Freud’s Discontents By Samuel Moyn

On the death of Sigmund Freud, W.H. Auden memorably observed that he was “no more a person now but a whole climate of opinion.” And this was 1939—he had seen nothing yet of Freud’s influence. Across the North Atlantic, Freud’s new science of psychoanalysis transformed common sense and was itself transformed in a host of new applications. In the humanistic disciplines, and especially in literary study, engagement with psychoanalysis became almost obligatory. The general public was equally enthralled by Freud’s ideas. His books circulated widely, on college campuses especially, and his thought traversed popular culture from fiction to film.

This popularity came, in part, because Freud’s thought—and its extensions in the various schools of psychoanalysis—had extraordinary versatility. Freud saw sexual love and destructive hate as volcanic forces permanently threatening modern society. While he intended to come to the aid of bourgeois civilization, he did more than perhaps anyone to make sex and violence topics of everyday conversation. Freud argued in Civilization and Its Discontents and other works that if we were to come to terms with the libidinous and aggressive drives boiling up from beneath the surface of civilization, we would have to confront and master these forces. This led Freud and his followers to develop programs for individual therapy; it also became a central proposition for both the nervous self-assurance of Cold War liberalism and the calls for reform by the era’s leftists. Liberals like Lionel Trilling and Marxists like Erich Fromm and Herbert Marcuse found in Freud nothing less than a stimulus to rethink life in common. They all insisted that psychoanalysis did more than address individual biography and pathology; it could help solve the conundrums of collective politics.

Despre Claudiu Degeratu
Expert in securitate nationala, internationala, NATO, UE, aparare si studii strategice

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