Psychological Man

Sociology as a discipline in the human sciences field used to have a reputation of being intellectually robust, but, no longer as over the past fifty-odd years, it has undergone a radical transformation, become a shadow of its former self, rooted- nay steeped-in ideology.

An interesting report by Chris Martin titled; “How ideology has hindered sociological insight”can be downloaded from the web.

I have also attached two links for review at the end of this piece.

Martin claims that sociology tends to lean toward Liberal progressivism; a trend that began in the 1960’s when liberals took control of the subject according to some historians.

As this piece is not about sociology per se, but is specific, I’ll leave the contents of the report for those interested to follow-up on and read further.

All is fine, as I have substantiated the claim made at the start that  sociology is ideologically based.


Phillip Rieff, sociologist and cultural critic produced one of the classics of twentieth century thought in his work titled “The Triumph of the Therapeutic”.

He plotted the course of western culture in a series of four progressive archetypes; the classical political man, the religious man, the economic man, and psychological man, the model of 20thcentury culture and beyond.

He accurately portrayed the last century’s cultural and psychological revolution, an anti-culture as he called it.

Rieff used the term; modern therapeutic culture- to describe a moral universe bred by modern democracy and dedicated to personal freedom as an end in itself.

This indigenous culture resulted in the total socialization of man in a way unlike any society before it.

Rieff expressed the scenario thus; ………Believing they are children of Eden, these emancipated democrats act out the latest script written for them by popular culture.

He described psychological man as the free agent of his desires, the demigod of his Eros (life-force) and ambitions, at least according to his own psyche.

As he explains; in previous social orders the cultivation of “self” was devoted to something outside and higher than self, whether political, religious or intellectual. Idealism is understood in this context, an area in which psychological man lacks understanding.

It must be stressed that humanism is not an ideal but an ideology, devoted to no higher goal than the “self” of humanity, but unrealistically geared toward an impossible-to achieve utopianism, whilst idealism is devoted to the highest goals outside of self, whilst still being attainable.

Narcissism results when the highest ideal is the self.

Rieff speaks about a re-educated or brainwashed man emerging out of the therapeutic, one who can conquer even his subtler indwelling, and his final know-how being to irrationalize his rationality by playing intellectualized games with all God-terms in order to be ruled by none.

The word rational has been seized and claimed by those labelling themselves as rationalists, subjectifying the term’s objective implication, dovetailing with Rieff’s description of an irrational rationality.

In the field of psychology, values and life’s truths were once matched-up, but with the advent of a new psychological perspective, due in no small part to the contribution of renowned psycho-analyst Sigmund Freud, therapists and patients were encouraged to transform reality rather than conform to it. Therapies shaped by these changes rested upon presumptions of skewed power and aimed at creating in the patient a sense of well- being that was paramount, to which all other responsibilities and responses deferred. Thus, time-honoured traditions of authority were displaced in favour of “any therapy claiming to enhance well-being”.

Phillip Rieff defined the modern individual as both victim and rebel against his own conscience, a contradiction, a creature of unsatisfied instincts, impulses and desires, in endless tension with himself and society at large and tragically doomed.

As he reflects, all prior social societies served to draw the individual out of himself, the new democratic order gives him reason to retreat where the forces of nature and society vie for dominance, over a ‘tortured self’ in a battle that can never be determined.

Rieff was a scholar of the psycho-analyst Sigmund Freud, although their worldviews were in complete contrast, Sigmund was a sceptic of Jewish heritage while Rieff was an Orthodox Jew.

Freud had an eerie understanding of basic human nature, in particular relating to the problem of the ego, or self, and understood where society was headed as far as the ‘future’ cultural revolution was concerned as acknowledged by Rieff himself.

The point of departure for Rieff was that Freud never dealt with the problem at its source but rather accommodated it, or enabled it through psycho-analysis, feeding the human ‘ego’ which he held

in such low regard.

It was this accommodation that caused Rieff to label Freud as the original psychological man; unintentionally becoming the standard- bearer of a mind-set he so strongly disapproved of in others.

In ending, a couple of quotes by Phillip Rieff;

*Religious man is born to be saved; psychological man is born to be pleased.

*Psychological man may be going nowhere, but he aims to achieve a certain speed and certainty in going.;c=mqr;c=mqrarchive;idno=act2080.0044.318;rgn=main;view=text;xc=1;g=mqrg













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