The Human Implications of Instinctivistic “Radicalism”

The Human Implications of Instinctivistic “Radicalism”

I am glad to have the opportunity of answering Herbert Marcuse’s article on the “Social Implications of Freudian Revisionism” in the last issue of this journal. This is so partly because Marcuse singles me out as a representative of the “revisionist” theory and accuses me of having changed from a radical thinker and critic of society into a spokesman for adjustment to the status quo. More importantly, I want to answer Marcuse because he touches upon some of the most significant problems of psychoanalytic theory and its social implications, problems which are of general interest for any student of contemporary society.

However, I cannot follow Marcuse’s procedure of lumping various “revisionist” writers together. I can only speak for myself; and this for a very good reason: although there are certain points which Horney’s and Sullivan’s writings have in common with my own, they differ fundamentally with regard to the very problems which Marcuse deals with in his paper. (I have myself pointed to various basic differences with Sullivan in The Sane Society {1}.) This lumping together has the unfortunate result that Marcuse substantiates his brief against me by quoting Homey or Sullivan whenever there is no passage from my writings which would serve the purpose.

MARCUSE’S PAPER contains two main theses. First, that Freudian theory is not only correct psychologically, but a radical theory in its explicit and implicit criticism of society. Second, that my own theories are philosophically idealistic, advising adjustment to present alienated society, and only paying lip service to the criticism of this same society.

Let us take up these two claims, one after another:

Indeed, it is true that Freud was a critic of society, but his criticism was not that of contemporary capitalistic society, but of civilization as such. Happiness, for Freud, is satisfaction of the sexual instinct, specifically of the wish for free access to all available females. Primitive man, according to Freud, has yet to cope with exceedingly few restrictions to the satisfaction of these basic desires. Furthermore, he can give vent to his aggression. It is the repression of these desires which leads to ever-increasing civilization and, at the same time, to an increasing incidence of neurosis. “Civilized man,” says Freud, “has exchanged some part of his chances of happiness for a measure of ‘security.’ “{2} Freud’s concept of man was the same which underlies most anthropological speculation in the nineteenth century. Man, as he is molded by capitalism, is supposed to be the natural man, hence capitalism the form of society which corresponds to the needs of human nature. This nature is competitive, aggressive, egotistical. It seeks its fulfillment in victory over one’s competitors. In the sphere of b...