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New Left Review I/129, September-October 1981


Christopher Lasch

The Freudian Left and Cultural Revolution

Both the strengths of the New Left’s critique of domination and its underlying weaknesses reveal themselves, with particular sharpness and clarity, in the attraction of the New Left to an intellectual tradition seemingly resistant to radical reinterpretation yet essential, it turned out, to the new theory of revolution—the theory of cultural revolution—that haunted the imagination of the sixties. What brought about this improbable alliance of psychoanalysis and cultural radicalism, of Freud and Marx? We seem to have here a remarkable instance of the attraction of opposites. Freud puts more stress on human limitations than on human potential, he has no faith in social progress, and he insists that civilization is founded on repression. There isn’t much here, at first glance, that would commend itself to reformers or revolutionaries—and in the last analysis, the theorists of the Freudian left in one way or another have had to get around or explain away the deterministic, tragic side of Freud’s thought, which has more in common with St. Augustine and Calvin than with Marx. Why then did the left bother with psychoanalysis in the first place?

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