Subject: Psychoanalysis as religion, cult, and political movement-Prof. Kevin MacDonald
Date: Sat, 24 Sep 2005 20:19:44 EDT
Freuds Follies: Psychoanalysis as religion, cult, and political movement.
by Kevin MacDonald, Ph.D. email@example.com
MacDonald, K. B. (1996). Freuds Follies: Psychoanalysis as religion, cult,
and political movement. Skeptic, 4(3), 9499. Reprinted in The
of Pseudoscience, Michael Shermer (Ed.). ABC-CLIO, December 2002.
We begin to grasp that the deviser of psychoanalysis was at bottom a
visionary but endlessly calculating artist, engaged in casting himself as the hero of
a multivolume fictional opus that is part epic, part detective story, and part
satire on human self-interestedess and animality. This scientifically
deflating realization ... is what the Freudian community needs to challenge if it
can. (Frederick Crews, The Memory Wars: Freud's Legacy in Dispute, pp. 12-13)
Since its inception, psychoanalysis has been denounced as a pseudoscience. By
the early 1960's philosophers of science such as Michael Polanyi, Karl
Popper, Ernst Nagel and Sidney Hook had noted the self-authenticating nature of
psychoanalytic assertions. More recently, highly critical accounts of
psychoanalysis from Henri Ellenberger (1970), Frank Sulloway (1992/1979), Adolph Grï¿½nbaum
(1984), Frank Cioffi (1969, 1970, 1972), and, most recently, Malcolm Macmillan
(1991) have appeared.
These critiques have been entirely irrelevant to the perpetuation of
psychoanalysis as an intellectual movement. That in itself says a great deal, and we
will have to investigate why this might be so.
The good news is that there are signs that psychoanalysis may finally be on
the ropes, pummeled most effectively by the work of Frederick Crews. Crews
published three book review essays in the prestigious New York Review of Books
(NYRB) on recent revisionist scholarship on psychoanalysis and the recovered
memory movement. Predictably, the Crews' articles provoked an impassioned
response'one of the largest in NYRB history'from the psychoanalytic and recovered
memory establishments. Fortunately, the NYRB has published almost the entire
exchange in book form under the title The Memory Wars: Freud's Legacy in Dispute
(Crews et al, 1995).
One tip off to the pseudoscientific nature of psychoanalysis is to describe
its institutional structure. In a real science there are no central
organizations that function to ensure doctrinal conformity, expel those who deviate from
the accepted truth, and present a united front to the world. It has long been
apparent to observers, however, that this is exactly what psychoanalysis has
done and continues to do. As Crews notes, psychoanalysis 'conducted itself less
like a scientific-medical enterprise than like a politburo bent upon snuffing
out deviationism' (Crews, 1995, p. 110). Perhaps the first person to notice
and be repelled by this aspect of psychoanalysis was the famous Swiss
psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler. Bleuler briefly flirtedwith psychoanalysis. But when he
left the psychoanalytic movement in 1911, he said to Freud 'this 'who is not for
us is against us,' this 'all or nothing,' is necessary for religious
communities and useful for political parties. I can therefore understand the principle
as such, but for science I consider it harmful.' (in Gay 1987, pp. 144-145).
The quotation is telling. To become a psychoanalyst was like joining a
religious or political movement and not at all like becoming a scientist.
The apex of the authoritarian, anti-scientific institutional structure of
psychoanalysis was the Secret Committee of hand-picked loyalists sworn to uphold
psychoanalytic orthodoxy, described by Phyllis Grosskurth in The Secret Ring:
Freud's Inner Circle and the Politics of Psychoanalysis: By insisting the
Committee must be absolutely secret, Freud enshrined the principle of
The various psychoanalytic societies that emerged from the Committee were
like Communist cells, in which the members vowed eternal obedience to their
leader. Psychoanalysis became institutionalized by the founding of journals and the
training of candidates; in short an extraordinarily effective political
entity. (Grosskurth 1991, p. 15)
There were repeated admonitions for the Committee to present a 'united front'
against all opposition, for 'maintaining control over the whole
organization', for 'keeping the troops in line' and 'reporting to the commander'
(Grosskurth 1991, p. 97). Consider Otto Rank's astonishing letter of 1924 in which he
attributes his heretical behavior in questioning the Oedipal complex to his own
neurotic unconscious conflicts, promises to see things 'more objectively after
the removal of my affective resistance,' and is thankful that Freud 'found my
explanations satisfactory and has forgiven me personally' (Grosskurth 1991,
p. 166). Grosskurth notes how 'Freud seems to have acted as the Grand
Inquisitor, and Rank's groveling 'confession' could have served as a model for the
Russian show trials of the 1930's' (Grosskurth 1991, p. 167). Freud viewed the
entire episode as a success; Rank had been cured of his neurosis 'just as if he
had gone through a proper analysis' (quoted in Grosskurth 1991, p. 168).
The staunch Freud disciple, Fritz Wittels (1924) decried the 'suppression of
free criticism within the Society.... Freud is treated as a demigod, or even
as a god. No criticism of his utterances is permitted.' He tells us that
Freud's Drei Abhandlungen zur Sexualtheorie is 'the psychoanalyst's Bible. This is
no mere figure of speech. The faithful disciples regard one another's books as
of no account. They recognize no authority but Freud's; they rarely read or
quote one another. When they quote it is from the Master, that they may give the
pure milk of the word' (p. 142-143). Freud 'had little desire that [his]
associates should be persons of strong individuality, and that they should be
critical and ambitious collaborators. The realm of psychoanalysis was his idea and
his will, and he welcomed anyone who accepted his views' (p. 134). The others
were simply expelled.
All of the major figures around Freud appear to have been extremely
submissive personalities who absolutely revered Freud as father figure. Indeed, the
members appear to have self-consciously viewed themselves as loyal sons to Freud
the father-figure (complete with sibling rivalry as the 'brothers' jockeyed
for position as the 'father's' favorite), while Freud viewed his close followers
as his children, with power to interfere in their personal lives (Grosskurth
1991, p. 123; see also Hale 1995, p. 29).
Ernest Jones, Freud's worshipful biographer and the official head of the
movement after the expulsion of Jung, 'grasped the fact that to be a friend of
Freud's meant being a sycophant. It meant opening oneself completely to him, to
be willing to pour out all one's confidences to him' (Grosskurth 1991, 48).
Masson (1990, 152) suggests that 'Jones believed that to disagree with Freud (the
father) was tantamount to patricide (father murder).' When S?ï¿½ndor Ferenczi,
a central figure in the inner circle of psychoanalysis during the 1920's,
disagreed with Freud on the reality of childhood sexual abuse, Jones called him a
'homicidal maniac' (p. 152).
Regarding Ferenczi, Grosskurth (1991) notes that '(t)he thought of a
disagreement with Freud was unbearable ...' (p. 141); 'There were occasions when he
rebelled against his dependency, but always he returned repentant and
submissive' (pp. 54-55). Similarly, Masson (1990) describes Kurt Eissler, the closest
confidant of Anna Freud's inner circle in the 1960's, by saying that 'What he
felt for Freud seemed to border on worship' (p. 121). '(H)e held one thing
sacred, and hence beyond criticism: Freud' (p. 122). It was common among the
disciples to imitate Freud's personal mannerisms, and even among analysts who did
not know Freud personally, there were 'intense feelings, fantasies,
transferences, identifications' (Hale 1995, 30).
Evidence for the essentially cult-like nature of psychoanalysis is the unique
role of disciples who are able to trace themselves back to Freud in a direct
line of descent. 'The idea of being a chosen disciple, privileged to have
direct contact with the master, has survived and is continued in the procedures of
many of the training programs of the institutes' (Arlow & Brenner 1990, 5;
see also Masson 1990, 55, 123). 'The intensely filial relationships to Freud of
the first generation were gradually replaced by a highly emotional
relationship to a fantasied Freud, still the primal founder, but also to organizations,
to peers, to superiors in the institute hierarchy'above all'to the training
analyst, the training analyst's analyst, and, if possible, back to Freud and his
circle became a determinant of psychoanalytic prestige' (Hale 1995, 32).
Unlike a real science, there is a continuing role for Freud's writings as
what one might term the sacred texts of the movement, both in teaching and in the
current psychoanalytic literature. Arlow and Brenner (1988) note that Studies
of Hysteria and The Interpretation of Dreams are almost 100 years old, but
continue to be standard texts in psychoanalytic training programs. They also
describe 'the recurrent appearance in the analytic literature of articles
redoing, extending, deepening, and modifying Freud's early case histories' (p. 5).
Indeed, it is remarkable just to simply scan psychoanalytic journal articles and
find how many references there are to Freud's work which was written well
over 60 years ago. In examining 6 issues of Psychoanalytic Quarterly from
1988-1989, I found 92 references to Freud in 33 articles. Only 4 articles had no
references to Freud, and of these, one had no references at all and one had only
one reference. As Wittels (1924, 143) noted early on: 'The faithful disciples
regard one another's books as of no account. They recognize no authority but
Freud's; they rarely read or quote one another. When they quote it is from the
Master, that they may give the pure milk of the word.'
The continued use of Freud's texts in instruction and the continuing
references to Freud's work would not be conceivable in a real science. While Darwin is
venerated for his scientific work as the founder of the modern science of
evolutionary biology, studies in evolutionary biology only infrequently refer to
his writings because the field has moved so far beyond his work. The Origins
of Species and The Descent of Man are important texts in the history of
science, but are not used for current instruction. Moreover, central features of
Darwin's account, such as his views on inheritance, have been completely rejected
by modern workers. With Freud, however, there is continuing slavish loyalty to
the master, at least within an important subset of the movement.
Besides Rank, other deviators, Fleiss, Adler, Jung, and Ferenczi, were
diagnosed as suffering from a variety of psychiatric disorders and therefore needing
further psychoanalysis to bring them back to the true faith. Freud 'never
tired of repeating the now notorious contention that the opposition to
psychoanalysis stemmed from 'resistances'' arising from emotional sources (Esterson
1993, 216). He attributed Jung's defection to 'strong neurotic and egotistic
motives' (quoted in Gay 1988, 481). Even Peter Gay, the psychoanalytic loyalist and
historian of the movement, writes that 'These ventures into character
assassination are instances of the kind of aggressive analysis that psychoanalysts,
Freud in the vanguard, at once deplored and practiced. This ... was the way
that analysts thought about others, and about themselves.' The practice was
'endemic among analysts, a common professional deformation' (1988, p. 481).
This practice continues to this day. A common thread of the letters sent by
the many aggrieved psychoanalysts in response to Crews' articles was that they
were 'composed in a state of bitter anger by a malcontent with a vicious
disposition' (Crews, 1995, p. 293). Crews' Freud bashing was typically explained in
terms of botched transferences and Oedipal complexes gone awry. Another
recent case is that of Jeffrey Masson (see Masson 1990) who suffered similar
questionings of his sanity for challenging the central Freudian dogma of the Oedipal
None of this is new to people even marginally acquainted with the scholarship
on psychoanalysis. But it bears repeating because psychoanalysis, unlike a
scientific theory but very much like certain religious or political movements,
has essentially been immune from attacks leveled at it either from inside or
outside the movement. Insiders who dissented from central doctrines were simply
expelled and often went on to found their own psychoanalytically-oriented
sects, typically with the same disregard for canons of scientific method as the
parent religion. There is a long line of such expelled dissenters in the history
of psychoanalysis, and the list continues to lengthen with the recent
expulsion of Jeffrey Masson. Moreover, the central core of loyalists that has always
existed in psychoanalysis functions to preserve the image of Freud as a heroic
scientist to the point that many of Freud's papers have been locked away from
the prying eyes of scholars for periods extending as far ahead as the 22nd
The entire enterprise begins to appear more and more like an authoritarian
religious cult than a scientific movement. Indeed, several authors have pointed
out that psychoanalysis has many features in common with brainwashing (Bailey
1960, 1965; Salter 1996). Frank Sulloway (1979b) describes the indoctrination
characteristic of training analyses in which any objection by the analysand is
viewed as a resistance to be overcome. And even Shelly Orgel (1990), who
remains a defender of the psychoanalytic faith, writes of the feelings of many
contemporary analysands that their analysts had behaved aggressively toward them,
turning them into devoted and passive followers of their highly idealized
analyst, a role that was facilitated by the 'unquestioned authority' (p. 14) of
Jeffrey Masson (1990) provides fascinating insight into psychoanalysis as
thought control and aggression. Masson's training analysis involved a completely
one-sided relationship in which the analyst had all of the power and in which
the trainee was expected to put up with any and all indignities. Leaving the
training analyst would have meant giving up psychoanalysis because the training
analyst would claim that the trainee was unfit for a career as a
psychoanalyst. The result of the analysis was an idealization of the training analyst and
expressions of fealty regarding the worth of the training analyst's writings.
Masson was more or less blackmailed into agreeing to include his own training
analyst's name on a paper he was writing or be forced to re-enter analysis
(pp. 83-83). Masson comments that 'Being in such an analysis is like growing up
with a despotic parent' (p. 86), since the qualities it requires in the
prospective analysts are meekness and abject obedience.
I suggest that the inculcation of passive and devoted followers via the
aggression and thought control represented by psychoanalysis has always been an
important aspect of the entire project. At a deep level, the fundamentally
pseudoscientific structure of psychoanalysis implies that disputes cannot be
resolved in a scientific manner, with the result that, as John Kerr (1992) notes, the
only means of resolving disputes involves the exercise of personal power. The
result was that the movement was doomed to develop into a mainstream
orthodoxy punctuated by numerous sectarian deviations originated by individuals
expelled from the orthodox movement. These heretical offshoots then replicated the
fundamentally irrational pseudoscientificstructure of the original. '(E)ach
major disagreement over theory or therapy seemed to require a new validating
social group, a psychoanalytic tradition that recent splits within Freudian
institutes seem only to confirm' (Hale 1995, 26). Perhaps the most bizarre such
offshoot was the movement initiated by Wilhelm Reich's, well-covered in Joel
Carlinsky's Skeptic (Vol. 2, No. 3) article 'Epigones of Orgonomy.'
All of this is well-known, but there are several aspects of the recent
controversy that are new. First, recent scholarship on psychoanalysis shows not only
that psychoanalysis was never more than a pseudoscience but that Freud
engaged in scientific fraud from the get-go in developing his theories. Allen
Esterson's (1992) Seductive Mirage: An Exploration of the Work of Sigmund Freud
demonstrates convincingly that Freud's patients did not volunteer any information
on seduction or primal scenes at all. The seduction stories that provide the
proffered empirical basis of the Oedipal complex were in fact a construction by
Freud who then interpreted his patients' distress on hearing his
constructions as confirmation. Freud then deceptively obscured the fact that his patients'
stories were reconstructions and interpretations based on his a priori
theory. He also retroactively changed the identityof the fancied seducers from
non-family members (servants, etc.) when his Oedipal story required fathers
Esterson provides numerous other examples of deception (and self-deception)
and notes that they were typically couched in Freud's brilliant and highly
convincing rhetorical style. And because of the reconstructive, interpretive
manner of theory construction, the authority of the psychoanalyst became the only
criterion of the truth of psychoanalytic claims. The movement, in order to be
successful, would have to be, of necessity, highly authoritarian'a point
brought out most forcefully in John Kerr's (1992) A Most Dangerous Method: The Story
of Jung, Freud, and Sabina Spielrein. The movement was authoritarian from the
beginning and has remained so throughout its history.
Now 100 years after its inception, the theory of the Oedipal complex,
childhood sexuality, and the sexual etiology of the neuroses remain without any
independent empirical validation and play no role whatever in mainstream
developmental psychology. From an evolutionary perspective, the idea that children would
have a specifically sexual attraction to their opposite sex parent is
extremely implausible, since such an incestuous relationship would result in
inbreeding depression (see MacDonald 1986). The proposal that boys desire to kill
their fathers conflicts with the general importance of paternal provisioning of
resources in understanding the evolution of the family (MacDonald, 1988;
1992a,b): Boys who had succeeded in killing their fathers and having sex with their
mothers would not only be left with genetically inferior offspring, they would
also be deprived of paternal support and protection. Modern developmental
studies indicate that many fathers and sons have very close, reciprocated
affectional relationships beginning in infancy, and the normative pattern in Western
societies is for mothers and sons to have very intimate and affectionate, but
decidedly non-sexual relationships. Most violence occurs with adoptive
relatives (Daly & Wilson, 1981).
The continued life of these concepts in psychoanalytic circles is testimony
to the continuing unscientific nature of the entire enterprise. Indeed,
Kurzweil (1989, 89) notes that 'In the beginning, the Freudians tried to 'prove' the
universality of the Oedipus complex; later on, they took it for granted.
Ultimately, they no longer spelled out the reasons for the pervasiveness of
childhood sexuality and its consequences in the cultural monographs: they all
accepted it.' What started out as a speculation in need of empirical support ended up
as a fundamental a priori assumption.
Another trend in recent scholarship is the increasing attention paid to the
ethical dimensions of psychoanalysis as Freud actually practiced it. Freud
seems to have been remarkably indifferent to his patient's suffering, but his
ethical lapses extend far beyond a lack of empathy. Crews recounts the case of
Horace Frink, an American psychoanalyst who was having an affair with a bank
heiress. Freud diagnosed Frink as a latent homosexual (!) and advised him to
divorce his wife and marry the heiress, with the stated aim of tapping into the
heiress' funds for a financial contribution to psychoanalysis. To make the plan
work, the heiress had to divorce her husband as well. All of this came about,
but the two abandoned spouses were devastated and soon died, Frink's new wife
sued for divorce, and Frink himself sank into depression and repeated attempts
And then there is the case of Dora Bauer. In what could pass as a story line
on a daytime soap opera, Freud diagnosed the teen-aged Dora as suffering from
hysteria for refusing to have a sexual relationship with a married man, Herr
K., as a sort of quid pro quo so that her father could continue to have an
affair with Herr K.'s wife. Crews comments that 'In short, a sexually and morally
uninhibited [Dora] rounded into psychic trim by Freud, would have been of
service to both her father and Herr K., the two predatory males who, unlike any of
the women in the story, basked in the glow of Freud's unwavering respect'
(Crews, 1995, p. 52). The Dora case is typical also in that the patient's
diagnosis was based entirely on preconceived ideas and circular reasoning in which
the patient's negative emotional response to the psychoanalytic hypothesis was
construed as evidence for the hypothesis.
A third aspect of recent scholarship focuses on the very pernicious effect
psychoanalysis has had on psychotherapeutic practice, particularly the
phenomenon of the Recovered Memory Therapy (RMT). Crews terms RMT the stepchild of
psychoanalysis. At the time when the articles originally appeared in the NYRB,
Crews was content to claim only a genealogical relationship between
psychoanalysis and RMT. He now documents a much closer relationship between the two
movements. A significant number of psychoanalysts are now rejecting the orthodox
psychoanalytic theory that claims of infantile sexual abuse are illusory
manifestations of Oedipal desires. These renegade psychoanalysts are now in fact
adopting Freud's earlier seduction theory of 1896 in which neurosis was
conceptualized as the result of actual sexual abuse. Crews notes, Freud developed this
theory in the same manner as he did the Oedipal story that replaced it: by making
suggestions to patients and doggedly persisting in his explanation until the
patient acknowledged the 'truth' of the psychoanalytic explanation. Crews
emphasizes that there is no end to the possible harmful social and moral
influences of such a theory in the hands of its pseudoscientific practitioners,
including bankruptcy, breaking up of families, and imprisonment of family members,
all of which have been well described in John Hochman's Skeptic article (Vol. 2,
Because of its belief in the reality of memories of childhood sexual abuse,
the RMT movement must be viewed as a psychoanalytic heresy. As with all of the
previous psychoanalytic heresies, however, RMT shares a commitment to a
methodology that results in self-validation of theoretical claims. Unverifiable
phenomena have been at the very center of psychoanalysis and its intellectual
offspring from the beginning. The following quotation from Freud is an exemplar of
the type of attitude that carries over into the RMT movement:
The work keeps on coming to a stop and they keep on maintaining that this
time nothing has occurred to them. We must not believe what they say, we must
always assume, and tell them, too, that they have kept something back.... We must
insist on this, we must repeat the pressure and represent ourselves as
infallible, till at last we are really told something.... There are cases too in
which the patient tries to disown [the memory] even after its return. 'Something
has occurred to me now, but you obviously put it into my head.' ... In all
such cases, I remain unshakably firm. I ... explain to the patient that [these
distinctions] are only forms of his resistance and pretexts raised by it against
reproducing this particular memory, which we must recognize in spite of all
this. (SE, 2:279-280; in Crews, p. 209)
Recently the RMT movement has coalesced around the assertion that sexually
abused subjects experience a dissociation'a withdrawal of the victim's sense of
self from the scene of the trauma. As Crews points out, dissociation is the
perfect psychoanalytic-style vehicle for creation of a pseudoscience, since
there is no way to disprove its existence and recovered memories never need be
tested by comparing them with conscious memories. After all, if children
dissociate themselves from the experience, one could not expect them to have any
memories of the event.
As a result, the therapist may suppose that the patient had experienced
sexual trauma even without any external evidence or memory of the event. Recovered
Memory Therapists, in the words of one such practitioner, 'must validate the
patient's belief that abuse occurred, or risk reenacting the role of denying
parent, which may have enabled the abuse in the first place' (Crews, p. 25n21).
The technique ensures validation and indeed finds a moral rationale for
insisting on validation. But it cannot provide even the beginnings of a search for
Several spectacular case studies illustrate the pathetic consequences of this
pseudoscientific technique. That of Eileen Franklin Lipsker is particularly
fascinating because Lipsker has more recently 'remembered' several other crimes
that could not have possibly occurred. Crews shows that even before this turn
of events Lipsker had developed increasingly bizarre 'memories' about her
father, including a murder that no one else, including the police, had heard
about and a supposed rape by Eileen's godfather that was aided by the father. The
'memories' were gradually elaborated as a result of the suggestions of a
psychotherapist and their veracity attested to by Lenore Terr, a professor of
psychiatry at the University of California-San Francisco. Terr used the aura of
science surrounding her academic affiliation to convince the jury that that an
expert like herself could distinguish authentic from non-authentic repressed
Then there is the fantastic case of the Ingram family of Olympia, Washington
in which Paul Ingram confessed to a myriad of crimes whose memory he had
completely repressed, including repeatedly raping both his daughters and one son,
getting his daughters to perform sexual favors for his friends, torturing the
girls, getting his wife to have sex with animals, and murdering and
cannibalizing a great many babies at Satanic rituals. The truly remarkable thing about
this example is the willingness of people to be convinced of the bizarre and
impossible'a phenomenon that Skeptic readers are only too familiar with. The
belief among a significant number of professionals in psychology that such
repressed memories are a commonplace greatly facilitates the public's credulity. No
fewer than five psychologists and counselors encouraged Ingram in his
hallucinations. However, a skeptical psychologist finally asked Ingram about a
completely fictitious accusation that Ingram had encouraged his children to have sex
while he watched. Sure enough, the next day Ingram came up with a highly
detailed repressed memory of watching his children have sex. Ingram, who pleaded
guilty to the crimes after belatedly coming to believe in his innocence, is now
serving 20 years in prison for 6 counts of child molestation.
Like psychoanalysis itself, RMT has become a political movement bent on
enforcing an official orthodoxy. Indeed, given the history of psychoanalysis, it is
not in the least surprising that RMT would likewise be an authoritarian
political movement. A leading proponent of RMT, Judith Lewis Herman, states that
'Advances in the field occur only when [women] are supported by a political
movement powerful enough to legitimate an alliance between investigators and
patients and to counteract the ordinary social processes of silencing and denial'
(Crews, p. 160). RMT has been behind lengthening the statutes of limitations in
some states to periods of 30 years or more to provide enough time for
repressed memories of crimes to surface. And, as with any such political movement, it
seems superfluous to note that big money is involved, in the case of RMT
ranging from fees for therapy, the publication industry, and the litigation
industry spawned by this movement.
Perhaps the most notable thing about the uproar over Crews' book is that much
of its importance stems from where his articles were originally published,
and that says a lot. The original articles were published in the NYRB, that
bastion of the intellectual left, which, as Crews notes, is 'almost like pet
owners who had negligently or maliciously consigned their parakeet to the mercies
of an ever-lurking cat' (Crews, 1995, p. 288). The implication is that
publications like the NYRB have been instrumental in propagating psychoanalytic and
similar doctrines as scientifically and intellectually reputable for decades,
and it also suggests that had Crews published his articles in a less visible and
less politicized medium they could have been safely ignored as has commonly
been the practice over the long history of psychoanalysis.
To this we must add a discussion of the very central role of psychoanalysis
in the intellectual left of this century and the role of publications like the
NYRB in maintaining and nourishing the scientific veneer of psychoanalysis.
The influence of psychoanalysis has hardly been confined to psychotherapeutic
practice, but has been a pervasive influence on 20th-century Western culture. In
the eyes of many, Freud is the most towering intellectual figure of the
century, second perhaps only to Marx.
For his part, Crews seems to regard the influence as entirely benign, so much
so that he thinks psychoanalysis may have been justified because of its
cultural influences even if it is entirely lacking as a scientific enterprise. He
states that there is 'some merit' to the idea that psychoanalysis and its
practitioners exercised a benign cultural influence by ridding psychiatry of
'sinister theories of hereditary degeneration and racial inferiority,' and by 'their
candor about sex, their cultivation of a developmental perspective, their
addressing of the problems and opportunities posed by transference, and their
belief in deep and intricate continuities among a patient's disparate productions
of symptom and language.... To be progressive, after all, a psychological
movement needn't put forward accurate hypotheses; it need only raise useful new
questions and attract followers who are eater to put aside the older
dispensation' (p. 70-71).
But whether one views the cultural influences of psychoanalysis as benign is
largely a political, rather than a scientific matter. Psychoanalysis never, at
any stage of its history, approached the status of a scientific discipline.
What was really central to psychoanalysis and why it seems impervious to all
rational objections is that first and foremost psychoanalysis achieved and
retained its status over the decades because it had become a pillar of the
intellectual and cultural left, what Paul Hollander (1991) has dubbed 'the adversary
There is in fact a very long association between psychoanalysis and the
political and cultural left. Support of radical and Marxist ideals was common among
Freud's early followers. Leftist attitudes have been common in later years
among psychoanalysts (Hale 1995, 31; Kurzweil 1989, 36, 284), among the groups
in Berlin and Vienna during the post-World War I era (Kurzweil 1989; 46-47), in
the post-revolutionary Soviet Union where all of the top psychoanalysts were
Bolsheviks and Trotsky supporters and were among the most powerful political
figures in the country (Chamberlain 1995), and in America from the 1920's to
the present (Torrey 1992, 33, 93ff; 122-123). Given the institutional structure
of psychoanalysis as an authoritarian political movement, one is left with the
conclusion that one of the century's major intellectual and cultural forces
was in fact a highly disciplined political movement masquerading as science.
Psychoanalysis has proved to be a veritable treasure trove of ideas for those
intent on developing radical critiques of Western culture, beginning with
Freud's own Totem and Taboo and Civilization and Its Discontents. Recent Freudian
scholarship shows very clearly that Freud tended to make dogmatic claims
about the source of his patients' unhappiness based on nothing more than his own
suggestions. His failure to follow even the minimum standards of scientific or
rational intellectual inquiry extended to his cultural writings as well.
Freud's wider speculations on human culturerest on a number of extremely naive,
pre-scientific conceptualizations of human sexual behavior and its relation to
culture. Particularly outrageous was Freud's 'primal horde' story of how over
many generations sons had killed their fathers in order to mate with their
mothers until Oedipal guilt had forced them to repress this activity. The theory is
not only completely speculative and indeed attempts to explain a non-existent
phenomenon'the Oedipal complex, but also requires Lamarckian inheritance, a
theory that, at least by the time of Civilization and Its Discontents (where
the doctrine was reaffirmed), had been completely rejected by the scientific
This was a self-consciously speculative theory, but Freud's speculations
clearly had an agenda. Rather than provide speculations which reaffirmed the moral
and intellectual basis of the culture of his day, his speculations were an
integral part of his war on culture'so much so that he viewed Totem and Taboo as
a victory over Rome and the Catholic Church (Rothman & Isenberg, 1974). In
Freud's eyes he was the Carthaginian general Hannibal fighting the evil Romans
that to him represented Western civilization. Peter Gay notes that Freud was
proud of his enemies'the persecuting Roman Catholic Church, the hypocritical
bourgeoisie, the obtuse psychiatric establishment, the materialistic Americans'so
proud, indeed, that they grew in his mind into potent specters far more
malevolent and far less divided than they were in reality. He likened himself to
Hannibal, to Ahasuerus, to Joseph, to Moses, all men with historic missions,
potent adversaries, and difficult fates. (Peter Gay 1988, p. 604)
Gay states that 'A charged and ambivalent symbol, Rome stood for Freud's most
potent concealed erotic, and only slightly less concealed aggressive wishes
....' Rome was 'a supreme prize and incomprehensible menace' (Gay 1988, p.
132). Freud himself described this 'Hannibal fantasy' as 'one of the driving
forces of [my] mental life' (McGrath 1974, p. 35; see also Sulloway 1979).
In this regard, it is interesting to note that Totem and Taboo and
Civilization and Its Discontents present the view that the restrictions on sexual
behavior, so apparent as an aspect of Western culture during Freud's life, are the
source of art, love, and even civilization itself. Freud's conceptions of the
origins and function of sexual repression in Western societies contain, as
Peter Gay (1988, p. 329) notes, some of Freud's 'most subversive conjectures.'
Neurosis and unhappiness are the price to be paid for civilization because
neurosis and unhappiness are the inevitable result of repressing sexual urges. As
countercultural guru Herbert Marcuse wrote concerning this aspect of Freud's
The notion that a non-repressive civilization is impossible is a cornerstone
of Freudian theory. However, his theory contains elements that break through
this rationalization; they shatter the predominant tradition of Western thought
and even suggest its reversal. His work is characterized by an uncompromising
insistence on showing the repressive content of the highest values and
achievements of culture. (Marcuse, 1974, p. 17)
Western culture has been placed on the couch, and the role of psychoanalysis
is to help the patient adjust somewhat to a sick, psychopathology-inducing
society: 'While psychoanalytic theory recognizes that the sickness of the
individual is ultimately caused and sustained by the sickness of his civilization,
psychoanalytic therapy aims at curing the individual so that he can continue to
function as part of a sick civilization without surrendering to it altogether'
(Marcuse 1974, p. 245).
Freud appears to have been well aware that his conjectures were entirely
speculative. Freud was 'amused' when Totem and Taboo was termed a 'just so' story
by a British anthropologist in 1920, and stated only that his critic 'was
deficient in phantasy' (in Gay 1988, p. 327), apparently a concession that the
work was indeed fanciful. Freud stated that 'It would be nonsensical to strive
for exactitude with this material, as it would be unreasonable to demand
certainty' (quoted in Gay, 1988, p. 330). Similarly, Freud described Civilization and
Its Discontents as 'an essentially dilettantish foundation' on which 'rises a
thinly tapered analytic investigation' (quoted in Gay 1988, p. 543). And
Freud was well aware that his attack on religion in The Future of an Illusion was
scientifically weak, describing it by noting that 'the analytic content of the
work is very thin' (quoted in Gay 1988, 524).
Freud's countercultural writings scarcely exhaust the mischief wreaked by
psychoanalysis. The works of Herbert Marcuse, Norman Brown, Wilhelm Reich, Jaques
Lacan, Erich Fromm and a host of neo-Freudians come to mind immediately, but
this barely scratches the surface. Psychoanalysis influenced thought in a wide
range of areas, including sociology, child rearing, criminology,
anthropology, literary criticism, art, literature, and the popular media such as TV and
the movies to the point that, as Kurzweil (1989, p. 102) notes, 'something like
a culture of psychoanalysis was being established.' E. F. Torrey (1992. p. 37)
describes in some detail the spread of the movement in the United States,
originally through the actions of a small group of activists with access to the
popular media, the academic world, and the arts, to a pervasive influence in
the 1950's. 'It is a long road from a beachhead among New York intellectuals to
a widespread influence in almost every phase of American life. Literature,
drama, anthropology, sociology, child rearing, education, criminology, and many
other parts of American thought and culture were to become permeated by Freud.'
Given this association of psychoanalysis and the Left, it is not surprising
that Crews' critique of psychoanalysis was itself analyzed and found to be as
an attack on the Left: Eli Zaretsky (1994, p. 67) states such critiques 'are
continuous with the attack on the Left that began with the election of Richard
Nixon in 1968.... They continue the repudiation of the revolutionary and
utopian possibilities glimpsed in the 1960s.'
Psychoanalysis was indeed an integral component of the countercultural
movement of the 1960's and a central pillar of the intellectual zeitgeist of
prominent countercultural figures such as Herbert Marcuse. In Eros and Civilization
(1974/1955) Marcuse points the way to a non-exploitative utopian socialist
civilization that would result from the complete end of sexual repression in a
manner that goes beyond Freud's ideas in Civilization and Its Discontents only in
its even greater optimism regarding the beneficial effects of ending sexual
repression. Marcuse accepts Freud's theory that Western culture is pathogenic
due to the repression of sexual urges, paying homage to the one who 'recognized
the work of repression in the highest values of Western civilization'which
presuppose and perpetuate unfreedom and suffering' (p. 240).
Attacks on psychoanalysis are therefore correctly perceived by Zaretsky as
attacking a cornerstone of left/radical political culture. It is surely correct
that psychoanalysis brought us a greater candor about sex. It is also
reasonable to suppose that its influence has since extended far beyond sexual candor
to become an obsession with sexual behavior. From its beginnings,
psychoanalytic perspectives on sexuality have drawn the criticism of those concerned about
the harmful influence of Freudian ideas on mainstream family life.
Freud's ideas have in fact often been labeled as subversive. Indeed, '[Freud
himself] was convinced that it was in the very nature of psychoanalytic
doctrine to appear shocking and subversive. On board ship to America he did not feel
that he was bringing that country a new panacea. With his typically dry wit
he told his traveling companions, 'We are bringing them the plague'' (Mannoni
Peter Gay terms Freud's work generally as 'subversive' (1987, 140), his
sexual ideology in particular as 'deeply subversive for his time' (p. 148); and his
Totem and Taboo as containing 'subversive conjectures' (p. 327) in its
analysis of culture. Rothman and Isenberg (1974) convincingly argue that Freud
actually viewed the Interpretation of Dreams as a victory over the Catholic Church
and that he viewed Totem and Taboo as a successful attempt to analyze the
Christian religion in terms of defense mechanisms, primitive drives and neurotic
symptomatology. Gay notes that 'while the implications of Darwin's views were
threatening and unsettling, they were not quite so directly abrasive, not quite
so unrespectable, as Freud's views on infantile sexuality, the ubiquity of
perversions, and the dynamic power of unconscious urges' (p. 144).
And the contrast between Freud and Darwin as scientists could scarcely be
more clear. Darwin spent years patiently collecting his data and was hesitant to
publish his work, agreeing to do so only after another scientist, Alfred
Russel Wallace, came up with similar ideas. Freud, on the other hand, conducted his
career more like a one man PR firm with himself as his only client.
While Darwin was satisfied with revising his work after further reflection
and absorbing palpable hits by rational critics, while he trusted the passage of
time and the weight of his argumentation, Freud orchestrated his wooing of
the public mind through a loyal cadre of adherents, founded periodicals and
wrote popularizations that would spread the authorized word, dominated
international congresses of analysis until he felt too frail to attend them and after
that through surrogates like his daughter Anna. (Gay 1987, 145)
There was a great deal of hostility to psychoanalysis in the German-speaking
world centering around the perceived threat of psychoanalysis to mainstream
Christian sexual ethics, including the acceptance of masturbation and premarital
sex (Kurzweil, 1989, p. 18). By the second decade of the 20th century in
America Freud was firmly associated with the movement for sexual freedom and
social reform, and he had become the target of social conservatives (Torrey 1992,
16ff). As late as 1956 a psychiatrist discussing psychoanalysis in the American
Journal of Psychiatry complained that 'Is it possible that we are developing
the equivalent of a secular church, supported by government monies, staffed by
a genital-level apostolate unwittingly dispensing a broth of existential
atheism, hedonism, and other dubious religio-philosophical ingredients?' (Johnson
1956, p. 40).
And, although other factors are undoubtedly involved, it is remarkable that
the increasing trend toward and acceptance of what an evolutionist would term
low-investment parenting (i.e., parenting that involves a low level of
resources available for children) in America largely coincides with the triumph of the
psychoanalytic and radical critiques of American culture represented by the
political and cultural success of the counter-cultural movement of the 1960's.
Since 1970 the rate of single parenting has increased from 1/10 families to
1/3 families (Norton & Miller 1992), and there have been dramatic increases in
teenage sexual activity and teenage childbearing without marriage (Furstenberg
1991). There is excellent evidence for an association among teenage single
parenting, poverty, lack of education, and poor developmental outcomes for
children (e.g., Dornbusch & Gray 1988; Furstenberg & Brooks-Gunn 1989; McLanahan
Booth 1989; Wilson 1993, a, b).
Indeed, all of the negative trends related to the family show very large
increases that developed at the same time as the triumph of the countercultural
movement beginning in the mid-1960's (Herrnstein & Murray 1994; Kaus, 1995),
including increases in trends toward lower levels of marriage, 'cataclysmic'
increases in divorce rates (Herrnstein & Murray, 1994; p. 172), and higher rates
of illegitimacy. In the case of divorce and illegitimacy rates, the data
indicate an enormous shift upward during the 1960's from previously existing trend
lines, with the upward trend lines established during that period continuing
into the present. For good, bad, or both, the 1960's marked a watershed period
in American cultural history.
The sexual revolution is 'the most obvious culprit' underlying the decline in
the importance of marriage (Herrnstein & Murray 1994, 544) and its
concomitant increase in low-investment parenting.
What is striking about the 1960s 'sexual revolution,' as it has properly been
called, is how revolutionary it was, in sensibility as well as reality. In
1965, 69 percent of American women and 65 percent of men under the age of thirty
said that premarital sex was always or almost always wrong; by 1972, these
figures had plummeted to 24 percent and 21 percent... In 1990, only 6 percent of
British men and women under the age of thirty-four believed that it was
always or almost always wrong. (Gertrude Himmelfarb 1995, 236)
Psychoanalysis has a lot to answer for. The contemporary upsurge of victims
of RMT and the long line of individual victims like Horace Frink and Dora Bauer
are only a small part of its moral wreckage. But don't expect either
psychoanalysis or RMT to die soon. Because they are fundamentally religious and
political rather than scientific, these movements have a life of their own and will
expire only when they are perceived as no longer serving the personal or
political interests of their advocates.
Indeed, one might note that precisely the same sort of uproar greeted the
publication of Derek Freeman's expos?ï¿½ of another pillar of the cultural
left'Margaret Mead's work in Samoa (see Caton, 1990; Freeman, 1983; 1991). Here the
idealized father figure was Franz Boas who quite self-consciously originated his
movement in order to combat evolutionary approaches to anthropology,
replacing Darwinian (and some hyper- and pseudo-Darwinian) approaches with the
ideology that human nature is infinitely malleable and that humans are entirely a
product of their culture. The Boasian school has dominated anthropology since the
1920's, and this school and its postmodern offspring seem to be in no danger
of losing ground to the new breed of evolutionists who have sprung up as a
result of the sociobiological revolution in the biological sciences.
The fact that the NYRB published Crews' attacks on psychoanalysis may be a
vital sign that the life of psychoanalysis as an underpinning of the
intellectual left is weakening. The NYRB is only one of many elements of the vast media
and intellectual network that has supported psychoanalysis throughout the
century, but all signs are that psychoanalysis has become an intellectual and
scientific embarrassment to all save the truest of true believers. The fact that
its scientific stature has been utterly discredited in such a prestigious forum
and by someone who is sympathetic to the cultural influences it has generated
suggests that psychoanalysis may well have lost its political punch.
But skeptics need not fear having nothing left to be skeptical of. Look for a
new, cult-like, politically-inspired, scientific-sounding ideology to take
its place soon at a university and psychotherapeutic clinic near you. It's also
a safe bet that critics of such movements will be
diagnosed/cleared/re-associated/analyzed/deconstructed as suffering from
What passes today for Freud bashing is simply the long-postponed exposure of
Freudian ideas to the same standards of noncontradiction, clarity,
testability, cogency, and parsimonious explanatory power that prevail in empirical
discourse at large. Step by step, we are learning that Freud has been the most
overrated figure in the entire history of science and medicine'one who wrought
immense harm through the propagation of false etiologies, mistaken diagnoses, and
fruitless lines of inquiry.
Still the legend dies hard, and those who challenge it continue to be greeted
like rabid dogs. (Crews 1995, 298-299)
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Caton, Hiram. (Ed.) 1990. The Samoa Reader: Anthropologists Take Stock. Lanham, MD:
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Chamberlain, L. 1995. Freud and the eros of the impossible. Times Literary Supplement,
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childbearing. American Psychologist, 44, 313-320.
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Haven: Yale University Press.
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Evolutionary Biologist. Journal of
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Department of Psychology
Long Beach, CA 90840-0901
Phone: (562) 985-8183
Fax: (562) 985-8004
Weasel jew Freud
Does this bust of Hannibal look like
Dirtbag Dirshowitz, Slimey Weaselword,
or the typical White Norwegian?
If you believe Weasel jew Sigmund Freud, then Hannibal was a
"Semite" and all the rest of us are "anti-semites":
"Hannibal, the African - whom Freud calls a 'Semite' - takes
vengeance on the Romans who conquered and humiliated the Carthaginians. F
reud, the Semite, takes vengeance on the Christians who conquered and
humiliated the Jews. Hannibal was tenacious and had a seeret weapon: elephants. Freud,
too, was tenacious, and he, too, had a secret weapon: psychoanalysis."
One of Freud's most powerful motives in life was the desire to inflict vengeance on
Christianity for its traditional anti-Semitism. This idea has been suggested by Freud
himself, and has been alluded to by others. In The Interpretation of Dreams, where Freud
tells us so much about himself, he relates one of his dreams in which he is in Rome. To
explain it, he offers the following episode about his childhood:
"I had actually been following in Hannibal's footsteps. Like him, I had been fated
not to see Rome; and he too had moved into the Campagna when everyone had expected him in
Rome. But Hannibal, whom I had come to resemble in these respects, had been the favourite
hero of my later school days. Like so many boys of that age, I had sympathized in the
Punic Wars not with the Romans but with the Carthaginians. And when in the higher classes
I began to understand for the first time what it meant to belong to all alien race, and
anti-Semitic feelings among the other boys warned me that I must take up a definite
position, the figure of the Semitic general rose still higher in my esteem.
To my youthful mind Hannibal and Rome symbolized the conflict between the tenacity of
Jewry and the organization of the Catholic church. And the increasing importance of the
effects of the anti-Semitic movement upon our emotional life helped to fix the thoughts
and feelings of those early days. At that point I was brought up against the event in my
youth whose power was still being shown in my dreams. I may have been ten or twelve years
old, when my father began to take me with him on his walks and reveal to me in his talk
his views upon things in the world we live in. Thus, it was on one such occasion that he
told me a story to show me how much better things were now than they had been in his days.
'When I was a young man,' he said, 'I went for a walk one Saturday in the streets of your
birthplace; I was well dressed, and had a new fur cap on my head.
A Christian came up to me and with a single blow knocked off my cap into the mud and
shouted: "Jew! get off the pavement!"' 'And what did you do?' I asked. 'I went
into the roadway and picked up my cap,' was his quiet reply. This struck me as unheroic
conduct on the part of the big, strong man who was holding the little boy by the hand. I
contrasted this situation with another which fitted my feelings better: the scene in which
Hannibal's father, Hamilcar Barca, made his boy secar before the household altar to take
vengeance on the Romans. Ever since that time, Hannibal had had a place in my
Hannibal, the African - whom Freud calls a "Semite" - takes vengeance on the
Romans who conquered and humiliated the Carthaginians. Freud, the Semite, takes vengeance
on the Christians who conquered and humiliated the Jews. Hannibal was tenacious and had a
seeret weapon: elephants. Freud, too, was tenacious, and he, too, had a secret weapon:
psychoanalysis. Hannibal's elephants terrorized his enemies whom the animals then trampled
to death. Freud's psychoanalysis terrorized his enemies whom his
"interpretations" then degraded into the carriers of despicable diseases. The
story of Freud's life and the story of psychoanalysis in his lifetime are variations on
the theme of justified vengeance in the pattern not only of the legendary Hannibal but
also of the literary Count of Monte Cristo: the humiliated but morally superior victim
escapes from dependence on his morally inferior victimizers; he hides, schemes, and grows
powerful; he returns to the scene of his defeat, and there remorselessly humiliates and
subjugates his erstwhile victimizers as they had humiliated and subjugated him.
That Freud had identified himself, and privately thought of himself, as a Jewish warrior,
fighting agaunst a hostile Christian world, has thus been amply documented.
What has received less attention, however, is the way Freud always portrayed his Jewish
militancy, his anti-Gentilism, as a self-defense, a necessary and legitimate protection
against attacks on him, as a Jew and a psychoanalyst. While such self-defensive claims are
sometimes factually justifiable, they must always be evaluated cautiously: most
aggressors, especially most modern ones, have claimed merely to be defending or protecting
what was rightly theirs. In the case of Freud qua psychoanalyst, the claim is patently
fraudulent: after all, he had to invent psychoanalysis before he could defend it. Although
he was proud to assert that he created psychoanalysis when it came to claiming priority
for it, he acted as if psychoanalysis had somehow always existed, as if it were merely a
collection of 'facts," when it came to responding to those who regarded its very
creation as an act of aggression against their own interests and values.
Jung's impression of Freud's seemingly defensive vengefulness is pertinent in this
connection. According to Ellenberger, Jung felt that freud's main characteristic was
bitterness, "every word being loaded with it ... his attitude was the bitterness of
the person who is entirely misunderstod, and his manners always seemed to say: 'If they do
not understand, they must be stamped into hell.'
- Thomas Szasz, The Myth of Psychotherapy: Mental Healing as Religion, Rhetoric, and
Repression (NY: 1978)
- "A defense mechanism in which the individual attributes to other people
impulses and traits that he himself has but cannot accept. It is especially
likely to occur when the person lacks insight into his own impulses and traits."
- "The externalization of internal unconscious wishes, desires or emotions on to
other people. So, for example, someone who feels subconsciously that they have a
powerful latent homosexual drive may not acknowledge this consciously, but it
may show in their readiness to suspect others of being homosexual."
- "Attributing one's own undesirabe traits to other people or agencies, (e.g.,
an aggressive man accuses other people of being hostile)."
- "The individual perceives in others the motive he denies having himself. Thus
the cheat is sure that everyone else is dishonest. The would-be adulterer
accuses his wife of infidelity."
- "People attribute their own undesirable traits onto others. An individual who
his or her aggressive tendencies may then see other people acting in an
excessively aggressive way."
- "Projection is the opposite defense mechanism to identification. We project
our own unpleasant feelings onto someone else and blame them for having thoughts
that we really have."