The intensive and extensive interest in psychology is too vast to characterize; it includes those who seek relief from a malaise with society as well as disenchanted radicals who seek an alternative to the impoverishment of past political praxis; and this only begins the list. The very size and diversity of the list, however, if it resists characterization, promotes one conclusion: psychology is not a passing fad on the fringes of society; rather it is deeply entangled in the social reality. For this reason any study of psychology must simultaneously study the society and culture of which it is a part. The shift in social attention towards psychology is no accident, it testifies to a shift in the social structure itself. In baldest terms, the individual psyche commands attention exactly because it is undergoing fragmentation and petrification; the living substance known as the individual is hardening. The autonomous ego—always problematic—proves to be no match for the social collectivity which has at its call alternatively brute force, jobs, television, or the local newspaper. This is no conspiracy; rather it is ingrained in the social relations which both nourish and poison human relations. What haunts the living is the spectre of individual and psychic suffocation; this is the spectre that a conformist psychology seeks to put to rest.

Within psychology new theories and therapies replace old ones at an accelerating rate. In a dynamic society Freud is too old to be a fashion, too new to be a classic. The phenomenon of the newer replacing the new is not confined to psychology; it is true in all realms of thought. The new not only surpasses the old, but displaces and dislodges it. The ability as well as the desire to remember atrophies. Most of the social sciences turn radically ahistorical; one hardly studies Hegel within philosophy, Freud within psychology, Marx within economics, and so on.

To those who accept the premise of a dynamic society, this is proof of progress and vitality. The truth of such a premise, however, is in doubt. Dynamism can be perpetual motion without movement. In question is whether within the dynamism there does not inhere a static moment: the structure of society. The evident acceleration of production and consumption in the economic sphere, and hysteria and frenzy in life itself, does not preclude that it is the same spinning faster and faster. If this is true, the application of planned obsolescence to thought itself has the same merit as its application to consumer goods;the new is not only shoddier than the old, it fuels an obsolete social system that staves off its replacement by manufacturing the illusion it is perpetually new.

The American new left has not been untouched by subjective reductionism. The very effort to think through and back which in different forms belongs to the best of Marxist and psychoanalytic theory is undermined by a crisis of the individual that can only think about itself. Evidence of this is everywhere: on the left as well as in revisionist and conformist psychology. This crisis is no fraud; the chill of the social relations cuts into the core of the individual. The effort to keep psychically warm, to alleviate the coldness that seeps in, shunts aside any time or need for sustained thought or theory. Yet because the left is a left it retains a social analysis of society. The very problem, however, is that this analysis degenerates more and more into slogans, thoughtless finds of the moment. Fetishized subjectivity attracts magnetically fetishized slogans that serve more to sort out ones friends and enemies than figure out the structure of reality. This is a dynamic that keeps bourgeois society rattling along; the very breathing space that could give life to theory is lost in the desperate search for life itself. This search without theory mimics death: reified activity. It grooves along in the ruts of bourgeois society.

The defence of theory, however, if not boring, is suspect: it serves no purpose. Citations from Lenin on the importance of revolutionary theory for a revolutionary movement as a response to this change are insufficient. Rather theory if it is to become a force must comprehend why it is not; it is obliged to study not only a left that has junked theory, but a ‘counter-culture’—and culture—that has phased out books and words for images and feelings. Talk of a revolutionary ‘counter-culture’ is the gab of the culture industry itself—if investigations into the nature of the prevailing culture is foresworn. What is unique to the left is common to the establishment, at least the vanguard of the establishment. The left duplicates as well as negates bourgeois culture. To illuminate the former one must look at the latter.