CORDIS - EU research results

Phantom Possession. The New Authoritarian Personality and its Domains.

Project description

Defining both sides of the authoritarian psyche

The resurgence of authoritarianism is a growing global phenomenon, but one that has not been reviewed from within a framework that combines material factors and psychological traits so as to avoid either economic reductionism or an overly individualistic explanation. The EU-funded PhantomAiD project will integrate these two dimensions. It will use the term phantom possession to bridge the material and psychological levels, as driven by property logic. Specifically, the project will show how the dual license to violence implied by property (the right to destroy and the right to defend one’s property) is what structures authoritarian mobilisation around issues such as immigration, abortion, gender and environmental politics. It is on this basis that prejudices act as defensive mechanisms and defensiveness (a defining feature of authoritarian psyches).


Authoritarian political forces are a growing global phenomenon. In critical theory, this is explained either through material factors, running the risk of economic reductionism, or through psychological traits, individualizing the matter in a problematic way. To date, no theoretical framework integrates the two dimensions in a consistent way, leading to deep rifts in political analysis.
The proposed research programme introduces the term phantom possession in order to bridge between the material and the psychological level. The notion of phantom possession allows the reconstruction of authoritarianism as driven by property logic. Conceptualised as a domain requiring control and defence, the phantasmatic entitlement becomes a reference point for authoritarian mobilization. Consequently, the subject of authoritarianism can be characterized as a phantom owner.
The full theory of the authoritarian personality as phantom owner consists of three components. The first is an account of the politics of phantom owners. As Hannah Arendt mentioned in her analysis of modern mass-politics, authoritarianism is destructive in a way prefigured by early modern property discourse. I analyse destructiveness as the core characteristic of authoritarian politics. The second component investigates the psychology of phantom owners. To understand the psychological basis of authoritarianism, I link the Frankfurt School approach of authoritarian character formation with newer trends in feminist object-relations theory. On this basis, prejudices can be understood as defensive mechanisms, and defensiveness as the defining feature of authoritarian psyches.
The third component implements my account. I show how the dual license to violence implied by property – the right to destroy and the right to aggressively defend one’s property – structures current authoritarian mobilization around such disparate domains as abortion, immigration, gender, and environmental politics.


Net EU contribution
€ 171 473,28
37129 Verona

See on map

Nord-Est Veneto Verona
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 171 473,28