Psychiatrist faults Freud for many ills afflicting society

September 20, 1992|By Gerri Kobren | Gerri Kobren,Ms. Kobren is a copy editor at The Sun.


E. Fuller Torrey.


362 pages. $25.

Theodore Dreiser, we are told, was the kind of man who would not only cheat on his mistress; he also "insisted" that she serve breakfast in bed to him and his other woman.

Theodore Dreiser, E. Fuller Torrey also tells us, was the kind of man who thought Sigmund Freud was onto something.

Now there's a neat little syllogism for you: Theodore Dreiser was a lout and a libertine. Theodore Dreiser agreed with Freud. Therefore Freud was a . . .

If you're having trouble filling in that blank, just read the book. According to Dr. Torrey, a psychiatrist and researcher who has also written about schizophrenia and Ezra Pound, Freud was racist, misogynist, elitist and anti-American. He was driven by occultism, cocaine addiction and the desire for fame. He was, besides, a supporter of Mussolini -- though not of Hitler; all that anti-Semitism put him off.

How did so perverse a being become so acceptable? Again, the author answers: Freud was inflicted on America by a bunch of elite intellectuals, communists, homosexuals, leftists, liberals, Democrats and misguided others.

Emma Goldman, the turn-of-the-century anarchist and free-love advocate, brought Freud's theories home from Europe. Anthropologist Margaret Mead, also a Freud sympathizer (and thrice-married bisexual, Dr. Torrey emphasizes) produced worthless pseudo-studies of Samoan adolescents that supported her own liberal agenda. Playwright Lillian Hellman, whose psychoanalytic leanings went hand in glove with the less-than-loathsome lesbian characters in her play "The Children's Hour," was a 1930s Communist who slept with the Marxist publisher Ralph Ingersol and the Communist author Dashiell Hammett, and went to a psychoanalyst who participated in the Kerensky government in 1917.

Benjamin Spock, another of the miscreants on the author's dishonor roll, was also into psychoanalysis, and geez, you know what he did? Aside from writing the book that took American parents down the path of permissiveness, he eventually "divorced Jane, his wife of 48 years, and married Mary Morgan, who was 40 years his junior."

History, alas, colluded in the dissemination of this "Freudian spore." The eugenics movement, alive and well in this country through the 1930s, was discredited by the Holocaust. Freudian notions rode in after the war as nurture -- meaning child-rearing and environment --was invoked in place of nature, or genetics, to explain the differences between people.

Once that doctrine was established, it was just a hop, skip and a jump to the corollary: Improve the environment and you improve the individual and the society. That, the author argues, has led to profound and pernicious changes in the body politic: Such personal and social ills as narcissism, irresponsibility, denigration women, psychiatric social workers, student radicals, the Patuxent Institution and Willie Horton's furlough can all be blamed on Sigmund Freud.

The old Austrian wasn't all bad, however: He did help people recognize their sexual nature, the author notes, and his notion that dreams were a route to the understanding of the unconscious -- which Dr. Torrey describes as both overstated and simplistic -- did, at least, provide a guide of sorts. And, he concedes, it's probably true that gross, awful, abnormal childhood experiences might lead to emotional problems -- but what's primarily responsible for making you the kind of person you are, the author says, is genetic endowment.

So if you're unhappy, tough. The notion that you're entitled to personal happiness is Freudian folly. And the money you spend to shore up your selfish little ego with psychotherapy is draining funds from drug treatment for people with real mental illnesses, like schizophrenia and manic depression.

Somewhere in this mass of demolition, there are probably grains of truth. Who can deny DNA? Or accept, uncritically, everything Freud and his followers ever said?

On the other hand, are we supposed to believe that every ill, every failure, every --ed expectation in American society can be laid at Freud's doorstep? This zealous attempt to discredit everyone and everything ever involved in any way with Freud or his followers is so overblown it simply discredits itself.

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