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The pervious post in this series concerning Rieff may be found here: https://memoirandremains.com/2020/08/28/philip-rieff-the-triumph-of-the-therapeutic-4-3/

In the remainder of the book, Rieff is going to examine what various disciples of Freud did with Freud’s original work. Thus, we will examine Jung, Wilhelm Reich, and D.H. Lawrence. But before he turns to these men who developed the ideas of Freud in strikingly different directions, Rieff considers those who make up the mass of psychoanalysts. In the main, Rieff has little good say about such practioners.

The fault, as I read Rieff, is that the analysts follow Freud so well. The practice of psychoanalysis is not to construct some new culture but rather to free one from the symbolic world which they have internalized. As such, it is a sort of indefinite project, but the world which followed Freud domesticated it, Freud “could cope with his enemies; his friends defeated him.” (85) 

Those who take up the practice have attended “trade schools” (89) who wish to take up a quiet, stable, “suburb[an]” life.

The need for conflict with opposing structures is necessary to keep the disciple alive, “As an ultimate rule of organization, honesty is death to organization itself. Reticence, forbearance, tolerance – these civilities and hypocrisies are necessary to organized life.” (91)

To that extent his epilogue is of little interest except as an observation. What I do find interesting is an observation he makes early in this section. He notes that orthodoxy is sharpened in conflict: which is a point Harold O.J. Brown made in his work Heresies.

It is at this point he makes a point which may be of some encouragement to Christianity at this point in the West, “Nowadays, the world is full of tame Christians; in consequence, the churches are empty of life, if not of people.” (84) The Church seems to suffer worse from excess of ease than even trial (which seems to be true for us personally as well).  Thus, our current conflict may be of use by putting the church into a position where it may critique the culture rather than be overly at home. 

While there are various positions which have been offered by many, such as Niebuhr’s Christ & Culture, (Christ Against Culture, Christ of Culture, Christ Above Culture, Christ and Culture in Paradox, Christ the Transformer of Culture), Luther’s Two Kingdoms, and so on. All of these positions have shown themselves to be useful at some times and places, and disastrous at others. 

When the Netherlands can elect a Kuyper as Prime Minister, Christianity is a position to influence culture in a way that the Baptist in the Gulag of A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich could never dream. When being an influence entails comprising, then the church must take a prophetic stance. There are issues on which the church has no dogmatic position (should the capital gains tax be 15% or 20% on securities held over five years but less than ten?). But there are issues where the Church – if it has a public voice, cannot remain silent.

There are issues of wisdom: At what point does one confront the state; at which point should the church retreat? The church in the West (this is not to prioritize the Western church, nor to ignore the very real troubles faced throughout the world; it is simply I know far more about where I live and what I experience than things which I learn secondhand. I simply wish to avoid speaking where beyond what I could reasonably know) is coming to face increasing troubles from a direction it did not expect. 

In the early 20th century, the church on one-side retreated from intellectual engagement with a hostile culture. Another element of the visible compromised. The space of engagement deepened theological positions in many areas and gave us an apologetic and social voice. 

Now we are facing an entirely new challenge for which the church broadly is not ready. Even the previous secular adversaries of the church have little idea on how to respond. But as Rieff noted in connection with Freud’s tame disciples, conflict can deepen and sharpen our thinking. Let’s pray that God gives us the wisdom for our age.