Review of “Political Freud” by Eli Zaretsky

In Political Freud, Eli Zaretsky attempts to offer us a new perspective on the political Freudianism. Zaretsky intervenes in the debate around the relation of psychoanalysis and political theory, by returning back to Freud, who -in his view- was political from the very beginning. The book is a historical account of the political role and character of the Freudian psychoanalysis. Political Freud consists of five main chapters which are previously published essays of Zaretsky and each one deals with a specific topic· capitalism, racism, anti-Semitism, war, feminism and the New Left.

The most important chapter of the book is the first in which the author designates the context of the entire book. The following chapters are moments of a narrative that has already been drawn in the opening chapter. The main purpose of the book is to highlight how psychoanalysis influenced and was influenced by the capitalist transformations of the 20th century. The Freudian psychoanalysis is, according to Zaretsky, a key tool for the understanding of important historical phenomena of the 20th century as fascism and the Holocaust, the youth revolts of the 60s, the rise of consumer capitalism, patriarchy and more. But, the political dimension of Freudian psychoanalysis has not only one direction and so it became even an object of criticism by social movements and the new Left, as it is analyzed in chapter 5. The book describes the positive effects of psychoanalysis to critical thought, some basic criticisms that psychoanalysis received and a defense of psychoanalysis against those criticisms.

The book is written and structured in a very comprehensive way and it does not require from the reader to have a deep knowledge of the field with which it deals. Political Freud is a very interesting recording and interpretation of the interactions of Freudian psychoanalysis with the major historical events of the 20th century. It offers a comprehensive and coherent narrative consisting of known facts which however are re-interpreted on the basis of the idea that psychoanalysis was the spirit of capitalism at least until the mid 1970s (p. 16). On the other hand, Zaretsky, on many cases, limits the scope of the analysis, focusing too much on Freud himself rather than on his theory. This creates weak assessments and controversial analyses. Chapter 3, which is mostly based on the analysis of Freud’s relationship to his Jewishness, is a characteristic example. In conclusion, the book demonstrates convincingly enough that Freudian psychoanalysis is not a simple psychotherapeutic tool but is inherently political.

*This is a draft version submitted for publication at the Political Studies Review. The definitive version will be published in Volume 15 of the Journal, issue 1, February 2017.

PhD candidate, School of Political Sciences, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Freelance writer.

PhD candidate, School of Political Sciences, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Freelance writer.