Since Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis is one of the intellectual pillars of the radical left, that world’s denizens are hard at work reviving his tattered reputation. And if you want to fight the good culture war against Anglo-American and Western hegemony you should teach people to think like Freudians. Or better, to worship at the altar of his greatness. True believers do not worry about facts, that is, about empirical verification.
Cue, French psychoanalyst Elisabeth Roudinesco. A fine biographer, Roudinesco is an intrepid warrior in the culture war. Her work ranges from hagiography to propaganda. She does not worry that Freudian psychoanalysis has been widely discredited as a therapy. She understands that, Freud’s own proclamations notwithstanding, psychoanalysis is not a treatment, but is a front in the culture wars.
As I explained in detail in my book The Last Psychoanalyst, Freud was creating a pseudo-religion, a cult that would work to undermine Western civilization, that is, free enterprise and liberal democracy. If you don’t understand that, you don’t understand Freud. If you don't believe me, ask any member of the Frankfurt School. Its Marxist fairy tales are perfectly consonant with Freudian thinking. Check out Herbert Marcuse, for example.
So, let’s say that your magazine wants to review Roudinesco’s latest piece of Freudian propaganda. If you do not want to pretend to be objective you choose someone who is going to gush over the book and who will advance the cause of radical leftism, to say nothing of radical feminism.
You will choose a psychology professor who has studied psychoanalysis and who doubles as a woman’s studies professor. That is, you choose a feminist. Brilliant choice. After all, most feminists know that Freud is not their friend and that he treated women miserably. It doesn’t matter.
But, make sure that you ignore the fact that Freudian theory owes much to the European mania about witchcraft. As I argued in my book, Freud treated his hysterics like witches. He certainly did not cure any of them, but he lied a lot about doing so. He made up great stories that had nothing to do with the truth. See the work of Mikkel Borch–Jakobsen on this score.
If you don’t believe me, keep in mind that,today's sophisticated French psychoanalysts, with Roudinesco’s full support, will tell you with a straight face that children become autistic because their mothers are frigid. The old refrigerator mother meme, don’t you know?
While British universities are teaching mothers how to help to treat their autistic children French authorities are trying to remove autistic children from their homes, and from their bad mothers. If these mothers are not being treated like witches the term has no meaning. Why a feminist would find this appealing is beyond me.
And let’s say that the same women’s studies professor is also associated with a national movement to defend psychiatric patients who hear voices, that is, who suffer from auditory hallucinations. It is advanced crack pottery… something that can certainly cause damage by persuading schizophrenics to avoid treatment.
All reputable psychiatrists, including French Freudians, know that hearing voices is a very bad sign, often of schizophrenia. For decades they have preferred Halperidol to storytelling.
The radical anti-psychiatry movement, founded decades ago and largely relegated to the dustbin of history, persists in the form of a few deluded souls, who believe that hearing voices can be a meaningful experience.
Anyway, if The New Republic or The Nation had chosen a radical leftist feminist anti-psychiatric thinker to review a book about the radically leftist founder of psychoanalysis you would not blink. You would expect nothing less.
And yet, reading this propaganda in the pages of the Weekly Standard shocks and dismays. How could an otherwise fine conservative publication allow itself to be duped and suckered by the radical left into becoming a carrier for its pernicious ideas? Conservative thinkers should spend more time studying the higher reaches of the marketplace of ideas. It would make them less likely to invite Gail Hornstein to review Elisabeth Roudinesco. And to advance leftist propaganda.
In any case Hornstein gushes:
Precisely for the reason that Roudinesco wrote this brilliant new book: because Sigmund Freud, declared dead more times than anyone can count, is nevertheless very much alive. And despite the vast profusion of materials by and about him, or perhaps as a consequence of them, "we have great difficulty knowing who Freud really was, so thoroughly have the commentaries, fantasies, legends, and rumors masked the reality of this thinker, in his time and in ours."
She is utterly uncritical:
Scrupulous and exhaustive in her use of every imaginable source, Roudinesco performs a huge public service by debunking dozens of errors, myths, caricatures, and rumors that have long circulated about Freud.
It’s not as though this has never done before. It’s been done to death. Roudinesco is trying to keep Freud alive and especially to keep the leftist dream that he is sustaining viable. After all, Communism failed, so what else does the left have left.
Roudinesco wants to keep psychoanalysis as a pseudo-religion because everyone knows that as a clinical practice, it’s a bust. One wonders if Roudinesco quoted Freud’s claim that psychoanalysis was a medical practice designed to treat neurosis—a bogus and scientistic claim that only dupes still believe.
Why exactly do we need to know who Freud really was? We do not. The only plausible reason for the exercise is to create a cult figure that people can worship. It's a good way to overcome rational thinking and free will. In the context of a real religion it’s called hagiography. Surely, that’s what Roudinesco has in mind. It’s what Hornstein has in mind. How then did the Weekly Standard get suckered into such an enterprise?
In truth, if you examine the words of Roudinesco’s guru and master, Jacques Lacan, psychoanalysis was a scam. Unless you want to be a cult follower you should try to know Freud by his works, and his works have properly been discarded by all but the most inveterate culture warriors.
Roudinesco is nothing if not a serious propagandist. She still claims that Freud gave hysterics an access to speech. Oh, really. She does not seem to recognize that the world of French psychoanalysis, the one from which she issues, does not promote anything that resembles free speech. It is an indoctrination mill that punishes anyone who deviates from the party line. If you disagree with Freud good psychoanalysts will denounce you for being anti-Semitic. Doesn't that sound familiar?
Once upon a time I was invited to Argentina—another nation that has become infested with Freudian theory; how is that working out?—to give some lectures. I asked the woman who offered the invitation: Can I say what I want? She replied: Absolutely not. So much for free speech.
As for Freud’s claims to have cured his hysterics, the research says otherwise. Freud lied about curing his patients but his technique never really produced positive clinical results. The works of Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen document the point extensively. I have written about some of Freud’s other cases in my book. To gain the full measure of Freud’s clinical incompetence check out the case of Horace Frink.
Among the more absurd points in Hornstein’s review is the claim that Freud always looked strangers in the eye. She says this about a man who forced his patients to lie down on the couch, so that they could not look him in the eye. Freud notably declared that he used the couch because he could not stand being looked at. When you are doing propaganda you do not worry about facts.
And note this piece of nonsense from Hornstein:
Later, when yet another world war threatened to destroy everything he had done, Freud stubbornly persisted in thinking that psychoanalysis could "remain 'neutral' in the face of all social change, and thus 'apolitical.' "
True enough, Freud himself remained apolitical. And yet, making World War II about the whether or not your life work is going to be destroyed is absurdly grandiose.
As I have said, Freudian psychoanalysis is overpriced storytelling. People who are thrilled by narratives believe that narratives allow us to understand ourselves. Hornstein happily embraces the notion. The more time you are spinning our stories that pretend to help you to understand yourself the less time you are in the game.
Whatever false sense of understanding Freud’s tragic stories provoked, the truth is that the more you get lost in your mind and the more you spend your time in proposing potential stories for medical conditions—whether auditory hallucinations or autism—the more you are going to prevent people from receiving the best available treatment.
It isn’t an accident that France has been denounced over and over again by the Council of Europe for substandard treatment of autism. As for the auditory hallucinations that Hornstein thinks are so meaningful, no one in the Freudian world of France is dumb enough to believe such a thing.
And now, for those who prefer a more sober and less leftist view of psychoanalysis, this, from Oxford biologist and Nobel laureate Peter Medawar, from 1975:
… psychoanalysts will continue to perpetrate the most ghastly blunders just so long as they persevere in their impudent and intellectually disabling belief that they enjoy “a privileged access to the truth.” The opinion is gaining ground that doctrinaire psychoanalytic theory is the most stupendous confidence trick of the twentieth century; and, to borrow an image I have used elsewhere, a terminal practice as well—something akin to a dinosaur or a zeppelin in the history of ideas: a vast structure with radically unsound design and with no posterity.
Or, as Jacques Lacan put it, Freud blew it. Lacan added that soon no one will give a damn about psychoanalysis. He was right. I am confident that Roudinesco will tell you that he did not mean it, did not say it, and if he did, so what.
Someone explain this to the editors of the Weekly Standard.