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Kerrigan, W. (1991). Psychoanalysis and the Vicissitudes of Enlightenment. Am. Imago, 48(2):265-278.

(1991). American Imago, 48(2):265-278

Psychoanalysis and the Vicissitudes of Enlightenment

William Kerrigan

There have been numerous attempts to hammer out a systematic accommodation between psychoanalysis and Marxism. We have long been familiar with the dilemmas and strategies characteristic of this negotiation. But serious discussions of what Freud means for intellectuals proud to live in liberal capitalist democracies are relatively rare.

The most brilliant exception, and in some ways the most treacherous, is Philip Rieff's Freud: The Mind of the Morale. Associating Freud's popularity in America with the discrediting of political radicalism (1961, 267), Rieff understands psychoanalysis as a quiescent, prudent, inward-turned mutation of reforming liberalism, disillusioned about external authority to the point that the self becomes the sole sphere of ambition: “Psychoanalysis sponsors a rational alienation from public enthusiasm…. However much Freudianism may itself function as an ideology, it inculcates—as I have tried to show—skepticism about all ideologies except those of the private life” (278). Political man, religious man, and economic man have had their day. Reading Freud receptively has changed the old liberal character types into “psychological man.”

A brilliant chapter on “Politics and the Individual” reveals, with extraordinary breadth of allusion, the strengths and partialities of Freud's social writings.

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