ERNEST BECKER'S SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY: A MERGER OF MARX AND FREUD

LUIS ENRIQUE ABRUNA RODRIGUEZ, Fordham University

Abstract

Ernest Becker's social psychology represents a systematic attempt to reconcile the theoretical approaches of two traditions: the psychoanalytic tradition of Freud and the economic-materialist tradition of Marx. These traditions present different, yet reconcilable, views of human nature. The reconciliation of these approaches--the development of a historical psychology--would provide the most comprehensive answer to the question, "What makes people act the way they do?" It would do this by showing "how the regularities of human psychology are affected by the accidental situations of history." By using history to highlight psychological patterns of behavior, historical psychology would show why human behavior assumes particular forms in each historical era. It would lay the foundation for an ideal-typical image of man.^ Becker's social psychology is drawn from two traditions: one whose focus is the social-historical foundations for modern man's alienation (Marx); another which portrays man's innate drives for destruction and eroticism (Freud). Both are true, but neither can fully address the seeming contradictions of man's nature. Man's acts represent neither an underlying instinct for destructiveness nor a set of socially conditioned behaviors. Man's nature is paradoxical: man creates and destroys; man self-sacrifices and also dominates others; man loves and also inflicts pain. Conditioning or instinct alone cannot adequately explain the complex picture of the human being drawn from both historical and clinical studies.^ Man's consciousness of his own animal vulnerability is foundational for social psychology. Man's acts are not expressions of innate drives. They are his meager attempts to constitute his world as meaningful and himself as a significant actor in the face of vulnerability and death. The task of culture is to assist him in this endeavor--to provide the backdrop for actions, the social and religious rituals which are the contexts for his acts. Culture saves man from himself, from his solitary animal vulnerability. The cause of man's undoing is not his appetite, as Freud thought, but his consciousness of his animal limitation. The error of Marxism was that it overlooked the depth and universality of man's fears and man's complicity in his own subjugation. ^

Subject Area

Sociology

Recommended Citation

ABRUNA RODRIGUEZ, LUIS ENRIQUE, "ERNEST BECKER'S SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY: A MERGER OF MARX AND FREUD" (1983). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8323511.
https://fordham.bepress.com/dissertations/AAI8323511

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