YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

August 25, 2009

T.W. Adorno and his funny idea of “genuine liberalism”

Paul Klee, Captive Pierrot

Added 12-5-09: I have been reading up on military psychiatry and found this primer on psychology (Discovering Ourselves) directed at an educated audience. It declares itself to be Freudian, Jungian, and Adlerian, and quite up to date. Recall that Freud’s 1915 essay on thoughts of death in wartime emphasized the never ending struggle between the civilizing impulses and the agressive ones that were in full operation during the Great War (and noted again below). By contrast, the “progressive” and optimistic view of psychotherapy was obviously an attempt to impose “harmony” or “balance”* on the competing superego, ego, and id forces in the psyche; it also declared itself against destructive materialist science (described by them as behaviorism).  Here is the last paragraph in the chapter on the superego–a force that can cause rebellion when it is too harsh and punitive. It should be obvious that the Superego is the State, the (strong) Ego the pragmatic, moderate Leader/psychiatrist/Mental Director, and the Id: the chaotic lower orders or perhaps the market, given to unregulated sex and aggression. [On the Mental Director advocated by Wilfred Trotter, see http://clarespark.com/2009/11/13/supermen-wanted-early-freudians-and-the-mob/. Trotter is lauded in Discovering Ourselves, see below.]

“We see, then, that the superego of man, while it represents a great moral achievement, holds within it the seeds of distress, downfall, destructiveness, and disease. It can be a relentless foe that refuses to be placated. It can be hostile, cruel, and remorseless. It is only when a harmonious relationship exists between the superego, the ego, and the primitive urges of the id that the individual’s personality can be considered well-integrated. A wholesome superego can be and often is a guiding force to health, happiness, and scientific and social progress. It can be a partner in great cosmic or religious affirmations and endeavors.” [Strecker and Appel, Discovering Ourselves: A View of the Human Mind and How it Works (Macmillan, 1943): 99.] Now compare this to Adorno’s view of Freud’s map of the psyche: gone is Freud’s eternal struggle to understand and overcome irrationality, resulting in “everyday unhappiness;” up comes the structural functionalism of Talcott Parsons and the progressives at Harvard. Put a smile on that Leviathan, Dr. Murray!

Here is a footnote to my book, Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival, chapter two, part of which is excerpted in the blog on Left-liberal psychologists at Harvard promoting “civilian morale.”

[Note:] See T.W. Adorno et al, The Authoritarian Personality (New York: Harper, 1950), 71, 781-783. The “Genuine Liberal” type is anti-totalitarian and free of narcissism; in Adorno’s appropriation of Freud, the genuine liberal possesses “that balance between superego, ego, and id which Freud deemed ideal” (71). Adorno’s example of the type is a politically naive, but frank and independent twenty-one year old woman, not given to ultra-femininity/ feminine wiles; she is the daughter of a hiring manager at a railroad; in the family sexual division of labor, her loving mother represents emotions, her father, facts. She is religious (“Perhaps we will all be saved”) and reads Plato for Utopian inspiration. When asked how she felt about Negroes and Jews, she was “guided by the idea of the individual,” but she wouldn’t want to marry a Negro with dark skin or a man with a big nose. However, as a nurse’s aid [sic], she did not object to caring for Negro patients. Adorno quotes her “joke” [what would Freud have said?]: “Maybe if the Jews get in power they would liquidate the majority! That’s not smart. Because we would fight back.” Admirably free of bigotry, she is also free of “repression with regard to her feelings toward her father: ‘I want to marry someone just like my father’ ” (783).

Distinguishing themselves from “manipulative” fascists, the authors, in their concluding sentence, prescribe an antithetical appeal to the emotions: “…we need not suppose that appeal to emotion belongs to those who strive in the direction of fascism, while democratic propaganda must limit itself to reason and restraint. If fear and destructiveness are the major emotional sources of fascism, eros belongs mainly to democracy” (976). Henry A. Murray’s Thematic Apperception Test was used by Adorno’s colleagues creating “the F-scale” (the potential for fascist behavior); Murray’s and Lasswell’s books are recommended in the bibliography. [end footnote]
Adorno, not his collaborators wrote the section on the genuine liberal. His notion of Freud was, of course, wrong. Freud believed that there could be no “balance” between ego, id, and superego, rather that the primitive instincts were so strong that life was a constant struggle to maintain the fragile veneer of civilization. See especially his essay from 1915 reflecting on the appalling war between so-called civilized European nations. For more details on this cohort and their crypto-fascism see http://clarespark.com/2011/03/27/progressive-mind-managers-ca-1941-42/.

*The authors of Discovering Ourselves apply balance in several instances: Introversion and extroversion (both are Jungian categories) should be “balanced.” This advice is directed toward dreamy do-nothings (introverts) and executives or clubwomen housewives (extroverts), all of whom have not yet climbed on board the New Deal ship of state. The wandering housewife example is particularly interesting, because she should be at home raising balanced children, able to master the challenges of early childhood and adolescence, hence raising socially responsible adults.
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9 Comments »

  1. […] of either fascist or communist extremists, so proposed a more gentle or “balanced” nurture (see http://clarespark.com/2009/08/25/t-w-adorno-and-his-funny-idea-of-genuine-liberalism/). But the moderate men of even such “rightist” refuges as Fox News or The Wall Street Journal […]

    Pingback by What is missing in the Duck Dynasty flap? | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — December 22, 2013 @ 6:57 pm | Reply

  2. [...] conservatives” adhering to “the golden mean”, not to extremists of any stripe. (See http://clarespark.com/2009/08/25/t-w-adorno-and-his-funny-idea-of-genuine-liberalism/, also http://clarespark.com/2011/10/15/baltzell-on-the-good-jews/.) Like this:LikeBe the first to [...]

    Pingback by Did Frankfurters kill the white, Christian West? « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — October 21, 2011 @ 7:14 pm | Reply

  3. [...] would be ”genuine liberalism;” see that chapter in The Authoritarian Personality and http://clarespark.com/2009/08/25/t-w-adorno-and-his-funny-idea-of-genuine-liberalism/. In other words, what is presented as a bold new approach to the history of antisemitism is [...]

    Pingback by The Enigmatic Face of Philosemitism « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — November 24, 2009 @ 1:25 am | Reply


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