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Fascism and Psychoanalysis


Module description

This module explores the history of Anglo-American psychoanalytic thought about fascism and Nazism, focusing on the development of ideas from the interwar to the post-war period. It places the psychoanalytic investigation of fascist leaders and group processes in historical context and examines a range of interpretations of the psychopathology of the Third Reich. The course introduces some important methodological questions and problems regarding ‘applied' psychoanalysis in historical studies. It enables you to investigate how far political history was influenced by theories of the mind, and how far models of the mind were reshaped by the struggle against fascism. Seminars will focus on specific psychoanalytic texts and other works produced by the ‘psy’ professions in the middle decades of the twentieth century. The course also looks at several films and documentaries, and makes use of a dedicated website of primary documents.  

Key questions include: how far did Freudian thought affect the Allied understanding of the Third Reich? Was the 'talking cure' affected by the ideological battle and military conflict with Germany? What was the role of psychiatry during the Nuremberg Trial? In addressing these questions, work by, among others, Freud, Klein, Reich, Fromm, Arendt, Adorno, Bettelheim and Bion will be considered. Early twentieth-century accounts of fascist mentality and the so-called authoritarian personality will be juxtaposed with recent perspectives. The aim is to place psychoanalytic investigations of the Nazi leadership and the ‘masses’ in a cultural context, to compare psychoanalytic views of fascism with other approaches in historiography and the human sciences, and to ask whether the Allied struggle against Germany influenced wider attitudes to the mind after 1945.