- Paperback: 464 pages
- Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 3 edition (May 15, 1979)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0226716392
- ISBN-13: 978-0226716398
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.2 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #691,434 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Freud: The Mind of the Moralist 3rd Edition
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Philip Rieff remained obscure throughout his life (conservative to the point of being reactionary), producing a vast and profound work in the quarterlies, written mainly for culture elites (professional intellectuals and academics). He wrote in a condescending and hard to understand style with jargon derived from the Social Sciences. If he was unable to find a word to express his exact meaning he created a neologism. From 1950 to 1959 he was married to the soon to be famous radical chic political activist and literary icon, Susan Sontag. They had one son, David Rieff, a well known polemicist and pundit.
When this, his seminal work, came out in 1959 it was read in the groves of academe, and, on the strength of this book and his teaching reputation, Rieff was awarded a fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania. He remained at UofP, a legendary figure in the classroom, until being forced by failing health to retire in 1993.
"Freud: The Mind of The Moralist" is impossible to summarize. A critic once remarked that reading Rieff is like "chewing ball bearings and finding the occasional cherry." This book is a rigorous exposition of the labyrinthine intellectual and moral implications of Freud's thought. Reading the footnotes alone is like attending a seminar in The History of Ideas. Rieff's erudition is staggering.
Rieff's critique explains Freud's thought as both symptom of, and advocate for, modernity. And "psychological man", described in the final chapter, is the ultimate expression of the interior life of modern man. Psychological Man (Rieff's coinage) is the "ideal type" now populating the Western world. Psychological Man does not believe in anything except his own sense of well being, and to this end Freud is the perfect therapist.
Freud said: "If you have to ask the meaning of life you are already sick, for objectively speaking, it has no meaning. No one asks the meaning of a dog's life." This book raises, once more, the question of nihilism, the specter of which, since the French revolution (according to Rieff), has hung over the culture of the modern West .
"Freud: The Mind of the Moralist" was first published in 1959; the second edition followed shortly thereafter in 1961, and in 1979 this third, and final edition. There are no revisions of substance in either the second or third editions, although in these later editions Rieff wrote significant prefaces about the character and private life of Freud. The second editon preface, which contains an assessment of Freud's correspondence, is included here in the third edition.
This work is not, as another reviewer suggests, a biography of Freud, nor is it a summary of his ideas. It is sociologist Rieff's critical analysis of Freud's thought and how it is both symptom and explanation of the death of culture in the West.
As a social theory of it's own, this book was extremely prescient. As far as I can tell, Rieff is reading Freudian psychoanalysis as a response to the disenchantment of secularization, to the "death of God". The subject matter may be Freud, but the figures of Durkheim and Weber loom very large over the text.
Rieff's argument is that the loss of religion as both existential orientation and collective conscience means that the tools we have for coping with contingency and limitation have been fatally diminished. Freud's solution to the malaise is a rational one, a turn inwards to an examination of the psyche. But far from liberating us from the impediments of prejudice and tradition, Freud's inward turn was meant to be reconciliation with the inevitability suffering and constraint. The super-ego and the reality principle are the new bases of morality in a world without Gods. Hence, with fuller knowledge of our mental capacity, we are better able to accept our fate. This stands in stark contrast to the liberatory left-wing interpretations of psycho-analysis that Rieff later attacks in Triumph of the Therapeutic.
The paradox, however, is that with the interrogation of the mind, the process of secular rationalization has now rooted itself even deeper; inside the very inner life of the self. We are more trapped in the iron cage than ever. And the psychoanalysts themselves emerge as the new technicians of the self, who with a twist of logic are able to transform any problem whatsoever into a matter of the mind. The danger is that this may psychologize everything, resulting in a therapeutic totalitarianism. It is interesting here that Rieff's work intersects with another famous commentator on Freud who was on a contrasting trajectory, Herbert Marcuse. Also, these arguments about the power of therapy over modern culture have become a mainstay of academic sociology in recent decades, and Rieff's pioneering work in the area often remains unrecognized.
The overall tone of this work of Rieff's therefore, is ambivalent. Rieff sees no promise of a new religion at this point. He sees no re-emergent collective conscience to lead us out of debilitating individualism and back to the reassurance of community. The future is to be a lonely one. Yet he also remains cautious about the extent of the psychoanalyst's powerful grip over the modern mind, the transformation of almost arbitrary interpretation into a system of medicine that Freud implies and the triviality of Freud's contemporary American imitators. This isn't bedtime reading.
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