The Preservation of Democracy

Part 2: Political Frustration


One of the leit-motifs of Hitler's speeches explaining his expansion is always the wrong done to the German people by the Treaty of Versailles, a wrong that can be righted only by the successive steps he takes. The motif is clad recurrently in the promise that he will settle down peacefully if only just this last of his burning desires is quieted. This screen has proved successful again and again. The reason for the success, as far as it can be gathered from British speeches and editorials, letters to the editor of the Times, etc., seems to be a curious belief, current in the Anglo-Saxon world, in the psychology of frustration.

The argument runs like this: The German people have been frustrated; they have become angry and aggressive as a consequence of frustration; if their frustrated wishes are satisfied they will settle down and become peaceful and pleasant neighbors again.

There are several flaws in this argument. First of all, frustration is a concept of individual psychology; for methodological reasons it cannot be transferred to collective behavior. The argument could be dismissed on this ground, but let us assume its validity for the moment in order to analyze its further qualities. From an experience of frustration anger and aggressiveness do not necessarily follow as a consequence: the reaction may as well be resignation. Whether the one or the other is the outcome depends on further qualities of character.

Aggressiveness on the other hand need not be caused by frustration: it may develop when a weak, persistently peaceful object offers itself to aggression.

Nonresistance or defenselessness of the object provokes aggression in a man who inclines to it. Appearances like those of Ramsay Macdonald or Neville Chamberlain might induce even a moderately aggressive man to try some threatening and bluffing on them. Further, if aggression is caused by frustration, it does not follow that it will subside when the suppressed desires are satisfied; on the contrary, it is highly probable that with satisfaction the desires will grow.

And ultimately and most important, there are quite a number of desires that should be frustrated when the individual is not capable of sublimating them in such a way as is compatible with the value system of the community in which he lives. Our whole civilization is built on the frustration of desires that would destroy it if satisfied. If a man cannot stand the frustration of desires that our civilization imposes, we do not grant him satisfaction, but we call him a criminal and put him in jail. In spite of its obvious flimsiness, the frustration-aggression pattern has worked excellently and has certainly contributed considerably to the success of National Socialism.

PUBLISHED ESSAYS, 1940-1952 ,
CW VOL 10,
Extended Strategy: A new Technique of dynamic Relations
pp 23-24.

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