Carl Jung: On the unconscious complexes of a nation triggering a catastrophe

jung-unconscious diposition1


From The Symbolic Life, Vol. 18 of the Collected Works, (Princeton, 1976 ), Paragraphs 1374-1378


For about half a century now science has been examining under the microscope something that is more invisible than the atom—the human psyche—and what it discovered at first was very far from enjoyable. If one had the necessary imagination one would actually be shattered by these discoveries. But the psychologist today is in the same position as the physicist, who has discovered the elements of a future atomic bomb capable of turning the earth into a nova. He sees it merely as an interesting scientific problem, without realizing that the end of the world has come tangibly closer. In the case of psychology things are not quite as bad as that, but all the same it has discovered where those demons, which in earlier ages dominated nature and man’s destiny, are actually domiciled, and, what is more, that they are none the worse for enlightenment. On the contrary, they are as sprightly as ever, and their activity has even extended its scope so much that they can now get their own back on all the achievements of the human mind. We know today that in the unconscious of every individual there are instinctive propensities or psychic systems charged with considerable tension. When they are helped in one way or another to break through into consciousness, and the latter has no opportunity to intercept them in higher forms, they sweep everything before them like a torrent and turn men into creatures for whom the word “beast” is still too good a name. They can then only be called “devils.” To evoke such phenomena in the masses all that is needed is a few possessed persons, or only one. Possession, though old-fashioned, has by no means become obsolete; only the name has changed. Formerly they spoke of “evil spirits,” now we call them “neuroses” or “unconscious complexes.” Here as everywhere the name makes no difference. The fact remains that a small unconscious cause is enough to wreck a man’s fate, to shatter a family, and to continue working down the generations like the curse of the Atrides.

If this unconscious disposition should happen to be one which is common to the great majority of the nation, then a single one of these complex-ridden individuals, who at the same time sets himself up as a megaphone, is enough to precipitate a catastrophe. The good people, in their innocence and unconsciousness, do not know what is happening to them when they are changed overnight into a “master race” (a work of the devil, who has so often changed horse-apples into gold), and an amazed Europe is hard put to accommodate itself to the “new order” where anything so monstrous (one thinks of Maidenek in relation to Eckhart, Luther, Goethe, and Kant!) is not merely a possibility but a fait accompli.
Countless people have asked themselves how it was possible for a civilized nation like Germany to fall into this hellish morass. I once wrote that Germany is the land of spiritual catastrophes.6 If the neo-German madness proclaims that the Germans are the chosen people, and if they then, out of envious rivalry, persecute the Jews with whom they have certain psychological peculiarities in common (behind every persecution there lurks a secret love, as doubt behind every fanaticism), we are indeed confronted with something quite apart, a state of being “elect.” For nobody can fall so low unless he has a great depth. If such a thing can happen to a man, it challenges his best and highest on the other side; that is to say, this depth corresponds to a potential height, and the blackest darkness to a hidden light. This light is certainly invisible today, because it is blocked up in the depths of the psyche. Indeed everything has gone so desperately awry in Germany, and what has happened is an infernal caricature of the answer the German spirit should have given to the question put to Europe by a new age. Instead of reflecting on this question, it was taken in by that fake figure of the Superman, which the neurotically degenerate mind of Nietzsche invented as a compensation for his own weakness. (Not without some excuse, however, since the Faust that made the pact with the devil was his godfather.) Germany has soiled her name and her honour with the blood of the innocent and brought upon her own head the curse of election. She has aroused such hatred in the world that it is difficult to make the scales of justice balance. And yet the first to enter with the Saviour into paradise was the thief. And what does Meister Eckhart say? “For this reason God is willing to bear the brunt of sins and often winks at them, mostly sending them to people for whom he has prepared some high destiny. See! Who was dearer to our Lord or more intimate with him than his apostles? Not one of them but fell into mortal sin, and all were mortal sinners.”

The psychiatrist knows that certain dangerous unconscious forces can be rendered harmless, or at least held in check, if they are made conscious, that is. if the patient can assimilate them and integrate them with his personality. In so far as psychiatrists are concerned with the psychic treatment of such complexes, they have to do every day with “demons,” i.e., with psychic factors that display demonic features when they appear as a mass phenomenon. To be sure, a bloodless operation of this kind is successful only when a single individual is involved. If it is a whole family, the chances are ten to one against, and only a miracle can provide the remedy. But when it is a whole nation the artillery speaks the final word. If this is to be avoided one must begin with the individual—and a lamentably long-drawn-out and hopeless labour of Sisyphus this may seem. At any rate people are so impressed by the suggestive power of megaphone oratory that they are inclined to believe that this bad means—mass hypnotism—could be put to a good purpose by “inflammatory” speeches.


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