The Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith after Freud


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Since its publication in 1966, The Triumph of the Therapeutic has been hailed as a work of genuine brilliance, one of those books whose insights uncannily anticipate cultural developments and whose richness of argumentation reorients entire fields of inquiry.

"Philip Rieff has become out most learned and provocative critic of psychoanalytic thinking and of the compelling mind and character of its first proponent. Rieff's Freud: The Mind of the Moralist remains the sharpest exegesis yet to be done on the moral and intellectual implications of Freud's work. It was a critical masterpiece, worthy of the man who inspired it; and it is now followed by a work that suffers not at all in comparison. No review can do justice to the richness of The Triumph of the Therapeutic."

This book is a study of Freud, his influence, and his leading disciples. It has attained classic status in certain schools of thought, which was the main reason that I chose to read it. In the background of Rieff's discussion, serving at least as a backdrop and perhaps as a foundation, is a theory of culture and personality. Culture, he says, is a system of controls and releases in tension with one another. A cultural revolution occurs when the releases, the permissive elements, overwhelm the stabilizing controls. In such circumstances, the moral commitments of the culture falter, its institutions weaken, until, normally, a new configuration of controls and releases arises. A fine example of such a revolution was the rise of Christianity in the ancient world, and another is our own time - with one significant difference: in our case, it is not clear that anything new can arise to replace the crumbling past, for the corrosive, permissive element is hostile to all authority and settled convictions. We are delivered from something to nothing.

The Triumph of the Therapeutic is a major work of cultural criticism.