The Clare Spark Blog

September 20, 2009

Jungians on the loose, part two

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Nesta Webster’s book

[For a related blog see]  These two blogs, “Jungians on the loose,” were prompted by the New York Times Magazine article on the publication of Jung’s long-withheld and sensational “Red Book.”: it is the most emailed today, 9-20-09.  While in graduate school, I did a quick survey on the penetration of Jungian ideas in school curricula and was astonished and dismayed to see how popular his ideas were. As Richard Noll’s two books point out, Jung’s legacy has been cleaned up by his admirers. For instance, he had no conception of a “universal collective unconscious,” but rather a racially-specific one. When I first did a radio program on Nazi propaganda, the two Jungians on the program were horrified that (universalist) Freudian-Marxists or other “economic determinists” were on the same show, and one of them demanded that his contribution be removed (for fear of contamination?). As I recall the Jungian position was that the Wotan/Berserker archetype was at large during the Third Reich. Be afraid, reader, be very afraid..

Empiricism without Facts 

J. M. Broughton’s polemic (see reminiscent of the corporatist arguments preceding Hitler’s; the anti-modern rampage finds similar targets.  With the assistance of Nesta H. Webster, a British fascist and ardent antisemite, the logic of anti-modernism can be summarized as follows:

The (neo-classical) natural order instills a taste for Beauty and “normal” morality that reflects/confers an inner lawfulness.  Protecting this organically correct harmony through “self-control” is the triumphant (and only) legitimate achievement of “individuality.”  Indeed, it is this poise and balance that marks the corporatist liberal philosopher-king, capable where the laissez-faire capitalists or the muddled masses are not, of suppressing selfish (biologically implanted) impulses for the good of the public interest.  Whereas classical ballet soars safely, modern art, fed by Narcissus and Icarus, i.e., Titan!, left Romanticism, cubism, expressionism, and the relativising of aristocratic canons through class analysis, flops.  Such unauthorized leaps and flights into the unknown end in degeneration and perversion: the worship of “Satan, the God of Ugliness,” Sadism, Bolshevism, and the overthrow of “man’s natural impulses and inhibitive springs of action” [sic], allowing “not only his conscious deeds but his subconscious mental processes [to] pass under the control of another, or become entirely deranged.”  Like other materialist doctrines “Freudism” is bad because it “teaches that the matter of yielding to or resisting temptation is one for which the individual is not wilfully responsible.  Freudism makes of the individual a machine, absolutely controlled by subconscious reflexes.”[1]

     In other words, “subconscious mental processes” are lawful when managed by natural élites, but switch to illegitimate “subconscious reflexes” when rival absolutists [empiricists/mad scientists]make the scene.  For Broughton and other idealist philosophers, the rational, deliberating individual who, through sensation, memory, reflection, self- and group criticism, is able to minimize errors and biases while identifying structural conflicts in man-made institutions exterior to the self, then perhaps unnaturally to intervene by modifying “natural” conditions, is “demonstrated” to be the Bomb (earlier Byron or Ahab or Freud) pulverizing Man and Nature.[2]

The cure is worse than the disease.  I have suggested that weaknesses in academic analyses of fascism are traceable to The New Pluralism-Without-Snakes-And-Spiders; that the turn toward “cultural anthropology” away from “scientific history” in the late 1930s has made it difficult to describe either ourselves or Nazi Germany.[3]  Take for instance the effort of  the much-honored and prolific  British analyst, Andrew Samuels, a“post-Jungian,” to rescue “analytic” or “depth psychology” from Carl Jung’s undeniable antisemitism and romantic nationalism: are we not “all” [middle-class over-reachers beset by a genocidal will to power]?

[Andrew Samuels, The Political Psyche:] “The idea of leadership (like that of the nation) forms part of a psychological backdrop to the interplay of Nazis, Jews, Jungians and Freudians that we have been examining.  Indeed, in some form this theme pervades all these groups.  Nazi claims to leadership result in the installation of the Führer with the final solution; there are time-honored Jewish claims to moral primacy as the chosen people; the Freudian Committee, set up in part to ensure that defectors were not taken seriously, illustrates Freudian desires for hegemony; and Jung tried to organize world psychotherapy under his “neutral” leadership (emph. in original, 324-325).” [4]

This is the deceptive fast-talking voice of Conservative Enlightenment.  With his pluralist, gentle, tolerant post-bigoted Self as psychological backdrop, Samuel juggles imaginary and incomparable events and motives to make the Radical Enlightenment search for truth and universal moral standards look Jewish and viciously totalitarian.  Pace Samuels, Hitler was installed not only by “Nazi claims to leadership” but also by conservative nationalists fearing an internal Communist takeover in Germany.  Next Samuel says that all Jews at all times have set themselves up as moral exemplars, as a master race.  Had Samuels quoted Freud’s last work, Moses and Monotheism, he would have had to say that Freud admired the Jewish prophets, but repudiated the notion of Jewish chosen-nes, as a neurotic compensation for persecution. But since Freud applauded the renunciation of anti-social instincts for the sake of peacefulness and the protection of relationships, while denouncing the thieving and brutal Nazi mob (see Peter Gay’s biography of Freud), there is no basis for viewing Freud as a propagator of moral superiority, though his appeal to liberal Protestantism is obvious.

In the next two comparisons, the conflation of Nazi and Jew is reiterated: both Freud and Jung are control freaks, a failing that the author later says we must mourn so that we can move on, Freudian and Jungian alike, to the non-romantic nationalism of pluralist/identity politics.  Samuels calls this multicultural move “agnostic nationalism.”  I call it the fusion between Left and Right that characterizes the “moderate” conservative prescription for world peace through antifascist fascism.  First we discover that there has been an upsurge of antisemitism in Europe too reminiscent of earlier episodes where negative images produced mass death:

[Samuels:] “Could it be that images of the Jews that were active in the 1930s are also the problem today: The nomads with no cultural forms of their own; the Wandering Jews; world citizens; international communists (now, incredibly, reviled for their Marxism in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe); wily international capitalists; scholars with a poor relation to the earth but nevertheless protected by their internationally recognized PhDs?  Could it be these images of the Jews, the same ones that threatened both Jung and Hitler, these images of the enemies of national differences, that are the problem for today’s nationalists?”

Samuels has reassured us that he is not a mystical fascist, wedded to blood and soil and reductive images of national or group character, and yet, and yet…

[Samuels:] “Whatever the problem really is, there is no use in merely speaking out against nationalism because that would be a simplistic and unrealistic response to such a complicated matter.  Rather, we need to make a psychological distinction between different aspects of nationalism, or putting it another way, between different nationalisms (332).”

Only a narcissistic Jew would refuse such a project, so Samuels makes the post-Jungian leap into eighteenth-century neo-classical balance:

[Samuels:] “On the one hand, we have nationalism serving a positive collective psychological function, socially progressive, historically liberalizing and democratizing, reconnecting people to their roots and traditions, celebrating differences in a cornucopia of languages.  Nationalism is preferable to world empire or the played-out game of geopolitics dominated by the superpowers.  But, on the other hand, we have what could be called ‘spiritualized nationalism’, the creed of the Kulturnation, with the emphasis on kinship, blood, people (Volk), earth–the whole mysterious, mystifying Romantic lexicon.  Spiritualized nationalism obliterates the social contract, constitutional rights, the political dimensions of life itself.  What is collective and held in common is decreed by birth and not by consent.  As Saint-Just said, before his execution during the French Revolution, ‘There is something terrible about the holy love of one’s nation, for it is so excessive that it sacrifices everything to the public interest, without mercy, without fear, without humanity.’…[Because of world migrations] pluralism of language and multi-ethnicity must be accommodated within a nationalistic framework.  This requires an agnostic nationalism (332-333).”

The wonderfully named “Saint-Just” has returned to unveil the Goddess of Reason, really a Jacobin terrorist.  Samuels has no difficulty linking the better (moderate) materialism and nationalism with roots and tradition; like the other pluralists, he wants to please everyone.  There need not be a painful rupture between tradition and modernity, between arbitrary power and legitimate authority, not if we understood how complicated things really are, especially if we understand unconscious processes:

[Samuels:] “From a psychological perspective, the creation of an entity other to the nation facilitates the expression of national aggression because the national Other then serves as the object of aggression (what philosophers call an ‘intentional object’).  The role of plain projection is also important; the Volk-identified nation evacuates what is sensed unconsciously to be its undesirable features into designated enemies (without and, as in the case of Germany and the German Jews, within)….”

Samuels, in an effort to link economic and unconscious (cultural) factors, now completes his structural-functionalist totalizing synthesis for the victory of Romantic fascism and the ensuing Holocaust:

[Samuels:] “The Germany of the 1930s performed a collective psychological function for the rest of the developed world which, in some respects, the Holocaust continues to perform in our time.  The great economic depression of the 1920s and 1930s brought suffering in all the industrialized societies to ruling class and proletariat alike.  The kind of national organization Hitler was evolving salved desires for retaliation and rage against the invisible Fates of economic forces on the part of both rulers and ruled.  Those classes with aspirations for economic and political leadership saw these brought into concrete form by the alliance of the Führerprinzip with German industrial power.  Classes with little or no economic power could identify with the world historical role assigned by Hitler to members of his Volk.  Even the final solution met both these sets of needs.

As Germany was not the only country to suffer economic depression, this argument might also explain the ambivalence of the world community toward Hitler’s expansionism; an ambivalence that continues to provoke guilt–a guilt that contributes to a preoccupation with the Holocaust.  For the Holocaust was not only the supreme crisis of nationalism, antisemitism, and racism, it was also a crisis for industrialism and for modernity itself (333-334).”

So German fascism, understandably, functioned to discharge rage, the rage somehow linked to “a crisis for industrialism and…modernity itself”; all classes could revenge themselves upon “invisible Fates of economic forces” they did not comprehend. No evidence is offered to sustain this all-encompassing claim, nor the one that follows:

[Samuels:] “I can see no alternative to saying that, at the present time, we do not have a satisfyingly full answer to questions of the influence of national (or ethnic, or racial, or class) background upon individual psychology, or the part played by what we call ‘psychology’ in the formation of what we call ‘nation’.  Depth psychologists can join with scientists, social scientists and environmentalists in a study of these matters…I think Jung’s contribution will prove seminal and valuable: ‘Nationalism–disagreeable as it is–is a sine qua non, but the individual must not remain stuck in it.  On the other hand, in so far as he is a particle in the mass he must not raise himself above it either’….”

Having ignored or erased all materialist histories of conflict in the last five centuries, Samuels can generalize his understandable bewilderment and bring back the not-so-bad father Jung, a nationalist, yes, but also the realistic negotiator between (inside? above? below?) a multiplicity of similarly “suffering” interest groups in a fluid and indescribable social situation whose categories are always constructed, never found:

[Samuels:]  “We have to use our judgment and make a distinction.  The idea of nationalism, like the idea of race, can lead to paranoia and chauvinism–but it also leads to the undoubtedly healthy and positive desire not to be dominated by something or someone felt as foreign: A foreign suffocating mother, a foreign castrating father, a foreign, disciplinarian super-ego, a foreign, uncomprehending psychological theory.”

So Jung and Hitler were not really paranoids and chauvinists.  The Freudian internationalist absolutist Jacobin is really guilty, a healthy and positive feeling for the reconstructed nationalist.  Samuels proposes a split-level home in the corporatist liberal suburbs to pull us out of the double-bind:

[Samuels:] We cannot eliminate competition and division between nations.  But why should we?  A pluralistic political psychology can demonstrate that competition and division, mediated by bargaining, are productive paths to follow.  It may even be that the nation is rather a good milieu for the development of psychological pluralism on the social scale.  On one level, the nation contains the various competing interest groups.  On another level, the nation itself has to compete politically with all the interest groups that are associated with it.  In the spirit of pluralism, the nation has to compete for its special privileges.  The nation has a kind of oneness to it–and the nation itself is also part of a kind of manyness….(334).  We should certainly see through ideas like Jung’s that nations consist of the sum of individuals (335).”

Historians need not apply to Samuels’ kaleidoscopic interdisciplinary coalition of spiritual internationalist nationalists.  And now we may understand the project of post-Jungian postmodernists like Samuels: it is not Jung’s romantic conservative compatibility with fascism that troubles him, but the red drop of materialism (the remnant of Freud?) that must be washed away.  “Difference” has been uprooted from its rationalist moorings.  We no longer defend the free play of contending points of view grounded in facts to get at a more accurate assessment of social structures and functions, so that irreconcilable and reconcilable conflicts can be identified, so that we know where structural transformation is required to relieve human suffering.  The healthy and realistic pluralist sees through such Enlightenment fact fetishes;[5] indeed the compleat social constructivist tosses out the whole kit and caboodle of value in the interest of the New Modernity aka the “cornucopia” of multilingualism/multi-ethnicity/the new group-grope:

[Samuels:] “…we need to be careful not to construct national ideals (for instance, ideals of where the nation is headed) out of what is perceived as the past history of the nation.  If we are going to be idealistic, then let us be idealistic in a true sense [!] and not manufacture ideals out of yesterday’s arrangements and events.  This is not to ignore history, but rather to assign to history a more fruitful role than as the manufactory of ideals that are then converted into spuriously ‘eternal’ structures (Platonic, archetypal) that are claimed to govern political developments in the future (335).”

History, in the Samuels version, does not historicize.  His statement is a pastiche of modernism and a caricature of history as a bourgeois discipline. Jefferson, for instance, did not treat the Constitution as a timeless document, never to be modified in the light of new conditions; rather, changes in the laws and structures of government would be wrought to protect those values of individual liberty and community welfare that he knew were revolutionary and that would be under heavy attack by reactionaries for centuries to come, perhaps forever.  Who are these dessicating, bossy historians, then, who manufacture eternal ideals and spurious structures of determination?  To be sure, there are ‘historians’ who lie and cover up, but as the type described by Samuels, they have existed only in the overheated imaginations of the corporatist liberals who want to make opportunism and ruthlessness the value of choice while presenting their “pragmatism” as emancipation from the dead hand of the (republican) past.

[1] Nesta H. Webster, Secret Societies and Subversive Movements (Christian Book Club, first publ.1924): 344-45.  This was of course both a correct and incorrect reading of Freud.  The (tautly furious) Right frequently reads corporatist liberalism as proto-socialism, perhaps fearing that atheism destroys the inner check; the slightest opening to strong feeling will lead to chaos.  For evidence of her continuing interest to conspiracy theorists, see Richard M. Gilman, Behind World Revolution: The Strange Career of Nesta H. Webster, Vol. 1 (Ann Arbor: Insights Books, 1982).  It is unclear from what politics Gilman is writing; I suspect right-wing populism.

[2] The 1955 film adapted from Mickey Spillane’s Kiss Me Deadly (screenplay by Robert Aldrich) ends in nuclear apocalypse, stolen uranium likened to the contents of Pandora’s Box; the arch-villain (a doctor) has a confederate who collects abstract art.  For another example of the genre, see Todd Gitlin, Who Murdered Albert Einstein (N.Y.: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1992), in which the good-but-problematic Einstein’s double is the villain, a novelist/conspiracy theorist/terrorist, an Ahab and devotee of the “paranoid sublime,” who switches from a good to a bad character; Gitlin (a critic of sectarian “multiculturalism” is more ambivalent about this diagnosis than Mickey Spillane or the others mentioned here).

[3] For the coexistence of contradictory rationalist and irrationalist explanations of racial prejudice in an anthology written by Progressives, see Charles Johnson, “The Economic Basis of Race Relations,” 217-231, and “Techniques of Dominance,” 301-7, in When Peoples Meet: A Study in Race and Culture Contacts, ed. Alain Locke and Bernhard J. Stern (N.Y.: Progressive Education Association, 1942).

For a masterful intellectual history of Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment, see Irving Zeitlin, Ideology and the Development of Sociological Theory (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:Prentice-Hall, 1968).  Further research is necessary to trace the shift from scientific history to social history/anthropology in the American academy; I would start with Frederick Jackson Turner’s self-conscious effort to mediate between classes with the writing of a non-Marxist but “materialist” American history (Cf. the Annales historians of France). A shift in emphasis may be seen in the contributors to the Yearbook of The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, a caucus of the American Psychological Association, decoding anti-labor propaganda in the late 1930s (see the 1939 Yearbook Industrial Conflict), but explicitly counter-revolutionary by the early 1940s (Civilian Morale, 1942).

[4] Andrew Samuels, The Political Psyche (London and N.Y.: Routledge, 1993).  Samuels allies himself throughout with the marginalized and oppressed, everywhere.

[5] Cf. David James Fisher, Cultural Theory and Psychoanalysis (New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 1991), whose criticisms of right-wing positivists are situated in what he calls a democratic and libertarian approach to psychoanalysis


  1. […] content; Charlotte Iserbyt is one of them. Like Nesta Webster, a fascist and antisemite (see, for Iserbyt the enemy is “materialism,” an epistemology that she believes erases […]

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