Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire

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Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire
Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire (first edition).jpg
Cover of the first edition
AuthorHans Eysenck
CountryUnited Kingdom
SubjectsSigmund Freud
PublisherViking Press
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardcover and Paperback)
Pages224 (1986 Pelican edition)
ISBN0-14-022562-5 (1986 Pelican edition)

Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire (1985; second edition 2004) is a book by the psychologist Hans Eysenck, in which the author criticizes Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis, which he argues is unscientific. The second edition has a preface by his widow, Sybil Eysenck. The book received both positive and negative reviews. Eysenck has been criticized for his discussion of Josef Breuer's treatment of his patient Anna O., whom Eysenck argues suffered from tuberculous meningitis.


Eysenck argues that psychoanalysis is unscientific and that its theories are based on no legitimate base of observation or experiment and have the status only of speculation. Eysenck argues that the veracity of psychoanalysis is testable through traditional empirical means, and that in all areas where such tests have been carried out it has failed. Eysenck calls Freud, "a genius, not of science, but of propaganda, not of rigorous proof, but of persuasion, not of the design of experiments, but of literary art."[1] According to Eysenck, Freud set back the study of psychology and psychiatry by around fifty years. Eysenck argues that the dreams Freud cites in The Interpretation of Dreams (1899) do not really support his theories, and that Freud's examples actually disprove his dream theory. Eysenck calls the psychoanalyst Ernest Jones' The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud (1953-1957) the "most famous" biography of Freud, but sees it as "more a mythology than a history, leaving out as it does nearly all the warts and making many alterations to the portrait by suppressing data and items which might reflect unfavourably on Freud." Eysenck praises several works critical of psychoanalysis, including the psychiatrist Henri Ellenberger's The Discovery of the Unconscious (1970), the psychologist Frank Sulloway's Freud, Biologist of the Mind (1979), Les Illusions de la Psychanalyse (1980) by Jacques Van Rillaer [fr], and the philosopher Adolf Grünbaum's The Foundations of Psychoanalysis (1984). He accepts Elizabeth Thornton's argument, made in Freud and Cocaine (1983), also published as The Freudian Fallacy, that Breuer's patient Anna O. suffered from tuberculous meningitis.[2][3]

Publication history[edit]

Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire was first published by Viking Press in 1985. The book was published by Pelican Books in 1986.[4] In 2004, a revised edition with a preface by Hans Eysenck's widow, Sybil Eysenck, was published by Transaction Publishers.[5]


Mainstream media[edit]

Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire received a positive review from Paul Stuewe in Quill & Quire,[6] and a negative review from David Berry in New Statesman.[7] The book was also reviewed by the psychologist Stuart Sutherland in the Times Higher Education Supplement.[8]

Stuewe called Eysenck's approach to testing psychoanalytic theory "rigorously scientific". He concluded that while Eysenck's book was not likely to change the mind of those who accepted psychoanalysis, it was nevertheless "a controversial and largely convincing challenge to the scientific validity of psychoanalysis and such a forcefully written and lucidly argued one that it will certainly attract a good deal of public attention."[6] Berry dismissed the book as an "ill-considered, illogical banality".[7]

Scientific and academic journals[edit]

Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire received a positive review from Coline Covington in the Journal of Analytical Psychology,[9] and a negative review from Vernon Hamilton in the British Journal of Psychology.[10] The book was also reviewed by the psychiatrist Anthony Clare in Nature,[11] Parker E. Lichtenstein in the Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies,[12] Chris Brand in Behaviour Research and Therapy,[13] and Michael H. Stone in the American Journal of Psychiatry.[14]

Covington credited Eysenck with pointing to the existence of alternative theories and "evidence suggesting which theory may be better in accounting for the established facts."[9]

Hamilton described the work as a popularization of Eysenck's articles and books criticizing psychoanalysis, and wrote that it was "not really meant for academic consumption." He criticized Eysenck's account of psychoanalytic therapy, writing that it bore little resemblance to modern psychoanalytic therapy, and wrote that Eysenck evaluated psychoanalysis using experimental evidence that was not methodologically adequate, or which in some cases actually provided weak support for psychoanalytic concepts such as repression.[10]

Evaluations in books[edit]

The psychologist Stephen Frosh described Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire as one of a number of books in which Eysenck acted as a "propagandist" for the view that psychoanalysis is unscientific in The Politics of Psychoanalysis (1987). He noted that Freud would not have agreed with Eysenck that psychoanalysis is a matter of "literary art" rather than science.[15] Malcolm Macmillan described Eysenck as one of several authors to have argued that Anna O. suffered from an organic malady in Freud Evaluated (1991). He observed these authors provide conflicting accounts of what malady Anna O. suffered from, and argued that establishing any retrospective diagnosis with certainty is difficult.[16] Richard Webster suggested in Why Freud Was Wrong (1995) that Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire contains many cogent criticisms of Freud. However, he criticized Eysenck for uncritically accepting Thornton's argument that Breuer's patient Anna O. suffered from tuberculous meningitis.[2] Sybil Eysenck, discussing the book in her preface to its 2004 edition, wrote that its "real strength" was that it "not only cast doubt on traditional psychotherapy and psychoanalysis" but suggested behavior therapy as a viable alternative to them, a position in her view justified by subsequent research. She credited her husband with considerable courage in writing the book, and identified it as her favorite among his books.[17]


  1. ^ Frosh 1987, pp. 6, 276.
  2. ^ a b Webster 2005, pp. 577–578.
  3. ^ Eysenck 1986, pp. 35, 119, 202, 212–213.
  4. ^ Eysenck 1986, p. 4.
  5. ^ Eysenck & Eysenck 2004, pp. vii–viii.
  6. ^ a b Stuewe 1986, p. 30.
  7. ^ a b Berry 1985, p. 28.
  8. ^ Sutherland 1985, p. 23.
  9. ^ a b Covington 1987, p. 195.
  10. ^ a b Hamilton 1986, pp. 541–542.
  11. ^ Clare 1985, pp. 112–113.
  12. ^ Lichtenstein 1991, pp. 126–128.
  13. ^ Brand 1993, pp. 129–131.
  14. ^ Stone 1994, p. 609.
  15. ^ Frosh 1987, pp. 6–7.
  16. ^ Macmillan 1997, pp. 10, 684.
  17. ^ Eysenck & Eysenck 2004, p. viii.


  • Berry, David (1985). "Decline and fall of the Freudian empire (Book Review)". New Statesman. 110 (September 6, 1985).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Brand, Chris (1993). "Decline and fall of the Freudian empire (Book Review)". Behaviour Research and Therapy. 31 (January 1993).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Clare, Anthony W. (1985). "Decline and fall of the Freudian empire (Book Review)". Nature. 318 (November 14, 1985). doi:10.1038/318112a0.  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Covington, Coline (1987). "Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire (Book)". Journal of Analytical Psychology. 32 (2).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Hamilton, Vernon (1986). "Decline and fall of the Freudian empire (Book Review)". British Journal of Psychology. 77.  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Lichtenstein, Parker E. (1991). "The decline and fall of the Freudian empire (Book Review)". Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies. 16 (Spring 1991).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Stone, Michael H. (1994). "Decline and fall of the Freudian empire (Book Review)". American Journal of Psychiatry. 151 (April 1994).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Stuewe, Paul (1986). "Decline and fall of the Freudian empire (Book Review)". Quill & Quire. 52 (January 1986).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Sutherland, Stuart (1985). "The decline and fall of the Freudian empire (Book Review)". The Times Higher Education Supplement (678).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)