Finding the Sunlit World with Dr. Schoeck

By Terry Hulsey

Have you ever wondered how it would be to live in a world free of cant?

Imagine a world with no Dr. Phil, no Katie Couric, a world with no notion that “everything is politics,” where news is presented by anonymous readers instead of media celebrities. Imagine being able to talk openly at work about any subject without fear of your job; imagine AM radio with more Eisteddfods than rantmeisters, a nation with more majors in Attic Greek than in Women’s Studies, a nation where the songs of Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg are more popular among blacks than rap music. Imagine a morally great man becoming president and broadcasting a fireside chat – about fly fishing.

At this start of a new century whose very air seems thick with poison against free minds and free people, it is good to look back on the past century which stands like a river of blood, dividing us from a real world where cant did not exist. A guide exists for this retrospection: Helmut Schoeck, a scholar well-known to this site, whose magnum opus Envy draws some 15,000 finds in a Google search. His book The Twentieth Century’s Twelve Delusions never saw the light of day in English, yet its catalogue of twelve of the century’s fundamental errors of thought goes far in explaining its 174 million deaths at the hands of the state, and in showing how the last century was a radical assault upon every concept of the normal to that time. I have reordered Dr. Schoeck’s list to better illustrate the sweeping nature of this assault, from psychology to the complex institutions.

Psychology and Freud’s reductionism

Whatever else one thinks of the work of Sigmund Freud, however much admiration one cherishes for his work in itself and for its creator, still it must be said that psychoanalysis has not cured this century, has not protected it from anything, and has left its mark purely on the level of informal counsel for the enlightened upper classes. Much was known and written about the depth and power of the unconsciousness, about the malice of the subconscious and about the primal manifestations of sex long before Freud. What was lacking was a theory accompanied by specific cases and a sect that elevated each of these cases to an eternal revelation. For example, the doctor and philosopher Carl Gustav Carus (1789-1869) can be considered a forerunner of Freud; it was he who introduced the concept of the unconscious in psychology. [p141 All my translations are followed by page numbers of the 1985 Die zwölf Irrtümer unseres Jahrhunderts.]

It is truly astonishing that this man, with the powerful stench of the shaman about him, has had such an influence. He began as a hypnotist then advanced to writing Carnac the Magnificent letters to his wife: “Martha, weren’t you thinking about such-and-such on the twentieth of last month?” And her typical reply: “No, Sigi, dear, I was out shopping.” Indeed, Dr. Schoeck obliquely refers to the book that would have made this side of Freud popularly accessible. He is too tactful to reveal the title, but your correspondent has no such scruples. It is E.M. Thornton’s The Freudian Fallacy, which dropped stillborn from the press in 1983, now available on Amazon for as little as 72 cents and bereft of a single reader comment. Schoeck writes:

At the beginning of the 1980s a book about Freud came as a terrible shock to the worldwide psychoanalytic community, that a supposed disciple of the true doctrine was able to write on the basis of his access to the protected Freud archives. But even before that, in the course of the century, circumstantial evidence surfaced that threw the dogma into a dilemma: Freud in his private life and Freud the theoretician of the life of the soul stand athwart each other. What is fatal for Freud’s theory is that every tactless, frivolous or malicious revelation from his private life shakes the very foundations of his teaching. And indeed this is even more decisive the more Freud is right as a theoretician. The dilemma is this: either Freud’s salient data are dressed-up cases, which, being fished up out of the patient from circumstantial details, are irrelevant as a likeness of the patient himself, of the analyst and of the world — in which case of course revelations about Freud’s private and intimate life are of no consequence; or Freud was right in every way, and his evidence is valid and is of such a monumental theoretical fecundity that every detail from Freud’s private life, dragged into the light and published by the unscrupulous, becomes a danger to the claim to general acceptance by psychoanalysis. [pp143-144]

In other words, the bedrock of Freud’s theorizing is his own chutzpah, and you can either swallow it whole or spit it out – Aut Deus, aut homo malus you might say. Either the sexual obsession fillipped by Freud’s cocaine addiction is an aberration, or it’s valid for him and all you repressed, hung-up bourgeois, too. One can just imagine the horror of Viennese patients on his couch, hearing his now-commonplace suggestions for the first time: “So, you wish to mount your own mother, no? You were punished for your joy of defecating when a child? You perhaps wish to slaughter your entire family despite your tender words of love for them, isn’t it?” But by now we all know this is the very picture of our inner life, don’t we? And just as any clever high school student can pick up the lingo of Marx without ever cracking open Das Kapital, so it goes for Freud. And thus the mysterious alphabet of the universe is reduced to an erotic binary: a shaft or a hole.

Family and the feminist assault
Although belief in Freud is not without agnostics, his fundamental fallacy that therapy can be achieved purely by introspection or interlocution is not questioned, a fallacy that has stood athwart real advances in the field of psychotropic medicine. Indeed this delusion is the basis of a shamanism that can be played fast and loose according to political needs. For example, one could ask whether Freud’s notion of penis envy applies less to a hatred for masculinity itself than to the traditionally superior role of men in society; an experiment might be conducted to determine whether in fact matriarchal societies have had less of it than patriarchal ones. Schoeck explains why you won’t be seeing this inquiry conducted any time soon:

In view of the paucity of any matriarchal cultures of any consequence, and in view of the inclination of many ethnologists in the field to snatch up this theme of the day, I am afraid that this experiment would be hard to conduct. One need only think for example of the “discoveries” of Margaret Mead in Samoa, which were revealed early in the 1980s by Derek Freeman in his book Margaret Mead and the Heretic: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth (Harvard University Press, 1983) to be pure legends. [p153]

Nor can radical feminism find real scientific support in comparative psychology or in sociobiology. Schoeck:

There are in fact nuclear families among those animals that are members of our family tree where the male does almost everything for and with the offspring that the female does. The male feeds and incubates the young, and he carries them around with him. Yet the more completely that the duties of father and mother in the animal kingdom have become the same, the more exclusively have the two practiced a virtue during their life span: they are absolutely faithful and monogamous. [p157]

But despite its excesses, hasn’t the feminist movement had some beneficial influence, for example in encouraging greater participation of men in the nurturing aspects of family, and in encouraging women in fulfilling careers outside the family? Schoeck:

The authentic family with its naturally created Mr. Mom, as it had already existed in America [in the late 1950s], is a scandal to feminism. It is a fact that they either cannot notice or do not want to admit. The true Mr. Mom, a product of a civilization stamped by a Northern European, Western and also in part American influence, but also a result of a general softening of interpersonal relations in the second half of our century is a phenomenon just as uncomfortable for them as the phenomenon of Margaret Thatcher has become since 1975, for example. For British feminists this woman is simply no longer a woman because she is devoid of feminist fanaticism[….] [p240]

When it fails even on the pretense of a mutual aid society, feminism shows itself for what it is: the women’s auxiliary of militant Leftism:

In 1980 began the new Islam, the spread of fundamentalist Islam, not only in Iran, with consequences for women that meant a retreat in time of 1000 years or more. Even women who in their Western, Christian countries worked in businesses or offices that belonged to a fundamentalist Islamic state had to put up with much of it. How little leftist feminism, the militant women’s movement in the West, is concerned with women, and how much it is concerned with anti-Western politics is seen by the almost complete lack of reaction to the stripping of rights from women in the course of the new movement in Islam: no attempt at boycott; scarcely any criticism, but rather a readiness to be understanding. [p131]

Social relations as shaped by money
The notion that government has not only a right but a duty to shape social arrangements was new to the West before the twentieth century. This means of course that tradition ruled as the common law of social arrangements, that markets were the aggregate expression of countless personal decisions of a free citizenry, and that money was their objective counting unit. As markets widened to include decisions made beyond the visible circle of family and community, people turned to governments all too eager to assume the pretense of competence in abstract economic relations. Particularly devastating to free markets in this regard was the influence of Keynes:

The notion that someone might be responsible for the availability of, or demand for, work in a given occupation was entirely foreign to people up until the middle of this century. Only in the 1940s, starting in the Anglo-American countries and then everywhere in the 1950s, did the full-employment economy become a state doctrine. The politicians of all parties eagerly declared their boundless competence and believed with the great Keynes that henceforth unemployment above a certain level was to be considered “politically impractical.” [p164]

Governments established themselves as the morally superior arbiter of disputes between the rich and the poor – even when those disputes were inflamed by its own actions – charging an ever-rising percentage for their services. And shouldn’t government charge for its services, especially for the important service of reducing envy? After all, since the century’s growing wealth of historical evidence delegitimized Christianity and other religions that had performed this key service (“the poor are always with you,” “we are brothers in Christ,” etc., etc.), why shouldn’t governments now get paid for it? Schoeck cites the 1982 math model of Dieter Bös which shows that redistribution – the only tool of governments not yet pretending to theological competence – cannot provide a solution:

What is envied is [quoting Bös] “ultimately the abilities of someone else, since income and the disposition for work, which are the point of departure for envy, parametrically depend upon those abilities and only upon them.” Therefore he thinks that envy can be removed from the world neither by monetary policies nor by educational policies. [p190]

While some Leftists were honest enough to admit the value of money as a unit of account (even Harold Laski (1893-1950), a prominent economist but an otherwise pathological liar according to Hayek on Hayek: An Autobiographical Dialogue), they remained determined to discredit its value as an incentive. The trick was either to find a substitute or to find social arrangements that would dispense with incentives altogether. Addressing the latter, Schoeck considers [pp70-71] Maximilian Piperek’s 1981 study of the Vienna Philharmonic, a group demanding perfect performance from each of its members, regardless of rates of pay. He found at least as much stress and group friction as any organization that relies solely upon money to join workers in a common endeavor.

Thus solidarity never presupposes an unstructured group lacking distinctions of rank with a more noisily proclaimed equality in compensation. [p76]

Then he decisively describes the value of money far beyond that of a unit of account:

The usefulness of money to effect an increased output from the worker indeed does not lies strictly in the money itself, nor solely in what the worker can do with the present amount of money. The unsurpassable usefulness of money as incentive lies foremost in the clear and simple apportionability of money. There can be disputes about gradations of pay, but about the value in money of a particular step in the gradation there can never be a dispute. With money everyone knows where he stands. [p73]

In other words, the ideal is not a kibbutz or some version of a co-op of the 1960s, but rather the customary society in which money measures the pecking order:

Any capricious change, whether well-intended or not, in the traditional areas where individual motivation plays a part will as a rule produce a result precisely opposite from what was hoped for. The reform of our graduate schools is a proof of this. The great majority of the students quite naturally make the very choices that were opposed by the reformers, and which were the object of their reforms. There is little evidence of a new generation of scientists and technicians who have become competent in some magical way strictly through inclination, natural gifts, talent and specialization. [p68]

Then Schoeck shows genius in an insight that ties money to a profound human need, which would exist even if somehow a great social revolution were to dispense with money altogether:

If a child should happen to come upon a heap of stones on the bank of a river or on the shore and start skipping as many of them as possible at least two times over the surface of the water, the child is not inspired by some goal of high achievement — the farthest throw or the fifth bounce of the flat stone across the water’s surface — but rather his experience of success is achieved through the longest possible uninterrupted series of throws in which not one stone sinks on the first impact. […] What our politicians and their neo-educationists have wrought in the last fifteen years creates conditions under which even the capability of gaining a sense and a personal confirmation of this kind of serial success is derailed for many young people. Since the end of the 1960s they have set up for these young people the role model of someone who imagines that it is the unmistakable sign of exploitation and false consciousness when no mistake creeps in during a long period of work, whether school work or regular work. [p78]

Elites: natural or perverted, but inescapable
Although the contention over who should work the levers of government power was less pronounced in the United States than in Germany during the twentieth century, the principle that government had a right to such power was not repudiated. Instead of having café discussions while squinting through the smoke of Gauloises, the American Left thought up a more subtle access to permanent power, contradictorily based on the perversion of a deep-seated human impulse.

I experienced how the East Coast intelligentsia and the media Mafia (both terms being in use at the time) in wantonly cringing servility tried to make the Kennedys a dynasty with the White House as their demesne. Certainly there was the Constitutional amendment which prevented the reelection of a President after two four-year terms. Yet in all earnestness people in the sympathetic media day after day encouraged the chorus of popular voices in the conviction that for the benefit of the country a Kennedy should forevermore reign in the White House. In January, 1969, Robert would relieve his brother John, and in 1977, the third brother, Edward, would of course come next in line. That would have taken one up to 1985. Then a reliable brother-in-law would have to step into the interregnum for eight years until the eldest of the Kennedy sons would have reached the minimum age for the office of President. [p41]

A frightful suspicion must have occurred to republicans and radical democrats, Marxists and socialists: does man perhaps have a predilection for hereditary monarchy in his very nature? And are they not prone to it themselves? There is much to support this suspicion. This primitive motive breaks through as plain as day even among leftists when the sun of Camelot shines upon them in their own country! Indeed, isn’t perhaps their affliction with this primitive need, which is almost never satisfied in the West and which is so embarrassing for them, that makes them haters of the West and worshippers of any dynasty that promises to offend the West? [p42]

The ersatz patriotism and religiosity of the Left
An ineradicable patriotism and a religious impulse are permanent stumbling blocks to schemes for re-engineering society. Throughout the twentieth century the Left have tried to overcome them.

The typical intellectual is fascinated and enraptured by the sight of extremely ethnocentric — locally patriotic — political forms, groups and movements outside his own people. Ethnocentrism, a special form of National Socialism, the mania for sovereignty, egotism and arrogance and the encumbrance of prejudice felt by people outside his own country is uncritically admired and considered the paragon of the mode of the future for every other region on the planet. There can be whole countries with independence movements or there can be provinces — their size plays no part. The intellectual can give his heart to the giant Soviet Union, but just as well to little Cuba. Corsicans, Basques, Catholics in Northern Ireland — he brings all of them into consideration, perhaps without his being aware of it, as a pacifier of the fundamental human requirements for an object of patriotic feeling. […] With that, the following subtle distinctions strike the observer: the substitute fatherland is supposed to be as far away as possible from one’s own. [p248]

For their utopia of a socialist society at home that is often nurtured by envy and hatred they need the permanent threat of the future of socialism: “the Left will not be allowed to die anywhere.” This and this alone explains its positive obsession with regimes in Nicaragua, even in 1985 in the United States and Europe. [p252]

As for theology, while the bizarre mechanistic replacements of religion, of the calendar, and even of the number of hours in a day of the French Revolution have been put aside, a similar impulse remains:

The schematic division of the world’s population into rich and poor nations, which is of the simplicity of a billboard and which does not correspond to reality, suited two kinds of opinion-shapers in the West perfectly: the Christian theologians and the late-Marxists of the Left. The theological schemata for thinking, feeling and reasoning were portrayed as a sharp dichotomy, a confrontation between two absolutely distinct realms (heaven and hell, god and devil, good and evil). However, Marxism depended just as much upon an absolute opposition (proletariat and non-proletariat). For both the Christian theologian and the atheistic Marxist, the dichotomies and the metaphors that he cherished for argumentation became more and more unwieldy over the course of the twentieth century. [pp255-256]

For example, Albert Schweitzer never thought, and no one expected him to, that his work in Africa would lead to thousands of similar hospitals within a few decades, and would thus guarantee the medical care or the medical restoration of a continent. Until the advent of “developmental aid,” not even in the course of centuries have missionaries and missionary establishments in undeveloped regions of the earth cherished the illusion that their assistance could permanently alter the material living conditions of the native inhabitants…. [pp256-257]

Environmentalism: the home of the dispossessed
In the twentieth century environmentalism became the home of dispossessed statists and of the night wanderers from traditional religion.

Fortunately for these professors — who for all that were winding up exegeses of Marx — the ecology boom, the environmental angst and the flood of textbooks about the limits of growth came about beginning in 1970. The academic chairs of the Marxists were saved: in the mantle of the everlasting, piously astonished and true-blue Marxist of today they could tomorrow become environmental philosophers and ecological socialists. Indeed none of that was to be found in Marx, Engels or Lenin, but one was — for the 1970s and 1980s — rescued from the necessity of having to explain the continuing poverty of the economy and technology, and the support of the people from public largess in communist countries. The Marxists in the West were able to dedicate themselves to the supposed irreconcilability of ecological perfection and the living standard of the Western market economy. The old catchwords “exploitation” and “alienation” fit like a glove, and they could keep quiet about the real and system-threatening ecological neglect in the Marxist-controlled countries. [p224]

The contradictions of radical environmentalism are rather obvious, which is where Schoeck begins. But typically, he finds the connection of the rather superficial theme to the deeper one. And he does so out of a profound sympathy for the motives of those whom we might be tempted to dismiss as stupid or irrational, which they are not:

The presumption of “the closer to nature, the healthier the life” is misleading. For example the East-West Center in Hawaii determined in 1984 that among primitive people who cook over a wood fire in a hut with no chimney, the woman daily inhales as many carcinogens as someone who smokes twenty packs of cigarettes a day. [p115]

What is that unctuous motto “oneness with nature” supposed to mean? If it means that man is purely and simply just one animal among other animals and that man is on an equal footing with all of nature, then there is no need for such a “oneness.” To demand such a reconciliation is as pointless as to require a “oneness” between the whale and the shark, the wolf and the lamb, and the falcon and the chicken. [p102]

What is at the bottom of it all? Perhaps this: the fashionable frenzy with its ugliness like the kind that was forced on mankind since the mid-century in every field of art leads to the deification of animals for many people. Animals are beautiful and without sin, and a miserable worm like myself is permitted to behold their beauty without sin, in contrast to the ugly spirit of the times. Is the recent outbreak of totalitarian protectionism of animals perhaps an unconscious longing for beauty before which someone in the human realm has to reverently close his eyes? [p102]

After fully considering Dr. Schoeck, it becomes possible to draw some independent conclusions.

The twentieth century began in institutional upheaval. The impact of the Great War (1914-1918) cannot be underestimated. As Lord Gray put it in 1914, “The lights are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them light again in our lifetime.” It decimated the natural elites of all of Europe, immediately replaced the customary principle of monarchy with a new democratic principle, and shook to their foundations every traditional institution associated with it, including patriotism and religion. At this same time medicine and economics were just finding their truly scientific footing. Freud represented a powerful setback to the former, as Keynes did to the latter. The serious historical study of religion cast its supernatural claims in doubt. And finally, the instantaneous media, with no legitimacy and with no allegiance to any principle, added volatility, with their ability to completely reverse the attitudes of a nation within a generation, as their campaigns on the issues of race and abortion so strikingly illustrate. Institutions long based in myth and custom tottered like a vast flying buttress without a foundation, suspended precariously, awaiting some new foundation to be built under them. Science, naturally skeptical, did not offer this foundation as readily as the cranks and the power-hungry who were all too eager to wear both the new lab coat of science and the amulets and regalia of the past.

It should be obvious that the restoration of these foundations cannot be accomplished by any appeal to past myth or by any revival of belief. The complete failure of the Conservative party, once the party of limited government and now the custodian of an imperial army costing $2 billion per week, should be sufficient evidence of that. No remnant of that failed party can expect success, as both Pat Buchanan’s America First candidacy and the Constitution Party should demonstrate.

The alternate route to this restoration will need time. The great lesson from Schoeck’s review of the twentieth century is not just the need to limit the state’s political power, but its spiritual pretensions, which give charlatans access to that power. If there must be a democratic circus, let it be outside the apparatus of a “night-watchman” state.

How will this limitation of state power be realized in practice?

In the judiciary, the alternative will put an end to the current charade exemplified by the Samuel Alito confirmation. If the Constitution were truly the controlling document of American law, there would be no discussion of the “philosophy” of any nominee: his technical competence and character alone would decide the entire matter. But the Constitution is a dead letter. Does anyone remember what was decided by the Baake affirmative action case? Absolutely no general principle was affirmed – merely the particular point that one Allan Bakke could go to the University of California medical school. Dozens of critical cases could be offered along this same example.

In the legislative branch, two key examples illustrate that neither the direct restraint of the electorate nor the indirect restraint of representatives themselves can succeed. Regarding the former, does anyone remember Proposition 13 of Howard Jarvis in 1978? No, except perhaps as a joke. Regarding the latter, twice in the late 1980s did Senator Phil Gramm of Texas pass spending restraints on Congress, having both cheerfully passed by his colleagues in both Houses and just as cheerfully set aside. Any attempt at a Constitutional amendment to this purpose will likewise fail because it could only pass by inclusion of an “emergency” set-aside clause, a bit of cynicism that would make the whole effort laughable.

In the executive, the very first task is to elect those who will return to statute the protection of the nation from terrorism. Most of the legal excesses of the current administration follow from this single principle: that the campaign against terrorism requires unprecedented extralegal measures. The legal nebulisms of John Yoo, Alberto Gonzales, and Samuel Alito are dangerous: they support an unprecedented expansion of power, especially by means of the so-called “signing statement,” which is nothing more than a caveat for the executive to interpret any law just as he pleases. Also, the discretionary powers of the president must be curtailed so as to limit the influence of unaccountable groups. Our current sudden shift toward imperialism, engineered by just a handful of extra-institutional people connected with The Project for the New American Century, should demonstrate the urgency of achieving this.

How will the spiritual pretensions of the state be deflated?

This more necessary project actually should be the more fun. Politics is for the short-horizon, slab-jowled folks. Rush Limbaugh provides a lesson here: once funny, realizing success by showing the plebs that thinking past the media could be fun, he has become part of the slow-moving political herd that he used to feast on. With targets like Condoleezza “Mushroom Cloud” Rice – even funnier than the frumpy gas bag Madeleine Albright, sunshine tour girl Karen Hughes, and laughter training specialist Colonel “Scotty” Scott, the question is: where’s the Mencken to cream-pie these clowns?