The author of this by turns absorbing and tantalizing set of essays confesses that she came to write her book as a ‘complete outsider to psychoanalysis’. Her approach is more that of a historian of ideas who sees psychoanalysis as ‘an integral part of twentieth-century social and intellectual history’. Integral and also increasingly complex, it should be said, as the professional implantation of the discipline—something distinct from its intellectual currency—expanded and diversified internationally. The first five biennial congresses of the International Psychoanalytical Association, founded in 1910, were held in Europe’s Germanic zone, the 1929 Oxford meeting marking a first step outside that area and overseas. The pattern changed radically from 1949 onwards, as regular activity resumed, unevenly from country to country, after a ten-year wartime rupture. Germany disappeared from the itinerary for decades and in 1969 the first southern European venue (Rome) was chosen, followed within a decade by the first non-European locations (Jerusalem and New York). In the forty years since then, the Americas have hosted more than half of the ipa’s congresses. Dagmar Herzog comes to this field as a specialist in German history with particular commitments in the history of sexuality. Her scholarly writings include Intimacy and Exclusion (1996), a monographic study of religion and politics in pre-revolutionary Baden; the comparative synthesis Sexuality in Europe: A Twentieth-Century History (2011); and Sex in Crisis (2008), a critical intervention in the politics of Christianity in the usa today. Her eccentric position in relation to psychoanalysis as a whole allows her to be agnostic about the discipline, while still delivering approving judgements about particular figures she finds congenial, and setting them in contexts that reveal interesting connections and linkages.

Herzog’s project, then, is not what the book’s title suggests it is: a comprehensive account of how psychoanalysis was articulated with the global conjuncture of the Cold War—though her scholarly apparatus, taking up one-third of the book, includes a richly informed two-page note on Soviet attitudes towards Freudian thought. Rather she offers us a set of micro-histories showing how and why certain psychoanalytic ideas found resonance in particular local contexts. ‘What remains ill-understood’, she says at one point, ‘is the impact of historical conditions—and psychoanalysts’ eagerness for cultural relevance—on the content of psychoanalytic theory’, and her essays are attempts to understand what that ‘impact’ might be. Her methodological rubric is that ‘there is no intrinsically necessary relationship between a particular psychoanalytic concept and the uses to which it can be put.’ The contexts, ‘the historical conditions’, provide the grounds for the currency of an idea. This allows her a chronological flexibility in her genealogies. She is also taken by the chronological (and geographical) idiosyncrasies of psychoanalytic influence, here almost miming one of Freud’s own notions of Nachträglichkeit, splendidly caught in Jean Laplanche’s ‘afterwardsness’. Her historiographical style is montage: a peculiarly informative but incomplete constellation of ideas, individuals, institutions and socio-historical background. At its best, this produces scintillating recuperative advocacy, as in the case of Karen Horney; and her forensic account of West Germany before the Wende is fascinating. At its least successful, it leaves us with introductory treatments of figures who are already objects of complex discussion elsewhere (this is most obvious in the account of Félix Guattari).

The notion of the Cold War, and the subsidiary idea of an ‘age of catastrophes’, are used loosely to refer to the period after the Second World War—though the ‘age of catastrophes’ is more properly the era of Nazism and the war itself, and a poetic designation at that. They are both epochal and vague, but provide useful historical pegs to mark out a terrain of investigation. They have institutional-historical import as settings for the migration of psychoanalysts out of Europe, mainly to the us, in flight from fascism and occupation, and for the attempts to domicile analysis in the field of explanations of and interventions into the ‘self’, the object of concern for both psychiatry and psychoanalysis. A further element in this complex post-war force-field is the competing pressure of resurgent religion, which uses Freudian theory as the means to establish its own moral pertinence. Thus, Herzog’s first chapter is devoted to the conservative turn of us psychoanalysis, with its problematic reconceptualization of sexuality and libido, emphasizing ego and a reassertion of morality, and to the ways in which this conflict—with Catholicism especially—led to a normative valorization of the family and ‘compulsory heterosexuality’. At the same time, the deaccentuation of Freud’s libido theory permitted figures like Karen Horney and Erich Fromm to develop a more capacious notion of culture and its powerful impact on the organization and expression of the drives. Horney is one of the figures Herzog wishes to rescue from the condescension of psychoanalytic posterity: misunderstood, but nevertheless the underground well-spring of later developments, where her dictum that ‘all is not sexuality that looks like it’ allows the interaction of culture and drives to be rethought.

Herzog is a historian of sexuality, and her second chapter, on ‘the durability of homophobia’, undertakes a confident investigation into the interaction of psychoanalysis, sexology and what she calls ‘sex rights activism’, and the attempt by psychoanalysis to carve out its own domain and ethos in opposition to them. Here she shows how the ‘creative flexibility and furious tenacity’ of psychoanalysis centred on the abjected figure of the homosexual, who embodies pure sex as a pathological restriction of moral connection. Rehearsing the history of psychoanalytic accounts of homosexuality, Herzog comes to the post-war claim that homosexuals cannot love: they merely have repetitive sex. This moral judgement is supported by a ‘love doctrine’, where love is almost definitionally absent from same-sex relationships and suffocatingly normative for heterosexual ones. Psychoanalysis retreated from sexuality to focus on presenting ‘a mixed, at once secular and religious “moral sensibility” that reinforced conservative family values under the sign of “health”’. For Herzog this was new: ‘a post-war us innovation . . . consolidated in direct response to Kinsey.’ This trope of us psychoanalysis was challenged by the sex radicalism of the 60s and 70s, reinforced by a biomedicalization of psychiatry. The latter’s ‘scientific’ inflection allowed for homosexuality to be a ‘common behaviour variant’, and its research failed to demonstrate any inevitable distress within variant sexual orientations, in response to which, Herzog claims, ‘psychoanalysis had to reinvent itself’. This reinvention was centred on the re-evaluation of the pre-Oedipal and the growth of the explanatory function of narcissism. Homosexuals were still seen as the exemplars of dysfunction, but now for their fixation at an earlier organization of identity; women who promoted non-vaginal orgasms were similarly tied to narcissistic failings.

Narcissism then became the object of cultural critique in Christopher Lasch’s anguished conservative assault on contemporary America, The Culture of Narcissism, rewriting Riesman’s Lonely Crowd around the ‘void’ that untranscended pre-Oedipal narcissism generates and perpetuates. For Herzog, us psychoanalysis in this period was almost uniformly complicit in homophobia, with signal exceptions like Robert Stoller, the author of Sex and Gender (1968) and Perversion (1975) amongst other things, whose work she encapsulates as a move from ‘drive to drama’—from the expression of an essential sexuality to a composite view of sex as the site and theatre of multiple desires. She also mentions Kenneth Lewes, whose recent reinstatement of the drive is accompanied by a defence of ‘promiscuity’ that seems to owe much to the early radicalism of the Gay Liberation Front or the queer rhizomatics of Guy Hocquenghem—a connection she misses. This collocation of seemingly contradictory psychoanalytic notions for a single positive purpose is the occasion for a restatement of her methodological dictum: ‘there was and is, apparently, no necessary correlation between a particular psychoanalytic concept’ and ‘the politics that could, and can, be made of it’; ‘each and every notion in the Freudian and post-Freudian edifice’ can be used ‘both for malicious and for generous purposes’.

Herzog’s third chapter is an account of the creation and development of the idea of trauma in the fraught world of post-Holocaust West Germany and the struggle over reparations for those who survived the camps and killing fields. As the West German government sought to limit its liabilities to survivors, deploying a barely disguised anti-semitism to invalidate the psychic injuries that persisted long after the encounter with the Nazi killing machine, psychoanalysts were called on to use their expertise to adjudicate the claims and to provide professional support for the regime’s refusal to acknowledge the long-lasting effects of the genocide. Freudian theory, which saw psychic distress as originating in early childhood, was deployed to dismiss the idea that environmental or social factors might produce neurotic or even psychotic symptoms. Such support for the official policy of limiting reparations to cases of ‘material’ injury was complicated by the fact that many of the professionals involved had been ‘enmeshed’ in the wartime establishment, and their neutrality was clearly questionable, even as they promoted the idea that financial reparation or its possibility was itself a pathogenic factor. But other traditions and analysts were brought in to oppose this: Kurt Knoll and Ulrich Venzlaff in West Germany and the émigré psychoanalyst in New York, Kurt Eissler, were called on to reassess the standard aetiology of psychic problems. The latter especially began to think through notions of distance and objectivity, whilst examining bias in the counter-transference, and thus demanding different strategies in therapy with survivors.

Though not successful in eliminating opinion against survivors within the German situation, these figures began to face and assess the bewilderingly complex evidence concerning the impact of the particular violence of the Nazi period, and contributed to the internationalization of focus on the effects of the Shoah, with a series of conferences in Detroit in the 1960s. The notion of trauma that developed was both singularized—the uniqueness of the Holocaust emerging from an array of discourses that were both metaphysical and political—and then generalized, as the us war in Vietnam produced sequels that came to be understood in terms that derived partly from psychoanalysis, as in Robert Jay Lifton’s work on ‘psychic numbing’. ‘Survivor experiences’ ranging from the Holocaust to Hiroshima and Vietnam now found a common language, even as the specific differences between, say, the targets of genocide, the survivors of exemplary bombing, or the brutalization and dissociation of soldiers in an imperialist war were occluded. But the idea of experiential trauma, and its clinical avatar, post-traumatic stress disorder, now began their rise to a sort of dominance within the field of social psychology and psychiatry. The same notions were deployed in Latin America to examine the impact of torture on those repressed by the juntas, even as the analysts who used the model grew suspicious of the very depoliticizing tendencies of the universal causal agency that trauma had become—its ‘amoralization’, as David Becker puts it.