23.8.2017

WHY DOES POLITICS NEED TO BE ENLIGHTENED BY PSYCHOANALYSIS TODAY? by Gil Caroz

I would like to start by thanking Phillip Dravers for having me add the word “today” to the title I suggested to him two days ago[i]. My title was limited to “Why does Politics Need to be Enlightened by Psychoanalysis?”. This title would oblige me to start by speaking about the past, and telling you that in a way, psychoanalysis has always been involved in politics, since in it is essentially a practice that of the unconscious, and as Lacan said, “the unconscious is politics”. If you wish so, we can speak about it later, during the discussion. But I prefer to get directly to the point of the involvement of psychoanalysis in politics as I have understood it during the last fifteen years, and the “revolution” that occurred in this field in the last months.




Attacks against psychoanalysis
In fact, psychoanalysts of the Freudian Field stepped out of their consulting rooms for the first time in more than fifteen years. At that time, the training of psychoanalysis in France was threatened. It might be that here, in Great Britain this wouldn’t seem very preoccupying for you, because I think the situation here goes far beyond the one we live in France and Belgium. But when in 2003 a deputy of the French National Assembly wanted to regulate by law the training of psychoanalysis, arguing that it is about the protection of patients from charlatans, we went on a “war” against this will. Because, as you know, for us, after Freud, the only true training of an analyst is first his cure. This particular training is guaranteed by the procedure of the pass in our Schools but, of course, one cannot imagine that the State could be involved in any way in this procedure, nor could we accept that the title of psychoanalyst would be provided by universities.

This pretention of the State to control the training of the analyst is the final outcome of what Foucault interpreted as a bio-politic tendency of the State, that is, the transition from illness as a private event to health as a public matter. Once the State begins to take care of the health of its citizens, it ends up dealing with their deaths, too. In fact, it is the modern way to control the citizens. We have an example of it in the Flemish part of Belgium where euthanasia is offered to mental health patients. If we can greet euthanasia in some cases of serious physical illness that implies suffering without any hope of healing, we can hardly sustain this kind of offer to mental health patients, knowing that the offer creates the demand. In fact, this kind of treatment is above all a kind of confession of the failure of modern psychiatry.  

Last weekend, during an important congress that was held in Brussels (PIPOL 8) we learned that we are now beyond that era. The tendency to control the citizen is now pushed to a new extreme by the algorithms that are learning and elaborating our personnel profile to predict our behaviour, and above all, our behaviour as consumers. We all know it when we buy books by Amazon, for example. There are algorithms that are constructing our singular profile of readers of books and are suggesting to us books to buy according to our profile. Banks do the same thing. If you apply for a loan, there are algorithms that will inform the banker about your attitude with money starting with how you behave with you bank accounts. This will allow him to decide if he gives you the loan and on what conditions.

So, here is a new kind of singularity, a technological singularity, which is in fact an attempt to grasp your singular mode of jouissance, to be able to sell to you as much products as possible. The aim of these systems is to have a perfect picture of who you are. But, of course, this knowledge escapes them because if they can measure your behaviour, they cannot measure what you say about it when you speak to somebody and how do you say it. Let’s say that if they know something about you as a fixed individual, they know nothing about you as a subject in motion. Google is certainly one of the most important systems searching to elaborate this technological singularity. And the compilation of this big data has certainly not only marketing objectives, but also State’s objectives like security, transport, health etc. We see the results of this development in the field of mental health in Belgium and surely here in Great Britain. Not only is mental health organised based on economical, rather than clinical, criteria, but also there is a systematic destruction of the social link that permits mental health to exist as a failure. In Belgium, where there is a new law aiming to regulate psychotherapy, this is very noticeable. Here, we have also left our consulting rooms to call out the politics in the name of an association of the “practitioners of speech” (and not psychoanalysts). I will be able to describe it to you later if you wish. But anyway, there is nothing good we can expect from this kind of governments because it is an attack on social bond. Psychoanalysis can enlighten politics in this field because it is based on transference, that is to say, on the relation that is born in the encounter between speaking “animals” or “beings”. That’s what gives us a huge strength that surprises them very much.   

This year
Since that time, we began our combat against the rise of the far right, we are in a period of a renewal of the involvement of psychoanalysis in politics. It is a total change, an upheaval, and that is why we almost forgot that this year began with another combat, against a suggestion of a legal resolution of a French Deputy, M. Fasquelle, against the use of psychoanalysis in the treatment of autistic children. More specifically, M. Fasquelle wanted the National Assembly to prohibit and condemnpsychoanalysis in this matter. The School responded to it by organising a lobby of deputies whom we called to vote against this resolution, by writing texts published in a special blog and by asking to be heard by a commission of the assembly. In the end, this resolution was rejected.

Again, we could see that the psychoanalyst can no longer confine himself to his office. He must go out and mingle with what Freud has entitled as “discontents in civilization”. In a way, it is a new kind of a clinic, the clinic of civilization.

If I am mentioning this first “combat” that we had to conduct this year, it is because of what Jacques-Alain Miller said about it at the end of an open meeting of the members of the School. I consider what he said as a sort of collective supervision session of our act of clinicians on the discontent in civilization. The suggestion of the resolution of the deputy Fasquelle created a lot of emotion in the School, he said. It was a victim position, he added. He invited us to calculate our act based on a calm, psychoanalytic reading of the events, which consists in saying:

1.       That it is an attack against psychoanalysis that takes place in a very limited area, the one of autism (to be nuanced).

2.      That the worst for psychoanalysis is not the negative transference it provokes, but when there is indifference to it. Psychoanalysis is in danger only when people no longer speak at all about it. But a negative transference is still transference, so we shouldn’t be so upset.

3.      Psychoanalysis participated in the establishment of the world as we find it today. It participated in "transforming the signifiers of the world into a semblant”, as he said (algorithms). In other words, it played a decisive role in denouncing the paternal posture that led to the fall of the father as we live it today for better and for worse.

Except that once she has launched this movement, it has become a Golem or, if you prefer, a robot that no longer obeys its creator (psychoanalysis) and does what it wants to. So, psychoanalysis is not a victim of what we are living.

How can we understand this third point? This is simply a way to say that psychoanalysis is a discourse, and as such it creates the dimension of semblant. Thus, the idea that the Oedipus complex is the normal mode of functioning of the human being, that the world is ordered according to the Oedipus complex is a semblant. We know it today more than ever.

However, as Jacques-Alain Miller pointed out, of all discourses, psychoanalysis is the only one to recognise, denounce, and even deconstruct its own semblant, precisely as an effort to produce “a discourse that would not be a semblant”. Freud was the first one to do so. It can be read, for example, in his remark at the end of the Schreber’s case when he writes that it is not impossible that the psychoanalytic theory is a delusion. 

Therefore, Jacques-Alain Miller invited us not to fall in the fault of revolution, but rather to adopt a position of subversion. We must distinguish these two positions. You know that Lacan emphasises rather the resistance to change that is included in any revolution. One hears it in what he answers to the students in the university of Vincennes just after the events May 1968 (it is in 1969) during a meeting with them. You can read it in an appendix at the end of Seminar XVII under the title: Analyticon. Lacan is confronted with provocative students, proud to be ignorant, without shame, one of them undressing during the session. So, he tells them: “As revolutionaries you aspire to have a master. You will get one”. Thus, revolution is not a real appeal for a change. It is caught up in the discourse of the master against which it is rising.

This is not only a political statement of Lacan. He makes the same observation in the field of scientific knowledge. For example, the Copernican revolution put the sun in the centre of the universe, in the place of the earth. But, in fact, it only replaces one central element by another, while the other astral elements continue to turn around the centre along a trajectory of a perfect circle. In a way, it is the replacement of an S1 by another S1, without changing the structure. We can read here a criticism addressed to Freud of having left psychoanalysis under the aegis of the father, whereas Lacan tries to defend a psychoanalysis that will not be merely a displacement of elements in a structure that does not change, but a modification of the structure itself.

The real revolution occurs with science. With Newton and his gravity algorithm that describes the attraction force of the earth, the law of the father, guarantor of meaning, is replaced by a knowledge, a scientific truth and outside-of-sense, which is inscribed in the real and discovered by the scientist. Here, we can say that the structure changes. It is no longer a substitution of an S1 by another. In fact, the S1 as such disappears and in its place, appears the mathematical scientific formula, as it is a knowledge in the real, which organises the world. So, in some circumstances there are effective revolutions, and that’s what psychoanalysis searches for. Psychoanalysis does not search for replacing an S1 by another S1. It searches to loosen up, to release [desserer] the relation with the S1, to identification and to ideal as such. That’s what Jacques-Alain Miller called, in his text the common decency” de l’oumma, “my fight against the angel of human debility”[ii]. So, it is not a struggle against S1, or ideals, but against the absolute relation of fidelity to them.

How does a revolution begin?
However, a revolution begins with a movement of the drive, with the presence of the object. In its starting point, the presence of the object is very sensitive. This is what we call a revolt, or a rebellion. A text of Jacques-Alain Miller “How to rebel?” allows us to say that it is at first a phenomenon experienced in the body. It has the status of an outbreak, an appearance of something unexpected, much like the formation of the unconscious, the slip of the tongue or the dream, except that in this sudden appearance the object is very present, much like in anger. The revolt results from an encounter with an impossible to bear. It is from the register of an emotion. It is non-liberating. On the contrary, for the subject it is something that falls on him and appeals for a kind of sacrifice from him. It is disjointed from knowledge. On the other hand, subversion, which is a long-term undertaking, requires a knowledge of the order to be overthrown. It implies an effort of studying rather than the drive.

Having isolated his own impossible to bear, the psychoanalyst takes a distance from the intolerable. He knows that his own jouissance, his own fantasy, are included in his revolt. He can then revolt in the right way, recognising the reversibility and relativity of the impossible to bear. Thus, he avoids the pitfalls [écuils] of the return of the same, of just replacing one master by another.

I would say that when revolt is set up in the long term, when it becomes social, when it is shared with a community, it can become an effective revolutionary movement. Rather than an eruptive emotion, the revolution is then a calculation. At that moment, what has been a momentary, eruptive outgrowth becomes a symptom that follows a program.

Psychoanalysis taking the initiative to interfere in politics
Now we come to the last struggle we experienced, which is an experience of a revolt becoming an effective revolution. While the attacks on psychoanalysis that I described above took place, another political phenomenon was progressing. We didn’t pay much attention to it. I am speaking of the rise of the movement of the far right. This brought us to a new kind of struggle, which has never been seen before in psychoanalysis.   

The point of departure of it is the testimony made by Jacques-Alain Miller around the moment of seeing [l’instant de voir], a real danger of an accession to power by far right in the recent presidential elections in France. This moment was followed, in a certain haste, by the moment to understand [temps pour comprendre] and a moment to conclude [moment de conclure], in the form of the 23 Forums, which took place all over France and in Belgium. It has also resulted in the creation of electronic publication with many texts written every day, as a response to the use of social media by the Front National to “un-demonise” themselves.

It very quickly became clear that this campaign could not end with the presidential elections. On April 12th, Jacques-Alain Miller indicated the necessity of following up the campaign with “a radically decentralised, flexible and interplanar organisation, capable of perpetuating and extending the alliances which have been knotted in the context of the Forums”. This presence of psychoanalysis in politics is not only necessary to enlighten the field that did not see the coming danger of Le Pen, but also to perpetuate the existence of psychoanalysis as such. Subsequently, through various direct and virtual encounters in Europe and around the world, it was equally clear that political groups of the Lacanian orientation should be created outside of France as well. Thus, “La movida Zadig” (Zero Abjection Democratic International Group) was created: a network of multiple groups which will have a purpose of giving a direction to the continuation of the campaign.

This movement is created alongside the School. It is not of the School. Its major orientation principle is the gap opened in the discourse of the Master. Membership of La movida Zadig requires no other commitment than that of not being a member of a political party. This is to ensure that each member has the possibility of orienting themselves in terms of their own “inner light” – an expression elaborated by Simone Weil in the text of which lengthy extracts are produced in the pamphlet “La movida Zadig” No.1.

The new networks that are currently being created are not the fruit of a preconceived programme stemming from an ideology, but from a series of encounters and contingent events. The signifiers are accumulating, placed one alongside the others according to these twists and turns. It’s a swarm, an open and teeming set of signifiers which are proliferating, following one another, overlapping each other, replacing each other, updating one another. Thus, this structure responds to Jacques-Alain Miller’s remark on the feminised world in which we live. “Another discourse is in the process of supplanting the old one. Innovation in the place of tradition. The network rather than hierarchy. The appeal of the future outweighs the weight of the past. The feminine takes precedence over the masculine”.

But the absence of a preconceived programme does not prevent these networks from being organised in a structure that renders them very effective, except that this structure is not regulated by the law of the father. It is metonymic rather than metaphoric, horizontal rather than vertical. A logic subtends its development, that of the creation of a network as a response to a cascade of collisions with the real.

This second battle in which we were involved this year, against the rise of the far right, populism and the enemies of mankind, is no longer from the register of a revolt or a subversion against the master. It is rather an interference in the affairs of the master. It is a bit like the thesis of Hans Jonas in his article “The concept of God after Auschwitz”. God failed in Auschwitz. Yet it is not a question of not believing in it. But he must be helped to manage the world. It is a version of “doing without the father on the condition of using him”. It is an effective involvement of analysts in the political world. Except that this is a form of involvement that stands out [qui sort du lot]. As I said the new groups that Jacques-Alain Miller suggested to build are different from the political parties organised around a single ideal that makes One. This principle is already in words that Lacan tells J.-A. Miller when the latter is preparing himself for the revolution. He talks to him about a new form of revolution that would be privileged, that is to say, even if it is shared with others, retains its original character of a singular symptom (see the brochure “La Movida Zadig”).

This strong intervention in the political life is a task of psychoanalysis. Nevertheless, it is taking a new turn. Since 1 March this year, the date Jacques-Alain Miller calls “the moment of seeing”, psychoanalysis has ceased definitively to be an observatory of the discontents in civilization to become an effective actor and influential on politics. It is involved in the questions that arise in the world in the manner of the clinician, which is included in the symptom of the analysand. In a way, it is a new clinic that is being born before our eyes in a strong way: a political clinic.

Once again, psychoanalysis is not simply an additional discourse in the series of discourses that intervene and comment on political events. It is in essence an exceptional discourse that makes a hole and enlightens at the same time the other discourses. One must be oriented by psychoanalysis, to recognise that every political cause, whatever the size of the group that defends it, starts from a revolt of a singular subject that meets resonances in other subjects. For a psychoanalyst, this origin of the initiating desire revealed at a given moment is not erased in the passage from revolt to revolution (or subversion). If, as we have seen, revolt is an intimate event for a subject, when it is elaborated to become a revolution, it enters the domain of the public by gathering a group around this singular event. Thus, in striking words addressed to Jacques-Alain Miller, Lacan reintroduced in the revolution, which is in the domain of the “popular”, the revolt in so far as it is of the registers of the private, that is to say of the “privileged”.

A subject that engages in a political movement therefore brings into play his symptom and/or his fantasy in the service of a common cause. Through this symptom and this fantasy, it is his own real, a real of which he has the privilege, which is put into play. Symptom and fantasy play here their role in a distinct way. The symptom as a know-how. But in its very essence, it carries within it a revolt of the subject against his own ideals. Thus, it confers to the subject the strength of his revolted position. Fantasy is a tool of revolutionary action if the subject is at the right distance from it, namely that he is not a puppet of his fantasy but rather his master. “This fantasy (of heroism) I have, does not possess me”, says Jacques-Alain Miller.

Therefore, the psychoanalytic revolution has this curious characteristic not to be a struggle for distributive justice. By preserving the privileged place of the one who carries his desire, by not erasing his enunciation in favour of any common enunciation, it opens the way for other rebels to join singularly in the “revolution”, namely that I here give in to a political action which leads to the new. As a result, it is necessary to distinguish a political party from a group of psychoanalysts, which is why Jacques-Alain Miller invited us to take inspiration from Simone Weil and to create a group where each member is oriented by an exclusive fidelity to his own inner light, that is to say, to his way of thinking things and not to an external authority or a common and consensual ideal.

Why does Politics Need to be Enlightened by Psychoanalysis?

1.       Because psychoanalysis is the only way to connect the root of the signifier of identification to the real of jouissance. In a world where the signifiers were transformed to a semblant, everything become relative to the signifier and not to the real. We see it in our practice of mental health, and more precisely in the new version of the DSM, DSM5. The reduction of this catalogue of mental illnesses was based in the past on finding mental disorders for which there was some consensus between “experts”. So, there was a consensus, but there were also different theories and different orientations in it. That’s the way psychoanalysis was put aside, by excluding the diagnosis of hysteria from the catalogue. With the DSM 5, the catalogue became completely a-theoretical. What is at stake, is to find clusters of data without any preliminary hypothesis. It is as though the measured object could speak, more than that, it is as if we wanted it to speak while no subject can speak. Not even the subject of the scientific. It is the same logic that we described concerning the algorithms: a technological singularity, which means that technology speaks and decides, and not a subject.

There is an equivalent political practice: to decide, starting with statistics. In “Science and Truth” Lacan spoke about “reintroducing the Name-of-the-Father in scientific considerations”. Let’s not exaggerate. We do not have the idea that one can reintroduce the Name-of-the-Father in our culture without being violent. That’s a fundamentalist ethic. But in sustaining the symptom of every subject, psychoanalysis anchors each parlêtre to his jouissance. It is also a way of connecting his signifiers of identifications with his jouissance.

It is precisely because psychoanalysis participated in the transformation of the world to a semblant, that she has the know-how for reconnecting the imaginary and the symbolic to the real.

2.      Because psychoanalysis is the only discourse that has as an objective the unveiling of the real. The same relativity of the signifier of the world transformed into semblant creates a big distance from the real. It is not by chance that a psychoanalyst had the “moment of seeing” that allowed him to awake us all. We accepted without any scandal the de-demonisation [dé-diabolisation] of the National Front. Indeed, the populist discourse of the NF was very skilful. They paid attention to remain politically correct. They didn’t use anti-Semitic terminology, they carried the popular protest concerning the financial crises, the discourse about the necessity to limit the migration seemed reasonable to many young people. It was the same for the security discourse in time of terrorist attack. The will to get out from the European union also seemed legitimate.  This hid very well the real at stake, namely that what is at stake is the discourse of what Lacan called the enemies of mankind, namely a fascist and even Nazi discourse. From that moment, a counter-discursive operation of re-demonisation [re-diabolisation] was possible. The political parties were asleep like an ordinary obsessional subject. But for us, it was a necessity, because there is no possible psychoanalysis under a dictator regime. For psychoanalysis to exist, not only freedom of expression is needed, but also the possibility ironies, of making satire, etc. It is the possibility of loosening identification.      

3.      Because psychoanalysts are the only ones capable of creating collectives bases and the logic of the subject and not of the individual. Jacques-Alain Miller spoke some years ago of the School as a subject. This group is different from the Freudian group, of whom the army and the Church are the examples he gives. The Freudian group is organised around an ideal that joints an ideal and an object, and it excludes all those who are not inscribed under this ideal. It is a group that aims and works for the maintenance as it is, and has a tendency to be motionless. This is what happened to the traditional parties in France, coming both from the right side of the political map as from the left side. A psychoanalytic group is a permanent large conversation. The subject of this collective is changing all the time since it is a result of a psychoanalytic algorithm, the one of the articulation of the signifier that has the subject as an effect. “La Movida Zadig” shows that in action.

4.      Because psychoanalysis has affinity with moments of crises. In these moments, psychoanalysis gives place to the new rather than wants to set back the tradition (marriage for everybody).

5.      Because it predicts the future in a different way than algorithm, following the logic of signifier and considering the contingency of the real.

6.      Because it releases the politician from wanting to obtain a perfect harmony, saying that man is composed of separate elements that cannot be assembled into a “One”.    


Gil Caroz

Gil Caroz is a psychoanalyst living in Brussels, Belgium. He is an A.M.E., analyst member of the Ecole de la Cause Freudienne of which he is also currently the vice-president. He is a former president of the New Lacanian School and of the European Federation of Psychoanalysis.



[i] This text was presented at the launch of the Laboratory for Lacanian Politics in London on 8 July 2017. It appears here with the author's kind permission but unchecked by him.