John Steinbeck’s Phalanx

Appealing to MOB Mentality

And the threat of a

Trump Presidency

The least understood Steinbeck philosophical  concept is the Phalanx. Even Steinbeck biographers evidence a weak, and in my opinion, sometimes pretentious grasp of the concept.  Yet it is one of the more important from the philosophically gifted American writer. I’ve often explained the concept by comparing it to Swiss Psychiatrist Carl G. Jung’s Collective Unconscious. In fact, Steinbeck’s work evidences a very practical understanding of Jung’s work and his “phalanx” is a great example of the practical application of the concept. The phalanx can impart a super collective influence on the behavior of individuals within a MOB as Mac describes in Steinbeck’s “In Dubious Battle”

“That’s right, what you said. It is a big animal. It’s different from the men in it. And it’s stronger than all the men put together. It doesn’t want the same things men want—it’s like Doc said—and we don’t know what it’ll do.” “It’ll get that barricade,” said Jim. “That’s not what I mean. The animal don’t want the barricade. I don’t know what it wants. Trouble is, guys that study people always think it’s men, and it isn’t men. It’s a different kind of animal. It’s as different from men as dogs are. Jim, it’s swell when we can use it, but we don’t know enough. When it gets started it might do anything.” His face was alive and excited, and slightly fearful.”

The unconscious is not directly observable, in other words, it does not relate to the ego thereby complicating the task of conveying an understanding. To readers who have not yet grasped the concepts of consciousness, it is difficult to describe the influence of the unconscious. I’ve found it best to attempt a description analytically as Jung did and that is by what it does or doesn’t do. As Mac described in In Dubious battle, its unpredictable and fear inspiring behavior appears autonomous of MOB members or, stated plans of action and even the expressed goals of MOB leadership.

How does the phalanx relate to the Trump Presidential  campaign? Please consider a little history – Adolf Hitler did not become chancellor and absolute dictator by getting the support of the majority of Germans of one of over thirty political parties in Germany at the time.His base of support  was the hungry and desperate low-life thugs and the German military industrial establishment like Krupp and Seinmans who were seeking to profit from conflict.

Let’s face it, Adolf Hitler had but one exceptional quality that he didn’t even fully understand himself. It was the ability to stand in front of desperate masses and become a target for their father-figure delusions. His presence would calm their fears with a promise to make them go away. Like Donald Trump, he didn’t even have to describe a rational plan or working process to discourage critics – it didn’t matter. He was mesmerizing. In reality he was like a parabolic reflector for the evil side of the collective unconscious, perhaps causing the libido to make his image in each individual MOB member to appear far more attractive than it was. The MOB of supporters while under the spell of the delusion performed horrible acts that most of the individuals would not have considered otherwise. That control – that influence is a super-organism called the phalanx. Is there a similarity between the Trump followers like the fellow from Duck Dynasty? Of course there is. They are just awakening and fearful while seeking a father figure to make their problems go away.   

I can recall interviews of participants following mass riots when they were asked by reporters, “Why did you do what you did?” “Was this your normal behavior?” The answer almost universally was, “No – not at all. I don’t know why I did it.” This was the influence of the phalanx on individual behavior.

At the beginning of his campaign, Donald Trump knew the importance of focusing MOB hatred upon scapegoats like Mexican immigrants or Muslim Americans and how this influenced the MOB. Personally I don’t believe individual citizens are as desperate as the 1930s Germany so he really didn’t get the necessary traction on that ploy. Still there were/are supporters who still believe him and feel his father-figure promise will make their problems go away when the real cause is their own hatred, ignorance, and just emerging consciousness. Individuals just waking up to themselves as unique individuals are the ones with the greatest tendency to project upon external gods, father, and mother figures as Trump supporters do.

The Trump presidency would be devastating to the United States, and the world in general because Trump is a father-figure to low-life supporters who would, in mass, perform violent acts that they would not otherwise consider. Understanding the concepts of the phalanx and other Steinbeck/Ricketts philosophy is essential to eliminating that risk.

Wesley Stillwagon

Clinton, North Carolina, USA

Please see my other Steinbeck/Jung papers at:

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Julie Bondanza, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and a diplomate Jungian analyst who trained at the C. G. Jung Institute of New York, where she was Director of Training, a job she also held with the Philadelphia Association of Jungian Analysts. She has taught extensively in New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Washington, as well as for various Jung societies across the country. Presently she serves the board of the C. G. Jung Foundation of New York and continues to serve as its program chair, a post she has held for many years. Dr. Bondanza practices in Takoma Park and lives in Washington, D.C.

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