The question at the core of this essay is whether the subjective stance of one person can initiate broad change or inspire collective action by means other than the group psychology, not by appealing to a particular set of values or ideals or by cementing the group through identification or libidinal cathexes but by foregrounding the experience of the desiring subject. It takes as its point of departure Jacques Lacan's definition of anxiety as “the affect that responds to the desire of the Other.” If love is about the strategies of seduction that sustain the imaginary coherence of the ego, desire is linked to the anxiety induced by the loss of the ego ideals and the encounter with castration. The corollary is that the practice of psychoanalysis is founded on the confrontation with the anxiety provoked by the desire of the Other and the assumption that only this can result in real change.

This article examines three examples of social tie that are structured around the desire of the founder and the anxiety it induces: the interdiction of sacrifice and the worship of an absent God in the religion of Moses, the role of the transference in Freud's invention of psychoanalysis, and the “love of the enemy” in the discourse of Jesus. The author argues that the clinical context sheds light on the violent resistance and repression that greeted the founding acts of Moses and Jesus and offers insight into the structural antagonism between the founder's desire and the possibility of a collective movement. The examples of Moses and Jesus in turn develop a dimension of the analytic experience that is not always given sufficient weight: that desire must find expression in an act or in the production of a new object that intervenes in the world so as to transform it.

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