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Freud's Political Philosophy

The Letter, Issue 37, Summer 2006, Pages 38 - 55


Stephen J. Costello

I: Freud and liberalism

The aim of this paper is to explore Freud's political philosophy, to examine his description of himself as a liberal, to outline and define the liberal and conservative doctrines, to situate them within the broader philosophical tradition and to suggest that Freud is an admixture of the liberal and the conservative, a man then who defies easy definition.

That Freud viewed himself as a liberal is not in doubt as the following quotation from a letter of his indicates in which he states: 'I remain a liberal of the old school'[1]. Freud's supposed liberalism has been largely adumbrated, albeit in a wholly unsystematic and unstructured way, in three main works: Why War?[2], Thoughts for the Time on War and Death[3] and in his great cultural commentary Civilization and Its Discontents[4]. Drawing on these and other works, I will outline Freud's political philosophy under four main headings: (1) the rule of law, (2) liberty, (3) distributive justice, and (4) just war theory. But, first, some brief, general comments on the relationship between psychoanalysis and politics.

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