Psychopathologie de L'échec (The Psychopathology of Failure)

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Written between 1935 and 1939, the first draft of René Laforgue's manuscript Psychopathologie de l'échec (The psychopathology of failure) contained a chapter on Hitler, which the author is said to have destroyed because he felt threatened by the Gestapo. The first French edition of the book was published in Marseilles in 1941. In the same year, hoping to see his work translated into German, Laforgue appealed on several occasions to Matthias Göring, director of the Institute of Psychotherapy in Berlin. Having read the manuscript, a Professor von Hattenberg passed a negative judgment on the grounds that it "trots out Freud's doctrine in an utterly uncritical manner." In the last version, published after the author's death, the publisher acknowledged Mrs. Délia Laforgue, who had made changes and corrections in accordance with her husband's wishes and instructions.

Laforgue's book was a study of failure neurosis and the influence of what he called the "Super-I." "One day," he wrote, "we will find a better term for it, for example, 'Ductorium' as proposed by Edouard Pichon." By way of example, Laforgue took the Jewish "minority" (the word was replaced by "collectivity" beginning with the edition of 1944). The Jews, he argued, "harbor an obsessive fear of persecution which they frequently associate with an atmosphere, even should that atmosphere no longer justify the fear" (1941; the edition of February 1944 has: "an atmosphere which no longer justifies that fear"). The "Super-I" of the Jews ("Super-Ego" in the 1950 and 1963 editions) "collaborates in the persecution, and if need be provokes it. . . . Its opposition determines ["may determine" in the editions of 1944 and 1953] in them a more or less pronounced infantilism and a more or less powerful latent homosexuality." According to Laforgue, that homosexuality was always reflected by a tendency to be a victim rather than a victor.

Laforgue also described collective and class-specific superegos, powerfully influenced by education and religion. Changing social class, specifically moving from the working-class to the bourgeoisie, produced individuals prone to failure on account of the unconscious influence exerted by a proletarian superego (comparable to the superego of ghetto Jews) reacting to the betrayal implied by upward social mobility.

In the second edition of Laforgue's book, famous patients and personalities like Rousseau and Robespierre, along with Napoleon, were scrutinized from a psychobiographical point of view. Chapter 12 of the first edition, "On Professional and Affective Orientation," in which he leaned heavily on the work of Professor Reiter, President of the German Health Institute, on the subject of the social value of an individual for the community, was removed from later editions and replaced by Laforgue's long study of Napoleon's failure neurosis.

Historians, like those who lived through the war years in France, have great respect for Laforgue's abilities as a clinician. But inasmuch as this some time member of International League against Anti-Semitism supported Marshal Petain, his psychoanalytical theories of collective psychologyand indeed his political judgmentshould, to say the very least, be treated with great circumspection.

Jean-Pierre Bourgeron

See also: Failure neurosis; Laforgue, René.

Source Citation

Laforgue, René. (1941). Psychopathologie de l'échec. Marseilles: Les Cahiers du Sud; (1944). 2nd edition. Paris: Payot; (1950). 3rd edition. Paris: Payot; (1963). 4th edition (Delia Laforgue, Rev.). Geneva:Éditions du Mont-Blanc.


Mijolla, Alain de. (1988). Psychoanalysis and psychoanalysts in France between 1939 and 1945. International Forum of Psychoanalysis, 12, 136-156.

Roudinesco,Élisabeth. (1986). René Laforgue ou la collaboration manquée: Paris-Berlin 1939-1942. Confrontation.

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Psychopathologie de L'échec (The Psychopathology of Failure)

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