Freud, Anarchism, and Experiments in Living

Submitted by Reddebrek on September 5, 2016

"My courage fails me at the thought of rising up as a prophet before my fellow men, and I bow to their reproach that I have no consolation to offer them; for at bottom this is what they all demand — the frenzied revolutionary as passionately as the most pious believer."


"FREUD KNEW THAT WHAT HE HAD IN HAND was either nothing at all or a revolution in human thought", and Professor Norman Brown is concerned to show that it was the latter, even though Freud himself "never faced fully the existential and theoretical consequences of taking what I call the general neurosis of mankind as the central problem", and was unable to "see any way of defining the conditions under which mankind would be cured of its general neurosis … " (Norman O. Brown: Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History, Routledge 1959). The history of this revolution has recently been related by Dr. J. A. C. Brown, the professor's namesake on this side of the Atlantic, who has compressed what appears to me to be a bewilderingly comprehensive survey of the developments taken by the psychoanalytical movement into just over 200 not too closely printed pages. (Freud and the Post-Freudians, Penguin Books 1961, 3s 6d).

His earlier book on The Social Psychology of Industry, also published by Penguin Books, shows a similar ruthlessness in the extraction of the matter of his subject, proceeding from one source (or prey?) to the next without impatience and without hesitation, which the reader may find not only exhilarating, but even perhaps somewhat disconcerting … Is it not a little disrespectful? For, after all, the subject is MAN … Despite Dr. Brown's comprehensiveness and ruthlessness, one might object that a disproportionate amount of space is given to the Neo-Freudians — especially when he himself says that "disagreement with Freud's outlook and the giving of new titles to personality types described by Freud in terms of libidinal fixations and by Fromm and Horney in terms of interpersonal relationships does not in itself seem to justify the formation of a new school." And he concludes sharply that: "There is no reason why the Neo-Freudians should not concern themselves with interpersonal relations, but that does not absolve them from the necessity of considering the biological foundations from which they arose." But the Neo-Freudians are important because they realise that if psychoanalysis is to justify itself now, it must be as social therapy: otherwise, "in a world which increasingly sees all human problems as social problems, psychoanalysis as a method of treatment may well fall into desuetude, not because it does not work, but simply because it is inapplicable to the problems of the day … It was Freud after all, who showed that neurosis is not an illness in the classical sense but a form of social maladaptation, that it is not either present or absent in a given individual but present in varying degrees,* and that psychoanalysis as a treatment is

*Dr. Theodore Szasz is concerned to show in The Myth of Mental Illness (Secker & Warburg, 1962) that "psychiatrists are not concerned with mental illnesses and their treatments. In actual practice they deal with personal, social and ethical problems of living." He sees the essence of mental illness to be the attempt, and the failure, to play a role for which the subject is unfitted: "the role of the helpless invalid" comments the Observer's reviewer, "should be seen merely as one of its most successful manifestations." So, mental illness is a social phenomenon arising from an inadequate "education for reality" — that is, from a misapplication of the contemporary "education for unfreedom": the "mentally ill" individual is unable to reconcile the fact that what he desires is not what he is able to do, which the "normal" or "healthy" individual achieves by concluding that he is unable to do what he wants to do because he is not free. It is the purpose of this essay to suggest that this sense of incapacity — this feeling that "there are forces over which I have no control" is the work of a crippled consciousness (or, in more expressive language, ego) which has separated desiring from being as a result of the primary flaw inflicted upon it by the self (or id): which is the self's inability to accept the end of self, death. The flight from self involves man in the institutionalization of his illusion, of unfreedom: and now we see the power to commit genocide in the hands of a few individuals — to such lengths has man gone in his wish to persuade himself that he need not be responsible for his own death.

applicable to a relatively small proportion of the population; but his followers have failed to draw the logical conclusion that, if this is so, it must be dealt with socially on the basis of a psychoanalytical understanding of personality and the nature of society, and that on the same basis it must be treated in individual patients when this is necessary by methods which are brief and do not strive for perfectionist goals …"

One may dissent from the rather naive implication of Dr. Brown's last remark — that there are other than perfectionist goals — and suspect him of suggesting that psychoanalysis should learn something from the "English nation's genius for compromise". But his description of the anomalous part played by the psychiatrist in the prevailing dispensation of social justice is unarguable: " … one cannot apply conclusions derived from a quasi-scientific discipline concerned only with describing objectively, and treating scientifically without reference to personal responsibility or guilt or appeal to will-power to a totally different sphere which, except in unusual individual cases, accepts these concepts as forming the very foundations of human society …" He refers pertinently to "the dangers of arguing from a discipline which eschews moral judgments and responsibility to circumstances where they are assumed to be valid." His conclusion is interesting: "The vast majority of people in the world are not rootless intellectuals free to range about in the realm of ideas at will and tied to no particular social norms; they are ordinary individuals living in communities with very strict social and religious codes which are highly resistant to novel ideas. Their churches teach that incestuous and other forbidden desires are a grave sin, and their laws that, no matter what a man may feel or think, there are certain things he must not do, and to cause anyone to think otherwise will result in maladaptation to his community whatever it may do to his mind. Psychoanalytic theories are the most useful device for understanding the human personality we possess, and so far as detail is concerned they are really the only one; psycho-analysis is a valuable method of treating the type of case so carefully specified by Freud himself, the fairly severe and persistent neurosis which proves disabling to a youngish individual of high intelligence and otherwise strong character — in fact, a rather small proportion of all neuroses; the psychoanalytic approach is a helpful one in understanding the dynamics of social movements and planning, social schemes and policies, provided the actual planning is not left to those whose proper concern is treating the abnormal rather than advising the normal. Repression and the irrational lie at the very foundations of society and the wise policy may sometimes be to play along with them, lightening the burden they may cause here, supporting their edicts there, because no psychologist or psychoanalyst, much less psychiatrist, can give a better reason for not stealing, not killing, not committing incest (all antisocial acts in any society) than the ingrained belief that in the beginning it was said, 'Thou shalt not' …"

Dr. Brown writes sophisticatedly and with moderation, but essentially the pessimism he expresses and which poses as an objective description of reality and man's place in it is not an explanation, so much as a rejection, of life. The importance of this attitude — a symptom posing as a cure — may be deduced from the popularity of one of its most lucid modern exponents, George Orwell: its wayward and undeliberate appearance in his writings is rather to its advantage than otherwise. Dr. Brown's message is, in brief but not I think unjustly: life can never be itself. He subscribes to the fantasy that having an idea that "we could be other than we are" does not necessarily mean having an idea of how we are to become otherwise. Man may never be what he knows he could be: it will always be necessary that what is right be done by men who would do otherwise, that what is desired be achieved by men who know that the right is otherwise. These assumptions, clearly revealed, are an impossible basis for action. (Right is done, we must know, because a man desires it.) And often the pessimist will say, "nothing can be done." He usually evades the obvious dilemma by contracting out of his own pessimism: a doctrine of fatalistic hedonism allows him to "be himself" while clinging fast to his unfreedom. The importance of pessimism is that, as one of the many facets of the illusion of unfreedom, it obscures the necessity of freedom: so long as anyone believes in the illusion, it remains a threat to what is real: logic is like freedom, I suspect, in that it works perfectly only if everyone appreciates its uses — "while one man is in prison, I am not free."

Repression and Economic Relationships

So it appears that "the wise policy" for psychoanalysts which Dr. Brown outlines in his last sentence is in fact a sophisticated restatement of the mixture of threat and enticement which the established system of society traditionally holds out to all movements towards social reform: "Are you going to continue to make trouble by creating unrest, or are you going to be constructive and help us — for after all we are the established system …" Anarchists are likely to think that the choice before the psychoanalyst is more realistically put by Alex Comfort:1 "Sociology and psychiatry, since they deal specifically with human society and attitude, are under a particularly strong obligation to scrutinize the conditions under which they co-operate with established authority. It might well be that advances in the pattern of society depend upon the personal responsibility of practitioners in these studies more fully than upon that of any other group. Should social sciences become a new weapon of enforcement, the opportunity of the present age may well have been lost for an indefinite period." And anarchists are not the only people who are aware of the two constant facts about a society — the first, that it is what it is; and the second, that it can be changed if men will set their minds to it.

Professor Norman Brown (who speaks of "the resurrection of the body" — of which more later — as "a social project facing mankind as a whole" which "will become a practical political problem when the statesmen of the world are called upon to deliver happiness instead of power …") has described fully the dilemma of Freud himself and made a determined effort to find a way out. "Freud's writings vacillate between two answers to this perpetual question of unhappy humanity. Sometimes the counsel is instinctual renunciation: Grow up and give up your infantile dreams of pleasure, recognize reality for what it is. And sometimes the counsel is instinctual liberation: Change this harsh reality so that you may recover lost sources of pleasure." The dilemma becomes clearest when Freud's concept of sublimation is considered — as Professor Brown does in part four of his book. "Civilization," wrote Freud, "has been built up, under the pressure of the struggle for existence, by sacrifices in gratification of the primitive impulses … " ("Repression", Norman Brown begins his book, "is the one word which, if we understand it, is the key to Freud's thought", and Freud himself said: "The theory of repression is the pillar upon which the edifice of psychoanalysis rests.") When these repressed impulses remain unsatisfied by substitute gratifications they make various attempts to subvert or at least evade the controls (of the ego and the ego-ideal, the super-ego) and to attain their original goals: these attempts are the substance of "neuroses". Freud was inclined to see the practical work of psychotherapy as a more efficient reconstruction of the controls, the replacement of repression by sublimation — the psychoanalytical consciousness "reconstructs the repressions from more solid material." "In other words," comments Norman Brown, "psychoanalysis" after showing us the unlived lines of our body, tells us to forget them, presumably because they are not compatible with 'the processes of Nature' or 'the aims of human society'." But Freud was always pessimistic of the ability even of sublimation (which changes the object of the instinct, so that "what was originally a sexual instinct finds some achievement which is no longer sexual but has a higher social or ethical valuation") to bring complete satisfaction. "In the first place, he says, not all of the libido can be sublimated. In the second place, only a minority of men are capable of extensive sublimation. And in the third place, sublimations, by virtue of their intrinsic nature, are 'not capable of really complete satisfaction.' Sublimations, as the study of Leonardo showed, do not really avoid the curse of repression. And the later doctrine of the death instinct contains a deeper critique: the desexualization intrinsic to all sublimation cannot be the work of the sexual instinct, involves a necessary component of dying to the life of the body, and therefore cannot ever satisfy the life instinct."

Another "philosophical inquiry into Freud" by another American professor, Herbert Marcuse2, has examined specifically the economic basis of man's cultural repressions and the nature of the particular reality principle to which the ego is committed — at the moment. The latter he designates as the "performance principle in order to emphasize that under its rule society is stratified according to the competitive economic performance of its members." (Norman Brown makes, with a chapter from his Studies in Anality, a fascinating if somewhat over-powering contribution to what he calls "the still-to-be-written psychology of economics".) And he suggests that "against Freud's notion of the inevitable 'biological' conflict between pleasure principle and reality principle, between sexuality and civilization, militates the idea of the unifying and gratifying power of Eros, chained and worn out in a sick civilization. This idea would imply that the free Eros does not preclude lasting civilized societal relationships — that it repels only the supra-repressive organization of societal relationships under a principle which is the negation of the pleasure principle … Freud finds the reason for culture's 'antagonism to sexuality' in the aggressive instincts deeply fused with sexuality: they threaten time and again to destroy civilization, and they force culture 'to call up every possible reinforcement' against them. 'Hence its system of methods by which mankind is to be driven to identifications and aim-inhibited love-relationships; hence the restrictions on sexual life.' But, again, Freud shows that this repressive system does not really solve the conflict. Civilization plunges deeper into a destructive dialectic: the perpetual restrictions on Eros ultimately weaken the life instincts and thus strengthen and release the very forces against which they were 'called-up — those of destruction …"

Marcuse emphasizes the economic basis of repression and suggests that "the necessity of repression, and of the suffering derived from it, varies with the maturity of civilization, with the extent of the achieved rational mastery of nature and of society. Objectively, the need for instinctual inhibition and restraint depends on the need for toil and delayed satisfaction. The same and even a reduced scope of instinctual regimentation would constitute a higher degree of repression at a mature stage of civilization, when the need for renunciation and toil is greatly reduced by material and intellectual progress — when civilization could actually afford a considerable release of instinctual energy expended for domination and toil. Scope and intensity of instinctual repression obtain their full significance only in relation to the historically possible extent of freedom …" Equating the rationalization of existing economic relationships with the rationalization of the existing relationships of power, Marcuse concludes that "the very progress of civilization tends to make this rationality a spurious one. The existing liberties and the existing gratifications are tied to the requirements of domination: they themselves become instruments of repression. The excuse of scarcity, which has justified institutionalized repression since its inception, weakens as man's knowledge and control over nature enhances the means for fulfilling human needs with a minimum of toil … The culture of industrial civilization has turned the human organism into an ever more sensitive, differentiated, exchangeable instrument, and has created a social wealth sufficiently great to transform this instrument into an end in itself …" He shrewdly observes that the conventional idea of a high standard of living is "restrictive in a concrete sociological sense" — similarly Gunther Anders observed in an article on television3 that today the worker, "instead of receiving wages for his work, must pay for it by buying the means of production (the receiving sets and, in many countries also, the broadcasts) by the use of which he becomes transformed into mass man. In other words, he pays for selling himself: he must purchase the very unfreedom he himself helps to produce." But one is inclined to be dubious when from the fact that unfreedom takes economic forms he seems to deduce that the basis of freedom is economic: "Only an order of abundance is compatible with freedom." He says that according to both "the idealistic and the materialistic critiques of culture" "the realm of freedom is envisioned as lying beyond the realm of necessity: freedom is not within but outside the 'struggle for existence' …" It is not presumably to be held against the reader if he has little sympathy for either of these critiques.

Marcuse himself seems inclined to leave them on one side in a later chapter when he proclaims the end of the old culture wherein "mankind was supposed to be an end in itself and never a mere means; but this ideology was effective in the private rather than in the societal functions of the individuals, in the sphere of libidinal satisfaction rather than in that of labour. With the emergence of a non-repressive reality principle, with the abolition of the surplus-repression necessitated by the performance principle, this process would be reversed. In the societal relations, reification would be reduced as the division of labour became reoriented on the gratification of freely developing individual needs; whereas, in the libidinal relations, the taboo on the reification of the body would be lessened. No longer used as a full-time instrument of labour, the body would be resexualized. The regression involved in this spread of the libido would first manifest itself in a reactivation of all erotegenic zones and, consequently, in a resurgence of pregenital polymorphous sexuality and in a decline of genital supremacy. The body in its entirety would become an object of cathexis, a thing to be enjoyed — an instrument of pleasure. This change in the value and scope of libidinal relations would lead to a disintegration of the institutions in which the private interpersonal relations have been organized, particularly the monogamic and patriarchal family."

This concept of "pregenital polymorphous sexuality" is of considerable relevance to a society where men, participating resentfully in a method of procuring the "necessities of life" (or rather merely of production) which is authoritarian, rigid and frustrating, are accustomed to feel that at least in the achievement of an orgasm they can become the natural and wonderful human being that they really are … Marcuse quotes a remark by Barbara Lanton that "The genital organization of the sexual instincts has a parallel in the work-organization of the ego-instincts.''4; and the idea is further developed, and with great skill and persuasive power, in Norman Brown's book where he examines in considerable detail the biological foundation which Freud gave to his theory of the instincts. I will try to give some account of Freud's biology and of what he eventually concluded concerning human instincts.

Human Nature and Anarchism

"Instincts", wrote Dr. Brown in The Social Psychology of Industry, "are not found in man, but certain needs, although not strictly speaking inborn, are universal since they arise from the nature of man's biological situation after birth. Being helpless and incapable of feeding or looking after himself (i.e., of satisfying his organic drives), he needs love and emotional security." Freud played a considerable part in the abolition of the idea of human nature, and what he achieved is relevant to anarchism today: it is one of the commonest objections to anarchism (it is the one made by Colin MacInnes in his friendly articles on anarchism in The Queen, particularly in the second — May 22), that anarchists "do not understand human nature." (See the correspondence in FREEDOM during May and on June 2 this year). The grounds of this objection seem an acquaintanceship — no doubt usually indirect and perhaps also, one might say, a little superficial — with the philosophy of William Godwin and Peter Kropotkin. Godwin lived at the end of the eighteenth century and was a member of the "rational enlightenment" — i.e., he was one of those poor bastards who believed that human activities could be directed by human reason and that they would be much more useful if they were … Kropotkin5, almost a century later, was impressed by the uselessness of contemporary civilisation for human living, and considered, not only that men's economic activity would be much more efficient if directed by the principle of mutual aid rather than by the capitalist principle of competition, but that they were capable of so directing it. It is necessary to be attentive to Godwin: if man is perfectible (i.e., if he is capable of being, but is not allowed to be, something other than what he is), as Godwin assumed, then reason (i.e., a realistic assessment of ends and means) must be the instrument of this perfectibility. As Hazlitt said in The Spirit of the Age: "In proportion as we strengthen and expand this principle, and bring our affections and subordinate, but perhaps more powerful, motives of action into harmony with it, it will not admit of a doubt that we advance to the goal of perfection, and answer the ends of our creation, those ends which not only morality enjoins, but which religion sanctions …"6 It can be said of both Godwin and Kropotkin that they provide formulas for human activity which are relevant and which we can use even if we do not accept their "theory of human nature."

Godwin teaches the use of reason.7 His analysis of human activity shows that there are no "things indifferent" — i.e. that there is no time when a man can justifiably resign his individual judgment, his absolute commitment. At every moment human activity is not a matter of choice, but of duty: there is one right thing to do, all alternatives are merely wrong. No doubt he over-estimates the capacity of reason to direct a man always along the course most beneficial to mankind; but he does at least make it clear that the claim to use reason to predetermine human activity — i.e. the often advanced claim to give it shape in laws, promises, rights of property and other such institutions — is in the first place unjustified, and, in the second place, if it is to be believed, harmful. The only time is now, at all times the individual is concerned with what he is doing and can be himself in no other way than by living all the time according to himself. And reason, or logic, still remains the instrument for reaching agreement when it is possible to reach agreement and for determining the bounds beyond which agreement is impossible and disagreement (being useful only as it contains the possibility and hope of agreement) irrelevant … And still relevant is Kropotkin's realisation: that if men are at any time to work together for any of the purposes of living (and after all a human being is a machine for living with other human beings), that purpose will be achieved most efficiently — or, even, only — if the guiding principle of their communal action is mutual aid and not subservience or conflict.8

It is not necessary to think, as Kropotkin seems to do, of the free society as one wherein there will be no conflict. But it is possible (with the help of Freud's analysis of "projection" in particular) to point out that the authoritarian forms of conflict (violence and aggression) are not the only forms of conflict. Nor is it necessary to say that man is primarily a social animal: in terms of ''comparative entrenchment" (A. J. Ayer's phrase) the individual is more "real" than his society — and though there are times when communal effort and mutual aid are necessary, as a particular experiment in a way of living, each human being will always remain alone. The strength of the anarchist criticism of things as they are is the same strength as that possessed by the dynamic psychology which Freud may be said to have initiated: whatever individual anarchists or psychologists may believe, both anarchism and psychology are essentially independent of any theory of human nature while both insist upon the fact of human freedom. The clear principle (or, to be highfalutin, the necessary assumption without which any phenomenological analysis would be impossible) from which both start is, that a thing desires to be, will be, itself. That, in a man, desiring to be may be seen to be distinct, and even separated, from being, is the achievement of the imperfect consciousness whereby man, unable to become conscious of himself, creates the illusion of unfreedom ("The world is not good enough for me" or vice versa) in order to rationalize his fear of his own self, his fear of realizing the nature of his existence. Man's apparently infinite capacity for self-deceit, (the Hindu mystics suggested that the act of creation was an act of divine self-deception …9) has convinced him that he is not as he might be because he is unfree. Aristotle distinguished between the good, or, so to speak, authorized forces of a body which come from its tendencies toward perfection, and those disturbances due to change and to the opposing forces of other bodies.10 In many ways the theorists of unfreedom have justified their position by defining freedom as something which is dependent upon the absence of certain forces which are "outside" man. But through history the illusion of unfreedom has become a monstrous growth: perhaps above all it is history itself — history, the great mistake, from which man hopes to learn lessons because his guilt has enslaved him to it. "History," said James Joyce, "is a nightmare from which I am trying to awaken." It is Shelley's "loathsome mask";11 and perhaps some day men will decide that the price of retaining it can no longer be afforded …

Anarchist propaganda might then be advised to concern itself rather with what the free man is than with what he will be; for "the libertarian … draws now, so far as he can, on the natural force in him that is no different in kind from what it will be in a free society, except that there it will have more scope and will be immeasurably reinforced by mutual aid and fraternal conflict …"12 It is necessary to show men that if they continue to hold to their unfreedom they are surely condemned to an impersonal and arbitrary destruction in which they will have no part except as its objects, to show them that they are the agents of their own death, that the form of their death is determined by the quality of their living … It is necessary to dispel those bad dreams but for which, said Hamlet, he "could be bounded in a nutshell and count himself the king of infinite space …"13 The genesis and form of man's escape from freedom may be studied with reference to the work of Freud and to Norman Brown's commentary.14

The Freudian Biology

J. F. Brown (another American professor) is an academic psychologist critical of Freud's biological instinct theory. "Most psychologists today, he says, are quite prepared to accept the facts of erotic and aggressive behaviour, but they attribute these behaviours to a combination of biological and cultural influences. This is a matter of some importance; for if aggression is innate, war is presumably inevitable, and if it is not innate but due rather to the frustration of erotic impulses, there is still hope …"15 Dr. J. A. C. Brown seems to agree with this rather inept summation of the choice before men: having saddled Freud with a view of human nature on the basis of the latter's remarks that men are "savage beasts to whom the thought of sparing their own kind is alien" and that "Hatred is at the bottom of all the relations of affection and love between human beings", he apparently endorses Horney's conclusion that if men are inherently destructive it is useless to strive for a better future. Early in his book he wittily paraphrases the hostile interpretation of Freud as one who "depicts society as a mass of isolated individuals whose most natural emotion is hostility, pushing and jostling each other in the name of the survival of the fittest, but willing under certain circumstances to band together for self-protection. Their ivory towers conceal the inner stinking cave by the entrance to which they ruthlessly trade physical needs of personal relationships for private gain, returning to the innermost recesses to enjoy them without interference … Outside the tower are displayed their paintings, their collections of objets d'art, their musical skill and wit, or their scientific curiosity, when the psycho-analyst knows perfectly well that inside they are smearing the walls with ordure or enjoying 'retention pleasure', satisfying their autoerotism, or preparing to bite and rend any source of frustration …" But he himself seems to accept the fact that Freud thought of man as hostile to his environment and frustrated in his libidinous impulses by civilisation, without showing much interest in investigating the biological foundations which Freud considered.

In fact Freud was interested in discovering these feelings of hostility and frustration (what Karen Horney described as "basic anxiety" — the child's feeling of being "small, insignificant, helpless, endangered, in a world that is out to abuse, cheat, attack, humiliate, betray, envy") largely in order to relate them to the biologically fundamental facts — of birth and death. Birth he saw as the repetition of the original stimulus which had awoken life from inanimate matter, death he saw as a repetition of the continuing conquest achieved over that stimulus by the desire to return to that original inertia: life is the long return to death, the working out of that instinct — "… an instinct is an urge inherent in organic life to restore an earlier state of things …"16 In Beyond the Pleasure Principle he discussed the nature of life and death:

The attributes of life were at some time evoked in inanimate matter by the action of a force of whose nature we can form no conception. It may perhaps have been a process similar in type to that which later caused the development of consciousness in a particular stratum of living matter. The tension which then arose in what had hitherto been an inanimate substance endeavoured to cancel itself out. In this way the first instinct came into being: the instinct to return to the inanimate state. It was still an easy matter at that time for a living substance to die; the course of its life was probably only a brief one, whose direction was determined by the chemical substance of the young life. For a long time, perhaps, living substance was, thus being constantly created afresh and easily dying, till decisive external influences altered in such a way as to oblige the still surviving substance to diverge ever more widely from its original course of life and to make ever more complicated detours before reaching its aim of death. These circuitous paths to death, faithfully kept to by the conservative instincts, would thus present us today with the picture of the phenomena of life. If we firmly maintain the exclusively conservative nature of the instincts, we cannot arrive at any other notions as to the origin and aim of life.

… The hypothesis of the self-preservative instincts, such as we attribute to all living beings, stands in marked opposition to the idea that instinctual life as a whole serves to bring about death. But in the light of this assumption the theoretical importance of the instincts of self-preservation, of self-assertion and of mastery greatly diminishes. They are component instincts, whose function it is to assure that the organism shall follow its own path to death, and to ward off any possible ways of returning to inorganic existence other than those which are immanent in the organism itself … What we are left with is the fact that the organism wishes to die only in its own fashion …17

Freud in fact suggests that "we are to take it as a truth that knows no exception that everything living dies for internal reasons …"

Moral disapproval has been the fate of Freud's "theory of the death instinct" — equally well known, perhaps, as the "death wish"; though the implication of this disapproval, which is more or less that if Freud is right (or rather, if he is able to deceive people), then people will spend all their time killing each other and themselves, would seem a far cry from Freud's simple statement that "the aim of all life is death". "But," as Freud said himself concerning another matter, "this only shows that men do not always take their great thinkers seriously, even when they profess most to admire them …" Dr. Brown mentions this moral disapproval, and suggests that "it is probably wiser to accept Fenichel's more reasoned criticism that Freud had confused two entirely separate concepts; the first, that aggression is innate in man and its dynamics are as described, based as they are on clinical findings; the second, that because all men die and all behaviour is striving they must also be striving for death. The latter concept is a bad philosophical one which seems to argue that because instincts strive for gratification or reduction of tension and death is the ultimate tensionless state this must needs be their final aim, and because aggression can become directed against the self as demonstrated clinically therefore aggression and the Death instinct are one and the same. Freud's thesis in the ultimate analysis is a metaphysical one, and the present position amongst most psychoanalyists is an acceptance of his account of aggression and its vicissitudes with, on the whole, very little reference to either Life or Death instincts … " It has been left to a professor of political science (Marcuse) and a professor of classics (Norman Brown) to take seriously Freud's most fundamental suggestions concerning the nature of human success and failure. It is certainly unjust to the complexity of Freud's thought to suggest, as Fenichel or Dr. Brown or both (one is not always quite sure when the latter has ceased to speak for his particular subject and begun to speak for himself) seem to do, that Freud thought that "the Death instinct" and aggression were one and the same thing: he certainly did not think that human activity was (or at least needed to be) limited to such one-to-one relationships. On the other hand, it is true — and Freud recognized this — that aggression is the sublimation of "the Death instinct" currently accepted by society: though some misunderstand, or are necessarily mistaught, the lesson — the criminals, perhaps it would be more helpful to call them the scapegoats, of society.18 Aggression, it may be said briefly but not I hope inaccurately, is the projection of the unacceptable fact of one's own death: either in the use of power ("I will destroy your self and so satisfy my own self's need for death") or in the acceptance of it ("I must allow you to destroy me and in that case I will not be the agent of my own death"), either in the use of war ("The killing of so many other people will satisfy my own organism's desire for death") or in the acceptance of war ("All the other people will die and so death will be satisfied; or, if I die as well, it will be miserable, but inevitable and nothing to do with me personally …”)

The non-acceptance of the fact of one's own death, of one's responsibility for it, may take various forms — one way (that of making Death into an intellectual abstraction) is beautifully exemplified in the remark of Epicurus: "He is foolish who says that death should be feared, not because it will be painful when it comes, but because it is painful to look forward to; for it is vain to be grieved in anticipation of that which distresses us not when it is present. Death, then, the most dread of all evils, is nothing to us, for while we are here death is not, and when death is here, we are not."19 And the biological foundation of this non-acceptance lies in the fact of birth. To Otto Rank birth was essentially a wound, and he "put forward the theory that all neurosis originates in the trauma of birth. The birth trauma, the essence of which is separation from the mother, produced as it were a reservoir of anxiety in the individual which was reactivated by all the later experiences of separation …"20 This primal anxiety, this feeling of alienation, of insecurity, gives rise to a demand for security which is essentially a demand for a healing of the primal wound of birth, for a restoration of the old oneness … As such, it can never be fully satisfied, and both the dependence upon another for this satisfaction and the disappointment of the expectation of it (which, because it is usually unconscious and disguised, remains uneducable by reality and so inhibiting of realistic activity) breed resentment.

And so the ego, which is the instrument (characterized by the function of perception) whereby the organism relates itself to an originally alien and therefore, and perhaps always, hostile world, is from the beginning crippled by this flaw. The id is ruled entirely by the pleasure principle (of whose function more later), and the ego is "that part of the id which has been modified by the direct influence of the external world acting through the Pcpt-Cs [the perceptual-consciousness system] … Moreover the ego has the task of bringing the influence of the external world to bear upon the id and its tendencies … In the ego perception plays the part which in the id devolves upon instinct."21 But it is the task of the ego not only to perceive and to introduce the id to its perceptions, but to protect, by means of the distortion of perception ("Most of the unpleasure that we experience is perceptual unpleasure"22), the id from "painful truths": above all, from the fact of death implicit in the fact of birth — only in death may that be regained which was lost at birth. Norman Brown comments: "The real achievement of The Ego and the Id is the pioneering effort to make an instinctual analysis of the ego, to see what the ego does with Eros and Death. And in that analysis the point of departure for the human ego is death not accepted, or separation (from the environment, i.e. the mother) not accepted, or, in Freud's terminology, object- loss not accepted … The way the human organism protects itself from the reality of living-and-dying is, ironically, by initiating a more active form of dying, and this more active form of dying is negation. The primal act of the human ego is a negative one — not to accept reality, specifically the separation of the child's body from the mother's body … This negative posture blossoms into negation of self (repression) and negation of the environment (aggression) … The negative orientation of the human ego is inseparable from its involuted narcissism; both are consequences of separation not accepted … As a result of object-loss not accepted, the natural self-love of the organism is transformed into a vain project of being both Self and Other, and this project supplies the human ego with its essential energy. When the beloved (parental) object is lost, the love that went out to it is redirected to the self; but since the loss of the beloved object is not accepted, the human ego is able to redirect the human libido by representing itself as identical with the loved object … Human consciousness is inseparable from an active attempt to alter reality, so as to 'regain the lost objects'. The reality which the ego thus constructs and perceives is culture; and culture, like sublimation (or neurosis) has the essential quality of being a 'substitute-gratification', a pale imitation of past pleasure substituting for present pleasure, and thus essentially desexualized."23

The Pleasure Principle

Those who wish to appreciate the great strength and subtlety of Professor Norman Brown's arguments will have to read his book. (And perhaps if they read it a second time a year after the first, they will see how much they missed — as I did). And, since after all it is primarily a commentary upon them, the works of Freud should not be neglected.24 Here it is possible only to tie up a few loose conceptual ends: in particular, those of the pleasure principle.

It may seem unrealistic to accuse a pleasure principle of unrealism (I hope this paradox is excusable), but that in fact is what Norman Brown does, when he comments on Freud's explanation. At the beginning of Beyond the Pleasure Principle Freud states that "In the theory of psycho-analysis we have no hesitation in assuming that the course taken by mental events … is invariably set in motion by an unpleasurable tension, and that it takes the direction such that its final outcome coincides with a lowering of that tension — that is, with an avoidance of unpleasure or a production of pleasure."And at the end he writes: "The dominating tendency of mental life, and perhaps of nervous life in general, is the effort to reduce, to keep constant or to remove internal tension due to stimuli (the 'Nirvana principle') — a tendency which finds expression in the pleasure principle; and our recognition of that fact is one of our strongest reasons for believing in the existence of death instincts."25 In the same way as the reality principle "does not abandon the intention of ultimately obtaining pleasure, but nevertheless demands and carries into effect the postponement of satisfaction, he abandonment of a number of possibilities of gaining satisfaction and the temporary toleration of unpleasure on the long indirect road to pleasure'',26 so does the pleasure principle serve the interests of the death instinct in a dangerous if not necessarily hostile world — and both principles perform their functions inadequately. "To identify pleasure-principle with man and the Nirvana-principle with life in general", writes Norman Brown, "is only another way of saying that nan, and only man, is the neurotic animal. The neurotic animal is the discontented animal; man's discontent implies the disruption of the balanced equilibrium between tension and release of tension which governs the activity of animals … The restless pleasure principle is the search for psychic health under conditions of psychic disease, and therefore is itself a symptom of the disease, just as Freud said the progress of psychic disease may also be regarded as an attempt to cure … [We can now] see history as neurosis; and also, as neurosis, pressing restlessly and unconsciously toward the abolition of history and the attainment of a state of rest which is also a reunification with nature … The restless pleasure-principle is what makes man Faustian, and Faustian man is history-making man. If repression were overcome, the restless career of Faustian man would come to an end …"27

Repression is made necessary by the fear of the ego, the instrument of the reality-principle, to acquaint the id with reality: and the ego-ideal or super-ego is the witness and rationalizer of this defeat of the ego: “… the ego-ideal comprises the sum of all the limitations in which the ego has to acquiesce …"28 And Norman Brown makes to stand out clear above all other limitations the primary one of fear of death, which is fear of self and negation of life … "It is the flight from death that leaves mankind with the problem of what to do with its own repressed death … Man aggressively builds immortal cultures and makes history in order to fight death …" Against history he quotes the great philosopher of history, Hegel ("The nature of finite things as such is to have the seed of their passing away as their essential being: the hour of their birth is the hour of their death"), and asserts: "The precious ontological uniqueness which the human individual claims is conferred on him not by the possession of an immortal soul but by the possession of a mortal body …"29

The flight from death involves man in the pursuit of the illusion of absolute security which is somehow imagined as a substitute death-in-life:30 by negating the substance of life — which is the absolute absence of security — he achieves the shadow of death. In Fear of Freedom Erich Fromm makes a somewhat painful distinction between the false security of authoritarianism, destructiveness, and automaton conformity and the true security of "positive freedom": it is perhaps a useful starting-point:

Once the primary bonds which gave security to the individual are severed, once the individual faces the world outside himself as a completely separate entity, two courses are open to him since he has to overcome the unbearable state of powerlessness and aloneness. By one course he can progress to "positive freedom"; he can relate himself spontaneously to the world in love and work, in the genuine expression of his emotional, sensuous, and intellectual capacities; he can thus become one again with man, nature and himself, without giving up the independence and integrity of his individual self. The other course open to him is to fall back, to give up his freedom, and to try to overcome his aloneness by eliminating the gap that has arisen between his individual self and the world. The second course never reunites him with the world in the way that he was related to it before he merged as an "individual", for the fact of separateness cannot be reversed; it is an escape from an unbearable situation which would make life impossible if it were prolonged … It assuages an unbearable anxiety and makes life possible by avoiding panic; yet it does not solve the underlying problem and is paid for by a kind of life that often consists only of automatic or compulsive activities.31

When Fromm speaks of the severing of primary bonds he does not make clear whether he is referring to the biological fact of birth or to the shoving out of the youngster from an educational institution into a money-making one: one has a sneaking if unkind, suspicion that he is not quite sure but would not like his readers to think that it was the latter … For our purposes it is the former interpretation which is useful. I have already quoted Rank's theory that the primary anxiety caused by the trauma of birth is merely reactivated by all later experiences of separation. The original trauma of birth is a wound that cannot be healed: the act of moving from one condition of things to another is necessarily disruptive; but the experience of change cannot be destroyed, but only suppressed for the time being: to assimilate and accept it is the only 'solution'. The "state of powerlessness and aloneness", which Fromm describes as necessary for man to overcome (or escape from?) is in fact only relative: in the changed situation to which birth has brought him there are other sources of strength (rather than power) and relatedness (rather than oneness) within himself upon which he can draw. Fromm's argument for another and superior form of security ("The new security is not rooted in the protection which the individual has from a higher power outside himself; neither is it a security in which the tragic quality of life is eliminated. The new security is dynamic; it is not based on protection, but on man's spontaneous activity"32 is meaningless and perhaps stems from his fear that the lure of "the good life" will win the day from freedom. There are various specific forms of security: this is roughly the nature of "negative freedom" (e.g. "the four freedoms", freedom from fear, freedom from hunger, etc.); but absolutely speaking there is no such thing as security. The basic lack of security — the unreliability of all things in life, and the consequent duty of a man to believe in the reality of nothing other than his own desires — is the very root of freedom: it is because man is insecure that he must be free … Consequently the institutionalization of the illusion of security in the authoritarian society and, in particular, in its epitome the authoritarian family, with the concomitant encouragement of dependence and irresponsibility, thwart the development of the individual, and in particular pervert his sexual development:

The institution of the human family means the prolonged maintenance of human children in a condition of helpless dependence. Parental care makes childhood a period of privileged freedom from the domination of the reality-principle, thus permitting and promoting the early blossoming, in an unreal atmosphere, of infantile sexuality and the pleasure-principle. Thus sheltered from reality by parental care, infantile sexuality — Eros or the life instinct — conceives a dream of narcissistic omnipotence in a world of love and pleasure.

But if the institution of the family gives the human infant a subjective experience of freedom unknown to any other species of animal, it does so by holding the human infant in conditions of objective dependence to a degree unknown to any other species of animal. Objective dependence on parental care creates in the child a passive, dependent need to be loved, which is just the opposite of his dream of narcissistic omnipotence.33

Norman Brown makes an extensive analysis of the perversions and fixations to which the various stages of the growing child's sexual development are driven by the flight from death, and concludes: "… the special concentration of libido in the genital region, in the infantile phallic phase and in the adult genital organization, is engineered by the regressive death instinct, and represents the residue of the human incapacity to accept death, separation and individuality … The earlier phases of infantile sexuality, the oral and anal, are also dominated by the same regressive trend. The special concentration of libido in the mouth in earliest infancy, the hypercathexis of the act of suckling, results from the inability to accept separation from the mother and is sustained by fantasies of uterine regression. The anal stage (the most fantastic psychoanalytical paradox, of which more later) involves symbolic manipulation of feces as a magic instrument for restoring communion with the mother.34 Altogether, therefore, the sexual organizations, pregenital as well as genital, appear to be constructed by anxiety, by the flight from death and the wish to die; the distribution of libido in a life not at war with death is polymorphous perversity."35

In his last chapter (The Way Out: The Resurrection of the Body) Norman Brown proposes the task before psychoanalysis — the rediscovery of the polymorphous perversity of the original childhood body … "Psychoanalytical therapy involves a solution to the problem of repression; what is needed is not an organismic ideology, but to change the human body so that it can become for the first time an organism — the resurrection of the body."36 Like Marcuse he discerns the aggressive nature of conventional "rational understanding'',37 and he quotes the protests of A. N. Whitehead and J. Needham "against the inhuman attitude of modern science: in psychoanalytical terms they are calling for a science based on an erotic sense of reality, rather than an aggressive dominating attitude towards reality."38 The function of the ego is both to receive and to analyse phenomena: the latter activity is distorted and has become the vehicle of projection, the cornerstone of repression, under the influence of the fantasies of infantile narcissism and the flight from death to which the former has submitted. A consideration of the function of the family and its relationship to "education for reality" may make the task of freeing the ego from these fantasies easier to appreciate.

The Child and the Family

Dr. John Bowlby, in the abridged edition of the report he made for the World Health Organization on Maternal Care and Mental Health, sets out to study the harm done by the removal, for whatever reason, of the child from the "complex, rich, and rewarding relationship with the mother in early years, varied in countless ways by relations with the father, and with the brothers and sisters, that child psychiatrists and many others now believe to underlie the development of character and of mental health …" A child so deprived is almost certain to be characterised by his "inability to make relationships."39 And after a consideration of the poor record of personality development among institutional children — i.e. children deprived of maternal care — he concludes: "The failure of personality development in deprived children is perhaps more easily understood when it is considered that it is the mother who in the child's earliest years acts as his personality and his conscience. The institution children never had this experience, and so had never had the opportunity of completing the first phase of development — that of establishing a relationship with a clearly known mother-figure …"40 It is unfortunate that Dr. Bowlby should feel constrained to use the language of advocacy rather than that of scientific investigation ("… We seek only for the sober results of research or of reflection based on it; and we have no wish to find in those results any quality other than certainty …"41); or rather, it is unfortunate that he should think that the language of advocacy is different from that of scientific investigation, and it is even more unfortunate that he, addressing the world of political decision-makers accustomed to the techniques of sleight-of-hand persuasion, is almost certainly right in thinking that there is a difference … "The proper care of children deprived of a normal home life can now be seen to be not merely an act of common humanity, but to be essential for the mental and social welfare of a community. For, when their care is neglected, as happens in every country of the Western world today, they grow up to reproduce themselves …"42 If he could have confined himself to the conclusion that, in the Western world, children grow up more comfortably in, and become more useful citizens out of, conventional families than in, and out of, institutions, it would have been acceptable. But Dr. Bowlby is concerned to write a brief for governmental activity: which demands, first of all, absolute certainty — i.e. the impossibility of any alternative — and, secondly, that there should be no tampering with the existing structure (particularly the power structure) of society. Has nobody yet said, that politics is the art of the impossible? … And so it is necessary for Dr. Bowlby to go all out against the "lack of conviction on the part of governments, social agencies, and the public that mother-love in infancy and childhood is as important for mental health as are vitamins and proteins for physical health …"43

Over thirty years ago Margaret Mead discovered in Samoa an entirely different family structure, where the growing child was far from dependent upon the all-pervading presence of any mother-figure.44 Far from being a compact biological organisation the Samoan family usually comprised a shifting and capricious set of relationships: authority was so diffused that it was hardly authority in our sense of a duly defined position to which an individual was appointed— in the Samoan household the care and attention of children was left to the older children, and just as the former were becoming unmanageable another child would be born and become their charge … "Coupled with this enormous diffusion, of authority goes a fear of overstraining the relationship bond, which expresses itself in an added respect for personality."45 For children could move at will from their parents' household to that of a cousin or an uncle — and were liable to choose the most permissive. We may conclude then, that what the growing child needs is not so much maternal care and protection (though for certain needs, and against certain dangers, some sort of care and some sort of protection is obviously desirable) as a continuous adult environment: to see working the different experiments in ways of living which adults are (or should be, could be) is the means (the education if you like) whereby the child achieves an understanding of reality, it is the concrete fragment of the world to which he can relate himself, it is the ground from which he can grow. It is not likely that the conventional authoritarian family of contemporary Western society will provide the setting for such an "education for reality".

Objectivity cannot arise in a constraint situation: it arises only in a situation of freedom. Intensive needs of the child's own and freedom to set goals are pedagogically not an inhibition but a necessary condition to a happy separation of reality and unreality … The development of a level of reality which shall provide a sound basis clear through to adulthood requires that the free life-space of the child be not too small … An early separation of reality and unreality is produced by the construction of an authoritative, obedience-demanding, constraint situation; but the arbitrary and overdone separation of these levels carries with it the danger of concealed substitute satisfactions and a later collapse of the whole level of reality. Only in a sufficiently free life-space in which the child has the possibility of choosing his goals according to his own needs and in which, at the same time, he fully experiences the objectively conditioned difficulties in the attainment of the goal, can a clear level of reality be formed, only thus can the ability for responsible decision develop.46

The language is perplexing but the meaning is clear — he is arguing that as far as possible a child should be allowed to choose his goals "according to his own needs", at the same time experiencing "the objectively conditional difficulties in the attainment of his goals": and no more, since as he makes clear in another chapter (The Psychological Situations of Reward and Punishment — which Freedom Press might do well to reprint in pamphlet form) to impose situations of reward and, more obviously, of punishment is to confess failure in the task of "education for reality" since it restricts the "life-sphere", i.e. the free activity, of the child.47 (In all this Lewin seems considerably more anarchistic in his thought than do some anarchists!)

What man must do may easily be described. The ego must be reconstructed so that it perceives and communicates reality rather than illusion. It is never the truth which kills the spirit, but only the fact that a man is unable to understand, live with, the truth. But the truth is, that a man can live only as himself. The reconstruction of the ego will not make men free: it will not mean that ability and desire will become equal as they have never been before. Rather will the distinction become meaningless: man, reconciled to his own freedom, will re-assess his ability and his desire so that what is desirable becomes necessary and it is seen that what is undesirable is undesirable because it is unnecessary. Men will not merely be, as Sartre says they are, the sum of their actions, they will recognize this, act accordingly — they will be the fact that they are what they are … The last word shall be Freud's:

Neurosis does not deny the existence of reality, it merely tries to ignore it; psychosis denies it and tries to substitute something else for it. A reaction which combines features of both of these is the one we call normal or "healthy"; it denies reality as little as neurosis, but then, like psychosis, is concerned with effecting a change in it. This expedient normal attitude leads naturally to some achievement in the outer world and is not content, like a psychosis, with establishing the alteration within itself; it is no longer auto-plastic but allo-plastic.48

1. Authority and Delinquency in the Modern State (Routledge and Kegan Paul 1950).
2. Herbert Marcuse: Eros and Civilisation (Routledge and Kegan Paul 1956).
3. Gunther Anders: The World as Phantom and Matrix (Dissent, Winter 1956).
4. Work and Instincts in International Journal of Psychoanalysis XXIV (1943).
5. See the fine biography The Anarchist Prince, by George Woodcock and Ivan Avacumovic (Boardman 1950).
6. William Hazlitt: The Spirit of the Age (1825).
7. Godwin's Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793) has been reprinted by the University of Toronto Press (3 vols., 1946), Selections from Political Justice and also his essay On Law, by Freedom Press, and the essay on private property by Allen and Unwin.
8. Kropotkin's Mutual Aid (1903) was last reprinted here by Penguin Books but is long out of print. A number of his pamphlets are published by Freedom Press.
9. R. C. Zaehner: Mysticism, Sacred and Profane (OUP 1957).
10. Kurt Lewin: A Dynamic Theory of Personality (McGraw-Hill 1935).
11. Shelley: Prometheus Unbound, Act III, Sc. iv.
12. Paul Goodman: Art and Social Nature (Vinco, 1946). Goodman's writings seem to me to be an inspiring example of the approach I suggest.
13. Hamlet, Act II, Sc. ii.
14. Erich Fromm: The Fear of Freedom (Allen and Unwin, 1942) discusses with some eloquence some of the ways in which man escapes from himself, but is rather chary of biological foundations and reduces man rather arbitrarily to two alternatives.
15. J. A. C. Brown: Freud and the Post-Freudians.
16. Quoted by J. A. C. Brown, op. cit.
17. Beyond The Pleasure Principle, (International Psychoanalytical Library, 1961).
18. See the first part of Comfort Authority and Delinquency in the Modern State.
19. Quoted in a book review from the first page of a book by M. I. Findlay.
20. J. A. C. Brown, op. cit. 52.
21. The Ego and the Id (1927; International Psychoanalytical Library).
22. Beyond The Pleasure Principle, 49-50.
23. op. cit. 159-60, 161, 163.
24. In 1959 11 out of the 24 volumes of the new Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (being published by the Hogarth Press) had appeared; most of his work is published in the International Psycho-analytical Library (Hogarth Press); and both Totem and Taboo and Psychopathology of Everyday Life are in paperback editions.
25. Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 49-50.
26. ibid. 4.
27. op.cit. 90, 91.
28. Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921; I.P.L. rev. ed. 1959) 63.
29. op. cit. 101, 104.
30. See the amazing short story by Kafka The Burrow (included in Metamorphosis and Other Stories, Penguin Books, 1961).
31. Routledge paperback edition, 120-1.
32. op. cit. 227.
33. Brown, op cit. 113.
34. It is impossible here to do more than mention Brown's brilliant Studies in Anality (part five of his book).
35. op cit. 115-6.
36. op. cit. 317.
37. Marcuse, op cit. chapter five Philosophical Interlude.
38. Norman Brown, op. cit. 316.
39. Child Care and the Growth of Love (Penguin Books 1953).
40. op. cit. 60.
41. Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 31.
42. op. cit. 181.
43. op. cit. 182.
44. Coming of Age in Samoa (1928; Penguin Books, 1943).
45. op. cit. 40.
46. Lewin, op. cit. 177, 178-9.
47. ibid. 163, 170.
48. quoted by Norman Brown, op. cit. 154.