Freud’s Model and Madison’s Invention

Salmony, Steve Earl | October 30, 2018 | Leave a Comment Download as PDF

Photo courtesy of the author

For psychologists the terms superego, ego and id are commonplace and refer to institutions of the mind of the human being. In a similar way the words judiciary, executive and legislature are famil­iar signifiers of the institutions that organize human beings in a state. That these organizing institutions of a democratic state appear to emanate from common human nature has been discussed heretofore. Consider that the judicial branch of government possesses certain essential features of the superego; the executive branch functions much like the ego; and the legislative branch concretely attempts in many ways to recognize and realize the manifold wishes and needs of the collective of individuals in the state and reflects the id.

The nature and significance of the relationship between mind and state has been commented upon since the early days of Western civilization. This commentary appears to begin with Pythagoras’ effort to answer the questions: what is the nature of human nature, and how might this express itself in the organization of human society? To put these questions another way, may the structure and dynamics of the mind have significance for the manner in which the government of a democratic state is formed and made functional?

Pythagoras and later Plato perceived that organizing structures on two levels — the psychological/individual and governmental/societal — are governed by the same principles. While Pythagoras is likely among the first to record this linkage, one of the most impressive presentations of these symmetrical psychological and governmental structures is to be found in the Dialogues of Plato wherein he presented three governance mechanisms of the city-state as reflections of three psychic agencies perceived ubiquitously within the ordinary people who belong to that city-state. Plato reports that the three governing elements of a state appear to be derived from individuals who themselves possess these same elements in a terminal system he called psyche and we refer to as mind.

By fixing his analysis on the continuous tension and conflict among certain institutions of government, Plato posited that the ordering of society is a large-scale replica of the organization of the individual mind. It is then possible to perceive individual minds as microcosms in which the governing features of a governing macrocosm can be apprehended and in a rudimentary way understood.

It may be fruitful to consider this foundational relationship in which individuals give objectivity to a ‘checking and balancing’ terminal system common to individual minds in the formation of a democratic state yet do not consciously acknowledge the independence, dynamics and validity of the governing institutions in this “object” as reflections of the individual mental apparatus. This does not mean that the individual is equal to or stands above this necessary object for governing the collective of human beings. On the contrary, the state is above the individual and governs the individual. The point here is merely this: individuals project their commonly held checking-and-balancing mental apparatus into judicial, executive and legislative mechanisms of a state in an attempt to constitute a government, and then subordinate themselves to this governmental organization.

Human beings are by nature constituted for social living, and inevitably become engaged in the outer events of the social and material world as a way of meeting personal desires and needs that are determined by biological limits of humankind and physical limitations of the world we inhabit. Ancient thinkers as well as contemporary scholars have postulated that there can be no beings that are human without governance and social order.

Individual members of a democratic state unconsciously consent to be governed, as it were, by a state that typifies their nature. It is plausible that the state comes closest to ensuring the expression of naturally determined human potential and relational capacities of its members, as their “lights” accord them a view of what potential and capacity for relations they possess. By means of the deployment of judicial, executive and legislative governance mechanisms of a state, the government is constituted so as to deal at once with inner tensions and conflict as well as challenges from the outer world in much the same way the superego, ego and id of the mind operate in the service of individuals. That is to say, the governing structure of a democratic state is derived from the mental apparatus of individual minds; conversely, the mental apparatus common to individual minds serves as a model that is employed to organize, authorize and empower governance mechanisms which direct the state toward a remote, unreachable goal: the good of all.

Here a terminal system is identified in its individual/psychological and governmental/societal forms. In the latter individuals shape, amplify and adapt governance mechanisms according to their mental make-up in the formation and maintenance of a personality writ large, the state. At the dawn of Western civilization individuals perceived that governance mechanisms of a state most beneficially spring from and “mirror” the dynamic interplay of the mind’s superego, ego and id. Thanks to the psychological model from Sigmund Freud and constitutional invention of James Madison, we can see with more clarity how the structure and dynamics of the mind provide a model for the form and function of a democratic state.


 Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A. is a psychologist residing in Fearrington Village, NC, USA. He can be reached at


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  • Greeley Miklashek

    Very interesting analysis, including the reference to Plato. Allow this retired neuro-psychaitrist to suggest that Freud’s insights from his many psychoanalytic case studies, later elaborated by his daughter, are actually reflected in our neuroanatomy/physiology: the Id is the amygdala (the seat of our most primitive survival emotions: sex, fight-flight, food seeking, social bonding, nest building, dominance/submission (elation, depression, etc.). The super-ego is an internalization of early limiting encounters with parental authority figures and may reside in the primitive extended amygdala of the “limbic” system, while the supra-orbital prefrontal neocortex supplies the rationalizing “ego”. In the author’s thoughtful model, then, the Id may be compared with the Executive Branch, the ego with Congress, and the Super-ego with the Judicial Branch, at least roughly. Currently, we have a president who generally demonstrates unfiltered Id impulses, but a Congress who refuses to set limits and control his baser instincts, which puts final control firmly in the hands of the Supreme Court. All of this is arguable, but suggesting that our external man-made reality is a projection of our inner neuro-logical structure is heuristic if nothing else. According to this metaphor, we clearly need a stronger Ego-Congress. President Trump’s constant projection of his own deep inner self-criticisms (from an early internalized highly critical father) onto others is proof positive of our potential for projecting our inner structures on the outside world, which may well include government structure. His emotional excesses, including sexual episodes, are consistent with what some psychoanalysts have called a “Swiss cheese super-ego”, sometimes overly inhibiting but other times non-existent. Hmmmm. Stress R Us

  • Richard Blaber

    The tripartite division of powers in a State applies in the USA, and this is a wonderful example of American parochialism, where what applies in the USA is treated as if it had universal application. It doesn’t. In the United Kingdom, the executive and legislative branches aren’t separate, for the former is part of the latter and is directly accountable to it. All members of the Government must be members of Parliament – if not the Commons, then the Lords. This set-up is to be found in other countries, too, particularly where the Heads of State and Government are two different people and the former reigns rather than rules. That can include a Republic with a non-executive President, such as Ireland.

    As for Freud’s model – most psychiatrists and psychologists would dismiss Freudianism these days as pseudo-science. It is very doubtful if Freudian or any other form of psychoanalysis ever cured anyone, although it certainly made the psychoanalysts’ bank balances a lot healthier. His ideas were undoubtedly influential with 20th Century writers such as D.H. Lawrence and T.S. Eliot and the Surrealist painters, but that fact does not lend them credibility as science. ‘The mind is its own place, and in it self,/Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n’, Milton’s Satan tells us (‘Paradise Lost’, Book I, ll.254-5). Minds are rather more complex things than Sigmund Freud imagined, and facile comparisons between his model of them and the constitutional set-up in one country, albeit an important one, should _not_ be treated as if they were profound insights into universal truths.

  • Jeffrey Broadbent

    This is a wonderful insight: the social/psychological cross-level homology between superego, ego and id with judiciary, executive and legislator, and the widespread human acceptance of this governance system. But this does imply a liberal, self-accepting personality structure being common in the society. For instance, Jefferson’s yeoman farmer independent personality fits well with Madison’s invention (building on Montesquieu) of division of powers in government. Reflecting on this insight thought makes one realize that circumstances could be very different. The analyses by Theodore Adorno and by Wilhelm Reich, for instance, both posit that if an authoritarian personality is prevalent in a society, it can support the establishment of a fascist governance system. Their case in point was the relationship between the traditional German patriarchal, authoritarian family (producing male authoritarian personalities) and the emergence of Nazi Germany. But perhaps this relationship can be found in other authoritarian governance systems like Russia. Even in contemporary USA, as Melvin Kohn has shown, reflecting the demands of their work situations, middle-class families socialize more liberal personalities into their children while working class families socialize more authoritarian personalities. This tendency produces support for authoritarian, populist leaders who promise great solutions among many US working class people, as we are currently seeing.