Stephen J. Costello – Freud’s Political Philosophy

THE LETTER 37 (Summer 2006) pages 38-55

I: Freud and liberalism

The aim of this paper is to explore Freud’s political philosophy, to examine his description of himself as a liberal, to outline and define the liberal and conservative doctrines, to situate them within the broader philosophical tradition and to suggest that Freud is an admixture of the liberal and the conservative, a man then who defies easy definition.

That Freud viewed himself as a liberal is not in doubt as the following quotation from a letter of his indicates in which he states: ‘I remain a liberal of the old school’1. Freud’s supposed liberalism has been largely adumbrated, albeit in a wholly unsystematic and unstructured way, in three main works: Why War?2, Thoughts for the Time on War and Death3 and in his great cultural commentary Civilization and Its Discontents4. Drawing on these and other works, I will outline Freud’s political philosophy under four main headings: (1) the rule of law, (2) liberty, (3) distributive justice, and (4) just war theory. But, first, some brief, general comments on the relationship between psychoanalysis and politics.

II: Psychoanalysis and politics

The link between psychoanalysis and politics is an extremely interesting and important one which has not, it has to be said, been fully…

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