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Fenichel, O. (1943). Psychoanalysis of Economics: Paul Schilder. Psa. Rev., XXVII, 1940, pp. 401–420.. Psychoanal Q., 12:293-295.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: Psychoanalysis of Economics: Paul Schilder. Psa. Rev., XXVII, 1940, pp. 401–420.

(1943). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 12:293-295

Psychoanalysis of Economics: Paul Schilder. Psa. Rev., XXVII, 1940, pp. 401–420.

Otto Fenichel

Schilder's very interesting paper which, however, is not always easily comprehensible, treats the basic questions of the relation between psychoanalysis and political economy. It discusses the methods with which these basic problems must be approached rather than their actual solution. This discussion is carried out in such a fundamental and convincing way that it becomes clear that it is not permissible to transfer psychological insight, in too naïve a manner, to the economic field. Certainly, economic conditions were created by man. But this does not mean that they are accessible to psychological comprehension without further ado.

Schilder starts with the statement, … 'Many of our institutions, customs and habits of life, which have been created as a result of the cultural process, have become independent the moment we have created them… We deal here with a group of phenomena of social and cultural life which, although created by human beings in action, have become independent, go their own way, and cannot be easily changed at will any longer.' This is demonstrated by such

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examples as houses, clothes and money. He who wants to investigate those 'independent institutions' must realize that man does not live in isolation. The task is not only to study groups but to study the action of groups in a dynamic way, in the same way that psychology detects activity in every psychic phenomenon. ('There is no perception, no imagination, no thought, which is not action, which does not contain in itself motility.') Schilder continues with the question: Why do men act at all? Marx said, out of economic motives. Freud said, out of instinctual impulses. Both agree that the motives are unconscious. The economic motives can be reduced to the basic instincts of existence (eating, housing, clothing), which, Schilder believes, have actually been neglected by psychoanalysis. 'When one looks over large parts of the psychoanalytic literature, one would not conceive the idea that one eats because one is hungry and wants food for sustaining one's life. But one would rather suppose that eating is a sly way of satisfying oral libido.' At the same time Schilder explains how, according to Marx, ideologies are constructed, by systems of rationalization, to cover up the true instinctual motives. The so-called 'economic' motives are considered 'preconscious' by Schilder and he believes that behind them lie the effective unconscious motives described by Freud. In summation he says, 'The psychologies of Marx and Freud have a deep inner connection.'

The next question which Schilder discusses is, 'What has psychoanalysis to say about money and about work?' Not much; certainly less than the importance of the subject demands. The psychological significance of money and work can only be understood if we study this significance under certain given social circumstances. 'We did not ourselves create the economic system. Perhaps our ancestors did. And the economic system … walks around and does not care what we want or do not want, unless we change it by new action.' In this connection Schilder discusses the psychoanalysis of compulsive and depressive disturbances of work. Objectively the productive forces are achieving a level today at which a minimum of work is necessary. 'Our superego demands that we should work. This was perhaps very necessary one, two or three centuries ago. It is not any more.' This gives Schilder an occasion to explain and discuss the 'limping after of ideologies', which means that ideologies remain effective even if the circumstances which have created them are not valid any longer. This 'limping after of ideologies' explains many problematic social events. 'Ideologies are at most a part of the outside world, in the same way as houses, streets and sewers.' The capacity of the human mind to anticipate makes not only the past but also the (supposed) future decisive. The conception of 'possession', which is so important for many economic problems, is rooted in the idea of procuring for the future. Psychoanalysis has shown that 'possessions' are unconsciously equated with 'fæces'. Schilder is of the opinion that the true meaning of this equation is unclear. It might have come into being by the idea that things are best saved by being hidden in the body's interior.

In a rather unsystematic way, Schilder then changes the subject. 'We turn now to the analysis of some basic concepts of political economy.' He explains the Marxian conceptions of 'use value' and 'exchange value' and especially the theory of 'surplus value'. He shows how the facts which are expressed in those theories have the power to form ideologies and to influence human minds. Marx's ideas about these influences need a psychological supplement. 'The

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human problem of need in a given situation becomes paramount, and every value appears dependent on the total situation.'

He then returns to 'limping after' which has this consequence: 'The economic process cannot be understood by the analysis of the present, but the analysis has to be extended into the past'. History becomes necessary. At the same time Schilder criticizes the 'dialectic materialistic' way in which Marx looked upon history. He is of the opinion that the 'dialectic' way of approach is not very promising. 'We have to study the process of economics by more subtle methods. Thinking in opposites is a primitive way of thinking and it implies that one accepts or rejects a thought or an object without having fully investigated the thought or the object.' A more precise study of Marx's historical writings would have given Schilder convincing replies to this criticism.

All this shows the dependency of the individual on outer economic circumstances. In discussing Freud, Schilder states, 'Physicians are very often captured in a class ideology themselves'. Concerning the practical consequences for psychoanalysis, Schilder states, 'Psychotherapy has only a meaning when more than a minimum of subsistence is guaranteed to the individual'.

Schilder adds to this inspiring paper a bibliography which is unfortunately rather incomplete. It neglects the German literature which represents similar viewpoints such as papers by Fromm, Reich and the reviewer.

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Article Citation

Fenichel, O. (1943). Psychoanalysis of Economics. Psychoanal. Q., 12:293-295

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