Christopher Bray on Combining Marx wh Freud
I once mentioned to Martin Jay that the Frankfurt School had erred in combining Marx's dynamic social theory with the static Freudian system of psychoanalysis, for which I received a quizzical look. I didn't manage much of a follow-up, but by "static," I meant that Freud had a pessimistic view of human nature, with the consequence that the stages of individual psychological development would work out the same way, no matter what the social system, contrary to Marx's view. Perhaps Christopher Bray, in "The Frankfurt School was a place of fearsome seriousness" (Spectator, October 1, 2016), can put my point better than I was able:
Founded in 1923, the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research was a place of fearsome seriousness. Its key thinkers - Adorno, the philosophers Herbert Marcuse and Max Horkheimer, the psychologist Erich Fromm and, more tangentially, the critic Walter Benjamin - were obsessed with the failure of the German Revolution of 1919. By marrying the early Marx's social theory to Freudian psychoanalysis, they hoped to understand why the working classes had renounced socialism for 'modern consumer capitalist society and [subsequently] Nazism . . . . [This] wasn't an easy marriage . . . . Freud and Marx were such different thinkers . . . . Freud’s view of human nature was essentially tenebrous, [while] Marx's was almost facetiously sunny. Whereas Freud argued that repression was the painful price we paid for civilisation, Marx believed that the freedom [that] capitalism's inevitable demise would usher in would make man not only whole, but wholly good . . . . Wide-ranging as Freud's theories were, they were also tightly tethered to the particular. He thought you were explicable by reference to the unconscious dreads and desires engendered by your ineluctably conflicted relations with your parents. But for Marx such talk of individuated existences was bourgeois tosh. He saw you as an expression of whatever class structure you'd been born into. As for the surreptitious sway of the unconscious, forget it. Not even your sentient mind has that much clout: 'It is not the consciousness of human beings which determines their existence,' wrote Marx, 'but their social existence [which] determines their consciousness.'Bray raises a number of other significant points, but I will stop here, where I feel vindicated.