The Psychoanalytic Movement: The Cunning of Unreason (Rethinking Theory)

The Psychoanalytic Movement: The Cunning of Unreason (Rethinking Theory)

The Psychoanalytic Movement: The Cunning of Unreason (Rethinking Theory)

Part of the “Paladin Movements and Ideas” series, this book is an exploration of the latter half of the 19th century, explaining where Sigmund Freud came from and why he happened when he did. The psychoanalytic movement went on to become one of the major movements in the 20th century.

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2 Comments so far »

  1. Luc REYNAERT said,

    Wrote on October 9, 2012 @ 10:42 am

    7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    UNATO, March 2, 2007
    Luc REYNAERT (Beernem, Belgium) –

    Ernest Gellner stigmatizes Freudianism as a secular religion, where the Unconscious (a new version of the Original Sin) is treated as a Revelation, with a sharp distinction between the sacred (those under analysis) and the profane, between the good (the true believers) and the bad, and where reason must be suspended.

    Freud’s concepts are untestable (the experience – transfer – between analysand and analyst is unique) and nebulous (reality can always be made conform to the system).

    His basic technique is free association which should lead to the uncovering of repressed mental contents and correspondent therapeutic consequences for the patient.

    The only testable component of the theory are its therapeutic claims, but the effectiveness of the therapy is extremely dubious and unproven.

    For the author, Freudianism is a self-perpetuating, falsification-evading, closed system, which controls its own database. In one word, it is a pseudo-science.

    Its enormous vested interests (also financial) are cultivated and protected by a guild: UNATO (United Nations Analysis and Therapy Organization).

    This brilliantly written, corrosive text contains excellent short evaluations of Nietzsche, Marx, Berkeley, Plato and Stoicism.

    A must read for all guild-members and outsiders.

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  2. David H Miller "rothbardianphysicist" said,

    Wrote on October 9, 2012 @ 10:52 am

    15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    The future of an illusion, September 24, 2005
    David H Miller “rothbardianphysicist” (Sacramento, California) –

    This review is from: The Psychoanalytic Movement: The Cunning of Unreason (Rethinking Theory) (Paperback)

    In this book, Ernest Gellner uses the psychoanalytic movement as a “case study” to explore the general human tendency to create delusional ideological systems which serve various political, social, and psychological needs. He also focuses in on the specific structural features of modern life that made psychoanalysis an especially successful ideology.

    As Gellner sums up in his final chapter, “In a sense, the present book is more interested in our Zeitgeist than in psychoanalysis. The crucial strategic position occupied by Freudianism in the social and intellectual history of mankind, makes it possible for us to learn a vast amount from it about, on the one hand, the general anatomy of belief systems and, on the other, the special conditions prevalent in our age.”

    In his first two chapters, Gellner focuses in on what might be called the modern predicament. Before the rise of natural science and philosophical empiricism, it was easy to explain the mixture of good and evil, the sheer perversity, embodied in human beings. Humans were, quite literally, halfway between beasts and angels.

    The rise of science and modern philosophy invalidated that belief. Taking David Hume as a prime example, Gellner shows that the scientific, empiricist thought of the Enlightenment abandoned the angel/beast dichotomy. The Enlightenment theorists naturalized man: the model of man they ended up with, which Gellner dubs the “Bundleman,” was a random mixture of self-interested desires and needs which were easily satisfied by a conservatively cautious policy of maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain.

    Real human beings, of course, act much more like a mixture of angel and beast than the cautiously and rationally selfish “Bundleman” of the Enlightenment.

    Nietzsche was, Gellner claims, the first serious post-Enlightenment thinker to fully realize this fact, and the realization finally drove poor Nietzsche insane.

    Freud’s genius was to take the Nietzschean insight and domesticate it, thereby turning it into the basis of a very successful, very lucrative pseudo-scientific cult – psychoanalysis.

    Freud’s task was made easier by certain features of the modern world. The modern world exhibits deep reverence for applied science, especially medicine. In modern industrial societies, technology has eradicated most traditional physical threats (starvation, plague, wild animals, etc.). In our society, the pressing threats perceived by most people lie rather in the increasing complexity of, and importance placed upon, human relationships. It is just in this area of interpersonal relationships where psychoanalysis offered help.

    Most of the book explores the tricks and turns by which psychoanalysis maintained its authority. Nowadays, now that there is hardly an intelligent person left who is a hard-core believer in the Freudian faith, is this of any more than historical interest?


    While Freud may finally be buried, his residue endures — as “therapy,” “couselling,” “adjustment,” etc. — and continues to muddle our thinking process and our ability to make moral evaluations. As Gellner rhetorically asks, concerning the Holy Grail of “adjustment,” “[I]s adaptation, adjustment to any regime, including a tyrannical one, a sign of mental health?” The Soviets, hardly orthodox Freudians, famously answered “Yes!”

    But even more important, as Gellner emphasizes, the fraud of Freudianism is a typical example of the functioning of human society in general:

    “Societies possess techniques for rendering ideas socially constitutive, and these techniques tend to share certain formal features. It is important to remember that this is the normal condition of mankind: most ideas of most men at most times are beyond the reach of questioning… An idea does not have simply a cognitive role…it is at the same time linked to a set of personal relations, to loyalties, hierarchies, sentiments, hopes and fears. To shake the idea would be to disturb all that. Most men are neither willing nor able to do that.”

    To put it more bluntly, the structure of all hitherto existing human societies is grounded in socially-imposed, emotionally-compelling lies.

    Did Freud and his colleagues engage in bizarre intellectual contortions to prevent their ideas from being questioned or subjected to criticism?

    Yes… but have you ever asked a liberal why we must slavishly accede to the results of a democratic election? The answer is that if you choose to vote, you are obliged to accept the results, and, if you don’t vote, you have no right to complain. Is Freudian reasoning any more circular than that?

    Did Freud and his colleagues frantically avoid confronting their theories with empirical reality? (Freud once declared that “I cannot advise too strongly against” seeking out empirical evidence to check the…

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