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September 17, 2009


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Patrick S. O'Donnell

"German elections result in National Socialist (Fascist) party gaining sharply to 107 seats vs. 12 formerly, and Communists 76 vs. 54 (total seats in Reichstag are about 576, and largest party is Social Democrats with 143)."

One question that arises here is how do we account for the fact that the National Socialists eventually began to gain seats at the expense of the SPD and the Left in general over a period of time when manifest political preferences were for parties on the Left, electoral gains that presaged the fairly smooth transition to fascism in 1933. Erich Fromm and others associated with the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research help us answer that question with a pioneering study, German Workers 1929: A Survey, its Methods and Results. Fromm sought to employ the resources of psychoanalytic theory and nascent sociological methods to gain insight into what was termed the character structure of workers and helps us better understand why it was the case that despite (for a time at least) the electoral successes of the Weimar Left, its members proved unable to prevent the victory of National Socialism. See Erich Fromm (Barbara Weinberger, trans. and Wolfgang Bonss, ed.), The Working Class in Weimar Germany: A Psychological and Sociological Study(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984).

Kim Krawiec

There you go trying to add more books to my reading list again, Patrick! Have we learned nothing from out last exchange? ;-)

Patrick S. O'Donnell

I've been called hard-harded, apparently with good reason.

And I confess to exploiting even the slightest opportunity to mention a work by Fromm, my favorite among the Frankfurt School theorists (I suspect his creativity, among other things, was an object of envy for Adorno and Horkheimer). Fromm's status among those attracted to Critical Theory, and Freudian and post-Freudian Marxism generally, has been ambivalent if not neglectful: cf. the title of Paul Robinson's canonical treatment: The Freudian Left: Wilhelm Reich, Geza Roheim, Herbert Marcuse (1969). Robinson writes in his introduction that "I have frequently been asked why my study omitted a man like Erich Fromm, who has made a considerable reputation as a psychoanalytic radical. The answer is quite simple: while Fromm undoubtedly stands to the left of Freud politically, he is a rabid sexual conservative, denying both the importance attributed to sexuality by Freud himself, and the value assigned to it by Reich, Roheim, and Marcuse." While there's some truth in this hyperbolic remark, it hardly amounts to a sufficient reason to exclude Fromm from a study of this sort.

Fortunately Fromm's oeuvre has received a fair assessment in the hands of Daniel Burston's The Legacy of Erich Fromm (1991).

One of the reasons I've always had a soft spot for the Freudian and post-Freudian Left is documented in Elizabeth Ann Danto's Freud's Free Clinics: Psychoanalysis and Social Justice, 1918-1938 (2005). With Eugene Victor Wolfenstein (and the early Jurgen Habermas for that matter), I continue to believe there remains significant critical and emancipatory force in psychoanalytic theory and praxis as well as in Marxism (and there's something necessary if not noble in the endeavor to link the two).

To return to the subject of reading lists: stay tuned for my compilation for "philosophy of law & legal theory" at Ratio Juris!

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