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McGrath, W.J. (1993). Retrospective Medicine in Breuer and Freud's “Studies on Hysteria” The Assault on Medieval Superstition. Ann. Psychoanal., 21:139-156.

(1993). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 21:139-156

Retrospective Medicine in Breuer and Freud's “Studies on Hysteria” The Assault on Medieval Superstition

William J. McGrath, Ph.D.

If Freud were alive today, nearly 100 years after he and Breuer finished the “Preliminary Communication,” which eventually became the opening chapter of “Studies on Hysteria” (Breuer and Freud, 1893–1895), he would surely be amazed at the transformation of the central European world in which he had lived. He would be particularly surprised and delighted that the most fundamental goal of political liberalism, parliamentary democracy, had eventually triumphed against its enemies on both the left and right, for in 1892 the forces of Austrian liberalism seemed on the brink of utter defeat, and during the remaining years of Freud's long life that local defeat reechoed across Europe as the forces of Nazism, Fascism, and Communism went from victory to victory. Particularly in his early years, Freud cared a great deal about such political issues and they had a direct bearing on his approach to the study of hysteria.

It was the power and importance of religion and religious politics that caused the young Freud to invest his political allegiance in Austrian liberalism. He shared the liberals' antagonism to the entrenched conservative power of Austrian Catholicism, which he associated with an outmoded, superstitious, medieval worldview to be swept aside by the modern forces of political enlightenment and scientific rationality.

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