Hate and the ‘Jewish Science’: Anti-Semitism, Nazism and Psychoanalysis (Book Review)

Author:  Frosh, Stephen
Publisher: Palgrave MacMillan
Reviewed By: Jeff Golland, Vol. XXVI, 4 (Fall 2006), pp. 66-67

Hatred rules! As I begin this review, hundreds of missiles rain down daily on Israelis and Lebanese while frustrated diplomats scurry about for a ceasefire formula. A secular Jew living thousands of miles from the Middle East tinderbox that threatens to ignite more widespread war may reflect and write, while the more action-oriented individuals rally to Israel’s cause, with “Never again!” on their lips. World opinion seems ever ready to condemn my tiny tribe with its small patch of sovereign soil, even for defending itself against those who would destroy it utterly.

How has such a small group become more than a blip on the historical screen? How has this sect managed to defy statistical prediction in its impact on civilization? Why does it attract such enmity? Psychoanalysts since Freud have addressed these questions, trying to provide rational answers for understanding irrational hate. Yet rationality is not an abstract entity; observers bring their own history and culture to every act of reflection and understanding. Stephen Frosh, a prolific British psychoanalytic psychologist and scholar, brings his subjectivity to the study of hate, and his rationality to the persistent and virulent version of hatred known as anti-Semitism.

In this slender volume, Frosh investigates his topics as they play out in the history of psychoanalysis, especially during and following that most heinous and hateful period of Nazi ascendancy and crime. Three “case studies” comprise his format: Freud as a Jew; the response of organized psychoanalysis to Nazism; and an examination of theories of anti-Semitism. His aim is polemical: to assist in curing this social pathology. His approach melds psychological formulations with social, economic, and historical considerations.

Freud’s conflicted feelings about his Judaism have been well documented. While he objected to his discovery/creation being thought of as a “Jewish science,” Frosh finds this characterization to have been useful for initial group identity, though costly for Jews and for psychoanalysis. Frosh develops the argument that psychoanalysis does, in fact, have its roots in Jewish identity and culture, and he describes the continuing effect on the development and content of our discipline. He notes that several scholars have depicted “psychological man” (p. 11) as the epitome of modernism: rational, critical, interpretive, and subversive—and Jewish. Outsider status promotes such a perspective and also a cultural cohesion. A major negative result was anti-Semitic activity directed against psychoanalysis. Freud’s own thesis on Judaism (1939) claims superiority for his culture, and itself provides ammunition for anti-Semites. Another negative consequence was Freud’s siege mentality and his excessive concern with loyalty, personal and theoretical, an attitude that continues to hamper scientific progress.

Frosh’s second case study recounts the fate of organized psychoanalysis during the Nazi era, a story whose details did not emerge for a quarter century, and whose issues remain inadequately understood. That the IPA will hold its second German post-war congress in 2007, this time in Berlin, underscores the current relevance of this history. Those who have become familiar with the events Frosh recounts will appreciate the details provided. They will also appreciate his demonstration of avoidance and denial prevalent even at the IPA 1985 congress where clinical rather than moral issues dominated the program, and where the welcoming remarks of Hamburg’s mayor were more poignant than those of the psychoanalysts present.

Nazism forced gentile psychoanalysts to choose: collaborate or die. Mixed responses of cowardice and courage are difficult to unravel. Some cases are more easily judged than others; each challenges us to walk in the shoes of those facing a horrible choice. Frosh parses the words and actions of Jones, Jung and Goring, and offers no easy answers. Freud, himself, and Anna were hardly heroic figures in this battle, but Frosh believes that faulting them would be an unfair blaming of victims, and anti-Semitic to boot. Two myths are compared: 1) that psychoanalysis as such was erased during Hitler’s Reich; and 2) that, instead, psychoanalysis resisted the nightmare. Each holds a kernel of truth; neither convinces. Frosh describes collective defenses and the return of the repressed. He suggests that a form of psychoanalysis is compatible with social conformity despite the idealistic wish that psychoanalysis be inimical to coercion.

Frosh’s third case study begins with the question: why does psychoanalysis not yet have good enough insight about anti-Semitism? He reviews the literature of the “Christian disease” (p. 151), finding formulations to be based on too thin data sets. Kleinian splitting and other theoretical propositions are also found inadequate, although Frosh believes that each of the proposed dynamic understandings has a ring of truth. He concludes his critique in a brief chapter in which he offers a social psychology for psychoanalysis, one based on the developmental task of coping with “otherness.”

Otherness is described as a primary source of human subjectivity. For Frosh, subjectivity is formed by identifications and repudiations, by contrasting self and other on various axes, including the categories of class, race, sex, and gender. The experience of otherness is uncanny and complex, id-like. The “other” inside us is dreadful, requiring extrusion. Joy and shame are associated affects. Frosh sees his theory as relevant for black color racism and, now, anti-radical Islam. But 2000 years of history have made Jews the “universal stranger” (p. 198) of Western society. That Jews are targets of projection is fundamental for social and psychological organization; they are not merely convenient scapegoats. “All otherness in the West is Jewish, including that inner otherness that is unconscious desire” (p. 215).

Frosh concludes that anti-Semitism is an extreme phenomenon calling for a strong formulation. He makes two such statements: Psychoanalysis is Jewish in important ways, as is the Unconscious. Anti-Semitism is not just an example of irrational group hatred like misogyny or colonialism, it is central to all aspects of relating to others.

The final statement seems to go beyond his evidence and his argumentation. In his earlier book, For and Against Psychoanalysis (1997), Frosh was meticulous in respecting the complexity of issues, and was rigorously fair in presenting alternative perspectives. In my view, his judgments of some gentile analysts are overly balanced and generous. But I believe he gives uncalled-for priority and centrality to anti-Semitism over other social pathologies. In what is the least developed but most original section of this book, Frosh acknowledges racism and sexism, but does not demonstrate that these or other “isms” are less important than anti-Semitism as axes of otherness. Nor does he, for all his sound scholarship, cite the classic Allport (1954) or the more recent Young-Bruehl (1996) contributions, which are works that provide more balanced understanding of the multiform varieties of prejudice.

For me, the great strength of this volume is not to be found in the subject matter of its title and subtitle. In discussing Freud’s Jewishness or the Nazi era, little new ground is broken, but those unfamiliar with these topics will learn a great deal. In discussing identity formation based on identifications and repudiations, Frosh provides instances of well known “me-not me” developmental theory, consistent with our understanding of reality testing and self-object differentiation. The excellence of this book lies in its extending Frosh’s more ambitious long-term project: that of studying psychoanalysis not merely as a clinical treatment or a psychological paradigm, but as a major chapter in the history of ideas.

In contrasting Freud’s “Jewish science” with the Aryan version of psychotherapy that smothered it during Hitler’s 12-year abomination, Frosh addresses a major philosophical issue. Freudian psychoanalysis adopts a critical and self-critical, even ironic, worldview—one that depends, he argues successfully, upon its outsider status. The Aryan approach is a conformist psychology in which the human spirit is to be harnessed in service to society, e.g., the Nazi State.

The implications of this contrast are manifold and contemporary. Thomas Szasz saw mental illness as a sane response to an oppressive environment; Soviet psychiatry defined political dissent as mental aberration. Schools of psychoanalysis may find themselves closer to one pole or the other. A medical orientation leans toward the conformist end when compared with approaches emphasizing autonomy and agency. American ego psychology is criticized (especially by European and South American analysts) for its emphasis on adaptation. Brenner’s model of therapeutic gain—more adaptive compromise-formations—is subject to this same critique, as well as begging the question of who defines “adaptive.” Two-person approaches may similarly end in an accommodating, socializing approach to treatment, while one-person models may be scored for suggestion and potential abuse of authority.

Like Freud, who believed psychoanalytic ideas are applicable far beyond the consulting room, Frosh asks that we consider social, economic, political, and historical factors in a comprehensive psychoanalytic theory. He challenges us also to avoid complacency about our clinical methods and their implicit values. His value is clearly on the side of a less conformist psychoanalytic praxis.

Has Frosh provided a solution to the problem of anti-Semitism? The history of ideas, like psychoanalysis, seeks rather to extend knowledge. The implicit belief in both fields is that knowing is beneficial, but it “works” at a very slow pace.

As I conclude this review, missiles have stopped falling; there is a shaky truce in the Middle East. Each side claims victory; death and destruction are undisputed winners. And, as this month-long conflict pauses, war still rages in Iraq where death claims even larger numbers. As you read my words, perhaps collective wisdom will have advanced a bit and we will see more peace and less hatred and violence in our world. It is my belief that psychoanalysis contributes toward this goal. Stephen Frosh’s scholarship makes a contribution as well. This book is highly recommended.

Jeff Golland

References

Allport, G. (1954). The nature of prejudice. Cambridge, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Freud, S. (1964). Moses and monotheism. In J Strachey (Ed. & Trans.), The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud (Vol. 23, pp. 1-137 ) London: Hogarth Press (Original work published in 1939).
.Frosh, S. (1997). For and against psychoanalysis. London: Routledge.
Young-Bruehl, E. (1996). The anatomy of prejudices. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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