July 28th 2018


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COVER STORY The Strange Case of the Vanishing Safe Schools Resources

EDITORIAL By-elections will test Shorten's 'politics of envy' strategy

ASIA-PACIFIC AFFAIRS A modest proposal for Australia's regional security

CANBERRA OBSERVED Odds are that Labor won't Albo Bill aside

TECHNOLOGY Wonder carbon material on cusp of commercialisation

ENVIRONMENT Electric vehicles still only for elitist planet savers

ENERGY SECURITY Steam rail backup could get us out of hot water

ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT NEG papers over crisis behind energy price hikes

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Beijing goes 'boo', Qantas gets in a flap

EUTHANASIA Death with dignity, or putting Death to death?

HUMOUR

MUSIC Aural wallpaper: The background hiss to our lives

CINEMA Ant-Man and the Wasp: Downsized superheroes

BOOK REVIEW Timely essays on religious freedom

BOOK REVIEW Fraudulent father of psychoanalysis

POETRY

LETTERS

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BOOK REVIEW
Fraudulent father of psychoanalysis




News Weekly, July 28, 2018

FREUD: The Making of an Illusion

by Frederick Crews

Profile Books, London
Hardcover: 746 pages
Price: AUD$54.99

Reviewed by Brian Coman

The Royal Society, dating back to the 1660s, adopted as its motto the Latin phrase, Nullius in verba. The usual translation is “take no one’s word for it”.

The founding members (who included Robert Boyle and Sir Christopher Wren) were indicating, via this motto, that the correct procedure for scientific enquiry was careful investigation and the accumulation of verifiable facts, not the acceptance of mere hearsay or uncorroborated evidence. Scientific “breakthroughs” needed to be reproducible and able to be tested independently.

The generally acknowledged founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, paid little heed to such requirements, preferring his own insights. Yet, in his own day, he was feted as a great “scientist of the mind”.

In recent decades, the adulation of Freud has waned somewhat as his successors struggled to deploy his methods with any appreciable success. Nonetheless, he is still highly regarded in many circles, despite the dubious nature of his work. Just read his Wikipedia entry.

This new book on Freud by Frederick Crews gathers together a mass of data, some of it not before published, which proves beyond any reasonable doubt that Freud was, well, a fraud! It is a devastating account, carefully dissecting the sometimes-contradictory accounts given by Freud himself, as well as by his contemporaries.

The material in the book is mostly confined to an assessment of Freud as a scientist and has relatively little to say on the wider issues around the use of psychotherapy. It is, therefore, something of a specialist scholar’s book and not the sort of tome recommended for light bedside reading. At over 740 pages, it requires some determination to read from cover to cover!

From very early in his career, Freud showed a marked tendency to overestimate his own abilities and to draw unwarranted conclusions from a meagre set of data. And, indeed, very often the data was not his own, but someone else’s.

In the 1880s, for instance, after reading of the investigations of others, the young Freud began to champion the use of cocaine as a cure-all for a vast variety of ailments. Incredibly, this included its use to combat morphine addiction! Freud began taking cocaine himself and regarded it as a sort of miracle drug.

In late 1885, Freud received a grant that took him to Paris and the famous Salpêtriére hospital. Here he met neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot. His association with Charcot was to launch Freud into the murky waters of psychoanalysis. He very quickly established himself as an “expert” in this then fledgling “science”. By 1895 he had published Studies in Hysteria, in which the now famous cases of Anna von Lieben, Fanny Moser and Ilona Weiss were showcased.

As Crews points out, however, the treatment of each of these three patients was aborted after the patient either experienced no cure or the symptoms worsened. Anna von Lieben concluded that the whole business was simply a racket to enrich Freud at her expense.

In another famous case discussed by Freud (but not conducted by him) – that of “Anna O” (Bertha Pappenheim) – Crews concludes on the basis of evidence supplied that her strange behaviour was the result of addiction to chloral and morphine, both administered as a cure!

It was typical of Freud’s career that he would leap from one “miracle” cure to the next – cocaine, electrotherapy, hypnosis and, most famously, therapy to expose and deal with supposed “repressed” desires or feelings. His supposed Oedipus complex – the unconscious sexual desire of a young child for one or other parent – is perhaps the best known of all Freudian concoctions.

Crews’ book covers all of these developments in enormous detail and with copious references. This makes it a rather tedious read at times, but Crews evidently feels that an exhaustive account is the only way finally to dispel the myth of Freud as a great scientist and innovator.

Unfortunately, from time to time, Crews himself displays a less than scientific rigour in exposing Freud as a fraud. For instance, he devotes a good deal of space to a discussion of Freud’s association with Minna Bernays, his wife’s sister. There is a good deal of circumstantial evidence that Freud had an affair with Minna Bernays. Indeed there is a suggestion that she fell pregnant as a result of the liaison and had an abortion. Now, all this might be true, but it has little bearing on the position of Freud as a great “scientist of the mind”.

Crews would of course argue that this betrayal of his wife points to generally duplicitous behaviour and is, therefore, relevant. But, if he is to criticise Freud for publishing unsubstantiated data, he must look to his own backyard too.

Some commentators have roundly criticised Crews for what they see as a hatchet job on Freud; but, in his defence, it is surely reasonable to expose poor science and fraudulent reporting when it occurs in such an important area as psychology. It is a pity, though, that Crews spends so much time on exposing Freud the man and so little on the legitimacy of Freudian psychoanalysis.

In dealing with great historical figures, there is always the question as to whether such people are merely products of their age or, rather, are the initiators or catalysts for some major new development in the history of human ideas. In Freud’s case, I would argue that he was a person whose ideas perfectly suited the age in which he lived. Many people wanted to believe in his ideas simply because they offered some sort of substitute for the traditional religious ideas concerning the human person and the proper conduct of a human life.

The secularisation of the European mind, consequent upon the Enlightenment and its aftermath, had, by Freud’s time, reached a sort of critical mass. It is important, too, that we consider the widespread loss of meaning and a growing sense of hopelessness associated with the terrible conflicts of World War I. Indeed, Australian academic Michael Casey has written of the importance of Freud in this regard (Meaninglessness: The Solutions of Nietzsche, Freud and Rorty, Lexington Books, 2002).

But, even in his own day, perceptive critics could see the shortcomings of Freud’s general ideas concerning the human psyche. For instance, the brilliant critic and satirist, Karl Kraus (1874–1936), savagely attacked the whole notion of psychoanalysis. He famously defined psychoanalysis as “that mental disease which regards itself as therapy”.

Perhaps no one has better understood the significance of this shift in our understanding of the human condition than American commentator Philip Rieff, whose The Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith after Freud (1936) is a brilliant analysis of the whole phenomenon of psychotherapy. Drawing upon Rieff’s early analysis, present-day philosopher of ideas Alasdair MacIntyre supposes that the “therapist” is one of today’s “iconic” types, along with the “manager” and the “aesthete”.

Each of these types, MacIntyre suggests, shares a common trait – each treats other human persons as simply means to their ends. The traditional Christian notion of each human life constituting an “end” in itself is gone. Thus, all today’s posturing regarding the “rights” of the individual and of “personal choice” is without substance. Once the sacred nature of human life is abandoned – as Freud certainly abandoned it –the real basis for a proper notion of individual human rights is lost.

In summary, Frederick Crews’ book should put paid to any notion that Sigmund Freud was a brilliant and careful scientist and that his uses of psychotherapy represent a great medical advance.

Moreover, from the point of view of the average News Weekly reader, it fails to address the more important aspects of the whole phenomenon of psychotherapy. After all is said and done, the psychotherapist’s couch is the secular substitute for the confessional and Freud the secular substitute for a Church Father or, indeed, a saint. Little wonder that Crews’ book created a good deal of hostile comment.


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