Anxiety and Politics

Franz L Neumann


The English version of this article was first published in 1957. The journal tripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique republished it 60 years later in 2017. In this essay, Franz L. Neumann discusses the role of anxiety in politics. The article asks: How does it happen that the masses sell their souls to leaders and follow them blindly? On what does the power of attraction of leaders over masses rest? What are the historical situations in which this identification of leader and masses is successful, and what view of history do the men have who accept leaders? For answering these questions, the author suggests a combination of political economy, Freudian political psychology, and ideology critique. He sees anxiety in the context of alienation. Alienation is analysed as a multidimensional phenomenon consisting of economic, political, social and psychological alienation. Neumann introduces the notions of Caesaristic identification, institutionalised anxiety and persecutory anxiety. The essay shows that fascism remains an actual threat in capitalist societies.

The editors of tripleC express their gratitude to the Neumann and Marcuse families for their support in republishing this essay, to Simon & Schuster for granting us the rights, and to Denise Rose Hansen for her invaluable editorial assistance.
Original source: From the book “The Democratic and the Authoritarian State” by Franz Neumann. Copyright © 1957 by the Free Press. Copyright renewed © 1985 by the Free Press, a division of Macmillan, Inc. Reprinted by permission of Free Press, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Originally delivered as a lecture before the Free University of Berlin and published in the series “Recht und Staat,” Tübingen,1954. Translated by Professor Peter Gay.

This article is published in tripleC without a CC licence.

About the Author
Franz Leopold Neumann (1900-1954) was a political theorist associated with the Frankfurt School. He obtained a doctoral degree in legal studies at the University of Frankfurt with the dissertation „Rechtsphilosophische Einleitung zu einer Abhandlung über das Verhältnis von Staat und Strafe“ (A Legal-Philosophical Introduction to A Treatise on the Relationship between the State and Punishment). Neumann became the German Social Democratic Party’s (SPD) main legal advisor at a time when the Nazis and Hitler gained strength in Germany. At the time when Hitler came to power in 1933, the legal office had to be closed and Neumann had to flee from Germany. In London, he in 1936 obtained his second doctoral degree from the London School of Economics with the work “The Governance of the Rule of Law” under the supervision of Harold Laski and Karl Mannheim. Neumann moved to New York in 1936, where he became a member of the Institute of Social Research (also known as the “Frankfurt School”) that was then in exile in the USA. In 1942, he started working for the Office of Strategic Service (OSS), where he together with Herbert Marcuse and Otto Kirchheimer analysed Nazi Germany. In 1942, Neumann published his main book is Behemoth: The Structure and Practice of National Socialism, 1933–1944 (2nd, updated edition published in 1944), one of the most profound analyses of Nazi Germany’s political economy and ideology. Franz L. Neumann died in 1954 in a car accident.


Critical theory; Franz L. Neumann; anxiety; politics; authoritarianism; fascism; political psychology; political economy; alienation; ideology critique; Karl Marx; Sigmund Freud

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