlies it, artfully manages, manipulates and courses it to serve its interests. The Prime Minister's speeches which often seek to pique and arouse supersede his responsibility to act as a moderator and gravitators, with instigation against so-called "enemies of the nation", bigotry, anti-rationalism and cultural zeal featuring prominently in them. These only get amplified in the outright incendiary hate-speeches of the CM of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, a known-offender and firebrand xenophobe, with a radical and criminal track record prior to ascension to the post. Uttar Pradesh is notorious for its crime, "goon" culture, rampant corruption, interfaith rioting, casteism and disorder, and unemployed youth turning to delinquency. It tops the crimes against women chart, and communal and caste violence is prevalent, leading it to be one of the most socially injurious states of the country. Thus, the burgeoning of the id pushes back on the superego, that is the rifting apart of socioeconomic strata, social injury, and shrinkage of moral responsibility and diligence in the authority figures (the ego) is concerted with the growing dissatisfaction among the youthful masses, which as energetic wild horses run amok. The id self of the society, with its boorish, troglodytic, impulsive consciousness would not have held together if it were not for the regime underhandedly tugging at its reins. The overgrown id, still a very nascent, naive natal instinct, is just not capable of identifying its true aggressor and tracing its perturbation and discomfort to its actual source. This incapability to reason out is exploited in the government riding high on the ramifications of its own shortcomings.

The superego is primarily observable through expressions of self-guilt, low self-esteem, abashedness, inferiority complex and the feeling of compulsion to perform certain things. In "The Ego and the Id" (1923), Freud lends further definition to the behaviour of these concepts, imparting the following refinement - "the general character of harshness and cruelty exhibited by the [ego] ideal — its dictatorial Thou shalt". Indeed, the incumbent right-wing regimes, from Macron, and Trump to Bolsonaro and Modi fail to acknowledge that they enjoy significantly small approval ratings, and live in constant denialism, swearing by counterfactual argumentation, and refusing to take responsibility and account of cold-hard statistics. The denial of the economic crisis that has befallen India is in essence, the same shrunk societal superego, that leads to neglect of the ongoing yellowjacket protests that have simmered on in France since October 2018, over an year into running.

"... Identifications then come about with these later parents as well, and indeed they regularly make important contributions to the formation of character; but in that case they only affect the ego, they no longer influence the super-ego, which has been determined by the earliest parental images.", writes Freud.

This observation pertains to descendant states such as Pakistan, Ukraine or Estonia, whose reactionism and polarisation contrary to their parental states led their consciousness to be frozen in a particular state long before these dominions fully mature as independent, geopolitical entities or full-blown nations - Islamic fundamentalism and militarism for Pakistan, as contrasted with the secular, pluralist democracy of India, and ultraneoliberalism for Ukraine as contrasted with the Statist communism of the USSR. However practical compromises are emulated, as evident in Pakistan, at least token-declaring itself to respect all religions right in wake of its independence. The superego of Pakistan was rooted in cultural fears and inhibitions of a large fragment of muslims populace being dominated and sidelined by the Hindu majority of undivided India. This fragment sought investment in an ideal superlative - an Islamic Republic, an expression of individual superego over absolute national superego. Thus, the ego's compromises often alienates the superego upon its premature development. The case of Pakistan is of an overgrown Id, and a shrunk superego, being surmounted by an overpowering ego. The military puppets the government from the shadows and keeps the decadent machinary running, while in spite of the top-tier staunch authority, criminal gangs, terror groups, anarchy and provincial discord run rampant. The nation is barely held together by a hard irongrip pinch at the apex.

The BJP in India came into power sailing high on the tide of dissent of the masses against the exposes corruption of the incumbent UPA regime, which, despite its misdeeds, had managed a decent employment rate, poverty alleviation, and a little shy of thriving economy, courtesy the masterful economist Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The erstwhile, competent ego of the realist, centrist UPA government in spite of its conciliatory nature, failed to notice let alone tame the growing id (on account of corruption, not unemployment) because of a stasis and lack of directive channels, and its instigation led the current regime to seize power. In fact, the UPA regime seesawed with an infeasible heightened sense of justice and ideals in its first term, giving way to compromises as shortsighted, ineffectuate, lazy measures were hastily deployed. Ill-thought, symptom-specific insta-hacks of loan waivers crippled the economy. These desperate last-moment deployments, aimed at winning their second tenure rendered the economic machinary disordered and lax. This impulsive behaviour, ignominy and loosening gave way to the societal id to displace the superego, as corruption, cronyism and idiosyncratic neglect ran rampant.

The id is the original agent that gradually differentiates and proliferates, giving way to the ego and superego upon maturation. This is corroborated by the historical evolutionary course of civilisations, where anarchies gave way to feudalist monarchies and subsequently to social democracies. Societies that came to lay too much emphasis on either the id or the superego invariably declined.

Anna Freud clarified identified the concepts of "undoing, suppression, dissociation, idealization, identification, introjection, inversion, somatisation, splitting, and substitution", as the defense mechanisms deployed by the ego to mask threatening impulses. Indeed, undoing manmohan-era organisation, idealisation of ancient, fictitious infeasible utopias and historical golden eras, and substitution of existant institutions with half-baked nominal proxies are definitive salient traits of the current rule in India. Denial, identified by Freud as a principal defense mechanism is a trait uniting right-wingers from the RSS-BJP to the Republicans, encompassing denial of an anthropogenic basis to, if not altgoether climate change by Bolsonaro, Trump or Modi, to denial of mass protests and separatists by Pakistani politicians and Emmanuel Macron alike. Societies from the first to the third world, irrespective of developmental status or factional allegiance, operate within the same trichotomic framework.

The ego of the society - harmony, viewing ruin of anarchic societies, at hands of interconflict and lawlessness, reasons out to maintain itself, just as the citizen reasons out that it is worth surrendering certain whimsical freedoms and nonconformist maverick idiosyncrasies in order to accede and accord to the social contract and inhabit the society. Harmony is a refined self-preservation instinct. According to Freud, the bottom portion of the ego merges into the id as it is the part of the id that was exposed to external, environmental influences and became reasonable. The authority-free society's spontaneous organisation tendencies into guilds, syndicates or communes, testify towards this. In order to seek sustenance, fulfillment and ensure longtime availability of gratification opportunities, harmony emerges, not as an artificial measure enforced by authority, but a natural product of the tendency to come together. Society ensures its sustenance by enacting harmony, an order that unlike equality, consumes no effort and little compromise, lest its natural laissez-faire tendency cause it to degenerate just as irrational instinct leads to an animal's fatality. In the frequently-cited iceberg model mnemonic, the Id remains completely submerged i.e. it exclusively lies in the unconscious. A tendency for the society to degenerate is spontaneous, yet never acknowledged as volition. No society consciously expresses to degenerate but as soon as the suppression of order, power, regulation or control is removed, it does. The Arab Spring is a quintessential example, whereby anarchy was never the intended end, but always inadvertently terminated the shortlived spiral. The ego is partially immersed, parts of it lying in the precocious and still lesser parts in the unconscious. The social animal model of humans justifies this. Reaction to injurisdiction is hardwired in Primates, observed in infants to capuchins, as is the concept of equalisation and symmetry - a long-term product of this is the ideal of equality, with further advanced analytical nuances as equality of opportunity and differential (background-discirminate) incentive. Thus, the superego spans all the way from the unconscious to the conscious.

Equality always serves as the society's moral conscience. Whether it be good or bad (beneficial or harmful) for it, and whether distribution impede growth, absence of equality is a constant pang that pricks its conscience, regardless of what system of morality the regime believes in. They way this equality is contrary to its proneness to impulses is that maintenance of equality is a consistency and liberty of society to let its internal whims govern and arbitrarily assume control of it, have no truck with consistency. Thus the concept of equality for society can be extended beyond inter-individual equality to span intergenerational consistency, something which our unsustainable capitalism, resource exploitation and irresponsible environmental alteration have usurped, inching the pale blue dot towards inhabitability, with lack of accountability and answerability towards future generations.

Society as a whole, as an entity pursues busyness as gratification, while systematic pursuit of growth as a gradual, long-term, concerted objective requires the intervention of the ego. Lack of individual occupation leads to occupation with violence which degenerates it. Liberty, the society's id is not merely the individual's liberty; It is the liberty of the society to act and be governed by any impulse that arises in it - a choice to become oligarchic, capitalistic, syndicalist, or socialistic. Liberty is the pliability of society. Society's liberty to determine its own course can also entail turning into a fascist state that curbs individual liberties. A constitution is an ultimate critical point in a society's course. It curbs the liberty of the society, even if all its provisions empower the individuals with liberty. A constitution frustrates the society's Id.

Ego arises from the id - the ability to stay united and collimated and adapt and cohere no matter what stratification and authority the society adopts. This compromise and adaptability of the society in favour of its long term survival regardless of authority, is its self-preservation rationale. Note that the superego like some religious morality may drive society to its own annihilation or at least to unproductivity or unfulfillment, as with certain communist regimes but the ego shall always ensure its long term maintenance.

The Obama-era can be seen as an ego-paramountcy which led to stability of two terms. Meanwhile, the Trump regime is Id-dominant, as reflected in its whimsical decision-making often inconsistent if not outright self-contradictory, irrational argumentation and a shortsighted selfish worldview, as alluded in its perspectives on climate change, conflict handling and unsustainable resource-exploitation. The popular mass organisations against Trump are again a testimony to the interrelation of the Id and the ego, where spontaneous cooperation arises even in absence of authoritarian sanction. 

Studies have shown that chimpanzees boast an eidetic memory - they are far more competent at memory games, than humans. So why aren't we living in a 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' scenario just yet? Turns out, chimps have great instantaneous memory as they need to evade predators, detect rivals, spot prey and sight available, potential mates to court. Their memory is photographic but by no means persistent. Their poor retention makes sure they can't stack up development, and build civilisations. Chimpanzees live 'in the now', relying on keen instinct, impulses and instantaneous sensory prowess. What sets humans apart is foresight, delayed gratification to be precise. A chimp would never be patient enough to observe a seed grow into an edible plant, and even if it were it would deem it an utter waste to bury a fruit in hand to get a tree that produces scores of them, years later. Delayed gratification brought in agriculture, that ultimately led early humans to a sedentary lifestyle.

With indiscriminate anthropocentrism and transcontinental corporatism prevailing our planet, are we, as a society, succumbing to our Id in refined, hitherto unprecedented and pernicious ways?

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