Freud, Religion, and Messianism

Freud, Religion, and Messianism

Abstract:

This paper (1) seeks to address Freud’s early theory of religion and to uncover its basic antieschatological structure. I argue that Freud identified in Totem and Taboo (1913) a fundamental religious impulse, at the infrastructure of human history, which commits history to constant struggle between guilt and rebelliousness. This impulse, the product of the murder of the primal father, prevents, in the Freudian formulation, the fulfillment of the ideal of reason within history. Compared with German Idealism theories of history and nature, Freud’s theory of religion subverts the organizing structure and purposeful causality of historical progress, and hinders all hopes for a Hegelian End of History. Freud’s anti-messianic theory of religion thus not only negates the eschatological vision of German philosophy, but allows for political action by rejecting hopes for transcendental salvation. If Freud’s critique of religion usually assigns Freud to the tradition of Kant and Hegel, the proposed reading of Freud’s theory of religion establishes his place in counter-Enlightenment philosophy, alongside Nietzsche and Heidegger.

(1) The author would like to thank the Center for Austrian Studies, European Forum at the Hebrew University and the City of Vienna for the generous financial support which made this paper possible, and Prof. Christoph Schmidt for his careful reading of the manuscript and his illuminating and valuable suggestions.

Last updated on 01/10/2018