Dynamic Psychology, Utopia, and Escape from History: The Case of C.G. Jung

By Pietikainen, Petteri | Utopian Studies, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

Dynamic Psychology, Utopia, and Escape from History: The Case of C.G. Jung


Pietikainen, Petteri, Utopian Studies


THE CONTEMPORARY PREOCCUPATION with authenticity in Western culture has produced a vast number of publications that deal with the more or less problematic relationship with the self and identity. The psychocultural "triumph of the therapeutic" (Rieff) has influenced the way we conceive our "inner self" and the basic frameworks that constitute a "good life" for us. We are taught by self-help guidebooks, therapists, and edifying philosophers to have faith in the possibility of becoming "authentic", to realise all the mental and spiritual potentialities that are inherent in us and to become "what we truly are". In the twentieth century, there emerged philosophical (existentialism), religious (anthroposophy, New Age Religion, etc.), and psychological forms of authenticity-seeking.

Whereas existentialism seemed to be too sombre and pessimistic for modem consumers of the authenticity "industry", the evolutionary optimism of the New Age and the psychological crusaders of "inner depths" have fared much better. As early as in the mid-1960s, Frank E. Manuel noticed that "eupsychia" (about the term, see Maslow 1961) was the characteristic form of the twentieth century utopia, and he put forward a tentative analysis of the authors who propagated the spiritualisation of humankind and the attainment of a "good state of consciousness" (Manuel 1966, 86-95). He claimed that by advocating the abolition of instinctual repression and the ensuing liberation of the libido, "Freudo-Marxists" such as Wilhelm Reich, Erich Fromm, and Herbert Marcuse were psychological utopians (see also Manuel and Manuel, Ch. 34).

Some other students of utopianism, however, have been less convinced than Manuel that the concept of "psychological utopia" was worth examining. Krishan Kumar admits that Reich, Fromm, and Marcuse were concerned with psychological well-being, but he also emphasises, first, that these thinkers were also socialists and, second, that "[u]topia is essentially a form of social thought" (Kumar, Utopianism, 40). In the two recently published anthologies of utopias (The Utopia Reader, The Faber Book of Utopias), the editors of each book have included excerpts from about one hundred treatises, many of them from the twentieth century, and only one of them (B.F. Skinner's Walden Two) is explicitly psychological. In Utopian Studies, there are very few references to modern psychologists (for an examination of the relationship between utopian visions in psychoanalysis and "rescue fantasy", see Berman). Thus, there is hardly any scholarly consensus regarding the existence of psychological utopias.

This paper argues strongly for the existence of psychological utopias and suggests that they represent a form of utopian thought in which the attainment of an ideal state of consciousness requires the employment of psychological insights and methods that are effective in transforming human personality and, thereby, the whole society or culture. This means that those who create psychological utopias have both a definite conception of the human psyche and a vision of a world that would provide an ideal matrix for psychological well-being. Psychological utopians do not have to be psychologists themselves, but they must have either adopted and possibly modified some particular theory of the psyche already in existence or developed their own conceptual framework for explaining the mind. Authors such as Erich Fromm, Herbert Marcuse and D.H. Lawrence belong to the first category, while C.G. Jung, Wilhelm Reich, and Abraham Maslow belong to the second.

Psychological utopias were mostly created by dynamic psychologists (but see Barclay for a critical assessment of the "utopian legacy" in behaviorism and cognitive psychology). "Dynamic psychology" refers to Freudian psychoanalysis, Jungian analytical psychology, Adlerian individual psychology, and Pierre Janet's psychology of the "subconscious", all of which are based on the premise that psychopathologies and, by extension, all "unconscious" mental activities cannot be localised and explained mechanically because they are in their very nature intrapsychic processes. …

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Dynamic Psychology, Utopia, and Escape from History: The Case of C.G. Jung
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