Here's something intriguing:
Edmundson deftly entwines the gripping story of the dying Freud's flight to England after the Anschluss in 1938 with a persuasive case for his standing as a political thinker.
Could it be that psychoanalysis, always in Freud's hands and especially as he aged much more a scientific philosophy than a philosophical science, has standing as political theory? Quite possibly. You can detect in Freud's theory of the soul, split as it is in contention amongst endlessly warring instincts, authorities, selves, and circumstances of the material world, the repressed Augustinian soul, pulled by guilt and longing between the highs and lows of the spirit. But Freud's touchstone of course was not Christian but Mosaic, and in the flesh of Mosaic authority Freud recognized the Hebraic cognate of psychological 'bipolarity' on an individual level that translated most compellingly into the collective memory of a whole people.
One interesting point of departure from these kinds of observations is followed by Jeffrey Olick in the current issue of The Hedgehog Review [sorry, not online]. He wants to see how the repressed returns culturally via collective memories that move from latency to potency in the world of social speech and action. But here's another question. If Freud's psychology depicts a political theory, can we describe the triumph of the therapeutic in the West, and particularly in America, as a reaction to certain failures of politics? Typically, and even in the social theory of Rieff, the rise of psychotherapy is understood as a cultural development stemming from failures of Western culture -- the exhaustion and bankruptcy of the civilization of Christendom that Nietzsche diagnosed so convincingly that Weber, a genius, took it simply as a given.
Tocqueville suggests something different. His psychology follows the Augustinian model of bipolarity -- fevered passion on the one hand, melancholy brooding on the other -- and predicts that as democratic equality expands and deepens around the world, equality in freedom (the great promise of democracy) stands the greatest risk of disappearing in an equality of servitude on account of the tendency of democracy to erode the institutions that prevent free individuals from disengaging from the risky public world of unscripted encounters with others. For Tocqueville, though those institutions have deep and requisite roots in religious and familial authority, the institutions themselves are political -- most pointedly because they are voluntary associations concerned with the essentially political question of how and upon what basis the sharing of life by neighbors is to be ordered. Tocquevillian institutions cannot be understood except as political institutions, and they cannot come into being among unpolitical people.
This is important because it inverts the typical causal relationship between politics and psychology: the former, Tocqueville suggests, decisively impacts the latter, and not the other way around. If this is so, the triumph of the therapeutic in America would appear less as an originally socio-cultural phenomenon that has wound up impacting the way we do politics (a common narrative) and more as the result of a breakdown of the American political system that Tocqueville praised so insistently for its deep network of voluntary institutions, which were, he claimed, indispensable to a life of freedom instead of slavery in the world of equality that was our fate.
On such a Tocquevillian account, it makes little sense to consider Freud's psychology as leading to political-theoretical conclusions -- not because psychology and politics have no relation, of course, but because such an approach moves analytically in the less illuminating, even misleading, direction. Freud himself appears to have moved in that direction, and a fascinating addition to Freud studies would consider how Freud's gradual recognition that he had to grapple with political authority belies a certain backward logic to the whole discipline of psychotherapy. If Tocqueville is right, the triumph of the therapeutic is a massive cultural attempt to compensate for a giant hole in Western politics. Not the death of God -- or, in Plato's terms, of philosophy and the beautiful soul -- but the death of politics, of 'beautiful institutions,' launched the West down the psychotherapeutic road. To push the point, the failure of Western politics on the Tocquevillian model I'm developing was interpreted psychologically (perhaps first by Nietzsche) as a psychological trauma (driving the Western individual mad) which required the medical treatment of something less than the soul and more than the individual called the psyche.
Tocqueville claimed that we were in transition between the aristocratic and the democratic age, and in many ways we still appear to be in that transition. Indeed, for Tocqueville this is a good thing. We ought, he claimed, to work to maintain ourselves in that condition of flux, for the vestiges of aristocratic authority helped us maintain workable ground rules for interacting with one another in the awkward nakedness of our individual freedom. But the failure of the West to maintain flourishing intermediary institutions, between state and individual and based upon voluntary association, made the maintenance of that flux a politicalis impossibility. Without institutions to save us, we turned to philosophy. Only philosophy had, as the Enlightenment project to prove morality failed, failed us as well. Psychotherapy had to be invented to tell us stories about the epistemological crisis that had befallen us, and what we could do about it, that were both comprehensible and compelling. So rather than Freud having political implications, Freud is a political implication; rather than trying to unpack the impact of the therapeutic on politics, an interesting but secondary project, political theorists might instead unpack the way in which psychotherapy itself is an organic attempt among broken polities to cope with the condition of betweenness that Tocqueville described without the benefit of the political tools that Tocqueville deemed necessary for any hope of success at that very enterprise.
The implications of such a move are somewhat grim, because they suggest that the triumph of the therapeutic can never be a real triumph, and the more ubiquitous and deep-seated it becomes the greater the index of our failure and distance from the true solution to the political catastrophe of the West. But they are optimistic in another way. If the therapeutic is simply a consequence of a specific problem -- a problem that political science, for once, actually offers us practical tools to 'solve' or mitigate -- rather than the manifestation of an immanent, irreversible change along the path of Western cultural development -- then agency returns to the disgruntled, dissatisfied, and traumatized Western individual. What's more, that agency regains its political character. Rather than having to channel his or her energies into non-political movements, or to force the round peg of religious or psychological or cultural ideology into the square hole of democratic politics, the Western person today may regain the possibility of working through a legitimate politics toward legitimately political ends -- which then conduce toward the greater or deeper aspirations he or she cultivates.
But it won't be as easy as Rawls, for instance, might make it out to be. Channeling our agency through politics explains how to act, but it doesn't explain how our actions must be informed in order for us to act well. But there Tocqueville supplies another set of answers that will have to be taken up in this space another day.