Freud and Postmodern Thought

Freud's theories seem bizarre and unbelievable today, but his vision of the human mind pushed contemporary thought in the right direction. In detail, his theories are discarded. In scope, they were a foundation of 20th-century thought.


Freud had all sorts of weird ideas about mental structures and mysterious syndromes. Forget all that; it's his subtext that counts. His subtext was that people don't know why they do things and they don't even know that they don't know why they do things. That concept is fundamental to postmodern thought. Skepticism of one's own reliability as a narrator of one's inner life is deep and valuable skepticism. The difference between pre-modern and post-modern people is that we post-moderners don't (always) believe our out bullsit. For that, thank Freud.


Freud's theory of the human mind is deterministic and reductionist, so it's antithetical to common religious thought. If there's no free will, as Freud says, why would God send people to Heaven or Hell? But Freud's subtext is so influential to contemporary thought that even Christians have worked it into their conspiracy theories. People today who think that a nationwide conspiracy of devil-worshipers is torturing children buy into Freud's subtext. They say that the victims' suppressed memories cause them to be screwed up as adults.


The victory of Freud's subtext in contemporary thought is one more sign that the traditionalists have already lost the culture war.


March 2005, Septemner 2013