It’s still Sigmund Freud’s world. The rest of us are imprisoned in it. The whole intellectual apparatus behind political correctness, micro-aggression theory, totalitarian campus speech codes, the #metoo obsession with sexual mistreatment–all of it begins with Freud. Frederick Crews’ new book Freud: The Making of an Illusion shreds the reputation of the founder of psychoanalysis. It’s a detective story worthy of the ages and a terrific read, but more importantly, it’s a corrective to reigning liberal ideology. You can’t understand liberalism unless you know Freud, and you can’t appreciate what a tissue of lies and half-truths liberalism is without knowing what a charlatan Freud was.
I had the privilege to review Crews’ book in the current issue of conservatism’s premier intellectual journal, the Claremont Review of Books. “A generation ago one could speak of America as a therapeutic society. Today we resemble a gigantic asylum,” I concluded. CRB relies on subscriptions (so please subscribe!) but the editors have generously unlocked my review.
The whole essay can be read here.
By 1897 Freud had concluded that all neurotics repressed memories of childhood molestation. The shameful witch trials of the 1980s that sent Kelly Michaels, the Amiraults, and many others to prison on fabricated child molestation charges marked a new summit of Freud’s influence. Tireless reporting by Dorothy Rabinowitz (reprised in her 2003 book, No Crueler Tyrannies) and others publicly discredited the theory of recovered childhood memory—but not before hundreds of lives were ruined and scores of communities traumatized.
The resemblance of the ’80s molestation cases to medieval witch trials was no coincidence…, As [Freud] would write in 1923, “The demonological theory of those dark times has won in the end against all the somatic views of the period of ‘exact science.’ The states of possession correspond to our neuroses, for the explanation of which we once more have recourse to psychical powers.”
Child-abuse hysteria has abated, but the public is still consumed by witch hunts against micro-aggressions, triggering, sexual harassment, and so forth. To remedy the dysfunctional sexual life of millennials, the abysmally low college graduation rate of minority men, and other perceived ills, whole universities have been transformed into controlled therapeutic environments, subjecting every aspect of life to inquisitorial control.
Political correctness is a generalization of Freudian theory; it presumes that the waking consciousness of women as well as ethnic, racial, and sexual minorities consists of a minefield of traumatic memories. Public policy must prevent the triggering of these minds. Public institutions, starting with universities, must be converted into the functional equivalent of psychiatric hospitals and all communications censored to minimize trauma.
Freud invented cases, misreported results, maltreated patients, slept with his sister-in-law and committed every sort of professional breach in the book. All of this has been thoroughly documented and put before the public by a generation of researchers, ably summarized and supplemented by Crews. What made Freud so influential during his lifetime and, sadly, even more influential today?
The answer, I argue, lies in the depthless misery of human existence premised on arbitrary self-invention and sexual gratification.
Sigmund Freud was a dreadful physician but a brilliant salesman who understood all too well what the world wanted to buy. After two centuries of the Age of Reason, he grasped that a world that had given up its religion wanted permission to be irrational once again. The world wallowed in hysterical misery; he offered to replace it with ordinary unhappiness. Thanks to scholars like Crews, we no longer believe in Freud, even if we remain, unwittingly, under his thrall.
Freud wasn’t looking for a new cure, but a new cult. He and his followers did lots of harm and negligible good, but they made hay out of the misery that modern liberal culture inflicted on its sufferers.
Again, if you’re not reading Claremont Review of Books, you’re missing the best intellectual line-up in the conservative world (despite the fact that they let me write for it).