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Psychopathology of totalitarianism 1/3

Dernière mise à jour : 11 déc. 2021

Series in 3 episodes, published by L’Antipresse, n°286, 287 & 288 23 & 30 May 2021, 05 June 2021 - and translated by

Ariane Bilheran, normalienne (Ecole Normale Supérieure), philosopher, clinical psychologist, doctor in psychopathology, specialized in the study of manipulation, paranoia, perversion, harassment, and totalitarianism.

Episode 1: The totalitarian structure: The delusion of paranoia

“Many people say that one cannot fight totalitarianism without understanding it. This is fortunately not true, because otherwise our situation would be hopeless.”

H. Arendt, The Nature of Totalitarianism, 1953.

In 2020, I intervened three times to alert on the emergence of the current totalitarianism, under the pretext of health: on May 13, with “ “Sanitary Totalitarianism: “It is for your own good…Radical evil”[1], on August 30, with “The paranoiac time (the totalitarian surge) in front of the dialectic of the master and the slave”[2], and on December 30, on Radio Canada, I said in an interview that what we were experiencing was not authoritarian, but totalitarian, by examining the delusional certainty of paranoiac’s psychosis.

These interventions have earned me jeers, quips, and insults of all kinds, from those who cannot hear what is going on (or have no interest in it), claiming that I am exaggerating or that I myself am suffering from paranoia.

However, in one year, our freedoms, conquered by hard struggle over centuries, at the price of the blood of our ancestors, have evaporated in smoke, until the occurrence of this “health passport”, considered unthinkable by the majority of the people until a few months ago.

In order to elaborate such an early diagnosis of collective delusion, I have relied on my long professional experience of observing groups, institutions, and companies, when they turn into totalitarian islands.

In April of 2020, although some signs might have seemed insignificant to most, they were enough to characterize the entry into a collective paranoiac psychosis, in particular the denial of reality; the lying, cleavage, projection[3], interpretation, persecution (here, of a virus, invisible enemy, which authorizes the persecution of individuals as carrier organisms of a multiplicity of virus), the manipulation of the masses (terror, guilt and blackmail), the sanitary ideology (and the propaganda which supports it),but also the emergence of a new language to describe a “new normality” or a “new reality” making a clean sweep of the old one.

Let us recall the political criteria of totalitarianism, which cannot be reduced to a dictatorship, a despotism, or a tyranny : monopoly of the mass media and the police force, central economic management, persecution of opponents and of any criticism, a system of surveillance of individuals, encouragement of denunciations, concentrationary logic orchestrated on the basis of terror, clean slate policy, a shifting ideology built on the division between good citizens and bad citizens, on the enemy (visible or invisible) and purity.

The individuals organize themselves according to psychic structures (some will prefer the term organization, less rigid), which translates their relation to the reality, to the experience, to the other, to the Law, to the urges, to the rationality.

These structures evolve with events, in particular heavy traumatic loads, and this is what explains that in “normal” times, individuals respecting fundamental moral taboos (in particular, not to transgress or kill), become disinhibited in totalitarian times (or rather psychically regressed), to the mass ideology making it possible to justify the lifting of the anthropological prohibitions of murder and incest (and their derivatives) which are the foundation of a civilization.

What is less known is that these psychic structures also concern the collectives. There are psychic personalities at the level of groups, institutions, companies…

I have studied at length the nature of groups that I have called “regressed”, when they fall into a perverse or worse, paranoiac mode.

Serious narcissistic pathologies indeed have this talent to create a pathological unity in groups, with unconscious interactions. This shows to what extent the individual is caught in a system, where the whole is of a different nature than the sum of its parts.

This system constrains the individual psyche, which in turn feeds the collective delusion. This is how the sectarian and fanatical phenomenon is explained in a few words.

Totalitarianism corresponds to a psychotic delusion, that of paranoia. It is a psychosis, which is based on the denial of reality (reality and experience do not exist, do not serve as feedback loops to qualify dogmatic delusional thinking), an interpretative delusion (an external or internal enemy, visible or invisible, wants to harm us) with dedicated ideologies (megalomania, humanitarian pseudo-ideals), hypochondria, persecution…), projection, mistrust, cleavage, hyper-control.

This madness presents the appearance of reason, of argued discourse, while being organized on a delusion of persecution justifying the persecution of others.

It does not deny the Law, it interprets it to its advantage and, if it has the power to do so, it instrumentalizes the Law to persecute individuals, no longer to protect them.

“Para” (παρά), in ancient Greek παράνοια, is a prefix that means both “beside”, “in parallel”, as in “parapharmacy”, or “against” as in “paradoxe”. Just as the paradoxe acts against the common opinion, the paranoia acts against the mind (νοῦς), against intelligence, against logic.

And, to do this, it subverts the mind, the intelligence, the logic, and makes war on them.

It does not matter what the content of the delusion is, namely its theatrical setting, because paranoia, “reasoning madness” as the psychiatrists Sérieux and Capgras have called it, always obeys the same structuring of psychic processes.

Nourished by hatred and the eroticized manipulation of institutions, it can be dangerously collective and psychically contagious, “for our own good”. It is advisable to accuse the enemy designated as persecutor, and if possible, to personify him. A virus “caught in an iron grip” (cf. E. Macron’s speech of March 31, 2021) is the perfect enemy, because it is invisible, in perpetual transformation (“variants”).

Interpretation (deduction from a subjective opinion) is at the center of the mechanism: this virus is so dangerous that the survival of the human species is at stake (implicit postulate, which allows to justify the destruction of the economy, of liberties and of fundamental rights); interpretation is both exogenous (the killer virus is outside of us) and endogenous (inside of us).

Let’s dare to ask a blasphemous question: would a virus intend to kill us? Viruses are in our DNA; we touch hundreds of millions of them every day.

Curtis Suttle, a virologist at the University of British Columbia in Canada, says in a 2018 study, that more than 800 million viruses are deposited on every square meter of land every day.

In a tablespoon of sea water, there are more viruses than people in Europe! “We swallow more than a billion viruses every time we go swimming (…). We are inundated with viruses”. A 2011 article published in Nature Microbiology estimates that there are more than one quintillion (1 followed by 30 zeros) viruses on earth!!!

About 8% of the human genome is of viral origin, and viruses have been present long before the human species on earth, they have contributed to giving birth to cellular life[4]…

Are we serious about going to war[5] against a virus?

It is however what proposes the delusional hypochondria of the collective paranoia, in which the body becomes foreign to itself and a persecutor.

It is therefore necessary to persecute the body, in a mass Münchhausen Syndrome, which consists of over-medicalizing in an inappropriate way (banning remedies, coupled with experimental vaccines, whose studies that aim to prove quality, safety and effectiveness are not completed[6]) a common viral disease (which would deserve appropriate and early care), denying the temperance and experience of the experts, and creating more problems and suffering than it solves.

The idealization is an immensely powerful defense mechanism, of the order of the fanaticism of the unattainable ideal.

This ideal in itself becomes persecutory because no one can live up to it. The suggestion of the tyrannical sanitary ideal is strong from the start: health is conceived as the absence of potential disease (hence the confusion between cases and sick people), and the virus must be eradicated. With this basic blackmail: no return to the old days before the eradication of the virus.

The sophistry changes according to the circumstances. For example, the “vaccine”, presented from the start as a fetish object and a magic talisman against the virus, does not seem to work as well as its initial ambitions, and even presents serious and severe problems.

Insufficient (restrictive sanitary measures should be continued[7]), unsatisfactory (it would even be at the origin of the variants[8]), possibly dangerous (cf. serious side effects, which some insurance companies will not cover[9]and for others, it will be extremely complicated to demonstrate the link between cause and effect!)

In the face of this vaccine failure, we can expect persecution to increase in order to meet the unattainable ideal of eradicating the virus, it will be necessary to eliminate individuals who are supposed to be potential carriers of the virus (potentially, the entire human species is targeted).

Already, entire herds of animals have been disseminated according to the same Nazi logic of a foreign virus that must be eradicated. Goebbels noted in his Diary: “In the Warsaw ghetto, there was a certain rise in typhus, but measures were taken so that they would not be taken out of the ghetto. After all, the Jews have always been vectors of contagious diseases. They must either be herded into a ghetto and abandoned, or they must be liquidated; otherwise, they will always contaminate the healthy population of civilized states”.

Will the non-vaccinated be persecuted and then eliminated to hide the vaccine’s failure to meet the unattainable ideal?

To abdicate the tyrannical ideal would be to renounce the delusion, and would mean the collapse, the fall in front of the enemy, the death, the plunge in the black hole.

The reality of the experience must therefore be twisted and enslaved, to coincide with the archaic and sadistic ideal, which disqualifies it.

“The scientificity of totalitarian propaganda is characterized by the emphasis it places almost exclusively on scientific prophecy, as opposed to the more traditional reference to the past,”[10] and I refer to the work of mathematician Vincent Pavan.

The confusion between the fiction and the reality of the experience reigns, supported by a denial of experts, and delusional certainty, denying any objection and doubt.

It is even heretical to have an opinion on totalitarian propaganda; it “is no longer an objective problem about which people can have an opinion but has become in their lives an element as real and intangible as the rules of arithmetic.”[11]

It places the achievement of its goals in a future that is always distant, a kind of final promise, a paradise, the end of the calvary, the purity of the race, the territory purified of disease, the return to the world before etc.

It is a matter of uniting the mass against a common enemy who is supposed to embody the opposition to the achievement of this goal.

The enemy, as much external as internal, will be likely to change, according to the interpretation at any time, as long as that remains what I name “xenophobia in the thinking”, namely the notion of an “organic foreigner who would be a “non-self” threatening the self, instead of the “self” being “able to recognize itself as a carrier of the “non-self” and thus being able to assimilate it.”[12]

To make this sanitary xenophobia real, it is necessary to carry out a “gigantic operation of falsification of the truth”[13], reflecting both a mental confusion and a lack of integrity.

Ideological scientificity and its predictive technique do not cease to move; their “chameleon” dimension makes them last in power.

In conclusion, paranoiac psychosis is a delusion of collective confinement leading to a concentrationary destiny, a destructive project of “naked life”[14] (Giorgio Agamben), of the “simple fact of living”, and of which the role of Humanities reminds us that it is sacred.

Paranoia poses a paradoxical narcissistic object relation: “living together kills and separating is deadly”[15] which is indeed the leitmotiv of the current sanitary ideology which, if its hypnotic sustenance is threatened, will inevitably lead to murderous and transgressive acts on disobedient peoples, which we can see emerging in different places on the planet.

In the next two posts devoted to the psychopathology of totalitarianism, I will analyze the methods, the stages, and the objective, then the delusional contagion, the psychic alliances, and the conditions of leaving the collective delusion.

[3] It is not possible for me here to unfold all the psychopathology of paranoia, I refer the reader to my book Psychopathologie de la Paranoïa, Paris, Dunod, 2019 (2nd edition). [4] [5] Cf. discours d’E. Macron, 16 mars 2020. [6] [7] Can vaccinated people get rid of the barrier gestures? No, says the Ministry of Health: "Wearing a mask remains necessary. More generally, a vaccinated person must continue to do the barrier gestures. " [8] It's very simple, the variants come from vaccinations", Professor Luc Montagnier, Nobel Prize in Medicine, interview with Pierre Barnerias. "We vaccinate people, it selects variants, and finally people are no longer covered by the vaccine, and we continue to vaccinate anyway" (Professor Christian Perronne). [9] [10] Arendt, H. Les origines du totalitarisme. [11] Arendt, H. Le totalitarisme, Chapitre XI. Totalitarianisme [12] Annick de Souzenelle, Le baiser de Dieu, Paris, Albin Michel, 2007. [13] Agamben, G. 2020. Traduction (Florence Balique), à partir du texte italien publié le 28 avril 2020 sur le site Quodlibet : [14] Giorgio Agamben and naked life [15] Caillot, J.P. 1982. Thérapie familiale psychanalytique et paradoxalité.


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