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"Entertaining, but of little relevance to the study of international relations". Discuss this proposition in relation to the writings of Freud.

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Introduction

Paul Kirby IR200 Essay Two "Entertaining, but of little relevance to the study of international relations". Discuss this proposition in relation to the writings of Freud. Sigmund Freud remains a figure whose influence it is hard to over-state. While many of his ideas in the field of depth psychology, a field he largely created, have been compromised and challenged over the course of the 20th century his influence remains palpable. We continue to use terms that Freud originated almost unthinkingly - concepts of frustration, aggression, guilt, anxiety, projection, defence mechanisms and the unconscious remain dominant. Few of Freud's writings touch on matters of direct interest to international relations but those that do have not only provided compelling arguments on the origins of war, society and violence but continue to be of importance. Civilization and Its Discontents [which was itself an expansion of Freud's paper Future of an Illusion] and Freud's brief correspondence with Albert Einstein on Why War? form the basis for most of these arguments. Works like Totem and Taboo are more relevant to sociology and anthropology but are from the same period of study and so are guides to Freud's thinking. ...read more.

Middle

Freud's ideas can also quite easily be placed within the framework of conventional international relations thought. For Abraham Drassinower Freud represents the point between the views of Hobbes and Hegel - explaining and investigating war and fear as well as inter-subjectivity and the importance of the interpersonal in creating events. Freud's conception of the id - primitive and emotional - is what most students of international relations theory would consider essentially Hobbesian. What makes his position on human nature so much more compelling are the notions of ego and super-ego [representing reason/repression and the evaluation of the ego-ideal respectively] which explain those elements of altruism and cooperation observable in human behaviour. Freud's understanding of human nature is more comprehensive than that of any other thinker on international relations for the simple reason that it was his life-long research project. As a result he represents something of a synthesis, countering the simplistic arguments of both realists and idealists. The aggressive drives within human nature mean that utopias are impossible and Freud dispels the idea that man is corrupted by society [hence his scepticism over the high claims of communism]. But man is not entirely a slave to his nature. ...read more.

Conclusion

As he put it: "..for me and my contemporaries the world will never again be a happy place. It is too hideous"13. He was not a student of government or international institutions and so we cannot expect him to shed new light on those areas of international relations. But on matters of human nature and the psychology of violence there are few challengers. Freud provides powerful insights into the nature of society and its dark underbelly, insights which many thinkers continue to ignore to their detriment. Freud seriously invested himself in the exploration of the unconscious and the primal, areas that other enlightenment thinkers oversimplify. It is precisely because he comes from a perspective so alien to that of international relations that he is capable of illuminating so much. It is why he is so necessary. While different thinkers must of course have different foci, it is too artificial, too constraining, to separate international relations completely from psychology, sociology or history. If we are to understand the role that human nature plays in world events then we must investigate the thinking not only of Freud but of all those who research the human drive to violence and its causes. Freud understood many of the complexities of the human mind and saw that fundamentalism - whether of civilisation, communism or liberal democracy - would provide few answers to the big questions. ...read more.

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