What would Carl Jung say about the current state of political discourse in America? The Rabbit’s been rereading the founder of analytical psychology’s The Undiscovered Self in preparation for Liber Novus, a “new” book which records Jung’s middle age conflict or, in pop-psychology parlance, mid-life crisis. Undiscovered is one of Jung’s most political texts (the Rabbbit here admits to being only a casual reader of Jung’s work) and we were only a bit astonished to find him speaking across a half-century to post-millennial America and the psyche of tea-party extremism.
The parallels seem prophetic (indeed, the book’s first line is, “What will the future bring?”). Jung cites “physical, political, economic and spiritual distress” as he describes the modern condition. He seems to be speaking directly to our time and its irrational politics when he states, “Rational arguments can be conducted with some prospect of success only so long as the emotionality of a given situation does not exceed a certain critical degree. If the affective temperature rises above this level, the possibility of reason having any effect ceases and its place is taken by slogans and chimerical wish-fantasies.” Is there any question, with the screaming of August giving way to the racism of autumn, that we’ve exceeded that “affective temperature?” Jung even seems to explain the numbers of shrill and mindless protesters which spring from the 20 per cent that still support discredited conservative policy (as opposed to valid, rational conservatism; the discredited are known as “Republicans”). “Such individuals are by no means rare curiosities to be met with only in prisons and lunatic asylums,” he says. “For every manifest case of insanity there are, in my estimation, at least ten latent cases who seldom get to the point of breaking out openly but whose views and behavior, for all their appearances of normality, are influenced by unconsciously morbid and perverse factors.” Is that what we’re seeing today? A breaking out of latent insanity?
The extreme right as well will find much to quote in The Undiscovered Self, especially in regard to Jung’s declaration that the state is increasingly depriving the individual of “the moral decision as to how he should live his own life…” There’s even a line which seems to describe Islamic (as well as Christian and right-wing) terrorists: “Everywhere in the West there are subversive minorities who, sheltered by our humanitarianism and our sense of justice, hold the incendiary torches ready…” But it must be remembered that Jung is writing in the throes of the Cold War and it becomes apparent as one reads on that he is talking of life in the Soviet bloc and in terms of East/West rivalries. Indeed, he cites the dangers of religious fanaticism present in the West (read “the Christian right”) and says that the West “unfortunately (has) not yet awakened to the fact that our appeal to idealism and reason and other desirable virtues, delivered with so much enthusiasm, is mere sound and fury.”
This short, easily-read text, updated in 1958 to reflect the consequences of the Hungarian uprising, has much to offer modern times, especially regarding our need for spirituality and the political surrogates rising up to replace it. The Undiscovered Self speaks to us with communal as well as personal relevancy. Can we expect the same of Jung’s upcoming, personal account of his descent into creative madness? We may never know. Set to be released in early October, The Red Book as it has come to be known, carries a list price of $195. Sometimes the price of knowledge, especially self-knowledge, is too dear.–Cabbage Rabbit