Separate      -           Connected
Future         -           Past
New            -           Old
Open           -           Closed

As with some later feminist criticisms of Freud, Horney attempted to retrieve female sexuality, and by extension a valid form of feminine existence, by appealing to a genuinely independent nature and holding culture culpable for women's subordinate status.

Beauvoir's misgivings about Freud's account of femininity stem from two sources, a feminist suspicion that women, in psychoanalytic discourse, are understood on the basis of a masculine model, and an existentialist conviction that human beings are self-defining, choosing themselves through their own actions. Following her existentialist convictions, Beauvoir insists that even when women abdicate their freedom, they do so as agents responsible for their own destinies, not merely as passive victims following a developmentally determined fate.

Following her feminist convictions, Beauvoir recognizes that women's choices may be constrained by powerful social and bodily forces, but insists that women nonetheless bear ultimate responsibility for realizing their own possibilities by emancipating themselves.

Nonetheless, Beauvoir's dispute with Freud appears to be less about whether constraint is part of our being in the world, and more about where that constraint is located: psychoanalysis locates constraint internally, in the constitution of the psyche itself, not only in the situations of social life, whereas Beauvoir locates it externally, in the cultural forces that impact even the most intimate sense of our own agency.

Beauvoir thus claims that her own interpretations of women's femininity will disclose women in their liberty, oriented freely by the future and not simply explained by a past. She thereby ratifies the promise of existentialism for feminism.

Irigaray seeks to create a representation for women that would not be a designation of what she is, defining her by and holding her to some concrete essence, but would allow her to exist on her own terms and speak for herself.

The erasure of sexual difference enables a metaphysics of substance in which sexual identity is a matter of fixed and pre-determined being, of underlying essences or common properties, rather than a form of becoming and self-generation.

[Emily Zakin]
‘Psychoanalytic Feminism’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

The long pregnancy of the human female and the protracted childhood of her infant, who is not self-sustaining for seven years or more, have produced the agon of psychological dependency that burdens the male for a lifetime.

Man justifiably fears being devoured by woman, who is nature’s proxy [...] Masculinity must fight off effeminacy day by day. Woman and nature stand ever ready to reduce the male to boy and infant.

The chthonian superflux of emotion is a male problem. A man must do battle with that enormity, which resides in woman and nature. He can attain selfhood only by beating back the daemonic cloud that would swallow him up: mother-love, which we may just as well call mother-hate.

He must transform himself into an independent being, that is, a being free of her. If he does not, he will simply fall back into her. Reunion with the mother is a siren call haunting our imagination. Once there was bliss, and now there is struggle.

The male genital metaphor is concentration and projection. Nature gives concentration to man to help him overcome his fear. Man approaches woman in bursts of spasmodic concentration. This gives him the delusion of temporary control of the archetypal mysteries that brought him forth. It gives him the courage to return.

[Camille Paglia]
Sexual Personae, p.9-10, 18-19, 27

Related posts:

Shallow Feminism / Deep Feminism

Shallow      -           Deep

I’ve recently been trying to tease out a fundamental division within the broad church of feminism, between what I’ll call ‘deep feminism’ and ‘shallow feminism.’ Both appear to be in conflict with what they call ‘patriarchy’ (or ‘the Patriarchy’), but upon closer examination it seems to me that only deep feminism wishes to ‘smash the patriarchy’, whereas shallow feminism wishes only to change its internal structure.

To deep feminism, ‘patriarchy’ can be broadly understood as an overemphasis on structure. Deep feminism is influenced by thinkers like Derrida and Lacan, who point out that while certain structures might seem ‘real’, every structure is in fact lacking, and so ‘unreal’. In Lacan’s work, femininity can be understood as that which works against structures and masculinity, conversely, as faith in structures - or as Lacan would put it, a belief in ‘presence’ (i.e. a belief that objects really are solid). ‘Patriarchy’ occurs when we take structures too seriously and deny their inherent inconsistency. It is a denial/retreat from absence, into presence; from weakness, into strength.

Shallow feminism takes for granted the necessity and ‘reality’ of structures, and concerns itself instead with their internal ordering. To shallow feminism, ‘patriarchy’ is apparent not so much in our epistemological understanding of ‘structures’, rather, in the way in which structures are ordered so that certain groups are favoured over others.

Beneath our structures lies what Lacan calls ‘the Real’ (and what I’ve referred to in the past as ‘the Sea', which is, as the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy admits, "tricky to encapsulate and evades being pinned down through succinct definitions.” The Real can be understood as the negative space between our categories and definitions, and is analogous to the waveform of quantum physics - a state of possibility that precedes, or undergirds a ‘collapse’ into form. To Lacan, the Real is akin the state of nature, and it is our use of language - the tool with which we conceptualise and compartmentalise experience - that separates us from this primordial domain. ‘Real’ is how we could describe our ‘animal’ existence in the Garden of Eden, with our use of language (i.e. symbolism/structures) precipitating our fall from the Real.

I like to envisage the Real as a sea - as something liquid, in motion - upon which we float, safe within our various vessels. Within the bowels of something as substantial as a cruise liner we may even forget that we’re at sea at all, but those paying close attention can still feel the slight motion of the waves beneath (a stray iceberg helps to provide a more vivid reminder). The sea is a constant threat to our safely anchored structures.

We can distinguish our two forms of feminism by their attitude towards the Real. Deep feminism seeks an exposure to the Real, whereas shallow feminism wants to be protected from it; and it is in this sense that we can say that shallow feminism wants to preserve the shell of ‘patriarchy’, which acts as a protection from the anxiety-provoking complexity of the Real. A confrontation with the Real - a plunge into cold, dark water - is, after all, more than most people can take. It’s a niche activity, and most aren't well suited to it. Those that seek the real tend to have a relatively unique constitution, and proclivities - artists, philosophers, poets, mystics. For the uninitiated, exposure to the Real can result in nihilism - in fact, ‘over-exposure to the Real’ (or ‘over-exposure to complexity’) could serve as a good definition for nihilism.

Todd McGowan suggests that ‘feminism is the recognition that nothing lies beneath, and the subsequent embrace of the nothing-beneath.’ But embracing the nothing-beneath is a tall order, and a risky one at that. An artist may eschew rules, boundaries, order, and convention, but most people can’t afford to.

And perhaps this is what our deep/shallow division comes down to: deep feminism is the preserve of the esoteric, the initiated; and shallow feminism the preserve of the exoteric and profane.

Mystics like Lacan may seek an exposure to the Real, and a radical reevaluation of the notion of ‘structure’ itself, but most feminists take for granted the necessity of some form of ‘patriarchy’ and seek rather an equal footing within it, or a shake-up of the established order.

While Lacan is criticized for constituting sexual difference on the basis of the phallic function and subjectivity on the basis of paternal authority, what the Lacanian project does provide for feminism is not the idea of a malleable culture, susceptible to human mastery, as distinct from a fixed nature that escapes it, but the more disconcerting idea that human mastery, of ourselves, of others, of nature and culture, is itself illusory.

Rather than the promise of a rational progress toward greater and greater equality, respect for individual difference, and universality, Lacan's insights, like Freud's, point toward the precariousness of identity and social bonds and to the instability of the drives that attach us to one another.

In addition to the distinctiveness of his method, focus, and insight, this willingness to grapple with the limits of self-mastery is one reason why Lacan has been taken as an innovative and amenable resource for some feminist theorists. In exposing the inadequacies of social or empirical accounts of sexual difference, identity, and the power relations built upon them, Lacan confronts the fundamental structures at the root of empirical socio-historical circumstances.

[Emily Zakin]
‘Psychoanalytic Feminism’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

[…] for Irigaray, both Beauvoir and Freud fail to address sexual difference insofar as they retain a singular notion of masculine subjectivity, Freud because he presumes the libido is always masculine, and Beauvoir because she reckons the aim of women's emancipation as equality with men (for instance by concluding the Second Sex with a call to brotherhood and seeming, arguably, to be calling for women to assimilate to masculine norms of selfhood). 

Irigaray rejects the project of equality, since ‘equality’ can only ever mean equality to men, and proposes instead doubling the notion of subjectivity in line with the subject's own self-division.

Irigaray also challenges the Lacanian idea of the law of the father and the phallic signifier, pillorying the way in which natural birth has been assigned to maternity while cultural birth is assigned to paternity, equating the woman-mother with body and the man-father with language and law, and relegating the bodily process of parturition (maternity) to mute nature while valorizing the symbolic process of legitimation (paternity) as constitutive of civilization.

Irigaray's affirmation of sexual difference does not mean affirming the feminine traits that have been ascribed to women, since these are actually, in her view, the traits of sexual indifference, defined only with reference to men. Sexual difference has yet to appear and it is her task to bring it into being.

Unlike Irigaray, who wants to retrieve the pre-Oedipal period in order to reclaim feminine genealogies, Kristeva wants only to redescribe it in order to reassess its import for individuation and creative self-transformation. She takes infantile matricide (separation from the mother) to be a necessary condition of subjectivity and not a remnant of patriarchal violence.

Where Irigaray aims to introduce sexual difference into the social contract and the domain of law and rights, Kristeva proposes that we introduce self-discord.

[Emily Zakin]
‘Psychoanalytic Feminism’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy


Irigaray wants a stake in civilisation, but a deeper critique would question the inherent 'patriarchal' assumptions that give rise to civilisation in the first place. 

In wanting to introduce 'sexual difference', which has yet to appear in history, Irigaray seems to chase the impossible, an ill-formed fantasy.

Many women who now demand equality with men in the professions are not struggling to overcome the tyranny of the patriarchal order. On the contrary, they are, in their long, regressive, unredeemed identification with matter, struggling to compete with men in the largely unconscious service of the dark side of the Great Mother.

In this crucial respect, their behavior is far more regressive than their active rebellion would suggest. They are becoming the victims of the Great Maw in ways that release her particular fury.

While men are as unconsciously victimized as women, this chapter is directed specifically to women who are now finding themselves enslaved to the Great Mother and are coming to realize that the way out offered by the more radical elements of the feminist movement only leads them deeper into her clutches.

[Marion Woodman]
‘The Emergence of the Feminine’, Betwixt and Between, p.204

Contemporary feminists, recognising the trap into which they might fall, i.e. becoming the enemy they sought to overthrow, have taken a positive approach […] For such women the matriarchy that exists at the core of our technological culture is yet another demonic parody of femininity. The unconscious mother is, for them, no role mode.

They take no satisfaction in the state of nervous collapse to which Yves St. Laurent is annually reduced in his round-the-clock struggle to keep them clothed. It gives them no satisfaction that men willingly sacrifice their manhood to them even as they sacrificed their testicles to Great Mother Astarte. They are not gratified to see themselves in Vogue parading like so many queens.

These women recognize that it is the negative mother who rules in Becky, that her son Becko is probably gay, and that it is not only his manhood that is being destroyed but their womanhood as well.

[Marion Woodman]
‘The Emergence of the Feminine’, Betwixt and Between, p.206

Mothers who have no time for Being themselves need to hear the whisper of an inner voice that erupts as they drop off the children, run to the supermarket, and dash to their exercise class: "If this is life, it's not worth it."

However beautiful these woman may be, if they are obsessed by achieving and excelling, their center will become an empty hole and their instinctual femininity may unconsciously fall into despair. Worse yet, they may pass this despair onto their children, who may unconsciously pick up their mother's emptiness and sense of death.

Any analyst working with an addicted patient is working within a shamanistic initiation rite, attempting to bring new life out of the bones, smashing the rigid stereotype in order to release the individual woman who can say Yes to life and herself as a feminine being.

[Marion Woodman]
‘The Emergence of the Feminine’, Betwixt and Between, p.210-11

The capitalist distribution network, a complex chain of factory, transport, warehouse, and retail outlet, is one of the greatest male accomplishments in the history of culture. It is a lightning-quick Apollonian circuit of male bonding.

One of feminism’s irritating reflexes is its fashionable disdain for “patriarchal society,” to which nothing good is ever attributed. But it is patriarchal society that has freed me as a woman. It is capitalism that has given me the leisure to sit at this desk writing this book.

Let us stop being small-minded about men and freely acknowledge what treasures their obsessiveness has poured into culture.

If civilization had been left in female hands, we would still be living in grass huts. A contemporary woman clapping on a hard hat merely enters a conceptual system invented by men. Capitalism is an art form, an Apollonian fabrication to rival nature.

It is hypocritical for feminists and intellectuals to enjoy the pleasures and conveniences of capitalism while sneering at it. Even Thoreau’s Walden was just a two-year experiment. Everyone born into capitalism has incurred a debt to it. Give Caesar his due.

[Camille Paglia]
Sexual Personae, p.37-8

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Optimism      -           Hope
Utopian         -           Tragic
Inflation        -           Deflation
Puer               -           Senex
Fragile           -           Resilient

I think we’re in the grip of what I call the ‘Optimiser’ mindset, which can be understood as a form of problem-solving fundamentalism. 

The Optimiser thinks that every problem is convergent, and that really there are no such things as divergent problems (a belief that goes hand in hand with a malleable view of human nature). To the Optimiser, there is a fix for everything - if it can be solved, it will be solved; and if it can’t, then we’re working on a solution! The Optimiser is obsessive and zealous, and can’t just let things be. ‘Bad’ things are unacceptable and must be remedied: bacteria sanitised, odours eliminated, pain killed, sadness medicated, anger purged, violence quelled, risks minimised, wildness domesticated, darkness illuminated, and death defeated. It is fear of death lies at the bottom of the Optimiser mindset.

Nietzsche viewed tragedy as a humbling reminder that, in the words of Alexander Nehamas, “ultimately we are not different from the rest of nature, that we are part and parcel of it, and belong totally to it,” a realisation that he described as “indestructibly powerful and pleasurable.” The Optimiser views tragedy as a regrettable mistake and holds inquiries to make sure that it never happens again. Beneath this is the desire to negate tragedy by making everything completely safe, so that none of us have to suffer pain or loss, or be reminded that we are merely “part of nature.” As a result, the Optimiser seeks total control in as many domains as possible.

If every problem is convergent, it follows that there must always be a ‘best practice solution’ or optimal choice in any given situation. ‘Freedom’, then, is simply the ability to make the wrong choice, to err. The idea that, as Alicia Juarrero puts it, “all phenomena must be ultimately subsumable under a covering law” is redolent of the kind of deterministic thinking that Nietzsche criticised in Christianity; a one-size-fits-all approach that squeezes the “novelty and creativity” out of life. The idea that there is ‘one true path’ is the myth that underwrites the Optimiser mindset.

The world of the machines in The Matrix is the ab absurdum of such determinism. The human element has been more or less removed and highly optimised machines have inherited the Earth, programmed to take the right path every time. As we become more efficient we become more machine-like and conversely as we become less efficient we become more human-like. What makes us human, then, is our errors - indeed, we can define humanity as ‘that which errs.’ Our tech allows us to transcend error and become optimal - maximally efficient - which means a remoulding of the lumpen specimen to a more ‘universally preferable’ standard. The more problems we solve, the more machine-like and determined we become.

'The Problem with Problem Solving', Metaxy, Substack

Heroic pessimism, Sorel argued, had nothing in common with the bitter disillusionment experienced by those who blindly trust in the future only to stumble against unexpected obstacles to the march of progress.

The pessimist understood that “our natural weakness” obstructed the path of social justice. The optimist, “maddened by the unexpected resistance that his plans encounter," sought to assure the “happiness of future generations by butchering the egoists of the present.”

Humanitarians condemned violence on principle but resorted to a particularly brutal and vindictive form of violence when their plans went awry.

Pessimism rested on a love of life and a willingness to part with it. It expressed an awareness of the "grandeur and beauty of the world,” including man's own powers of invention, together with a recognition of the limits of those powers.

What Sorel called pessimism was close to what Carlyle, Emerson, and James called wonder—an affirmation of life in the teeth of its limits. Sorel understood that the modern mood is one of revolt, born of the growing impatience with limits that stubbornly persist in spite of all the celebrated advances in science, technology, and organized benevolence.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.308

From the wrong side of the tracks, the dominant culture looked quite different from the way it looked from the inside.

Its concern for creativity and self-expression looked self-indulgent. Its concern for the quality of human life seemed to imply a belief that life has to be carefully hoarded and preserved, protected from danger and risk, prolonged as long as possible. Its permissive style of child rearing and marital negotiation conveyed weakness more than sympathetic understanding, a desire to avoid confrontations that might release angry emotions.

Its eagerness to criticize everything seemed to bespeak a refusal to accept any constraints on human freedom, an attitude doubly objectionable in those who enjoyed so much freedom to begin with. The habit of criticism, from a lower-middle-class point of view, appeared to invite people to be endlessly demanding of life, to expect more of life than anyone had a right to expect.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.493

Electroshock owes its efficacy to paralyzing and annihilating the contents of the psyche. Its essential trait is negativity.

In contrast, neoliberal psychopolitics is dominated by positivity

Instead of working with negative threats, it works with positive stimuli. Instead of administering 'bitter medicine', it enlists Liking. It flatters the psyche instead of shaking it and paralyzing it with shocks.

Neoliberal psychopolitics seduces the soul; it preempts it in lieu of opposing it. It carefully protocols desires, needs and wishes instead of 'depatterning' them. By means of calculated prognoses, it anticipates actions - and acts ahead of them instead of cancelling them out.

Neoliberal psychopolitics is SmartPolitics: it seeks to please and fulfil, not to repress.

[Byung-Chul Han]
Psychopolitics, p.36


Liberalism pleases and 'fulfils' in superficial ways - quick fixes, CBT, etc. Real fulfilment would mean a slowing or damming of the Flow. And so everything becomes superficial; surface; spectacle; simulacrum.

Neoliberal psychopolitics is always coming up with more refined forms of exploitation. Countless self- management workshops, motivational retreats and seminars on personality or mental training promise boundless self-optimization and heightened efficiency.

They are steered by neoliberal techniques of domination, which aim to capitalize not just on working time but on the person him- or herself: all the attention the individual commands and, indeed, his or her very life. Neoliberalism has discovered integral human being as the object of exploitation.

The neoliberal imperative of self-optimization serves only to promote perfect functioning within the system.

Inhibitions, points of weakness and mistakes are to be therapeutically eliminated in order to enhance efficiency and performance. In turn, everything is made comparable and measurable and subjected to the logic of the market. It is not concern for the good life that drives self-optimization. Rather, self-optimization follows from systemic constraints - from the logic of quantifying success on the market.

The neoliberal regime is in the course of inaugurating the age of exhaustion. Today, the psyche itself is being exploited. Accordingly, psychic maladies such as depression and burnout define our times.

In contemporary American self-help literature, the magic word is healing. The term refers to self-optimization that is supposed to therapeutically eliminate any and all functional weakness or mental obstacle in the name of efficiency and performance. Yet perpetual self-optimization, which coincides point-for-point with the optimization of the system, is proving destructive. It is leading to mental collapse.

Self-optimization, it turns out, amounts to total self-exploitation.

The neoliberal ideology of self-optimization displays religious - indeed, fanatical - traits. It entails a new form of subjectivation. Endlessly working at self-improvement resembles the self-examination and self-monitoring of Protestantism, which represents a technology of subjectivation and domination in its own right. Now, instead of searching out sins, one hunts down negative thoughts. The ego grapples with itself as an enemy.

Today, even fundamentalist preachers act like managers and motivational trainers, proclaiming the new Gospel of limitless achievement and optimization.

It is impossible to subordinate human personhood to the dictates of positivity entirely. Without negativity, life degrades into 'something dead'. Indeed, negativity is what keeps life alive. Pain is constitutive for experience.

Life that consists wholly of positive emotions and the sensation of 'flow" is not human at all. The human soul owes its defining tautness and depth precisely to negativity

[Byung-Chul Han]
Psychopolitics, p.29-32

The imperative of boundless optimisation even manages to exploit pain. Thus, the famous motivational speaker Tony Robbins has written:

When you set a goal, you’ve committed to CANI (Constant, Never-Ending Improvement)! You’ve acknowledged the need that all human beings have for constant, never-ending improvement. There is a power in the pressure of dissatisfaction, in the tension of temporary discomfort. This is the kind of pain you want in your life.

Now, the only pain that is tolerated is pain that can be exploited for the purposes of optimization.

Neoliberal psychopolitics, with the consciousness industry it promotes, is destroying the human soul, which is anything but a machine of positivity. The neoliberal subject is running aground on the imperative of self-optimization, that is, on the compulsion always to achieve more and more.

[Byung-Chul Han]
Psychopolitics, p.31-2

The ego-libido rules over the performing subject. The better it performs, the more ego it gains. Freud, we know, associated the ego-libido with the death drive.

The narcissistic subject of performance breaks apart because of a fatal accumulation of ego-libido. It exploits itself voluntarily and passionately until it breaks down. It optimizes itself to death. Its failing is called depression or burnout.

[Byung-Chul Han]
The Disappearance of Rituals, p.14

To a society that declares bare life sacred, this ritual appears as pure madness, as a theatre of cruelty […] It is diametrically opposed to our form of life, which is dominated by work and production […] The totalization of production desecrates life.

A society obsessed with production does not have any access to strong play, to death as an intensity of life.

Strong play, whose principle is sovereignty, does not fit into the society of production, which aims at utility, performance and efficiency, and which declares bare life, survival, the continuation of a healthy life, to be an absolute value. Strong play suspends the economy of work and production. Death is not a loss, not a failure, but an expression of the utmost vitality, force and desire.

The society of production is dominated by the fear of death.

[Byung-Chul Han]
The Disappearance of Rituals, p.50

The forms of standardisation, conformism, democratic levelling, frantic overproduction, the more or less arrogant and explicit cult of the expert (‘brain trust’), and the petty materialism of Americanism can only clear the road for the final phase, which is represented in the same direction by the Communist ideal of the mass man.

The distinctive trait of Americanism is that the attack on quality and personality is not accomplished by means of the brutal coercion of a Marxist dictatorship and the care of the state, but takes place almost spontaneously, by means of a civilisation that does not recognise ideals higher than wealth, consumption, profit, and unchecked economic growth — an exaggeration and reductio ad absurdum of what Europe herself has chosen.

This is what the same motives have created there or are in the process of creating. On both sides we see the same primitivism, mechanical reductionism, and brutality. In a certain sense Americanism is for us more dangerous than Communism, because it is essentially a kind of Trojan horse.

Things are different when the same evil acts in a subtler manner and the transformations take place insensibly on the level of custom and a general worldview, as is the case with Americanism.

[Julius Evola]
‘Orientations’, V

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[…] The Authoritarian Personality, by defining prejudice as a "social disease," substituted a medical for a political idiom and relegated a broad range of controversial issues to the clinic - to "scientific" study as opposed to philosophical and political debate.

This procedure had the effect of making it unnecessary to discuss moral and political questions on their merits.

Thus "resistance to social change," "traditionalism," and the absence of the ability or disposition "actively to criticize existing authority” became pathological by definition. The tendency to see political issues "in moral rather than sociological terms” fell under the same suspicion. A perception of the world as a jungle, a belief in strict sex roles, a "rigid” sexual morality, a “punitive" and "moralistic" style of child rearing, and a "rigid adherence to existing cultural norms" identified the authoritarian "syndrome" and could therefore be dismissed without arguing the pros and cons of these positions or considering the possibility that many people, for example, may have had good reason to hold a "conception of a threatening and dangerous environment” or to reject a middle-class conception of easygoing parental discipline.

The Authoritarian Personality revealed more about the enlightened prejudices of the professional classes than about authoritarian prejudices among the common people.

The authors found evidence of "authoritarian submission” in an affirmative answer to the proposition that "science has its place, but there are many important things that can never possibly be understood by the human mind." They saw "authoritarian aggression" in the belief that "an insult to our honor must always be punished" or that “if people would talk less and work more, everybody would be better off.” They detected "anti-intraception" in the view that "nowadays more and more people are prying into matters that should remain personal and private."

By identifying the “liberal personality" as the antithesis of the authoritarian personality, they equated mental health with an approved political position.

They defended liberalism not on the grounds that liberal policies served the ends of justice and freedom but on the grounds that other positions had their roots in personal pathology. They enlarged the definition of liberalism to include a critical attitude toward all forms of authority, faith in science, relaxed and nonpunitive child-rearing practices, and flexible conceptions of sex roles. This expansive, largely cultural definition of liberalism made it easy to interpret adherence to liberalism as a "psychological matter."

The replacement of moral and political argument by reckless psychologizing not only enabled Adorno and his collaborators to dismiss unacceptable opinions on medical grounds; it led them to set up an impossible standard of political health-one that only members of a self-constituted cultural vanguard could consistently meet. In order to establish their emotional "autonomy," the subjects of their research had to hold the right opinions and also to hold them deeply and spontaneously. They had to show a professorial capacity for “critical analysis.” It was not enough to have liberal ideas; one had to have a liberal personality.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.452-4

Generalizations about the “role of personality in the formation of social beliefs," in the words of Herbert McClosky, served to put objectionable beliefs beyond the pale of political debate and to justify the contention that educated elites were the best guardians of democracy.

Drawing on Eric Hoffer's study of the "true believer" as well as on The Authoritarian Personality, McClosky traced political conservatism to "psychological rigidity." A belief in man's wickedness, in the need for strong social controls, and in the stabilizing influence of the family and the church derived from unhealthy "psychological impulses," "projections of aggressive personality tendencies."

As "doctrinal expressions of a personality pattern," such ideas did not have to be discussed on their merits.

They appealed to the wrong sort of people, suspect on socioeconomic as well as on psychological grounds: "the uninformed, the poorly educated, ... the less intelligent, ... the more backward and frightened elements of the population." The “articulate and informed classes," on the other hand, were “preponderantly liberal in their outlook" and accordingly constituted the major repositories of the public conscience." They alone, it appeared, were capable of "reasoning out and forming attitudes on complex social questions” in a "purely disinterested way and of rising above the “ideological babble of poorly informed and discordant opinions.”


Workers believed that "big business is running this country," Robert Lane noted. Instead of asking himself whether there was any truth in this perception, Lane explained it as the product of a "cabalistic” mentality or "usurpation complex." Subject to "whim and impulse," workers adopted conspiracy theories as a "counterweight to the chaotic forces of drift and change welling up in anarchic fashion within themselves.”

Lane's Political Ideology, widely regarded as the leading study of political alienation, reduced working-class discontent to personal pathology. Lane wondered why workers did not see the President or Congress as running things," instead of attributing so much power to big business. The explanation, he decided, was that people with an underdeveloped "ego or self" demanded an image of "absolute power” that was “clearly hard to find in Congress or the President." Only a handful of Lane's subjects, "free of cabalist thinking," realistically perceived power as "generally shared and limited" and respected "legitimate power as superior to and containing ... the power of private groups."

As in The Authoritarian Personality, liberal ideology in this case, the dogma that political power in the United States was distributed so evenly among a plurality of interest groups that none achieved overweening influence - furnished the standard of mental health.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.463-4

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Victim Status

In the early days of the civil rights movement, King had resisted the temptation to define black people simply as victims of white oppression. Instead he tried to encourage initiative, self-reliance, and responsibility. 

He understood that people who thought of themselves as victims either remained helplessly passive or became vindictive and self-righteous.

His later attempt to organize a national alliance of "disadvantaged" groups, however, forced him to rely on just this kind of morally flawed appeal, since a common feeling of marginality was the only thing that could hold such an alliance together.

As victims of racism, exploitation, and neglect, King now argued, outcast groups had a right to "compensatory treatment." In his earlier account of direct action in Montgomery, he tried to assure whites that "the Negro, once a helpless child, has now grown up politically, culturally, and economically" and that "all he seeks is justice, for both himself and the white man." The Negro, King said, "understands and forgives and is ready to forget the past."

Ten years later, he went out of his way to remind people that blacks had suffered a special history of discrimination that set them apart from white immigrants. "When white immigrants arrived in the United States in the late nineteenth century, a beneficent government gave them free land and credit to build a useful, independent life.” Blacks, on the other hand, experienced nothing but prejudice and persecution.

Their history of oppression, as King explored its implications, appeared to justify a double standard of political morality. Black rioters, he admitted, had engaged in "incontestable and deplorable” crimes, but those crimes were "derivative," "born of the greater crimes of the white society."

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.406

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Dependent / Independent