The German philosopher Emanuel Kant stated that contrary to the contemporary belief of his time we in fact internalise and create our own moral laws but there is a distinction between those which are particular to ourselves and those which are universal. The first level – I won’t do such and such pleasurable activity because it will have some causal negative effect on myself later on – Or a higher level would be that I will or won’t do this activity because there is a universal reason for doing it or not doing it, something that is for the good of the society as a whole. Kant’s purpose with his categorical imperatives was to find an infinite categorical imperative that one could appeal to above every other.
Emmanuel Kant’s famous example illustrating the first categorical imperative is of the man who is tempted by the seduction of a woman but knowing that if he sleeps with the woman he will have to face the gallows the following morning.
But the lesson of psychoanalysis is that there are subjects who will ONLY do such and such activity because there is the threat of a negative outcome. In other words there is a side to the subject which is masochistic. Often unbeknown to themselves, they can only enjoy activities because there is an un-pleasurable threat.
Sometimes the danger of the subject elevating himself or herself to a citizen of the greater good brings with it the potential of a masochistic jouissance. This could in a few cases be manifest in the case of a priest becoming celebrate or brought into stark focus, with the violent act of the war mongering leader or the suicide bomber who has detached himself or herself from the first categorical imperative or gets pleasure from transgressing it and has immersed himself or herself into the political or religious jouissance and conflating it with the act for the ‘greater good.’
For some reason, not entirely unconnected to Kant’s categorical imperatives I am reminded of what a dancer in Rosas dance company wisely said to me many years ago over a cafe creme outside a theatre where were performing in Nantes when I had got heavily swept up by a certain religious doxa – “Beware the truth makers!”