Past Event

The Politics of Repressed Guilt

September 17, 2019
12:00 PM - 2:00 PM
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SIPA Room 1219

Claudia Leeb’s The Politics of Repressed Guilt develops the novel concept of embodied reflective judgment, which shows that a failure to confront individual and political guilt impacts our ability to make critical judgements and has lasting negative consequences for democracy. In developing the theoretical framework, she draws on the political theory of Theodor Adorno and Hannah Arendt, as well as the psychoanalytic approach of Anna Freud. To help ground this framework she relates it to the historical example of Austria’s involvement with National Socialism. She draws on an original archive of materials to analyze court documents on Nazi perpetrators and contemporary public controversies on theater plays and museums, as examples of Austrians' failure to work through their past, and thereby demonstrates the damaging political consequences this failure has had, and continues to have, for democracy. The continuing electoral growth of the right-wing populist Freedom Party in Austria highlights the timeliness of her work and its relevance for studying the rise of the far right beyond the Austrian context. Furthermore, the theoretical concepts that shed light on the connection between repressed guilt and democracy, and the practical suggestions she introduces to counteract the repression of guilt, such as the centrality of embodied reflective spaces where individuals can confront difficult feelings of guilt, are relevant for all individuals and nations that grapple with past crimes and their lingering effects.


Claudia Leeb is an Associate Professor of Political Theory in the School of Politics, Philosophy and Public Affairs at Washington State University. She holds a PhD in Political Theory and an MA in Feminist Theory from the New School for Social Research in New York City, and a PhD and an MS in Psychology from the University of Vienna, Austria. She works at the intersection of early Frankfurt school critical theory, feminist theory, and psychoanalytic theory to address questions of power and socio-political change in contemporary societies. She is the author of several books, including her recent The Politics of Repressed Guilt: The Tragedy of Austrian Silence (2018, Edinburgh University Press), and Power and Feminist Agency in Capitalism: Toward a New Theory of the Political Subject (2017, Oxford University Press), for which she received the 2018 ASCINA (Austrian Scientists and Scholars in North America) award for research excellence. She has published articles in several journals, including Political Theory, Perspectives of Politics, Theory & Event, Contemporary Political Theory, Constellations, Social Philosophy Today, Philosophy & Social Criticism, The Berlin Journal of Critical Theory, and Radical Philosophy Review. She has also contributed several book chapters to anthologies on Frankfurt school critical theory. She is currently working on a new book project on the rise of the far right titled: Analyzing the Far Right: A Psychoanalytic and Feminist Critical Theory Perspective.