Psychoanalysis in the Age of Totalitarianism  book cover
1st Edition

Psychoanalysis in the Age of Totalitarianism

ISBN 9781138793897
Published May 26, 2016 by Routledge
308 Pages

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Book Description

Psychoanalysis in the Age of Totalitarianism provides rich new insights into the history of political thought and clinical knowledge. In these chapters, internationally renowned historians and cultural theorists discuss landmark debates about the uses and abuses of ‘the talking cure’ and map the diverse psychologies and therapeutic practices that have featured in and against tyrannical, modern regimes.

These essays show both how the Freudian movement responded to and was transformed by the rise of fascism and communism, the Second World War, and the Cold War, and how powerful new ideas about aggression, destructiveness, control, obedience and psychological freedom were taken up in the investigation of politics. They identify important intersections between clinical debate, political analysis, and theories of minds and groups, and trace influential ideas about totalitarianism that took root in modern culture after 1918, and still resonate in the twenty-first century. At the same time, they suggest how the emergent discourses of ‘totalitarian’ society were permeated by visions of the unconscious.

Topics include: the psychoanalytic theorizations of anti-Semitism; the psychological origins and impact of Nazism; the post-war struggle to rebuild liberal democracy; state-funded experiments in mind control in Cold War America; coercive ‘re-education’ programmes in Eastern Europe, and the role of psychoanalysis in the politics of decolonization. A concluding trio of chapters argues, in various ways, for the continuing relevance of psychoanalysis, and of these mid-century debates over the psychology of power, submission and freedom in modern mass society.

Psychoanalysis in the Age of Totalitarianism will prove compelling for both specialists and readers with a general interest in modern psychology, politics, culture and society, and in psychoanalysis. The material is relevant for academics and post-graduate students in the human, social and political sciences, the clinical professions, the historical profession and the humanities more widely.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Catalina Bronstein

Part 1


1. Daniel Pick and Matt ffytche: Introduction

2. Joel Isaac: Totalitarianism: A Sketch

Part 2

Reckonings with Fascism

3. Stephen Frosh: Studies in Prejudice: Theorising Antisemitism in the Wake of the Nazi Holocaust

4. Lyndsey Stonebridge: ‘Inner Emigration’: On the Run with Hannah rendt and Anna Freud

5. Matt ffytche: The Superego as Social Critique: Frankfurt School Psychoanalysis and the Fall of the Bourgeois Order

Part 3

Precarious Democracies

6. Michal Shapira: Psychoanalytic Criminology, Childhood, and the Democratic Self

7. Dagmar Herzog: The Aggression Problems of our Time: Psychoanalysis as Moral Politics in Post-Nazi


8. Peter Mandler: Totalitarianism and Cultural Relativism: The Dilemma of the Neo-Freudians

9. Sally Alexander: D. W.Winnicott and the Social Democratic Vision

Part 4

Writing the History of Psychoanalysis

10. John Forrester and Eli Zaretsky: Totalitarianism and the Talking Cure: A Conversation

Part 5

Mind Control, Communism and the Cold War

11. Knuth Müller: Psychoanalysis and American Intelligence Since 1940: Unexpected Liaisons

12. Ana Antic: Therapeutic Violence: Psychoanalysis and the ‘re-education’ of political prisoners in Cold War Yugoslavia and Eastern Europe

Part 6

Colonial Subjects

13. Erik Linstrum: Spectres of Dependency: Psychoanalysis in the Age of Decolonization

14. Ross Truscott and Derek Hook: The Vicissitudes of Anger: Psychoanalysis in the Time of Apartheid

Part 7

Why Psychoanalysis?

15. Jacqueline Rose: Total Belief – Delirium in the West

16. Michael Rustin: The Totalitarian Unconscious 

17. Ruth Leys: Post-psychoanalysis and Post-Totalitarianism 

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Matt ffytche is Director of the Centre for Psychoanalytic Studies at the University of Essex, and Editor of Psychoanalysis and History. He is an Associate of the British Psychoanalytical Society and has written widely on Freud and American neo-conservatism, psychoanalysis and mid-twentieth century social science, and the relation between psychoanalysis and literature.

Daniel Pick is a psychoanalyst and historian. He is Professor of History at Birkbeck College, University of London and a Fellow of the British Psychoanalytical Society and of the Royal Historical Society. An editor of History Workshop Journal, he is also a member of the editorial board of the New Library of Psychoanalysis, as well as the advisory boards of Psychoanalysis and History and Cambridge Studies in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture.


"This volume is unique in exploring what its editors call "the two-way traffic between ideas of psychoanalysis and totalitarianism." We recognize that, whatever its focus on introspection, psychoanalysis is a social and political enterprise. It thrived in postwar Germany because it had a subject, the immediate Nazi past, and a heroic leader, Alexander Mitscherlich, who both interpreted the Nazi movement and lived out his opposition to it. We also learn how psychoanalysis can succumb to its own dogmas and confusions. We emerge with many questions about totalitarianism ("totalism" better serves us psychologically) but with a deepened sense of psychoanalysis in the world."-Professor Robert Jay Lifton, author of Witness to an Extreme Century: A Memoir.

"Among this book’s contributions, two stand out forcefully. It widens and deepens the meaning of both psychoanalysis and totalitarianism, in the context of a history of the Western world from the 1920s to the 1960s. It also evidences the movements of minds at work around these topics, exploring connections between different realms of phantasy and actuality, such as children’s mental health in relation to democratic, authoritarian and totalitarian political attitudes; imagination, belief and transference in relation to freedom; psychoanalysis in relation to intelligence work and political torture; and economic and political oppression, including colonialism, in relation to the loss of subjectivity and unconscious dependency. The result provides fascinating reading and opens up new thoughts in transdisciplinary fields of knowledge."-Professor Luisa Passerini, European University Institute, Florence, author of  Fascism in Popular Memory.  

"This important and wide-ranging book explores psychoanalysis, its endeavour to enhance psychic freedom, and the totalitarian forces that aim to make free thought impossible. These essays show us psychoanalysis in radical conflict with dictatorship, discuss the consequences of totalitarian regimes for the psychoanalytic movement, highlight the power of racism and suggest how much political thought and sociology may have to gain from psychoanalytic conceptualisations."-Dr Franco De Masi, Training analyst, Italian Psychoanalytical Society and former president, Centro Milanese di Psicanalasi, author of Making Death Thinkable.