Who is the main intellectual ""worm"" behind much of the alleged rot in modern culture and society, (a) Sigmund Freud; (b)...



Who is the main intellectual ""worm"" behind much of the alleged rot in modern culture and society, (a) Sigmund Freud; (b) Karl Marx; or (c) John Locke? If you guessed (a) or (b), then guess again. The focus on Locke in the first and last chapters here underscores much of the main methodological problem of this deeply flawed work. For while Justman (English/Univ. of Montana), author of The Autonomous Mate of Adam Smith, etc., continually rails against what he calls ""psychological society"" and ""psychologism,"" his real bæte noire appears to be what he sees as the legacy of the. Enlightenment, particularly the penchant of Locke and others to second-guess the motivations and try to manipulate the behavior of the masses. Jumping from topic to topic, the author does repeatedly refer to something he calls ""psychology,"" but uses the word so inconsistently--at times it refers to the popular manipulations of consumerist society, at others to a kind of X-ray vision that falsely presumes an intimate knowledge of the soul--as to render it meaningless. When he tries to define the supposed focus of this often diffuse and sometimes incoherent work, Justman usually makes things worse. At one point, he claims that ""Psychology speaks after all of needs and wants, not courage or cowardice, not duty or dereliction,"" which seems to betray an unfamiliarity with ego and superego theory, not to mention such post-Freudian foci as large aspects of group psychology, the psychology of altruism, or recent anthropological and psychological studies of guilt and shame. The author is correct in asserting that contemporary culture is permeated with too much psychobabble that helps individuals to feel like self-pitying societal victims, and thus blunt rather than sharpen their sense of moral agency. Too often, however, his work--despite the imprimatur of a university press and hundreds of footnotes--is an intellectually superficial, thinly disguised anti-psychology screed whose broader target is all of modern culture.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1998


Page Count: 180

Publisher: Northwestern Univ.

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1998

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