Enter your email to receive the Library of Social Science Newsletter:   
Symbiosis: the Bedrock of Politics
“Symbiosis” is not a “phase of development. Rather, it is the primordial fantasy governing our relationship to society. Human beings imagine their own bodies are fused with a body politic.

Psychoanalysts endlessly debate the nature of “symbiosis”—the “symbiotic phase of development (see Blass and Blatt, 1996). Of course, upon leaving the womb, symbiosis is never “actual.” Symbiosis is a fantasy: the desire to merge or fuse with another human being—or entity.

The term “merger” means “to sink or extinguish in one which is greater or superior.” This definition describes precisely the image of Hobbes’ Leviathan (see directly below).

Mahler’s definition of symbiosis remains the best:

Hallucinatory or delusional, somatopsychic omnipotent fusion with the representation of the mother and, in particular, the delusion of a common boundary of the two actually and physically separate individuals (Mahler, 1975/2000).

Psychoanalysts are looking for love in all the wrong places. “Symbiosis” is not a “phase of development. Rather it is the primordial or primal fantasy governing our relationship to society. We imagine we are merged or fused with our entire culture.

Hobbes’ image perfectly captures the fantasy of symbiosis: the bodies of individual are imagined to exist in a state of “somatopsychic fusion.” There is no separation between the human body and the gigantic body of the sovereign. This is the core of symbiotic fantasy: no separation.

Hobbes, Thomas (1651). Leviathan.
The frontispiece to Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan depicts the head and torso of a long-haired, mustachioed man. Upon close scrutiny, it becomes evident that the man’s torso and arms are composed of tiny individual persons, crowded closely together and each looking toward the head of the composite Leviathan.