Individualisms and their discontents: The American self versus the French institution

Alain Ehrenberg, Louis Sass

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


In France, a new discourse on psychological suffering has developed, one that concerns social malaise and focuses on the values and norms of autonomy. It can be summed up in the dual idea that 1) the individual is overburdened with responsibilities and 2) social ties are weakening to the point of creating a crisis in the sense of community and social obligation. To place this French malaise in perspective, a comparison with the United States is offered on two grounds: 1) whereas the autonomy ideal tends to unify Americans, it divides the French, 2) whereas reference to personality or ‘self’ is a familiar tradition in the United States, Americans find the concept of institution more problematic. The present article shows how problems of mental health, which concern moral and social misfortune as well as illness, have been key issues in a transformation of the Freudian theme of civilization and its discontents into a concern with the pathology of contemporary democratic societies of individualism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)311-323
Number of pages13
JournalPhilosophy, Psychiatry and Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology
  • Philosophy
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


  • Comparative and historical sociology
  • France
  • Individualism
  • Mental health
  • United States


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