Rieff, Philip 1922-2006

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Rieff, Philip 1922-2006


Born December 15, 1922, in Chicago, IL; died of heart failure, July 1, 2006, in Philadelphia, PA; son of Joseph Gabriel and Ida Rieff; married Susan Sontag, 1950 (divorced, 1958); married Alison Douglas Knox, December 31, 1963; children: (first marriage) David. Education: University of Chicago, B.A., 1946, M.A., 1947, Ph.D., 1954.


University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, instructor in sociology, 1947-52; Brandeis University,Waltham, MA, assistant professor of sociology, 1952-58; University of California, Berkeley, associate professor of sociology, 1958-61; University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, professor, 1961-67, Benjamin Franklin Professor of Sociology, beginning 1967. Fellow of Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, 1957-58; visiting fellow at Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, 1963-64, and at All Souls College, Oxford, beginning 1970. Fulbright professor at University of Munich, 1959-60; visiting associate professor at Harvard University, 1960. Chief consultant to planning department of National Council of Churches, 1961-64.


American Sociological Association, Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (member of council), Royal Society of Arts (fellow), Societe Europeene de Culture, Garrick Club.


Guggenheim fellowship, 1970.


Freud: The Mind of the Moralist, Viking (New York, NY), 1959, revised edition, 1961, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1979.

(Editor) The Collected Papers of Sigmund Freud, ten volumes, Collier (New York, NY), 1961.

The Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith after Freud, Harper (New York, NY), 1966, with a new preface, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1987, introduction by Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn, ISI Books (Wilmington, DE), 2006.

On Intellectuals; Theoretical Studies, Case Studies, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1969.

Fellow Teachers: Of Culture and Its Second Death, Harper (New York, NY), 1973, with a new preface, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1985.

(Editor, with Isaac Finkle) Moral Choices in Contemporary Society, Publisher's Inc. (Delmar, CA), 1977.

The Feeling Intellect: Selected Writings, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1990.

My Life among the Deathworks: Illustrations of the Aesthetics of Authority, introduction by James Davison Hunter, University of Virginia Press (Charlottesville, VA), 2006.

Charisma: The Gift of Grace, and How It Has Been Taken away from Us, foreword by Dan Frank and Aaron Manson, Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 2007.

The Crisis of the Officer Class: The Decline of the Tragic Sensibility, edited and with an introduction by Alan Woolfolk, University of Virginia Press (Charlottesville, VA), 2007.

The Jew of Culture: Freud, Moses, and Modernity, edited by Arnold M. Eisen and Gideon Lewis-Kraus, introduction by Arnold M. Eisen, University of Virginia Press (Charlottesville, VA), 2008.

Associate editor of American Sociological Review, 1958-61; founding editor of Journal of the AmericanAcademy of Arts and Sciences, 1956-59, and Daedalus; contributing editor for Harper, beginning 1969; chief editorial consultant to Beacon Press, 1952-58.


A writer, educator, and sociologist, Philip Rieff was born December 15, 1922, in Chicago, Illinois. He was educated at the University of Chicago, earning his undergraduate through graduate degrees there, and ultimately began his professorial career there as well, becoming an instructor in sociology in 1947, upon receiving his doctorate. Rieff went on to teach at several other prestigious institutions of higher learning, including Brandeis University, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Pennsylvania. However, it was his years at the University of Chicago that served to define him, as he is primarily associated with the conservative movement so prevalent among the academics and thinkers who taught there following World War II, including Leo Strauss, Milton Friedman, Ed Shils, Allan Bloom, and Saul Bellow. Rieff's primary areas of academic and research interest revolved around the moral psychology of Western civilization as a whole in the wake of the Enlightenment. His theories built in large part on those of earlier thinkers, taking into consideration the teachings of Sigmund Freud regarding moral thought and restrictions on natural behavior and providing his own spin to previous interpretations of Freud's ideas. Rieff wrote a number of books addressing the subject, including works on Freud and his theories and several volumes that address what Rieff perceived to be a decline in cultural and social progress during the latter half of the twentieth century.

Rieff's first book, Freud: The Mind of the Moralist, was published in 1959, and in it he established himself firmly as a Freudian scholar, echoing many of the widely held ideas of the time regarding Freudian psychology while turning them on their ear. The common beliefs of the time regarding Freud's teachings were that structure and order went against the intentions of nature, and that Freud encouraged parents to raise their children to be independent and liberated. Freud believed that forced moral authority was responsible for smothering human instincts and led to inhibitions and repression. Rieff, however, pointed out that in reality Freud was as cautious and in favor of controls and organization as anyone, and that he never was able to determine the cause of the ingrained sense of guilt that most human beings suffer when they completely throw away all rules and order. Rieff agreed with Freud's interpretation of the limitless possibilities of human behavior but suggested that something deep inside the human psyche automatically serves as a form of regulation. George Scialabba, in a contribution for the Boston Review Online, explained that "our primal endowment—formless, destructive, uncontrollable instinct—paralyzes and isolates us. We cannot trust ourselves or one another until a firm structure of interdictions has been installed in everyone's psyche."

In his later work, The Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith after Freud, Rieff went on to address concerns about the result of child-rearing practices that adhered to the previously held interpretation of Freudian theory. Children who were raised according to Freudian theory grew up without boundaries, and therefore ended up mistrustful and reluctant to acknowledge any form of formal authority. He discussed the sense of freedom and individuality that are, in truth, mere illusions resulting from a lacking sense of obligation toward the society as a whole. Much of this Rieff interprets as a shift from faith and religion, which was based on the concept of answering to a higher power, to a self-centered, egocentric way of looking at one's life. James Poulos, in a review of a recent edition of the book for the University Bookman Web site, commented that "for any American still searching, as Americans have, for answers that can bear the weight of the questions at the heart of how to live, the reappearance of Philip Rieff's beacon of understanding is like the beam of a lighthouse coming into view on dark and choppy seas."

My Life among the Deathworks: Illustrations of the Aesthetics of Authority, published in 2006, the year that Rieff passed away, was the first new work he produced in several decades and marked the start of a flurry of new releases that were ultimately to appear posthumously. The concept of a deathwork is an artistic attempt that serves to anchor and block the development of that particular art form in a particular direction. Examples of these types of work might include James Joyce's writings or the photography of Robert Mapplethorpe. In his book, Rieff addresses what he considers to be modern-day deathworks that appear to have halted social and cultural progress in their tracks. He criticizes modern art, music, and literature—all of which he considers to be unoriginal, derivative, or simply unappealing on an artistic level. These failures of creativity he links to society and civilization and to what he perceives to be a reversal in social fortunes on the whole. M.D. Aeschliman, writing for the National Review, dubbed Rieff's effort as "a bold, profound, disturbing book, highly offensive to contemporary pieties about the supreme value of self-expression, of the arts, artists, and aesthetic experience." Jess Castle, reviewing for the New Pantagruel Web site, found the book to be "Rieff's most ambitious work to date," as well as "essential reading for anyone wishing to gain new perspectives on our ongoing culture war."



National Review, July 17, 2006, M.D. Aeschliman, "The Aesthetics of Moloch," p. 41.


Boston Review Online,http://www.bostonreview.net/ (July 1, 2007), George Scialabba, "The Curse of Modernity."

New Pantagruel,http://www.newpantagruel.com/ (May 1, 2006), Jess Castle, review of My Life among the Deathworks: Illustrations of the Aesthetics of Authority.

University Bookman,http://www.kirkcenter.org/ (June 15, 2008), James G. Poulos, "Philip Rieff, Modern Prophet."