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Michigan Psychoanalytic Institute & Society

NYT Magazine: Freud and the Fundamentalist Urge

Published: April 30, 2006

To most of us, Sigmund Freud, who was born 150 years ago next Saturday, is known chiefly as a provocative and highly controversial student of individual psychology. He is the man who theorized the unconscious and the Oedipus complex. What is less well known — and now perhaps more important — is that Freud devoted the final, and maybe most fruitful, phase of his career to reflections on culture and politics. In his later work, Freud brought forward striking ideas about the inner dynamics of political life in general and of tyranny in particular.

Adolf Hitler, who rolled into Freud's home city of Vienna on March 14, 1938, preceded by thousands of troops, was no surprise to Sigmund Freud. Nor would the many forms of tyrannical fundamentalism that have grown up in Hitler's wake and have extended into the 21st century have shocked him very much. In books like "Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego" and "Totem and Taboo," Freud predicted Hitler and his descendants almost perfectly. Now, in an age threatened by fundamentalisms of many sorts, Freud's thinking may be more usefully illuminating than ever before.

It is possible that Hitler and Freud actually encountered each other.

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