Journal Article

Truth, Truthfulness, and Psychoanalysis: The Reception of Freud in Wilhelmine Germany

Anthony D. Kauders

in German History

Volume 31, issue 1, pages 1-22
Published in print March 2013 | ISSN: 0266-3554
Published online February 2013 | e-ISSN: 1477-089X | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/gerhis/ghs121
Truth, Truthfulness, and Psychoanalysis: The Reception of Freud in Wilhelmine Germany

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The reception of Freud in Wilhelmine Germany was the encounter with controversial ideas on sexuality, the unconscious, and personal identity. This essay examines the reactions to psychoanalysis amongst three groups: the professional world of psychiatry and psychology; Hans Blüher and the youth movement; and Otto Gross as part of the expressionist-anarchist milieu. These groups represent the ideal-typical ways of responding to Freud at this time: the first embodied the ‘bourgeois’ (bürgerlich) norms of moderation, Bildung, and self-control; the second the value of communal authenticity within the context of life reform; and the third the principle of transgressive subjectivity in the name of individual liberation. As much as these encounters disclose the diversity and complexity of Wilhelmine society, they also allow us to locate the status of psychoanalysis at the time. The article argues that while different groups did embrace certain aspects of Freudian thinking, the peculiarity of psychoanalysis meant that its search for truth did not satisfy most scientists and its fight for truthfulness did not go far enough for most ‘liberationists’.

Keywords: psychoanalysis; Freud; reception; Wilhelmine Germany; psychiatry; youth movement; anarchism

Journal Article.  12170 words. 

Subjects: European History

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