Charles Krauthammer’s recent analysis of the war against the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) seems far too superficial (“Obama’s phony war means going through the motions, not success,” Nov. 20).

For one thing, he ignores the growing consensus that the war against ISIS is an ideological one. A second difficulty is that fascistic movements like ISIS often reflect a politics of the unconscious.

On this second point, we cannot do better than think of Freud’s contributions. Along these lines, it may be fruitful to consider the relationship of the cultlike leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to the repressed Oedipal complex of his followers.

Another Freudian perspective would be to look at the way fundamental drives have been diverted to serve such violent and delusional behavior. Here, we might ask, how does the religious extremism of ISIS serve to sublimate the underlying drives of aggression and libido?

Freud was famously suspicious of religion, and considered its followers to be particularly susceptible to mass delusion. This is likely the case in the example of ISIS, since its particular brand of extremism offers a totalizing world view or narrative, one that builds on deep-seated historical resentments against earlier patriarchal figures.

Freud’s work helps us to understand to a certain extent why it is that the narrative offered by ISIS to its young followers has been so difficult to overcome, and why it is so irrational.

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