[lit-ideas] Edmondson on The Death of Sigmund Freud

  • From: "Lawrence Helm" <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "Lit-Ideas " <Lit-Ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sun, 1 Sep 2013 15:22:37 -0700

Early last month I referred to an article by Mark Edmundson, "The Ideal
English Major" http://chronicle.com/article/The-Ideal-English-Major/140553/
And a couple of days later decided I disagreed with a lot what he said and
was puzzled by much of the rest.  I sent for two of his books. The first was
The Fine Wisdom and Perfect Teachings of the Kings of Rock and Roll, a
Memoir.  It was a "coming of age" sort of thing so I set it aside.  The
second was The Death of Sigmund Freud, Fascism, Psychoanalysis and the Rise
of Fundamentalism.  


I have a few quibbles with Edmundson's text but as a final assessment
decided he wrote a very entertaining and provocative book.  His "parallel
lives," Freud and Hitler, approach is very clever and perceptive.  Not only
was Freud confronted by Hitler, by way of the Nazis in Austria in a physical
way, but Freud advanced Psychoanalytical theories about the nature of "the
Patriarch" which Hitler exemplified perhaps better than anyone in modern


Freud spent his last years in England; which he loved above other countries.
He had the fame that he had never received in Austria.  Despite that he
continued working on his Moses and Monotheism, a book he knew would
antagonize Jews and Christians alike.  And here it seems that Edmundson is
indicating that he finds in this book something beyond what has been
described -- an even more subtle Freud and a kind of Freudianism worthy of
being embraced by future followers (including it seems Edmundson himself).
Moses monotheism wasn't simply "one God," it was "one invisible God."  God
in Judaism had to be internalized and since he was this made the Jew more
capable of dealing in abstract ideas than the non-Jew.  Jews make up a
proportionally higher number of mathematicians, physicists and scientists in
general as well as anything else requiring the ability to work well with


While Edmondson doesn't mention Fukuyama what he ends up describing is very
like Fukuyama's ending in The End of History and the Last Man.  Perhaps
Liberal Democracy seems to be defeating all its competitors, but there is
the Superman who may start history up again because "the Last Man" that
lumpenproletariat Nietzsche describes is boring and worthless and incapable
of being joined by the Ubermensch.  Freud said he never read Nietzsche
because he was afraid he would find all his ideas in his writings, and his
"Patriarch" sounds very like Nietzsche's Ubermensch.   And the common
people, both Nietzsche and Freud say, love him.


[From Edmundson page 241]  "Freud also warns against thinking that the
fascist and fundamentalist are radically other.  Book after book, essay
after essay, has come into the world trying to show what set the German
Nazis apart from everyone else.  It was their political past, their culture,
their military tradition; it was the debased Treaty of Versailles; it was
the Depression of 1929.  The same scholarly ritual is visited on Japan . . .
We seem desperate to know how different these peoples are from ourselves.
Freud indicates that such thinking is delusory; we are all fascists, we are
all fundamentalists, at least potentially.  Through authoritarianism we
attain assurance and happiness - though of a certain sort.  It is only
constant critical labor that keeps the worst political and religious
possibilities from becoming fact.  


"Freud also suggests that fascism and fundamentalism, because of their
amazing powers of attraction, will always constitute an emergency.  When a
powerful or rich nation turns to either, something must be done, and the
more quickly, the better.  One of the reasons that France and England may
have been slow to act prior to the Second World War was that their statesmen
did not understand the joy - no less a word should attach to it - that
fascism offers people.  Inner strife dissolves and the people become
powerful and strong.  They have never felt so good before and they will not
readily give that feeling up.  Others see their joy and are drawn to it.
Such people make determined and potent foes."


Edmundson, invoking Freud, is implying it seems to me that Fukuyama's "end
of history" should not have been emphasized in his book.  The "Last Man"
cannot possibly be the ultimate last man because the Superman, the
Patriarch, will always arise and give the people the joy of war.   There
will always be clashes of civilizations because the people love war.


In referring to Islamic and Christian "patriarchal religions" that love
nothing so much as a good war, Edmondson doesn't deviate from history, but
when he writes "The most powerful and most technologically advanced nation
in the twenty-first century has a sizable constituency who wish for little
so much as religious rule by the state, theocracy" he is misinformed.   That
was advanced as a slur against Christianity a few years back but there was
never anything to it.  The "constituency" referred to is called "Theonomy"
by most, but there are other names.  It comprises a theological position
maintained by a few theologians and their followers in the Orthodox
Presbyterian Church, the Presbyterian Church in America and a few others,
but it was never a predominate or even very influential view in those
denominations.  Also, it has never grown.  If Theonomy is what Edmondson is
referring to it does not in my opinion comprise a "sizable constituency."  


If on the other hand Edmondson is referring to those Christians who call
themselves "Fundamentalists" then he is wrong if believes they seek
"religious rule by the state, theocracy."  They believe in the near-term
return of Christ and have no interest in religious rule by the state which
would involve Christians remaining on earth longer than their near-term
eschatology provides.  


Edmundson weakened his book by bringing in Fundamentalism in near the end.
He wants to have Fundamentalism stand for something all men are tempted by
but he doesn't make that case.  A much better case exists for the Superman,
, e.g. Hitler.   But if Hitler is the ideal modern Patriarch/Ubermensch,
what does that make Hitler's ideal followers?  Certainly not




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