, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp 303–322 | Cite as

Irrational exuberance: Neoliberal subjectivity and the perversion of truth

  • Lynne Layton
Original Article


Drawing on Freud's late work, I argue that the social traumas created by neoliberalism bring about perverse modes of subjectivity. When a truth is too painful to bear, Freud argues, we substitute for truth a less painful lie, a disavowal that, when regularly practiced, can issue in perversion. I argue that irrational exuberance, the shared delusion in the United States that, for example, housing prices and the stock market must always go up, ought not be attributed to the greed of ‘human nature’ but rather must be understood in its social context: as a response to the abandonment of the citizenry by government and by the free market fundamentalism that, after the mid-1970s, no longer provided even the bare minimum of security and safety offered by the US form of the welfare state. Clinical material illustrates some of the ways that neoliberal versions of subjectivity appear in symptoms and in the relational dynamics of treatment.


neoliberalism perversion normative unconscious processes ideology disavowal social trauma 


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lynne Layton
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychiatryBeth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA
  2. 2.Massachusetts Institute for PsychoanalysisBostonUSA

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