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Chapter 4: In Defense of the Analytic Attitude

This chapter concerns Freud’s defense of his analysis. To understand this, Rieff notes two distinct understanding of the “theory of theory”.  First, there was the understanding of theory bringing the human into conformity with reality: “They being what we know them to be, the intellectual and emotional task of life is to make our actions confirm to the right order, so that we too can be right.”  The model is the true paradigm. 

There is a natural inherent order which we seek to understand and then order life. The underlying order the “model” (as Rieff) calls it is the point. There is a final end, and that end is God. 

But there is another understanding of theory which sets out to destroy gods. This sort of theory “arms us with the weapons for transforming reality instead of forcing us to conform to it.” (73) There is no purpose, no final cause. Theory is merely a way of navigating an otherwise incomprehensible universe and mitigating the pain of life. “A good theory becomes the creator of power.” (Ibid.)

It is such a power creating, reality bending theory that produces Freud and Marx. 

At this point, Rieff distinguishes Adler and Jung from Freud. Freud sought merely to set forth a theory which would give on the power to choose to live any sort of life.  He would not “cure” anyone: cure was a “religious category.”  (74) “He merely wanted to give men more options than their raw experience of life permitted them.” (74)

Freud’s mechanism leaves one nowhere: you finally kill off the old gods but there is nothing with which to replace it. Rieff notes that Adler and Jung sought to construct a basis for establishing a new cure on the other-side of analysis despite their attempts. 

The end point was the Genesis 3 promise of the Serpent, “You shall be as gods knowing good and evil.” “Freud risked the correlative implication: that healthy men need no gods.” (76)

This second form of theory and its Freudian aim of a man who no longer needs the consolation of religion or the search of a pre-existing meaning and order in nature leaves man as a carver of his good.

Freud’s concept of a world freed of gods leaves every person the one who decides his own good, which has profound implications for law. In a series of cases, the courts have found this power to create one’s own “meaning” as the basis for constitutional rights: 

The Casey decision again confirmed that our laws and tradition afford constitutional protection to personal decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, child rearing, and education. Id., at 851. In explaining the respect the Constitution demands for the autonomy of the person in making these choices, we stated as follows: 

[“These matters, involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.] [At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.] Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.” Ibid.

Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558, 573-74 (2003). In the dissent of Lawrence, Justice Scalia wrote:

And if the Court is referring not to the holding of Casey, but to the dictum of its famed sweet-mystery-of-life passage, ante, at 13 (“`At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life'”): That “casts some doubt” upon either the totality of our jurisprudence or else (presumably the right answer) nothing at all. I have never heard of a law that attempted to restrict one’s “right to define” certain concepts; and if the passage calls into question the government’s power to regulate actions based on one’s self-defined “concept of existence, etc.,” it is the passage that ate the rule of law. 

Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558, 588 (2003). Scalia’s point is that all law defines some sort of public character: it is a “theory” in the first sense referenced above. But in a series of decisions involving human sexuality and procreation, the courts have adopted a Freudian theory of law, in which freedom from the “gods” of any culture can be set aside. 

But such self-carving of happiness does remain a personal decision – however personally the decision is made:

Incorporating the “mystery of life” logic into these spheres deludes individuals into thinking that personal failures in socially important roles only have personal consequences. Society thus lacks the authority to explain how the personal choice of one hurts the wellbeing of others.

In other words, society cannot say whether marriage ensures that children have the benefit of a mother and a father—marriage is whatever a person wants it to be. Society cannot say whether a child suffers from no-fault divorce—divorce is a personal choice. Society cannot say whether a child is raised by parents in a relationship that society needs to survive—relationships are personal.

Should the detriments of a child’s upbringing become a social harm when he takes society’s reins as an adult, that new adult now also lacks the right moral framework to refine social standards for the benefit of his children.  Life’s “mystery” about what crafts and constitutes good conduct thus endures—even when harmful consequences counsel society to encourage some choices over others from reason and experience.

William Haun, “The “mystery of Life” Makes Law a Mystery,” The Public Discourse (July 26, 2013), https://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2013/07/10091/.  The justification for Freud’s freeing men from deformed gods is that the culture simply no longer functions nor does it provide the ability to define character and human good. These commitment therapies are simply outdated. 

Now perhaps when an occasional person behaves along their on lines there is little communal effect. Indeed, even the most prolific murderer or robber will have only limited effect upon a society of any size. But when there is no communal standards for even the most basic means of living, then the results will profoundly damaging. Freud’s theory made constitutional right will not end well when extended to all. 

As Justice Scalia noted, the doctrine applied consistently means there can be no order, which is precisely the duty of law and culture. But, as Freud contends, there is no order to be had. 

I know that an utterly chaotic society would have been a horror to Freud. I have read nowhere that he was a anarchist. But the results of his analytic theory aim in only one direction. Indeed, he felt that Adler and Jung were wrong to try find a new basis for order. 

On the other side is the first understanding of theory, that human happiness and well-being are defined not by ourselves but by God:

Men would be happy with that kind of happiness which is true happiness, but not in the way which God propoundeth, being prepossessed with carnal fancies. It is counted a foolish thing to wait upon God in the midst of straits, conflicts, and temptations: 1 Cor. 2:14, ‘The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.’ More prejudices lie against the means than the end; therefore, out of despair, they sit down with a carnal choice, as persons disappointed in a match take the next offer. Since they cannot have God’s happiness, they resolve to be their own carvers, and to make themselves as happy as they can in the enjoyment of present things

Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 6 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1872), 7.