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The horde and the socially unconscious

Can we understand today's rising nationalism and right-wing populism by means of psychoanalytic thinking – and understand the fear of xenophobia as characteristics of the socially unconscious in society?

We live in dark times. Right-wing populist movements are spreading, gaining power beyond and beyond Europe. These are shocking and scary days.

One of Donald Trump's top election promises was that he would raise a wall on the border with Mexico and make Mexico pay for it. Last autumn Hungary built a barbed-wire fence on the border with Serbia and Croatia. While airstrikes drowned in the Mediterranean last spring and the party voted to deny access for Syrian refugees, Frp politician Per Sandberg appeared in a t-shirt with a picture of an anchor and with the text "Good Journey – Sea Adventure".

What can psychoanalytic thinking contribute to understanding such phenomena? In what ways is it fruitful, and what are its limitations? Psychoanalytic thinking is invaluable when it comes to grasping what's at stake in such political movements, and it's a tragedy that these insights have been lost from mainstream social research – more than that; they are actively avoided. At the same time, I would warn against an uncritical application of some of psychoanalysis's individualistic premises in confrontation with social phenomena.

As we are witness the manifestations in our day of exclusion, humiliation, and ridicule of a "threatening" other – an imagined other seen from the standpoint of the subject as the practitioner, but with real consequences in the form of suffering and ultimately death for those made to target discs – what questions do we want to ask ourselves? What kinds of fears or fantasies are played out in the rhetoric of politicians promoting these agendas? That would be a highly relevant question to ask – and a question psychoanalysis is supremely equipped to investigate, but is often left out in today's debates.

Or: Why is it about one individual rather than another, a leader or supporter of a right-wing populist, nationalist movement – that is another question. . .

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