George Frankl

Psychoanalyst concerned with social pathologies
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The Independent Online

George Frankl, philosopher, psychoanalyst and writer: born Vienna 12 December 1921; married 1954 Thelma Merloo; died London 25 December 2004.

George Frankl was a philosopher, psychoanalyst and visionary thinker whose great achievements lay both in the field of therapeutic work with individuals and in his writings.

His 1970s classic The Failure of the Sexual Revolution (1974), on which an international conference in Australia was based, has recently been reprinted. His major work The Social History of the Unconscious, first published in 1989, presents a detailed examination of the psychological foundations of human cultures. The Unknown Self (1990) and Exploring the Unconscious (1994) describe his revolutionary therapeutic method.

In Foundations of Morality (2000), Blueprint for a Sane Society (2004) and the forthcoming Three Faces of Monotheism (2005), Frankl demonstrated his conviction that the most important achievement of psychoanalysis lies in its application to the social pathologies.

His books are now published in Czech, Russian and Portuguese and are in preparation in China, India and Italy. They have received critical acclaim throughout Europe and the United States and have formed the basis of courses at universities in Australia and Canada.

George Frankl was born in 1921, the elder son of Hugo Frankl and his Hungarian wife Emilia, in Vienna where, in the post-Great War atmosphere of the time, the debate between Communism and social democracy occupied a central position. "Most people of our acquaintance, friends of my father, fellow soldiers of the First World War, passionately deplored warfare and turned against the propaganda which justified it," he wrote in the prologue of Blueprint for a Sane Society. "I heard these arguments as a boy . . . and decided to become a philosopher in order to understand the way the mind works."

In his teens, Frankl studied the works of Plato, Kant and Schopenhauer, and took part in discussions with his father's friends, members of the Austrian Socialist Party (SDPO), one of whom, Alfred Adler, introduced him to the ideas of psychoanalysis and the unconscious. Frankl began to read Sigmund Freud's writings and became convinced that theory and practice must go together. "The thought that the new insights into the unconscious mind could be applied to the neurotic and even psychotic pathologies of societies was never far from my mind," he said.

In 1938, aged 18, he met Freud when he wrote an article intended for publication in Freud's journal Imago, but the Nazi invasion of Austria made further contact impossible. Frankl was arrested and sent to Dachau but through a business friend of his father was able to leave Vienna in March 1939 for England. He arranged for his younger brother Freddie to follow him but a permit for his parents was too late and they were deported to Theresienstadt and died in Auschwitz. His father's last message, "Tell George that he must explain how such terrible things can happen", convinced him to become a psychoanalyst to fulfil his father's plea.

A period of study at Oxford University was curtailed by three years' internment on the Isle of Man and various camps in Canada, where Frankl continued to read widely, writing, developing his ideas and lecturing to fellow internees. From 1951 in London he was able to begin his therapeutic work formally, for a time at the Tavistock Clinic in north London, and from 1954 at his own practice in Belsize Park and in the West End.

In 1954 he married Thelma Merloo and their home became a welcoming meeting place of ideas and inspiration for friends and students as well as for Frankl's study. Here he wrote his major works and developed his own new method of depth analysis which allows direct communication with the unconscious and led to an extraordinary breakthrough in the understanding of the unconscious mind both of the individual and of societies.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s Frankl was Chairman of the Philosophical and Psychological sections of the British Humanist Society, giving many lectures and writing articles. He was for 10 years editor and contributor to the society's journal, resigning only when it became the "Rational Society" based on Logical Positivism, with Alfred Ayer as president. Frankl's work was also published in The New Statesman, the Journal of the Architectural Association and other periodicals. In 1955 he published a prescient pamphlet, The End of War or the End of Mankind, which drew recognition and support from Professor J.B.S. Haldane and Bertrand Russell.

During the 1990s Frankl was editor-in-chief of New Analysis - Journal of Psychoanalytic Social Studies. Despite ill-health in recent years he continued to work and write until his death.

Ann Measures