The Clare Spark Blog

February 19, 2012

The Romantic repudiation of Freud & Co.

R. D. Laing

[Note: in the blog that follows, I am more concerned with neurosis and/or everyday unhappiness than with clinical definitions of insanity or “personality disorders,” though I do mention Laing and Szasz.]

In the History of Antisemitism discussion group, a professor of European history has objected to a recent posting of mine that posed this question: “Is psychiatry a ‘Jewish’ profession?”  I was most interested in his claim that “Freud provides one major challenge to bourgeois culture in the late 19th century,” for Freud was considered to be the ultimate bourgeois, the creature of Enlightenment, by both fans and critics. I did agree with him about the weight he gives to “anti-intellectualism” for popular culture in America is dominated by populism, but if you ask even an ordinary educated American about the meaning and significance of populism (and its offspring, progressivism) in American political history, s/he may be clueless. But I am not sure that such a one would make a connection to the revulsion against psychoanalysis and mental health services in general, a revulsion that animates a large anti-psychiatry movement among libertarians (say those who follow Foucault, Thomas Szasz or R. D. Laing), and many social democrats, not to speak of those religious thinkers who object to Freud’s atheism, or who might go on to believe that all Jews are atheists, lacking the Christian “heart” that enables community and selflessness. Hence Jews are “crazy Jews.”

(Illustrated: “Mad Pride”] I first found about psychiatry as a “Jewish” profession in graduate school, when I was asked to read and summarize a standard work in sociology: The Social Construction of Reality by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann. The authors said straight out that psychoanalysis was a Jewish thing that only worked with New York Jews. I.e., Freud was presumably obsessed with sex, and Jews, excessively carnal (by which they mean worldly/puffed-up with pride) would flock to these Jewish quacks. (When I complained about this, I was sternly reproved.)

Recently, I read almost all of Benjamin Disraeli’s novels, and paid special attention to his depiction of the genius magnate “Sidonia,” perhaps a projection of the author himself, and most notably, a character who was excessively cerebral, hence incapable of emotional attachments. Sidonia was the epitome of the rootless cosmopolitan, a type that was anathema to both Hitler and Stalin.  (Here is the link to my blog on Disraeli’s novels and his role in the development of British social democracy: How Disraeli adapted to the dominant Anglicanism is also taken up: he moved the center of Christianity to Jerusalem, not Rome, and  identified the theological debt Christianity owed to the parent religion, a move that did not always endear him to his readers, who still adhered to the antagonism between Judaism and Christianity.)

Now why would Freud (along with a gigantic field of therapists)  be tossed out by those I have mentioned above? It is difficult to engage in any self-scrutiny, i.e., therapy, at all without taking a family history involving the minute examination of every family relationship, including traumas and semi-traumas. Many modern novelists and other seekers after truth about one’s feelings about the family of origin or later love objects, will find ambivalence, and a good “shrink” will focus on both idealization and demonization of lovers,  parents and siblings, along with the mixed feelings that we label as “ambivalence.” The client may also find a pattern of determinism that contradicts the doctrine of “free will” espoused by many Christian sects. That is, we are only partly responsible for our actions, but often follow patterned responses laid down in family life.

Thomas Szasz, Frenchified

Because of the predominant populism, not just “Jewish” bankers but “Jewish” mental health workers are viewed as autocratic and mystifying “experts” or technocrats with designs on the majority. We need more talk about this, not just a quick dismissal. Or a pill.


  1. […] and  It is a major claim of Freudians that sexuality and aggression are primary human instincts that […]

    Pingback by My flagging sense of “propriety” | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — November 11, 2017 @ 7:14 pm | Reply

  2. […] There is no doubt in my mind that numerous authoritarian forces push us around, diminishing political participation, or that language matters and can affect political and/or personal choices, not to speak of our emotional configurations, our loves and taboos, our sense of the possible and impossible. But to so drastically historicize “the self” to the point where we may not distinguish between sanity (having a relatively accurate grip on reality) and insanity (being ruled by delusions) is a romantic fantasy, and it is no accident that R. D. Laing’s name is mentioned in other articles in this volume, as if he were an accepted authority on mental illness, and not a marginal Romantic who saw schizophrenia as an adventure into the world made invisible by the uptight [bourgeois]. See […]

    Pingback by “Power” and aristocratic radicals | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — March 28, 2013 @ 9:43 pm | Reply

  3. I have a different take on Berger’s and Luckmann’s mention of psychoanalysis. In discussing the idea of a subjective sense of reality, they contrast that of “middle-class Jewish intellectuals in New York City” with that of rural Haitians. They allude to psychoanalysis and the associated notion of neurosis as constituent elements of the world-view of the former and of Voudun and the associated idea of spirit possession of that of the latter. I see no mention (or implication) of psychoanalysis as a Jewish thing, nor of Jewish carnality, nor of attribution of quackery to Jewish analysts.

    I also have a problem with your ideas of a subtext in which banking and psychotherapy are characterized as Jew-dominated. Doesn’t this preclude the possibility of any non-anti-Semitic criticism of banking and the mental health professions?

    Comment by david gansel — February 21, 2012 @ 10:32 pm | Reply

    • I will check the source when I have a minute, David, but I don’t think that I would have remembered the claim that psychoanalysis was a Jewish tic, unless it was in Berger and Luckmann. I could have added the career of the Jungian Henry A. Murray, who thought that Freud had overemphasized sex, and wanted to appropriate Freud’s insights into his program of psychological warfare. The idea was that the Jew Freud had preternatural abilities to see into the minds of the little people responsible for fascism.
      I have no problem with responsible criticism of banking and mental health as practiced today; I was not exonerating them but insisting that the “Jewish” overlay be removed before evaluation.

      Comment by clarespark — February 21, 2012 @ 10:54 pm | Reply

  4. I’ve noticed that in many or your blog entries, you enclose the word Jewish in quotation marks. Here, you mention “Jewish” bankers and “Jewish” mental health workers. I take this to mean that populists denigrate bankers and mental health workers , Jewish or not, in some anti-semitic fashion. Am I wrong? Would you mind clarifying this particular use of quotation marks? Thanks.

    Comment by david gansel — February 20, 2012 @ 10:05 pm | Reply

    • You had it right, David. The use of quotation marks was to indicate a sub-text that banking and mental health work were or are “Jew-dominated.”

      Comment by clarespark — February 20, 2012 @ 10:23 pm | Reply

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