Sigmund Freud

Authored by: Stephen Frosh

Routledge Handbook of Psychoanalytic Political Theory

Print publication date:  September  2019
Online publication date:  September  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138696310
eBook ISBN: 9781315524771
Adobe ISBN:


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The development of psychoanalysis in its early days—and arguably always—was dominated by Freud’s thought. Every nuance of his speaking and writing has been pored over for its implications for psychosocial understanding, and his attitudes and prejudices, as well as his insights, have become an indispensable (or inescapable) background for understanding many aspects of the sociopolitical landscape. This chapter focuses on the ambiguous relationship of Freud’s thinking to political ideas. On the one hand, he presents a normalizing and pessimistic vision of the prospects for an emancipatory politics. The death drive, the built-in contradiction between individual desire and social possibility, and the emphasis on the debilitating hypocrisies of a ‘civilization’ that is opposed only by ‘savagery’ do not seem promising routes for progressive political thought. On the other hand, political philosophy is potentially radicalized by Freud’s characterization of the excessive restrictiveness and violence of society, his clear feeling for social suffering and belief in the possibility of psychoanalytic enlightenment to oppose this, and his radical formulation of the openness of social being produced by the polyvalent nature of the unconscious. Even the late, speculative notion of what might now be called transgenerational transmission of trauma and identity has some important possibilities for progressive psychosocial practice.

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