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  • Freud and the Political
  • Mladen Dolar (bio)

The political in Freud conceals under the air of innocence a most difficult, even impossible topic. Both terms are far from being unequivocal – it is not quite clear, despite the appearances, what is meant by Freud, in spite of, or rather because of, the aura that surrounds his name and the general clamor provoked by his fame. And it is even less clear what is meant by the political, in spite of, or rather because of, the fact that one is constantly bombarded from all quarters by politics in all shapes and sizes. The trickiest of all is the possible intersection of the two. The temptation is great to adopt a deconstructivist rhetoric, so instead of speaking about the topic to speak about the impossibility of speaking about the topic, the temptation I will very much try to resist.

On the face of it, Freud was not a man of politics, to say the least. He never engaged in political life, not in any significant way, not of his own accord, not until it was thrust upon him in the most insidious form of the rampant anti-Semitism, finally the occupation of his country which forced him into exile. Apart from this staggering ending, his relationship to politics was anecdotic. One can pick out anecdotes about his aversion for Woodrow Wilson and co-authoring the unfortunate book about him; his inopportune scribbled note dedicating a book to Mussolini; his voting for the liberal party (in line with the whole Austrian Jewish community); his skeptical remarks on Bolshevism, inadequate by his own admission; his indulging in an extra cigar when the Emperor refused to appoint Dr. Karl Lueger the burgomaster of Vienna despite his electoral victory in 1895 – the same Karl Lueger, one must add, that served as a role model to the young Hitler who was roaming the streets of Vienna at the turn of the century, the man from whom he learned the tricks of the trade of anti-Semitism, as he described in Mein Kampf. And coming from Slovenia, I cannot resist to pick out one anecdote, I suppose the most spectacular of all, which happened during Freud's one brief visit to Slovenia. At Easter holidays in 1898 Freud visited Italy with his brother Alexander and on the way back they stopped at the famous caves of Skocjan, in Slovenia (which are now actually part of the Unesco heritage). He gives his account in a letter to Wilhelm Fliess (14 April 1898), describing "a subterranean river running through magnificent vaults, with waterfalls and stalactites and pitch darkness … It was Tartarus itself. If Dante saw anything like this, he needed no great effort of the imagination for his Inferno."i And whom did Freud meet at the bottom of this Tartarus, in the last circle of this Inferno? Whom else but "the ruler of Vienna, Herr Dr. Karl Lueger", who happened to be visiting the cave at the same time. He was with another party from the capital visiting the outskirts of the Empire during holidays, a place to run into people who would never come face to face in Vienna itself. Freud, the paradigmatic Jew, meeting the paradigmatic anti-Semite in the Slovene Inferno, of all places – the image deserves to be seen, in retrospect, as an emblematic icon inaugurating the century, laden with forebodings of so much of what was to happen.ii

Apart from the anecdotic, however picturesque it may be and however indicative in many ways, there seems to be a glaring absence: Freud never proposed a political line that would follow from his discovery, a political stance to be taken. He avoided any reflection of the political impact that his discovery might have, in a way which cannot be unintentional, although never explicitly stated. He proudly refused that psychoanalysis should adopt any Weltanschauung, any 'world-view', including a political one, claiming that the scientific spirit precludes Weltanschauung. One can draw the conclusion that there is in Freud an inherent indifference in political matters – this is the line taken by someone like Jean-Claude Milner, a figure of some standing in today's France, who sees in...