The American Journal of Psychoanalysis

, Volume 79, Issue 4, pp 601–624 | Cite as

The “Authoritarian Personality” Reconsidered: the Phantom of “Left Fascism”*

  • Samir GandeshaEmail author


This article explores the question of “Left fascism,” which emerged in relation to discussions around the Student Movement in the German Federal Republic in the crucial decade between 1967–1977. The term was originally coined by Jürgen Habermas in a lecture entitled “The Phantom Revolution and its Children” in which he suggests that the extreme voluntarism of the students could not but be characterized as “Left fascist.” Such a characterization becomes the basis for a vitally important exchange of letters between Herbert Marcuse and Theodor W. Adorno from January to August of 1969 on the relation between theory and praxis. After first sketching Adorno’s conception of the “authoritarian personality,” with the help of Sándor Ferenczi’s concept of the “identification with the aggressor,” the article proceeds to examine the exchange of the letters between Adorno and Marcuse, illustrating Adorno’s changed orientation: that “fascism” or “authoritarianism” maybe either left or right. Finally, some conclusions are drawn about the authoritarian tendencies of the contemporary Left.


authoritarian personality identification with the aggressor West German Student Movement Adorno Marcuse Ferenczi 



  1. Abraham, N., & Torok, M. (1994). The shell and the kernel: Renewals of psychoanalysis, Volume 1 (N. T. Rand, Ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  2. Abromeit, J. (2010). The limits of praxis: The social-psychological foundations of Theodor Adorno’s and Herbert Marcuse’s interpretations of the 1960s protest movements. In B. Davis, W. Mausbach, M. Klimke & C. MacDougall (Eds.), Changing the world, changing oneself: Political protest and collective identities in West Germany and the U.S. in the 1960s and 1970s (pp. 13–38). New York: Berghahn Books.Google Scholar
  3. Abromeit, J. (2011). Max Horkheimer and the foundations of the Frankfurt School. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Adorno, T. W. (1964–1965). History and freedom: Lectures 1964–1965. Cambridge, U.K.: Polity. 2006.Google Scholar
  5. Adorno, T. W. (1966a). Education after Auschwitz. In H. W. Pickford (Ed. & Trans.), Critical models: Interventions and catchwords (pp. 191–204). New York: Columbia University Press. 2005.Google Scholar
  6. Adorno T. W. (1966b). Marginalia to theory and praxis. In H. W. Pickford (Ed. & Trans.), Critical models: Interventions and catchwords (pp. 259–278). New York: Columbia University Press. 2005.Google Scholar
  7. Adorno, T. W. (1966c). Negative dialectics. (E. B. Ashton, Trans.). New York: Continuum Press. 2007.Google Scholar
  8. Adorno, T. W. (1967) Prisms (S. Weber & S. Weber, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 1997.Google Scholar
  9. Adorno, T. W. (1970) Aesthetic theory (R. Hullot-Kentor, Trans.). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 1998.Google Scholar
  10. Adorno, T. W. (1977). Freudian theory and the pattern of fascist propaganda. In E. Gebhardt & A. Artao (Eds.), The essential Frankfurt School reader (pp. 118–137). New York: Continuum. 1982.Google Scholar
  11. Adorno, T. W. (2010). Who’s afraid of the ivory tower? A conversation with Theodor W. Adorno. In G. Richter (Ed.), Language without soil: Adorno and late philosophical modernity (pp. 227–238). New York: Fordham University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Adorno, T. W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D., & Sanford, N. (1950). The authoritarian personality. New York: W. W. Norton. 1993.Google Scholar
  13. Adorno, T. W., & Horkheimer, M. (1944). Dialect of enlightenment. New York: Herder and Herder. 1972.Google Scholar
  14. Adorno, T. W., & Marcuse, H. (1969). Correspondence of the German Student movement. (E. Leslie, Trans.). 1999. New Left Review, 233(1), 123–136.Google Scholar
  15. Al Yafai, F. (2017). The cult of Bashar extends from the far right to the far left.
  16. Arendt, H. (1951). The origins of totalitarianism. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co.Google Scholar
  17. Aust, S. (1985). Baader-Meinhoff: The inside story of the RAF. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2009.Google Scholar
  18. Beckett, S. (1957). Endgame. The collected works of Samuel Beckett (pp. 89–134). New York: Grove Press.Google Scholar
  19. Berlin, I. (1966). Two concepts of liberty. In Four essays on liberty [From an inaugural lecture delivered before the University of Oxford on 31 Oct. 1958]. New York: Oxford University Press. 1990.Google Scholar
  20. Black, H. (2017, March 21). ‘The painting must go’: Hannah Black pens open letter to the Whitney about controversial biennial work. Art News. Retrieved from
  21. Blake, W. (1789–1794). Songs of innocence and of experience. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1967.Google Scholar
  22. Brown, W. (2015). Undoing the demos: Neo-Liberalism’s stealth revolution. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  23. Camel Collective (2017b). La distancia entre pontresina y zermatt es la misma que la que las de Zermatt a Pontresina [The distance between Pontresina and Zermatt is the same as the distance from Zermatt to Pontresina]. (The complete correspondence between Adorno and Marcuse) Mexico City: Museo Universitario Arte Contemporaneo, UNAM.Google Scholar
  24. Camel Collective (Producer & Director). (2017a). Distance from Pontresina to Zermatt is the same as the distance from Zermatt to Pontresina. [video]
  25. Cohen, R., & Zelnick, R. E. (Eds.). (2002). The free speech movement. Reflections on Berkeley in the 1960s. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  26. Dugin, A. (2012). The fourth political theory. London: Arktos.Google Scholar
  27. Ferenczi, S. (1908). Psychoanalysis and education. In M. Balint (Ed.) Final contributions to the problems and methods of psycho-analysis by Sándor Ferenczi (pp. 280–290). London: Hogarth Press. 1955. Reprinted, London: Karnac. 1994.Google Scholar
  28. Ferenczi, S. (1911). Az öntudatlan megismerése [The discovery of the unconscious]. Szabadgondolat,1(2), 75–78.Google Scholar
  29. Ferenczi, S. (1913). On psychoanalysis and its judicial and sociological relevance. In J. Rickman (Ed.) Further contributions to the technique of psychoanalysis by Sándor Ferenczi (pp. 424–435). London: Hogarth Press 1926. Reprinted, London: Karnac. 1994.Google Scholar
  30. Ferenczi, S. (1915). Psychogenic anomalies of voice production. In Further contributions to the theory and technique of psycho-analysis. (pp. 105–109). London: Karnac Books. 1994.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Ferenczi S. (1928). The elasticity of psychoanalytical technique. In Final contribution to the problems and methods of psychoanalysis (pp. 87–101). London: Karnac. 1994.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Ferenczi, S. (1932). The clinical diary of Sándor Ferenczi. (J. Dupont, Ed., M. Balint & N. Z. Jackson, Trans.). Cambridge, MA. & London, UK: Harvard University Press. 1988.Google Scholar
  33. Ferenczi, S. (1933). Confusion of tongues between the adults and the child. The language of tenderness and of passion. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 30, 225–230. Published in 1949. Also, in Final contribution to the problems and methods of psychoanalysis. pp. 156–167. London: Karnac. 1994.Google Scholar
  34. Frankel, J. (2002). Exploring Ferenczi’s concept of identification with the aggressor: Its role in trauma, everyday life, and the therapeutic relationship. Psychoanalytic Dialogues,12, 101–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Freud, S. (1905). Three essays on the theory of sexuality. Standard Edition,7, 135–243.Google Scholar
  36. Freud, S. (1920). Group psychology and the analysis of the ego, Standard Edition, 18 (pp. 65–143). London: Hogarth.Google Scholar
  37. Freud, A. (1936). The ego and the mechanisms of defense. New York: International Universities Press. 1966.Google Scholar
  38. Fromm, E. (1941). Escape from freedom. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.Google Scholar
  39. Gandesha, S. (2017). The neo-liberal personality. Logos. Retrieved from
  40. Gandesha, S. (2018). Identifying with the aggressor: From the authoritarian to neo-liberal personality. Constellations,25, 147–164.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Gandesha, S. (2019a). Insurgent Universality. Radical Philosophy 2.04 (Spring, 2019). Retrieved from
  42. Gandesha, S. (2019b). Adorno, Ferenczi, and a new “categorical imperative after Auschwitz”. International Forum of Psychoanalysis. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Gray, R. (2017). Trump defends White-Nationalist protesters: “Some very fine people on both sides.” The president backtracked from his remarks on Charlottesville just a day earlier. The Atlantic, August 15. Retrieved from
  44. Greenberg, Z. (2018). What happens to #MeToo when a feminist is the accused? New York Times, August 13. Retrieved from
  45. Habermas, J. (1968). The phantom revolution and its children. Talk at the Karl Marx University, June 2, 1968.Google Scholar
  46. Haider, A. (2018). Mistaken identity: Race and class in an age of Trump. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  47. Hartocollis, A. (2017). A campus argument goes viral. Now the campus is under siege. New York Times, June 16, 2017. Retrieved from
  48. Hensman, Rohini. (2018). Indefensible: Democracy, counter-revolution and the rhetoric of anti-imperialism. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books.Google Scholar
  49. Holub, R. C. (2013). Jurgen Habermas: Critic in the public sphere. New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Horkheimer, M. (1982). Egoism and the freedom movement: On the anthropology of the bourgeois era. Telos,54, 10–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Horkheimer, M., & Adorno, T. W. (1944). Dialectic of enlightenment: Philosophical fragments. (E. Jephcott, Trans.). Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press. 2002.Google Scholar
  52. Horkheimer, M., & Fromm, E. (1936). Studien über Autorität und Familie : Forschungsberichte aus dem Institut für Sozialforschung. Paris: Alcan.Google Scholar
  53. Hullot-Kentor, R. (2006). Introduction: Origin is the goal. In Things beyond resemblance. Collected essays on Theodor W. Adorno (pp. 1–22) New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  54. Jay, M. (1996). The dialectical imagination: A history of the Frankfurt school and the institute for social research 1923–1950. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  55. Kant, I. (1788). Critique of practical reason (M. Gregor, Trans.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1997.Google Scholar
  56. Kluge, A. (Producer) & Fassbinder, W. R. (Director). (1978). Deutschland im Herbst. [Germany in Autumn]. [motion picture]. lBS Film Produktion: West Germany.Google Scholar
  57. Koenen, G. (2009) Element of Madness. Sight and Sound, July 12. Retrieved from
  58. Layton, L. (2014). Grandiosity, neoliberalism, and neoconservatism. Psychoanalytic Inquiry,34, 463–474.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Leslie, E. (1999). Correspondence on the German student movement. New Left Review,233, 118–136.Google Scholar
  60. Löwenthal, L., & Guterman, N. (1949). Prophets of deceit: A study of the techniques of the American agitator. Palo Alto: Pacific Books.Google Scholar
  61. Mahler, H. (2007). So spricht man mit Nazis: Michael Friedman interview mit Horst Mahler und Sylvia Stolz. Vanity Fair Deutschland. Retrieved from
  62. Marcuse, H. (1964). One-dimensional man. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  63. Marcuse, H. (1969). An essay on liberation. Boston: Beacon. 1971.Google Scholar
  64. McPherson, C. B. (2011). The theory of possessive individualism: Hobbes to Locke. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  65. Michaels, W. B. (2006). The trouble with diversity: How we learned to love identity and ignore inequality (p. 2007). New York: Holt.Google Scholar
  66. Müller-Doohm, S. (2003). Adorno: A biography (R. Livingstone, Trans.). Cambridge: Polity Press. 2005.Google Scholar
  67. Nietzsche, F. W. (1887). Genealogy of morality: A polemic (p. 1974). New York: Gordon Press.Google Scholar
  68. Pinto, A. T. (2017, July 4). Artwashing—on NRX and the alt right. Texte Zur Kunst. Retrieved from
  69. Pollock, F. (1941). State capitalism: Its possibilities and limitations. In S. E. Bronner & D. M. Kellner (Eds.), Critical theory and society (pp. 95–118). New York: Routledge. 1989.Google Scholar
  70. Prince, R. (2018). The lonely passion of the “people”. American Journal of Psychoanalysis,78, 445–462.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Reed, A., Jr. (1999). Without justice for all: The new liberalism and our retreat from racial equality (p. 2018). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  72. Ross, A. R. (2017). Against the fascist creep. Oakland, CA: AK Press.Google Scholar
  73. Ross, A. R. (2019). Fascism and the far left: a grim global love affair. Haaretz, May 27. Retrieved from
  74. Scally, D. (2017). A bullet that changed Germany: the shooting of Benno Ohnesorg. The Irish Times, June 1. Retrieved from
  75. Schutz, D. (2017). Open casket. [painting]. New York: Whitney Museum.Google Scholar
  76. Snyder, T. (2018). The road to unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America. N.Y.: Tim Duggan Books.Google Scholar
  77. Specter, M. G. (2010). Habermas: An intellectual biography. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Spivak, G. C. (1988). Can the subaltern speak. In Cary Nelson & Lawrence Grossberg (Eds.), Marxism and the interpretation of culture (pp. 24–28). London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  79. Tuvel, R. (2017, March 29). In defense of trans-racialism. Hypatia. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Vigo, J., & Garano, L. (2017). Open letter on the Hypatia controversy. Feminist current. Retrieved from
  81. Webster, J. (2013). Critiques and cure: A dream of uniting psychoanalysis and philosophy. American Journal of Psychoanalysis,73, 138–157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Wheatland, T. (2009). The Frankfurt School in exile. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of HumanitiesSimon Fraser UniversityBurnabyCanada

Personalised recommendations