29 Freudianism and Society (1940)note

The first two volumes issued in this series were A General Selection from the Works of Sigmund Freud, and Love, Hate and Reparation by Melanie Klein and Joan Riviere. The fourth volume, here reviewed along with a work by R. Money-Kyrle, consists of part of Freud's Thoughts for the Times on War and Death (first published in 1915), a selection, amounting to about two-thirds of the original, from Civilisation and its Discontents (1929), and an open letter to Albert Einstein, Why War? (published in 1933 along with the letter of Einstein's to which it was a reply). The first of these was written before Freud had developed his theory of aggression as “an innate, independent instinctual disposition in man”, but, like the others, it insists on our seeing human nature as it is, noting the anti-cultural tendencies within it, if the threats to culture are to be effectively grappled with.

These writings suffer from the defects of all Freud's “metapsychological” work. The delusion that social problems are to be settled in psychological terms seems, indeed, to affect all contemporary psychologists, and might best be met by the independent development of social theory. But the magnitude of Freud's contribution to knowledge in his earlier work would suggest that it was of some importance, both for social and for psychological theory, to attempt to disentangle what is sound from what is unsound in his doctrines.

At the very outset, in discussing the “disillusionment” occasioned by the war, Freud says (p. 3): “We had expected the great ruling powers among the white nations upon whom the leadership of the human species has fallen, who were known to have cultivated world-wide interests, to whose creative powers were due our technical advances in the direction of dominating nature, as well as the artistic and scientific acquisitions of the mind — peoples such as these we had expected to succeed in finding another way of settling misunderstandings and conflicts of interest. Within each of these nations there prevailed high standards of accepted custom for the individual, to which his manner of life was bound to conform if he desired a share in communal privileges. These ordinances, frequently too stringent, exacted a great deal from him, much self-restraint, much renunciation of instinctual gratification. He was especially forbidden to make use of the immense advantages to be gained by the practice of lying and

  ― 341 ―
deception in the competition with his fellow-men.” Hence he might easily be disillusioned when he found the warring state permitting itself “every such misdeed, every such act of violence, as would disgrace the individual man”, and it was not astonishing “that this relaxation of all the moral ties between the greater units of mankind should have had a seducing influence on the morality of individuals” (p. 5). While Freud goes on to argue that this disillusionment is not justified (as it could scarcely be, unless a state had instincts to renounce), we can see some of the defects of his outlook even in his statement of the problem. He does, indeed, make a certain distinction between the state and the nation, but even so his “greater unit” is altogether too unitary. Over and above the distinction between legality and morality there is the fact that many conflicting “standards” are operative in society, and the further fact that culture (as represented in “artistic and scientific acquisitions”) is not something established by the leading interests but something that has to fight its way against them. But, while no account is taken of the variety and the conflict of the institutions which may be said to constitute a civilisation, it is in regard to the other “unit”, the individual on whom civilisation is supposed to impinge, that Freud is most seriously in error; it is his individualism that wrecks his social theory. The civilisation, which here appears as external to the individual, is nowhere represented except as relations among individuals, and is estimated by the kind of individual who exists in it — by the extent to which his instincts are suppressed or are transmuted in the direction of “altruism”. The individual is always the agent — or the patient of other individual agents; there is no sense of him as a “vehicle” of social forces, as a member of movements which are just as real, just as definite as he is, and which are the true subject of social science. Hence, on the one hand, Freud has to come down to exhortation (“a little more truthfulness and upright dealing on all sides”), and, on the other hand, he can make nothing of the social facts from which the argument began (“why the national units should disdain, detest, abhor one another, even when they are at peace, is indeed a mystery”). The mystery might have been reduced if he had considered the ways of living, the “causes”, in which men are caught up, and had not sought the original springs of action within the individual man.

It might be argued that Civilisation and its Discontents (“Das Unbehagen in der Kultur”), in particular, is an attempt to show how social arrangements impinge on the “individual”, but the point is that, unless we treat a person otherwise than as a unit, unless we consider the activities which pass through him (in which he participates without being either the agent or the patient), we cannot even give an account of the activities which go on within him. And here we may particularly criticise Freud's use of the notion of “happiness”, e.g., in dealing (pp. 28,9) with the problem “what the behaviour of men themselves reveals as the purpose and object of their lives, what they demand and wish to attain in it. The answer to this can hardly be in doubt: they seek

  ― 342 ―
happiness, they want to become happy and remain so”. As has been indicated, unless a man had his springs of action entirely within himself (on which atomic theory there could be no such thing as human intercourse), his behaviour would not reveal what was peculiarly the purpose and object of his life, even if what it revealed was a purpose at all. And, as regards men's seeking happiness, if this is not the uninformative identity that they seek what they seek, if it is contended that they have one governing objective (perhaps describable as surcease from agitation), that is simply false. Here Freud might have learned something from Nietzsche (The Will to Power, p. 704): “It is very obvious that the ultimate and smallest ‘individuals’ cannot be understood in the sense of metaphysical individuals or atoms; their sphere of power is continually shifting its ground: but with all these changes, can it be said that any of them strives after happiness?” — and again (ibid., 930): “A man does not strive after ‘happiness’; one must be an Englishman to be able to believe that a man is always seeking his own advantage”, or, more succinctly, in The Twilight of the Idols: “Man does not aspire to happiness; only the Englishman does that” — the Englishman here being taken as the supreme individualist, the Benthamite man.

The point can be even better illustrated from the obituary article on Freud by Ernest Jones, in the current number of the International Journal of Psycho-analysis (Vol. XXI, Part I, p. 16). “Even pure ‘unhappiness’ is now a medico-psychological problem. As a result of all this innumerable people now consult physicians who used either to suffer their troubles as best they could or to seek some form of consolation. I should be surprised to hear that Oscar Wilde ever sought medical advice for his mental condition, still less Dr. Johnson, Schopenhauer or Dean Swift; nor does Herr Hitler. Yet these, and thousands of others, would probably have had a happier life had they done so.” Can anyone seriously doubt that Hitler would not have wanted to lead a happier life, to engage in the activities which a physician might have shown him had been thwarted in his earlier days, that he would consider the activities in which he is now engaged to be vastly more important? And is it not at least arguable that a man who “suffers his troubles as best he can” will be a better worker in a movement than one who runs to a doctor to get relief? More generally, can “heroic values”, can heroism and devotion, be reduced to, or at all accounted for in terms of, the pursuit of happiness? The “medico-psychological” approach prevents the Freudians from getting more than a glimpse of these problems, and involves them (“unconsciously”, no doubt) in the use of a scale of importance which falsifies the social facts.

Equally, of course, it falsifies the “personal” facts. Even apart from a man's participation in movements, there is no one end (“satisfaction”, “gratification” or whatever it may be called) which he seeks; various activities are going on within him, each of which may have its own objective, but each of which, prior to any question of seeking, has its own character. It is precisely from this point of view, taking what things are

  ― 343 ―
as fundamental, that we can see how such an activity may be a constituent in a wider movement (one passing through many persons) which has its own character. And it is only loosely that, recognising the conatus of such activities, their tendency to persist, we could speak of their “seeking” their own continuance. Strictly we should speak of their seeking something other than themselves, something the securing of which may or may not be necessary, and may or may not be sufficient, for their continuance. But, in regard to those that do continue, while it is idle to speak of their continuance as their “satisfaction”, it is thoroughly misleading to speak of them as contributing to the satisfaction of a total “self” or as affording it some consolation for the ills of the world and the flesh. No doubt there is an economy of activities, no doubt we can distinguish between a more and a less coherent “life” — and certainly Freud has contributed notably to this region of theory. But, whatever their interrelations, an irreducible plurality of activities (and of “aims”) has still to be recognised. It is true that bodily ills and social oppression may interfere with the work of the scientist and the artist; it is not true that this work is a moderately successful attempt at “transferring the instinctual aims into such directions that they cannot be frustrated by the outer world” (p. 32), i.e., at overcoming such ills. For one thing the materials on which scientist and artist work are as “outer” as anything can be; but so, likewise, are their “workings” — thinking and creating (more exactly, what thinks and what creates) exist in exactly the same sense (and in the same “world”) as the things they deal with, and do not have a bogey existence which falls short of “reality”. There may, again, among appreciators of art, whom Freud finds (p. 33) to be further removed from “reality” than artists, be some who are seeking escape from the hardness of life — though such people would actually be bad appreciators. But, if the continued exercise of an aesthetic interest in things is to be spoken of as satisfaction or enjoyment, it is certainly a real enjoyment, and the statement (p. 34) that the influence of art “is not strong enough to make us forget real misery” is a confused one. The point is that different mental activities are seeking different objects, and, while it will be interesting to consider how the frustration of one may affect the operation of others, the argument will not be advanced by calling some of the objects real and others not real. The view that aesthetic appreciation is “pleasure in illusion” is not, of course, peculiar to Freud, but, in any case, it is easily met; when, e.g., we appreciate drama we are getting insight into human nature — a perfectly real thing — and if, instead, we are interested in the puppets, then, while our interest is not aesthetic, it is still interest in something real. Of course, if we “identify ourselves” with the characters, we may quite properly be said to be enjoying a “phantasy-pleasure”, but this attitude is possible in relation to any material whatever and has nothing specially to do with art. It appears, then, that Freud quite arbitrarily distinguishes certain pains and pleasures as the “real” ones — or, if not arbitrarily, at least unwarrantably — basing his procedure on a supposedly biological

  ― 344 ―
conception of fundamental drives and aims, in relation to which actual history can only appear a “mystery”.

Freud asserts (p. 39) that “the word ‘culture’ describes the sum of the achievements and institutions which differentiate our lives from those of our animal forebears and serve two purposes, namely, that of protecting humanity against nature and of regulating the relations of human beings among themselves”. It is no wonder he is in difficulties about beauty, of which he says (p. 36) that “the necessity of it for cultural purposes is not apparent, and yet civilisation could not do without it”. But not only has he to admit that certain institutions do not protect and regulate, but, in regard to what is protected and regulated, he cannot show what purpose it serves — it simply goes on, or fails to go on. The same, then, may be said of institutions or forms of activity; social science is precisely the account of their interrelations, their changes, their continuance or cessation, and, incidentally, of their effects, but there is no point in calling these effects their “purposes”. Whether culture is or is not in some special sense “autonomous”, at least we can say of it (as we might say of a single person) that it does not serve any purpose. And to the assertion (p. 9) that “civilisation is the fruit of renunciation of instinctual satisfaction” we can retort that it could as easily be called the fruit of instinctual satisfaction, that we have no right to consider the renouncing tendencies any less original than the tendencies renounced, that only the recognition of competing tendencies at any stage we like to consider can account for the occurrence of “renunciation” or any other change in ways of acting. It is important enough to show that there can be “substitution”, that energy can be carried over from one activity to another, but this does not entitle Freud to say (p. 47) that, in making its restrictions, culture “obtains a great part of the energy it needs by subtracting it from sexuality”, as if the energy belonged to sexuality; for, unless there were independent non-sexual activities from the beginning, the transference of energy could not take place. Thus, recognising the multiplicity of forms of activity in any man and any society, however primitive, we have no need to attempt the derivation of beauty from “the realms of sexual sensation”; and we can see immediately the falsity of the assertion (p. 36) that “the love of beauty is a perfect example of a feeling with an inhibited aim”. For the love of beauty is concerned with things just as definite, and brings about just as definite results, as sexuality does.

Freud does make concessions, inadequate though they are on account of his individualism and biologism, to multiplicity; he recognises aggressiveness as part of men's instinctual endowment, and uses it (p. 51) to fill out his account of civilisation. “The existence of this tendency to aggression which we can detect in ourselves and rightly presume to be present in others is the factor that disturbs our relations with our neighbours and makes it necessary for culture to institute its high demands. Civilised society is perpetually menaced with disintegration through this primary hostility of men towards one another. Their interests in their common work would not hold them together; the passions of instinct are

  ― 345 ―
stronger than reasoned interests. Culture has to call up every possible reinforcement in order to erect barriers against the aggressive instincts of men and hold their manifestations in check by reaction-formations in men's minds. Hence its system of methods by which mankind is to be driven to identifications and aim-inhibited love-relationships; hence the restrictions on sexual life; and hence, too, its ideal command to love one's neighbour as oneself, which is really justified by the fact that nothing is so completely at variance with original human nature as this.” In fact (p. 52), “if civilisation requires sacrifices, not only of sexuality but also of the aggressive tendencies in mankind, we can better understand why it should be so hard for men to feel happy in it”. Here we may argue that the recognition by civilised men of the command “to love one's neighbour as oneself” is by no means so extensive as Freud suggests; even taking it as his personalistic account of the sense of justice (equality before the law), we have to admit that there are considerable restrictions on the social operation of this principle. But the main point is that men, as social, are held together in common work (however little they may be “interested” in or aware of this fact), that common work is just as “original” as aggressiveness or sexuality. Freud seems to think that some inducement must be held out to men to work together; this bringing together, which is opposed by aggression and which is characteristic of culture, he takes to be the work of Eros, “which aims at binding together single human individuals, then families, then tribes, races, nations, into one great unity, that of humanity” (p. 55). “These masses of men”, he adds, “must be bound to one another libidinally; necessity alone, the advantages of common work, would not hold them together.” But, as before, it is not a question of “advantages”, which in any case could be seen only after the fact; it is the common work itself that holds them together (or is their being together), whatever “libidinal” attachments may be developed on this basis. Freud's conclusion (p. 56) that the evolution of culture is “the struggle between Eros and Death, between the instincts of life and the instincts of destruction”, so that “the evolution of civilisation may be simply described as the struggle of the human species for existence” (my italics), leaves us wondering why unification is required for survival, and indicates a low view of culture. The real cultural struggle is not for the survival of men but between different institutions or ways of living, which may pass out of existence even if human society continues. Or, supposing it could in fact be shown that unless, e.g., science progresses, the human race will perish, still, if the progress is made, it will be the scientific advance, and not the continuance of humanity, which will constitute the gain for culture.

Curiously, while Freud passes over these essential distinctions (among ways of living), his postulate of unification being in harmony with his tendency to theoretical simplification, he may also be said to make unjustifiable distinctions. He himself admits (p. 53) that he had to modify his initial distinction between ego instincts and object instincts, derived from the rough distinction of “hunger and love” as fundamental motives,

  ― 346 ―
of which “hunger would serve to represent those instincts which aim at preservation of the individual”, while “love seeks for objects; its chief function, which is favoured in every way by nature, is preservation of the species”. Rejecting the teleological view (which is not good biology but bad philosophy), observing that no mode of action could be described in terms of what it preserves, we can easily see that, as far as effects are concerned, the very same action could assist the preservation both of the individual and of the species. And, in the further working out of their theories, the Freudians have been conspicuously successful in indicating linkages between alimentation and sexuality. That is not to say, however, that there is any justification for unifying all such tendencies under the heading of a “libido” which can invest the ego as well as objects outside it. We may say, in fact, that it is just such forced unification that leads to the search for an equally arbitrary differentiating factor. If we take our departure from the plurality of mental tendencies (allowing that there may be “exchanges” between them), we find that each of them has things which it supports and things which it opposes, i.e., each of them is both “erotic” and “aggressive”. (The view that any thwarted tendency becomes aggressive would settle the controversy among analysts, mentioned on p. 71, as to the relation between thwarting and “guilt”.) We may even argue that the distinction between ego, id and super-ego is a distinction, not among mental “instances” or organisations, but among possible ways of acting of the same mental tendency (the same passion, as we may put it in default of any more neutral term). The comparative rigidity of Freudian doctrine, its failure to take account of the variety of mental and social qualities, is due not merely to its biological and general “scientific” starting-point, but also to its cognitionalism — its treatment of mental processes in terms of their objects, leaving a variety of objects over against an unqualified ego, and, in the end, emptying life of all content. This may seem a curious charge in view of the fact that Freud has above all upheld the existence of the “unconscious” — but the question here is always what it is unconscious of, what can be revealed as its true or original object; as if passions could not, in the course of their history, have any number of objects, and as if they did not have their own qualities, even when they had no objects. There is, no doubt, a real and important problem of “fixation”, but it cannot be solved on a cognitionalist basis; and social theory, too, suffers from fixation, when culture is treated as having an object and not as being certain forms of activity.

If aggression is not a separate passion but a way in which various passions work, then, as suggested above, there will be no difficulty in reconciling the view that guilt is engendered by the thwarting of any “instinctual gratification” with Freud's identification of guilt with suppressed aggression — for the suppression of the passion which has become aggressive will at the same time be the suppression of its aggressiveness. It is important also to observe that Freud's theory of guilt as a present-day phenomenon does not require, and even weighs against, acceptance of the doctrine of the “original sin” which he first presented in

  ― 347 ―
Totem and Taboo and repeats here. In reply to the supposed objection, “Either it is not true that guilt is evoked by suppressed aggressiveness or else the whole story about the father-murder is a romance, and primeval man did not kill his father any more often than people do nowadays”, he points out (p. 65) that the remorse of the murderer “clearly presupposes that conscience, the capacity for feelings of guilt, was already in existence before the deed”; and goes on to say: “This remorse was the result of the very earliest primal ambivalence of feelings toward the father: the sons hated him, but they loved him too; after their hate against him had been satisfied by their aggressive acts, their love came to expression in their remorse about the deed”, and set up the punishing super-ego “by identification with the father”. Hence (pp. 66,7) “it is not really a decisive matter whether one has killed one's father or abstained from the deed; one must feel guilty in either case, for guilt is the expression of the conflict of ambivalence, the eternal struggle between Eros and the destructive or death instinct. This conflict is engendered as soon as man is confronted with the task of living with his fellows”, and, expressing itself first as the Oedipus complex when man is living in a family, it develops into a general feeling of guilt in relation to a wider communal life. “Since culture obeys an inner erotic impulse which bids it bind mankind into a closely knit mass, it can achieve this aim only by means of its vigilance in fomenting an ever-increasing sense of guilt. That which began in relation to the father ends in relation to the community.” There is nothing in all this to suggest that the sense of guilt started from a particular act, an “occasion which was also the inception of culture” (p. 69). It would rather appear that, while the opposing passions must in any case have found outlet in many acts, the killing of the father might as easily be a phantasy in the case of primitive men as in the case of present-day men. As we have seen, man is not confronted with the task of living with his fellows, but is social all along; and, within society, he is involved in conflicts among social tendencies, among his personal tendencies, and between social and personal tendencies. It is a common experience to feel that one has “fallen short” in relation to some “cause” or movement, has been weakly “egoistic”. But it is only if egoism (“omnipotence”) is taken to be a person's essential character — in which case, as we observed, there would not be society — that culture could be supposed to involve “an ever-increasing sense of guilt”. On the contrary, responsible participation in a productive movement is marked by a diminution in the sense of guilt, by a rising above “personal” values, and any movement which intensifies feelings of guilt is thereby shown to be anti-progressive.

It is not surprising that Freud thinks little of ethics, since he treats it not as the theory of the varieties of “common work” but as the laying down of precepts (“the ethical standards of the cultural super-ego”), particularly that we should “love our neighbours as ourselves” — precepts which it is impossible to fulfil, and which are therefore a poor defence against aggressiveness. Freud (p. 78) thinks it “unquestionable that an actual change in men's attitude to property would be of more help in

  ― 348 ―
this direction than any ethical commands; but among the Socialists this proposal is obscured by new idealistic expectations disregarding human nature, which detract from its value in actual practice”. What Freud does not grasp here is that Socialism is a theory not of human nature but of society, of the laws of social working — though it certainly can be argued that Marx makes the opposite error to Freud's, reducing the psychical to the social instead of the social to the psychical. But, whatever the monistic features of Marxism, it gives some recognition at least to the plurality of movements and so can provide some criticism of the “enthusiastic partiality”, against which Freud (p. 79) has endeavoured to guard himself, for “our civilisation” — as if our civilisation had to be praised or depreciated in a lump. Also Marxism would replace the view (p. 80) “that the judgments of value made by mankind are immediately determined by their desires for happiness” by the sounder view that they are determined by the movements in which men participate — though it should be noted that neither view would be evidence for or against the truth of any such judgment. If there is such a thing as value (if we really are judging something to be the case when we pass a “judgment of value”), then it will not matter whether, in passing it, we are “propping up our illusions”; the issue of fact will still have to be discussed objectively. Thus the judgment that something is required for a certain movement, the judgment that a certain movement advances science or art or any other constituent of culture, even the judgment that a certain state of affairs will bring me what I want, all raise just as positive issues as any that Freud has treated of, and are subject to the very same powers of criticism in us. In short, the question “How do we come to regard certain things as good?” is subsequent, not prior, to the question “What things are good?” And it is quite apparent that Freud regards the operation of “Eros” as good — though in so doing, as has been indicated, he impoverishes ethics by making the question merely one of “libidinal” unification instead of specific co-operative activities, the extension of which is progress and their restriction reaction. Devotion to the cause of science, e.g., is not devotion to one's fellow-scientists, and the family attachment of the Freudians in particular has been an obstacle to their progress.

In the letter to Einstein we find the same emphasis on unification, the same untenable theory of the establishment of community by the coming together of originally separate individuals. In discussing the relation between right and violence in society, Freud contends that “to start with, brute force was the factor which, in small communities, decided points of ownership and the question which man's will was to prevail”. And, allowing that “with the coming of weapons, superior brains began to oust brute force”, still, “under primitive conditions, it is superior force — brute violence, or violence backed by arms — that lords it everywhere”. The passage from this violence to law depended on “a single verity; that the superiority of one strong man can be overborne by an alliance of many weaklings; that l'union fait la force. Brute force is overcome by union, the allied might of scattered units makes good its right against the isolated

  ― 349 ―
giant. Thus we may define ‘right’ as the might of a community” — the passage has been made from individual to communal violence. The mark of this community is “the suppression of brute force by the transfer of power to a larger combination, founded on the community of sentiments linking up its members”. But, in actual fact, there are always “elements of unequal power” in the group, culminating in its division into rulers and ruled, struggling respectively for privileges and for equal rights. Violence is found also in the struggle between groups; and, at the present time (1933), while the League of Nations is an interesting experiment, there is no body with the authority to exercise a central control over consenting members — which would be the “one sure way of ending war”. It appears, then, that “any effort to replace brute force by the might of an ideal is, under present conditions, doomed to fail. Our logic is at fault if we ignore the fact that right is founded on brute force and even today needs violence to maintain it.”

In the view thus presented (pp. 84-90) there is at least a recognition of social division, though in terms of power and aggression rather than of forms of activity. We are reminded of Vico's treatment of the heroic age, or the passage from the heroic to the political age, as a struggle between patricians and plebeians, wherein “against one aristocratic privilege after another there was successfully asserted some democratic right” (Flint, Vico, p. 222). Vico also held the questionable theory of the family as preceding the wider community, but for him it was a question of the coming together of a number of heads of families (patres) to form a social authority, not, as with Freud, the banding together of brothers. The principle point is that justice was Vico's leading conception, that the whole process could be described as a development of justice, i.e., in social terms. It is quite apparent that, even in the smallest community, brute force cannot be the decisive factor — unless there is “moral force”, unless there are established ways of working, there is not a community. (We might also argue, with Engels, that “the coming of weapons” implies a type of social organisation capable of producing them.) This does not mean that there cannot be violent individuals, but only that there cannot be a system (or group) in which individual violence is dominant. And, as before, the doctrine of the alliance of primarily separate individuals is untenable; the community of sentiments on which their forceful union is said to be founded, could only itself be founded on preceding joint activities. It may well be that only with a division between patricians and plebeians would rights be formulated, but in any condition of society there must be regular ways of working (including avoidances); and “right”, in this broad sense, is not “founded on brute force” — nor, again, is it founded on “identification”, on the socialising of unsocial units.

The defects of Freud's individualism may be finally indicated from his remarks (p. 94) on the question raised by Einstein of the abuse of authority. He says: “That men are divided into leaders and the led is but another manifestation of their inborn and irremediable inequality.

  ― 350 ―
The second class constitutes the vast majority; they need a high command to make decisions for them, to which decisions they usually bow without demur. In this context we would point out that man should be at greater pains than heretofore to form a superior class of independent thinkers, unamenable to intimidation and fervent in the quest of truth, whose function it would be to guide the masses dependent on their lead. There is no need to point out how little the rule of politicians and the Church's ban on liberty of thought encourage such a new creation. The ideal conditions would obviously be found in a community where every man subordinated his instinctive life to the dictates of reason.” But, as things are, he concludes, such a hope of subduing the “war-impulse” is utterly utopian. Now here, first of all, we find the commonplace insistence on personal differences as a basis of social inequality. But social equality is a matter not of the endowment of individuals but of the primacy of the movement, the setting of the common form of activity above personal considerations; and even when (as in science) a highly endowed participant can stimulate others, there need be no office of leader. Again, the well-intentioned “forming” of a guiding class, however fervent they may be, cannot be regarded as a possible means of solving social problems; the point of departure must always be existing “ways of living”. And, thirdly, one may wonder what a life subordinated to the “dictates of reason” would be like, or what these dictates themselves could be. If “reason” is to enforce a particular hierarchy of tendencies, it must itself have particular objects; in other words, what is called “reason” is merely certain ruling passions, and other passions could (and do) carry out the same function, determine what is “reasonable”, in other cases. It appears, in fact, that Freud's thinking is deeply imbued with the rationalistic utilitarianism which is so marked a feature of nineteenth century thought, with fixed ideas of mental and social priority, which have prevented him from working out the consequences of his own recognition of the “unconscious”, and have landed him in simplification, in the denial of real distinctions, whether among types of mental processes or between the psychical and the social.

We find in the work of the Freudians generally this rationalistic apparatus — the setting up of units, the identification of things which are merely connected, or as frequently in Freud, the reversal of relations (e.g., on p. 44, the supposition that it was when the need for genital satisfaction became permanent that the male “acquired a motive” for keeping his sexual objects near him, and so families were founded) — the outstanding example, of course, being the view that individuals form society instead of society forming individuals. (Even if the two were taken as coordinate phenomena, it would have to be admitted that individualism, with the conception of personal advantage, was a late growth.) In the other work under review (the third in the series of Epitomes) these defects are very well marked; indeed, Money-Kyrle is considerably less cautious than Freud in his views of what can be done to improve society. He proposes the establishment of a “psycho-analytical

  ― 351 ―
anthropology”, since the psychologist and the social anthropologist need each other's help. Thus the former may learn from the latter (p. 2) that the “latency period, in which sexual impulses are in abeyance, between the age of five and puberty” is not a “general developmental character”, since in certain tribes “the sex instinct ripens from infancy to adolescence without a break”. (Whether such a period is universal “among civilised peoples” is a question which the Freudians might well reconsider.) And the latter may help the former (p. 3) in bringing out the unconscious motives of the customs and beliefs with which anthropology concerns itself. (As before, it is assumed that they have a motive, that the fons et origo of institutions is to be found in the individual mind.) Thus (pp. 3,4) “anthropologists and psycho-analysts need each other's help. Indeed, the sociology of the future will be, I think, the product of their combined labour. This sociology will expose the reciprocal relations between culture, character and education; the factors determining whether groups will diverge or converge, compete or co-operate, and so on. It will give us the power to control our social destiny, not blindly as in the past, or short-sightedly as at present, but with a clear vision of our path ahead. Moreover, with greater knowledge of ourselves and of our social structure, our social aims are likely to become less divergent. Some divergence of politics is, of course, inevitable; but the more obviously irrational policies, by-products perhaps of the psychoses of their authors, will not find much support in a more enlightened age.” Certainly, Money-Kyrle at once admits that “many calamities may await our culture” before this goal is attained; but his conclusion (pp. 151, 153) is that, through the scientific co-operation he proposes, we may hope “to formulate laws of sociology, which would give to man, what he has never had before, the power to mould the character of future generations according to his will”, and, while this mastery of means might be supposed to leave the aims uncertain, “we have good reason to suppose that in the sphere of morals both the area and the intensity of the conflict will decrease concurrently with an increase in our power to make our hopes prevail. For, on the one hand, a deeper understanding of our own psychology will automatically decrease psychological disease, and therefore also those extreme ideals (e.g., fanatical militarism, asceticism, etc.) which are themselves among the symptoms of disease. And, in the second place, this greater understanding of ourselves will bring greater sympathy with, and therefore tolerance of, the residual deviations of ideal that will no doubt remain. Thus we may hope that one day the infant science of psycho-analytical anthropology will perform the Herculean task — which has so far defeated the philosophies and religions of the world — of giving homo sapiens the wisdom that his name implies. Once he acquires this, a rational society, in the political and economic sense, will come almost of its own accord.”

The question here is that of “application”, of how the infant science (as Rickman puts it in his Preface, with reference to psychology) “can help mankind”. We are to find out laws of sociology in order to change

  ― 352 ―
society; we are to learn how societies or certain types of society invariably work in order that we may introduce our particular variations into them. In other words, we are to “use” laws that we know, and in so doing obey laws that we do not know! It is not merely that (as Freud himself to a considerable extent realised), in finding out laws, we are finding out what cannot be helped. What, more particularly, the partisans of “scientific” helpfulness do not grasp is that theories occur as features of social movements, not as independent forces, that they are indices of what we are doing rather than guides for our future conduct. To say this, as was previously pointed out, is not to say that such theories are false, but, at least, the adherents of the movement of which “helpfulness” is a slogan, are not entitled to regard themselves as above the battle or on the side of pure sapientia; they are pursuing a particular line of policy under the pretence that it is universal, i.e., that it alone is “truly” pursuable; they are using the formal notion of agreement as if it were something specific on which we could agree. For that is what Money-Kyrle's rather shaky treatment of the means-and-ends problem amounts to: if we learn to agree, we are bound to be agreeing on something — an entirely helpless position in relation to actual social trends. In default of a positive doctrine of social movements and of those activities extension of which would constitute progress (as against the banal dictum that “moral judgments are notoriously subjective”), he cannot show that there is anything wrong with such “extreme ideals” as fanatical militarism and asceticism; he can only appeal to prejudice. And it is just such uncritical views, it is just such illusions as that of moulding humanity, that philosophy exists to criticise.

We have already noted that the conception of rationality is an outstanding feature of the ideology of the movement here being examined, and Money-Kyrle employs it constantly. It would appear that rational behaviour is that in which we know what we are doing, whereas (p. 8) “irrational behaviour has an unconscious basis, and is unintelligible until this basis is explained”. For example (p. 71), the compulsive avoidances of the obsessional neurotic resemble taboos in having “no conscious motive”. Now what would be meant by having a conscious motive? Presumably, to say that I have a conscious motive for avoiding X is to say that I avoid it because it is Y. But why do I avoid Y? Because it is Z? It is obvious that at some point the chain of “reasons” must stop — that, e.g., no more can be said than that I do avoid Y. Or, at least, while it might be said that I avoid Y because I am a certain sort of person, because I (or I and others) live in a certain way, this is not, properly speaking, to give a reason for the avoidance of Y, but only to state more exactly what form of activity it is that avoids Y. More generally, whatever I may know about what I am doing, there are always things I do not know about it; an action is never “fully intended”, but always in some measure does itself; and so the conscious is always based on the unconscious, reasons on the “irrational”. The only escape from this position would be to set up some identity — the self-knowing or the essentially

  ― 353 ―
avoidable — from which particular cognitions or avoidances would be derived; but actually such derivations are always sophistical, and the rationalist is found to be upholding particular views or policies without reason, while endeavouring to put them above criticism by calling them “rational”.

A particular example of the operation of “identity” in these doctrines is to be found in the Freudian ethics, where, as we have noted, goodness takes the form of altruism or, more exactly, of unification with others. The position is very curiously illustrated in a point made by Money-Kyrle (p. 70, n. 1) in support of his view that morals are always felt as having a sanction, as imposed on us by commandment: “As Kant has pointed out, people who behave well because they like doing so, because they genuinely sympathise with others, are not moral. If such behaviour should ever become general, morals will have been outgrown and have become superfluous” (my italics). The view that “benevolence is the whole of virtue” is so distinctly not Kant's that, having distinguished the duty of beneficence from natural inclination to bring about satisfaction in others, he immediately goes on (Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals, First Section) to consider the conditions under which securing one's own happiness is a duty. And, whatever difficulties the distinction between will and inclination may involve, he is most emphatically opposed to the view that morality is imposed on men by external command. What has led Money-Kyrle to make this misleading statement is his obsession with his own narrow views; and, it may be added, since he admits that there is such a thing as “behaving well”, he implies that, even if “morals” were outgrown, ethics would not be.

More important, however, in identity-theorising is the doctrine of substance, of an inner nature from which all characters are derived — a doctrine we have already encountered in the view that the individual has his springs of action within himself. Strictly speaking this involves a denial of interaction and of all history; the question is just what particular compromise with the facts will be made. The compromise made by the Freudians is to take the earliest experiences as imposing on the original disposition modifications which are decisive for the rest of life. It is, of course, a sufficiently plausible view that a thing's disposition contains all its possible lines of development, and that some of these possibilities are eliminated at each stage. But actual development is conditioned by both character and circumstances, and is not a function of either. It may be true that only things of the sort X ever become Y, but also true that this happens only when an X comes under the influence of C. There is, then, no more sense in saying that the acquired character Y was in the original character X than in saying that it was in C; to say that it was there “potentially” is only a way of denying the fact in question, that, when X is subjected to C, something new appears. Thus it is a plain fact of human history that many types of activity do not arise at all until later life, and to say that their potentiality, their basis, that out of which they come, must have been present in infancy is really to deny interaction. Certain

  ― 354 ―
ways of acting must, of course, be common to the various stages, or we could not speak of them as stages in the history of the same being; and what happens to one way of acting at an early stage may have an important influence on its later manifestations. But it is a far cry from this to the description of work, war and religion (p. 141) as “products of infantile neurosis”, to the contention (p. 124) that the extreme helplessness and long duration of man's infancy are “ultimately responsible for his neurotic anxiety and his animism — or habit of projecting his own infantile feelings upon his environment — and that his animism, in particular his tendency to rediscover the good and bad parents of his unconscious phantasy in the persons of his leaders and his enemies, is responsible both for his co-operative and competitive tendencies, for his social solidarity, and for his proneness to war”. These extraordinary claims would imply that infants make society; actually, they are born into society, into a set of interrelated social movements or institutions, which largely determine their history — and, by being brought into new movements, the adult can develop activities of which no trace could be found in the infant. And as regards tendencies (passions) which may be said to exist throughout life, the object or outlet which they first found may influence later seekings, but that is not to say that it is still being sought. To make such identifications is to involve oneself in confusions as to actual connections and influences. We may be able, as suggested on p. 110, to connect the development of language with the infant's scream (and that, again, with his helplessness), but that does not give us a theory of language as a social phenomenon. Faced with a new situation, a person has to “express himself” in some way, and the gesture he finds most appropriate may well be one which he had used in relation to earlier situations; but this is not to say that the new situation “means” the old — otherwise, language would not develop, and infants would really be and remain “psychotics”. If they are not, it is because they are engaged from the beginning in co-operative activities, because they belong to society and are not self-centred atoms. In fact, the “helplessness” of the human infant should itself be treated as a social phenomenon, as engendered by society, as the thing that makes him educable (fit for social living) and not as either the basis of or a fetter upon social development.

As with language, so with Mythology, with Exogamy, Totemism and Taboo, with Animism, Magic and Religion — dealt with by Money-Kyrle in chapters II, III and IV, where he presents, in spite of the brevity of his exposition, a good deal of interesting material and raises many important questions — all these are phenomena of adult social life, they are ways of dealing with situations which may bear a certain resemblance to infantile situations (infants also being in society) but are not reducible to them. In connection with mythology, Money-Kyrle remarks (p. 20) that “the most archaic myths are so much concerned with the improprieties of gods that they can hardly have been composed by legislators, as Aristotle thought, to edify mankind”. But what might appear to a later

  ― 355 ―
age as improper and requiring to be softened down or explained away, might be quite a natural form of expression in an earlier, “heroic” age. In any case the question is not so much of edifying as of warning men against ?ß??? not to “set themselves up” against the gods, that is to say, against social laws. Here we are brought back to Vico's theory, in which, having begun with various forms of interpretation of myths, he finally concentrated on the social interpretation “since, he appears to have thought, the earliest nations were too much intent upon themselves, too much immersed in their hard and difficult life, to speculate in abstraction from social matters. Hence he found reflected in mythology the institutions, inventions, social cleavages, class-struggles, travels and warfare of primitive nations” (Croce, The Philosophy of Giambattista Vico; trans. Collingwood, pp. 160,1). Croce goes on to say that Vico set up another important principle, “namely, that indecent meanings were inserted in myths at a late and corrupt period when men interpreted early customs in the light of their own, or tried to justify their own lusts by fancying that the gods had set them the example”. It is to be remembered that the manners of an earlier age, even when cruder, may be less indecent than those of a later age. The main point, however, is that the elaboration of myths is bound to involve the introduction of more and more psychical material, which would tend to obscure the fact that the original meaning was not psychical but social. Such elaboration, of course, might well be in terms of the peculiarities of an individual's upbringing and even of his infantile experiences; psycho-analysis has done very much towards establishing such connections, and could do still more if it distinguished the social foundation from the psychic variants. And here it is curious that Money-Kyrle, in discussing demons and vampires in his chapter on Animism, makes no mention of Jones's remarkable work, On the Nightmare. (It is curious also that Jones himself, though he mentions, on p. 151), “the oral-sadistic attitude towards the mother's breast” — a matter also touched on by Money-Kyrle — does not see that this is the situation in terms of which coherence can be given to his whole discussion, since it is a situation to which the notions of riding or flying and of the reversal of roles can be referred back, and particularly to his philological excursus on “the MR root”, since this root can be taken to express the combination of sucking and biting.)

In the section on Totemism in ch. III, Money-Kyrle shows that recent anthropological work would tend to cast doubt on the theory expounded by Freud in Totem and Taboo, not only in regard to the very existence of the “cyclopean family” (dominated by a single father), but in regard to whether certain races ever had a totemic system. While Money-Kyrle thinks there might possibly have been a process (extending over many generations and involving father-killings at various times) in which the cyclopean family alternated with the exogamic clan, he is impressed (pp. 64,5) by the difficulty of explaining “the survivals of the taboos and rituals thousands of years after the last cyclopean father is supposed to have been slain”. As he points out later (p. 121): “The most primitive

  ― 356 ―
communities we know of are gerontocratic: a man enjoys prestige in proportion to his age. There are no single chiefs to represent the primal father. But the clan is cemented by common taboos, common rites, and a common veneration for its old men and its ancestral totem. The autocratic primal father is replaced by an endo-psychic force — the super-ego, which is identified with the old men and with the ghosts of ancestors still living in the totem species.” Now, if what we find in such communities is always patres as the social authority, there is no great obstacle to the rejection of the whole theory of the primal father and the primal sin — to regarding the notion of father-murder as an individualistic modification of a revolt against the patres or, more generally, against social law — with all the calamities that this would involve. (Here again Vico's theory is of some interest; he considers that, with the rise of the plebeians, there was a secondary development of myth in which their desire for the overthrow of the patricians was represented. Cf. H. P. Adams, Life and Writings of Giambattista Vico, p. 188) As already pointed out, psychical material is constantly being introduced into myths, and much contamination of this kind may be expected to appear in the myths of present-day peoples who, though they are called “primitive”, should perhaps rather be regarded as having degenerated from an earlier “heroic” level. It should also be emphasised that Freud's conception of the super-ego is too individualistic, not merely in that it is taken as something established within the individual mind, but in the giving of too much weight to the influence of the parents in its formation. For the parents are living in society, and the Freudians themselves have had to admit that the restrictions imposed by the parents on the child are largely representative of general social prohibitions. The point is that the “censored” passion encounters these prohibitions in many different forms, and, without taking any one of them as the prohibition or regarding the earliest as necessarily the most important, we can still find in some cases, as the psycho-analysts have notably done, peculiarities of upbringing, and even a “primal scene”, having a severe effect on later development — though not a finally decisive one, or analysis itself would be impossible. (It may be interesting to remark here on the fact that Vico plays a large part in the inspiration of Finnegans Wake, of which I take the “primal scene” to be the theme.)

In line with the above argument it is necessary to reject, at least in the form given to it by the Freudians, the doctrine of the “group ideal”, which is one of the conceptions by which they try to smuggle the social into their individualistic theory. “The basis of the group-ideal is, of course, the super-ego, the parental authority incorporated by the child in the early period”, says Money-Kyrle (p. 138). But the process of incorporation is continued with reference to respected and authoritative figures. “Such persons already embody our super-egos; indeed it is a condition of our acceptance of their ideals that they should do so. Thus the group-ideal is a late incorporation superimposed upon the earlier super-ego. In a sense, it is an outer layer of the super-ego; but, unlike the core, it is conscious and within limits flexible.” On the next page, however, after

  ― 357 ―
suggesting as a first approximation that infantile experience is responsible for temperament, as mental foundation, and the group ideal for character, as superstructure, Money-Kyrle remarks that “the mind develops as a whole like a plant, not in sections like a house. What the infantile situation determines, therefore, is not so much a part of the resultant personality as a given range of potential personalities, which is progressively limited by later influences, and in particular by the group ideal”. Apart from the criticism already passed on the doctrine of “potentialities”, it is obvious that Money-Kyrle's handling of these questions is very uncertain — as it is throughout this final chapter on “Education and Culture”. The prevailing assumption is that experience is prior to activities, instead of being gathered by something already active — an assumption in harmony with the situation of helpless patient confronted by helpful analyst, who himself, however, manifests helplessness in face of recalcitrant social facts. Thus (p. 126) Money-Kyrle thinks it a striking support of his theory of “temperament” that the Central Australian “lives in a land of frequent famine; yet he never hoards his food”, whereas the Normanby Islander “grows up in a land of plenty where famine is unheard of. Yet his life is dominated by the desire to collect the biggest possible hoard of food” — where what seems strange from the individualist point of view is perfectly obvious from the social point of view, and the suggestion (p. 127) that the “mere” abolition of capitalism might not affect the relative proportion of these two types, is seen to be unfounded. But the weakness of Money-Kyrle's position appears most plainly in his second last paragraph. “The utopian sociologist in general still misunderstands his problem. His fiery eloquence may change a group ideal and through it the economic and political structure of society. But unless temperamental potentialities exist that are appropriate to the new structure, it cannot possibly succeed. If not, his only course is to resign himself to a far slower but more fundamental attack upon the society he disapproves of, and, by modifying the infantile situation, seek to mould temperament to fit his utopian dream. In other words, he must first become an enlightened educationalist.” Again, if there is any order in the case, Money-Kyrle has it the wrong way round; there is more to be said for the view that change of structure causes than for the view that it is caused by change of “temperament” and “ideal”. But, strictly speaking, change of social structure is change of ways of acting, and issues from existing ways of acting (movements). It is the height of political naïvetéto imagine that those who have not power to change the social structure directly, still have power to change the “infantile situation”.

It has been noted that Money-Kyrle raises doubts about the doctrines of Totem and Taboo, as does Jones, in the obituary article referred to, about the “death-instinct”. But it is still apparent that, from the point of view of theoretical progress, the Freudians are unduly bound by Freud's prejudices and limitations. It may be that the renegades from the movement have taken up positions inferior to Freud's, but, if the Freudians had helped them to develop their criticisms, if the movement

  ― 358 ―
made provision for thorough-going criticism and had no qualms about saying “Freud is wrong”, it (like other movements one could name) would be getting ahead much faster. One is tempted to suggest that the Freudians are terrified of being accused of “father-murder”. But the cause lies deeper than that; it is that they, like Freud, are working within the system of nineteenth century “science” and within a social stratum (chiefly medical) to which individualism has a compelling appeal.