Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, 1921, by Sigmund Freud
Freud began the book Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego with an in depth summary on the subject of group psychology. He begins the work by summarizing the work of a renowned sociologist of his time. Freud agrees with the theories of this sociologist, known as Le Bon. He argues that the individual gains immense power from association with a group. Consequently, he postulates that individual feels a safety in the mass.
Freud argues that an individual derives security from being part of a group. However, this feeling of belonging leads to a loss of the individuals conscious. Thus, any feelings within the group tend to have a great influence on them. The feelings that are transferred to the individual from the mass are then magnified and returned to the group. He seeks to examine in detail, this effect that a huge mass of people tend to have on the individual. He seeks to examine how the feelings and thoughts of complete stranger can end up having such a significant impact on an individual. Freud references heavily to Le Bon's work. The two most significant ideas he borrows is that; firstly, the group seems to have a single that works in harmony. Consequently, a single incident within the group reverberates throughout the group and influences its action. However, if the same individual were placed in isolation, their behavior and mannerism would be completely different from how they react in the group. Secondly, he also raises the point proposed by Le Bon where a group is a being formed for a certain purpose.
Later on, he continues to quote Le Bon on his theories about hypnosis and contagion in the group psychology. He describes this contagion as the effect an individual in the group has on other members who are in the group. He is also in agreement with Le Bon's assertion that the group causes the individual to express his innermost desires without any inhibitions. Thus, he suggests that the individual in the group is driven by primal instincts, something that would not be possible if the individual was in isolation. Consequently, he uses this as an explanation as to why individuals who would normally be calm turn violent and uncontrollable in groups. It is because the group psychology draws out the primal being in them.
He then turns his attention form Le Bon to the group. He argues that a group is highly influenced by imagery and highly uncontrollable. In addition, he argues that the group, as a being is impulsive and very intolerant. He argues that the only way to control the group is through extremes. According to him, the group only listens to extremes of anything. In addition, he proposes that the group desires to be ruled. However, he notes that Le Bon does not explore much into the issue of leadership within the group. However, he is impressed by Le Bon's description of the leader having a hypnotic grip on the mass. Freud delves further into the issue of leadership, which he feels Le Bon does not adequately highlight. This is because he wants to find what it is that holds the group together. He postulates that relationships primarily based on the emotion of love are key to gluing individuals together in the group. He suggests that in order for the individual to blend in to the group he has to give up something. Consequently, the individual gives up his individual likes and inhibitions that make up his personality. In this way, he is able to cope with the demands of the group.
In order to identify what really holds the group together, he began a careful examination of armies and the church. He postulates that individuals are coerced into joining these two groups. However, vacating such a group comes at a huge cost to the individual. He also notes that a single individual holds such groups together. In the Church, Christ is the leader and his love is equal to all his followers. He suggests that this belief in equality of love is key in maintaining cohesiveness in the group. Because of this, the individuals are able to unite with each other. In fact, Freud notes that people in the church tend to regard each other as family. In the army, he notes that this structure is the same. The only difference being that this structure is divided into different types of units.
He notes that the group of the churches and armies represent long-term groups. However, he asserts there is another group that is short lived and destined for a certain purpose. He adds that both are still the same and the dynamics of the group are all quite similar. In order for an individual to overcome their own narcissism and become part of a group, he delves into the discussion on identification. He argues that all individuals identify with each other in the group. In the group, and individual reverts to their primal nature. During this period, he argues that the primal band was held in place by a feeling of oneness, there was no individual thought and all individuals flowed as a wave.
Towards the closing of this work, he returns to the argument about the primal horde. He argues that during this primal grouping, the father figure forced his sons into a group by denying them mating privileges. Consequently, these sons banded up and killed the father for this right. However, with the father gone, an individual had to master up the courage and break free from the group. By doing so, he took up the mantle of leadership of the tribe.
Recent events throughout the world have reignited debate into Freudian ideas. For instance, recent popular movements especially in the Middle East do call for a more intense examination of this work. In addition, the violent nature of most of these groups perhaps can be resolved with insight from Freudian theories. No doubt, this is one of his most examined works. There is also no denying the political implications of his work. His work has definitely helped to inspire many sociologists into developing better theories on group dynamics.