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Mahony, P.J. (1999). Freud Overwhelmed. Psychoanal. Hist., 1(1):56-68.

(1999). Psychoanalysis and History, 1(1):56-68

Freud Overwhelmed

Patrick J. Mahony, Ph.D.

Historically reviewing a past age, we often perceive similarities between embattled opponents that they themselves could not or did not want to perceive. A striking historical commonness between organized communism and psychoanalysis earlier in this century was their militant atheistic stance that was ironically combined with their divinizing cult of hero worship and practices of excommunication. Such an ambivalent compromise makes us think that tightly controlled institutions may favor individual dependence rather than courage. And why? For one thing, opposed to courage, pseudo-prudence and accommodating dependence have many, many masks.

Within psychoanalysis alone, manifestations of a cowardly dependence—idealizing and hagiographical reactions to Freud—have been so ripe as to constitute a boring yet pitiful story. All too often, the psychoanalytic story reflects deep lack of courage, a characteristic which Freud attributed to the dynamics of group psychology:

We have an impression of a state in which an individual's private emotional impulses and intellectual acts are too weak to come to anything by themselves and are entirely dependent for this on being reinforced by being repeated in a similar way in the other members of the group. We are reminded of how many of these phenomena of dependence are part of the normal constitution of human society, of how little originality and personal courage are found in it, of how much every individual is ruled by those attitudes of the group mind. (SE 18, p. 117, my italics)

In confirmation of Freud's interpretation, John Sutherland, the editor of the International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, found that analysts were wont to respond with anxiety to the possibility of dissenting with the theories of the awesome father Freud. To quote Sutherland in his own words: ‘to challenge Freud's theories has usually been responded to with anxiety, as if a sacrilegious outrage were being perpetuated’ (Sutherland 1980, p. 842). This very fear of sacrilege and anxious submission help define an erstwhile classic, Jones's hagiography of Freud. I venture to say that the greatest public denial in the history of psychoanalysis is to be found precisely in Jones's preface to his three volumes.

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