It is a theory that goes back to when Marx met Freud--not literally, but intellectually. For Marx's followers, it was love at first sight. But for poor Sigmund, the relationship was toxic--at once popularizing his thoughts among the intelligentsia, but at the same time distorting them out of all recognition.
Let me explain.
We will have to go back to the first half of the 20th century to understand how and why this all came about.
In the 30's and 40's it became increasingly clear to Marxists that something was fundamentally wrong with the master's economic hypotheses. Like the followers of Jesus, they had been waiting so long for the expected collapse of capitalism, and had been so encouraged by the Great Depression, they expected that it wouldn't be long now.
But like a bad dream, capitalism rebounded stronger than ever.
Why, they asked themselves, are the proletariat not rising up in rebellion against the oppressive forces of capitalism?
By the 50's, capitalism was actually flourishing, and so too were Marx's "oppressed proletariat". Far from rising up against their "oppressors", they were buying into the capitalist system and the "American Dream". The sharp differences between the classes was eroding, and more and more of those in poverty were finding their way into the middle class and gaining hope for themselves and their children.
Not only that, the proletariat astonishingly seemed relatively happy and content!
Happy and content people do not generally initiate violent revolutions nor rise up against their oppressors--particularly when they don't feel oppressed, but feel empowered.
And, furthermore, much to the puzzlement and subsequent rage of the intellectuals, in those places in the world where socialist and communist theory had triumphed, wealth was disappearing; initiative was in decline; and the human misery index was climbing.
The "great experiment" in the Soviet Union was failing abysmally; and in 1956, when Soviet tanks rolled into Hungary and violently crushed all dissent, it was obvious to anyone with half a brain that the socialist utopias were not all they were cracked up to be. Even today, many on the left cannot bring themselves to admit that the application of Marx to the real world had only succeeded in bringing about abject poverty, misery, death, and slogans. Many many slogans.
Instead of creating a utopia for the proletariat, Marx and his theories only generated the conditions for societal suicide.
One might have hoped that the resultant rage and frustration of the intellectuals who mastermined the whole thing could have been directed inward, resulting in a suicide pact that would have eliminated them from history.
History was not so fortunate.
Instead, it was about this time that Karl's descendents met Sigmund. In searching around for explanations for the sad failures of Marxism, Freud's theories of the unconscious seemed like a lifeline--a potential explanation of why everything had gone wrong.
Instead of blaming the theory, they blamed human nature.
Instead of understanding how capitalism worked with human nature, instead of against it, they claimed that capitalism had psychologically repressed the proletariat!
If only they could tap into that instinctual energy, then they could have control over the proletariat and bring about the desired political and economic result.
So it was that the relationship was initiated. As Stephen Hicks notes (pg 167-8):
...Marcuse concluded [that] capitalism's repression of human nature may be socialism's salvation. Capitalism's rational technocracy suppresses human nature to the point that it bursts out in irrationalisms--in violence, criminality, racism, and all of societies other pathologies. But by encouraging those irrationalisms the new revolutionaries can destroy the system. So the first task of the revolutionary is to seek out those idividuals and energies on the margins of society; the outcast, the disorderly, and the forbidden--anyone and anything that capitalism's power structure has not yet succeeded in commodifying and dominating totally. All such marginalized and outcast elements will be "irrational," "immoral," and even "criminal," especially by capitalist definitiion, but that is precisely what the revolutionary needs. Any such outcast element could "break through the false consciousness [and] provide the Archimedian point for a larger emancipation."
As I noted in this post, Freud argued that human instincts are indeed out of sync with modern civilization; that aggression and other instinctual needs were once absolutely necessary for survival in a dangerous world, but that today these archaic impulses impede our ability to live happily in the present day and age.
He posited that the same aggression that was once directed towards survival, in the modern era is frequently turned inward, to the self, rather than outward toward the environment, and causes the psychological phenomenon of depression. In psychiatry we refer to this as "aggression turned inward".
But the mistake the Marxists made in marrying their theory with Freud was in thinking that somehow this fundmental aspect of human nature was only present under capitalism. If they thought for a moment, they might have realized that violence, racism, criminality and all the other pathologies of society, are actually pathologies of the individual--independent of the society.
Individual human nature must be taken into account when one evaluates the usefulness and consequences of certain economic and political systems that are advocated in the world today. Humans are clearly well-suited to some things and not to others.
But there are some social, economic, and political systems that like to indulge in biological fantasy and place human beings on a Procrustean bed to try to adjust human nature to their theories. The more out of touch with reality are the biological fantasies , the more the society tends toward catastrophy, human misery, and death. The worse of those societies are engaged in constant war/jihad and domination over others. You can identify them by the accumulation of wealth in the leaders as the followers become more and more impoverished.
The left somehow continues to believe that capitalism is what brings these things to pass, despite all historical evidence to the contrary. The truth is that, among social, political and economic systems, democratic capitalism is probably the one and only system that is most compatible with human nature.
Although portrayed as encouraging the "survival of the fittest", capitalism simultaneously encourages cooperation for mutually beneficial trade as well as competition. Instead of encouraging war and dominance; capitalism encourages trust and human cooperation; as well as alliances to maximize productivity and wealth creation. Far from concentrating wealth in the hands of a few, capitalism makes it possible for anyone to accumulate wealth (contrast for example the number of people who earn over $100,000 a year in the U.S., with those do in Cuba. The only really wealthy person there is Fidel Castro and his cronies.
But the Marxists of the mid 20th century were correct in a way, when they started their love affair with Sigmund. Freud's theories do indeed explain why capitalism is successful in the real world and marxist theory is not.
Capitalism allows the basic nature of man to creatively express itself by mastering the physical world. The instinctual energy Freud spoke of is directed away from the destructive pursuit of power over other people and sublimated toward acts of creation, which further both the individual's life and all of civilization.
The Marxist intellectuals big mistake was in not recognizing the difference between repression and suppression. And in not understanding the way psychological defense mechanisms work.
They correctly noticed that the instinctual energy of the proletariat was being harnessed both for the individual's good as well as the society under capitalism; and yet were unable to appreciate the fact that unless you accept the reality of human nature and give it the freedom to transform all its most negative aspects into something positive for the individual and the culture/society, then you end up crushing all human initiative, creativity, and productivity.
Societies can either encourage the development of healthy, mature psychological defenses with which to cope with reality; or they can encourage the development and expression of the worse aspects of human nature--i.e., those which result in violence, racism, criminality and all the other pathologies. Either way, social, political and economic systems can only encourage certain human traits that result in civilized behavior; or, they can encourage those that are barbaric and antisocial. Human nature is the same, though, no matter what type of society or political system it finds itself in.
Simply put, totalitarian systems--whether from the left or the right (and that includes Marxism in any of its incarnations, whether religious or secular)-- actively promote the most negative, primitive, and immature aspects of human nature. In fact, they give a societal/institutional blessing to such behavior; and thrive on the resulting projection, paranoia, distortion, and denial of reality.
So the relationship between Marx and Freud has not really accomplished what the left's intellectuals wanted. Instead of diagnosing the pathology of capitalism, real understanding of Freud's psychological theories actually exposes the inadequacies and fatal flaws of Marxist theory.
Because nowhere is there more violence, naked aggression, envy, greed, oppression, racism, injustice, slavery, poverty, and misery than in the shining examples of socialism and communism in today's world.
So, getting back to my theory of why psychology seems to attract so many on the left. It relies on the fact that many of those who pursue advanced education are, by the time they reach college, pretty much already immersed and completely brainwashed by the ubiquitous Marxism that infuses almost all aspects of K-12 education. And modern Marxism relies heavily on the popularized and distorted tenets of Freudian thought for its continued existence.
Therefore they tend to be already invested in the psychological holy trinity: the deification of victimhood; the supremacy of feelings over reason, and the glorification of self-esteem over self-control; and are predisposed to think of a career in psychology as the heroic pursuit of "social justice" for the poor, unhappy and oppressed masses.