Politics and Psychoanalysis

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Within the wide range of cultural and social interests that led to Sigmund Freud's "The Claims of PsychoAnalysis to Scientific Interest" (1913j), politics appears as the poor relative.

However, contrary to the rumor that claims Freud was "apolitical," or "politically inert," it can be shown that there are extremely close links between all of Freud's work—analyses, investigations, concepts, projects—and the sources and resources that constitute truly political thought.

Together with the American ambassador William C.

Bullitt, Freud put his name to a book of political psychoanalysis in the strict sense, Thomas Woodrow Wilson, Twenty-Eighth President of the United States: A Psychological Study, (1966 [1938]), that has received little comment.

Freud's anthropological work is considerable.

He questioned the origin and structure of society in Totem and Taboo (1912-1913a), unmasked illusions and dogmas in The Future of an Illusion (1927c) and Civilization and its Discontents (1930a), denounced Bolshevism in one of the New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis—"On a Weltanschauung" (1933a), and described the foundation of a religion, a culture, and a people—the Jews—in Moses and Monotheism (1939a).

In 1908 he strongly criticized "civilized sexual morality" (1908d), the source of "the nervous illness of modern times."

His 1921 essay, Mass Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921c), which dismantles the concepts of leader, crowd, and power, can be seen as the foundation of all political psychoanalysis.

In The Interpretation of Dreams (1900a), politics saturates the imagery of the "dream of Count Thun," the prime minister of the emperor.

Quoting Beaumarchais, Zola, Panizza, and mobilizing the revolution of 1848, social-democracy, and anti-Semitism, Freud denounces the "nothingness" represented by Count "Nichtsthun" and celebrates his own "revolutionary humor."

Although he is not committed to political action like his friend Heinrich Braun, at least he sees his foundational work, The Interpretation of Dreams, as a form of Promethean subversion: "Flectere si nequeo Superos, Acheronta movebo"—"If I am unable to influence the Gods, I will shake up Hell."
Aside from these lines of force of political thought, all Freud's psychological system is rich with political implications. 

Following Copernicus and Darwin, he lays claim to a true and grandiose ideological "revolution."

In the unconscious the ego is no longer master in its own house and humanity must therefore drive it out. 

In the agency of the superego, Freud ascribed values, ideals, and imperatives associated with morality and society to the psyche.

No socio-political theory or practice can simply neglect the sovereign preeminence of drives and the unconscious, which various ideologies, especially totalitarian, have been able to exploit.

The triptych of the sexual drive, the death drive, and the instinct for mastery exercises an implacable determinism throughout existence, social and political, individual and psychological.

It is significant that the most heightened forms of political thought—Machiavelli, Hobbes, La Boétie, Marx, Weber, and others—intersect with and illustrate many of Freud's psychological ideas.

The radical rejection of all forms of illusion, the will to lucidity based on a flexible rationality, the dismantling of connections within communities, the emphasis on the autonomy and responsibility of the individual subject—Freud's political thought remains an inexhaustible resource, even when contested or misused, for original psycho-political constructs.

Some of these include the research and bold assumptions of Wilhelm Reich, often summarily categorized as "Freudian-Marxism," the "social-democratic" psychology of Alfred Adler, the anarchism of Otto Gross, the "Trotskyite" element in Otto Fenichel, the democratic and eclectic humanism of Erich Fromm, Herbert Marcuse's Orphic leftism, Deleuze and Guattari's libertarian schizoanalysis, and so on.

More recently the field of "psychohistory" has attempted to combine psychoanalysis and politics, but has managed instead to obscure and weaken what was so powerfully revolutionary in Freudian thought.

See Also