In a somewhat controversial piece celebrating Jewish genius, New York Times columnist Bret Stephens makes a surprising omission. Absent from his list of Jewish notables over the years is famed psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. This may have been a lapse on his part, but it does reflect current opinion. Freud has little to say to present times, rooted as he is in outmoded concepts of the role of sex in human life and unconscious drives over which we have no control.
For Freud sex was unforgiving. Infancy wasn’t spared. That’s where it all began in confusion over mother and father, leading by stages to sexual fulfillment or repression and neurosis of which psychoanalysis held the cure. No such thing, said later analysts. Free will still exists and accidents even happen that are not dictated by fate.
What’s more, Freud is definitely out of place today, very politically incorrect. He was condescending to women and considered all departures from normal sexuality a matter of arrested development. Politically, he was a conservative who favored strong man rule, though not, to be sure, Hitler who drove him from Vienna. He detested America with all its talk of equality while enjoying chats with that teller of tall tales Mark Twain. Today he would probably be closer to Trump voters than to the elite of Manhattan who once adored him. So goodbye to Freud.
But not so fast. His probing of the unconscious has ties to world affairs. Like everyone, he was appalled by the barbaric eruption of World War One after a century of general peace and prosperity. He rejected the common explanations – too much nationalism, too little love, not enough communism and a dozen other ideological cures. The reason he concluded in his book “Civilization and Its Discontents” lay in the permanent drive of aggression in every human that surpasses even the sexual drive. “The inclination to aggression is an original self-subsisting instinctual disposition in man that constitutes the greatest impediment to civilization… All life essentially consists of the struggle between the instinct of life and the instinct of destruction, as it works itself out in the human species.” Which wins depends on the determination of humans who recognize what they face and are not misled by the spurious reasons that lead to wars, including U.S. wars since 9/11. It’s the Freudian cure of self-recognition – Freud up to date.