Keynote Address at the ISPP

In July 2022, I had the pleasure of addressing the membership of the International Society of Political Psychology.

I am so glad to get to know this group and so many people who are studying the factors that either enhance or impede political life. It was amazing to offer a theory that they could judge through their own empirical research. The full text of my talk is here.

Here’s the first paragraph.

“For decades I’ve been exploring the roots of dysfunctional politics and impediments to democracy using both democratic and psychoanalytic theories. I’ve addressed these questions in broad terms, but over the past several years I’ve wanted to drill deeper to understand this: Can we pinpoint what makes some people gravitate to extremist movements like identitarian groups (e.g. white supremacy, nationalism, fascism)? To put it bluntly, and maybe impolitically, what is wrong with them? Did something go wrong in their childhood? Or are they just like everyone else? My psychoanalytic work has led me to a hypothesis that I want to explore with you today: Individuals who gravitate to extremist identitarian movements may be stuck in or regressed to a pre-Oedipal stage of development where they resort to archaic and primordial defenses that are hallmarks of identitarian politics. These include right-wing ethnic and nationalist populisms, which I’ll focus on today. This inquiry I believe will not only help us understand individual psychology better but also understand the nature of these movements.”

By Noelle McAfee

I am professor of philosophy at Emory University and editor of the Kettering Review. My latest book, Fear of Breakdown: Politics and Psychoanalysis, explores what is behind the upsurge of virulent nationalism and intransigent politics across the world today. My other writings include Democracy and the Political Unconscious; Habermas, Kristeva, and Citizenship; Julia Kristeva; and numerous articles and book chapters. Edited volumes include Standing with the Public: the Humanities and Democratic Practice and a special issue of the philosophy journal Hypatia on feminist engagements in democratic theory. I am also the author of the entry on feminist political philosophy in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and well into my next book project on democratic public life.

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