Marx, Freud, and Freedom
This is part seven of a seven part series, with a new post each day. Each post will be linked to the preceding post. The essay in its entirety can be found on the “Page” titled “Politics and Social Philosophy” which will be posted on 2/12/08.
My own view is that the philosophical and the moral and ultimately the psychological are the base of everything in this sphere. And I’ll give just one concluding example of the psychological. When people think of the disintegration and deterioration of a semifree society such as we’ve had, they think of Marx as a very negative influence, which of course he was. They are much less likely to appreciate the relevance of a man from my own profession, Sigmund Freud. What could Freud have to do with the welfare state? My answer is, plenty. It was Freud and his followers who were most responsible for introducing into American culture and spreading the doctrine of psychological determinism, according to which all of us are entirely controlled and manipulated by forces over which we have no control, freedom is an illusion, ultimately we are responsible for nothing. If we do anything good, we deserve no credit. If we do anything bad, we deserve no reprimand. We are merely the helpless pawns of the forces working upon us, be they our instincts or our environment or our toilet training. Freud, whatever his intentions, is the father of the “I couldn’t help it” school. (Perhaps credit should be shared with behaviorism, the other leading school of psychology in this country, that propounds its own equally adamant version of determinism.) The inevitable result of the acceptance of determinism, of the belief that no one is responsible for anything, is the kind of whining, blame shifting, and abdication of responsibility we have all around us today. Any advocate of freedom, any advocate of civilization, has to challenge the doctrine of psychological determinism and has to be able to argue rationally and persuasively for the principle of psychological freedom or free will, which is the underpinning of the doctrine of self-responsibility.
My book “Taking Responsibility” addresses the task of showing the relationship between free will on the one hand and personal responsibility on the other as well as exploring the multiple meanings and applications of self-responsibility, from the most intimate and personal to the social and political. And that I see as the much wider canvas and much wider job still waiting to be done: to provide a philosophical frame so that people will understand that the battle for libertarianism is not, in essence, the battle for business or the battle for markets. Those are merely concrete forms. It’s the battle for your ownership of your own life.
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