Editor’s note: Sen. Bernie Sanders jumped into the crowded 2020 race. This story was published during his first presidential bid. Click here for more Sanders stories from Mother Jones’ archives.
Last month Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent socialist seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, repudiated a 1972 essay he wrote for the Vermont Freeman, an alternative newspaper, which included depictions of a rape fantasy from male and female perspectives. On Meet the Press, he dismissed the article as a “piece of fiction” exploring gender stereotypes—”something like Fifty Shades of Grey.”
Yet as the New York Times recently reported, during his years as a contributor to the Freeman in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Sanders often wrote about sexual norms, as he presented a broader critique of repressive cultural forces that he believed were driving many Americans literally insane. His early writings reflect a political worldview rooted in the fad psychology and anti-capitalist rhetoric of the era and infused with a libertarianesque critique of state power. Sanders feared that the erosion of individual freedom—via compulsory education, sexual repression, and, yes, fluoridated water—began at birth. And, he postulated, authoritarianism might even cause cancer.
Yet he insisted that individual acts of protests could turn things around—a belief that would give rise to his political career.
Sanders was initially drawn to Sigmund Freud and his theories as a high school student in Brooklyn. He then studied psychology at the University of Chicago and at the New School for Social Research in New York. And he worked at a mental institution in New York City before settling in Vermont for good in 1968. Like many lefties of his time, he was heavily influenced by the Austrian psychologist Wilhelm Reich, a disciple of Freud whose work drew a connection between sexual repression and fascism. When Paris student demonstrators took the street in that year, they held up copies of Reich’s book.
Reich’s most famous invention was a product called the “Orgone Box,” a sort of hyperbaric oxygen chamber for orgasms. The device was supposed to expose users to “orgastic” energy circulating in the air. Such exposure, Reich theorized, could cure various maladies, including cancer.