Academic journal article The Journal of Psychohistory

The Family Romance of the Group's Political Delegate

Academic journal article The Journal of Psychohistory

The Family Romance of the Group's Political Delegate

Article excerpt

1. THE LEADER AS DELEGATE

From Erik Erikson through Lloyd deMause and beyond, psychohistory has profited from a rich body of theory, which in turn has greatly enriched the range of historical inquiry. One of the most generative contributions to our interdiscipline has been Helm Stierlin's concept of the delegate in group processes (Adolf Hitler: A Family Perspective (New York: Psychohistory Press, 1970). As he shows, traditionally, the delegate is one who has been sent forth entrusted with a mission. In family dynamics the child may be assigned the delegate-role to redeem a parent's past injuries or to fulfill a parent's future dreams and desires. The classical instance in the public arena is Hitler's scripting by his mother's thwarted wishes for recognition, empowerment, and emotional revenge, ultimately contributing to the overcharged political agenda of Lebensraum. David Beisel's The Suicidal Embrace: Hitler, the Allies, and the Origins of world War II (Nyack, NY: Circumstantial Press, 2003) has further expanded this perspective by examining Hitler as the delinquent son in the European family of nations, delegated to solve their emotional problems by targeting Jews.

Psychohistory has also been deepened and enriched by psychoanalysis, from Freud's seminal writings into all their subsequent branches. My present aim is to further link the two disciplines through a key psychoanalytic concept, the family romance, to the leader-as-delegate formula, a task facilitated by Tony Blair's astute self-reporting. The question that initially stirred my interest pivoted on to what degree can the leader-as-delegate for managing a wide array of expectations be aware of his ascribed role? Does the leader have any sense of being appropriated by his/her electors, in effect, being more or less intentionally programmed as the group's delegate for their often covert aims? If so, does the leader have any inkling of how this might arouse inner conflicts, e.g., with selfesteem, autonomy, integrity, and ultimately of action?

A case in point may be the up-and-down career of ex-congressman Anthony Weiner. Having resigned from the House after lying about salacious emails sent to young women, he retreated for a period to reflect on his mistakes and plot a comeback. Re-emerging, he concluded that, like campaigning, the emails were just "another way to feed this notion that I want to be liked and admired." It follows that as a politician, "by definition, you want people to like you, you want people to respond to what you're doing, you want to learn what they want to hear so you can say it to them" (Jonathan Van Meter, "The Post-Scandal Playbook," New York Times Magazine, 14 Apr 13, p. 29). Weiner savvied his delegate role up to a point as a sort of echo chamber of shared narcissism, a closed-circuit baseline that did not serve him well in his calculated run for New York mayor after more email acting-out caught up with him, and he bowed out.

Weiner may be atypically blatant in some respects, but not entirely off the map, and questions arise over how leaders might consciously manipulate the group's wishes a la Machiavelli to suit their agendas. Put differently, can we access and sort out the leader's levels of problematic agency? Let's briefly recall how far the delegate's role has evolved in psychohistorical thought. After the honeymoon phase of the triumphant leader's symbolically ushering in a new season of blooming fecundity, a reign of unparalleled productivity and dazzling abundance for all, disillusionment sets in, with the spreading sense of malaise-something rotten in Denmark, a cancer on the presidency (so spoke John Dean on Nixon), the cesspool of the nation's capitol, or just a free-floating sense of malaise. Call it the group's dark side stirring the grab-bag of all the accumulated bad stuff we want to be rid of by locating, in psychohistory's shorthand, poison-containers. When these levels rise dangerously high, the leader has three power options: target external enemies (Infidels, antichrists, Jews, an evil empire, an axis of evil, Islamofascists, etc. …

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