It is not necessary to be a great scholar to see that our world today is not in good health. It is a broken world. Its ills are innumerable; it writhes in its pain. If it has passed the acute stage of its illness, it is still not cured. We get the clear impression that it is enjoying only a temporary remission. What is this disease from which it is suffering?
There is a crisis today in every one of our disciplines, a crisis in science, a crisis in education, a crisis in law. There is a political and economic crisis, a philosophical and religious crisis. I am neither a historian, a theologian, nor a sociologist. In my own profession I am the least specialized of all doctors. I am nothing more than an observer of man, the infinitely diverse and infinitely similar man who comes to me day after day to open his heart.
I have found a clue in what Pascal wrote: “All the generations of men following each other in the course of so many centuries must be considered as one man who continues always to subsist and is constantly learning.” With Pascal, then, let us view the history of man as the history of a single life. When a sick person comes to us we always ask him first about his childhood and his adolescence; we seek to understand his development.
The childhood of mankind is Antiquity. Antiquity has all the characteristics of a child prodigy, who seems to be able effortlessly and spontaneously to discover the purest, the truest, and the greatest treasures, especially in the realm of art and poetry and dreams, just as if complete masterpieces came gushing forth from his childlike, innocent soul. Childhood, Antiquity, is the age of poetry.
Since then humanity has gone through the Middle Ages, which we may compare with the School Age of man. Until he reaches the point of emerging independence sometime in adolescence, the child obediently learns everything he is taught. He believes all that he is told to believe. He accepts without argument the authority of his parents and his teachers. It is the age of conventional religion, the acceptance of the religion that is taught. In the same way men in the Middle Ages grew up in the thought system which their teacher, the church, imposed upon them. They accepted it uncritically, without even noticing—in this respect like a child—that this teacher was not without fault. This the age when the child believes that those who instruct him know everything and are perfect. He takes them for gods and accepts the faith and the morals which they present to him. And even if he disobeys, he still does not question their authority.
Then comes the age of Adolescence. A flood of new knowledge, the intoxication of learning, and the yearning for personal experience confront the adolescent with a thousand problems, which, so it seems to him; he revolts. He demands the right to think for himself and not in accord with a system of traditional thought, the right to follow his own opinions rather than the authority of others. Can we not compare this crisis of adolescence to that which was set off by the Renaissance?
In the same way, since the Renaissance, mankind has taken the opposite view of the world from that which had been taught by Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Self-assertion is entirely negative. Liberty is more a matter of talk and argument than of creative activity. Simply to say no consistently where hitherto one consistently said yes is not to be free. For a spiritual, religious, and poetic view of the world the Renaissance substituted a scientific, realistic, economic view. Like the adolescent it flung itself passionately into study and tumultuously into extreme and contradictory doctrines. It was a violent reaction to the claim of the late Middle Ages which had tried to confine all culture and all of life in a rigid, logical system, derived from faith.
Just as the young man in revolt accuses his parents, so the modern world sees in the church the great obstacle which prevented it from becoming itself, from freedom of thought Nietzsche wrote: “What was the greatest objection to existence hitherto? . . . God . . .”
What also characterizes our young adolescent is “disparagement.” He disparages the values by which he was raised. Scoffs at his parents. Moral and social conformism is regarded as hypocrisy. Satre: “Look at the coffee-house waiter; he is playing the coffee-house waiter.”
We can thus compare the centuries man has lived since the Renaissance to the critical years of Adolescence. This crisis is necessary and normal. Before maturity is attained the young man must go through the time of storm and stress when everything is subject to question. The day will come when he will discover again many of the treasures of his childhood, when he will return to the faith in which he grew up and the principles which were inculcated in him. But then he will give them a quite personal turn; he will profess them as his own convictions based upon his innermost experience. In psychology this is called Integration.
But sometimes this integration is delayed and the crisis of adolescence takes on the proportions of an illness. The doctor then explained to him (the young man) the immense role that the conflict with his father had played in his failures, that his defiant attitude toward his father had carried over into his revolt against the school and his conflict with his teachers and that finally he had become the victim of his own revolt. Indeed, it had caused his revolt against God, who is the supreme authority, but also the source of all true victory over oneself. “The basic condition of man is presented in the allegory of the return of the Prodigal Son.”
Now, why do we say that this is a neurosis and not simply a normal crisis of adolescence? What distinguishes a neurosis in the first place is anxiety. Modern man is distressed with himself. Beneath a flood of criticisms he is concealing an inner anxiety. Sartre has said, “Man is anxiety.”
What further characterizes a neurosis is its sterility. Big dreams are merely compensations and escapes; they do not produce the fruit which they might produce and they do not deliver one from their anxiety. In the same way we find in the modern world some true values—elite, literary, artistic, spiritual—but which have somehow been thrown out of gear and do not play an effective role in the destiny of society.
What is more, the tragic thing about neurotics is that the very efforts they make to save themselves destroy them. I find the same paradox in the modern world. The efforts it makes to save itself bring it to ruin. In many respects can we not see in the crisis of Nazism the same kind of neurotic gesture, which actually precipitates its ruin by the very means it has chosen to escape it? “National Socialism,” writes Wilhelm Ropke, “was in large part the German form of an international mental disease.”
In any case, it is interesting to note how much the Nazi adventure reminds us of certain disorders that are characteristic of adolescence, notably the escapade. The “escapist,” Dr. Rene Allendy tells us, throws himself headlong into the naive realization of a project that fascinates him without worrying about what will happen afterward; he is beyond all reasoning. Recall the statement made by Goebbels, “When we win, everybody will want to be our friend.”
This behavior which produces the opposite of what is desired is one of the specific characteristics of neurosis, giving it such appearance of a curse, a doom, a rushing into self-destruction, a demonic force. It was after the Buchenwald concentration came that Jung the psychoanalyst recently revived the ancient biblical concept of demons.
For the final characteristic of neurosis is that is has its source in an “unconscious inner conflict.” “The neurotic,” writes Jung, “is sick because he is not conscious of his problems.” May it not be, then, that modern man too is suffering from an unconscious inner conflict; that he too is unconscious of his real problem? Are not his political and economic difficulties symptomatic of a true problem that lies elsewhere? Is he not projecting them upon everything he encounters?
Here we come back to what we said about the Renaissance. Abruptly humanity rejected that which it had hitherto allowed to guide it. It resolved to pay no more attention to any judgment of value, no longer to trust any metaphysical institution, any poetic inspiration any supernatural revelation, and to build its civilization solely upon material realities and objective knowledge. On the whole today it is apparently still very little concerned with philosophical, artistic, moral and religious problems. It believes, its destiny is to be determined by economics, science, technology, and politics. But mankind has not been able to wholly to suppress these problems of value and feeling. It has merely repressed them in its unconscious. Dr. Jung has illuminated the extreme importance of the collective unconscious of humanity in which slumbers everything that animated its spirit in times past: the world of symbol, poetry, truth, justice. As Freud discovered the instinctive unconscious, Dr. Jung has studied the spiritual unconscious which still exists in modern man, intact and active, though he has no idea of it. “There is no doubt that it is the great world religions that have educated humanity.
A person is neurotic when he has repressed something without having really eliminated it. Modern man thinks he has eliminated the world of values, the world of poetry, the world of moral consciousness; but he has only repressed it and is suffering from it . . . or fighting against himself. An inner conflict—this is what neurosis is.
The cause of this epoch’s malady is that is that our materialistic and amoral civilization no longer answers the deepest needs of the soul. The world tells him that feeling, faith, and philosophical truth are unimportant. His thirst for love, his spiritual loneliness, his fear of death, the riddle of evil, the mystery of God—he no longer speaks of these things; he represses them, but still they haunt him. Modern man suffers from repression of conscience.
The son who loves his father is right and healthy. The son who hates his father is not right, but healthy. The son who loves and hates his father at the same time is neurotic. Neurosis rests upon an inner contradiction.
This is what makes it possible for many doctors to say that the neurotic son will be cured if he frees himself from his moral scruples and hates his father will all his heart. Other doctors, however, say that he will never able to stifle completely his ideal of love and can only be cured by abandoning his hatred.
In the same way, I believe that if humanity, since the Renaissance, had really been able eliminate the spiritual, to “kill God,” as some have believed it has, it would probably be less sick than it is today. The collective man, of whom Pascal wrote, has rejected his childhood. He has rejected the moral criteria of the past and refused to recognize anything except the reason, the yardstick, and the scales. But the idea of the beautiful, the good, the just, his need for communion with his Creator, he has only been able to repress below the field of consciousness.
Freud saw nothing but the repression of instinct, and we know that for him the spiritual life and the conscience are based upon an illusion. Dr. Maeder goes on to say, “We know now that repression of the instinct but also repression of the ideal, of the conscience, exists.”
But whoever acts contrary to his conscience, Dr Baruk goes on to say, “whoever violates the laws of equity and humanity exposes himself to feeling the effects of a very special illness. This illness consists in an intolerable inner judgment, so intolerable that very often it is immediately repressed by means of an extremely violent defense reaction which eliminates the intolerable feeling from the consciousness. But this elimination is only apparent and the disappearance of the guilt feeling is only an illusion: the feeling persists is camouflaged in the unconscious, and therefore becomes all the more redoubtable while expressing itself in outward reactions which are incomprehensible in appearance and often terrifying. In order to justify himself, continues Dr. Baruk, the person who represses his conscience “often tries to shift his discontent to innocent victims . . . and thus artificially culprits.” This is the mechanism of the scapegoats. “The drama of Europe,” writes Andre Malraux, “is the drama of a bad conscience.” [Referring to Hitler’s Third Reich.]
Why is it, then, that science, which has studied man minutely, for centuries has remained blind to such utterly important phenomena? The answer is that ever since Descartes it has imposed upon itself and absolute prejudice: it refused any longer to take into account spiritual and moral realities. Descartes was deeply affected by the fate of Galileo of the Middle Ages as well as the atrocities committed in the name of Christianity, “When he saw how metaphysical and religious controversies set men against one another he conceived the plan of restoring accord by resolutely discarding all moral judgments of value. He therefore elevated to sole validity the criteria of reason, “common sense,” and the measures of weight, length, and time, which nobody could argue about.
Disgusted by the abuses to which it led, humanity repressed Christianity by which it had so long been dominated. Repressed, but not eliminated. Herein lies, I believe, the essence of the tragedy of modern times. The modern man lives as if Christianity were a negligible hypothesis with not relation to the concrete realities of the world and society. And yet at the bottom of his heart this man remains impregnated with Christianity, so that he lives in a state of perpetual ambivalence with regard to it.
I have emphasized the unconscious character of this inner conflict because this is where the illness lies. It must not be confused with the eternal moral struggle which man cannot escape, and which St. Paul describes in the Epistle to the Romans. Thus his conflict is unconscious: it is a sickness, a dramatic struggle which destroys his personhood. Conscious moral struggle, on the contrary, the struggle with sin in the name of a consciously recognized law, is constructive, even though man may have his defeats.
This modern man adheres by turns to the most contradictory new doctrines—individualism, totalitarianism, Nietzcheanism, existentialism, scientism, or Freudianism. He regulates his conduct in accord with them; but at the bottom of his soul he preserves an ideal and a conception of life which he owes to Christianity; the idea of a divine law, qualms of conscience when he violates it, fear of punishment, the need for pardon, grace, and reconciliation with God and man, the yearning for a complete renewal of his being, and at the same time for personal fulfillment and fellowship with others. Indeed, he has received all these ideas from God himself through the teaching of the church; and therefore he cannot erase them from his consciousness. Dr. Jung has said that every person over thirty-five years of age avers unconsciously or consciously that he is dominated by the fear of death and the religious problem.
Here lies the cause of a phenomenon which anyone can observe: our modern world is a world without conviction. Look at politics, economics, art, medicine. In the face of the urgency of the evils, men hastily seize upon superficial and often contradictory measures which merely aggravate the confusion. Ask these men the simplest questions about the real meaning of politics, economics, law, art, or medicine, the meaning and goal of life, culture, or the social order, and you will be astonished at their embarrassment. “Culture,” says Andre Malraux, “must transform itself and yet it does not know where it is going.” In every one of us today there is a deep uncertainty that stems from our inner conflict, from the that separation between our spiritual and our technological life.
The result is a world which is afraid. Without God, fear rules: fear with it two sets of reactions, the strong ones, such as bravado, aggressiveness, injustice, and the weak, such as panic, cowardice, and flight. The result is universal war. We know that science owes its upswing in large part to man’s desire to escape from fear.
Source: Tournier, Paul. Whole Person in a Broken World / New York: Harper & Row, 1964. Pp. 1–35.