cover of One-Dimensional Man, 1964 edition

Herbert Marcuse:
Eros and Civilization
(Boston: Beacon, 1955)

Critique of Neo-Freudian Revisionism

to contents, intro, chap: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11; Publications, Home

Psychoanalysis has changed its function in the culture of our time, in accordance with fundamental social changes that occurred during the first half of the century. The collapse of the liberal era and of its promises, the spreading totalitarian trend and the efforts to counteract this trend, are reflected in the position of psychoanalysis. During the twenty years of its development prior to the First World War, psychoanalysis elaborated the concepts for the psychological critique of the most highly praised achievement — of the modern era: the individual. Freud demonstrated that constraint, repression, and renunciation are the stuff from which the "free personality" is made; he recognized the "general unhappiness" of society as the unsurpassable limit of cure and normality. Psychoanalysis was a radically critical theory. Later, when Central and Eastern Europe were in revolutionary upheaval, it became clear to what extent psychoanalysis was still committed to the society whose secrets it revealed. The psychoanalytic conception of man, with its belief in the basic unchangeability of human nature, appeared as "reactionary;" Freudian theory seemed to imply that the humanitarian ideals of socialism were humanly unattainable. Then the revisions of psychoanalysis began to gain momentum.

It might be tempting to speak of a split into a left and right wing. The most serious attempt to develop the critical social theory implicit in Freud was made in Wilhelm Reich's earlier writings. In his Einbruch der Sexualmoral (1931), Reich oriented psychoanalysis on the relation between the social and instinctual structures. He emphasized the extent to which sexual repression is enforced by the interests of domination and exploitation, and the extent to which these interests are in turn reinforced and reproduced by sexual repression. However, Reich's notion of sexual repression remains undifferentiated; he neglects the historical dynamic of the sex instincts and of their fusion with the destructive impulses. (Reich rejects Freud's hypothesis of the death instinct and the whole depth dimension revealed in Freud's late metapsychology.) Consequently, sexual liberation per se becomes for Reich a panacea for individual and social ills. The problem of sublimation is minimized; no essential distinction is made between repressive and non-repressive sublimation, and progress in freedom appears as a mere release of sexuality. The critical sociological insights contained in Reich's earlier writings are thus arrested; a sweeping primitivism becomes prevalent, foreshadowing the wild and fantastic hobbies of Reich's later years.

On the "right wing" of psychoanalysis, Carl Jung's psychology soon became an obscurantist pseudo-mythology.[1] The "center" of revisionism took shape in the cultural and interpersonal schools — the most popular trend of psychoanalysis today. We shall try to show that, in these schools, psychoanalytic theory turns into ideology: the "personality "and its creative potentialities are resurrected in the face of a reality which has all but eliminated the conditions for the personality and its fulfillment. Freud recognized the work of repression in the highest values of Western civilization — which presuppose and perpetuate unfreedom and suffering. The Neo-Freudian schools promote the very same values as cure against unfreedom and suffering as the triumph over repression. This intellectual feat is accomplished by expurgating the instinctual dynamic and reducing its part in the mental life. Thus purified, the psyche can again be redeemed by idealistic ethics and religion; and the psychoanalytic theory of the mental apparatus can be rewritten as a philosophy of the soul. In doing so, the revisionists have discarded those of Freud's psychological tools that are incompatible with the anachronistic revival of philosophical idealism — the very tools with which Freud uncovered the explosive instinctual and social roots of the personality. Moreover, secondary factors and relationships (of the mature person and its cultural environment) are given the dignity of primary processes — a switch in orientation designed to emphasize the influence of the social reality on the formation of the personality. However, we believe that the exact opposite happens — that the impact of society on the psyche is weakened. Whereas Freud, focusing on the vicissitudes of the primary instincts, discovered society in the most concealed layer of the genus and individual man, the revisionists, aiming at the reified, readymade form rather than at the origin of the societal institutions and relations, fail to comprehend what these institutions and relations have done to the personality that they are supposed to fulfill. Confronted with the revisionist schools, Freud's theory now assumes a new significance: it reveals more than ever before the depth of its criticism, and — perhaps for the first time — those of its elements that transcend the prevailing order and link the theory of repression with that of its abolition.

The strengthening of this link was the initial impulse behind the revisionism of the cultural school. Erich Fromm's early articles attempt to free Freud's theory from its identification with present-day society; to sharpen the psychoanalytic notions that reveal the connection between instinctual and economic structure; and at the same time to indicate the possibility of progress beyond the "patricentric-acquisitive" culture. Fromm stresses the sociological substance of Freud's theory: psychoanalysis understands the socio-psychological phenomena as

... processes of active and passive adjustment of the instinctual apparatus to the socio-economic situation. The instinctual apparatus itself is — in certain of its foundations — a biological datum, but to a high degree modifiable; the economic conditions are the primary modifying factors.[2]

Underlying the societal organization of the human existence are basic libidinal wants and needs; highly plastic and pliable, they are shaped and utilized to "cement" the given society. Thus, in what Fromm calls the "patricentric-acquisitive" society (which, in this study, is defined in terms of the rule of the performance principle), the libidinal impulses and their satisfaction (and deflection) are coordinated with the interests of domination and thereby become a stabilizing force which binds the majority to the ruling minority. Anxiety, love, confidence, even the will to freedom and solidarity with the group to which one belongs [3] — all come to serve the economically structured relationships of domination and subordination. By the same token, however, fundamental changes in the social structure will entail corresponding changes in the instinctual structure. With the historical obsolescence of an established society, with the growth of its inner antagonisms, the traditional mental ties are loosening:

Libidinal forces become free for new forms of utilization and thus change their social function. Now they no longer contribute to the preservation of society but lead to the building of new social formations; they cease, as it were, to be cement and instead become dynamite.[4]

Fromm followed up this conception in his article on "The Socio-psychological Significance of the Theory of Matriarchy."[5] Freud's own insights into the historical character of the modifications of the impulses vitiate his equation of the reality principle with the norms of patricentric-acquisitive culture. Fromm emphasizes that the idea of a matricentric culture — regardless of its anthropological merit — envisions a reality principle geared not to the interest of domination, but to gratified libidinal relations among men. The instinctual structure demands rather than precludes the rise of a free civilization on the basis of the achievements of patricentric culture, but through the transformation of its institutions:

Sexuality offers one of the most elemental and strongest possibilities of gratification and happiness. If these possibilities were allowed within the limits set by the need for the productive development of the personality rather than by the need for the domination of the masses, the fulfillment of this one fundamental possibility of happiness would of necessity lead to an increase in the claim for gratification and happiness in other spheres of the human existence. The fulfillment of this claim requires the availability of the material means for its satisfaction and must therefore entail the explosion of the prevailing social order.[6]

The social content of Freudian theory becomes manifest: sharpening the psychoanalytical concepts means sharpening their critical function, their opposition to the prevailing form of society. And this critical sociological function of psychoanalysis derives from the fundamental role of sexuality as a "productive force;" the libidinal claims propel progress toward freedom and universal gratification of human needs beyond the patricentric-acquisitive stage. Conversely, the weakening of the psychoanalytic conception, and especially of the theory of sexuality, must lead to a weakening of the sociological critique and to a reduction of the social substance of psychoanalysis. Contrary to appearance, this is what has happened in the cultural schools. Paradoxically (but only apparently paradoxically), such development was the consequence of the improvements in therapy. Fromm has devoted an admirable paper to "The Social Conditions of Psychoanalytic Therapy," in which he shows that the psychoanalytic situation (between analyst and patient) is a specific expression of liberalist toleration and as such dependent on the existence of such toleration in the society. But behind the tolerant attitude of the "neutral "analyst is concealed" respect for the social taboos of the bourgeoisie."[7] Fromm traces the effectiveness of these taboos at the very core of Freudian theory, in Freud's position toward sexual morality. With this attitude, Fromm contrasts another conception of therapy, first perhaps formulated by Ferenczi, according [223] to which the analyst rejects patricentric-authoritarian taboos and enters into a positive rather than neutral relation with the patient. The new conception is characterized chiefly by an "unconditional affirmation of the patient's claim for happiness" and the "liberation of morality from its tabooistic features."[8]

However, with these demands, psychoanalysis faces a fateful dilemma. The "claim for happiness," if truly affirmed, aggravates the conflict with a society which allows only controlled happiness, and the exposure of the moral taboos extends this conflict to an attack on the vital protective layers of society. This may still be practicable in a social environment where toleration is a constitutive element of personal, economic, and political relationships; but it must endanger the very idea of "cure" and even the very existence of psychoanalysis when society can no longer afford such toleration. The affirmative attitude toward the claim for happiness then becomes practicable only if happiness and the "productive development of the personality" are redefined so that they become compatible with the prevailing values, that is to say, if they are internalized and idealized. And this redefinition must in turn entail a weakening of the explosive content of psychoanalytic theory as well as of its explosive social criticism. If this is indeed (as I think) the course that revisionism has taken, then it is because of the objective social dynamic of the period: in a repressive society, individual happiness and productive development are in contradiction to society; if they are defined as values to be realized within this society, they become themselves repressive.

The subsequent discussion is concerned only with the later stages of Neo-Freudian psychology, where the regressive features of the movement appear as predominant. [224] The discussion has no other purpose than to throw into relief, by contrast, the critical implications of psychoanalytic theory emphasized in this study; the therapeutic merits of the revisionist schools are entirely outside the scope of this discussion. This limitation is enforced not only by my own lack of competence but also by a discrepancy between theory and therapy inherent in psychoanalysis itself. Freud was fully aware of this discrepancy, which may be formulated (much oversimplified) as follows: while psychoanalytic theory recognizes that the sickness of the individual is ultimately caused and sustained by the sickness of his civilization, psychoanalytic therapy aims at curing the individual so that he can continue to function as part of a sick civilization without surrendering to it altogether. The acceptance of the reality principle, with which psychoanalytic therapy ends, means the individual's acceptance of the civilized regimentation of his instinctual needs, especially sexuality. In Freud's theory, civilization appears as established in contradiction to the primary instincts and to the pleasure principle. But the latter survives in the id, and the civilized ego must permanently fight its own timeless past and forbidden future. Theoretically, the difference between mental health and neurosis lies only in the degree and effectiveness of resignation: mental health is successful, efficient resignation — normally so efficient that it shows forth as moderately happy satisfaction. Normality is a precarious condition. "Neurosis and psychosis are both of them an expression of the rebellion of the id against the outer world, of its ‘pain,' unwillingness to adapt itself to necessity — to ananke, or, if one prefers, of its incapacity to do so."[9] This rebellion, although originating in the instinctual "nature" of man, is a disease that has to be cured not only because it is struggling against a hopelessly superior power, but because it is struggling [225] against "necessity." Repression and unhappiness must be if civilization is to prevail. The "goal" of the pleasure principle — namely, to be happy — "is not attainable,"[10] although the effort to attain it shall not and cannot be abandoned. In the long run, the question is only how much resignation the individual can bear without breaking up. In this sense, therapy is a course in resignation: a great deal will be gained if we succeed in "transforming your hysterical misery into every day unhappiness," which is the usual lot of mankind.[11] This aim certainly does not (or should not) imply that the patient becomes capable of adjusting completely to an environment repressive of his mature aspirations and abilities. Still, the analyst, as a physician, must accept the social framework of facts in which the patient has to live and which he cannot alter.[12] This irreducible core of conformity is further strengthened by Freud's conviction that the repressive basis of civilization cannot be changed anyway — not even on the supra-individual, societal scale. Consequently, the critical insights of psychoanalysis gain their full force only in the field of theory, and perhaps particularly where theory is farthest removed from therapy — in Freud's "metapsychology."

The revisionist schools obliterated this discrepancy between theory and therapy by assimilating the former to the latter. This assimilation took place in two ways. First, the most speculative and "metaphysical" concepts [226] not subject to any clinical verification (such as the death instinct, the hypothesis of the primal horde, the killing of the primal father and its consequences) were minimized or discarded altogether. Moreover, in this process some of Freud's most decisive concepts (the_ relation between id and ego, the function of the unconscious, the scope and significance of sexuality) were redefined in such a way that their explosive connotations were all but eliminated. The depth dimension of the conflict between the individual and his society, between the instinctual structure and the realm of consciousness, was flattened out. Psychoanalysis was reoriented on the traditional consciousness psychology of pre-Freudian texture. The right to such reorientations in the interest of successful therapy and practice is not questioned here; but the revisionists have converted the weakening of Freudian theory into a new theory, and the significance of this theory alone will be discussed presently. The discussion will neglect the differences among the various revisionist groups and concentrate on the theoretical attitude common to all of them. It is distilled from the representative works of Erich Fromm, Karen Horney, and Harry Stack Sullivan. Clara Thompson [13] is taken as a representative historian of the revisionists.

The chief objections of the revisionists to Freud may be summed up as follows: Freud grossly underrated the extent to which the individual and his neurosis are determined by conflicts with his environment. Freud's "biological orientation" led him to concentrate on the phylogenetic and ontogenetic past of the individual: he considered the character as essentially fixed with the fifth or sixth year (if not earlier), and he interpreted the fate [227] of the individual in terms of primary instincts and their vicissitudes, especially sexuality. In contrast, the revisionists shift the emphasis "from the past to the present," from the biological to the cultural level, from the "constitution" of the individual to his environment.[15] "One can understand the biological development better if one discards the concept of libido altogether "and instead interprets the different stages" in terms of growth and of human relations."[16] Then the subject of psychoanalysis becomes the "total personality" in its "relatedness to the world;" and the "constructive aspects of the individual," his "productive and positive potentialities," receive the attention they deserve. Freud was cold, hard, destructive, and pessimistic. He did not see that sickness, treatment, and cure are a matter of "interpersonal relationships" in which total personalities are engaged on both sides. Freud's conception was predominantly relativistic: he assumed that psychology can "help us to understand the motivation of value judgments but cannot help in establishing the validity of the value judgments themselves."[17] Consequently, his psychology contained no ethics or only his personal ethics. Moreover, Freud saw society as "static" and thought that society developed as a "mechanism for controlling man's instincts," whereas the revisionists know "from the study of comparative cultures" that "man is not biologically endowed with dangerous fixed animal drives and that the only function of society is to control these." They insist that society "is not a static set of laws instituted in the past at the time of the murder of the primal father, but is rather a growing, changing, developing network of interpersonal [228] experiences and behavior." To this, the following insights are added:

One cannot become a human being except through cultural experience. Society creates new needs in people. Some of the new needs lead in a constructive direction and stimulate further development. Of such a nature are the ideas of justice, equality and cooperation. Some of the new needs lead in a destructive direction and are not good for man. Wholesale competitiveness and the ruthless exploitation of the helpless are examples of destructive products of culture. When the destructive elements predominate, we have a situation which fosters war.[18]

This passage may serve as a starting point to show the decline of theory in the revisionist schools. There is first the laboring of the obvious, of everyday wisdom. Then there is the adduction of sociological aspects. In Freud they are included in and developed by the basic concepts themselves; here they appear as incomprehended, external factors. There is furthermore the distinction between good and bad, constructive and destructive (according to Fromm: productive and unproductive, positive and negative), which is not derived from any theoretical principle but simply taken from the prevalent ideology. For this reason, the distinction is merely eclectic, extraneous to theory, and tantamount to the conformist slogan "Accentuate the positive." Freud was right; life is bad, repressive, destructive — but it isn't so bad, repressive, destructive. There are also the constructive, productive aspects. Society is not only this, but also that; man is not only against himself but also for himself.

These distinctions are meaningless and — as we shall try to show even wrong unless the task (which Freud took upon himself) is fulfilled: to demonstrate how, [229] under the impact of civilization, the two "aspects" are interrelated in the instinctual dynamic itself, and how the one inevitably turns into the other by virtue of this dynamic. Short of such demonstration, the revisionist "improvement" of Freud's "one-sidedness" constitutes a blank discarding of his fundamental theoretical conception. However, the term eclecticism does not adequately express the substance of the revisionist philosophy. Its consequences for psychoanalytic theory are much graver: the revisionist "supplementation" of Freudian theory' especially the adduction of cultural and environmental factors, consecrates a false picture of civilization and particularly of present-day society. In minimizing the extent and the depth of the conflict, the revisionists proclaim a false but easy solution. We shall give here only a brief illustration.

One of the most cherished demands of the revisionists is that the "total personality" of the individual — rather than his early childhood, or his biological structure, or his psychosomatic condition — must be made the subject of psychoanalysis:

The infinite diversity of personalities is in itself characteristic of human existence. By personality I understand the totality of inherited and acquired psychic qualities which are characteristic of one individual and which make the individual unique.[19]

I think it is clear that Freud's conception of counter-transference is to be distinguished from the present-day conception of analysis as an interpersonal process. In the interpersonal situation, the analyst is seen as relating to his patient not only with his distorted affects but with his healthy personality also. That is, the analytic situation is essentially a human relationship.[20] [230]

The preconception to which I am leading is this: personality tends toward the state that we call mental health or interpersonal adjustive success, handicaps by way of acculturation notwithstanding. The basic direction of the organism is forward.[21]

Again, the obvious ("diversity of personalities;" analysis as an "interpersonal process "), because it is not comprehended but merely stated and used, becomes a half-truth which is false since the missing half changes the content of the obvious fact.

The quoted passages testify to the confusion between ideology and reality prevalent in the revisionist schools. It is true that man appears as an individual who "integrates" a diversity of inherited and acquired qualities into a total personality, and that the latter develops in relating itself to the world (things and people) under manifold and varying conditions. But this personality and its development are pre-formed down to the deepest instinctual structure, and this pre-formation, the work of accumulated civilization, means that the diversities and the autonomy of individual "growth" are secondary phenomena. How much reality there is behind individuality depends on the scope, form, and effectiveness of the repressive controls prevalent at the given stage of civilization. The autonomous personality, in the sense of creative "uniqueness" and fullness of its existence, has always been the privilege of a very few. At the present stage, the personality tends toward a standardized reaction pattern established by the hierarchy of power and functions and by its technical, intellectual, and cultural apparatus.

The analyst and his patient share this alienation, and since it does not usually manifest itself in any neurotic symptom but rather as the hallmark of "mental health," [231] it does not appear in the revisionist consciousness. When the process of alienation is discussed, it is usually treated, not as the whole that it is, but as a negative aspect of the whole.[22] To be sure, personality has not disappeared: it continues to flower and is even fostered and educated — but in such a way that the expressions of personality fit and sustain perfectly the socially desired pattern of behavior and thought. They thus tend to cancel individuality. This process, which has been completed in the "mass culture" of late industrial civilization, vitiates the concept of interpersonal relations if it is to denote more than the undeniable fact that all relations in which the human being finds itself are either relations to other persons or abstractions from them. If, beyond this truism, the concept implies more — namely. that "two or more persons come to define an integrated situation" which is made up of "individuals" [23] — then the implication is fallacious. For the individual situations are the derivatives and appearances of the general fate, and, as Freud has shown, it is the latter which contains the clue to the fate of the individual. The general repressiveness shapes the individual and universalizes even his most personal features. Accordingly, Freud's theory is consistently oriented on early infancy — the formative period of the universal fate in the individual. The subsequent mature relations "re-create" the formative ones. The decisive relations are thus those which are the least interpersonal. In an alienated world, specimens of the genus confront each other: parent and child, male and female, then master and servant, boss and employee; they are interrelated at first in specific modes of the universal alienation. [232] If and when they cease to be so and grow into truly personal relations, they still retain the universal repressiveness which they surmount as their mastered and comprehended negative. Then, they do not require treatment.

Psychoanalysis elucidates the universal in the individual experience. To that extent, and only to that extent, can psychoanalysis break the reification in which human relations are petrified. The revisionists fail to recognize (or fail to draw the consequences from) the actual state of alienation which makes the person into an exchangeable function and the personality into an ideology. In contrast, Freud's basic "biologistic" concepts reach beyond the ideology and its reflexes: his refusal to treat a reified society as a "developing network of interpersonal experiences and behavior" and an alienated individual as a "total personality" corresponds to the reality and contains its true notion. If he refrains from regarding the inhuman existence as a passing negative aspect of forward-moving humanity, he is more humane than the good-natured, tolerant critics who brand his "inhuman" coldness. Freud does not readily believe that the "basic direction of the organism is forward." Even without the hypothesis of the death instinct and of the conservative nature of the instincts, Sullivan's proposition is shallow and questionable. The "basic" direction of the organism appears as a quite different one in the persistent impulses toward relief of tension, toward fulfillment, rest, passivity — the struggle against the progress of time is intrinsic not only to the Narcissistic Eros. The sadomasochistic tendencies can hardly be associated with a forward direction in mental health, unless "forward" and "mental health" are redefined to mean almost the opposite of what they are in our social order — "a social order which is in some ways grossly inadequate for the development of healthy and happy human beings."[24] Sullivan. refrains from such a redefinition; he makes his concepts conform with conformity:

The person who believes that he voluntarily cut loose from his earlier moorings and by choice accepted new dogmata, in which he has diligently indoctrinated himself, is quite certain to be a person who has suffered great insecurity. He is often a person whose self-organization is derogatory and hateful. The new movement has given him group support for the expression of ancient personal hostilities that are now directed against the group from which he has come. The new ideology rationalizes destructive activity to such effect that it seems almost, if not quite, constructive. The new ideology is especially palliative of conflict in its promise of a better world that is to rise from the debris to which the present order must first be reduced. In this Utopia, he and his fellows will be good and kind — for them will be no more injustice, and so forth. If his is one of the more radical groups, the activity of more remote memory in the synthesis of decisions and choice may be suppressed almost completely, and the activity of prospective revery channelled rigidly in the dogmatic pattern. In this case, except for his dealings with his fellow radicals, the man may act as if he had acquired the psychopathic type of personality discussed in the third lecture. He shows no durable grasp of his own reality or that of others, and his actions are controlled by the most immediate opportunism, without consideration of the probable future.

The passage illuminates the extent to which the interpersonal theory is fashioned by the values of the status quo. [234] If a person has "cut loose from his earlier moorings" and "accepted new dogmata," the presumption is that he has "suffered great insecurity," that his "self-organization is hateful and derogatory," that his new creed "rationalizes destructive activity" — in short, that he is the psychopathic type. There is no suggestion that his insecurity is rational and reasonable, that not his self-organization but the others' is derogatory and hateful, that the destructiveness involved in the new dogma might indeed be constructive in so far as it aims at a higher stage of realization. This psychology has no other objective standards of value than the prevailing ones: health, maturity, achievement are taken as they are defined by the given society — in spite of Sullivan's awareness that, in our culture, maturity is "often no particular reflection on anything more than one's socioeconomic status and the like."[26] Deep conformity holds sway over this psychology, which suspects all those who "cut loose from their earlier moorings" and become "radicals" as neurotic (the description fits all of them, from Jesus to Lenin, from Socrates to Giordano Bruno), and which almost automatically identifies the "promise of a better world" with "Utopia," its substance with "revery," and mankind's sacred dream of justice for all with the personal resentment (no more injustice "for them ") of maladjusted types. This "operational" identification of mental health with "adjustive success" and progress eliminates all the reservations with which Freud hedged the therapeutic objective of adjustment to an inhuman society [27] and thus commits psychoanalysis to this society far more than Freud ever did.

[235] Behind all the differences among the historical forms of society, Freud saw the basic inhumanity common to all of them, and the repressive controls which perpetuate, in the instinctual structure itself, the domination of man by man. By virtue of this insight Freud's "static concept of society" is closer to the truth than the dynamic sociological concepts supplied by the revisionists. The notion that "civilization and its discontent" had their roots in the biological constitution of man profoundly influenced his concept of the function and goal of therapy. The personality which the individual is to develop, the potentialities which he is to realize, the happiness which he is to attain — they are regimented from the very beginning, and their content can be defined only in terms of this regimentation. Freud destroys the illusions of idealistic ethics: the "personality" is but a "broken" individual who has internalized and successfully utilized repression and aggression. Considering what civilization has made of man, the difference in the development of personalities is chiefly that between an unproportional and a proportional share of that "everyday unhappiness" which is the common lot of mankind. The latter is all that therapy can achieve.

Over and against such a "minimum program," Fromm and the other revisionists proclaim a higher goal of therapy: a' optimal development of a person's potentialities and the realization of his individuality." Now it is precisely this goal which is essentially unattainable — not because of limitations in the psychoanalytic techniques but because the established civilization itself, in its very structure, denies it. Either one defines "personality" and "individuality" in terms of their possibilities within the established form of civilization, in which case their realization is for the vast majority tantamount to successful adjustment. Or one defines [236] them in terms of their transcending content, including their socially denied potentialities beyond (and beneath) their actual existence; in this case, their realization would imply transgression, beyond the established form of civilization, to radically new modes of "personality" and "individuality" incompatible with the prevailing ones. Today, this would mean "curing" the patient to become a rebel or (which is saying the same thing) a martyr. The revisionist concept vacillates between the two definitions. Fromm revives all the time-honored values of idealistic ethics as if nobody had ever demonstrated their conformist and repressive features. He speaks of the productive realization of the personality, of care, responsibility, and respect for one's fellow men, of productive love and happiness — as if man could actually practice all this and still remain sane and full of "well-being" in a society which Fromm himself describes as one of total alienation, dominated by the commodity relations of the "market." In such a society, the self-realization of the "personality" can proceed only on the basis of a double repression: first, the "purification" of the pleasure principle and the internalization of happiness and freedom; second, their reasonable restriction until they become compatible with the prevailing unfreedom and unhappiness. As a result, productiveness, love, responsibility become "values" only in so far as they contain manageable resignation and are practiced within the framework of socially useful activities (in other words, after repressive sublimation); and then they involve the effective denial of free productiveness and responsibility — the renunciation of happiness.

For example, productiveness, proclaimed as the goal of the healthy individual under the performance principle, must normally (that is, outside the creative, "neurotic," and "eccentric" exceptions) show forth in good business, administration, service, with the reasonable expectation of recognized success. Love must be semi-sublimated and even inhibited libido, staying in line with the sanctioned conditions imposed on sexuality. This is the accepted, "realistic" meaning of productiveness and love. But the very same terms also denote the free realization of man, or the idea of such realization. The revisionist usage of these terms plays on this ambiguity, which designates both the unfree and the free, both the mutilated and the integral faculties of man, thus vesting the established reality principle with the grandeur of promises that can be redeemed only beyond this reality principle. This ambiguity makes the revisionist philosophy appear to be critical where it is conformist, political where it is moralistic. Often, the style alone betrays the attitude. It would be revealing to make a comparative analysis of the Freudian and Neo-Freudian styles. The latter, in the more philosophical writings, frequently comes close to that of the sermon, or of the social worker; it is elevated and yet clear, permeated with goodwill and tolerance and yet moved by an esprit de sérieux which makes transcendental values into facts of everyday life. What has become a sham is taken as real. In contrast, there is a strong undertone of irony in Freud's usage of  "freedom," "happiness," "personality;" either these terms seem to have invisible quotation marks, or their negative content is explicitly stated. Freud refrains from calling repression by any other name than its own; the Neo-Freudians sometimes sublimate it into its opposite.

But the revisionist combination of psychoanalysis with idealistic ethics is not simply a glorification of adjustment. The Neo-Freudian sociological or cultural orientation provides the other side of the picture — the "not only but also." The therapy of adjustment is [238] rejected in the strongest terms; [28] the "deification" of success is denounced."[29] Present-day society and culture are accused of greatly impeding the realization of the healthy and mature person; the principle of "competitiveness, and the potential hostility that accompanies it, pervades all human relationships." [30] The revisionists claim that their psychoanalysis is in itself a critique of society:

The aim of the "cultural school" goes beyond merely enabling man to submit to the restrictions of his society; in so far as it is possible it seeks to free him from its irrational demands and make him more able to develop his potentialities and to assume leadership in building a more constructive society.[31]

The tension between health and knowledge, normality and freedom, which animated Freud's entire work, here disappears; a qualifying "in so far as it is possible" is the only trace left of the explosive contradiction in the aim. "Leadership in building a more constructive society" is to be combined with normal functioning in the established society.

This philosophy is achieved by directing the criticism against surface phenomena, while accepting the basic premises of the criticized society. Fromm devotes a large part of his writing to the critique of the "market economy" and its ideology, which place strong barriers in the way of productive development.[32] But here the matters rests. The critical insights do not lead to a transvaluation of the values of productiveness and the [239] "higher self" — which are exactly the values of the criticized culture. The character of the revisionist philosophy shows forth in the assimilation of the positive and the negative, the promise and its betrayal. The affirmation absorbs the critique. The reader may be left with the conviction that the "higher values" can and should be practiced within the very conditions which betray them; and they can be practiced because the revisionist philosopher accepts them in their adjusted and idealized form — on the terms of the established reality principle.

Fromm, who has demonstrated the repressive features of internalization as few other analysts have done, revives the ideology of internalization. The "adjusted" person is blamed because he has betrayed the "higher self," the "human values"; therefore he is haunted by "inner emptiness and insecurity" in spite of his triumph in the "battle for success." Far better off is the person who has attained "inner strength and integrity;" though he may be less successful than his "unscrupulous neighbor,"

... he will have security, judgment, and objectivity which will make him much less vulnerable to changing fortunes and opinions of others and will in many areas enhance his ability for constructive work.[33]

The style suggests the Power of Positive Thinking to which the revisionist critique succumbs. It is not the values that are spurious, but the context in which they are defined and proclaimed: "inner strength" has the connotation of that unconditional freedom which can be practiced even in chains and which Fromm himself once denounced in his analysis of the Reformation.[34]

If the values of "inner strength and integrity" are supposed to be anything more than the character traits that [240] the alienated society expects from any good citizen in his business (in which case they merely serve to sustain alienation), then they must pertain to a consciousness that has broken through the alienation as well as its values. But to such consciousness these values themselves become intolerable because it recognizes them as accessories to the enslavement of man. The "higher self" reigns over the domesticated impulses and aspirations of the individual, who has sacrificed and renounced his "lower self" not only in so far as it is incompatible with civilization but in so far as it is incompatible with repressive civilization. Such renunciation may indeed be an indispensable step on the road of human progress. However, Freud's question — whether the higher values of culture have not been achieved at too great a cost for the individual — should be taken seriously enough to enjoin the psychoanalytic philosopher from preaching these values without revealing their forbidden content, without showing what they have denied to the individual. What this omission does to psychoanalytic theory may be illustrated by contrasting Fromm's idea of love with Freud's. Fromm writes:

Genuine love is rooted in productiveness and may properly be called, therefore, "productive love." Its essence is the same whether it is the mother's love for the child, our love for man, or the erotic love between two individuals ... certain basic elements may be said to be characteristic of all forms of productive love. These are care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge.[35]

Compare with this ideological formulation Freud's analysis of the instinctual ground and underground of love, of the long and painful process in which sexuality with all its polymorphous perversity is tamed and inhibited [241] until it ultimately becomes susceptible to fusion with tenderness and affection — a fusion which remains precarious and never quite overcomes its destructive elements. Compare with Fromm's sermon on love Freud's almost incidental remarks in "The Most Prevalent Form of Degradation in Erotic Life":

... we shall not be able to deny that the behavior in love of the men of present-day civilization bears in general the character of the psychically impotent type. In only very few people of culture are the two strains of tenderness and sensuality duly fused into one: the man almost always feels his sexual activity hampered by his respect for the woman and only develops full sexual potency when he finds himself in the presence of a lower type of sexual object ... [36]

According to Freud, love, in our culture, can and must be practiced as "aim-inhibited sexuality," with all the taboos and constraints placed upon it by a monogamic-patriarchal society. Beyond its legitimate manifestations, love is destructive and by no means conducive to productiveness and constructive work. Love, taken seriously, is outlawed: "There is no longer any place in present-day civilized life for a simple natural love between two human beings."[37] But to the revisionists, productiveness, love, happiness, and health merge in grand harmony; civilization has not caused any conflicts between them which the mature person could not solve without serious damage.

Once the human aspirations and their fulfillment are internalized and sublimated to the "higher self," the social issues become primarily spiritual issues, and their solution becomes a moral task. The sociological concreteness [242] of the revisionists reveals itself as surface: the decisive struggles are fought out in the "soul" of man. Present-day authoritarianism and the "deification of the machine and of success" threaten the "most precious spiritual possessions" of man."[38] The revisionist minimization of the biological sphere, and especially of the role of sexuality, shifts the emphasis not only from the unconscious to consciousness, from the id to the ego, but also from the presublimated to the sublimated expressions of the human existence. As the repression of instinctual gratification recedes into the background and loses its decisive importance for the realization of man, the depth of societal repression is reduced. Consequently, the revisionist emphasis on the influence of "social conditions" in the development of the neurotic personality is sociologically and psychologically far more inconsequential than Freud's "neglect" of these conditions. The revisionist mutilation of the instinct theory leads to the traditional devaluation of the sphere of material needs in favor of spiritual needs. Society's part in the regimentation of man is thus played down; and in spite of the outspoken critique of some social institutions, the revisionist sociology accepts the foundation on which these institutions rest.

Neurosis, too, appears as an essentially moral problem, and the individual is held responsible for the failure of his self-realization. Society, to be sure, receives a share of the blame, but, in the long run, it is man himself who is at fault:

Looking at his creation, he can say, truly, it is good. But looking at himself what can he say? ... While we have created wonderful. things we have failed to make of ourselves beings for whom this tremendous [243] effort would seem worthwhile. Ours is a life not of brotherliness, happiness, contentment but of spiritual chaos and bewilderment.[39]

The disharmony between society and the individual is stated and left alone. Whatever society may do to the individual, it prevents neither him nor the analyst from concentrating on the "total personality" and its productive development. According to Horney, society creates certain typical difficulties which, "accumulated, may lead to the formation of neuroses."[40] According to Fromm, the negative impact of society upon the individual is more serious, but this is only a challenge to practice productive love and productive thinking. The decision rests with man's "ability to take himself, his life and happiness seriously; on his willingness to face his and his society's moral problem. It rests upon his courage to be himself and to be for himself."[41] In a period of totalitarianism, when the individual has so entirely become the subject-object of manipulation that, for the "healthy and normal" person, even the idea of a distinction between being "for himself" and "for others" has become meaningless, in a period when the omnipotent apparatus punishes real non-conformity with ridicule and defeat — in such a situation the Neo-Freudian philosopher tells the individual to be himself and for himself. To the revisionist, the brute fact of societal repression has transformed itself into a "moral problem" — as it has done in the conformist philosophy of all ages. And as the clinical fact of neurosis becomes, "in the last analysis, a symptom of moral failure,"[42] [244] the "psychoanalytic cure of the soul" becomes education in the attainment of a "religious" attitude.[43]

The escape from psychoanalysis to internalized ethics and religion is the consequence of this revision of psychoanalytic theory. If the "wound" in the human existence is not operative in the biological constitution of man, and if it is not caused and sustained by the very structure of civilization, then the depth dimension is removed from psychoanalysis, and the (ontogenetic and phylogenetic) conflict between pre-individual and supra-individual forces appears as a problem of the rational or irrational, the moral or immoral behavior of conscious individuals. The substance of psychoanalytic theory lies not simply in the discovery of the role of the unconscious but in the description of its specific instinctual dynamic, of the vicissitudes of the two basic instincts. Only the history of these vicissitudes reveals the full depth of the oppression which civilization imposes upon man. If sexuality does not play the constitutional role which Freud attributed to it, then there is no fundamental conflict between the pleasure principle and the reality principle; man's instinctual nature is "purified" and qualified to attain, without mutilation, socially useful and recognized happiness. It was precisely because he saw in sexuality the representative of the integral pleasure principle that Freud was able to discover the common roots of the "general" as well as neurotic unhappiness in a depth far below all individual experience, and to recognize a primary "constitutional" repression underlying all consciously experienced and administered repression. He took this discovery very seriously — much too seriously to identify happiness with its efficient sublimation in productive love and other productive activities. Therefore he considered a civilization [245] oriented on the realization of happiness as a catastrophe, as the end of all civilization. For Freud, an enormous gulf separated real freedom and happiness from the pseudo freedom and happiness that are practiced and preached in a repressive civilization. The revisionists see no such difficulty. Since they have spiritualized freedom and happiness, they can say that "the problem of production has been virtually solved":[44]

Never before has man come so close to the fulfillment of his most cherished hopes as today. Our scientific discoveries and technical achievements enable us to visualize the day when the table will be set for all who want to eat ... [45]

These statements are true — but only in the light of their contradiction: precisely because man has never come so close to the fulfillment of his hopes, he has never been so strictly restrained from fulfilling them; precisely because we can visualize the universal satisfaction of individual needs, the strongest obstacles are placed in the way of such satisfaction. Only if the sociological analysis elucidates this connection does it go beyond Freud; otherwise it is merely an inconsequential adornment, purchased at the expense of mutilating Freud's theory of instincts.

Freud had established a substantive link between human freedom and happiness on the one hand and sexuality on the other: the latter provided the primary source for the former and at the same time the ground for their necessary restriction in civilization. The revisionist solution of the conflict through the spiritualization of freedom and happiness demanded the weakening of this link. Therapeutic findings may have motivated the theoretical [246] reduction in the role of sexuality; but such a reduction was in any case indispensable for the revisionist philosophy.

Sexual problems, although they may sometimes prevail in the symptomatic picture, are no longer considered to be in the dynamic center of neuroses. Sexual difficulties are the effect rather than the cause of the neurotic character structure. Moral problems on the other hand gain in importance.[46]

This conception does far more than minimize the role of the libido; it reverses the inner direction of Freudian theory. Nowhere does this become clearer than in Fromm's reinterpretation of the Oedipus complex, which tries to "translate it from the sphere of sex into that of interpersonal relations."[47] The gist of this "translation" is that the essence of the incest wish is not "sexual craving" but the desire to remain protected, secure — a child. "The foetus lives with and from the mother, and the act of birth is only one step in the direction of. freedom and independence." True but the freedom and independence to be gained are (if at all) afflicted with want, resignation, and pain; and the act of birth is the first and most terrifying step in the direction away from satisfaction and security. Fromm's ideological interpretation of the Oedipus complex implies acceptance of the unhappiness of freedom, of its separation from satisfaction; Freud's theory implies that the Oedipus wish is the eternal infantile protest against this separation — protest not against [247] freedom but against painful, repressive freedom. Conversely, the Oedipus wish is the eternal infantile desire for the archetype of freedom: freedom from want. And since the (unrepressed) sex instinct is the biological carrier of this archetype of freedom, the Oedipus wish is essentially "sexual craving." Its natural object is, not simply the mother qua mother, but the mother qua woman — female principle of gratification. Here the Eros of receptivity, rest, painless and integral satisfaction is nearest to the death instinct (return to the womb), the pleasure principle nearest to the Nirvana principle. Eros here fights its first battle against everything the reality principle stands for: against the father, against domination, sublimation, resignation. Gradually then, freedom and fulfillment are being associated with these paternal principles; freedom from want is sacrificed to moral and spiritual independence. It is first the "sexual craving" for the mother-woman that threatens the psychical basis of civilization; it is the "sexual craving" that makes the Oedipus conflict the prototype of the instinctual conflicts between the individual and his society. If the Oedipus wish were in essence nothing more than the wish for protection and security ("escape from freedom "), if the child desired only impermissible security and not impermissible pleasure, then the Oedipus complex would indeed present an essentially educational problem. As such, it can be treated without exposing the instinctual danger zones of society.

The same beneficial result is obtained by the rejection of the death instinct. Freud's hypothesis of the death instinct and its role in civilized aggression shed light on one of the neglected enigmas of civilization; it revealed the hidden unconscious tie which binds the oppressed to their oppressors, the soldiers to their generals, the individuals to their masters. The wholesale destruction marking the progress of civilization within the framework of domination has been perpetuated, in the face of its possible abolition, by the instinctual agreement [248] with their executioners on the part of the human instruments and victims. Freud wrote, during the First World War:

Think of the colossal brutality, cruelty and mendacity which is now allowed to spread itself over the civilized world. Do you really believe that a handful of unprincipled placehunters and corrupters of men would have succeeded in letting loose all this latent evil, if the millions of their followers were not also guilty?[48]

But the impulses which this hypothesis assumes are incompatible with the moralistic philosophy of progress espoused by the revisionists. Karen Homey states succinctly the revisionist position:

Freud's assumption [of a Death Instinct] implies that the ultimate motivation for hostility or destructiveness lies in the impulse to destroy. Thus he turns into its opposite our belief that we destroy in order to live: we live in order to destroy.[49]

This rendering of Freud's conception is incorrect. He did not assume that we live in order to destroy; the destruction instinct operates either against the life instincts or in their service; moreover, the objective of the death instinct is not destruction per se but the elimination of the need for destruction. According to Homey, we wish to destroy because we "are or feel endangered, humiliated, abused," because we want to defend" our safety or our happiness or what appears to us as such." No psychoanalytic theory was necessary to arrive at these conclusions, with which individual and national aggression has been justified since times immemorial. Either our safety is really threatened, in which case our wish to destroy is a sensible and rational reaction; or we [249] only "feel" it is threatened, in which case the individual and supra-individual reasons for this feeling have to be explored.

The revisionist rejection of the death instinct is accompanied by an argument that indeed seems to point up the "reactionary" implications of Freudian theory as contrasted with the progressive sociological orientation of the revisionists. Freud's assumption of a death instinct

... paralyzes any effort to search in the specific cultural conditions for reasons which make for destructiveness. It must also paralyze efforts to change anything in these conditions. If man is inherently destructive and consequently unhappy, why strive for a better future?[50]

The revisionist argument minimizes the degree to which, in Freudian theory, impulses are modifiable, subject to the "vicissitudes" of history. The death instinct and its derivatives are no exception. We have suggested that the energy of the death instinct does not necessarily "paralyze" the efforts to obtain a "better future;" on the contrary, such efforts are paralyzed by the systematic constraints which civilization places on the life instincts, and by their consequent inability to "bind" aggression effectively. The realization of a "better future" involves far more than the elimination of the bad features of the "market," of the "ruthlessness" of competition, and so on; it involves a fundamental change in the instinctual as well as cultural structure. The striving for a better future is "paralyzed" not by Freud's awareness of these implications but by the revisionist "spiritualization" of them, which conceals the gap that separates the present from the future. Freud did not believe in prospective social changes that would alter human nature sufficiently to free man from external and internal oppression; however, his "fatalism" was not without qualification.

The mutilation of the instinct theory completes the reversal of Freudian theory. The inner direction of the latter was (in apparent contrast to the "therapeutic program" from id to ego) that from consciousness to the unconscious, from personality to childhood, from the individual to the generic processes. Theory moved from the surface to the depth, from the "finished" and conditioned person to its sources and resources. This movement was essential for Freud's critique of civilization: only by means of the "regression" behind the mystifying forms of the mature individual and his private and public existence did he discover their basic negativity in the foundations on which they rest. Moreover, only by pushing his critical regression back to the deepest biological layer could Freud elucidate the explosive content of the mystifying forms and, at the same time, the full scope of civilized repression. Identifying the energy of the life instincts as libido meant defining their gratification in contradiction to spiritual transcendentalism: Freud's notion of happiness and freedom is eminently critical in so far as it is materialistic — protesting against the spiritualization of want.

The Neo-Freudians reverse this inner direction of Freud's theory, shifting the emphasis from the organism to the personality, from the material foundations to the ideal values. Their various revisions are logically consistent: one entails the next. The whole may be summed up as follows: The "cultural orientation" encounters the societal institutions and relationships as finished products, in the form of objective entities — given rather than made facts. Their acceptance in this form demands the shift in psychological emphasis from infancy to maturity, for only at the level of developed consciousness does the cultural environment become definable as determining character and personality over and above the biological level. Conversely, only with the playing down of biological factors, the mutilation of the instinct theory, is the personality definable in terms of objective cultural values divorced from the repressive ground which denies their realization. In order to present these values as freedom and fulfillment, they have to be purged of the material of which they are made, and the struggle for their realization has to be turned into a spiritual and moral struggle. The revisionists do not insist, as Freud did, on the enduring truth value of the instinctual needs which must be "broken" so that the human being can function in interpersonal relations. In abandoning this insistence, from which psychoanalytic theory drew all its critical insights, the revisionists yield to the negative features of the very reality principle which they so eloquently criticize.

Footnotes (back to top)

  1. See Edward Glover, Freud or Jung? (New York: W.W. Norton, 1950). [back]
  2. "Ueber Methode und Aufgabe einer analytischen Sozialpsychologie," in Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung 1(1932), 39-40. [back]
  3. Ibid., pp. 51, 47. [back]
  4. Ibid., p. 53. [back] )
  5. In Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung 3(1934). [back]
  6. Ibid., p. 215. [back]
  7. Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung 4(1935), 374-375. [back]
  8. Ibid., p. 395. [back]
  9. "The Loss of Reality in Neurosis and Psychosis," in Collected Papers (London: Hogarth Press, 1950), II, 279. [back]
  10. Civilization and Its Discontents (London: Hogarth Press, 1949), p. 39. [back]
  11. Breuer and Freud, Studies in Hysteria (New York: Nervous and Mental Disease Monograph no. 61, 1936), p. 232. See also A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis (New York: Gerden City Publishing Co., 1943), pp. 297-398. [back]
  12. See New Introductory Lectures (New York: W.W. Norton, 1933), p. 206. [back]
  13. Psychoanalysis: Evolution and Development (New York: Hermitage House, 1951). [back]
  14. Thompson, Psychoanalysis, pp. 15, 182. [back]
  15. Ibid., pp. 9, 13, 26-27, 155. [back]
  16. Ibid, p. 42. [back]
  17. Erich Fromm, Man for Himself (New York and Toronto: Rinehart, 1947), p. 34. [back]
  18. Thompson, Psychoanalysis, p. 143.  [back]
  19. Erich Fromm, Man for Himself, p. 50. [back]
  20. Clara Thompson, Psychoanalysis, p. 108. [back]
  21. Harry Stack Sullivan, Conceptions of Modern Psychiatry (Washington: William Alanson White Psychiatric Foundation, 1947), p. 48. [back]
  22. Compare Erich Fromm's discussion of the "marketing orientations," in Man for HImself, pp. 67ff. [back]
  23. Ernest Beaglehole, "Interpersonal Theory and Social Psychology," in A Study in Interpersonal Relations, ed. Patrick Mullahy (New York: Hermitage Press, 1950), p. 54. [back]
  24. Patrick Mullahy, introduction to A Study in Interpersonal Relations, page xvii. [back]
  25. Sullivan, Conceptions of Modern Psychiatry, p. 96. See Helen Merrel Lynd's review in The Nation, January 15, 1949. [back]
  26. The Interpersonal Theory of Psychiatry (New York: W.W. Norton, 1953), p. 298. [back]
  27. See Freud's statement in A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis, pp. 332-333. [back]
  28. Fromm, Psychoanalysis and Religion (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1950), pp. 73ff. [back]
  29. Ibid., p. 119. [back]
  30. Karen Horney, The Neurotic Personality of Our Time (New York: W.W. Norton, 1937), p. 284. [back]
  31. Clara Thompson, Psychoanalysis, p. 152. [back]
  32. Fromm, Man for Himself, especially pp. 67ff, 127-128. [back]
  33. Fromm, Psychoanalysis and Religion, p. 75. [back]
  34. Escape from Freedom (New York: Rinehart, 1941), pp. 74ff. [back]
  35. Fromm, Man for Himself, p. 98. [back]
  36. Collected Papers, IV, 210. [back]
  37. Civilization and Its Discontents, p. 77 note. [back]
  38. Fromm, Psychoanalysis and Religion, p. 119. [back]
  39. Fromm, Psychoanalysis and Religion , p. 1. [back]
  40. The Neurotic Personality, p. 284. [back]
  41. Fromm, Man for Himself, p. 250. [back]
  42. Fromm, Man for Himself, page viii. [back]
  43. Fromm, Psychoanalysis and Religion, p. 76. [back]
  44. Fromm, Man for Himself, p. 140. [back]
  45. Fromm, Psychoanalysis and Religion, p. 1. [back]
  46. Horney, New Ways in Psychoanalysis (New York: W.W. Norton, 1939), p. 10. [back]
  47. Fromm, Psychoanalysis and Religion, p. 79ff. See also Fromm's more sophisticated interpretation in The Forgotten Language (New York: Rinehart, 1951), pp. 231-235. [back]
  48. A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis, pp. 130-131. [back]
  49. Horney, New Ways in Psychoanalysis,  pp. 130-131. [back]
  50. Horney, New Ways in Psychoanalysis, p. 132. [back]


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