The film: Age of Uprising – the legend of Michael Kohlass: Narcissism and the Pathologies of Juridicism.


Here I am interested in two things, first individual behaviors and a psychoanalytic explanation looking at narcissistic perversion and something I call juridical perversion, and second, the way juridical perversion is an essential psychic structure enabling the effective implementation of fascist or totalitarian polities.

I look at the way the film Age of Uprising: The Legend of Michael Kohlaas (2013) is used by Doick as an example of the pathologies of juridicism addressed by the young Hegel. I provide an alternative psychoanalytic argument suggesting a) Kohlaas displays a narcissism that does not explain the pathologies of juridicism; and b) I describe a psychic structure for juridical perversion that does provide a plausible explanation for Hegel’s account.

The film is based on the 1810 novella by Hans von Kleist.

However first to set the scene, a brief and simplified recap to provide context: I am interested in two main things:

First, the idea, phenomenon or concept of perversion, both at an individual level and from a (Lacanian) psychoanalytic perspective.

Second, I consider the relationship between individual perversion and more recent global political totalitarian trends.

In general my argument is that population sentiment can be wildly swayed by charismatic and fanatical xenophobic discourse utilizing extreme language of nationalism, racism and existential crisis due to poorly specified others (immigrants, scroungees, foreigners etc). In addition, whilst this cultivates a population of fanatic racists, it also cultivates a population of individuals who literally identify with the totalitarian law itself in a form of juridical perversion (see below).

By the by, note that juridical perversion is different from narcissistic perversion.

Narcissistic perversion involves an individual’s attempt for find a sense of self or identity through an auto-generated (from within the individual’s own psyche) Law as opposed to any Law generated culturally or socio-politically. This is described further below, see a). On the other hand Juridical perversion doesn’t seek identity through any imagined authority or Law, auto- or culturally generated, but instead, radically surrenders any sense of self-identity in favor of identifying with the Law itself, he literally becomes a monstrous unfeeling embodiment of The Law, sacrificing subjectivity and the capacity for libidinal emotions of love or hate see b) below.

Here is a very brief psychoanalytic account of perversion following some Lacanian accounts (see Fink).

A ‘usual’ neurotic psychic structure is said to emerge as an identity constituted through the desire for an original sense of self, which finds a solution of sorts in social norms – more specifically what is taken to be the authoritative voice of a cultural power. In psychoanalytic terms this involves a psychic castration, in which the individual is left constantly attempting and failing to affirm his sense of self through attempts to obey imaginary socially constituted edicts.

In perversion, in general, there is a rejection of such socially enforced castration / the desire to be the perfect servant of an imaginary big (cultural) Other.

First note that there are two type of perversion – the narcissistic and the juridical.

In perversion in general, instead of accepting socially constituted castration and the neurotic identity and desire to conform that produces, instead the individual seeks to either:

a) find a sense of self (identity) through his or her own created Law – an ultimately self destructive narcissistic perversion in which the individual is confronted with the emptiness of his identity – and psychically, with the image of his or mother as the original source of his/her identity crisis. To counter the anxiety this causes he/she finds a phobic object to fear and destroy (a metaphor for the mother) and a fetish object, a metaphor for the phallus, the missing object stolen by the rejected social castration, in which to seek something to consume to affirm his/her identity.


b) another rejection of social castration but this time achieved through a radical rejection of any castration, any role as agens of a social Law, a radical rejection of the unconscious (in one sense this is the social symbolic network of meaningful signifiers), which involves a rejection of self identity or subjectivity, and instead a literal corporeal and psychic identification with the Law itself. This produces an unemotional banal monster intent on seeing the law is obeyed in its smallest detail as much as possible. The classic example is Adolf Eichmann intent on pursuing Nazism’s Final Solution. This type of perversion I have called a juridical perversion – this is formed via the same psychic structure as the Totalitarian Psyche described by Vadolas and produces, I suggest, important bureaucratic enablers of totalitarian regimes of all kinds.

In this essay, I use the film and critique Doick’s account of how the film relates to the early Hegel’s thoughts on the pathologies of juridicism. I limit myself to a critique of juridicism rather than continuing to critique the idea of love as it’s antidote.

First, on Doick’s use of the film to illustrate the young Hegel’s explication of the pathologies of juridicism in his ‘Spirit of Christianity’.

Second, a corrective providing a different verdict on the eponymous ‘hero’s motives and an alternative explanation for Hegel’s pathologies of juridicism.

Finally a few words on the social implications for society today and the global trend toward neo fascism.

This blog references the following paper by Doick, which is an interesting read:

Terribly upright: The young Hegel’s critique of juridicism By Doick

Doick suggests:

“… juridicism is defined clearly and criticized as to its effects on (inter-) subjectivity. In considering this phenomenon, which he calls the spirit of Judaism…” (p3)

And, referring to Hegel’s “The spirit of Christianity and its fate “ :

“Because he deems the Jews incapable of legislation, their slavish subjectivity, he claims, attaches to the form of the law itself. It is not empty because it did not have content, but, because the submissive subject is necessarily indifferent to content, since it does not orient his action to the demands or requirements of a concrete other, but rather, in light of conformity to law.” (p5)

This speaks to what I suggest can be called a radical juridical perversion.

This is identical in psychic structure to Vadolas’ Totalitarian psyche with its radical disavowal of the unconscious, resulting in a loss of libidinal possibilities for both love and hate (so banal, unemotional, psychopathic in pathological and normative mainstream terms). Think Eichmann.

Though, with juridical perversion there is content – eradication of the other – or at least a negative content, a world ‘without’, like the absence of idols …. such an absence gives the individual no positivity to attach subjectivity to, no hope for love or hate, only a felt maximal imperative command to be the tool of obedient destruction, eradication, expulsion.

Thus, for example:

“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.”

Pathologies of juridicism:

For Doick the pathology implies both being a) non-normative; and b) de-subjectivised.

On the first, his definition of social pathology requires behaviour to be socially non normative – there is a problem with this: the description of behaviour as pathological is of limited value, even unhelpful or harmful since we are all (and society is) pathological as in unhappy and anxious and prone to perverse fantasies, at least. Or put another way, even social norms are already increasingly pathological – as in devoid of love.

On the second the phenomenon of de-subjectivisation: the loss of a ‘self’ or any capacity to make sense of a self as a subjectivity or identity, then yes: a juridicism is a perversion that can result in a destabilized subjectivity in two ways: a) a self-centered ‘juridicism’ & a radically destabilized subjectivity for the narcissist; and b) identification with a Master’s juridical edict resulting in a total foreclosure of subjectivity for the juridicist.

Narcissistic Perversion:

The film Michael Kohlass – Age of Uprising:

Briefly, Kohlass is an expert horse trader with a proud reputation but he is cheated out of two beautiful black horses and publicly humiliated by a young (and somewhat effete) wealthy baron, who forcibly takes the horses in lieu of an (illegal) toll, and who subsequently allows the horses to be severely mistreated and physically disfigured. Kohlass is appalled and obsessed with the return of the horses and their return to their former beauty by the hands of the baron himself. He fails to get this ‘justice’ in the court as his claim is thrown out and he is characterized as willfully mischievous adding insult to injury. He then raises an army by mortgaging the family home, effectively abandoning his wife and daughter, and finally being caught and beheaded at the command of the King for murderously ransacking the countryside and towns.

Doick suggests the eponymous ‘hero’ is consumed by the need for justice as an example of juridicism.

However I suggest, on the contrary, Michael Kohlass displays more features of narcissism than juridicism, he is consumed not by justice per se, but by the need to be superior to, or to redeem his superiority over, those who have effectively demeaned and mocked him. His subordination is intolerable to him , it is all about him and his need to be top dog in the end. He is a narcissistic pervert with a fetish for horses and a phobia of personal indebtedness or of being in any way indentured.

So, contrary to Doick it appears that (the early) Hegel’s thoughts in ‘The Spirit of Christianity’ which describes, inter-alia, Abraham’s narcissism, actually fails to ‘diagnose’ Michael Kohlass (as Doick claims) as such since he does not provide a plausible psychic explanation – only a grim and clear description of the phenomenon: the effect of juridicism on the destruction of social bonds and the capacity to love.

In my view the film illustrates an example of (fictional) narcissistic psychopathy, which by the way is all that traditional psychiatric diagnosis (using the DSM criteria) does – this only describes a ‘mental disorder’ (that is to say socially pathological) using the DSM, a label, it provides no plausible explanation and therefore no hope of increasing our grasp of the phenomenon, or, most importantly, if it’s potential to have socio-political impacts such as burgeoning neo-fascism.

In addition whilst the film provides an example of narcissistic perversion, rather than a over-simplified version of juridicism and a search for justice as suggested by Doick, nonetheless Doick’s paper also omits any explanation for the phenomenon of juridical psychopathy as illustrated famously by Eichmann as described by Arendt.

Juridical Perversion:

Not only does Doick a) fail to see Kohlass as essentially narcissistic and perverse – wrongly attributing his motive as the need for ‘justice’; but b) he also fails to provide a plausible explanation for the phenomenon described by Hegel’s whereby excessive identification with the ideal of a strict law destroys social bonds, which I suggest lies in the psychoanalytic structure of juridical (as opposed to narcissistic) perversion.

Doick fails to address the plausible psychoanalytic mechanism for Hegel’s account of the pathologies of juridicism, a mechanism that is also behind the rise of fascism in an increasingly nationalist capitalist neoliberal pragmatist world. This mechanism is not just about narcissistic psychopathy as illustrated by Kohlass (whose behaviour is wrongly attributed to an obsession with justice when it is about an obsession with is own narcissistic need to be in the right at the expense of all others), but also about juridical psychopathy – the Eichmann phenomenon – the bureaucratic banal and radical evil committed not in pathological self-interest but in a literally self-less programmed performance ‘as’ the Law itself. It (the juridicist psychopath) ‘is’ the unfeeling Law and this Law commands exclusivity for a Master Race and a Final Solution – more or less explicit and public. This fascist or totalitarian Law demands the extirpation of the other that poses the (alibi as imagined) existential threat to the Master Race.

Note that mass juridical perversion require an essentially narcissistic nationalistic world view promulgated by political and media propaganda. For example Hitler’s effective demand (and tacit support at least) for the Final Solution to extirpate the Jews and others – provided the Law with which mass juridical perversion identified. At least, with which a sufficient mass identified so that the policy was tragically enabled successfully in Hitler’s Nazism’s terms.

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