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ON THE BIOLOGICAL BASIS OF SEXUAL REPRESSION AND ITS SOCIOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE1
By J. C. FLÜGEL.
I. Introduction. The antagonism between Individuation and Genesis.
viduation and Genesis.
tendencies to Individuation and Genesis.
tion of the pressure of population upon the means of
subsistence. Sociological consequences of these difficulties. VI. The probable sociological and psychological consequences of a
more general realisation of the nature and significance of
the antagonism between Individuation and Genesis. VII. Summary.
The discovery of the widespread occurrence and the deep significance of sexual repression is, by universal admission, one of the most striking and important results of psycho-analytic research. The course and nature of the intra-psychical conflict, as a result of which this repression comes about, has been studied in detail as it actually occurs at different mental levels, with the result that much light has been thrown on the structure and function of the human mind and on the manner of its evolution. Not only has Psycho-Analysis helped us to a realisation and understanding of this conflict itself, but it has also enabled us to obtain a clearer view of the forces engaged in the struggle or at least of those engaged on one side. In his epoch-making studies in sexual development? Freud has given us a cogent and penetrating analysis of the
Being an elaboration of material contained in papers read before The Society for the Study of Orthopsychics, November 6th, 1919, the Sixth International Psycho-analytical Congress, September 8th, 1920 and the British Psychological Society (Medical Section), October 20th, 1920.
* Particularly of course the Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex. J. of Psych. (Med. Sect.) i
sources of the sexual instinct and of the manner in which this instinct comes to assume the shape in which it manifests itself in the adult human being; so that, although much remains for future research by way of corroboration, amplification and elaboration, a fairly sound foundation upon which to build up a detailed psychology of the human sexual impulses appears to have been laid.
Much less satisfactory however is our knowledge concerning the forces at work upon the other side. Although we are able to follow the changes and developments which the repressed sexual forces undergo in the process of repression, we are—in some ways paradoxically enoughstill in comparative uncertainty as regards the exact nature of the forces which produce the repression and of the circumstances under which they act. In the earlier psycho-analytic work repression is frequently attributed to the influence of rather vague and indefinite factors connected with the 'conscious ideas of the individual,' the 'moral forces of the personality,' the 'personality as a whole' or with the desire of the individual to avoid the suffering of pain. In his later writings Freud has spoken more definitely of the ego-trends as constituting a source of instinctive energy of great power and importance which frequently acts in opposition to the sexual trends (which latter he includes under the term Libido), and in so acting is responsible for the majority of those intra-psychical conflicts, as a result of which sexual repression occurs. This psychic dichotomy (into Ego-trends and Libido) is frankly adopted by Freud in the first place for pragmatic reasons and, in so far as it is based on evidence of fact, it rests on a biological rather than a psychological foundation. At the same time psycho-analytic investigation, by its further progress, has to some extent revealed the cause of the relative backwardness of our knowledge concerning the intimate nature of the repressing forces (supposing these to be in fact connected with the Self)—this backwardness being largely dependent on the fact that the abnormal mental conditions in which aberrations of the ego-trends play the leading part have as yet been subject to comparatively little psychoanalytic study; so that the illumination that comes from the contemplation of faulty development and function as manifested in disease has not yet been thrown upon the Ego-trends to anything like the same extent as upon the Libido (disorders of which are chiefly responsible for the milder mental troubles which have hitherto most frequently been made the object of psycho-analytic investigation). An extension of our knowledge as regards the psychological nature of the forces responsible for sexual repression is therefore to be expected in the future as the result of a more widespread and consistent application of the psycho-analytic method to the severer forms of neurosis and to psychosis. Meanwhile it would be very desirable to obtain a deeper insight into the nature of sexual repression from the biological point of view, both because this point of view must in any case constitute the ultimate foundation and logical starting point of our psychological knowledge and because it should afford a desirable preparation for dealing with the increase of psychological knowledge which we may hope soon to possess
The biological factor to wbich the present paper is devoted is a very general one-differing in this respect rather markedly from most of those to which attention has been drawn by (the very few) previous investigators in this field1.
This factor is not one to which attention is now being drawn for the first time; on the contrary it has, in different connections and from different aspects, received extensive treatment at the hands of more than one authority: it is however one which has (for reasons into which we shall later on attempt to enter), in the opinion of the present writer, received far less general consideration than it deserves. It is a factor the biological and sociological importance of which is as great as, or even greater than, its importance for psychology. Its application to biology and sociology has however already been made fairly clear by the work of previous investigators (though its significance in these fields is still inadequately recognised): so that our present task may be confined (apart from a brief statement of the already developed biological and sociological aspects) to a consideration of its psychological application an application which has indeed as yet scarcely been attempted-and to pointing out certain conclusions, chiefly in the field of social psy. chology, which may be drawn from this application.
The factor in question consists in the existence of a necessary biological antagonism between the full development of the individual and the exercise
1 The only serious attempt at a study of the biology of sex repression from the psycho. analytic point of view is that of Bleuler (“Der Sexualwiderstand,”Jahrbuch für Psychoanaly. tische und Psychopathologische Forschungen, 1913, v. 442), to whose short but extremely valuable work in this direction the reader is here referred. The factor studied in the present paper is partly identical with Bleule's eighth factor; though-as will become apparentthe present writer attributes a deeper and more far-reaching significance to this factor than does Bleuler. Apart from psycho-analytic writers, attention has chiefly been confined to the phenomenon of modesty—which is of course only one aspect of the general inhibition of sex, but which nevertheless constitutes one of the most important conscious manifestations of this inhibition. The best summary from this point of view is probably to be found in Havelock Ellis's monumental Studies in the Psychology of Sex, 3rd ed. 1920, 1. 5 ff.
of his procreative powers—between Individuation and Genesis, to use the convenient terms employed by Herbert Spencer—an antagonism of such a kind that (other things equal) the energy devoted to the life activities of the individual varies inversely with the energy devoted to the production of new individuals. The relative amount of energy devoted to the two ends is determined (within the limits imposed by individual modifiability and racial variability) by the action of Natural Selection, there being some influences which favour the devotion of energy principally to purposes of Individuation, while other influences favour the devotion of energy principally to purposes of propagation; so that there is brought about (within the individual and within the race) a struggle between the two lines of development corresponding to the two conflicting influences of the environment, this struggle manifesting itself within the mind as a conflict between the sexual tendencies on the one hand and the self-preserving and self-regarding tendencies on the other; a conflict as the result of which there takes place the general sexual inhibition with which we are here concerned.
It will be observed that we are here dealing with a biological factor which has been clearly enunciated by Herbert Spencer in his Principles of Biology"; a factor however which can perhaps scarcely be appreciated in its full significance except when considered in the light of the principles established by Malthus and by Darwin; since the true meaning of the antagonism between Individuation and Genesis only becomes manifest when we bear in mind the tremendous but unostentatious influence of the struggle for existence, as revealed by Malthus in its operation on the human race and by Darwin in its application to all forms of life.
It will be noted too that the antagonism here expressed in biological terms roughly coincides, in its application to Psychology, with the mental conflict between the Libido and the Ego-trends as understood by Freud. This being so, we may perhaps be justified in hoping that a more detailed consideration of the psychological aspects of the antagonism in question may throw some useful light upon the facts of sexual repression, as discovered by Psycho-Analysis.
In his treatment of the relations between Individuation and Genesis, Spencer proceeds first of all to show a priori that there must exist an inverse relationship between these two methods of race preservation, and then goes on to demonstrate a posteriori that this necessary relationship does in fact exist. We cannot enter here into the mass of detail
1 11. 391 ff.
involved in the a posteriori argument; a brief review of the main outlines of the a priori argument may however be attempted.
Two lines of a priori argument are employed. In the first the inverse relationship is shown to hold good of any given species, regarded as a class of beings endeavouring to maintain its existence against the hostile forces of the environment; in the second it is shown to hold good also of the individual from the point of view of his internal economy. As regards the first Spencer argues 1: “We have already seen that the forces preservative of race are two- ability in each member of the race to preserve itself, and ability to produce other members—power to maintain individual life and power to generate the species. These must vary inversely. When, from lowness of organization, the ability to contend with external dangers is small, there must be great fertility to compensate for the consequent mortality; otherwise the race must die out. When, on the contrary, high endowments give much capacity of self-preservation, a correspondingly low degree of fertility is requisite. Given the dangers to be met as a constant quantity; then, as the ability
any species to meet them must be a constant quantity too, and as this is made up of the two factors-power to maintain individual life and power to multiply—these cannot do other than vary inversely: one must decrease as the other increases." He then proceeds to show that every species must conform to this
pain of ceasing to exist; or else—if the departure from the law is only slight—that there comes into play an automatic process of regulation, whereby the inverse relation is soon re-established. “Suppose, first, a species, whose individuals having but small self-preservative powers are rapidly destroyed, to be at the same time without reproductive powers proportionately great. The defect of fertility, if extreme, will result in the death of one generation before another has grown up. If less extreme, it will entail a scarcity such that in the next generation sexual congress will be too infrequent to maintain even the small number that remains; and the race will dwindle with increasing rapidity. If still less extreme, the consequent degree of rareness, while not so great as to prevent an adequate degree of procreative unions, will be so great as to render special food very abundant and special enemies very few -will thus diminish the destructive forces so much that the self-preserva tive forces will become relatively great; so great, relatively, that when combined with the small ability to propagate the species, they will suffice to balance the small destructive forces.
i Principles of Biology, II. 401.