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Jacobsen, K. (2017). When a Cigar is Just a Cigar: Psychoanalysis, Politics, and ‘Reversion Compulsion’. Free Associations, 18(2):27-50.

(2017). Free Associations, 18(2):27-50

When a Cigar is Just a Cigar: Psychoanalysis, Politics, and ‘Reversion Compulsion’

Kurt Jacobsen

Every established order tends to produce (to very different degrees and with different means), the naturalization of its own arbitrariness.' - Pierre Bourdieu

Politics is not a purely rational arena, so it always has been a perfectly valid subject for psychoanalytic investigation, if crucial caveats are kept in mind. An anti-Freudian groupthink cultural climate has discouraged political analysts from so much as dabbling in psychoanalysis (though dabbling of course can do as much damage as kneejerk hostility). So when social scientists muster the nerve to venture into inner worlds of their subject matter, they much prefer the safety of cognitive frameworks insofar as they lend themselves to formulaic findings, easy quantification and fashionable but dubious artificial ‘experiments.’ For their part, psychoanalysts and psychotherapists, with notable exceptions, hardly have been eager to tread en masse into the interpretive perils of our 21st century political terrain. Erich Fromm, Erik Erikson, Bruno Bettelheim, Robert Jay Lifton and other earlier psychoanalytic luminaries have not spawned a new generation of critical public intellectuals of similar stature, at least not any who can gain traction outside of a tiny handful of specialized journals.

Yet few social scientists deny that psychological factors exert influence on political events, and vice versa. The magisterial international relations Realist Hans Morgenthau reckoned that international politics was at root psychological in nature.

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