Adorno’s Freud: Group Psychology and Critical Theory
710 East 9th Street
New York, NY 10009
While many think of Theodor Adorno, a key figure of the early Frankfurt School, as a Marxist thinker, one of his other key influences was the then-novel psychological theories of Sigmund Freud. Freud’s work would prove to be particularly influential on Adorno’s understandings of group and mass behavior and integral to his critique of fascism. In the wake of World War I and in anticipation of the tumultuous political events in Europe, Freud had published his first study of mass psychology, Group Psychology and Analysis of the Ego. Elaborating on a tradition of studying mass phenomena, such as the work of Gustav Le Bon, Freud insisted on the emotional ties between members of the mass, organized around an idealization of, and identification with, a leader who embodies the ideal traits of individual members. As such, for Freud the mass is almost a pure form of the unconscious. It permits individuals to act on impulses they otherwise would disavow, resulting in the great collective crimes of history. Some 30 years later, in his Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda, Adorno asserted that fascism was not a psychological disposition, but rather was comprised of political interests that exploited the psychological tendencies described by Freud in his study of masses. What is the interplay of psychology and mass political formations?
In this class, we will explore these arguments through a reading of Freud’s Group Psychology and Analysis of the Ego alongside Adorno’s Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda. We will also read work by Chiara Bottici, Deborah Cook and Joel Whitebook to discuss and debate the applicability of the Adorno-Freud dialogue to contemporary politics.
Course ScheduleSaturday, 2:00-5:00pm
June 09 — July 07, 2018
4 sessions over 5 weeks
Class will not meet Saturday, June 23rd.