War of the Worlds

“The most serious parody I have ever heard was this: In the beginning was nonsense, and the nonsense was with God, and the nonsense was God.”

—Friedrich Nietzsche

Philip Rieff is best known for his Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith After Freud (1966), a work that many would rank among the most significant intellectual achievements of the turbulent 1960’s.  Triumph was among the first to limn the emergence of the “therapeutic culture” in the post-Christian civilization of the West and was certainly the most penetrating in its understanding of just how radical a break with the past was implied by such a culture.  To be sure, Rieff paired the terms culture and therapeutic with an acute sense of the culture-dissolving properties of the emergent therapeutic regime.  For Rieff was conservative enough to recognize that a culture, in the deepest sense of the term, is a system of moral demands or symbols that makes “men intelligible and trustworthy to one another,” while, at the same time, organizing “the expressive remissions by which men release themselves . . . from the strain of conforming to the controlling symbolic.”  By contrast, the therapeutic, or psychologizing, impulse in modern societies seeks the complete dissolution of inherited systems...

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