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Psychoanalysis and Civilization [1962]

by Paul Rosenfels

When Paul started writing down his new ideas in the 1950's he worked on five manuscripts whose working titles were:

When the first was finished, the few commercial publishers he contacted flatly rejected it. One said that the results of publishing this book would be "disappointing, even for the author" -- as if the only reason to publish a discovery is to make money!

Paul and his twin brother Walter, who had spent a quieter life writing ad copy in Chicago, arranged for Libra Press, a subsidy publisher, to issue the book. Naturally they didn't mind that the book didn't make money, but it was a great disappointment when it was not even reviewed. Once Paul realized that it had "failed," he even stopped work on a brand new book that was almost complete called The Psychology of Creativity: A Guide to Social Survival. (His manuscript titles from this time often use the word "survival." Like many of us, the threat of nuclear war weighed heavily on him and, as a psychologist, he knew that the cure for war lay not in man's armaments but in his psyche.)

He decided that his second book should be a simple and approachable introduction to his theory, rather than a scholarly enumeration of each wrinkle. In Love and Power, his thoughts better organized, he started with a detailed and self-explanatory outline, which became the table of contents, and this time compiled the index himself.

But in my opinion, Paul's first book is the most important scientific treatise ever written, and I never tired of telling him so. Near the end of his life I pointed out a passage I thought particularly rich and succinct. I'll never forget the look on his face when he finished reading it, snapped the book shut, and said with great surprise, "Wow, that's good!"

Although little concerned with classical psychoanalysis per se, the book takes as a starting point Paul's rejection of Freud's premises.

The original dust jacket:

      The concepts of classical psychoanalysis have never provided a unified theory of the personality. Many analysts believe that intuitive methods alone can reach meaning in psychological work and that a true science of the personality is impossible of attainment. The author of Psychoanalysis and Civilization maintains that a consistent and semantically sound systematization of the personality is not only possible but is an absolute prerequisite to the elimination of the intuitive distortions of which psychoanalysis is guilty.
      The book divides all psychological phenomena into the two classes of thought and experience, demonstrating that the psychoanalytic preoccupation with intuitively perceived data has led to an overemphasis on thought and a corresponding failure to make room for the influence of experience on the psychological life of man. Thinking is equated in this book to feeling and the responsive tendencies generally; action is related to posture or attitudes and the expressive tendencies generally. Civilization is seen as the product of the interaction of thinking and action in the form of truth and right. Truth comes from the problem-solving thinking of creative personalities, specialized for tension-holding, being basically feminine in nature. Right is found through the overcoming of obstacles by creative personalities specialized for energy storage, and is basically masculine in nature.
      The book follows the vicissitudes of the creative process, showing the place of faith and hope in the penetration of the unknown and the overcoming of the chaotic in human affairs. The complications introduced by sexuality in feminine psychology and by the celebrative tendencies in masculine psychology are analyzed in detail. Man's struggle to desexualize love and eliminate the irresponsible celebrative tendencies from power are related to his ever-widening social progress.
      The book uses psychological concepts which are part of the living experience of human beings, avoiding artificial and pseudo-scientific neologisms which cannot be defined in context. The words which men have long used to identify psychological phenomena, including love, power, honesty, courage, wisdom, and strength are the key concepts on which this psychological system rests. It is applied to the full range of mental phenomena, including neurosis, delinquency, psychotic states, criminality, and social psychology.
      Civilization is seen in this book as a process which has yet to prove its capacity to establish a mature psychological world. The tendency to cynical withdrawal inherent in love is analyzed in relation to man's great capacity for truth seeking and the related service of others. The tendency to opportunistic indifference inherent in power is analyzed in relation to man's great struggle toward the right and the related exploitation of human resources. The complications besetting the growth phases of love, especially homosexuality, and the growth phases of power, especially addiction, are fully discussed.

From the Preface:

      The development of a science of human nature is primarily a semantic problem. Man dwells in a self-made world of meanings, established through the use of words, and an equally self-made world of values, brought into being by the creation of procedures and techniques. Important psychological abstractions like love, mercy, and honesty must be understood in depth, which means that they take on a permanent core of meaning which can be readily communicated. If these words change in meaning with changing circumstances they become mere words, phantoms from which life has departed, and no matter how much intensity of feeling the user brings to the words in an attempt to endow them with life, they remain mere echoes of the insight they are supposed to embody.
      When the fundamental abstractions on which human communication rests cannot find a permanent identity, each man is burdened with the necessity of finding the meanings of human ideas in his own life. There is no established body of universal truth in human matters on which he can rely, and the consequent insecurity for the seeker of human truth becomes very great. Since everyone who thinks creatively must have a unified and permanent view of life many men are forced to accept that view of life which wards off discontent and anxiety, rather than maintaining that open search which only ends in the presence of the truth.
      If abstractions which describe human nature are to be understood in depth they must be seen in relationship to the experiences which give them depth. Everything of importance in human nature has a paired quality, because it is part of the reciprocal relationship between the submissive and the dominant in the life process. Depth is intensified in the presence of vigor; vigor is enlivened in the presence of depth. Love takes on its real meaning only in relationship to power; power finds its true value in relationship to love. In this book, love and power are considered together, and all important concepts concerned in human nature are placed in similar pairs. Out of this viewpoint a greater unification of human nature as a subject matter becomes possible. Men do not have to fear being abstract in viewing human nature; what they have to fear is the production of abstractions which have no relationship to the concrete world of the life of action. . . .

See the full text of this book (410Kb)
See a 1990 statement by Paul's brother Walter about the effect of Paul's work on his life


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