Were philosophers like Derrida, Lacan, Freud involved in any kind of political party, political movement or had any political ideas? or did they just had theories in fields like psychoanalysis.

Edit: Did any of them wanted to change society and make it a better place, like Marx?


Freud's "Thoughts for the Times on War and Death" might be a relevant read - it's fairly short and deals with contemporary political struggles. Freud saw psychoanalysis as a way to improve life for individuals, and applied its methods on a societal scale as well, for example in Civilization and Its Discontents. His view of the relationship between politics and desire might be somewhat like the Marquis De Sade's take on the French revolution - how can we become free from oppression if we are imprisoned in ourselves?

As for Derrida, all of his work has a political and ethical element, and his life also involved engagement with more immediate political struggles. As for the question of whether he wants to make society a better place, I would say sure, who doesn't? Even Hitler thought he was going to make society a better place. And as we know, many social interventions inspired by Marxism have not been successful, so understanding the relationship between a thinker and politics requires more than attributing good intentions to him or her.

The best source for Derrida's political views (that is, his immediate engagement with contemporary political struggles) is Negotiations. He wrote against apartheid and in support of Nelson Mandela, he wrote on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal, he organized teachers and others in Paris to oppose the elimination of philosophical education at (their equivalent of) the high school level, taught seminars favoring the abolition of the death penalty, was imprisoned in Czechloslovakia after visiting dissident intellectuals there, and had many other political engagements and views expressed throughout his writings and interviews.

Just as important are the political implications of his thought. Given your interest in Marx, Specters of Marx would probably be the best place to start regarding his engagement with political theory. As Derrida said from the beginning of his work, there can be no transcendental signified or master discourse which encompasses all others and gives them stability. Marxism attempts to treat economics as such a transcendental signified, claiming that all history is in essence the history of class struggle, and that all alienation will be eliminated once economic alienation is eliminated. The subsequent history of Marxism belies this claim. For example, in the seventies, groups such as feminists pointed out that their interests and the social changes necessary to eliminate their unique forms of social oppression and alienation were being opposed by the Marxists who said such issues would either take care of themselves after communism was in place or that they were of secondary importance. This is only one example of a form of difference other than economic difference (although intertwined with it - gender is also not absolute or a transcendental signified) which can produce what Marx called alienation.

Derrida's intervention in Marxism is to attempt to open the space for these different forms of alienation to speak. He does not think that challenging economic structures is unimportant - but rather that it is not the only form of oppression or alienation we face, and that only relative, not absolute, improvements are possible. Specters of Marx also elaborates a list of projects which he feels would further the goals of Marxism within our vastly changed economic and political world.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    After WWII, the failure of Marxism in smaller countries was "helped along" by Western intelligence agencies. This is not a criticism of your answer, I just wanted to point out that some of these "failures" did not happen in a vacuum. – Gordon Oct 1 '17 at 22:30
  • 1
    Within the USA, the so called "socialist" programs were also the subject of relentless attack by those who had a financial interest in the maintenance of the status quo. After 1981, this trend accelerated so that just last week I learned that 1% of Americans control 38% of our wealth. Is it any wonder that interest in socialism is growing? Again, this is not meant as a criticism of your answer. – Gordon Oct 1 '17 at 22:40

I love your question but as far as I know, Freud was potentially a “political pessimist” who believed that politics was only a road to suppression of a healthy internal debate–possibly an anarchist? Or he could have been promoting a view that the only positive political path was an uncomfortable one rife with disagreement, conflict, and debate–pro-Democracy? Libertarian? Either way, to Freud, governments were dangerous business.
I would suggest you to read Lacan, Politics, Aesthetics since it explains the politics from Lacan perspective.
I haven't fully investigated Derrida so I would prefer to hear from someone else.

| improve this answer | |
  • thank you for answer, do you think any of them wanted to change society and make it a better place, like Marx? – Sameera Kumarasingha Jun 1 '15 at 14:34

Derrida was criticised for not being political enough, or so he declared in the introduction of Spectres of Marxism; so he wrote said book; but I suppose a book is not a party-political manifesto.

Given that Derrida was born in Algeria; and spent his formative years there as a pied-noir; and which later went through a war of decolonialisation, he says surprising little about it in his official writings; or perhaps because he was a pied-noir he found himself constrained:

'Given all the colonial censorships and the sub-urban milieu in which I lived and all the social barriers...the only option was to learn Arabic at school...as the language of the other; but a strange kind of other, the other as the nearest neighbour...for I lived on the edge of an Arab neighbourhood on one of those hidden frontiers that are at once hidden and almost impassable.

But unlike a slightly older generation he wasn't called upon to express his views:

Camus, for example, some fifteen years older...made various attempts to intervene, but eventually fell silent apparently overwhelmed by the violence.

Gayatri Chakraborty later, as a Derridean scholar (she wrote the introduction as well as translating Grammatology) found his work useful in theorising about Post-Colonialism; which the English literary critic Terry Eagleton affirmed as being of invaluable assistance to a whole host of activists (whilst at the same time being simultaneously irritated and dismayed at her many neologisms - a possibly bad French habit).

So, yes for being politically aware; but not in a manifestly and easily sign-posted way, as in a party-political way.

| improve this answer | |
  • thank you for answer, do you think derrida had any need to change society and make world a better place, like Marx? – Sameera Kumarasingha Jun 1 '15 at 14:34
  • 1
    Derrida has written and spoken in interviews extensively about his time in Algeria, for example in Monolingualism of the Other or Counterpath. Also, the translator of Of Grammatology is Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. – Jonathan Basile Jun 2 '15 at 13:48

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.