Monday, February 15, 2010

Historical Metaphors -- Freud, Heidegger, Christianity, etc

On pages 130-131 of Consciousness and Society, The Reorientation of European Social Thought – 1890-1930, H. Stuart Hughes writes, “. . . instead of modifying his theory of the Oedipus complex to give it a more acceptable form, he made it ‘worse’ by adding to it a vast anthropological fantasy – the story of the ‘primal horde’ and the banding of the sons together to slay their father and eat of his flesh, first expounded in the Totem and Taboo of 1912 and 1913.  On this excessively speculative foundation, Freud was to build out the whole ramifying structure of his subsequent social theory. 
“Were the primal horde  and the primal crime mere figures of speech or were they historical actualities?  The question brings us to the very center of Freud’s implicit philosophy.  Today most professed Freudians ascribe to the master’s ‘anthropological speculation only . . . symbolic value.’  But such a tepid allegiance would not have satisfied Freud himself.  Down to his very last book he insisted that he had written of a historical event – many times repeated – for which the presumptive evidence was overwhelming.  Nor did it worry him that this claim involved postulating the inheritance of memory traces in a fashion that came dangerously close to Jung’s notion of a ‘collective unconscious.’  Freud had stated his theory, and he stuck by it.  He had fought his way loose from his dependence on clinical and empirical data, and was not prepared to return to his earlier bondage.  So much the worse if his wide-ranging speculations had put him in strange company – not only with Jung but with Spengler and other architects of all-inclusive historical metaphors.”
COMMENT:  I hesitated over the word “metaphors” as applying to Heidegger in the subject title, for Heidegger’s advocacy of returning to one’s tradition, “the place of authenticity” can be seen as a literal thing that one does.  And yet Heidegger provided us with few helpful specifics; so perhaps one can be excused for seeing this quest for authenticity as very like a metaphor.  Speaking from the standpoint of a European nation, there is something primordial, but also inspiring and very like a “golden age” in our heritage, and we cut ourselves loose from it at our peril.  Heidegger might scowl in annoyance if someone asked him for specifics about these “golden ages,” even the German “golden age.” 
I am frequently reminded (as I have been by Hughes) of Marcel Gauchet’s The Disenchantment of the World, A Political History of Religion.  Gauchet, using Max Weber’s concept, believed that the world (Europe actually) had been disenchanted, that is had been largely exorcized of its Christianity.  In its place was a secularism that accomplished all of the temporal goals of Christianity.  And while Gauchet doesn’t exclude a “need” for religion, he doesn’t dwell upon it or think it important.  And yet on our current subject I am reminded of “The Kingdom of God, Heaven, etc.”  If we read what the New Testament tells us about it, we find that we are not given specifics.  We are given metaphor after metaphor.  We are told that the “poor in spirit” will inherit it; that those who are persecuted because of righteousness” will have it”; that it is “like a man who has sowed good seed in the field”; that it is “like a mustard seed which a man took and planted in his field”; that it is “like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour” etc.  Shall we become literalists and insist that these metaphors become “specifics” before we give them credence?  Surely not.  Christians down through the ages have taken comfort in these metaphors.
Elsewhere I argued that the Christian Churches moved in the wrong direction when they distanced themselves from their secular European offspring.  There is an inseparable connection.  But the Churches persist in disowning, rather than attempting to correct while acknowledging, their aberrant offspring.  And their offspring far from honoring their father and mother have responded with typical rebelliousness.  And yet we can see in Freud and Heidegger the debt.  Freud denounced his Judeo-Christian heritage and proposed as we see something more primitive, something implying some sort of Darwinian influence.  Hughes scoffs that there might really have been the Olympian struggles that Freud implies are fact.  Several philosophers have acknowledge that man is not equipped to utterly do without religion and we see this in Freud’s Olympiad.
We also see it in Heidegger.  If one seeks with all his heart the “authentic” place of his heritage, will he not be blessed by finding it?   What is it?  Tell me first what the Kingdom of God is and I will tell you.

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