Plato and Freud: Statesmen of the Soul
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Though some might dispute it, Freud -- along with Marx, Darwin and Einstein -- ranks among the intellectual fathers of the 20th century. We all talk about the meaning of our dreams, make "Freudian" slips, appreciate the power of unconscious desires and accept the influence of childhood experiences on adult behavior. Nevertheless, despite his pervasive influence and all the words that have been written about him, the real importance of Freud´s work has been obscured. He asks what may be the most pressing question of the age that we live in: how can we win power in our own soul?
As we move through the first years of a new millennium, it sometimes appears that the world has become too large, too complex and more dangerous and inhospitable every day. We seem beset by nightmares: fascism, communism, tribalism, nationalism, racism and the other -isms that have prevented us, as individuals and as societies, from thinking clearly and acting with humanity. We paid dearly for our nightmares in the 20th century and the end is not in sight. We feel increasingly challenged to preserve -- or gain -- a minimum sense of community, security and well being in the midst of the globalized struggle of billions of others to do the same. In this struggle, our political systems -- the governments that oversee our domestic and foreign affairs and the organizations that connect us internationally -- often seem overwhelmed by the effort to stave off ever-threatening crises and disasters of one kind or the other. No place, no one, no system appears immune to difficulty. At a time when the major ideological and systemic competitors to Western liberal-democracy and free-market capitalism have collapsed, neither democracy nor the market appear to offer, by themselves, the answers we need to our many problems.
Freud offers a way to understand ourselves that makes clear the need for a revolution within the soul if we are to rid ourselves of the nightmares and gain the capacity to live our lives with reason and humanity. His focus on helping the individual banish the irrational has roots deep in Western civilization in the classic Greek concern with "living the good life." Freud approaches this ultimately practical question from the perspective of one who wishes to help the individual achieve psychic health. Freud does not define health as "happy" or "well-adjusted." Nor is it contingent on physical well being. Health is the capacity to determine, consciously and rationally, one´s own approach to life -- our relationship to the external world around us and to the internal wellsprings of our individual mental and emotional existence. Psychic health is a prerequisite to living the good life, to using what we have at hand -- to the best of our ability -- to complete our existence as human beings.
Plato and Freud: Statesmen of the Soul seeks to show how Freud´s work recalls Socrates´ invitation, in the Republic, to establish within ourselves the rule of reason without which we cannot live well and achieve just and well-ordered societies. Plato showed Socrates engaging individuals in dialogue one by one in order to help them understand the need to reorder their souls and subject the disorder within to the control of intellect and reason. Plato´s Socratic dialogues offer a powerful model of political change through changing individuals, soul by soul. For Plato, the nature of the soul was intrinsically a political matter. He sought to put political power into the hands of intellect, and thereby into the hands of those individuals whose souls are justly ordered by intellect. Those thus ordered would be "philosophers" -- which in Greek meant simply "lovers of wisdom." Through the ability of these "philosophers" to perceive the good and, consequently, to act rightly, the state too would be guided by the good.
Plato and Freud: Statesmen of the Soul seeks to escape the previous mistranslations and misunderstan
- Xlibris US, April 2001
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