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Communitarianism and distance: Freud and the homelessness of the modern self

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Abstract:



This essay argues that Freud's theory pictures modern selves as coping with a new existential and social predicament: a sense of homelessness within their own home. More specifically, Freud suggests that individuals feel estranged from parts of their own psyche (their super-egos) as well as feeling distant from their own culture and tradition (as they are represented by this psychic agency); in modernity, neither one's mind nor one's community can promise any longer a sense of ground. Because of this sense of perpetual and irrevocable displacement, Freud feared that modern selves might become semi-psychotic, selves lacking an inner social-normative voice. He calls on moderns, however, to overcome this bleak prospect and the related danger of political chaos by accepting the social norms imposed by their super-egos. But Freud champions only a conditional acceptance of tradition, one that involves ongoing scepticism, ambivalence and emotional distance. Freud's position could therefore be characterized as a unique type of communitarianism: it seeks a balance between admission of the constitutive force of tradition on the one hand, and the formation of an emotional detachment from its myths, practices and normative claims on the other.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Dept. of Political Science, Tel Aviv University, Ramat Aviv, Tel Aviv 69978, Israel.. Email: chowers@ccsg.tau.ac.il

Publication date: January 1, 2002

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