A Jungian Analysis of Nationalist Politics and the Collective Shadow
In some ways I feel how Carl Jung must’ve felt at the brink of World War II, when he saw Hitler at a parade and immediately turned to his travel companion and said, “that is a man possessed.” At that moment, Jung recognized the personification of an evil so powerful that it is mythological, not merely human. If this potential for evil is left unrecognized, the demagogue and his followers remain susceptible to delusion and brutality — this is the “possession” of which Jung spoke.
Today, with the prevalence of Trumpism in the U.S. and the Nationalism in Europe, I am poignantly aware that once again humanity, in the madness of the group, is dividing itself and placing blame on each other, which inevitably leads to conflict.
As a young psychiatrist in Switzerland, Jung despaired over the First World War. This event prompted him to retreat into an agonizing and prolonged exploration into his own psyche. Later, he compiled these examinations in his mystical Red Book, the ideas of which became integral to his psychological model — a psychology that is still practiced today.
Jung wrote about an aspect of the personality — remaining mostly latent and embedded within the unconscious — which holds everything oppositional to the conscious awareness of one’s values and thoughts. Jung referred to this element of the psyche as the Shadow. The Shadow varies from person to person.
This can be observed in the following pragmatic examples: In an intellectual person — such as a professor who spends endless hours immersed in his studies — the Shadow may contain aggressive and violent energies that are not fully expressed. For a business leader — such as the CEO, who must be cut-throat with his employees — the Shadow may contain unacknowledged self-doubt and guilt.
For most people, the Shadow remains subliminal and yet active in certain moments. A common experience of this aspect of ourselves can be observed during arguments. When expressed, this dark and unruly part of ourselves feels foreign. People often say after the Shadow has spoken, “I’m so sorry; I don’t know where that came from; I wasn’t myself when I said that; I don’t know where that came from.”
Carl Jung separated the personal Shadow, which has just been described, from the archetypal or collective Shadow. In Jungian literature, there is extensive analysis of the collective Shadow, which examines how groups are tempted to fall into this powerful reserve of energies that overwhelm the conscious mind. During times when the “problem of the Shadow plays a great role in political conflicts (Man and His Symbols, Von Franz, 1961)” entire passages of human history may seem like a bad dream.
Mind Viruses/Archetypal Possession
Prior to WWI, all of Europe considered itself so civilized, modernized and globalized that it was no longer vulnerable to the barbarism of humanity’s past. However these proud and lofty conscious attitudes were gravely mistaken. WWI and WWII would prove to be the most brutal and deathly events in human existence.
In a recent poem about this time period, titled “One Last Photograph,” I wrote about how ideas possess groups and how destructive this can be. This quote sums up the pernicious results of ideological possession:
“When man is compelled towards some vision of an ideal state,
He will lose all empathy for the people that stand in its subordination (Abelow, 2016)”.
A metaphor, to simply understand the concept of archetypal possession is that of a virus. This is because, psychologically speaking, ideas and archetypes have a life and motive of their own. Nietzsche and Carl Jung spoke in terms of daemons and gods.
Today, Richard Dawkins, a famous evolutionary biologist, has labeled this phenomena as the “Mind Virus.” Dawkins wrote that “Minds are friendly environments to parasitic, self-replicating ideas or information.” This scientific lingo essentially describes the autonomy of the ideas, as feeding on their host — that’s us! Dawkins goes on to confirm Jung, “Minds are typically infected in masses (Dawkins, 1993)”.
It is often the case that it is certain ideologues, who embody the virus and, through rhetoric, infect those who are most susceptible. The only inoculation is the refinement and building of consciousness — that is, the strengthening of the center of the conscious mind (the ego) to be resistant to such group-thinking. Throughout Jung’s work there is the emphasis on the drastic importance for each individual to develop responsibility and self-awareness, in order to, among other things, resist the pitfalls of collectivism.
The Barbarism in All of Us
Being that Jung was aware of these mind viruses or archetypal possessions, when WWII came he saw that Hitler had “infected a whole nation to such an extent that everything was set in motion and had started rolling on its course towards perdition (Essay on Wotan, Jung, 1936)”.
By drawing upon mythology, Jung examined the archetypal, or primordial, deep-seated energies (the source of the virus), which had infected Hitler and spread across Europe. The old myth of Odin, also known as Wotan, a wanderer who stirred up action, was entirely forgotten during the Christianization of Germany. This expression of the “unleasher of passion and the lust for war” then resurfaced with a vengeance in the midst of political and sociological factors, which made the German people vulnerable. Quickly, much of Europe fell into a pre-civilized state of barbarism and destructive warring.
The activation of the Shadow, which possesses an individual or group, always comes along with a projection — a scapegoat. Marie Louis Von Franz explains in the quintessential book “Man and His Symbols,” that “political Agitation in all countries is full of projections.” Von Franz notes that, “Rather than face our defects as revealed by the Shadow, we project them on to others — for instance in political enemies.” In the case of the Nazi’s it was the Jews. The individuals who lead the group into the collective Shadow, and who are the stokers of the fires of murderous projection always have similar attributes.
Carl Jung described an archetypal, or universal image of the Shadow, as the Trickster. This archetype, when embodied, is always entrancing and compelling. Sometimes he is as seemingly harmless and amusing, as with the comedian who breaks taboos on stage, or the rockstar whose spontaneity and hedonism bring out emulation and adoration or repulsion in others. However, at other times, he is the politician who provokes hatred and conflict.
Renowned Jungian scholar Erich Neumann explains the phenomena of archetypes displayed, “in mythological motifs that appear among all peoples at all times in an identical or analogous manner and can arise without conscious knowledge from modern man (The Great Mother, Neumann, 1955)”. This is evident today in president-elect Donald Trump, the Trickster who has captivated America, as well as with the demagogues prevailing populism across Europe.
Permission for the Shadow to Come Out
Today, in the United States, Briton and across Europe, we see a rise in ethnic-nationalism. These reactionary political movements give permission for the Shadow, within each individual, to express itself. At rallies for Trump during the election reporters overheard shouts of “Build a wall — kill them all (New York Times, Parker, 2016)”. The Trickster has lead the masses into a frenzy; people are expressing their ugly and hateful Shadow. The New York Times reports that “Hate crimes in New York City have risen in the weeks since Donald J. Trump won the presidential election, a noticeable spike that encompasses ethnic minorities, Jews, whites and people for their sexual orientation.
[Later addition:] We also saw this unleashing new hatred in the events at Charlottesville.
All across Europe similar xenophobic rhetoric has gained popularity. This angry populism has risen in France, Netherlands and Austria, but the tension in Germany, an economic center of the continent is most telling.
“In Germany, as in other parts of Europe, there has also been a recent spate of attacks on mosques, including attempted arsons and vandalism (Wall Street Journal, Faiola, 2016). The increasing voices of anti-Muslim nationalists pushed liberal German chancellor, Angela Merkel, to acquiesce to a ban of Muslim garb — a burka ban. At a televised meeting of her political party, Merkel said, "The full veil is not appropriate here, it should be forbidden wherever that is legally possible. It does not belong to us.” As national collectives re-bond and root into themselves, they make an “other,” and dehumanize that opposition through heated xenophobia.
Many political, social and economic factors go into the discontent of citizens. Many feel that in an increasingly globalized world they are left out of opportunity; they see international unions as impenetrable bureaucracies; this leads to detachment from representation in government and resentful sentiments towards far-reaching trade deals. Working-class people begin to angrily perceive globalism as protecting the elites and hurting the homeland; the fanatical leaders propel this delusion.
"These European nationalist parties, which have dwelt in obscurity for decades, are now enjoying real legitimacy (Politico.com, Hirsh, 2016)”. British politician Steve Hilton explained populist British view of the European Union: "A stinking cesspit of corporate corruption gussied up in the garb of idealistic internationalism (Politico.com, Hirsh, 2016)”.
The progressive push for demographic diversity, modernization of morality and a globalized economy has led to an “anti-Mulsim, anti-immigrant, anti-European Union firebrand who hail Trump’s victory as the coming of the ‘patriotic spring.’ (New York Times Magazine, Buruma, 2016)”. Writer, Ian Buruma, in his New York Times Magazine cover story “Exit Wounds,” explains that “Trump played on the wounded pride of large communities and inflamed the passions of people who fear the changes.” When a demagogue taps into a people’s fear and hatred, he further agitates and evokes the latent energies of the Shadow in the masses.
The Eternal Deceiver
Understanding humanity’s history psychologically is key to the inoculation of individuals against inevitable viruses (archetypal possession). Coming to terms with the Trickster and his eternal role as a deceiver is key to breaking the cycle. Throughout ancient and modern history, the Trickster has contained and embodied the most primal, lewd, shameless and outrageous aspects of the psyche.
Each individual is tasked with a massive responsibility: become intimately aware of one’s own Shadow. That is the only way for societies to become immune to these sorts of regressive uprisings. As Jung prophetically said, “Everything that is characteristic of the Trickster can happen — even on the highest plane of civilization (Four Archetypes: Mother, Rebirth, Spirit, Trickster, Jung, 1971)”.
The Trickster, Jung writes, represents and personifies the earliest grapplings with conscious relation to the world. Jung wrote that this figure represents the part of ourselves that has “hardly left at the animal level (Ibid, Jung, 1971)”. Because of its primordial nature, which people have not fully surpassed, this aspect of the human personality has remained an amusing and captivating virus throughout time. Historical instances of group buffoonery are eerily similar to today’s ridiculous outbursts of ignorance.
In Jung’s essay on the Trickster, he recounts the Eleventh Century ass procession (a drunken and rowdy event, including a donkey) which took over the church in Beauvais, France annually. “The more ridiculous this rite seemed, the greater the enthusiasm with which it was celebrated.”
These inane and drunken rites were a reaction against Christian morality. Today, the uprising of ethnic-nationalism and extreme conservatism is also reactionary — that is, to the many factors mentioned earlier. Many Trump supporters have a “burn it all down” sentiment towards the federal government; they hope Trump might “shake things up.”The electorates surface frustrations allowed the Trickster to rise; mesmerized and stupefied the fringe has been activated.
Intoxicated by Crowds
There is no doubt that there are many people who criticize the ignorance of Trump. Yet, there is still a clear fascination that holds even his opposers. Saturday Night Live hired Alec Balwdin to impersonate Trump as undecided and juvenile. In the episode from November 19th, 2016, Trump was characterized as a man who, once intoxicated by the crowds and the pursuit of power, is now overwhelmed by the responsibility of actually being the president.
In a slew of panels, comedy bits about the “liberal bubble,” articles and metropolitan discussions, Leftists now seek to understand the plight of the working class and the factors that led to this extreme populism. J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy,” a memoir outlining the economic and social context of middle America’s grievances, is flying off shelves in Brooklyn. In this book, we see that the groups possessed by populism are voting out of spite, out of emotional grievance, not logic or reason.
Those who are voting out of emotionality — from the gut — are not taking conscious responsibility for the implications. This lack of awareness is the tell-tale sign of a viral infection — the archetypal possession, which can cause regression into a boldly ignorant and impulsive mindset.
Vance wrote, from the perspective of rural Americans, “Barack Obama strikes at the heart of our deepest insecurities. He is a good father while many of us aren’t. He wears suits to his job while we wear overalls, if we’re lucky enough to have a job at all. His wife tells us that we shouldn’t be feeding our children certain foods, and we hate her for it — not because we think she’s wrong, but because we know she’s right (Hillbilly Elegy, Vance, 2016)".
Every person is susceptible to the weakness and disregard for personal responsibility. The immense difficulty in obtaining consciousness and being aware of the choices we make is summed up best by philosopher Jean Sartre, who wrote that, “Our responsibility is a blessing and a curse. It leads us to feel things like anguish, forlornness, and despair (Existentialism is Humanism, Sartre, 1946)”. Without an authority to determine our ethical choices the burden rests solely on each individual. Sartre was encouraging his readers to develop self-awareness and enact conscious choice, rather than fall into the easy, yet corrosive realities of self-delusion and scapegoating.
This has proved insurmountable throughout time. Today, as Leftists strive towards ideals of globalism and egalitarianism, as well as introduce progressive social values, White America and rural Britons are scapegoating the elites and institutions for their dying culture and economic hardship. In that fervor, they fall for the Trickster, whose promises, which are hyperbolic and swing from the hip, and therefore can never come true.
On a panel discussion titled, “The Rise of Populism and the Backlash Against the Elites,” liberal, British Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg stated that it’s time to give the populists a “long rope,” so that they can see the effects of their vague policies, which are based on the impulses of the gut, not refined reason. The assumed notion is that as the irrational populists fail, liberals can re-group.
Some of us may have the patience to wait for Clegg’s prediction of inevitable failure. Others will remain perplexed, in a constant stream of outrage throughout Trump’s term and the Brexit process. But there is no doubt that the world will suffer from the influences of Trump’s administration, which, judging by the rhetoric and cabinet appointments, seems set on denying rights to historically marginalized groups and ignoring environmental destruction. And, as for Britain, and Europe, this backlash against Globalism and regression towards xenophobia will likely continue to increase.
A Perennial Threat
Carl Jung wrote that, “Only out of disaster can the unavoidable integration of the Shadow [occur]. In collective history everything depends on the development of consciousness (Four Archetypes: Mother, Rebirth, Spirit, Trickster, Jung, 1971)”. Jung refers to this as a gradual liberation from “imprisonment in the unconscious,” which eventually brings healing.
Make no mistake, Jung recognizes that this is a process of immense friction and pain. There is no doubt that humanity is still in the throws of development. We are attempting to, as Jonathan Haidt says, “live beyond our design constraints,” (a reference to our evolutionary, biological disposition and psychological limitations). He called this the “challenge of the 21st century.” I say, “Remember that we are apes in suits and dresses; do not let the flashy phones and sophisticated entertainment fool you. The pull towards ignorance and barbarism is a constant and perennial threat — to all of us.”
This is the challenge we have failed at for many centuries. Each individual’s lack of awareness of the Shadow is what allows it to be projected on the “other.” It is vital for each person to understand their own potential weakness to succumb to evil. Only through understanding our own capacity for darkness, which has been repeated throughout all time, can we strive collectively to overcome those universal impulses.
1: “The shadow represents the unknown or little known attributes and qualities of the ego — aspects that mostly belong to the personal sphere and that could just as well be conscious.” For more read, Man and His Symbols by Carl Jung.
2: The shadow is the unknown ‘‘dark side’’ of our personality–-dark both because it tends to consist predominantly of the primitive, negative, socially or religiously depreciated human emotions and impulses like sexual lust, power strivings, selfishness, greed, envy, anger or rage, and due to its unenlightened nature, completely obscured from consciousness. For more: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evil-deeds/201204/essential-secrets-psychotherapy-what-is-the-shadow
3: “Ethnic nationalism, also known as ethno-nationalism, is a form of nationalism wherein the "nation" is defined in terms of ethnicity. The central theme of ethnic nationalists is that "nations are defined by a shared heritage, which usually includes a common language, a common faith, and a common ethnic ancestry". For more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethnic_nationalism
Man and His Symbols, Carl Jung, Marie Louis Von Franz, Angela Jaffe, 1961
One Last Photograph, Sam Abelow, 2016
Essay on Woton, Carl Jung, 1936
Viruses of the Mind, Richard Dawkins, 1993
Voices From Donald Trump’s Rallies, Ashley Parker, NewYorkTimes.com, 2016
Finding Hate Crimes on the Rise, Leaders Condemn Vicious Acts, Sarah Maslin Nirdec, NewYorkTimes.com, 2016
Why the New Nationalists Are Taking Over by Michael Hirsh, Politico.com, 2016
The Rise of Populism and the Backlash Against the Elites, with Nick Clegg and Jonathan Haidt, IQsquared YouTube Channel, 2016
The Great Mother, Erich Neumann, 1955
Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance, 2016
Four Archetypes: Mother, Rebirth, Spirit, Trickster, Carl Jung, 1971
Existentialism and Humanism, Jean-Paul Sartre, 1946