Double personalities and geopolitical oscillations

Janus coin

A geopolitical analyst, who tries to measure the variations of power over the days, sometimes imagines that two States are getting closer. It is not uncommon for this illusion to dissipate a few weeks later. Why?

Interstate relations seem much less governed by sudden effects of attraction than by pendular diplomatic oscillations. Russia has recently moved closer to Turkey, while carefully distancing itself from its historical adversary. The phenomenon of pendular diplomatic movements can obviously be explained by the necessities of political action. It would probably be necessary to add a psychological explanation to these movements of perpetual adjustments.

In his book On intelligence, published in 1870, Hippolyte Taine opposed the thesis of the unity of self, which had been one of the dogmas of French philosophy since Victor Cousin, to affirm that the ego had no substantial unity. Theodule Ribot, another founding father of French scientific psychology, followed Taine and maintained in Les maladies de la personne in 1885 that the self was a coalition of beings.

In the highly selective process of choosing political elites, personalities who can easily oscillate from one state of consciousness to another are favoured. Admirably mastering the alternation of psychological postures on command, these personalities have intrigued historians.

Michelet was particularly interested in this question. He writes about the Emperor: “The singular variations of mood of Napoleon” can be explained by the “two spirits that stirred himWe can admire the homo duplex.” However, this duality could hinder political action: “The Emperor, so passionate for the successes of his fleet, found it very good to save on it for the army. With his right hand he stole his left hand.

This duality, moreover, was not peculiar to Bonaparte; it also appeared in his Russian adversary: ​​”The czar was condemned to a double role, to court and simultaneously to simulate the French alliance and often to serve the coalition.” The duality of personality is all the more frequent as human beings rise in the hierarchy. Indeed, this dualism can condition the political longevity of the players.

It should be noted that this dissociation presents itself as the manifestation — on a miniature scale — of a duly indexed psychological disorder: the multiple personality disorder. The concept of multiple personalities finds its origin in Bleuler’s work on schizophrenia and especially in Janet’s studies of hysterics.

The clinical cases of multiple personalities were essentially described in the late nineteenth century. The patient can move from one state to another without being able to control the process. It should be noted that the dissociative identity disorder leads to a loss of memory going beyond the usual forgetfulness. One of the symptoms is dissociative amnesia.

From the 1980s, these disorders became widespread, probably as a result of an internalization of the individual morality still counting on the individual scale but rejected on a collective scale. Thus, children’s personalities, individuals who have never chosen themselves, have survived and prospered among adults. The split of personality has been facilitated in the West by secularization insofar as it was considered in the Middle Ages as gathering in the same body the soul of the individual with a satanic host.

These personality disorders prosper with stress. And it is no coincidence why the temple of Janus, god of the beginning and the ends, was ritually opened in wartime.  

Thomas Flichy de La Neuville is head of the department of war studies of Saint-Cyr’s military academy and a Research Professor at IWP.