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The Case Against Jung

CARL GUSTAV JUNG: A Biography. By Frank McLynn . St. Martin's: 624 pp., $29.95 : THE ARYAN CHRIST: The Secret Life of Carl Jung. By Richard Noll . Random House: 336 pp., $25.95

October 12, 1997|JEFFREY MOUSSAIEFF MASSON | Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson is the author of numerous books, including "The Assault on Truth" and "Against Therapy." He also edited and translated Freud's letters to Wilhelm Fliess for Harvard University Press and was the projects director of the Sigmund Freud Archives

Jung thought that World War II was a means of getting rid of surplus population and that Hitler was an instrument of God. Perhaps Jung's belief that his own life, as he looked back on it from old age, was "the only one there ever could have been" infected his view of history, leading him to believe that everything is as it should be. When we realize how baneful an influence Jung proved to be on the people closest to him, this approach to his own life gives evidence of an astonishing lack of self-awareness.

According to McLynn, each of Jung's relations with men was a disaster. But McLynn reserves some of his harshest judgments for Jung's treatment of women. It was the women, fatally attracted to Jung, who truly suffered. McLynn sums it up in this harsh, but just, sentence: "In his secret heart he surely knew that he had destroyed both her [his wife, Emma's] life and that of Toni Wolff [his long-term mistress] as thoroughly as it was possible for a human to do by his habitual infidelities, his coldness, his ruthlessness and his rating of anima archetypes over flesh-and-blood women."

McLynn believes that Jung married his wife for money (he seemed little interested in the five children they had together). Many of his patients also became (some during, some after, therapy with Jung) his mistresses. The most celebrated was the Russian psychoanalyst, Sabina Spielrein, a young, beautiful and brilliant Jewish medical student, about whom several books have been written. Jung wrote a letter to her parents, after they were told (by none other than Jung's wife) that he was having an affair with Spielrein, in which he dared to say that he would stop sleeping with her if the parents paid him: "I would suggest that if you wish me to adhere strictly to my role as doctor, you should pay me a fee as suitable recompense for my trouble. In that way you may be absolutely certain that I will respect my duty as a doctor under all circumstances."

Freud became involved in the messy Spielrein affair as well and, before the break with Jung, took his side, believing that Spielrein's account of the affair was merely an erotic fantasy. (Many of Jung's supporters say the same today, despite the existence of his letters, which make it clear that Jung was sleeping with her). At least Freud turned his error into a beautifully crafted bon mot: "An incomparable magic emanates from a woman of high principles who confesses her passions." Jung, as was his custom, stubbornly refused to acknowledge he had done anything wrong.

How does Richard Noll's "The Aryan Christ" deal with these issues? Noll's primary thesis is that Jung considered himself a god, that he went through an actual ritual of self-deification, that he believed he was on a mission to save the soul of the world and that his disciples were sent to him to perform service in his new religion, thereby fulfilling their own special destiny. This central point is well worth pondering.

I have often wondered why so many people in analysis with Jung felt they benefited from his therapy. Jung, for instance, insisted on interpreting their dreams as archaic residues from long-lost religious symbols of things they knew nothing about in their prosaic, everyday lives. Noll comments that "this wild ride into mythological symbolism was indeed therapeutic. It helped make their individual, mundane lives seem much more interesting and even important on a cosmic level." Obviously it is heady stuff to be told that you are a member of a holy order, a secret one at that, and that the work you are doing will ultimately redeem the entire world.

Noll suggests that he wanted to create a powerful race of spiritually superior human beings. But how? And what was Jung willing to do to arrive at this point? Noll does not let us know. If this insight taught us more about Jung's other defects, then it would be interesting. Standing alone, it is not. Is it possible that the belief that he was a god lies behind his anti-Semitism? That would be an interesting notion to explore had Noll decided to do so.

But it is precisely when writing about the most contentious issue in Jung's life, his "possible involvement with the Nazis," that Noll's tendency to sit on a fence becomes most evident. He writes that "the vast majority of his disciples absolve him of this. Others equivocate. The truth is no doubt somewhere in between." Between what? Absolution and equivocation? Noll does not answer this question straightforwardly, and it is difficult to know what he means to say.

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