FREUD'S CONCEPT OF
Freud discovered the subjective nature or abstract essence of desire, just as Ricardo the subjective nature or abstract essence of labor . . .DELEUZE AND GUATTARI
gical theory of capitalist social relations through an analysis of family interactions which are determined by and determining of extra-familial relations. Hence the task must be a reading of Freud's texts in which his own words reveal the specific contradictions which obscure the family as an object of psychoanalysis.
At first glance the family appears to play an extremely important role in Freud's theory. As Freud himself maintains:
It follows from the nature of the facts which form the material of psychoanalysis that we are obliged to pay as much attention in our case histories to the purely human and social circumstances of our patients as to the somatic data and the symptoms of the disorder. Above all, our interest will be directed toward their family circumstances.The family is the nexus of the experiences with which psychoanalysis is concerned. Freud seeks to decompose the individual into his essential (but unconscious) family relationships. The achievement of psychoanalysis is to unmask the illusion of individualism, of the self-contained, autonomous nature of personal experience and motivation. As an isolated unit, the individual is unintelligible to the analyst. The most personal and particular characteristics of the individual's inner life remain obscure, only becoming meaningful signs when they are traced back to the medically significant body of the family. Hence, the family is the secret of the individual.
Although the family assumes an importance rarely accorded to it before
in scientific thought, Freud is unable to develop a social theory adequate
to account for this object of psychoanalysis. Instead, every time
he seeks to comprehend some aspect of social reality Freud displaces the
analysis either to a biological level of the racial unconscious or, more
importantly, to an individual level. In the case studies Freud's
thought proceeds from the presence of the analysand back to the unconscious
family; in the studies of social questions (Totem and Taboo, Group Psychology
and the Analysis of the Ego, Civilization and Its Discontents,
Moses and Monotheism) it moves to the individual
3 Freud's Concept of the Family
biology, as I will show below. We are thus faced with a circle, a circle of incomprehension, a circle that reduces and distorts the explanatory power of psychoanalysis, ultimately calling into question its advances in its stronghold of personality theory.
The fundamental principle of Freudian psychology is that the structure
of the mind is formed in childhood. The mind is not, therefore, pre-given,
but built up through a process. Two questions are raised by this
principle, neither of which Freud deals with properly: (1) the degree to
which this process is universal and necessary, and (2) the degree
to which it is a purely psychological as distinct from a sociological process.
(A third question, which I will discuss in Chapter 3 in relation to Erik
Erikson, is the degree to which the structure of the mind is subject to
further development and also to structural change after childhood.) The
strength and power of Freudian theory derives from the way in which Freud
is consistent with the fundamental principle and explores its ramifications
in depth. The focus on childhood allows Freud to get beyond the normal
structure of the consciousness of his day, beyond its rationality and its
defenses, and allowed him to explore the realms of the unconscious, of
sexuality, of dreams, slips and jokes, to analyze the logic and the mechanisms
of non-rational consciousness and to demonstrate its importance and ubiquity.
At the same time these advances of Freud are the source of his weakness,
indeed of his misleading and ideological positions. For Freud is
unable to set the body of his advances in a wider context of historical
and social theory. The concept of childhood mental formation is left
without a proper elaboration of the conditions of its possibility,
and this lack comes back to haunt and to qualify Freud's insights.
Although these questions arise at the periphery of the psychoanalytic object,
at the horizon of its field where it intersects with history and social
theory, nonetheless they compel Freud to advance inadequate propositions
to cover up and mask his omissions. In the end he will
defend the bourgeois family as a universal and necessary
institution, he will hypostasize his psychological model into an eternal one, he will reduce the complex processes of social systems to their psychological meaning, and he will present his own theory as a science divorced from the historical field in which it arose. In the last instance, the praxis (therapy) that derives from his theory will end up as an accommodation to the existing ruling powers, not only to the groups that dominate the economy and politics but also to the groups that are in dominant positions in those places where the psyche is constituted, in the family where the male rules the female and, most significantly, where parents dominate children.
We must now uncover the points in Freud's theory where the science of psychoanalysis becomes the ideology of parentism. There is a recurrent, systematic way in which Freud distorts the exchanges that occur in the family. He represents the transactions through which the child's libido begins to take its characteristic shape as the choices of the child, albeit unconscious choices. He distorts the fundamentally hierarchical reciprocity of family communications, masking the manner in which the parents constitute the child as their object by structuring an environment in which objects can be cathected and can be cathected only in certain ways. Freud does this by pretending to represent the child, pretending to give us insight into the family through the eyes of the child and then pretending that the child has "needs" which are natural and given prior to family interactions. In truth, Freud is representing the child as the parents see him, only after he has been constituted by them as a being with certain "needs." In Freud's words,
The same thing occurs in men's social relations as has become familiar to psychoanalytic research in the course of the development of the individual libido. The libido attaches itself to the satisfaction of the great vital needs, and chooses as its first objects the people who have a share in that process.
Direct observation leaves no doubt?in what a fundamental way the child makes the person it loves into the object of all its still not properly centered sexual trends.Freud proposes a being with "needs" and a mechanism through which the satisfaction of the needs leaves as a residue an attachment not to the satisfaction of the needs but to the beings who made the satisfaction possible. Thus the "people who have a share" in the satisfaction of the child's "needs" are simple mediators for Freud. They are not active in shaping the needs or the manner in which the needs are satisfied. The fact that children become attached to their parents is simply a by-product of their individual quest to satisfy needs. Freud recognizes that the child's "sexual trends" are not yet fixed or centered, and this is a good basis for a critique of family structure since it sets up a tension between human needs and family needs. Instead of seeing this as the opportunity for those trends to become set by the action of the parents, instead of seeing the dominant role they play in shaping the amorphous sexual energy of the child, he slips in the word "properly," leaving the parents out of the picture and fixing the process in a natural space that the individual will fill in by himself. But the child at first presents its "needs" pre-linguistically (they are only "needs" to the parents); the parents are the ones who label and give meaning to the child's actions. The child will "center" its sexual trends not simply to form attachments to the parents but by internalizing the meaning (conscious or unconscious) that the child's behavior has for the parents. As soon as one begins to impute needs to the child that it has at the beginning, in some natural state, one is misrepresenting the case. The child has no needs, properly speaking, until it interacts with its parents, and in this interaction the parents, by responding to the child's behavior, determine the existence and the character of the child's needs.
The communication model that goes on
in this situation is distorted seriously by
6 Critical Theory of the Family
Let us take the boy's masturbation and the castration threat as an example. Freud writes:
When the (male) child's interest turns to his genital organ, he betrays this by handling it frequently, and then he is bound to discover that grown-up people do not approve of this activity. More or less plainly and more or less brutally the threat is uttered that this highly valued part of him will be taken away. Usually it is from women that the threat emanates; very often they seek to strengthen their authority by referring to the father or the doctor, who, as they assure the child, will carry out the punishment.... Now the view we hold is that the phallic stage of the genital organization succumbs to this threat of castration.The contemporary reader often smiles at passages such as this, musing at how quaintly Victorian Freud can be. Surely one no longer threatens children with castration. The sophisticated critic will add that the threat itself, not its specific object, alone is important. To Freud, on the contrary, it is specifically the castration threat that was fundamental to his theory, being the pivotal point in the Oedipus complex. There can be little doubt, furthermore, that in bourgeois families of the period castration threats were commonplace.
But Freud does not attach this scene to the particular circumstances
of his era and class. He regards as inevitable the fact that all
adults repress children's genital activity. In this universality
Freud is not simply time-bound; he also distorts the exchange, making it
appear as an inevitable event. The only active role the child plays
in the whole process is the touching of his penis. This touching
then becomes interpreted by the parents and internalized by the child.
The parents repress the activity and at the same time give to the penis
its extraordinary significance. There is no reason to assume
that the child placed any particular significance on its genitals except
that they give pleasure when they are touched, like many other parts of
the body. The parents transform this activity into a major violation
of good conduct. It becomes part of the deep repression of sexuality
in the bourgeois Victorian home. They also give significance to the
penis as the
symbol of the child's sexuality and as the source of its future power or, in the girl's case, lack of power. The parents teach the child to be phallocentric and to keep this phallo-centrism out of his consciousness and behavior. Because the threat is so ultimate the child learns the value of the penis to his parents and to society. To Freud, however, the value of the penis was somehow already there for the child. The penis is naturally a superior organ to the clitoris; it is naturally an organ with absolute value. It is natural that the parents suppress the presence of the penis and it is natural that the father is the final authority in this repression. In this crucial stage of the child's development, when , the phallic stage of the genital organization succumbs to this threat of castration," the parents, in Freud's theory, had little to do with what happened. To Freud, it is necessary that human sexuality should undergo this transformation. Yet obviously the parents were the ones who were threatened by the child's masturbation; and their emotional response charged and structured the situation. With his parentist ideology, Freud does not see this and displaces his explanation to the level of the child's sexual fantasy.
In the case of Little Hans, which concerns a child's animal phobias, Freud is unable to recognize the parent's role in the masturbation threat. The case was unusual because Freud supervised the child's therapy from a distance, through the intermediary of Hans' father. Freud did nothing to prevent the situation of the father as therapist. In fact Freud applauded the methods of the parents in the sexual enlightenment of their child. Yet child and family therapists now recognize that the psychic bond between parent and child is so deep that the parent could not possibly serve as therapist because he is implicated fundamentally in the problem. Hence in this case one can demonstrate conclusively that Freud was blinded by parentism, that he consistently misinterpreted the defensive communications of the parents as the inevitable psycho-sexual development of the child.
With the typically bourgeois need to control
and repress the sexual activity of the
8 Critical Theory of the Family
child, Hans' supposedly enlightened mother' persistently inquires into the boy's masturbatory activity and repeatedly threatens him with castration and loss of love. Freud reports that "his mother asked: 'Do you put your hand to your widdler [penis]?' and he answered: 'Yes. Every evening, when I'm in bed.' The next day, January 9th, he was warned, before his afternoon sleep, not to put his hand on his widdler." And again, Freud notes scientifically: "When he was three and a half his mother found him with his hand to his penis. She threatened him in these words: ' If you do that, I shall send for Dr. A. to cut off your widdler. And then what'll you widdle with?'" And one more example just to show how sexually "mature" the parents are and how the child is the one who has a deep problem: "This morning Hans was given his usual daily bath by his mother and afterwards dried and powdered. As his mother was powdering round his penis and taking care not to touch it, Hans said: 'Why don't you put your finger there?' Mother: 'Because that'd be piggish.'"
Freud cannot see that sexuality is at first the parents' problem, not the child's; that the child's anxiety of losing his mother and his penis is not a fantasy natural to the development of human sexuality, but one typical in the bourgeois family. In the case of little Hans the parents' role in the child's phobias goes completely unnoticed by Freud. Yet the child's fantasies really cannot be understood without relating them to the actions and communications of the parents. In truth there is no natural sexuality, no natural stages of sexual fantasy; sexuality is defined for the child through his interactions with his parents, who are themselves unconscious agents of their class, society and emotional economy. As Laplanche and Pontalis, themselves Freudians it must be said, put it, "it is from the other that sexuality comes to the subject." By failing to analyze the parents' eroticism Freud is incapable of explaining psychic phenomena through their properly social dimension. He is left with the eternal individual-biological level of intrapsychic fantasy, and psychoanalysis becomes ideology.
In the discussion of primary narcissism Freud repeats the same distorting
9 Freud's Concept of the Family
In the stage of narcissism the child cathects pleasureful impulses to its own ego. 'These will later be displaced into the ideal ego. As part of this "inevitable" process Freud depicts scenes from the family:
If we look at the attitude of fond parents toward their children, we cannot but perceive it as a revival and reproduction of their own, long since abandoned narcissism. 'Their feeling, as is well known, is characterized by overestimation. . . They . . . ascribe to the child all manner of perfections which sober observation would not confirm?The child shall have things better than his parents? He is really to be the center and heart of creation. "His Majesty the Baby," as once We fancied ourselves to be. He is to fulfill those dreams and is parents which they never carried out, to become a great man and a hero in his father' s stead, or to marry a prince as a tardy compensation to the mother.Here Freud does appear to recognize the active role of the parents. These parents have rather specific feelings toward their child, feelings that are recognizably bourgeois. 'The first step in Freud's distortion of this scene is to attribute these feelings not to the specific emotional, social and economic needs of the social-climbing bourgeoisie but to refer them back to the parents' "long since abandoned narcissism"--they are inevitable feelings of parents, and hence of the child. 'These feelings, like those in the masturbation scene, are fundamental aspects of nineteenth-century bourgeois experience. (They might also apply to upper sections of the working class in advanced industrial societies.) 'The feeling of being the center of creation is typical of the ego-structure of the bourgeois male. It has not been found among nineteenth-century, workers nor among peasants of earlier centuries. In fact, a French aristocrat in the eighteenth century wrote, "One blushes to think of loving one's children." Where is his primary narcissism revisited? Even for the bourgeoisie in Renaissance Italy, the practice was to send the child out of the house to a wet nurse until the age of two, where it was unlikely that the child would be coddled in this way.
Another central feature of family life that Freud uncovers is the seduction scene. In treating hysterical women Freud traces the source of their neuroses back to an early childhood situation in which the patients claimed they were assaulted sexually by their fathers.
It must be noted that Freud had great difficulty simply discussing incest, so great that he intentionally prevaricated in reporting two cases of incest in Studies on Hysteria by blaming the fathers' acts on the uncles. We are dealing with experiences about which the scientist himself cannot utter objectively the simple facts of the case. Not until thirty years after the book came out did Freud add footnotes revealing the truth. It must also be noted that Freud is here in the midst of a quest for the "cause" or "origin" of a disease. The medical model dominates his methodology. He is searching to isolate an event (seduction) and he wants to attribute the event to an agent. He is misguided in both respects. He should be looking for a structure in which individual agents cannot be analytically isolated. Because he looks for a "devil" and because incest was in his day so forcefully condemned, he cannot bring himself to blame the father. Hence he is unconsciously prepared to find the daughter at fault.
In 1897 he wrote to Fliess that the seduction scenes were not actual events but fantasies of the daughters:
Let me tell you straight away the great secret which has been slowly dawning on me in recent months. I no longer believe in my neurotica . . . There was the astonishing thing that in every case blame was laid on perverse acts by the father . . . though it was hardly credible that perverted acts against children were so general . . . There was the definite realization that there is no "indication of reality" in the unconscious, so that it is impossible to distinguish between truth and emotionally-charged fiction. (This leaves open the possible explanation the sexual phantasy regularly makes use of the theme of the parents.)Again, in a later formulation where the problems emerge more clearly:
11 Freud's Concept of the Family
In the period in which the main interest was directed to discovering infantile sexual traumas, almost all my women patients told me that they had been seduced by their father. I was driven to recognize in the end that these reports were untrue and so came to understand that hysterical symptoms are derived from phantasies and not from real occurrences. It was only later that I was able to recognize in this phantasy of being seduced by the father the expression of the typical Oedipus complex in women.In these passages Freud's theory has undergone a fundamental and fateful change. He has given up his "belief" in the patient in favor of the "credibility" of the parents, thereby instituting a duality of fantasy and reality in which the child's experience is fanciful and the parent represents reality. But this is surely inadequate. There can be no doubt that the sexually repressed parent, who believed in the total "Innocence" of the child, had engaged in unconscious sexual behavior with the child. Even if the child had not been literally seduced, the extreme sexual sterility of the Victorian home is an emotional structure in which sex can only appear in a repressed and indirect form. Freud is unwarranted in asserting that the father cannot be blamed. Although it is not a question of moral blame, the "cause" is the structure, largely unconscious and very intense, through which sexuality emerges and in which the father participates. By exonerating the father, Freud is forced to "blame" the daughter and seek an etiology of neurosis at the purely intra-psychic level of individual fantasy. Thereby psychoanalysis participates in and legitimizes the seduction of the daughter.
The distinction between real events and fantasies is basic to Freud's theory. It goes back to the difference between the pleasure principle and the reality principle, in which the former governs the libido and the latter the ego. Such a sharp duality leads Freud against himself to the position that there are no fantasies in the external world and there is no reality to the libido, to the internal fantasy world. It compels Freud to remove psychic reality from social reality and makes it impossible for him to see their interrelation and to analyze it. In Totem and Taboo he writes, "Only psychic realities and
not actual ones are at the basis of the neurotic's sense Of guilt." And this either/or forces him to retreat from his general position that the repression of sexuality is the basis of neurosis. Clearly fantasies are real, and "external" reality is full of fantasy. In order to sort this question out properly Freud needed a social theory that would focus on the structure of interactions, that would seek to specify the mutual interrelatedness of agents who communicate at several levels of fantasy and reality, and that would be able to map the coordinates that differentiate one structure from another. This is precisely what Freud does not have, and, trapped in a skin theory of individuality, he is unable to conceptualize the family as a psycho-social structure.
When Freud discovers that actual rapes had not occurred--conveniently repressing those cases where there are rapes--he displaces the cause of neurosis from the social reality of family structure to biological or mythic reality. He then maintains either that the girls had hereditary weakness or that their illness was due to the nature of sexual development. He makes a false division between an external, real world with events versus an imaginary world rooted in phylogenetic, biological unconsciousness.
In other places Freud gives us information about family life that is
more than adequate to explain why girls might have fantasies of incest.
He gives us a very clear picture of the i emotional and sexual life of
the family and its historical development. In both his early writings
and his late writings Freud recognizes that the contemporary family embodied
an extreme degree of sexual repression: the family in Western Europe practiced
a "high water mark" of sexual repression. Freud states explicitly
that it was the bourgeois family in particular and the process of urbanization
that contained the key to neurosis and sexual repression: "Neurosis attacks
precisely those whose forefathers, after living in simple healthy, country
conditions, offshoots of rude but vigorous stocks, came to the
great cities where hey were successful and
were able in a short space of
13 Freud's Concept of the Family
time to raise their children to a high level of cultural attainment." Here Freud is suggesting that the recently urbanized nouveaux riches suffer most the burden of Victorian morality. 'This rudimentary sociology of neurosis claims that the morality is too repressive and that the effort to assume this morality too quickly has disastrous effects. Instead of drawing the conclusion that repression is connected with the economic needs of the socially mobile bourgeois, Freud lets his explanation rest at the level of the general requirements of civilization and turns to the relations within the family.
Freud always deplores the extreme suppression of sex in the family.
Among Victorians, women and children were thought of as asexual, and sexual
behavior was limited to the purpose of procreation, sanctioned only between
legally married, lifetime
partners. Children were not given proper sexual education. As a result, Freud observes, when men and women enter marriage they are unprepared to have fulfilling sexual lives. The poverty of their sexual lives leads them to great unhappiness:
The result is that when the girl is suddenly allowed by parental authority to fall in love, she cannot accomplish this mental operation and enters the state of marriage uncertain of her own feelings. As a result?the love-function provides nothing but disappointments for the husband. . . . Psychically she is still attached to her parents . . . and physically she shows herself frigid . . . I do not know whether the anaesthetic type of woman is also found outside the range of civilized education . . . This type is directly cultivated by education . . . Given these general conditions of the nuclear family, what will be the effect on the child? What will be the nature of the relations between parents and children? Again, Freud is remarkably clear and precise:
Such a marriage will increasingly affect the only child--or the limited number of children--which spring from it . . . As a mother the neurotic woman who is unsatisfied by her husband is
14 Critical Theory of the Family
over-tender and over-anxious in regard to the child, to whom she transfers her need for love, thus awakening in it sexual precosity. The bad relations between the parents then stimulate the emotional life of the child, and cause it to experience intensities of love, hate and jealousy while yet in its infancy. The strict training which tolerates no sort of expression of this precocious sexual state lends support to the forces of suppression, and the conflict at this age contains all the elements needed to cause lifelong neurosis.In this remarkable passage Freud recognizes the parent's unfulfilled needs as direct causes of the child's sexual fantasies. Hence the father would not have to attack his daughter overtly to instill intense feelings in her that later she might recall as incest.
Freud even recognizes the most distinguishing feature of the bourgeois
household, a feature that is as pertinent to its emotional life as to its
sexual constraints. This is its relative isolation from any wider
community, the private quality of family experience. Freud
remarks: "The more closely the members of a family are attached to one
another, the more often do they tend to cut themselves off from others,
and the more difficult it is for them to enter into the wider circle of
life." Positively stated, the nuclear family emphasizes intimacy,
privacy and companionship; negatively stated, the intensity of family relationships
are multiplied and the child must find all its emotional needs expressed
in terms of the narrowest possible circle of people. The general
result of these conditions, Freud states, is men who are sexual perverts
and women who are neurotic. But Freud attributes these results to
bourgeois attitudes, not to social structures and practices: "It
is one of the obvious injustices of social life that the standard of culture
should demand the same behavior in sexual life of everyone?"
Hence it is "sexual morality" that "promotes modern nervousness."
At this point one might ask, since Freud has named the traits of the nuclear
family as "causes" of neurosis, how it can be argued that he has no social
theory. The response is that Freud notes the social conditions only
in passing, neither clarifying sufficiently the structural conditions of
psyche nor integrating what he does describe into his theory of psychoanalysis. Family structure remains either a vague, peripheral background of psychoanalysis, without explanatory power, or, in Freud's works on society, an ideological defense of the nuclear family.
Another aspect of family life that plays an important part in Freud's theory is the dependency that he ascribes to childhood. The idea of the child's dependence served many ideological purposes for Freud and reveals the way he masks the social reality of the family. Dependency is to him first of all a justification for the bond developed between parents and children. "The child . . . is taught that his security in life depends on his parents . . . loving him and on their being able to believe that he loves them." To Freud a child must develop deep attachments to its parents because its survival is at stake. Once again the parents are innocent, passive mediators in the emotional need that the child has for them. Freud rarely questions whether parents accentuate their role in the child's survival to insure that the child will develop a sense of being dependent on them. One could, of course, just as easily say that the parents are dependent on the child for their own survival, for the continuation of their line, and that this motive is stronger in them than the sense of dependence is in the child. Furthermore, Freud regards this dependence as a biological necessity, indeed as the hallmark of the species. "The human child's long dependence on its parents [is] an immensely important biological fact." The fact of neotony (incomplete biological development at birth) is used by some theorists to explain the immense importance of society in the formation of the human individual, since the child can learn new behavior before it is biologically determined or fixed. Neotony has also been used against conservative social theories to argue that changes in early childhood experience can be the basis for altering hierarchical institutions. But Freud reverses the perspective and argues from the simple link between generations (a link that compels one generation to play a role in the experience
of the next generation) that children are biologically dependent and therefore psychically dependent. The domination of the old generation over the new is thus sanctioned. He presents parental authoritarianism as an inevitable necessity of human experience. But there is a difference between the need for new generations to be fed, loved, spoken to and introduced into the world by older generations, and the control and domination of the older generation over the younger. Freud grants the excessive domination in contemporary families where children were to be seen and not heard. He warns: "There are only too many occasions on which a child is slighted . . . " But this is forgotten (or repressed) when his theory is constructed and the degree of dependence of the child in bourgeois families is taken as a norm of nature. Given Freud's model, there is no way to account for variations in the quality and degree of the child's dependence in different eras and social classes.
The conclusions drawn by Freud from the alleged dependency of the child, conclusions which are central to his theory, drastically obscure family experience. For nothing less than the Oedipus complex is at stake. The dependence of the child is, according to Freud, the primary (non-psychic) condition for the Oedipus complex. Since the Oedipus complex is the matrix which forms the psyche into its permanent state, the alleged dependence of the child is more than an innocent, secondary assumption. In addition, the tension induced in the child by its dependence conditions its entire psychic development. Freud estimates the importance of dependence in this way: "The danger of Psychical helplessness fits the stage of the ego's early immaturity; the danger of loss of an object (or loss of love) fits the lack of self-sufficiency in the first years of life . . .  In other words, the sense of emotional scarcity, the sense that there are few objects to love and that children must struggle to hold on to love objects, the damage that separation from one of these objects can cause all these fundamental aspects of emotional life have nothing to do, for Freud, with the emotional structure of the family. But indeed a sense of dependence in the child is induced by the scarcity of
love objects. The power of parents to bestow or withhold love coupled with their own peculiar needs for love is the condition that creates dependency as the basic feature of the child's existence.
All these inadequacies in Freud's discussion of family experience are best revealed and have their most serious consequences for psychoanalytic theory in the concept of the Oedipus complex. The Oedipal theory is mentioned by Freud as early as 1897 in a letter to Fleiss discussing Freud's self-analysis. Even at this point, before the general psychological theory was developed, Freud argues for the universality of Oedipus. If the theory of Oedipus was with Freud practically from the beginning of psychoanalysis, it also played a central role in his thought. Oedipus is not only at the heart of all neurosis to Freud; Oedipus is also the chief structuring experience of the psyche. "The relation to the parents instigated by incestuous longings is the central complex of the neurosis."
The main elements of the Oedipal situation are the child's sexual feelings for the parent of the opposite sex, the child's profound feelings of ambivalence toward the parent of the same sex and the child's profound feelings of anxiety in relation to threats against its genitals by the parents. Freud believes that these elements are not rooted in any specific family or social structure. Oedipus is universal. There are two critical questions that must be pursued: (1) Is the Oedipus complex and the resulting psychic structure a consequence of these "universal" elements or can it be connected with a specific family structure? (2) Is Freud attempting to illuminate a universal aspect of psychic experience with his concept of Oedipus or is he in fact explaining particular psychic experiences? By analyzing these questions it can be demonstrated that Freud's Oedipus complex explains psychic formations specific to a limited family structure and, because he is unable to conceptualize Oedipus from the perspective of social theory, he falsely expands the explanatory power of Oedipus to cover all situations, thereby disfiguring a critical concept into an ideological one.
It should be noted from the beginning that
Freud's discussions of the Oedipus com-
plex usually refer to male children. The case for girls is explained later and most often Freud admits humbly that he is not happy with his analysis of the female Oedipus complex. One could argue, therefore, that Oedipus is far from universal since it applies only to men.
When the child is in the third or genital stage of libidinal development, about the age of five, it begins to receive threats from its parents for handling its genitals. The situation is exactly the same for the child as it was during the oral and the anal periods: its erotic pleasure brings it into confrontation with its parents, and it is forced to choose between bodily gratification and the love of its parents. The unique feature of the genital stage, however, is that the child has sexual fantasies about the parent of the opposite sex and these too must undergo repression. The boy must give up his mother as a sexual love object in addition to giving up his penis as a source of overt pleasureful behavior. In exchange for this, the boy internalizes the father and achieves satisfaction of both the penis and the mother at the fantasy level. More accurately, the child defers these gratifications to a later point while identifying with his father, who is distinguished by having both a penis and a woman (the mother). Thus the boy creates the strongest possible needs in himself to be his father. These needs are permanently structured in his psyche in the form of the superego. In Freud's words,
the real danger . . . that the child is afraid of as a result of being in love with his mother . . . is the punishment of being castrated, of losing his genital organ . . . Above all, it is not a question of whether castration is really carried out; what is decisive is that the danger is one that threatens from the outside and that the child believes in it. He has some ground for this, for people threaten him often enough with cutting off his penis during the phallic phase, at the time of his early masturbation, and hints at that punishment must regularly find a phylogenetic reinforcement in him. It is our suspicion that during the human family's primeval period castration used actually to be carried out by a jealous and cruel father upon growing boys, and that circumcision which so frequently plays a part in puberty rites among primitive peoples, is a clearly recognizable relic of it.
19 Freud's Concept of the Family
Several aspects of this quotation need to be noted. First, there is a "real danger." The Oedipus complex does not take place at some purely internal, "intra-psychic" level; it is part of the interactions, the social structure, of the family. There is no ambivalence, no hesitation in Freud about this. Every time he describes the Oedipus complex he refers to a castration threat from "outside." The question remains, however: Did Freud adequately conceptualize this "real danger," did he adequately delimit the structural conditions in which this danger will occur? Second, the danger or threat is not general. It refers specifically to the penis and to "castration" (interestingly, misusing the word). To argue that all children experience threats of one sort or another and therefore undergo the Oedipus complex is inadequate. Freud's argument is quite consistent. Only a threat to the penis (or the fantasized penis for girls) will serve the purpose, because the love of the mother is associated with it. Now one must ask: Does the child have this association or is it the parents' association? In the context of the families that Freud investigated, the fact that the child's masturbation elicited adult sexual relations in the minds of the parents seems probable. The child is participating in sexual experience which is prohibited in bourgeois families. In the parent's anxiety over the child's sexual behavior, the child might well pick up unconsciously the association penis mother. It could also be the case that the association penis mother does not exist at all for the child until it begins to identify with the father. At any rate, masturbation and its emotionally violent repression are essential conditions to Freud for the development of the Oedipus complex. In situations where childhood masturbation is not proscribed (undoubtedly most human history), where parents do not have a great deal of anxiety about overt sexual behavior in children, the complex is called into question.
One often finds the argument that Oedipus is everywhere because there
are always parents and children, parents are always stronger, and parents
always threaten children. But the case can never be made
from these empty generalities to the rich specificity
the particular complex Freud analyzed. This position is on the same level as the argument that since human beings always produce and consume, capitalism is universal. The effect of this argument is to obscure the difference between psycho-social structures, to prevent comprehension of the limits of the present structure and thus to undercut hopes for changing it. Finally, the argument projects ideologically the bourgeois, patriarchal, nuclear form onto all other experience, a tendency of which Freud himself is guilty.
In addition to masturbation, the Oedipus complex also hinges upon the existence and force of the super-ego. As the residue of the Oedipus complex, the super-ego provides proof after the fact for its existence. In Freud's words,
. . . the super-ego appears as the heir of that emotional attachment which is of such importance in childhood. With his abandonment of the Oedipus complex a child must . . . renounce the intense object-cathexes which he has deposited with his parents and it is as a compensation for this loss of objects that there is such a strong intensification of the identifications with his parents which have probably long been present in his ego.Freud is certain that the super-ego is not with us from birth and that its development depends upon a set of family interactions:
Young children are amoral . . . The part which is later taken on by the super-ego is played to begin with by an external power, by parental authority. Parental influence governs the child by offering proofs of love and by threatening punishments which are signs to the child of loss of love and are bound to be feared on their own account. This realistic anxiety is the precursor of later moral anxiety . . . It is only subsequently that the secondary situation develops (which we are all too ready to regard as the normal one), where the external restraint is internalized and the super-ego takes the place of the parental agency . . . The proof of the Oedipus complex is thus bound up with the existence of an internal authority. The initial anxiety of the child confronted by a threat is now replaced by an
internal anxiety (guilt) that the child experiences whenever it has an impulse that is rejected or invalidated by the super-ego. Freud implies that when human beings are governed by internal morality, when they exercise their own restraints, when moral restrictions need not be reinforced methodically by external sanctions, then there is proof of the existence of the Oedipus complex.
But Freud himself notes instances (in addition to pre-Oedipal children) where the super-ego does not operate. In pre-industrial, small-scale agricultural communities, individuals do not appear to be self-governed, self-repressed, autonomous moral agents. Many external mechanisms govern the behavior of adults, and shame, not guilt, is the predominant moral feeling when a custom has been transgressed. Freud observers, "It is remarkable how differently a primitive man behaves. If he has met with a misfortune he does not throw blame on himself but on his fetish, which has obviously not done its duty, and he gives it a thrashing instead of punishing himself." Since a basic effect of the super-ego is to produce a feeling of worthlessness in individuals when they have failed to attain a goal or when they have committed a moral violation or have desired instinctively to do so, it follows that in most societies the super-ego was not a major aspect of psychic structure or of social control. And hence, no Oedipus complex. Thus one must conclude that Freud has not given us the true criteria or specified the main conditions for Oedipus.
If Freud's analysis of the Oedipus complex is probed further it becomes
clear that the privatized nuclear family is the major structural condition.
He tells us revealingly that for the child to undergo the extraordinary
experience of internalizing the father there must be a certain intensity
to the relationship between the child and the parent. In fact, he
claims that the reason girls do not develop strong super-egos is because
they are already castrated and hence cannot experience deep fear at the
threat of the loss. He points to the importance of the degree of
aggression the child must experience before it will internalize the father:
A considerable amount of aggressiveness must be developed in the child against the authority which prevents him from having his first, but none the less his most important satisfactions, whatever the kind of instinctual deprivation that is demanded of him may be . . . By means of identification he takes the unattackable authority into himself. The authority now turns into his super-ego . . . In this formulation, the castration threat is less important than the intensity of the interaction. Freud admits here that what counts is less a matter of the sexual triangle than the degree of emotional involvement, a degree that would seem to apply only to the isolated micro-world of the bourgeois family in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (and possibly to the working-class family of advanced capitalism in the mid-twentieth century). In these cases relations are so imploded that the parents alone are emotionally significant figures for the child during the early years. One's suspicion is confirmed when Freud further qualifies the conditions for the development of the super-ego:
A severe conscience arises from the joint operation of two factors: the frustration of instinct, which unleashes aggressiveness, and the experience of being loved, which turns the aggressiveness inwards and hands it over to the super-ego.The secret of Oedipus is located here: not in the beautiful myths of ancient Greece but in the prosaic bourgeois home. For the combination of an intense love and a severe repressiveness attached to the same people, a combination that began in the bourgeois family conditions the development of the superego. Severe repression, which is probably found in many family situations, is not enough. In the bourgeois family there was both the exercise of total control over children by their parents and an extreme domination and shaping of the child's behavior. In addition, there was an extreme degree of tenderness.
The important consideration for us is that the intense ambivalent feelings
that are at the heart of the Oedipal period require that the child
have but a narrow range of people
relate to emotionally. The ambivalent feelings of aggression due to repression and of love seem perfectly accounted for in the situation of the bourgeois family. With so few sources of identification, with so few adult objects to love, with such severe sexual repression, with the privacy of the parent-child relations, with the removal of the family from the wider community, with the emotional poverty of commodity relations in the business world creating a further need for emotional satisfaction in the family, with the hierarchy of power and needs in the family, it seems indisputable that Oedipus is there in the bourgeois family. The entire structure of this family seems geared to elicit this emotional complex, though Oedipus may be unrecognized and unintended by the parents.
The most elementary social theory would require one to expect just this result. For one precondition of the nuclear monogamous family is that it reproduce itself. The family must somehow instill in the child a deep and inexorable need to find a single, life-long mate with whom alone to share emotional and sexual experience. And this, of course, is what Oedipus does. Only Freud's blindness to social theory keeps him from recognizing this.
Oedipus also reproduces the other main conditions of the bourgeois family. It reproduces the social insecurity of the bourgeoisie, since it creates a deep emotional need to become like the father, to be "successful," and it marshals the child's emotional energy through the guardian super-ego toward achievement in work, toward deferred gratification. Oedipus instills a sexual displacement, an economics of the libido that can only find satisfaction in the economics of capital accumulation, at the direct expense of bodily gratification. After all, far from being natural man, homo economicus is a rare and strange species.
Unable to theorize the social conditions of Oedipus, Freud displaces
its conditions into mythological heavens. Social structures and family
structures are wiped away by him in a grand universalizing gesture of misrecognition.
Hence social life in general becomes the sole condition of Oedipus:
The sense of guilt is an expression of the conflict due to ambivalence, of the eternal struggle between Eros and the instinct of destruction or death. This conflict is set going as soon as men are faced with the task of living together. So long as the community assumes no other form than that of the family, the conflict is bound to express itself in the Oedipus complex, to establish the conscience and to create the first sense of guilt.But the family has never "assumed the form of the community" except for children in nuclear families. Obscuring the difference between social structure and family structure, between different social structures and between different family structures, Freud also obscures the difference between psychic structures and their interdependence with social and family structure. The consequence of his theory is to present the bourgeois psyche as the human psyche, bourgeois complexes as human complexes, to mask the determinate social practices that maintain this psyche, even while penetrating the structure and mechanisms of this psyche as no one before. Freud is, then, the Adam Smith of the family.
The theoretical consequences of Oedipus go further than this. Not only do they mask the bourgeois psyche but Freud then uses Oedipus to invent a fanciful explanation for modern society. Freud's theory of the primal horde argues that the Oedipus complex is the foundation of the basic institutions of civilization: law, religion, art, morality, etc. By making this claim Freud is acknowledging that there is a social dimension to the Oedipus complex and to psychoanalysis in general which cannot be avoided. But he misconstrues the locus of the social implication, displacing it from the specific context of the bourgeois family and modern society onto some vague universal law of social organization.
In this displacement the crucial question concerns what it is that the
Oedipal theory tries to explain. Does it explain a general transformation
which all human beings undergo from childhood fantasy (primary processes)
to adult "reality" (secondary processes)? The preceding analysis
demonstrated that the Oedipal complex explains but one version of
a universal shift from childhood to adulthood. When Freud
the shift from childhood to adulthood. When Freud expands the power of Oedipus he obscures the specific configuration explanatory of the bourgeois psyche and he withdraws it from its concrete social dimension. His effort to give a historical and social ground to Oedipus ironically leads him away from social-historical analysis.
Freud's treatment of the Oedipus myth in Totem and Taboo can be clarified by comparison with the concept of the incest prohibition in Claude Levi-Strauss. The anthropologist views the ban on incest as the prototype of all social law. The taboo on incest institutes human society, since it prevents the conjugal family from isolating itself from other families. Man moves from nature to culture by inhibiting sexual impulses in favor of social organization. The incest taboo establishes the circulation of women between families and thus society takes shape as the organization of kinship. Society is an extension of the family, or better, the family is completely enmeshed in social organization. One may therefore conclude from Levi-Strauss that when society is organized by kinship structure it is precisely Oedipus that is missing.
The ban on incest in Levi-Strauss leads precisely to conclusions opposite from Freud's. Instead of imploding and fixating the emotions of the child on its two parents, the prohibition of mother-son sexuality explodes family life into the larger society. Instead of centering and enclosing the unconscious in the dyad Mama/Papa, the incest taboo decanters and displaces the unconscious onto the whole tribe. Kinship subordinates family to society, placing the individual firmly in the collective, demanding that the individual involve himself in the collective mythology, the collective totem. Law, authority and custom come to the individual not from Mama/Papa but from the tribe.
Just the opposite happens with Freud. Oedipus reduces and shrinks the individual to the family. The internalization of the father as super-ego prevents the individual from participating in collective myth. Oedipus privatizes myth, emotion, fantasy and the unconscious, centering the psyche forever on Mama/Papa. By attempting to expand the
Oedipus complex to kinship structures Freud destroys its specificity, precisely the specificity that allowed him to probe the unconscious of the Victorian bourgeois. Far from a general law, Oedipus is the special law of the modern psyche. It is bound up with the nuclear family, not with kinship, and it goes far in revealing the psychic dynamics of modern families. The neuroses analyzed by Freud are private myths, individual religions; they are the fetishism, the magic of the nuclear family, the myth of people without collective fetishes to relieve guilt. As long as Freud maintains the universality of Oedipus there can be no real history of the family since this requires above all an account of the change from kinship to private families.
There is also a political dimension to Oedipus. Civilization is established, in Freud, through an act of rebellion by the sons against the father. Freud ties the emotional aspect of rebellion to an anti-paternal act, to a bid for sexual liberation and political and economic equality. When he describes the establishment of the super-ego in modern circumstances he employs the same image of rebellion: "The institution of the super-ego which takes over the dangerous aggressive impulses, introduces a garrison, as it were, into regions that are inclined to rebellion . . . " Surely it can be acknowledged that there is an element of generational conflict in every revolution without reducing revolution, as Freud does, to displaced family strife.
An important implication of Freud's position, however, is the conservative
nature of the super-ego and the revolutionary nature of primary processes.
In the essay "On Narcissism" Freud characterizes psychosis as a "revolt"
by the libido (desire) against this "censorial institution."
An argument can be made that the family mediates the conservative forces
of the larger society by dampening assertive and revolutionary impulses
through the internalization of parental authority in the super-ego.
Without affirming that every unrestrained instinct is revolutionary, one
can say that libido is the subjective level of revolution and to this degree
the liberation of libido is part of the path
to revolutionary social change. Freud's ideological formulation is worth quoting at length:
Thus a child's super-ego is in fact constructed on the model not of its parents but of its parents' super-ego; the contents which fill it are the same and it becomes the vehicle of tradition and of all the time-resisting judgments of value which have propagated themselves in this manner from generation to generation. You may easily guess what important assistance taking the super-ego into account will give us in our understanding of the social behavior of mankind-in the problem of delinquency, for instance-and perhaps, even what practical hints on education. It seems likely that what are known as materialistic views of history sin in underestimating this factor. 'They brush It aside with the remark that human "ideologies" are nothing other than the product and superstructure of their contemporary economic conditions. That is true, but very probably not the whole truth. Mankind never lives entirely in the present. 'The past, the traditions of the race and of the people, lives on in the ideologies of the super-ego and yields only slowly to the influences of the present and to new changes; and so long as it operates through the super-ego it plays a powerful part in human life, independently of economic conditions.If we move beyond the family and look now at Freud's studies of society his theoretical weaknesses become even more disturbing. For without a social theory, psychoanalysis slips into reductionism: "For sociology too, dealing as it does with the behavior of people in society, cannot be anything but applied psychology. Strictly speaking there are only two sciences: psychology, pure and applied, and natural science."  This overestimation of the domain of psychology has serious consequences. The basic questions of social existence are to Freud purely psychological: ". . . our own Psychical constitution ... [is] a piece of unconquerable nature" and is responsible for "the social source of suffering."  The meaning and evolution of society is nothing more than "the struggle between Eros and Death." Thus social structures and practices are nothing but a background for the play of psychological forces and mechanisms. Changes in social structures have no meaning in themselves; they affect the conditions of human beings only insofar as they
provide outlets for psychic needs. Freud was so consistent on these questions that he recognized one crucial exception to his reductionism: the family. Even though he denied that the family had any history (since its essence, Oedipus, was eternal) he did express concern at the possibility of eliminating the family as an institution. In the important passage below the consequences of Freud's reductionism emerge:
The psychological premises on which (communism] is based are an untenable illusion. In abolishing private property we deprive the human love of aggression of one of its instruments . . . Aggressiveness was not created by property . . . If we do away with personal rights over material wealth, there still remains prerogative in the field of sexual relationships, which is bound to become the source of the strongest dislike and the most violent hostility among men who in other respects are on an equal footing. If we were to remove this factor too, by allowing complete freedom of sexual life and thus abolishing the family, the germ-cell of civilization, we cannot, it is true, easily foresee what new paths the development of civilization could take; but one thing we can expect, and that is that this indestructible feature of human nature will follow it there.Here it seems that Freud introduces the notion of aggression because he cannot defend private property on any positive grounds. If the problem were truly only that of aggression, mankind would have destroyed itself long before private property was introduced. If this argument does not convince, one could point to the remarkable creativity of man in inventing sources for the release of hostile impulses to save us after the comforts of property have vanished.
Much more interesting than the question of private property is the anxiety
Freud manifests in this passage over the abolition of the family.
Perhaps Freud has guessed that the basic components of his model of the
psyche are bound up with exclusive monogamy. Aggression is not the
problem: psychoanalysis is. With the abolition of the family, Oedipus,
the super-ego., the anal character, the traits of masculinity and femininity,
the extreme form of sex-role differentiation in the nuclear
family, might also
depart. Freud had protected himself against this eventuality with an arsenal of theoretical defenses: the family is eternal since it is rooted biologically in infant dependency and it is part of the racial unconscious that goes back to the beginning of time. When he wrote this passage in Civilization and Its Discontents he must have been led along by the logic of historical inquiry, led beyond his tightly secured ideological masks to pose the question of the historical nature of the family for the first time in all his writings. For one moment he entertains the possibility that the major concepts of psychoanalysis are bound to particular social structures, and he is left disarmed. What is this "civilization" that has its "germ-cell" in the family? Is "civilization" that well-known potpourri of values that go back to ancient Judaea and Greece? But surely there has been no single family pattern since that time, and surely no one would want to attribute the notoriously ideological "values" of this civilization--justice, democracy, freedom, equality, God, law, etc.-to the family!
In addition to psychological reductionism, Freud's concept of civilization (Kultur) contains many unexamined liberal assumptions. He defines civilization as would any liberal progressist: it is science, technology, art, order and cleanliness. He repeats Lockean postulates as if they were absolutes: the individual and society constitute a basic duality, and people live together in society for reasons of utility. Also, he presents liberal, utilitarian moral principles as unquestionable general truths. Human beings "strive after happiness . . . at an absence of pain and unpleasure and, on the other hand, at the experiencing of strong feelings of pleasure." Furthermore, he says that "strife and competition" in human activity are "undoubtedly indispensable." Throughout Freud's social writings, the milieu of the discourse is that of the cosmopolitan bourgeois. Cultural activities are assumed to be man's highest attainments; work is regarded as sublimation, and so on.
Although there are many of these liberal assumptions in Freud which limit his positions, he is by no means a liberal apologist of capitalism. In fact, the great advances
of his psychoanalytic theory emerge as counter-arguments against liberal positions. For example, to Freud the progressive advances of civilization do not lead to happiness, or freedom, or human fulfillment. The utilitarian individual is not a monadic unity, a captain of his soul. Freud uses psychoanalysis to challenge and refute the Enlightenment tradition, but, as we shall see, this challenge is incomplete and he retreats instead to a pessimistic liberalism that leaves liberal institutions unchallenged and legitimates them negatively by discounting any alternative.
In Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego the inadequacy of Freud's social theory again becomes apparent. He begins properly enough by announcing the field of psychoanalysis as a social one. There can be, he note, no sharp separation of the individual from social reality: "Individual psychology is simultaneously social psychology." He recognizes explicitly that psychoanalytic study concerns social and more particularly family relationships.
The relations of an individual to his parents and to his brothers and sisters, to the object of his love, and to his physician--in fact all the relations which have hitherto been the chief subject o psychoanalytic research--may claim to be considered as social phenomena . . .Armed with these basic assumptions Freud is well prepared to develop a theory of group psychology. One finds quickly, however, that such is not the case, that the whole subject of group psychology is distorted by two ideological principles: (1) a liberal one that an individual can be separate from groups, and can be rational only when he is outside the group, and (2) a psychoanalytic one that all human relationships can be reduced to the pattern of the nuclear family and that they never get beyond that pattern.
To establish his own position Freud draws upon Gustave LeBon, Gabriel
Tardé and the tradition which sought to discredit revolutionary
action by psychologizing it as the
outburst of an irrational mob. In the twentieth century, liberals were able to draw upon this anti-revolutionary theory to bolster their critique of mass culture. Threatened by the conformism and the tight interdependence of advanced capitalist society, some liberals defended themselves by reasserting the Enlightenment claim for independence and autonomy as a prerequisite of rationality. The mob psychology of LeBon and Tardé was well suited to defend elitist liberals against the flood of workers demanding a share of political power, and, at the time Freud wrote Group Psychology in I920, against radical socialist movements. Recently, historians like George Rude' have disputed the conservative image of revolutionary action as the wild, irrational upsurge of impoverished hordes. It is now understood that such action has been carried out often by quite respectable artisans, shopkeepers and workers with deliberate, clear goals in mind.
For Freud, on the contrary, the group represents a loss of independence, rationality and discipline for the individual. He counterposes the group to the individual as a fall into unrestrained emotionality and lack of creative, intellectual ability. The individual who joins a group undergoes "a profound mental alteration" in which "those inhibitions upon his instincts which are peculiar to each individual" are removed. This opposition of individual-group, deriving in social theory from John Locke, is a misrepresentation of the social system. It incorrectly presupposes that there are some activities which are outside social reality and are the ground for private, asocial property. In fact, Freud cannot imagine a group psychology which does not aim to reform groups on the basis of the norm of individual rationality:
The problem [of group psychology] consists in how to procure for the group precisely those features which were characteristic of the individual and which are extinguished in him by the formation of the group. For the individual, outside the primitive group, possessed his own continuity, his self-consciousness, his traditions and customs, his own particular functions and
32 Critical Theory of the Family
positions, and he kept apart from his rivals. Owing to his entry into an "unorganized" group he had lost his distinctiveness for a time.Thus the whole of Freud's Group Psychology is flawed by an antithesis of individual and society. Ironically, Freud's image of the individual as a rational, self-restrained and distinctive being goes against his own insights into the unconscious. Normally for Freud the individual is not this petite bourgeois utilitarian but a disunited (decentered) set of fragments of family experience. The fact that Freud retreats from his own advances when he is confronted by the problem of the group is a warning that his psychological theory is not properly constituted as an element of social theory. Indeed, more recent efforts at a psychoanalytic theory of groups, like those of Bion, have been forced to recognize Freud's failure to comprehend emotional patterns specific to organized group activity.
Freud's failure is only partially understood through his liberal social theory. The main reason for his failure comes in his effort to analyze the emotional patterns of the group by reducing them to those of the nuclear family. Freud attempts to show that participation in any social organization--church or army, authoritarian or democratic group, bureaucratized or primitive group, involuntary or voluntary group, a group with or without leaders, a group that is homogeneous (racially, sexually or by class) or not--is little more than an extension of the patriarchal nuclear family. This reduction of all social relations to the nuclear family contains the key to much of the difficulty with his theory in general.
The "essence of the group mind," Freud contends, is the nature of the libidinal (emotional) bond that keeps the group together. Groups are composed of individuals who have specific types of love relationships with each other. Psychoanalytic theory allows Freud to reveal the precise characteristics of this bond. The love which group members have for each other is first of all of the aim-inhibited type; it is similar to friendship or affection. Direct sexual love, on the other hand, is incompatible with group
love, on the other hand, is incompatible with group formation since it leads to exclusive, private bonds. Next, the aim-inhibited bonds are of two types: (1) each group member has a relationship of identification with each other member which is grounded In the far more profound feeling they have for a common leader; and (2) each member has substituted the leader for his ego ideal. The first bond, Freud says, is at the level of the ego: a person consciously feels friendly toward other people who are in his group. The second bond is probably unconscious since It is cathected at the level of the ego-ideal, for which one can substitute the term "super-ego" which Freud had not yet begun to use in 1920. This bond with the leader is the determining factor in group consciousness for Freud. Because the leader is a "substitute father" the psychic behavior of individuals in the group tends to regress to unresolved childhood fixations. Even the degree to which group behavior is regressive is determined by the leader, not the members. A "primitive" leader (like Hitler) will cast such a spell over the group that its actions will resemble those of "children" or "primitives," while a more subdued and rational leader (like Roosevelt) will induce milder forms of emotional excess, unfreedom, loss of intellect and creative incapacity. These nuances aside, Freud's central postulate is that all group action reproduces, at the emotional level, the life of the family. Thus severe forms of psychological reductionism become possible, such as the treatment of the new left as a generational problem by Lewis Feuer and Raymond Aron. Freud, of course, would apply his analysis to all politics, even liberal politics, whereas some of his followers use the theory only against their enemies.
But Freud is not content to leave his analysis at this point. In Group Psychology he fleshes out his position with historical and social supports. Historically, he reiterates the argument from Totem and Taboo about the origins of the Oedipus complex and the evolution of groups. Originally, at some mythic moment in the past, the primal horde
was characterized by the libidinal bonds of the group. Tribal members identified with each other through their internalization of the father-leader, which presupposed the substitution of the leader for the ego-ideal or super-ego. At this point, before the rebellion against the father, the Oedipal trauma and the erection of the super-ego, it is, of course, difficult to see how the members could substitute the leader for the super-ego, since they had not yet formed one. Freud does not clarify this contradiction. His concern instead is with the formation of "individual psychology" as opposed to group psychology," that is, with the leader, not the followers. He is puzzled by the mechanism through which the "individual psychology" of the leader can be reproduced in the next leader. His conclusion is that after the rebellion against the father and after the brief interregnum of matriarchy which ensued, the youngest son of the leader, who was favored by his mother, became individuated through writing poetry. Following his student, Otto Rank, Freud says that in this son "who aspires to the father's place, the poet now created the first ego ideal." He continues:
The myth, then, is the step by which the individual emerges from group psychology. The first myth was certainly the psychological, the hero myth . . . The poet who had taken this step and had in this set himself from the group in his imagination, is nevertheless able . . . to find his way back to reality . . . At bottom this hero is no one but himself?the hearers [of the myth] understand the poet, and?they can identify themselves with the hero . . . Through this argument Freud believes he has solved the historical problem of individuation when in fact he has done no more than create another myth to legitimize his theory. The import of Freud's construction is crucial, however, to the whole edifice of psychoanalytic theory, for it seeks to preserve psychoanalysis as a theory of the individual.
The hero is able to attain to "individual psychology" only because he internalizes his father at a deep enough level; he creates an ego-ideal" in himself. Hence the mechanism
for reproducing individuals--those who are free, who can think, who can restrain their emotions, who can be distinctive-is the key to history. But the mechanism for this degree of individualization is the patriarchal nuclear family, not the heroic poet. For in the nuclear family alone the intense emotional interaction between parents and children creates the conditions for internalizing one parent as a super-ego. The story of the hero proves to Freud's satisfaction that individuals as he has theorized them are historically possible and are positive alternatives to people who can only participate in "group psychology."
The Oedipus myth fits into Freud's group psychology in a second way to explain the incest taboo. After the death of the father, the new leader banned the desire for which the rebellion was carried out, the love for the women. Hence, no incest: "A wedge was driven in between a man's affectionate and sensual feelings, one still firmly fixed in his erotic life today. As a result of this exogamy the sensual needs of men had to be satisfied with strange and unloved women." The incest taboo, forcing the males to find women outside the clan, helped preserve the life of the group, since it removed all love bonds that were not aim-inhibited from relations between members. Direct satisfaction of sexual needs was banished from social relations to become established only in a peripheral world of relations with non-members. Society was constituted (and with it group psychology) on the basis of the fundamental repression of the unity between affectionate love and sexual love. This is the first step in Freud's justification of the nuclear family as the only source for the gratification of sex and love.
The next step is crucial. After grounding "individual psychology" in the Oedipus complex and after arguing that sex and society are incompatible, Freud tries to demonstrate that the nuclear family is the best possible family structure:
Directly sexual impulsions are unfavorable to the formation of groups. In the history of the development of the family there have also, it is true, been group relations of sexual love (group marriages); but the more important sexual love became for the ego, and the more it de-
veloped the characteristics of being in love, the more urgently it required to be limited to two people . . . as is prescribed by the nature of the genital aim. Polygamous inclinations had to be content to find satisfaction in a succession of changing objects.Thus the nuclear family is the only legitimate form of sexual relations because (1) direct sex is incompatible with groups, (2) the genital aim is "naturally" limited to the couple, and (3) only in the nuclear family are "individuals" formed. Freud has "proven" the incompatibility of groups and sex only on the basis of his view of the nuclear family. If love and sex are limited to the nuclear family, then the group, society at large, cannot include sexual expressions. For if sex is already defined as exclusive and leading to privatization, quite naturally it will tend to disrupt group activities. And if social relations are dominated by capitalist, utilitarian, purely cognitive relations, sex has already been excluded in all its forms, finding its only refuge in the private family. The problem, however, is to study how sex and love become sequestered in the private family in connection with the development of capitalism and urbanization. Then too, if "individual psychology" is the secret goal of history and if it embodies all the bourgeois virtues (independence, rationality, emotional restraint, freedom, etc.) it is then necessary that the group be regressive. The only locus for regression, the only place to go back to emotionally, is the nuclear family as it is sedimented in the unconscious. There, of course, we find Papa. Hence, the group must be in Freud's view a psychic fixation on Papa and nothing more because all other types of psychic life have been excluded from it: love to the family and sublimation to individuality.
In one passing comment in Group Psychology Freud does recognize the historicity of the bourgeois family, although he does not probe the meaning of this for his group psychology. He noticed that "there are abundant indications that being in love only made its appearance late on in the sexual relations between men and women; so that the opposition between sexual love and group ties is also a late development." If sexual
love and group ties are only a recent contradiction, what kind of group psychology existed before they were in opposition? Freud does not probe this important question. At stake here is the possibility of psychic structures that are different from those dominated by the Oedipus complex and the formation of the super-ego. In fact, before the formation of the connection between romantic love and monogamy, before the nuclear family, extended families and kinship structures were dominant and these were integrated into larger social structures. A true psychological history of the family would concern itself with the nature of these differences and hence with the limits of the Freudian model based on the Oedipus complex. Freud himself does everything he can to conceal the import of these historic changes. He limits the psychology of groups to regressive and non-intellectual behavior, thereby preserving the bourgeois concept of the individual, and he extends the nuclear family, with its privatization of love and sex, as the norm of all family structures.
It is only when the affectionate, that is, personal, factor of a love relation gives place entirely to the sensual one, that it is possible for two people to have sexual intercourse in the presence of others or for there to be simultaneous sexual acts in a group, as occurs at an orgy. But at that point a regression has taken place to an early stage in sexual relations, at which being in love as yet played no part, and all sexual objects were judged to be of equal value . . . But why must an equality of sexual objects be defined as regressive? For Freud a "personal," "affectionate" sexual encounter must be "private," as it is in the nuclear family. This privatization of sexual love, which was not the case in peasant and aristocratic families before the eighteenth century or in working-class families in the early nineteenth century, is connected historically with the rise of possessive love relations among the bourgeoisie, which might be characterized by anal regression as much as by mature, "natural" genital love. The condition of privacy for personalized sexuality derives from the wife's status as property and from psychic needs typical of
the bourgeois family. Ironically, Freud in 1980 criticized the privacy of bourgeois sexuality by naming it a source of neurosis.
Unwittingly Freud reveals the political aspect of the family in Group Psychology. The privatization of love and sex are an integral part of modern, capitalist society. All radical threats to the established system cannot, if Freud is correct, challenge the family system. But if they fail to challenge the family system, they cannot challenge the general social system, at least not in its psychological dimension. The economy can never be socialized (removed from private ownership and control) because the psychological strength required for such a movement cannot be marshaled. Collective action will always be nothing more than regressive, childlike action which cannot create, with intelligence and self-restraint, any new social system. Freud states this explicitly: "Social feeling [for justice and equality] is based upon the reversal of what was first [in sibling rivalry] a hostile feeling into a positively-toned tie in the nature of an identification." The demand for equality on the part of group members amounts to a reaction-formation against each member's desire to be given special privileges by the father-leader. Equality for him is a desire to avoid conflicts over Papa's love and nothing more than that. The desire for equal participation and control over social resources cannot be realized because it is simply the denial and reversal of a deep-seated fantasy for the father's love.
One can see the ambiguity of Freud's liberalism and the way it affects his concept of the family by discussing briefly his concept of therapy. In addition to the medical purpose of eliminating pain, psychoanalysis has a liberal, Enlightenment inspired concern for making the analysand more in control of himself and hence more rational. Freud maintains that
the therapeutic efforts of psychoanalysis [are intended to] strengthen the ego, to make it more independent of the super-ego, to widen its field of perception and enlarge its organization, so that it can appropriate fresh portions of the id. Where id was, there ego shall be. It is a work of culture-not unlike the draining of the Zuider Zee.
39 Freud's Concept of the Family
By limiting therapy to the individual Freud gives up any attempt to challenge the system of interactions through which the individual developed and in which he continues to repeat harmful patterns. And more than this, the effort to cure the individual as a praxis leads back to shape the theory. His science must develop an analysis of the structure and mechanisms of the individual divorced from social reality. The practice of individual therapy has a feedback effect on theory, directing the explanatory power of the concepts at intra-psychic phenomena alone. There is no way to gauge the degree of this effect but it is so profound that when Freud addresses himself to the problem of civilization he can deal with it only on the analogy to the individual.
Freud presents the psychological dimension of the history of civilization as the story of the increasing, linear, continuous growth of the psychic structure of the individual. Psychologically, civilization means an increasing repression of the instincts, an increasing strengthening of the character traits of anality, an increasing severity of the super-ego and of the feeling of guilt, an increasing resort to sublimation as the only form of instinctual cathexis, and, finally, an increasing feeling of anxiety deriving from the enormous overall level of repression. Stated in this way, Freud's psychohistory is a myth which projects current structures back through time. Civilization is nothing more than Freud's model of the individual psyche writ large. Civilization to him is in essence a struggle between Eros and Thanatos; the individual is driven by the same duality of instincts. Civilization causes aggression to be internalized resulting in guilt; the individual's psycho-sexual development requires the same process during the Oedipal stage. One could go on with this parallelism. At every point of the individual psychic structure, Freud elaborates an exact homology for the level of society. In philosophical language ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny; plainly stated, the argument is circular, never leaving the individual.
In Civilization and Its Discontents Freud explores this position to explain why advanced society leads to nothing but misery. Of course, Freud is concerned only with the middle and upper classes: the discontents of his "individuals" are not those of workers strugg-
ling to survive materially. But even so, his explanation is inadequate. His conclusion is that the discontent: of civilization are unavoidable, deep though they are. Hence Freud can be elevated to the lofty heights of the tragic vision or so it is often said. In fact his vision is not tragic at all since there is no alternative.
Yet Freud did analyze and describe the psyche of the bourgeoisie, and if he is read from the perspective of critical social theory, the psychological dimension of industrial capitalism becomes available to psychohistory. This reading of Freud can only be done, however, after his theory of the psyche has been reconceptualized through a social theory of the family which would specify the conditions for the development of the Oedipus complex, the anal character, and so forth. Such an analysis would proceed by looking at the relationship of the family to society: economically, to see the specific ways in which the family functions as a work unit and a consumption unit; politically, to see the way in which dominant roles in the family correspond or do not correspond to dominant political roles: socially, to see the way in which the family is immersed in the wider community or separated out and privatized. Next it would have to look at the specific interactional structures of the family: at the child-rearing practices; at the number and variety of sources for identification for the children; at the sexual patterns of the adults; at the roles and activities of the adults in the family; at the attitudes of family members about the family or their expectations and images of other members. At the same time these questions must be explored at the psychological level to look for the emotional content, the fantasy content and the unconscious content of the interactional forms. The psychic structures and mechanisms uncovered by Freud could then be studied empirically and relativized: to what degree is a super-ego developed or are emotional restrictions imposed communally; to what degree is sexuality repressed; what is the form of ego-identity and what are the typical defense mechanisms of different groups; what are the typical character traits as they develop out of the psycho-sexual
stages; to what degree is fantasy supported or contradicted by "rationality"- how are the insane defined, what form does insanity take and what social practices are instituted to deal with it.
Properly reconstructed, Freud's theory would render intelligible the
emotional structures of the family mediated by and mediating in specific
ways the larger social apparatuses. Its limits would be specified
historically and by class. The critical possibilities of the theory,
its role in the theoretical and practical movement of emancipation, would
then become clear. The last two chapters of this book will attempt
to develop such a theory. But before turning to the construction
of a critical theory of the family, it is necessary first to review the
concept of the family in other intellectual traditions.