is a Swiss-Israeli psychologist, philosopher, existential psychoanalyst and public intellectual. He is Chair of the Clinical Graduate Program at the Department of Psychology of Tel Aviv University
Tel Aviv University is a public university located in Ramat Aviv, Tel Aviv, Israel. With nearly 30,000 students, TAU is Israel's largest university.-History:...
. His research centers on the impact of globalization
Globalization refers to the increasingly global relationships of culture, people and economic activity. Most often, it refers to economics: the global distribution of the production of goods and services, through reduction of barriers to international trade such as tariffs, export fees, and import...
on meaning, personal and group identity. As a publicist he focuses primarily on the Middle Eastern Conflict on which he takes a liberal perspective favoring the two-state solution.
Early life and career
Carlo Strenger was born in Basel
Basel or Basle In the national languages of Switzerland the city is also known as Bâle , Basilea and Basilea is Switzerland's third most populous city with about 166,000 inhabitants. Located where the Swiss, French and German borders meet, Basel also has suburbs in France and Germany...
Switzerland name of one of the Swiss cantons. ; ; ; or ), in its full name the Swiss Confederation , is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe,Or Central Europe depending on the definition....
into an orthodox Jewish family. He describes his transition from Orthodox Judaism to secular atheism as the defining experience of his life. Already an atheist, he spent a year at a Yeshiva after completing high-school and then started his studies in psychology and philosophy in Zürich
Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland and the capital of the canton of Zurich. It is located in central Switzerland at the northwestern tip of Lake Zurich...
, Switzerland. He moved to Israel, trained in philosophy and clinical psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem ; ; abbreviated HUJI) is Israel's second-oldest university, after the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. The Hebrew University has three campuses in Jerusalem and one in Rehovot. The world's largest Jewish studies library is located on its Edmond J...
, where he received his Ph.D. in 1989, and taught modern thought at the Department of Philosophy. He then moved to Tel Aviv, Israel where he currently lives with his wife, Julia Elad-Strenger, a psychologist, translator and editor.
Contributions to psychoanalysis
From 1986 to 2000 Carlo Strenger’s focus of research was on psychoanalysis
Psychoanalysis is a psychological theory developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud. Psychoanalysis has expanded, been criticized and developed in different directions, mostly by some of Freud's former students, such as Alfred Adler and Carl Gustav...
. His first Book Between Hermeneutics and Science
argued that psychoanalysis had insufficient evidential foundation because of its almost exclusive reliance on clinical data, and argued that psychoanalysis needed to interact with mainstream science to avoid becoming irrelevant.
During the 1990s he was in private practice in Tel Aviv, while teaching as an adjunct professor at Tel Aviv University. He aimed at combining psychoanalytic and existentialist motifs in his clinical work and presented his existential psychoanalytic perspective in Individuality, the Impossible Project
Some critics saw the book as a major contribution to psychoanalysis, arguing that Strenger’s perspective on the self as an emerging creation rather than pre-existing entity was philosophically and clinically revolutionary. Others took issue with Strenger’s very liberal approach towards sexual perversion and argued that his respect for the patient’s subjectivity made him underestimate some of his patients’ pathologies.
Research on globalization and its psychological impact
From 2000 onward, Carlo Strenger focused on the impact of globalization on personal identity. In his The Designed Self
(2004) he argued that Generation X’s experience of life was very different from that of earlier generation. No longer suffering from suffocating taboos, GenXers were faced with a fluid world and great pressure to succeed.
The self had become an endless experiment, and GenXers expected to have spectacular lives in which professional success needed to be combined with experimentation in the domains of sexuality, lifestyle and shaping the body almost at will. Strenger argued that one of the problems of this generation was that it no longer felt rooted in deep cultural traditions, and instead turned to popular culture for guidance. Strenger’s account combined individual case-studies with interpretations coming from a variety of disciplines like psychoanalysis, existential psychology, sociology and cultural criticism.
Some critics saw the book as an innovative and thought-provoking interpretation of the experience and identity of a generation that had grown into the world of global markets and communication networks. Others thought that Strenger was too pluralist and open in his interpretive approach and that he did not offer an integrated theoretical perspective.
Research on midlife
Strenger has also researched a number of other implications of the changing global order. He has proposed to rethink midlife transition in view of increased life expectancy, and argues that midlife change must become a cultural norm in 'The Existential Necessity of Midlife-Change
' a much quoted article in the Harvard Business Review
. This requires the ability to assess ones weaknesses and strength objectively to make realistic decisions, a process that he has called ‘active self-acceptance.
The Fear of Insignificance: Searching for Meaning in the Twenty-first Century
In his The Fear of Insignificance: Searching for Meaning in the Twenty-first Century
Strenger argues that a new species he calls Homo Globalis, defined by its intimate connection to the global infotainment network, has emerged. Homo Globalis lives in a culture that celebrates spectacular achievement and preaches that everything is possible, as reflected in Nike's slogan "Just do it!". Alternately Homo Globalis seeks solace in pop-spirituality and scientifically unfounded self-help precepts, neither of which offer any lasting relief from the fear of insignificance.
Using findings of existential psychology, Strenger argues that it becoming progressively more difficult for Homo Globalis to maintain stable self-esteem, because every achievement is compared to the spectacular success stories publicized by the media. Strenger attacks the fashionable relativism of pop-spirituality, claiming that this actually prevents Homo Globalis from attaining a stable worldview.
As an alternative to the myth of "Just do it" and the precepts of pop-spirituality, Strenger suggests a concept of 'active self-acceptance', in which persons achieve a sense of selfhood and their personal mission through a sustained quest for self-knowledge. Strenger’s position, while politically liberal, is culturally conservative, and his remedy for the malaise of Homo Globalis is a return to the ideal of liberal education. He claims that only sustained intellectual investment in in a reasonably based world-view can give Homo Globalis a stable sense of meaning and identity.
Strenger writes on the topic of The Fear of Insignificance in a blog called Homo Globalis
at Psychology Today
, and has given extensive interviews
on the topic.
Research on Jewish Identity and World-Citizenship
Strenger has been interested in modern Jewish identity, particularly in modern Jewish Universalism, and has written about it in a variety of publications. In The Fear of Insignificance
(2011) he has worked out a psychology of world-citizenship. To what extent are humans able to widen their ability for empathy and concern beyond the culture of their upbringing? He claims that the development of modern Jewish Universalism provides an interesting paradigm for this identity, and has portrayed Sigmund Freud, Hannah Arendt, Isaiah Berlin, Leo Strauss and Philip Roth as examples.
Political writing and views
Strenger has been publicly involved in Israeli politics and culture since the late 1990s when he represented Israel’s left in a weekly radio talk show, in 2003 elections he was on the strategy team of the Labor party. He joined the Permanent Monitoring Panel on Terrorism of the World Federation of Scientists in 2004 and has written academic analyses of the Middle Eastern Conflict from the point of view of Existential Psychology.
Since 2007 Carlo Strenger has been a regular contributor to Israel’s leading liberal Newspaper Haaretz
, on which he also runs his Blog Strenger than Fiction
. He also publishes regularly in Britain’s The Guardian
and occasionally in other venues like The New York Times
and blogs on the Huffington Post
Strenger is a proponent of the two-state solution, i.e. he claims that the only way to end the Middle Eastern Conflict is establishing a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital alongside Israel. His criticisms of Israel’s settlement policies are often quite pronounced, and he sees Israel’s failure to engage with the Arab League Peace Initiative as an indication of political and strategic short-sightedness.
Nevertheless he also criticized Palestinian self-representation as pure victims, and calls for responsible Palestinian leadership to move towards credible peace proposals.. He also strongly attacks attempts to delegitimize Israel's existence.
Strenger has written sharply critical analyses of the involvement of religion in Israeli politics and claims that Israel needs to adopt the secular model of France and the US to avoid constant clashes and to stop what he sees as an ongoing culture war in Israel.
But Strenger has also been critical of the failure of Israel’s left to deal with the events leading from the end of the Oslo Process to the second Intifada and the rise of Hamas. He sees this failure as a symptom of what he calls the ‘Standard Left Explanatory System’ that evolved in Europe in the 1960s, which assumes that all ills in the non-Western world are a function of Western wrongdoing, and never ascribes responsibility to non-Western agents like Islamic countries and groupings.
Strenger describes himself as a classical European Liberal, and claims that his political views are application of this liberal position to Israeli politics and the Israel-Palestine conflict. But some of his critics from the Israeli right categorize him as belonging to the extreme left. Strenger is an advocate of a liberal form of Zionism reaching back to Ahad Ha'am and has developed this vision in an essay entitled Knowledge-Nation Israel
and a number of opinion articles.. The German Publisher Suhrkamp has announced Strenger's Book Israel: Einführung in ein schwieriges Land
for October 2011, and Strenger has given extensive interviews
on Israeli politics in the German media.