| Home - Robert M. Young | What's New | Search | Feedback | Contact Us |
Robert M. Young Home Page
Index of writings by Robert M. Young
Introduction to this book
Email Robert M. Young
Process Press
Science as Culture
Free Associations
Kleinian Studies
Human Relations, Authority and Justice



by W. Gordon Lawrence

For me it is a puzzle, given the real political, spiritual and emotional struggle in the twentieth century between the ideologies of open and closed societies (Popper, 1966 edn.), as to why totalitarian states-of-mind can still be present in institutions. My evidence is that such a state-of-mind increasingly is emerging in some institutions, not allowing other states-of-mind to be available and, indeed, on occasion made totally absent. Clearly, I am pointing to a trend, based on a 'worst case' approach, but it is one that is increasing, inevitably swamping innovative thinking about the organisation of institutions and so diminishing the potential creativity of human beings.


The role from which I address this puzzle is that of a consultant to business enterprises, usually with chairpersons and chief executives. The heuristic perspective which informs my role was first forged by the early scientific workers in the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations. In particular I hold psychoanalysis, which I use as a tool of cultural enquiry and criticism, close to the centre of my experiencing and thinking. My initial focus on entering an institution as a consultant is on the Organisation -the Culture- and the Roles of people in the Institution. And always I am trying to situate the Institution in its Environment to question its Purpose.

Then, if you will, I try to discern what is in the minds of the people with whom I am working. (Lawrence, 1986) I try to set before my clients the idea that the meaning we give to our existence in business is articulated through thinking and thought or, to put it more colourfully, the greatest assets of a company are those between the ears of the people in the institution.

It is thinking that brings institutions into being. The thinking exists because of the conscious and unconscious minds of the thinkers in the institution. Institutions have material reality - machines etc. - but at the same time have psychic, political and spiritual reality. How we think about our institutions in relation to their environments brings into being the particular forms and structures that institutions have.


The working hypothesis I am to explore is this:

As the environment is experienced as becoming more uncertain - and there is reality to this - the management of institutions become more anxious (stressed, in common parlance) as they interpret their experiences of the events and happenings of the business relating to its environment. This activates and evokes dormant psychotic anxieties because their phantasy world comes more to the fore than the conscious, ratiocinating qualities of the mind. So there is a pressure on managers to bring into being organisations which offer certainty that in fantasy will withstand the environmental uncertainty and banish the psychotic anxieties. In this they are supported by the majority of the other role holders in the institution. Consequently, they collectively bring into being, consciously and unconsciously, authoritarian organisations that generate a totalitarian, possibly fascist, state-of-mind in the participants in the institution.

The corollary is:

Such an organisational culture diminishes the capacity for thought and thinking and so role holders at all levels become less able to relate to the external environment which is perceived as being in a state of flux. They become entrapped in the inner, political environment of the institution, in a life of action and reaction, doing not being. The preoccupation is with personal survival. This frame of mind does not allow them to anticipate in any way. And so crises, particularly financial ones, repeat themselves till they reach such a magnitude that the enterprise fails. This is because the role holders in the institution are less able to use their 'ego' function, their psyche, to transact between the inner and outer world of the institution.

Two preliminary points on 'totalitarianism' and 'institutions':


I take my definition of 'totalitarianism' from S. Andreski's entry in A Dictionary of the Social Sciences (1964). 'Totalitarianism is the extension of permanent governmental control over the totality of social life. A movement or an ideology may be called totalitarian if it advocates such an extension.' In this exploration I am referring to a 'state-of-mind' and not an actual system of governance. Totalitarianism is being used in this essay as a metaphor.


Institutions have Organisations within which there are Roles for carrying out the Work of the institution. How these make sense to the people involved is through the Culture which gives meaning to their activities. 'Organisations are social units (or human groupings) deliberately constructed and reconstructed to seek specific goals. Corporations . armies, schools. hospitals.churches and prisons are included.' (Etzioni, 1964, p. 3)

What can be called the 'inner environment' of institutions - the organisation and the culture - has a deep structure that has been present since the beginnings of industrialisation which grew from the rise of capitalism and the fusion of science and technology - what Jacques Barzun (1964) called 'Techne' - to bring about an inventiveness that always surpasses our dreams.

Despite all the theorising about organisations and experimentation the majority of institutions remain hierarchical. This seems to be deeply embedded in the western collective psyche. They are justified as having to be hierarchical, with chains of command, because of the belief in the necessity for obedience in institutions. Hierarchies and obedience go together as Mumford pointed out in his book The Myth of the Machine in which he makes the disconcerting link between the idea of civilisation and command hierarchies.

I use the term "civilisation"...to denote the group of institutions that first took form under kingship. Its chief features, constant in varying proportions throughout history, are the centralisation of political power, the separation of classes, the lifetime division of labour, the mechanisation of production, the magnification of military power, the economic exploitation of the weak and the universal introduction of slavery and forced labour for both industrial and military purposes (Mumford, 1967, p. 186).

Those at the top of hierarchies tend to have to carry the fear, or have it projected into them by others in the institution, that control is always in danger of being lost in the institution with chaotic results, and so part of their role is to ensure that there is compliance and obedience. Hierarchies - with the mythical notion that human institutions are only possible if there is some form of a Divine King present, if only in the mind - appear to be a perennial feature of institutional life. At best, a CEO is the role holder who acts in the ego function to the organisation. Their leadership function is to interpret the outside environment to the inner world of the enterprise. A true work leader is testing realities of these through working hypotheses and attempting to provide resources and conditions for other role holders to manage themselves in their roles in the institution. (Cf. Bion, 1961)

Roles in an institution are available on this hierarchical basis. In Britain, as indeed in all industrial societies - even though they may be called post-industrial - there are those who manage and those who are managed. Any conceptualisation to the contrary is rarely entertained. So ideas of about the management of self in role and systemic conceptualisations of management are rarely integrated into institutional life. (Lawrence and Miller, 1976; Lawrence, 1979)

Institutions, and I purposely reify them here, value compliance so the political, psychic and spiritual conditions are such that participants in the institution are precluded from exercising, what Winnicott called, 'creative apperception'.

It is creative apperception more than anything else that makes the

individual feel that life is worth the living. Contrasted with this is a relationship to external reality which is one of compliance, the world and its details being recognised but only as something to be fitted in with or demanding adaptation. Compliance carries with it a sense of futility for the individual and is associated with the idea that nothing matters and that life is not worth the living. In a tantalising way many individuals have experienced just enough of creative living to recognise that for most of their time they are living uncreatively, as if caught up in the creativity of someone else. or of a machine (Winnicott, 1971, p. 65).

There is a sense in which an institution caught up in the totalitarian state-of mind is like a machine - a thing - and the creativity is held by the dominant political faction so 'creative apperception' by the majority is never allowed to have any space in which to flourish let alone flower.

The working hypothesis I have offered needs 'because clauses', as my late colleague Pierre Turquet would say.


We have passed through what John Kenneth Galbraith described as 'the age of uncertainty' (Galbraith, 1977) and now we conduct business in the age of hyper-uncertainty. One reason is because of the acceleration of, what Joseph Schumpeter called, 'destructive capitalism' which is taking place throughout the world. Because of the drive for competition capitalist institutions are continually destroying and making redundant their former structures and methods. The acceleration of capitalism has been fuelled by a disillusionment with socialism and its policies of public ownership, central planning, administrative direction and regulatory control. These are seen to have failed because their rigidities hinder innovation, structural change and economic growth.

What is called 'globalisation' also is accelerating structural change. Globalisation comes about through the following factors which can be summarised as:

Ever freer movement of final goods and services from optimal

production locations to optimum markets. Vanishing exchange

controls over outwards movements of capital from the richer

economies. Liberalising inward trade and investment policies in

the "developing" world. Specifically political transformations in

China and India, having the potential long term effect of adding to

the world's labour supply hundreds of millions of people sufficiently literate and disciplined to be eligible for highly skilled jobs in the world market (Gay, 1994).

The overall effect of "globalisation" is that production anywhere can expand enormously, far beyond the limits of the domestic market, insofar as it is competitive - and, of course, that any production anywhere, and the related employment, can be displaced at any time by cheaper production from anywhere else in the world. Life in the global economy is full of exciting surprises - and catastrophic downfalls (Lutitwak, 1994, p. 3).

One result of globalisation is that the institutions of the established capitalist societies cannot compete against the low production costs of. say, the Pacific Rim or India - wages in the East can be as low as four percent as those in France. for example. Consequently, so called, 'smart' institutions are running down their organisations in the Northern Hemisphere - 'down-sizing' is the word. This is part of what is called 'Restructuring the Corporation' or, what is more trendy. 're-engineering'. In Australia they describe it more vividly as 'slash and burn'. With an air of intellectualism we now speak of 'deconstruction' - echoing trends in literary criticism, perhaps.

To survive, big companies today - ABB, At &T, GE. Grand Metropolitan, Coca-Cola, Benetton, Johnson & Johnson, British Petroleum, Honda, Alcoa, Xerox - are deconstructing themselves and creating new structures, many as networks of autonomous units. Deconstruction is now in fashion, because it is the best way to search for survival...[This is called] the "ODD effect": outsourcing, delayering, and deconstruction. The result is radical downsizing (Naisbitt, 1994. p. 13-14).

Deconstruction is made more possible because throughout the world a manager in the Northern Hemisphere can control production in the Southern Hemisphere and, in time, we can predict a reverse trend. Business managers now use 'virtual factories', or 'factories-in-the-mind', which means one can manufacture in different parts of the world, assemble and distribute where one wants without having a conventional, material factory. Such ideas about manufacturing are ever more possible through the spread of Information Technology. Mangers are now computer literate and can oversee much more to render transparent the productive and related commercial processes, and can do so without being on site in actuality.

While it is exciting to learn of such new trends it is also terrifying. One obvious social result is unemployment. We have seen in Britain the virtual disappearance of coal miners, shipyard workers and steel workers. And we have been witnessing the reduction of the white-collar occupations. Even, for example, though the U.S. economy is allegedly in full recovery corporation after corporation is announcing white-collar reduction by the thousand. The same is applying to European societies. The OECD predict that unemployment in the West will rise to 35 millions by the end of the millennium. To put these figures in perspective: in 1990 unemployment was 25 million and about 10 million in 1950. Unemployment creates a climate of fear in our traditional industrial societies. And those who can hold on to a job are having to live with a reduction in earnings.

Increasingly, in traditional industrial societies public services are being privatised. Capitalist thinking has taken over the running of hospitals, prisons and public utilities. The same criteria believed to be useful for running a business are now applied to all institutions. Consequently, role holders in such institutions are having similar experiences to those in conventional business enterprises.

I want to emphasise that to be in business is experienced as being at high risk and it causes anxiety for owners, shareholders, employees at all levels and the service industries, who are also in business, associated with them like suppliers, banks and accountants. Essentially, in the first instance, it is managers who carry this anxiety.

There are a range of ways in which managers can respond to the protean environment that is forever in flux; this business world of capitalism that is accelerating at an unprecedented pace. They can deny it - but they can only do that for so long. They could, of course, rethink completely what it means to be in business and bring into being a new way of organising and managing - a point to which I shall return.

Managers are, for the most part, caught oscillating somewhere between denial and acknowledgement, hoping that circumstances will change. Politicians confidently tell us that recessions 'bottom-out'. Managers know the world has changed but they dare not think it. To use Christopher Bollas's formulation on the 'unthought known' (1987): managers know the complexity of the business situation but they dare not think it. Some, of course, are pioneering new ways of being in business and have taken on ideas about people managing themselves in their roles etc. But the majority appear to be stuck.

The survival of institutions in a complex changing environment relies, in the first instance. on how well or badly senior managers interpret the inner and external realities of the institution. Because of their roles they are always managing the boundaries between the inner and outer worlds of an enterprise even though with the development of task networks based on Information Technology such boundaries become more flexible and less concrete. Because of our industrial history managers are conceptualised as being at the top of command hierarchies. It is they with their minds who have the responsibility and authority to interpret reality and the organisational power to have their interpretations and subsequent decisions followed. Consequently, it is, what I call, the 'mental disposition' of managers which is critical in this interpretation. survival of the self. Thinking is concrete because of the confusion between self and objects which is one of the consequences of projective identification.'

(Steiner, 1987, pp. 69-70)

I fully accept that some managers will have a valency for this position and will fall into it more readily than others. but, at the same time, I am also holding on to the idea that managers can be driven into this position by their followers in the institution, i.e., that the paranoid-schizoid position, as any other, is also 'socially' induced. Given the quality of the business environment we live in and the fact that people are aware of the fragility of their personal economic security, one can understand why some managers will interpret from this position and are so doing on behalf of other role holders in the institution.

Managers do so because they have sanction, albeit unconscious, from the group in which they make their interpretation and decisions. This is because institutions are used by role holders as containers for their feelings, even though they may not recognise this. Elliot Jaques, using Kleinian ideas in the context of his action-research in industry hypothesised that 'institutions are used by their individual members to reinforce individual mechanisms of defence against anxiety, and in particular against recurrence of the early paranoid and depressive anxieties' Through the processes of projective and introjective identification individuals and their social behaviour are linked. Consequently he made the striking observation that 'one of the primary cohesive elements binding individuals into institutionalised human associations is that of defence against psychotic anxiety,. Jaques, 1955, pp. 478-9)

Later, Bion (1961, p.187) advanced his hypothesis on the functioning of groups and institutions basing his formulations on his postulate that

...the central position in group dynamics is occupied by the more primitive mechanisms that Melanie Klein has described as peculiar to the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions...[which are] the source of the main emotional drives of the group (p. 188).

Isabel Menzies Lyth developed the link made by Jaques between individual psychotic anxieties and institutions when she discovered that these can be unconsciously woven together in such a way that they constitute a 'social system of defence against anxiety. This she demonstrated in hospitals. Her reasoning was that nurses have to deal with illness, death and dying, thus:

The objective situation confronting the nurse bears a striking resemblance to the phantasy situation that exists in every individual in the deepest and most primitive levels of the mind. The intensity and complexity of the nurse's anxieties are to be attributed primarily to the peculiar capacity of the objectives features of her work situation to stimulate afresh those early situation and their accompanying emotions

(Menzies Lyth, 1959, pp. 46-7).

The significance of this thinking is emphasised by Robert Young in his recent book, Mental Space,, when he writes that group and institutional behaviour

...are quite specifically and exquisitely designed to avoid consciously experiencing psychotic anxiety. Moreover, psychotic processes are in danger of breaking through from moment to moment (Young, 1994, p.156)

Lest it be though that I am blaming managers for interpreting the environment in the way they do I hope now that I have shown that it is an unconscious collusive process in which the majority of role holders in the institution are involved, certainly those who have hierarchical power. To put it as strongly as I can, it may be that totalitarian states-of-mind come to exist and are supported in order to justify social systems of defence against psychotic anxiety held by the participants in the institution.

But for this a number of prices have to be paid. One link between the external environment of the institution being interpreted from a paranoid-schizoid position and the growth of a totalitarian state-of-mind in the inner environment is the emergence of narcissistic leadership. In veritable totalitarian states this is called 'the cult of personality.'

Narcissistic/Hubristic Leadership

In institutions it can be that the preoccupation is with projective identification with the narcissistic leader. This identification is for the reasons of defending against psychotic anxieties. One price that has to be paid is a rigid, authoritarian organisation with its associated culture. The culture reinforces the belief that thinking has to be sure-fire and certain,, there are no room for mistakes. Indeed the fear of mistakes - there is no possibility of learning from them - is such that it becomes dangerous to have thoughts which are different from the majority.

One consequence of being in the paranoid-schizoid position is the splitting of objects in the environment into good and bad. The idealised object - in this case the leader - is made good and is kept far apart from the bad, persecutory ones. One can see this in institutions which construe the external environment as bad and persecuting and so the unconscious wish is to create a safe, good, internal environment in the enterprise. Within the institution there will be a further splitting and hatred will be projected into, for example, women, people of other races, and any person who might be expected to hold the depressive position because of their role. I think of human resource, training, and 'therapeutic' functions for the enterprise.

If we look at British business in the last decade or so there have been a significant number of narcissistic leaders - statistically so, I guess. As a colleague (Ruth Silver) points out it might be better to use the term 'hubristic' in the context of institutions. Narcissistic-hubristic leaders are valued in Britain because of the British liking of 'expressive individualism' (Hampden-Turner and Trompenaars, 1994. p. 305) In recent years the British have lauded the self-made 'outsider-acquisitor" who 'is driving, clever, dynamic. blunt, and tenacious while unafraid of hard-work" (p. 305) They all appear on the national stage through the mass media and there grows the myth that the total success of their enterprises depends solely on their leadership skills. Hence the justification of large salaries and share options which make for millionaire chief executives.

Examples of hubristic leaders can be found in Ernest Saunders of Guiness whose skill was in illegal share-support for the take-over of Distillers. Gerald Ronson was also involved. Jack Lyons was stripped of his knighthood for the same crime. Another example is Peter Clowes who was responsible for robbing small investors of £18 million. Another: Robert Maxwell who appropriated the pension funds of the Mirror employees. Asil Nadir of Polly Peck stands accused of executing probably the biggest fraud in British history. I think of George Walker of the Brent Walker Empire who recognises now that it was the buying of the William Hill betting shops from Grand Metropolitan in 1989 for £689 million that broke his empire. And. of course, Gerald Ratner who was remarkably honest and accurate in his scatological description of his merchandise. And they were the ones who were caught.

Projective identification with the leader is critical. One corollary seems to be that all hatred has to be invested in any competition. A good enough example is that of some of the personnel of British Airways in relation to Branson and Virgin Airlines. In the past few years the former have mounted a 'dirty tricks' campaign against the latter. In a recent news broadcast I heard about a BA passenger who swallowed a piece of glass on a flight. The crew apologised etc. But then the passenger found himself being accused of acting on behalf of Virgin Airways and being harassed by the airport police and receiving 'hate mail' from British Airways. One which he showed on television carried the greeting ' Happy Holidays - arsehole.' The case has now gone to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

I take it that when a paranoid-schizoid culture, so to speak, permeates an institution the personnel feel sanctioned to regard all competition as enemies who should be 'killed off'. Irrespective of whether this campaign was consciously sanctioned or not it was, for sure, sanctioned unconsciously. And is that aspect I want to hold on to tenaciously.

Some managers are driven into interpreting the events of the environment in a paranoid way. For them, it is very difficult to hold on to any other psychic perspective when all around are demanding action to avoid the threat of the low or negative figures on the bottom line because, for example, the company is losing its market share. They are under social pressure bring into being what Bion (1961) named as a basic assumption Dependency culture in the inner world of the institution while mobilising an aggressive basic assumption Fight culture to the external environment. The institutional culture becomes one which you either get screwed or you screw others. This feeds the paranoid-schizoid/narcissistic/hubristic leadership and collusive followership matrix of institutional thought and authority relations.

What, of course, is amazing is how such hubristic leaders receive sanction for what they do. All of them are surrounded by other role holders in the institution, advisors, non-executive directors, accountants, analysts and bankers. They, too, in my view are implicated in the rise of narcissistic leaders and, in a sense, feed the paranoid-schizoid interpretation of the business situation.


Narcissistic/hubristic leaders grounded in the paranoid-schizoid position do not appear overnight. They have been selected consciously and unconsciously by others, Take the example of the selection of some of the old style British generals. Norman Dixon in his book On the Psychology of Military Incompetence (1994) says that the generals aim was to avoid failure and preserve their fragile self-esteem. They were 'authoritarian personalities' and so continually underestimated the enemy - The Fall of Singapore is a striking example.

The army with its, then, rigid and tightly controlled structures, grounded in architectonic beliefs in obedience and command hierarchies. offered them safety 'in the face of the ambiguous world of emotions and relationships.' Any selfdoubts they had was assuaged by the rigidities and rituals of the armed services. But these generals were selected by their senior officers. They got to the top by pleasing their senior officers when they were young.

Institutions have histories because one set of role holders choose another who are socialised to fill places in the hierarchy. Thus the myth of the immortality of the institution is maintained. This selection process is both conscious and unconscious. Because of the fear of business survival it tends to be ruthless, ambitious leaders who are selected, albeit unconsciously, because they are seen as being the ones who will enable the institution to have a future.

What selectors seem to be unaware of is the psychopathology of such 'high flyers'. Meltzer puts before us the unpalatable insight that ultra-ambitious. conformists who are preoccupied with their personal survival through managing their careers live in protective identification. (Young, 1994, p. 82) This degree of projective identification is a defence against schizophrenic breakdown and such people are living on the edge of madness. They therefore have to get their own way. Meltzer shows us that such people, with this degree of projective identification, 'have their dwelling place in their inner world just inside the rectum, thus confirming the colloquial description of such people as "arseholes"'. (Young, 1994, p. 82; Meltzer, 1991, 1992)

Nevertheless, such characters continue to be selected for top jobs. One of the repercussions of such selections is that others in the institution can only mobilise limited aspects of their personality. Sebek, a psychoanalyst in Prague, develops the theme that in a totalitarian society people learn because of the real, oppressive dangers to develop survival patterns and different adaptive strategies in order to be able to live a life. Using Winnicott's formulation of the true and false self, he writes:

The false self in a totalitarian society defended and protected the true self that could be expressed only in a limited, relatively "safe" space, for example, in a family, with a spouse...In the totalitarian system as prescribed by communists, conditions were especially ripe for the creation of the false self. This false self was usually on the surface of personality and supplanted the true self... the false self adapted to the requirements of the totalitarian power - in terms of subjugation, passivity, resignation and obedience (Sebek, 1993, p. 2).

When a totalitarian state-of-mind is present in institutions I experience role holders as having to mobilise their false self in order to survive. One client has described his company as being 'managed by fear' and part of our work has been to enable him to take on his role and be able to interpret from it with as much of his true self as possible.


Institutions are containers of end for thought. (Armstrong,1991 ) When a totalitarian state of mind is salient in an institution thought and the capacity for thinking becomes diminished, I think this is how it takes place.

The preoccupation is with projective identification with the hubristic leader for the unconscious reasons of defending against psychotic anxieties. The price that has to be paid is a rigid, authoritarian organisation with its associated culture. The culture reinforces that thinking has to be sure-fire and certain`, there are no room for mistakes. Indeed the fear of mistakes - there is no possibility of learning from them - is such that it becomes dangerous to have thoughts which are different from the majority.

The institution becomes the container of (all) thought. There is no psychic and therefore mental space in which to think. Any alternative thought is construed by the majority as being an aggressive act. The paradox is that this kind of social defence against psychotic anxiety and, of course, thinking encourages the conditions for the very psychosis that is feared to erupt because there is no space in which it can be absorbed and tolerated and worked through unconsciously so that the individual can re-introject their projections.

What I want to hold on to is that the capacity for thinking is removed and the institution ceases to be a container for thought. In such conditions, the thinkers and 'feelers' have to be expunged, wiped out - ecraser, to use the wonderfully evocative French verb. Hence, in institutions where a totalitarian state-of-mind is predominant the economic cuts are made by closing the 'soft' services. like human resource management and education. In hospitals in Britain it is the psychotherapeutic service that is likely to be axed first.

The politics of salvation

In institutions with a totalitarian sate of mind set the action is grounded in what I call the 'politics of salvation'. (Lawrence, 1994) The promise of the narcissistic/hubristic leader is that, messiah-like, he will save the institution. The banks etc., for example, talk specifically about a 'rescue package' for company X or Y. And, of course, there is a raft of consultants who specialise in such rescue work. They are the 'hired guns', if you will, who offer yet another panacea.

I have seen the politics of salvation at work for thirty odd years in Britain. There was the Human Relations movement that stirred us in the sixties; Management by Objectives, a beautifully simple-minded schema that relied on having military-like institutions existing in a never changing environment. Then there were Quality Circles, a wonderful confidence trick that gave the workers the impression that they were in charge of their work. Total Quality Management became the fashion which was institutionalised through the British Standards Institute, if I remember correctly. And, of course, the Quality of Working Life Movement. Now, there is the notion of 'empowerment' which, as Miller (1993) points out, is patronising and leads to dis-empowerment. And the managements of companies strive to create, what Charles Handy calls, 'smart' organisations. And we get excited by whatever Tom Peters writes. Now, it is 'Liberation Management' - I assume a pun on Liberation Theology - which is the new gospel.

The managements of institutions with totalitarian states of mind become trapped by the idea that they can survive by a quick, painless, intervention, a magical new idea promising a 'millenarian' future. But such tactics inspired by the politics of salvation are never grounded in an honest, searching appreciation of the situation, never the product of thinking of a lateral or divergent kind, and so have a built-in capacity for producing another business crisis that will have to be solved using the same tactics.

Such institutions because of their management and leadership beliefs are placed in a risky, fragile business situation. They reenact in some measure the drama of a Greek tragedy - the protagonist sows the seeds of disaster at the moment of triumph And of course they are prone because of their rigid, convergent thinking, the ambitiousness and frailties of their personnel to the tides of history. They are the ones, for instance, who find themselves exposed to the banks when interest rates go up; who have invested heavily in property just before a slump.

mind. At best, business role holders in their inner worlds will oscillate between the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions if we accept the formulations of Bion and other post-Kleinians.


My principal working hypothesis has been, in short, that the conditions of the commercial environment presses managers in particular, but supported collusively by other role holders in institutions, into interpreting reality more from the paranoid-schizoid position than the depressive one - though role holders will oscillate between the two. This is the basic cause of the rise of a totalitarian state-of-mind in institutions. In developing this hypothesis I have focused on the immediate, identifiable factors - the accelerated growth of capitalism and globalisation with its inevitable resultant anxieties about economic survival which evoke psychotic anxieties of a primitive nature.

The preoccupation with economic survival has began to take over the thinking of role holders in corporate, institutional life, particularly those who have the responsibility and authority for defining the aims and mission of it,. Institutions exist for a purpose which can be stated as a primary task (Miller and Rice, 1967) which describes the activities or work it has chosen to execute in order to survive. It should be possible to describe a primary task in one sentence, like: the primary task of Alpha motor car company is to research, develop, manufacture and sell motor cars for sufficient return to maintain the company. (Bain, 1994) As it is, company managements tend to think that the primary task is about making or saving money, forgetting that this is the outcome of successfully executing the primary task which is a statement of purpose that gives meaning to the working lives of the role holders in the institution.

In Health Systems, for example, the nexus between patient and medical services has become an economic one and the organising metaphor of the purchaser provider has taken over the doctor/nurse -patient professional relationship which is, apparently, made secondary. There is a belief that there are 'internal markets' in a Health System and that each part of it can be an 'income generator'. While it is important that the management of Health Systems hold on to economic realities their primary task is to deliver health care. But, at the same time, it has to be recognised that stringent economies had to be introduced to Health Systems because the public had come to expect that government funding was limitless. This is because unconsciously Health Systems were construed as being wonder institutions which could through the quality of their service provide an indefinite postponement of death. They became imbued with a miraculousness that took away the anxiety of dying,

In the last decade all institutions have tended to move towards a simplification of their existence to economics thus reflecting the world-wide pervasiveness of capitalist thinking. Capitalism is interpreted narrowly and literally as an end in itself and not seen as one economic method for providing means to other ends. Consequently, my hypothesis is, increasingly exacerbating anxieties about

Without thought and thinking there could be no institutions. They are the products of mind. I have tried to show that the rational, conscious mind is only one element and that, on occasion, more potent in the bringing into being of organisational cultures is the unconscious phantasy world of the participants.

Clearly I am searching for institutions whose management can make a facilitating culture that allows the environment to be interpreted by role holders differently than from the paranoid-schizoid position. I refer to the'depressive position' which Melanie Klein first identified.


For something like twenty years I have encountered in different institutions role holders who were, what I called, 'socially' depressed. By this I meant that they were not depressed totally because of their psychopathology but. to be sure, because of their valency for depressive feelings they could register the depressive feelings of others who were denying the existence of such feelings. Such people, often managers, were aware of the malaise of their institution, aware that a financial crisis might occur, aware that the commercial and market environment was changing, and alive to the risks of being in business.

Such people, I now see, were able to hold the depressive position to which I have been referring in the discussion above. The depressive position has been well described by John Steiner.

The depressive position represents an important developmental advance in which whole objects begin to be recognised and ambivalent impulses become directed towards the primary object. These changes result from an increased capacity to integrate experiences and lead to a shift in primary concern from the survival of the self to a concern for the object upon which the individual depends. Destructive impulses lead to feelings of loss and guilt which can be more fully experienced and which consequently enable mourning to take place. The consequences include a development of symbolic function and the emergence of reparative capacities which become possible when thinking no longer has to remain concrete (Steiner, 1987, pp. 69-70, quoted in Young, 1994, p. 78).

In business terms this is the position from which market and commercial realities can begin to be put into perspective. The depressive position allows the manager to begin to have concern for the other employees in the institution by managing the resources and conditions for the improvement of working conditions and a concern for the nature of authority that other role holders can exercise. But this kind of thinking is always hard to sustain because it is confronted with the demands of renewed competition which leads the regression into the paranoid-schizoid position and into totalitarian states of economic security and survival and, thus, providing the conditions for the emergence of psychotic modes of relating in institutions that support the unconscious justification of totalitarian states-of-mind.

The Politics of Revelation

I have argued that totalitarian states of-mind are nurtured by the politics of salvation. Not only has the leader to promise deliverance from whatever present troubles are facing the institution but implicitly promise utopian and millenarian hope. What the politics of salvation is in place to do is to preempt any divergent thinking, to displace any possible enquiry into the meaning of work and existence in an institution or to divert any uncomfortable, irksome questioning of the reason for existence of the institution. It is, in short, to keep the thought unknown, to paraphrase Christopher Bollas's formulation.

The alternative to the politics of salvation is always present in an institution - it certainty was in the former Communist Bloc countries. In institutions there are the role holders who are 'socially depressed'. There are individuals who hold on to a perspective that transcends the psychotic. They make themselves available for thinking which the totalitarian state-of-mind cannot tolerate and will not hear. They are not 'revolutionaries' or 'dissidents' for they are stating another, contrary, political position which offers salvation from the regime. They are the ones who try to understand what is taking place in their society and institution.

To do so is to be in the 'politics of revelation' - which is more a state of being than doing. I mean by revelation the work of generating working hypotheses, interpretations, appreciations of the situation one is in and what one's role might be in it. It is through the politics of revelation that individuals come to recognise that they are having experiences which erive both from the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions. Within institutions which are composed of people with minds there are thoughts, thinking and dreams which support the politics of revelation. In the main, people care for the institution in which they work; they have ideas as to what may be the malaise; they know why they feel stressed; they have their own 'because clauses'; they are not mindless even though the culture of the institution forces them to be otherwise. Individuals committed to the politics of revelation are always striving towards, what Bion (1970) termed, 'O, which signifies the original 'thing in itself' of an experience. 'O" represents absolute truth which can never be known by any human being. It can only be deduced or known through being in 'at-one-ment' with it. (Grinberg et al., 1993, p.l31) The individuals from that experience can offer a working hypothesis which they know will never be a capturing of the total truth - only an approximation of what it might be. It is that courage which provides conditions for others to generate their own hypothesis so, originally, I called this the politics of generativity. The essential element is the ability to exercise the capacity for 'creative apperception' and struggle from the comfortable cage of compliance, as Winnicott analysed.

At the present time in history I wonder why totalitarian states-of- mind and the politics of salvation reign in institutions rendering mute any voices speaking from the perspective of the politics of revelation. The known is thought but cannot find a voice to express what versions of the truth this may reveal. As I work in institutions and experience people caught up in the inner, 'politicking' world of their enterprise, enmeshed in the organisations, cultures and roles that are defences against psychotic anxieties I am troubled. I recognise the near manic excitement which people feel in being in such institutions. If the role holder has power it can be a totally absorbing world in which they spend longer and longer hours at work Why? The external reality of changing markets etc. are pressing on the boundaries of the institution but some role holders want to leave that on one side, hoping that it does not have relevance, with all the kinds of consequences I have indicated and, anyway, the inner world of the institution is the source of all meaning for such individuals.

Why? I am left with the recognition that both the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions are defences against tolerating the 'tragic position'. Neville Symington develops this working hypothesis in a consideration of what comes after working through the depressive position - which Klein herself never developed. He gives the example of an angry female patient who having moved from the paranoid-schizoid to the depressive position began to realise that whatever deficiencies she had experienced during infancy and childhood that neither she nor her parents were culpable because other factors were involved. In particular, her father had to work abroad because of the economic crisis in the country in which they lived. This had been the source of many of the troubles and difficulties experienced by the patient, her parents and the rest of the family.

It was this realisation that brought my patient in touch with the tragic: an integral part of la condition humaine and extremely difficult to bear. I believe that the depressive and paranoid-schizoid positions are a defence against this deeper layer of non-meaning(Symington, 1986, pp. 275-6)

My hunch is that while Klein's positions are certainly defences they also can be looked at as transitional experiences, particularly the depressive one, that can lead the individual to an acknowledgement of the tragic. But this is an aside and possibly apostasy.

Turning again to institutional life which I have tried to describe in psychoanalytic terms: I am beginning to think that when all the meaning of existence is reduced to economics we can have the working hypothesis that the preoccupation with making and saving money is both an institutional and a 'global' social system of defence against entertaining the consequences of acknowledging the tragic. For instance, capitalism was readily embraced by the former Eastern Bloc countries as it promised a millenarian future of consumer plenty easing the traumata of the political' spiritual and psychic experiences of the past. It was, in my terms, an example of the power of the politics of salvation delivering people from the memories of the experience of totalitarianism. The paradox is that capitalism, in turn, brings in a totalitarian state-of-mind for the reasons I have tried to give. Why does the essentially fascist Zhirinovsky have so much support in Russia?

The twentieth century with its savagery provides a tragic background for daily living, as Symington's patient discovered. Private troubles and public issues, to use C. Wright Mill's distinction, are inextricably intertwined. While we can all point to the staggering scientific, technological and intellectual triumphs of the century we are left with increasing doubts that we cannot prevent wars and live in harmony, cannot prevent famine though our agriculture and food production has never been so sophisticated, and that there will always come a disease like AIDS which defies a ready cure. We live out our domestic lives, so to speak, in this increasingly more fragile eco-systemic environment bombarded by the vagaries of a world economy that cannot be controlled by any political instruments.

A recognition of the tragic is possible when we acknowledge that civilisation is only skin-deep and that psychosis is ever likely to break through what we believe to be our sophisticated, organised lives. What meaning we give to our lives is a product of thinking and, as such, must be a fabrication, be fiction-like, even an illusion because we can never know the truth; but we know that there is a truth, "O", for which we can strive. And 'O' is more possible to attain if we can find a sense of and respect for the unconscious, for otherness, for mystery and death (Cf, Weatherill, 1994) which are present in our lives no matter how hard we try to make them absent.

In institutions we may be condemned, Sisyphus -like, to oscillate between the organisational and cultural consequences of role holders occupying the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions and probably will be so as long as institutions use simplistic economics - making and saving money - as the reason for their existence. Institutions have meaning only in so far as they provide goods and render services to others in the environment, whether these be for good or evil reasons. And we are precluded from discriminating between these when the institution are homogenised with only one reason for their existence: profit.

This is because, to try and say it in another way, that once all life is simplified to economics any other consideration is secondary. In short, the contemporary interpretation of capitalism can be seen as contributing to a near world-wide social system of defence against recognising the tragic. It is also, obliquely, a fatalistic recognition that the tragic condition of the world cannot be modified and that the trick is to hold to the belief in carpe diem. So one day there will be no more crude oil but no matter we shall continue to drill for it even though the price of it has dropped alarmingly! Take the profit now!

As institutional ships ride on the crest of the wave of capitalism and globalisation with the resultant cultures I have tried to describe with their psychic, political and spiritual consequences, the trough of the tragic is denied or avoided. But, as I keep indicating, this denial engenders more and more psychotic anxiety - the fear of death and annihilation stalk us in our waking and dreaming lives. There is no magical solution. Socialism tried to be a salvationist alternative to capitalism and failed. Capitalism is here to stay. Our individual fates are tragically shaped by the forces of the global, techno-scientific, capitalist economy. We cannot recapture a world that has been lost. "We cannot turn back, We cannot choose the dreams of unknowing.' (Steiner, 1971, p. 106)

The only posture possible is that of continuing to understand and to be saying what one's experience is institutions and societies located in the eco-systemic environment as we construe them in our inner worlds through our perceptions which means striving to make our unconscious that much more available to our conscious minds. In this way we can go much further in understanding the psychic, political and spiritual experiences of being in roles in institutions, which is our most immediate experience of society, and more able to shape them to satisfy human creativity and fulfil the promise of civilisation.


Armstrong, David (1991) 1~G ALOUD: CONTRIBUTIONS TO THREE DIALOGUES. Grubb Institute, London.

Bain, Alastair (1994) Organizational Life Today: Five Hypotheses. Australian Institute of Social Analysis Seminar Paper.

Barzon, Jacques (1964) SCIENCE; THE GLORIOUS ENTERTAINMENT, Harper & Row, New York.

Bion, Wilfred R. (1961) EXPERIENCES IN GROUPS. Tavistock Publications, London.

Bion, Wilfred R. (1970) ATTENTION AND INTERPRETATION. Tavistock Publications, London.

Bollas, Christopher (1987) THE SHADOW OF THE OBJECT. Free Association Books, London.

Dixon, Norman (1994) ON THE PSYCHOLOGY OF MILITARY INCOMP~ l ENCE. Prnlico, London.

Etzioni, Amitai (1964) MODERN ORGANIZATIONS. Prentice-Hall, New Jersey.

Galbraith' John Kenneth (1977) THE AGE OF UNCERTA~TY. Andre Deutsch, London.

Grinberg, Leon, Dario Sor and Elizabeth Tabak de Bianchedi (1993) NEW INTRODUCTION TO THE WORK OF BION. Jason Aronson Inc., New Jersey

Gunrip, Harry (1961) PERSONALITY STRUCTURE AND HUMAN ~TERACTION. The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis, London.

Jaques, Elliot (1955) Social Systems as a Defebce against Persecutory and Depressive Anxiety. In Klein et al. eds (1955) pp.478-498.

Jay, Peter (1994) In the Grip of an Age of Fear, THE TIMES, London.

Klein, MelaMe et al.. (1952) DEVELOPMENTSINPSYCH~ANALYSIS. Hogarth Pres, London

Klein, Melanie et al. eds (1955) NEW DIRECTIONS IN PSYCHOANALYSIS.Tavistock Publictions, London.

Lawrence, W. Gordon (1979) A Concept for Today: The Management of Self in Role. In Lawrence, W.G. ed. EXPLORING INDIVIDUAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL BOUNDARIES. John Wiley & Sons, Chichester.

Lawrence, W. Gordon (1986) A Psycho-Analytic Perspective for Understanding Organisational Life. In Chattopadhyay. G. et al. WHEN THE TWAIN MEET. A.H.Wheeler & Co., Allahabad.

Lawrence, W. Gordon (1994)The Politics of Salvation and Revelation in the Practice of Consultancy. In Casemore, Roger et al. eds WHAT MAKES CONSULTANCY WORK. South Bank University Press.

Lawrence, W. Gordon and Miller, Eric J. (1976) Epilogue. In Miller, E.J. ed. TASK AND ORGANIZATION. John Wiley & Sons, Chichester.

Luttwak, Edward (1994) Why Fascism is the Wave of the Future. LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS. Vol. 16, No. 7

Miller, Eric J, and Rice, A.K.(1967) SYSTEMS OF ORGANISATION. Tavistock Publications, London.

Miller, Eric J. (1993) FROM DEPENDENCY TO AUTONOMY. Free Asociation Books, London.

Mumford, Lewis (1967) THE MYTH OF THE MACHINE. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York.

Naisbitt, John (1994) GLOBAL PARADOX. William Morrow and Company Inc., New York.

Popper, Karl (1966) THE OPEN SOaETY AND ITS ENEMIES. 2 vols. Routledge. London.

Riviere, Joan (1952) On ~e Genesis of Psychical Conflict in Early Infancy. In Klein, M. et al. (1952) pp. 37-66.

Sebek, Michael (1993) Aggression in Society and on the Couch. IMAGO EastWest, London

Steiner, George (1971) IN BLUEBEARD'S CASTLE. Faber & Faber, London.

Steiner, John (1987) The Interplay between Pathological Organizations and the Paranoid-Schizoid and Depressive Positions. ~T. J. PSYCH~ANAL, 68: 69-80; reprinted in Spillius, Elizaabeth B. ed. (1988) MELANIE KLEIN TODAY. 2 vols. Routledge, London.

Symington, Neville (1986) THE ANALYTIC EXPERIENCE. St.Martin's Press, New York.

Meltzer, Donald (1991) Lecture on Projective Identification and the Claustrum. (Tape).

Meltzer, Donald (19920 THE CLAUSTRUM. Clunie Press, Strath Tay.

Menzies Lyth, Isabel E.P. (1959) The Functioning of Social Systems as a Defence Against Arociety. HUMAN RELATIONS 13: 95-121.

Hampden-Turner, Charles and Trompenaars, Fons (1994) THE SEVEN CULTURES OF CAPITALISM. 2nd ed. Piatkus, London

Weatherill, Rob (1994) CULTURAL COLLAPSE. Free Association Books, London.

Winnicott, Donald W. (1971) PLAYING AND REALITY. Tavistock Publications, London.

Young, Robert (1994) MENTAL SPACE. Process Press, London.

The Human Nature Review
© Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM

US -

Amazon.com logo

UK -

Amazon.co.uk logo

 | Human Nature | Books and Reviews | The Human Nature Daily Review | Search |