YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

June 13, 2011

Weinergate, Papa Freud, and the Imperfect Father

Henry A. Murray’s story as told by a political ally

While I was doing my dissertation research on literary history in America between the wars, I noticed that Freud and Marx were usually paired together, and that both were anathema to the “moderates” who reconstructed the humanities curriculum, mostly at the end of the 1930s. Marx and Freud were regarded as intruders into the canon, for both were taking an inventory of personal history and the big picture (such as the material and ideological conditions under which works of art were created)  in ways that threatened the “natural harmony” that the moderate men wished to restore.

But of the two “Jewish” intellectuals (both were atheists and hence deficient in unifying “spirituality”), Freud was probably the more threatening, for after all, populism was an important thread in American political history, and Marx’s dim view of big business and finance capital was attractive to small businessmen and many professionals, including poorly paid teachers and other academics. But to think that the pursuit of happiness might be sullied by “everyday unhappiness” (as Freud argued throughout, but especially in his thoughts about the Great War, in which he asserted how lightly civilization sat upon the overpowering demands of sexuality and aggression), was a real downer.

But more, Freud’s jaundiced eye at perfect fathers (and of course religion) threatened already weakened paternal authority in the family, and restoring such paternal authority was a major aim of the social psychologists who were allied to the Roosevelt administration.

Perhaps that is why one of the chief left-liberal propagandists, Henry A. Murray, Director of the Harvard Clinic, Jungian, and long-distance psychoanalyst of Hitler, came down so very hard on Melville’s great novel that followed hard on the heels of Moby-Dick. I refer to Pierre, or the Ambiguities (1852), and partly discussed in my last blog. Murray was one of those who advocated conflating the images of Washington, Lincoln, and FDR, so as to improve “morale”—in his view, the morale that kept Americans loyal to the “moderate conservative” agenda (i.e., the New Deal). Perfect father figures were necessary as the  “focus of veneration” and he deemed Melville to be “pathologically puritanical” in judging his own father so harshly for his amorous peccadilloes. (Actually, Melville was not complaining about sex as such, but rather about the abandonment of an illegitimate half-sister by his supposedly Christian family. But Murray was himself a womanizer, and focused on sex alone, as indeed, did his authorized biographer, Forrest G. Robinson.)

Throughout this website, I have come down very hard on both idealization and demonization. Psychoanalysts call this separation of other people into all good or all bad, “splitting”. Splitting is very bad for mental health, as the inevitable disillusion that follows idealizing our parents or other love objects as real human frailties are revealed, can lead to rage and depression.  We don’t expect children to see their parents as imperfect human beings, struggling with sometimes overpowering emotions, such as sexuality that can be wayward in male and female alike. Demagogues count on transferring childish idealization of parental figures to themselves.  And what demagogues do is demonize their opponents, while promising the restoration of pre-adolescent family harmony to their audiences.  In other words, demagoguery leads to mass regression; to a dependent childhood state where the critical faculties are not yet developed.

There is a remedy to the siren call of the demagogue. It is an education in economics, and in the skills that enable adults to analyze the costs and benefits of proposed public policies as they emanate from either political party. But before we can do that we have to summon the courage to look inside ourselves and to try to get to the sources of our deepest motives that determine loves and hates. In the case of Weinergate and the huge emotions evoked in many, we might visit our images of ourselves as holier-than-thou (and most certainly holier than the damned Weiner). I admire every writer with the nerve to do this, as Melville surely did in his great, much-abused, and under-rated novel Pierre.  Some call this looking inside without covering our eyes as demonic (in the cover to the paperback edition that I have, Pierre’s face is darkened as he merges with Isabel –the latter an emblem of suffering humanity). I call this intense self-scrutiny sanity and moderation.

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2 Comments »

  1. […] is not lying, then I don’t know what is. (For more on this theme, see the following blog: https://clarespark.com/2011/06/13/weinergate-papa-freud-and-the-imperfect-father/.) Comments (4) LikeBe the first to like this […]

    Pingback by Call Me Isabel (a reflection on “lying”) « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — June 13, 2011 @ 11:32 pm | Reply


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