Know Your Enemy

Triumph of the Therapeutic (w/ Hannah Zeavin & Alex Colston)

Episode Summary

Hannah Zeavin and Alex Colston join to discuss Philip Rieff, his book "The Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith After Freud," and the conservative side of psychoanalysis.

Episode Notes

Modern conservatives have long asked the following questions: how can we live together without God? Is there any substitute for religion in cohering a moral community? And if not, what can we do to revive the old sacred authority that reason, science, and liberalism have interred?

These were also  the questions that preoccupied Philip Rieff (1922-2006), an idiosyncratic sociologist and product of the University of Chicago, whose thought cast a long shadow over right-wing intellectuals, theologians, and other Jeremiahs of the modern condition (like Christopher Lasch and Alasdair MacIntyre). In the two books that made his name — 1959's Freud: Mind of the Moralist and 1966's Triumph of the Therapeutic: The Uses of Faith After Freud — Rieff engages deeply with psychoanalysis, deriving from Sigmund Freud a theory of how culture creates morality and, in turn, why modern culture, with its emphasis on psychological well-being over moral instruction, no longer functions to shape individuals into a community of shared purpose. 

Rieff, a secular Jew, remained concerned to the very end of his life with the problem of living in a society without faith, one in which the rudderless self is mediated, most of all, by therapeutic ideas and psychological institutions rather than by religious or political ones. Less sophisticated versions of this conundrum haunt conservative thought to this day — from complaints about "wokeness" as a religion to the right's treatment of sexual and gender transgression as mental pathology. 

To help us navigate Rieff, Freud, and the conservative underbelly of psychoanalysis, we're joined by two brilliant thinkers and writers: Hannah Zeavin and Alex Colston. Hannah is an Assistant Professor at Indiana University in the Luddy School of Informatics; Alex is a PhD student at Duquesne in clinical psychology. Most importantly, for our purposes, Hannah and Alex are also the editors of Parapraxis, a new magazine of psychoanalysis on the left. We hope you enjoy this (admittedly, heady) episode. If you do, consider signing up for a new podcast — on psychoanalysis and politics, of all things — hosted by beloved KYE guest Patrick Blanchfield and his partner Abby Kluchin entitled "Ordinary Unhappiness."


Further Reading: 

Philip Rieff, Freud: Mind of the Moralist (Viking, 1959)

The Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith After Freud (Harper & Row, 1966)

Fellow Teachers (Harper & Row, 1973)

Gerald Howard, "Reasons to Believe," Bookforum, Feb 2007. 

Blake Smith, "The Secret Life of Philip Rieff." Tablet, Dec 15, 2022

George Scialabba, "The Curse of Modernity: Rieff's Problem with Freedom," Boston Review, Jul 1, 2007.

Christopher Lasch, "The Saving Remnant," The New Republic, Nov 19, 1990. 

Hannah Zeavin, "Composite Case: The fate of the children of psychoanalysis," Parapraxis, Nov 14, 2022. 

Alex Colston, "Father," Parapraxis, Nov 21, 2022. 

Rod Dreher, "We Live In Rieff World," Mar 1, 2019. 

Park MacDougald, "The Importance of Repression," Sept 29, 2021

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