Group Psychology – Sigmund Freud & Heinrich Heine

Book burning at Opernplatz, 11 May 1933. | Source: Wikipedia | Click image for larger view.

Among the thousands of books burned on Berlin’s Opernplatz in 1933, following the Nazi raid on the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, were works by Heinrich Heine. To commemorate the terrible event, one of the most famous lines of Heine’s 1821 play Almansor was engraved in the ground at the site: “Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen.” (“That was but a prelude; where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people also.”) –Wikipedia

In order to make a correct judgement upon the morals of groups, one must take into consideration the fact that when individuals come together in a group all their individual inhibitions fall away and all the cruel, brutal and destructive instincts, which lie dormant in individuals as relics of a primitive epoch, are stirred up to find free gratification. But under the influence of suggestion groups are also capable of high achievements in the shape of abnegation, unselfishness, and devotion to an ideal. While with isolated individuals personal interest is almost the only motive force, with groups it is very rarely prominent. It is possible to speak of an individual having his moral standards raised by a group (p. 65). Whereas the intellectual capacity of a group is always far below that of an individual, its ethical conduct may rise as high above his as it may sink deep below it.

Some other features in Le Bon’s description show in a clear light how well justified is the identification of the group mind with the mind of primitive people. In groups the most contradictory ideas can exist side by side and tolerate each other, without any conflict arising from the logical contradiction between them. But this is also the case in the unconscious mental life of individuals, of children and of neurotics, as psycho-analysis has long pointed out. — Chapter II

Group Psychology & the Analysis of the Ego by Sigmund Freud, 1921 – (complete text).

Christianity – and that is its greatest merit – has somewhat mitigated that brutal Germanic love of war, but it could not destroy it. Should that subduing talisman, the cross, be shattered, the frenzied madness of the ancient warriors, that insane Berserk rage of which Nordic bards have spoken and sung so often, will once more burst into flame. This talisman is fragile, and the day will come when it will collapse miserably. Then the ancient stony gods will rise from the forgotten debris and rub the dust of a thousand years from their eyes, and finally Thor with his giant hammer will jump up and smash the Gothic cathedrals. (…)

Do not smile at my advice — the advice of a dreamer who warns you against Kantians, Fichteans, and philosophers of nature. Do not smile at the visionary who anticipates the same revolution in the realm of the visible as has taken place in the spiritual. Thought precedes action as lightning precedes thunder. German thunder is of true Germanic character; it is not very nimble, but rumbles along ponderously. Yet, it will come and when you hear a crashing such as never before has been heard in the world’s history, then you know that the German thunderbolt has fallen at last. At that uproar the eagles of the air will drop dead, and lions in the remotest deserts of Africa will hide in their royal dens. A play will be performed in Germany which will make the French Revolution look like an innocent idyll.

From The History of Religion and Philosophy in Germany, by Heinrich Heine, 1834.

Related podcast: the banality of evil


Triumph of the Will: a propaganda film commissioned by Hitler in 1934 & directed by Leni Riefenstahl.

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3 thoughts on “Group Psychology – Sigmund Freud & Heinrich Heine

  1. Pingback: London Riots, 8/10 « zunguzungu

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