Juridicisstic perversion and ‘The Irishman’ by Scorsese: first impressions through a psychoanalytic lens

One of the fascinating and terrifying aspects of humanity that manifests most grotesquely in fascist states committing genocidal crimes against humanity is the apparent willingness of so many to at least go along with these crimes if not actively to promote and to carry them out.

The totalitarian psyche described by Vadolas in his book “Perversions of Fascism” is described as the result of a radical disavowal of the unconscious leading to an identification with the Law itself – and with excessive obedience to a command to “Enjoy this little as much as possible!”

A radical disavowal implies more than just disavowal. To disavow in psychoanalytic terms is to consciously not know something that still has effects via the unconscious. For example I may consciously identify as a socialist whilst living the life of a bourgeoisie with the unconscious of a capitalist – such contradictions are part and parcel of everyday psychic life, and are one cause of quite normal and common doubt and neurotic anxiety. To radically disavow the unconscious is to lose all doubt and to become a fanatic in the cause of a consciousness that is taken over by The Law!

In this short essay I consider a possible case of the totalitarian psyche as displayed by the main character in Scorsese’s film The Irishman, and I describe this in terms of a juridicisstic perversion.

Frank Sheeran, The Irishman and monster henchman uses extreme violence to protect his daughters, he has been traumatized by war time experiences making him fatalistic and emotionally burnt out but destructive – I suggest here that he doesn’t find an identity so much as lose his-self through a self-instrumentalised obedience to the violence and murderous demands of the mob, to kill on demand, to ‘paint the house’ red – a lifestyle disingenuously justified by him as the only way he had to ‘protect his daughters.

Sheeran, played by De Niro, the mobster’s assassin in the film, exhibits the juridicistic perversion of an Eichmann: the product of PTSD, burnout and a turn to The Law of his all-powerful protector: (Fuhrer) Russell Buffalino the mobster. Juridicistic because he is transformed and becomes a monstrous robotic thing, and as the painter embodies the instrument of the mob’s Law as decreed by Russell Buffalino.

His actions are consistent with what I have called a juridicistic perversion – not a perversion ‘of’ the law (which would be juridical) but a perversion in the form of a pervert – a pervert ‘structured as’ Law, a juridicisstic perversion.

In the context of this film then this Law refers to the Law of the mob and especially the Law as laid down by monster Russell Buffalino. Russ becomes Frank’s mentor after magically ‘fixing’ his broken down truck and eventually turning him into a self-instrumentalised slave to Russ’s every desire. Frank is not obsessive, not excited, but murders cooly, methodically, on demand: banal, and radically evil.

Tellingly Frank, even in the decrepitude of advanced years couldn’t tell his confessor, the Catholic priest, that he was ‘sorry’ or even felt sorry for his actions. He exhibited little emotion of any kind at any time, even over his daughter’s refusal to have contact with him because if his life as assassin and especially as assumed assassin of ‘family friend’ Union chief Jimmy Hoffa. Frank was banal, conflicted but apparently unemotional even when told to kill this close family ‘friend’ Jimmy Hoffa – whose family he did know.

Frank seems to be radically evil in the Kantian sense that his transformation which involved losing his ‘self’ (ironically) is in his self-interest. His self found the demands of war, experiences of near death and killing intolerable and, I suggest, in his case may have involved a radical disavowal (see above) of the value of the ‘lives of others’ – the victims nominated by the mobster Russ. This involves a radical alienation from his unconscious and a de-castration and loss of subjectivity – according to a non-narcissistic Law – the Law of the Final Solution of the Master – the mobster Russ, who says to Frank that him and his family are ‘with me’ and so safe (from the other monsters). Russ provides ‘protection’ as long as Frank effectively sells his soul.

Note: the juridicistic perversion described here is to be distinguished from a narcissistic perversion. Both kinds of perversion involve a rejection of the formation of a sense of self (subjectivity) via socially acceptable norms (or symbolic Laws) and instead turn to either a) a futile attempt to self-castrate (narcissism) and a need to destroy the (m)other; or b) a turn away from subjectivity and castration altogether via self-instrumentalisation and identification with, or better, objectified embodiment of, The Law Itself – the murderous but unemotional weapon that is the Law of the Gun itself. Eichmann and Sheeran’s monstrous and pitiable banality of evil.

Eichmann is the killing machine of the Holocaust as the embodiment of Hitler’s Final Solution and Frank Sheeran the killing machine who ‘painted houses’ on demand for Buffalino’s Mob rule.


David Ferraro psychoanalyst tweeted:

If, as some analysts say, social conditions are deteriorating, then logically this might not lead so much to ‘ordinary psychosis’ (i.e. stabilised, or discreet, or hybrid, or ultimately attenuated psychoses) so much as really crippling neuroses, as attenuators disappear.


It is at least possible then to postulate that the origins of Frank’s actions and apparent juridicistic perversion lie somewhere within both his own personal relationships and family dynamics (with its Oedipal conflicts) as well as in the breakdown of social relations experienced as a combatant in war. In other words, as Ferraro put it, Frank ended up with a crippling neurosis.

If we extend this argument in two ways then: first, a crippling neurosis may be the origins of the psychic structure of the juridicistic pervert, and second contemporary social breakdowns and political shifts, globally, to the right and authoritarianism may be providing the fertile ground for a more widespread transformation of the psyche of populations into juridicistic perverts.

Such a transformation would only need to reach a certain level in the opposition to ensure that fascist or totalitarian governments were able to sustain their power through terror – as happened in Europe in Germany through the Nazi Holocaust. the transformation achieves or produces an army of monstrous slaves programmed to total obedience to the orders of their Masters. These are the banal unemotional myrmidons – Achilles army of ruthless killing ants – carrying out orders.

If there is any lesson here at a social level – it is to beware of the myrmidon in our midst, to beware of social breakdown causing us to become neurotic asocial cripples incapable of love or hate or emotional relationships on any level, causing us to turn into the monstrous killing foot soldiers of fascist masters. Indeed blind obedience to The Law of a master may be found in a variety of dogmatic social arena, political, religious, scientific-industrial, stoked by the fantasies of capitalism. I

In my own area of professional experience I detect juridicistic perversion at social and individual levels in the promotion and selling of ever more innovative technologies aimed at asymptomatic diagnostic anticipatory screening. The cure for cancer, and the search for the atom bomb have their parallels in the mindset of the scientists wedded to the ultimately murderous science-industrial complex, amidst the social breakdown accompanying widespread capitalist structures.


JURIDICISM – an example from the Church – the JURIDICISTIC pervert attaches his de-subjectivised actions to a Law so that his actions no longer require justification or any sense of moral personal responsibility. There is no longer any ‘personal’ to be responsible, only the Law which is its own justification since it is made by ‘god’ or any other all-powerful Master – “for our good and our salvation” by destroying the enemy within and without. Here we have a view of juridicism provided by a priest’s sermon at an ordination:

“The juridicist searches out laws new or old to justify personal positions or ideologies in the Church. Especially they like to focus on liturgical practices. They incline to creating unnecessary hoops for people to jump through. The Church, of course, needs law to insure good order. But the purpose of all laws in the Church is the same as for all the works of the Church: “propter homines and propter nostram salutem” – for us, for our good and for our salvation.”


In addition it looks as if Hegel also considered juridicism as corruptive of subjectivity – at least in some way.

So, according to the author, Loick, D. in Terribly upright: The young Hegel’s critique of juridicism, in Philosophy and Social Criticism, vol 40, issue 10

Hegel is one of the few philosophers to devote systematic attention to phenomena that can be called pathologies of juridicism. Hegel claims that the law fundamentally contaminates the way in which we relate to ourselves, to others and to the world so that our (inter-) subjectivity becomes ethically deformed, distorted, or deficient.


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