The Empire Strikes Back


George MAKARI, Revolution in Mind: The Creation of Psychoanalysis, 2008. New York: HarperCollins. 613 pages; René POMMIER, Sigmund est fou et Freud a tout faux: Essai sur la théorie freudienne du rêve. 2008, Paris: Editions de Fallois. 187 pages; Jacques BENESTEAU, Mensonges freudiens: Histoire d’une désinformation séculaire, 2002, Sprimont (Belgium): Mardaga. 400 pages; Catherine MEYER (editor in chief), Le Livre noir de la psychanalyse. 2005, Paris: Editions des Arènes. 829 pages; Sigmund FREUD, Lettres à Wilhelm Fliess 1887-1904. Edition complète (Edition complète établie par Jeffrey Moussaieff MASSON; édition allemande revue et augmentée par Michael Schröter, Transcription de Gerhard Fichtner; Traduit de l’allemand par Françoise Kahn et François Robert). 2006. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France (PUF). 763 pages.



When the late British psychologist, Hans Jürgen Eysenck published Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire in 1985 (a revised edition with a preface by his widow, Sybil Eysenck, appeared in 2004) he could be fairly certain that the BBC was still concerned with the values of open investigation and honest reporting of facts to inform the public that Lord Reith (whatever his private frailties) had insisted on from his 1927 appointment as the first Director-General the British Broadcasting Corporation.


Within a few hectic years, however, the British public – and hence the English-speaking world – had been seduced into believing a vision of Sigmund Freud as the wise saviour of the world – the giant who understood our frailer parts. On the radio, the weekly morning show hosted by Melvyn (later Lord) Bragg, became a kind of coffee-shop where  Sigmund Freud and his ideas were regularly celebrated (as he would no doubt have wished) and tame scientists were brought into the studio to air their (ignorant) views of the founder of psychoanalysis (these invitees included, more than once, the famous neurologist and story-teller, Dr Oliver Sacks – who appears unaware of the reality of Freud’s years in Vienna – and a self-declared 40 years of personal analysis in America seems not to have enlightened him on the history of the movement).


By the beginning of the present century, in 2002, the BBC had accepted to screen as “documentaries” for its senior TV channel BBC2, a series in four episodes by the young director, Adam CURTIS entitled “The Century of the Self” (see: The voice-over the various archived images of stock 20th Century violence was intoned by Adam Curtis himself with the sepulchral gravity of profound truths being revealed. His series won a series of international TV awards. His series, also – it should be said – from his very first phrase is a farcical patchwork of lies designed to portray Sigmund Freud as the discoverer of what ails mankind and how, if only (?) we had heeded his wisdom, the 20th Century need not have been as vile as it had been. These are not documentaries; they are slick propaganda for a popular version of Freud that Goebbels would have appreciated for their suggestive flair and their show-biz savvy, and also, perhaps, for their successful mindless vacuity.


There is a sense in which the highly-informed (but selectively informed) volume by George Makari, Revolution in Mind: The Creation of Psychoanalysis is the American book-equivalent of the screen posturings of Adam Curtis. For the alert intelligent public for whom this work has been prepared this will no doubt prove a wide-ranging exploration of the origins and evolution of psychoanalysis from the early hints, so suggestive to Freud, of the Parisian magician Jean-Martin Charcot working on “trained” female hysterics at the French hospital in the 13th arrondissement, La Salpêtrière (the American film-maker John Huston has a really brilliant scene of “trained mechanical” hysterics at Charcot’s bidding in his little-known 1962 film Freud: The Secret Passion with Montgomery Clift as the young Freud – original screenplay by Sartre believe it or not!), — to the later quarrels with the Swiss and with other specialists in the field, to the various German conferences which were noted even then for their sect-like atmosphere.


The reader will be introduced to the famous Wednesday evening meetings of the Wednesday Psychological Society presided over by the Herr Professor himself. He will be introduced to Otto Rank (born Rosenfeld we are told) who was to dutifully write the minutes of the meetings. It may be worthwhile right now to give a rapid illustration of the curious charm of this book. In an attempt to show the reader the thoroughness of his research and the seriousness of his purpose in composing this volume, Makari (a psychiatrist and an accepted psychoanalyst) offers us apparently detailed accounts of the various quarrels between Wilhelm Stekel and the others, including Freud himself. One wonders just what the sense and purport of these meetings were. In an earlier book I suggested that they were the strict Austrian equivalent of that Society invented early in the 19th Century by the young Charles Dickens where Mr. Pickwick and his friends would do natural philosophy together. The Pickwick Papers are droll; the minutes recorded by the ever-so-proper Rank are unwittingly hilarious and give the game away as to the seriousness of thought or purpose of these people and their gatherings. Needless to say, we do not get to hear the nonsense being so profoundly considered by the Viennese “doctors”. Allow me to offer one brief minute from Rank’s recording of the “Scientific Meeting of March 6, 1907” – this, incidentally, was the first meeting ever attended by the Swiss Christians (the reason for this information will become apparent at the end of the quoted Minutes) Jung and Binswanger. Adler gives a paper – simply entitled “A Psychoanalysis” – concerning a wealthy Jewish Russian young man who was being treated for “nervousness”:

Adler then presents the analysis of this patient’s compulsion, which is connected with bathing.

The compulsion: When he took a bath he had to remain submerged under water until he had counted either to 3 or to 7 or to 49 (or all three numbers together). . . .

Associations: 3 is the sacred number; one counts 1, 2, 3, when taking a run for jumping; 7 is the Jewish holy number; 7 x 7 = 49; this is the Jewish Jubilee year.

Bath associations: when submerged in the water, he may have his usual palpitations of the heart; he also had them when he was riding a bicycle in Berlin in front of others. Explanation: because one’s pants can easily fall down when one is riding a bicycle. The patient has an inclination to keep his pants on. Even during “intercourse” with girls he frequently keeps his pants on . . .


FEDERN: . . . The obsessional need to remain dressed could be connected with a fear of soiling the pants. (He knows of such a case.) . . .

RANK thinks that the numbers 7 and 49 – the small and the big Jubilee year – represent the small and the big penis. . . .

FREUD, commenting on these remarks, says that 3 may perhaps represent the Christian penis; 7 the small, and 49 the large Jewish penis. The smaller Jewish penis is represented in the compulsion by the larger number.

(Nunberg, H. & Federn, E., eds. Minutes of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, 1962, vol. 1, 138-45)


Makari, who seems to be aware of this silly case, writes:

The Wednesday Society was a hodgepodge of arbitrary opinions alongside few tested rules. Moreover, no clear guideline existed to check various opinions, so they might be impartially insisted upon or rejected. They had no stable method and could not develop explanatory principles that did not require a great deal of explanation themselves. The problems of developing a common method were buried in the excitement of discovery. Freud was avidly working to solidify his theory of psychosexuality, and in the case of a boy he named Little Hans, for example, the doctor did not worry too much about the potential conflict involved in the fact that Max Graf was not only the child’s analyst but also his father.

(MAKARI, p. 155)


One can understand why one of the British editors of the Penguin Freud Library left the whole “discipline” and declared publicly that his name, Alan Tyson, was an anagram of “No Analyst”! Makari’s sorry effort is a glib attempt to recover some popular respect for Freud and his strange grasp of human behaviour. One consequence of this is that although there is an apparent narrative immediacy to the wide-ranging story-telling, there is a deceptive absence of two things. Two things, incidentally, that must be considered sine qua non for any serious presentation of Freud. The first is the absence of the many major “Freud Scholars” who over the last quarter of a century have provided much new and highly damaging material to the popular legend. Frederick Crews?? Who he? Adolf Grünbaum? Who he? Allen  Esterson? Who? Or the leading American psychiatrist, E. Fuller Torrey (who wrote Freudian Fraud) …. Frank Cioffi, the great Wittgemstein specialist,  likewise. And the rest of us, “underlabourers” in John Locke’s modest description of “those trying to clear the path to knowledge”. The second thing missing is the true – and now established – facts about several of the disasters for which Freud was responsible. Makari uses the Stalinist technique of airbrushing people into nonexistence. Freud himself was a master of the autobiographical camouflage and his faithful daughter inherited her father’s ability to lie with a straight face and to so “edit” her father’s written remains that it has taken many years to discover the hideous reality behind the enterprise. For example, and this is merely one glaring instance, you will find no reference to Emma Eckstein and her treatment (for painful and irregular periods and subsequent fits of depression). Freud, we now know, thanks to the complete uncensored edition of his letters to the otorhinolaryngologist of Berlin, Wilhelm Fliess edited by Jeffrey M. Masson and published by Harvard University Press in 1985, demanded his friend’s assistance in dealing with this patient. She had made the mistake of being honest with Freud and admitted that she masturbated. She suffered from the “Nasal Neurosis Complex” Fliess decided. The one certain cure was to operate on her nose and surgically remove the lower left bone of the tuberculi septi. This mad operation, its conception, its action, and the many months of near death from loss of blood and septic remains that would not heal as a result of an operation that was not merely unnecessary but, into the bargain, was hopelessly botched, all this is revealed in ghastly detail in Freud’s letters to Fliess. And, as one now may guess, every one of the letters dealing specifically with this was censored and/or removed by the faithful Anna Freud.

It was not until I had access to the complete texts of those letters that I was able to prove, with Freud’s own words (again, from letters not merely censored, but completely removed by Anna) that the first dream analysed in Chapter 2 “The Dream of Irma’s Injection” of The Interpretation of Dreams is a concatenation of hokey-pokey completely impossible once one compares the facts of Freud’s life and the dates of his eldest daughter’s attack of diphtheria. As for the famous date of July 24, 1895 (“Today the secret of the dream was revealed to Dr Sigmund Freud”), there was indeed a letter, a short one, to Fliess: “Daimonie warum schreibst du nicht?” No mention at all of Freud’s having the faintest clue what dreams are about. And, of course, that whole short letter was pulled from the censored 1950s edition of Anna Freud, Ernst Kris and Marie Bonaparte. They knew that if it were published Freud would be shown for the confabulating liar he was! In other words, not merely was Freud a liar; his daughter knew he was and made sure the word did not get around. By the same token one will look in vain for reference to the Emma Eckstein disaster in the writings of Anna Freud. And, it follows, one will look in vain through the pages of Makari’s propaganda piece for the slightest hint that psychoanalysis is cobbled together on medical incompetence of the worst sort, aided and abetted by lies where necessary.

His book is in this respect the most dangerous I have recently seen to be offered to the public at large. They will NOT know what to look for; they will not know how much has been uncovered by serious scholars in the last quarter century. This raises the inevitable two questions: Knowing, as he must, and like Anna before him, the massive duplicities in the Freudian enterprise, what on earth is Makari doing joining the gang? And secondarily (though for me this would be the first question): What on earth is he doing as a practicing psychiatrist? It was surprising to find on the back cover the four positive puffs: from Harold Bloom, widely-read and predictable; Jonathan Lear, poorly-read and predictable; Paul Auster (with this strange statement “Makari has written nothing less than a history of the modern mind”), perhaps he’s a friend of the author or confusing fiction with reality; and finally – how HarperCollins achieved this peach I will never know – the Nobel Prize winner for particle physics, Murray Gell-Mann: “. . . an excellent, fascinating, and definitive history of psychoanalysis up to 1945.”  One must assume that particle physics has little to do with understanding the history of human medical psychology.

After ploughing through the longwinded vacuities and deceptions of Makari’s massive volume, it was a refreshing, delightful pleasure to dance through the few (just 186!) lively pages of René Pommier’s brilliant and provocative Sigmund est fou et Freud a tout faux. The title itself is a promise of things to come. In France, Pommier, now retired as a Professor of French Literature, is known for his vigorous attacks on the intellectual flatulence that once passed for “la nouvelle critique”. One particular victim of his agile swordplay was Roland Barthes. I first came across Pommier’s writings with his splendid Assez décodé which in 1979 was awarded “le Prix de la Critique de l’Académie française”.  Pommier has decided to restrict his critique to the Dream Theory of Freud as it appears in The Interpretation of Dreams but also in many other works by Freud. He takes Freud to task for believing the unbelievable, in two particulars: (1) in assuming tiny infants have the mental capacities to practice the intellectual confabulations necessary to outwit the Censor; (2) in his brutally silly pansexual symbolism (‘going upstairs” is a symbol for coition” etc., etc.). In a profoundly frivolous moment, allow me to introduce the reader to a long-forgotten school-day rhyme which would surely have pleased Sigmund:

As Titian was mixing his madder,

His model posed, nude, on a ladder.

Her position, to Titian, suggested coition —

So he climbed up the ladder, and had her!

But back to the text: Pommier relies very much on Adolf Grünbaum’s two critical tomes Les Fondements de la psychanalyse and the later La Psychanalyse à l’épreuve. This weakens his argument to some extent because Grünbaum, as one American analyst noted, is the kind of enemy they could deal with! Grünbaum is a physicist and a philosopher of science and is, sometimes, a naïve reader of the deeply duplicitous texts of Freud. Pommier is not taken in by Freud – ever! But, in my view, the reliance on Grünbaum was unnecessary. Pommier’s intelligence, common sense, and wit, and disciplined scholarship, were more than sufficient. His book is dedicated to a widely published and respected psychiatrist at the University of Paris , Dr Quentin Debray and to the Belgian psychiatrist, and former psychoanalyst, Dr Jacques Van Rillaer.

This may be the appropriate place to introduce Catherine Meyer’s editing of a monumental task, over 800 pages and over 40 international scholarly collaborators to produce this extraordinary volume: Le Livre noir de la psychanalyse: Vivre, penser, et aller mieux sans Freud. Her editing is in every respect a triumph – of scholarship, of worldwide intellectual collaboration, and of marketing. This immense work was first published in September 2005. By the end of the year it was into its fourth reprinting! Dr Jacques Van Rillaer was one of the team of experts chosen by Catherine Meyer to head the difficult organization of the international scholars involved in the book. (Precisely, one may add, those very names notable for their absence from Makari’s supposedly “definitive” book.) As one may imagine with such “touchy” people as French Freudians (not to mention the radical Lacanians            !), the publishing of Le Livre noir de la psychanalyse was fraught with difficulties. Can such a book be published in a country like France without stepping on anybody’s toes?  I was asked by Mme Meyer to be one of that international group of scholars. Although I am quoted in the book, I decided not to collaborate. I felt that far too much respect was being shown to the Freudians and, more, that Mme Meyer had an unhealthy fear of possible confrontation. Of course there was confrontation! The French weekly magazine Le Nouvel Observateur took up the cudgels on behalf of the immense book and made it a full cover story. This enraged some of the more radical Lacanians led by Lacan’s son-in-law, Jacques-Alain Miller, and the self-appointed historian of French psychoanalysis, Elisabeth Roudinesco. The Lacanians, under Miller’s direction, even went so far as to gather old articles and to persuade the prestigious Paris publishing house, Le Seuil, to print and distribute a rebuttal by the end of February 2006:  L’Anti-Livre noir de la psychanalyse. It’s a foolish collection of hastily dusted-off nonsense. Which may mean that, for all their shouting and hollering, Meyer’s collaborative volume has got the Lacnanians on the run. My friend the French psychiatrist Jean- Pierre Luauté has many reservations about Le Livre noir being an opportunity missed; but he felt, nonetheless, that at least “il a délié les langues” – it had got people talking at last about the sacred cow of psychoanalysis in France!

The one regret one may have about the presentation of Le Livre noir de la psychanalyse is its quite deliberate and totally uncalled-for and unscholarly silence about the one other book in this list: Mensonges freudiens: Histoire d’une désinformation séculaire by the University of Toulouse clinical child psychologist, Jacques Bénesteau. This magnificent volume – by far the most overall scholarly success on both sides of the Atlantic and with frequent quotations from American, British, and Australian sources – came out in 2002 and the following year was unanimously awarded the annual prize for the finest scholarly publication on French medicine by the Comité d’histoire de la medicine française.

It is one of those scandals that occasionally arise when professional jealousies are stronger than the courage to recognize another researcher’s merits may be far higher than one’s own. I will name no names; but it says little for the moral courage of the editor of Le Livre noir de la psychanalyse that she caved in to such pressures and allowed her book to go before the public with no mention of the great and prize-winning volume that had preceded her efforts by three years and no mention of the medical scholar who had single-handedly produced this splendid work.

I mentioned earlier the debt we owe the moral courage and daring of Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson (then, in 1984, working at the Freud Archives) for having had the sheer chutzpah to make photocopies of Freud’s letters, of having so charmed the ancient Anna Freud in London that he almost managed to pull off the miracle of having all the letters published and still retaining his job. It was not to be. Dismissal from the Archives followed by lawsuits was the consequence of his actions. On the scholarly level there was great enthusiasm for his achievement. Some had, and still have, doubts about Masson’s own genuine understanding of Freud’s activities and of his own interpretive abilities with the very letters he rescued from their dungeon. At that time the French had no access to any of this material beyond the highly censored edition of Anna Freud. In 2006 – at long last – the French have produced a complete unexpurgated volume. It is, in fact, currently the best, the most careful edition of this correspondence. Instead of going from the English edition of Masson, the Presses Universitaires de France team went to Germany to the scholars at Tübingen and elsewhere and even more letters were found so that the largest and most accurately transcribed collection is now published by Presses Universitaires de France.

Having said that, I have a suspicion of wish fulfillment, or of whistling-in-the-dark, in the question printed by PUF on the illustrated band wrapped round the book: “Un autre Freud?” The answer is plainly: No! It’s the same nervous, cantankerous, selfish, deceptive, whining, cocaine nose-painting monomaniac, vastly ignorant of the brain’s structure and of the importance of myelin sheathing, and, strange to say, quite unaware about human psychological development – in short, the very same man that we’ve known for the last hundred years. Those hundred years of désinformation that Jacques Bénesteau has so carefully explored.


Robert Wilcocks. Professor Emeritus, University of Alberta.







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