‘All my libido is for Austria-Hungary’

Ferdinand Schmutzer: Sigmund Freud, etching, c. 1900

At the outbreak of the First World War, Sigmund Freud declared himself as a faithful supporter of the Habsburg Monarchy.

Ferdinand Schmutzer: Sigmund Freud, etching, c. 1900

As the founder of psychoanalysis, the physician Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was the first to explore the subconscious mind with his new form of therapy. On the basis of the experience that he had accumulated with the method of associative speaking, he developed the theory of the libido. The sexual instinct, in his view, could be sublimated and directed, and this was what had led to the development of human civilisation. During his lifetime his approach provoked criticism, particularly in Vienna, since his theory went against the approaches of traditional medicine and the exact sciences and also against current views of history. Freud’s ideas were denounced as arbitrary and unprovable, and directed by unbridled fantasies. Behind such denunciations often lay thinly-veiled anti-Semitic hatred for Freud the Jew.

Despite his love for the multi-ethnic state Freud had an ambivalent relationship with the ruling House of Habsburg. For the imperial administration itself was responsible for delaying his promotion to associate professor. Freud expressed himself scornfully on this in the following letter:

"The Wiener Zeitung has not yet announced the appointment, but the news that it is imminent has spread rapidly from the government office responsible. It has great support among the population. Already there has been a shower of congratulations … as if the role of sexuality had suddenly been recognized by His Majesty, the meaning of dreams confirmed by the Council of Ministers and the need for therapeutic treatment of hysteria passed with a two-thirds majority in Parliament."

Even though he received little official recognition in his native city during his lifetime, Freud and his theory outlived the Monarchy. The psychoanalyst died in 1939 in London, having emigrated there a year earlier to escape the National Socialist regime.

The famous couch, which he introduced for his consultations with patients, is today an indispensable component of psychoanalytic treatment.

Anita Winkler