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The Psychoanalytic Movement: The Cunning of Unreason (Rethinking Theory) [Hardcover]

Ernest Gellner
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

15 Aug 1996 Rethinking Theory
The Psychoanalytic Movement explains how the language of psychoanalysis became the dominant way in which the middle classes of the industrialized West speak about their emotions. Explains how the language of psychoanalysis became the dominant way for the industrialized West to speak about emotion. Argues that although psychoanalysis offers an incisive picture of human nature, it provides untestable operational definitions and makes unsubstantiated claims concerning its therapeutic efficacy. Includes new foreword by Jose Brunner that expands on the central argument of the book and argues that Gellner and Freud might be seen as kindred spirits.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 241 pages
  • Publisher: Northwestern University Press (15 Aug 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0810113694
  • ISBN-13: 978-0810113695
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,843,894 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

‘ The Psychoanalytic Movement was recognized as a classic upon its publication. José Brunner′s new introduction places the argument within the context of “the Freud wars”, making it clear that the book was as concerned to explain the fabulous success of psychoanalysis as to debunk its pretensions. This may be Gellner′s greatest book, containing as it does a general view of the history of philosophy and the character of modernity.’ John A. Hall, McGill University <!––end––> Previous praise for The Psychoanalytic Movement : ‘A marvel… This is a brilliantly written book, every page sparkling with intelligence, style and substance. Gellner provides a welcome and literate overview of the latest philosophic controversy about the logical status of psychoanalytic propositions. Its every page instructs and enlivens and represents a tribute to humane intelligence.’ New Statesman ‘In a stylish, witty and deceptively readable book, Gellner exposes the secular religious nature of the psychoanalytic enterprise. He admits that a compelling, charismatic belief must possess more than merely the promise of succour in a plague and links with the background convictions of the age.’ Nature ‘This is the first determined effort to account for a very odd historical and sociological phenomenon in realistic and meaningful terms…and it makes very good sense. Gellner is incisive, agreeable to read and often witty.’ Institute of Psychiatry Journal --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From the Back Cover

How did the language of psychoanalysis become the dominant idiom in which the middle classes of the industrialized West speak about their emotions? Ernest Gellner offers a forceful and complex answer to this intriguing question in The Psychoanalytic Movement . This landmark study argues that although psychoanalysis offers an incisive picture of human nature, it provides untestable operational definitions and makes unsubstantiated claims concerning its therapeutic efficacy. In a new foreword José Brunner expands on the central argument of The Psychoanalytic Movement . Placing Gellner′s work in the context of contemporary hostile critiques of Freud, Brunner argues that these two blatantly different thinkers might also be seen as kindred spirits. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
More than most subjects, Psychoanalysis will attract personal judgement because of its very nature, especially in English. I am somewhat doubtful of many of its claims, so no one will be surprised to find that I enjoy and value Gellner's clearly written, bracing critique. Although on the whole doubtful of the worth of most Psychoanalytic concepts, he identifies The Transference as the worthwhile keystone of such thinking and this consideration is thoughtful and worth debating. Now of course anything that deals with the Human Subject, unless in a social logic (even Sociology!) will be informed, of necessity, by an ad hominem quality. I would not see that as necessarily a fault, it may fruitfully lead one to look at the social sciences and see if Psychoanalysis has a place there, where, say, Physics is not the model. German does this better with its handle of naturwissenschaft; it is out of this tradition that Gellner comes and into our Empiricist one, so perhaps his is not such a surprising critique. It is certainly measured, as anyone who has read, for example, Frederick Crews can readily attest. My favourite remark on the topic remains that of Karl Krauss, that "Psychoanalysis is the disease for which it claims to be the cure", a fine example of Viennese mordant wit that is clearly meant to provoke, but there is something of this notion underpinning Gellner's own, kinder strictures.
Very enjoyable and far less parti pris than other books pro or con this subject, Adam Phillips being a worthy exception.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars UNATO 3 Mar 2007
By Luc REYNAERT TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Ernest Gellner stigmatizes Freudianism as a secular religion, where the Unconscious (a new version of the Original Sin) is treated as a Revelation, with a sharp distinction between the sacred (those under analysis) and the profane, between the good (the true believers) and the bad, and where reason must be suspended.

Freud's concepts are untestable (the experience - transfer - between analysand and analyst is unique) and nebulous (reality can always be made conform to the system).

His basic technique is free association which should lead to the uncovering of repressed mental contents and correspondent therapeutic consequences for the patient.

The only testable component of the theory are its therapeutic claims, but the effectiveness of the therapy is extremely dubious and unproven.

For the author, Freudianism is a self-perpetuating, falsification-evading, closed system, which controls its own database. In one word, it is a pseudo-science.

Its enormous vested interests (also financial) are cultivated and protected by a guild: UNATO (United Nations Analysis and Therapy Organization).

This brilliantly written, corrosive text contains excellent short evaluations of Nietzsche, Marx, Berkeley, Plato and Stoicism.

A must read for all guild-members and outsiders.
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2 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Well................ 18 Dec 2007
By O. Dale
Format:Paperback
I was rather disappionted with this book. It's coverage of the early history of psychoanalysis was very interesting and gave food for thought. By Chapter 3, however, it began to loose its way. Although some balance and fair critique remain, many of the charges display a lack of understanding and are at times deeply confused as well as contradictory. His description of transference is so awful I felt it dishonest in that it's description only served his argument. Although published in the 1980's, he also ignores recent developments and focuses almost singularly on Freud and his, very human, failings.

This critique is peppered with loaded words, phrases and prejudice. His frustration with psychoanalysis is quite clear. At one point he laments that the very nature of psychoanalysis means the only arguments against it are Ad Hominem, which in the case of this book he exemplifies in a very personal way.

At the very end he states that the unconscious world Freud described was "true", but the cure was not. Which I found to be very telling.
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The future of an illusion 25 Sep 2005
By David H Miller - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
In this book, Ernest Gellner uses the psychoanalytic movement as a "case study" to explore the general human tendency to create delusional ideological systems which serve various political, social, and psychological needs. He also focuses in on the specific structural features of modern life that made psychoanalysis an especially successful ideology.

As Gellner sums up in his final chapter, "In a sense, the present book is more interested in our Zeitgeist than in psychoanalysis. The crucial strategic position occupied by Freudianism in the social and intellectual history of mankind, makes it possible for us to learn a vast amount from it about, on the one hand, the general anatomy of belief systems and, on the other, the special conditions prevalent in our age."

In his first two chapters, Gellner focuses in on what might be called the modern predicament. Before the rise of natural science and philosophical empiricism, it was easy to explain the mixture of good and evil, the sheer perversity, embodied in human beings. Humans were, quite literally, halfway between beasts and angels.

The rise of science and modern philosophy invalidated that belief. Taking David Hume as a prime example, Gellner shows that the scientific, empiricist thought of the Enlightenment abandoned the angel/beast dichotomy. The Enlightenment theorists naturalized man: the model of man they ended up with, which Gellner dubs the "Bundleman," was a random mixture of self-interested desires and needs which were easily satisfied by a conservatively cautious policy of maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain.

Real human beings, of course, act much more like a mixture of angel and beast than the cautiously and rationally selfish "Bundleman" of the Enlightenment.

Nietzsche was, Gellner claims, the first serious post-Enlightenment thinker to fully realize this fact, and the realization finally drove poor Nietzsche insane.

Freud's genius was to take the Nietzschean insight and domesticate it, thereby turning it into the basis of a very successful, very lucrative pseudo-scientific cult - psychoanalysis.

Freud's task was made easier by certain features of the modern world. The modern world exhibits deep reverence for applied science, especially medicine. In modern industrial societies, technology has eradicated most traditional physical threats (starvation, plague, wild animals, etc.). In our society, the pressing threats perceived by most people lie rather in the increasing complexity of, and importance placed upon, human relationships. It is just in this area of interpersonal relationships where psychoanalysis offered help.

Most of the book explores the tricks and turns by which psychoanalysis maintained its authority. Nowadays, now that there is hardly an intelligent person left who is a hard-core believer in the Freudian faith, is this of any more than historical interest?

Yes.

While Freud may finally be buried, his residue endures -- as "therapy," "couselling," "adjustment," etc. -- and continues to muddle our thinking process and our ability to make moral evaluations. As Gellner rhetorically asks, concerning the Holy Grail of "adjustment," "[I]s adaptation, adjustment to any regime, including a tyrannical one, a sign of mental health?" The Soviets, hardly orthodox Freudians, famously answered "Yes!"

But even more important, as Gellner emphasizes, the fraud of Freudianism is a typical example of the functioning of human society in general:

"Societies possess techniques for rendering ideas socially constitutive, and these techniques tend to share certain formal features. It is important to remember that this is the normal condition of mankind: most ideas of most men at most times are beyond the reach of questioning... An idea does not have simply a cognitive role...it is at the same time linked to a set of personal relations, to loyalties, hierarchies, sentiments, hopes and fears. To shake the idea would be to disturb all that. Most men are neither willing nor able to do that."

To put it more bluntly, the structure of all hitherto existing human societies is grounded in socially-imposed, emotionally-compelling lies.

Did Freud and his colleagues engage in bizarre intellectual contortions to prevent their ideas from being questioned or subjected to criticism?

Yes... but have you ever asked a liberal why we must slavishly accede to the results of a democratic election? The answer is that if you choose to vote, you are obliged to accept the results, and, if you don't vote, you have no right to complain. Is Freudian reasoning any more circular than that?

Did Freud and his colleagues frantically avoid confronting their theories with empirical reality? (Freud once declared that "I cannot advise too strongly against" seeking out empirical evidence to check the conclusions of a psychoanalytic diagnosis because the result would be that "confidence in the analysis is shattered and a court of appeal is set up over it.")

Yes... but have you ever talked with a conservative about the actual historical process by which the US Constitution was "ratified"?

Do Freudians apply different standards to themselves than to all other human beings, accusing critics and skeptics of being mentally and morally deranged?

Yes... but have you ever tried asking a Christian why, since they preach that Jesus taught the pacifist doctrines of "Resist not evil!" and "Turn the other cheek!", many Christians are among the most violent and militaristic people on the planet?

What then would happen if everyone learned the central lesson of Gellner's book -- that deception, dishonesty, and manipulation are at the heart not only of the psychoanalytic movement but of nearly all forms of social authority?

If people simply cease believing in authority, them, like Tinkerbell, authority simply dies.

If the world were free of lies, deception, and manipulation, then the authority of clergymen and governments, of judges, schoolteachers, psychotherapists, professors, and policemen, would all simply disappear.

Garbagemen can still collect garbage, farmers can still farm, and deliverymen can still deliver even if no one "believes' in them. But if no one believes in clergymen, or psychoanalysts, or Presidents, then there would no longer be clergymen, psychoanalysts, or Presidents. Like Tinkerbell, they would simply fade away.

And, perhaps, that would be a very good thing indeed.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars UNATO 3 Mar 2007
By Luc REYNAERT - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Ernest Gellner stigmatizes Freudianism as a secular religion, where the Unconscious (a new version of the Original Sin) is treated as a Revelation, with a sharp distinction between the sacred (those under analysis) and the profane, between the good (the true believers) and the bad, and where reason must be suspended.

Freud's concepts are untestable (the experience - transfer - between analysand and analyst is unique) and nebulous (reality can always be made conform to the system).

His basic technique is free association which should lead to the uncovering of repressed mental contents and correspondent therapeutic consequences for the patient.

The only testable component of the theory are its therapeutic claims, but the effectiveness of the therapy is extremely dubious and unproven.

For the author, Freudianism is a self-perpetuating, falsification-evading, closed system, which controls its own database. In one word, it is a pseudo-science.

Its enormous vested interests (also financial) are cultivated and protected by a guild: UNATO (United Nations Analysis and Therapy Organization).

This brilliantly written, corrosive text contains excellent short evaluations of Nietzsche, Marx, Berkeley, Plato and Stoicism.

A must read for all guild-members and outsiders.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Necessary Book 4 Sep 2013
By Richard Clark - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Gellner was born in Paris in 1925, and was educated in Prague and England. Among other positions he held, he was professor of philosophy and sociology at the London School of Economics from 1949 to 1984. This kind of background is very important to understanding and questioning Freud's basic ideas. Most of the beginning texts books on "Western Psychology" today talk about Freud as if he was the father of the "unconscious" and an original genius who "discovered" and created, almost single-handily, the beginnings of what we know today as the "Science of Psychology."
This myth is perpetuated hundreds of times over in both college text books and, especially, in the media. Well, Gellner lived all during the time that Freud was creating his own mythology and writing about successful therapeutic encounters with patients that never happened, or at least should be questioned as driven by a man who was a creator of his own novel. Freud reeks of subjectivity and a mania to be someone who was only one of the players of the time.
That Gellner was trained in philosophy and sociology is very important to understanding Freud. Gellner is not repeating the standard story about Freud because he had no interest or involvement in the American text book industry or American academic world of book publishing, among other realities. As I noticed immediately, he was only interested in investigating the main ideas behind the psychoanalytic movement as any good philosopher does--just for themselves and in the context of the idea's life. This book is not a "great read" or in any way targeted to the incoming freshman of American universities. Gellner digs, questions, and relentlessly questions the basic ideas of the psychoanalytic movement. So, if you think that "everyone knows" that we all have "unconscious" minds or areas of thought, reason and many, many buried past events that drive our present interactions and emotions and human possibilities that must be revealed in order for us to be successful, happy or capable of achieving our goals in life--then do not read this book! You start to find out that Freud lived in a rather bloody moment in history and needed money to feed his family and created a novel to make all that happen. You will not find all of that in Gellner's book. But, you will find "...what Freud in effect did was to supplement and fortify a nave mentalist model of conscious human behavior, by endowing the conscious mind with a kind of strange doppelganger who, however, all in all, rather resembled his partner." (p.86) Where is that criticism in Psychology 101? And, of course, in all the following notations of Freud being the person who "discovered the unconscious." Or, maybe he "created it?" After all, no one in the history of ideas, philosophy, meditation, spiritual quests or other self human examination processes, in any time before Freud, questioned how the mind works in any form of a "scientific" examination as objective as Freud--right? Good Hunting.
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