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Gary Lachman’s book Politics and the Occult: The Left, The Right, and the Radically Unseen is available from Amazon US and Amazon UK.

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Dark Sides: The Jung Case

Although Hitler apparently had little interest in the occult – as Mark Sedgwick writes, “Hitler had no sympathy for occultism of any variety,” – he had close contact with people who did, and the Nazi movement, while not the product of “black brotherhoods” or diabolical “unknown superiors,” was certainly amenable to some occult influences. Himmler’s SS infamously incorporated runic, pagan, and Grail elements and was deeply influenced by the ideas of the occultist Karl Maria Wiligut. One SS officer, Otto Rahn, wrote a bestselling book, Crusade against the Grail, associating the Cathars with the Grail legend. Hermann Wirth, author of the monumental The Rise of Mankind, used meditation to view the past and argued, like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, that the Aryan race began in the frozen north. In 1935 Wirth was a co-founder of the notorious Ahnenerbe, the Nazi “research unit” devoted to uncovering Germany’s ancestral Aryan heritage, whose efforts included sending the SS explorer Ernst Schäfer to the Himalayas to measure Tibetan skulls. And while Hitler himself may have rejected occultism, he was certainly aware of “the power of myth,” a phrase familiar to viewers of the journalist Bill Moyers’ fantastically successful series of interviews with the mythologist Joseph Campbell.

The electrifying power of the swastika; Albert Speer’s dazzling lighting effects at the Nuremberg rallies; Hitler’s “demonic” oratory and his own deification as the Führer; the romantic vision of a bucolic Germany rooted in “blood and soil,” as opposed to an urban, mechanical modernity – all were part of the myth of National Socialism that Hitler and his followers sold to an interested public. A myth was instrumental in Hitler’s success, the dark lie voiced in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Whether the Protocols were “true” or not probably never occurred to Hitler; what was important was that they agreed with his own views and that, like himself, many people believed they were true. (The people who believed in the Protocols weren’t necessarily unintelligent; one of their most fervent supporters was Henry Ford, father of the assembly line and mass production. Like many influential people, faced with evidence that the Protocols were forged, Ford refused to believe it.) Like the French syndicalist George Sorrel and the political philosopher Leo Strauss, Hitler knew that in politics, myth is often more important than the “truth,” a difficult commodity to pin down at any time. Reason and rationality are boring and demand effort. Myth bypasses the inhibitions of the critical mind, and reaches down to the vital forces below. This is what makes it exciting and enlivening. It is also what makes it dangerous. In saying this I am not arguing “against” myth, merely pointing out that it entails something more than just “following your bliss.”

Yet many at the time were willing to risk the danger and embrace myth over reason. One was the Swiss psychologist C. G. Jung, perhaps more than anyone else, the single most important figure in the reawakening of spiritual thought in modern times. Although for much of his career Jung obscured his interest in the occult, in his later years his writings on Gnosticism, alchemy, the paranormal, spiritualism, and even flying saucers brought these otherwise marginal areas into the field of respectable research. Predictably, Jung’s occult inclinations led to criticisms of irrationalism. Like Ludwig Klages, Jung has been seen by many on the left as a dangerous exponent of völkisch ideas. The neo-Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch, himself no stranger to Rosicrucianesque utopias, once described Jung as a “fascistically frothing psychoanalyst.” Other neo-Marxist philosophers, like Theodor Adorno, likewise branded Jung a fascist. The tag was perhaps first made seriously by the German-Jewish cultural philosopher Walter Benjamin, who, unlike Adorno, had some interest in occult ideas, specifically the cabala and graphology, a discipline he shared, ironically, with the “fascist” Klages. (Benjamin was also a close friend of the cabalist scholar Gershom Scholem, who, as mentioned, was an associate of Jung at the Eranos lectures.) Adorno, Bloch, and others saw Jung’s psychology as a simple celebration of the unconscious, a rejection of the rational, critical mind in the same vein as the work of the more straightforward irrationalist Klages, whose ideas about “soul” in opposition to “spirit,” they argue, helped prime the German psyche for Hitler. The fact that Jung, like many others, at first believed that the creative potential of Germany might find fruitful expression through Hitler couldn’t have helped. According to Jung’s psychology, the “shadow” side of the psyche, though associated with “evil,” can often be the source of “good,” of new life and transformation, and Jung reportedly spoke of the Nazis as “a chaotic precondition for the birth of a new world,” a nod to Nietzsche’s remark that “One must have chaos within oneself to give birth to a dancing star.” This, in a way, exemplifies the dangers of “holy sinning,” and reminds us that even great men can be blinded by their ideas.

More recently, in his controversial work The Jung Cult, Richard Noll makes similar charges against Jung, arguing that in his early career the heir apparent to the throne of Freud immersed himself in the Aryan occult milieu of Munich and Ascona, as a devotee of völkisch beliefs who envisioned himself a kind of national savior. Other works suggest that in his later career Jung was, while not a full-fledged party member, at least a kind of Nazi “fellow traveler,” hedging his bets before finally coming down on the winning side. Jung’s supporters reject this idea as well as the belief that, in the words of the novelist Thomas Mann, Jung was “always a half-Nazi.” Jung himself flatly denied that he was ever a Nazi sympathizer or anti-Semitic.

The debate continues. What comes across in accounts of Jung’s involvement with the Nazis is that, like anyone else, the great man was capable of damaging mistakes and misjudgments, a charge made against Jung by one of his closest collaborators, the Jewish psychoanalyst Jolande Jacobi. Jung’s misjudgments included commenting on the differences between the German and Jewish psyches at a time when such remarks, no matter how “objective” or “scientific,” would be used for odious purposes by the Nazi racial hacks. Pronouncements on the “old” Jewish psyche and the “youthful” German one were bound to be misread in the dark days of the 1930s, notwithstanding that Jung made these comments in the context of others about the “western” and “eastern” psyches, and wasn’t singling the Jews out for criticism. Likewise, Jung’s remark that the Jews seem “never to have created a cultural form of their own,” but require a “host nation,” would have been read in 1934 (when it was made) in one way only, that the Jew was a parasite, feeding off its Aryan host, no matter that Jewish philosophers like Otto Weininger and Ludwig Wittgenstein made similar remarks (and clearly, that they said it doesn’t make it true).

Jung can also be criticized for accepting the presidency of the General Society for Psychotherapy and editorship of its journal, the Zentralblatt für Psychotherapie – both based in Germany – at a time when they were moving inexorably toward being gleichgeschaltet, “conformed,” to Nazi ideologies. Jung argued that he accepted the presidency in order to prevent the society from becoming totally Nazified, and that he even took steps to help its Jewish members, redrafting its statutes to make it formally international, and creating a new category of individual membership, thus allowing Jews excluded from German membership to belong as individuals. During Jung’s editorship of the Zentralblatt, Dr. M. H. Göring – a cousin of the Nazi Reichmarshal Hermann Göring – who had been made president of the German Section of the Society, inserted a pro-Nazi statement of principles in an issue in 1933, recommending Mein Kampf as a basic text for all psychotherapists and urging all members to declare their loyalty to National Socialism. Jung, who lived in Zurich, and had little “hands on” control of the journal, was outraged at the statement and claimed it was included without his knowledge.

Jung eventually gave up his presidency and editorship, but that he initially stayed on has been taken as evidence that he didn’t want to become an enemy of the Third Reich too early in the game. In his defense it can be said that Jung didn’t want to hand over an important intellectual journal to complete Nazi rule, and along with helping Jewish colleagues and other Jews – and having important Jewish followers, like Erich Neumann and Gerhard Adler – in 1936 Jung did finally condemn Hitler as a “raving berserker,” a man “possessed” who had set Germany on its “course toward perdition.” After this, Jung naturally became a target; his books were suppressed and destroyed, and his name put on the Nazi blacklist. As Deirdre Bair makes clear in her recent biography of Jung, U.S. military intelligence checked reports of Jung’s Nazi sympathies, found they were unsubstantiated, and conscripted Jung to help in their plans to defeat Hitler. Along with other efforts in the Allied cause, Jung worked with the Office of Strategic Services, making psychological assessments of Nazi leaders, under the code name “Agent 488.” Jung’s influence reached to the upper echelons of the Allied hierarchy when, towards the close of the war, General Dwight D. Eisenhower turned to Jung’s work for insight on how best to convince the German civilians that defeat was inevitable. Jung was even briefly involved in a German plot to overthrow Hitler, and his essay “Wotan,” in which he argues that the rise of National Socialism was evidence that Germany, which he called a “land of spiritual catastrophes,” had been overwhelmed by the archetype of the ancient Teutonic god, became required reading throughout the British Foreign Office.

But in a sense, Jung’s encounter with Nazism is a red herring. Whether he was inclined toward Nazism or not (and I don’t think he was), like Schwaller de Lubicz, Jung was in many ways a “man of the right.” Like René Guénon, he had little love for the modern
world. He built his famous tower, Bollingen, on the shores of Lake Zurich so he could escape from modern banality and immerse himself in older, mythic forms of consciousness. He was notoriously disparaging of modern culture and saw works like James Joyce’s Ulysses and Picasso’s paintings as indications of a psychic deterioration; he was also, like Schwaller, tin-eared and had little time for music. There was also an authoritarian streak in Jung which made him partial to dictators like Spain’s Francisco Franco, a political sentiment that put him at odds with his fellow Eranos lecturer Jean Gebser, who was on the side of the Republicans and missed being executed by the fascists by a hairsbreadth. With all due respect for his undeniable contribution to the spiritual consciousness of modern times, this marks Jung as one of the “good guys” who said “bad things.”

Like Joseph de Maistre and Saint-Yves d’Alveydre, Jung believed that anarchy must be avoided at all costs. Writing in 1936, Jung argued that “the loss of any firm authority is gradually leading to an intellectual, political, and social anarchy, which is repugnant to the soul of European man, accustomed as he is to patriarchal order.” He felt that the loss of the authority of the Church was responsible for the rise of totalitarianism and the deification of the state, which he defined as “the agglomeration of the nonentities composing it.” Like Ouspensky, Jung believed that the state was “intellectually and ethically far below the level of most of the individuals in it,” yet he felt that modern man was increasingly moving toward some absorption in the mass. One agent of this was the welfare state, which Jung saw as a “doubtful blessing” that “robs people of their individual responsibility and turns them into infants and sheep” and produces a collectivist society in which “the capable will simply be exploited by the irresponsible,” an argument often made by conservative politicians and right-wing thinkers like the philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand. Yet the welfare state was only one manifestation of the ills of modernity. More disturbing was “the accumulation of urban, industrialized masses – of people torn from the soil, engaged in one-sided employment, and lacking every healthy instinct, even that of self-preservation,” an observation that could easily have been made by the Traditionalist and fascist sympathizer Julius Evola.

Jung argued that these conditions made something like Nazism possible, yet these are the very evils the Nazis opposed when they championed being “rooted in the soil” against what they saw as a rootless, urban, Jewish cosmopolitanism. This doesn’t undermine Jung’s criticism of the modern condition, which in many ways rings true, but it is another example of the complexities of occult politics. It also shows that a rejection of the modern world needn’t result in a dangerous “flight from reason,” or an embrace of some putative “tradition,” or a plunge into fascism. It can also prompt a rational recognition that unless these troubling realities are addressed, one of these three undesirable possibilities will settle in to fill the gap.

Against these trends, Jung offered his concept of individuation, the psychological process through which, in Nietzsche’s phrase, “one becomes what one is,” and which Jung saw as Western man’s only hope to avoid being absorbed in some homogenous social mass, the “mass man” of modern times. As Noll argues in his challenging work, it’s easy to see this as Jung’s own call for an elite; by Jung’s admission, individuation, while theoretically possible for everyone, is really embraced only by the few, although there is nothing to stop others from doing so, except inclination. The echoes of Guénon and Schwaller are disturbing, yet Jung’s individuation, like the psychologist Abraham Maslow’s self-actualizing, doesn’t call for some primordial tradition or temple knowledge – or even riding boots – but for us to take on the responsibility of realizing our own personality and potential, which Jung called “an act of the greatest courage in the face of life.” As such, it suggests a more liberal, tolerant, and creative path than the one offered by authoritarian schools of thought.

Yet those other schools of thought remained, and their reaction to the modern conditions that troubled Jung were very different.