Violence and Narcissism: A Frommian Perspective on Destructiveness under Authoritarianism

Leonidas K. Cheliotis


This article offers a sympathetic appraisal of Erich Fromm’s conceptualisation of narcissism as it relates to the emergence, sustenance, and resolution of authoritarian violence. The discussion is first placed within the methodological debate over the analytic operations that are required for an adequate understanding of authoritarian violence, explaining why a psychoanalytic perspective is necessary. The focus then shifts to Fromm’s take on the Freudian concept of narcissism, before proceeding to explore in some depth his account of the symbolic mechanisms and contextual climate that must combine in practice in order for narcissistic energies to be channeled into authoritarianism and violence. Attention in this regard is paid both to the populace and governing elites. The article concludes with a short exposition of Fromm’s notion of benign narcissism, from its specific content to the conditions of its possibility.


Narcissism; Violence; Destructiveness; Authoritarianism; Erich Fromm

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