Towards the European Forum in Turin – Pierre-Gilles Guéguen



Democracy? Definitely! But What Kind?


Pierre-Gilles Guéguen



Why do Psychoanalysts have a strong desire for democracy?


We will first of all reply that it regards the very existence of psychoanalysis, and its concrete and practical possibility.


The psychoanalytic discourse, before any other discourse, orients the act of those who merit being called psychoanalysts, because it is in their view the only one capable of subverting bio-politics, which was so rightly denounced by Michel Foucault. Before being a profession, the practice of psychoanalysis necessitates, amongst other things, a personal analysis, namely to have put ones analysis and the encounter with the real before all other mundane considerations.


In a political system where freedom of speech is gagged, which is since Hannah Arendt designated as “totalitarian”, there is no possibility of practice of that which, since Freud, we call psychoanalysis, this singular meeting of two, outside of any norm or conformism. The analysand tracks down the truth of his jouissance there, and the extent of the demand of the master discourse. What is revealed to him in his cure is the part he takes in the master discourse, but also that there is an impossible in him to conform to it. A psychoanalysis is not achieved in communion with the unconscious, and Lacan recommended that one guarded against “preferring the unconscious over all else”. Rather, for each one it is achieved by extracting the relationship to the Other, which singularises and objects to what is good for all. One does this by the exploration of this singular concretisation of language that is each one’s symptom. Per via de levare, as Freud said.


Political systems that we would call democratic are those that permit and favour multiplicity of opinion and modes of enjoyment, and which organise their confrontations through different modalities of intervention, accepted by the whole of the social body. This way they assure beyond the inherent fracture in discord, for a unity of the people to exist.

In fact we speak of political systems with parliamentary representation, linked to nation states as they functioned since the 19th century in Europe and on the American continent (with long breaks in certain Latin American countries).


When today we say that there is a decided desire for democracy, we must also ask ourselves in what kind of democracy psychoanalysis of the Lacanian orientation can exist and prosper. In some countries psychoanalysis has spread, in others (England, Germany, USA, not to mention middle Eastern countries) it struggles to establish itself. Freud was the first to realise this with regard to the USA.


Marcel Gauchet[1], political scientist who often refers to Lacan, reminds us that at the beginning of the 21st century, democracy and its exercise have evolved from the 20th century. The kernel of a so-called democratic society supposes the respect of the rule of law to guarantee fundamental liberties such as the freedom of expression, the separation of religious beliefs and the exercise of power (the model of the secular republic, less granted in countries like the USA, for example). This exercise supposes also that “governance” is organised along the principles of the separation of legislative, executive and judicial powers. Gauchet remarks that at the end of the century an essential factor of this evolution was the taking into account of the Rights of Man, illustrated by the development of NGOs and the advance of the “right of influence” over areas of other states. According to Gauchet, this taking into account has reconciled the regimes that we consider democratic with the ideal of the French revolution, ideal of equality contained in the declaration of the Rights of Man, but it has at the same time undermined the consistency of democratic regimes and thus nation states, through the introduction of supposedly universal values.


Since the beginning of the 21st century, other phenomena and beliefs have contributed to the weakening of democracies and their power to overcome the divergences between its citizens through political conversation: The neo-liberal model of economy replaces political action everywhere, and managerial methods tend to take the place of the ideal politician in the service of the state. Standardised and generalised evaluation methods weaken and impoverish the specific content of politics while contractual law imported from Anglo-Saxon thinking, extends to everything. The ultra financialised economy and the phenomenon of numerical globalisation manage to undermine democratic forms of nation states by propagating a thinking “for all” and the expansion of standardising capitalism, which erodes the specificity of cultures and the difference between peoples. Paradoxically, this standardisation of political thinking produces anxiety that sparks the reflex towards identity politics (United Kingdom, Catalonia), always benefitting communalism.


Two interventions by Lacan come to mind on this theme: One dates from 1967 and is in the “Proposition of the 9th October 1967 on the Psychoanalyst of the School”[1]: “Our future as common markets will be balanced by an increasingly hard-line extension of the process of segregation.”[2]


The other is in Television: “ … more than once I’ve seen hope – what they call bright new tomorrows – drive people I’ve valued as much as I value you to kill themselves, period.[3]

We cannot say that we haven’t been warned.



Translated by Natalie Wulfing 

[1] Gauchet, M., La démocratie contre elle-même, coll. Tel, Gallimard, Paris, 2002.

[2] Lacan, J., “Proposition of 9 October 1967”,  (Fr: Autres écrits, coll. Le Champ Freudien, Seuil, Paris, 2001, p. 257.)

[3] Lacan, J., Television, Norton, 1990, p. 43 (Fr: “Télévision”, ibid., p. 542).




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