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Home page > 02 - Livre Deux : SCIENCES > Inconscience, conscience : Freud et les dernières découvertes en (...) > Freud et les révolutionnaires marxistes > Wilhelm Reich, The Sexual Revolution : Toward a Self-Governing Character (...)

Wilhelm Reich, The Sexual Revolution : Toward a Self-Governing Character Structure

Monday 7 September 2020, by Robert Paris

Wilhelm Reich, The Sexual Revolution : Toward a Self-Governing Character Structure


The Fiasco of Compulsory Sexual Morality

The editor of The Yarn RoU, who posed the question "Why are we alive?", apparently likes to move around in the tangled shrubbery of philosophy. But, on the other hand, he may be in the throes of great fear and trembling as he contemplates the futility of human life. If the first is the case, it’s good; if the second is the case, it’s bad. And for this reason the only answer to that question is: "Man must live for the sake of living," even if this sounds strange and single-minded. For man, the whole purpose, the whole meaning of life, lies in life itself, in the process of living. To comprehend the purpose and meaning of life, one must above all love life and become totally submerged in the turmoil of living; it is only then that one can grasp the meaning of life and understand why one is alive. Unlike everything that man has created, life requires no theory; he who understands the sheer experience of living will by the same token understand the theory of life.



The Clinical Foundation of the Sex-Economic Critique


FROM THE MORALISTIC TO THE SEX-ECONOMIC PRINCIPLE The sex-economic views presented here rest on clinical observations and experience with patients who undergo a change in their psychic structure in the course of a successful character analysis. The question will be raised, and rightly so, whether what we have learned about restructuring a neurotic person can be applied forthwith to the problems of restructuring and reeducating large groups, or masses, of individuals. Rather than offering theoretical reflections, we shall let the facts speak for themselves. For the irrational, unconscious, purposeless phenomena of in¬ stinctuallife can in no way be understood unless we are guided by our experience with the individual neurotic. This is basically no different from the procedure used in fighting an infection of epidemic proportions that is, we closely examine the individual victims and investigate the bacillus as well as its effects, which are the same for all victims of the epidemic. The comparison may be carried further. In an epidemic, an external factor damages a previously healthy organism. With cholera, for instance, we would not be content with healing the individual victim but at the same time would isolate and destroy the source of the epidemic-causing bacillus. In the unhealthy emotional behavior of the average person, we can see similarities with our patient’s symptoms: general sexual timidity, the force of moralistic de¬ mands, which are at times transformed into undisguised brutality (e.g., storm troopers); the inability to imagine that the gratifica¬ tion of drives can be reconciled with constructive work achieve¬ ment; the belief, which is considered natural, that the sexuality of children and adolescents is a morbid aberration; the inconceivability of any form of sexual life other than lifelong monogamy; the distrust of one’s own strength and judgment and the concomitant longing for an omniscient, all-guiding father figure, etc. Average individuals experience basically the same conflicts, al¬ though the details may differ according to each person’s unique development. If we would apply what we learn from the indi¬ vidual to the masses, we can use only those insights which relate to conflicts that are typical and generally valid. It is then quite correct to apply conclusions drawn from the processes involved in the restructuring of individual patients to the restructuring of the masses. The emotionally sick come to us with typical symptoms of emotional disorder. The patient’s capacity for work is always more or less impaired, and his actual accomplishments corre¬ spond neither to the demands he makes on himself nor to those society makes on him, nor even to the abilities he feels he pos¬ sesses. Without exception, sexual gratification is sharply dimin¬ ished, if not absent entirely. In the place of natural genital gratification we invariably find nongenital (pregenital) forms of gratification; e.g., sadistic fantasies about the sexual act, rape fantasies, etc. One becomes unequivocally convinced that the development of the patient’s character and sexual behavior is always clearly outlined by the fourth or fifth year of life. The emotional disturbance in social or sexual achievement is sooner or later evident to any observer. Under the condition of neurotic, i. sexual repression, every patient carries within himself the insol¬ uble contradiction between instinctual drive and moralistic com¬ pulSion. The moral demands that, under the constant pressure of social influence, he places on himself intensify the blocking of his sexual and general vegetative needs. The greater the damage to his genital potency, the wider the discrepancy between the need for gratification and the capacity for it. This, in turn, increases the moral pressure necessary to suppress the dammed-up drives. Since the essential parts of the entire conflict are unconscious and therefore cannot be understood by the affected person, he is also completely unable to solve them by himself. In the conflict between instinct and morals, ego and outside world, the organism is forced to armor itself against both the instinct and the outside world, to restrict itself. This "armoring" results in a more or less reduced capacity for living. It is relevant to emphasize that the majority of people suffer from this rigidity. It is by far the most important source of loneliness in so many people, despite community living.

Character analytic treatment is intended to free the vegetative energies from their bindings in the armor. At first, this strengthens the asocial, perverse, cruel impulses and, along with them, social anxiety and moral inhibition. But if childhood ties to the parental home, with its early traumatic associations and sexual prohibitions, are simultaneously dissolved, then more and more vegetative energy will How toward the genitals. In other words, the natural genital needs acquire new life or appear for the first time. If, as a result, genital inhibitions and anxieties are removed, if the patient thereby attains the capacity for full orgastic gratification, and if he is fortunate enough to find a suitable partner, we can regularly observe a far-reaching and, in many instances, astonishing change in his overall behavior. The most important aspects of this are the following. If the actions and thoughts of the patient were formerly conditioned by the more or less acute anq disturbing effects of unconscious, irrational motives, now his reactions are in tune with reality and irrational motives recede. Thus, in this process, the tendency toward mysticism, religiosity, infantile dependence, superstitions, etc., disappears spontaneously, without any at¬ tempt on the part of the physician to "educate" the patient. If the patient had been severely armored, devoid of contact with himself and his environment, or capable merely of substi¬ tute, unnatural contacts, he now achieves an increasing capacity for immediate contact with both his impulses and his surround¬ ings. The result of this process is the subsidence of the former unnatural behavior and the appearance of natural, spontaneous functioning. In most patients we observe a double state. Outwardly, they appear somewhat odd, but we can sense a healthy quality through the sickness. Today the so-called individual diffences among people represent basically a stifling neurotic behavior. But these differences disappear in the process of getting well, to give way to a simplification of overall behavior. As a result of this simplification, these persons become similar in their basic traits, without losing their individuality. For example, every patient conceals his work disturbance in a very specific way. If he loses this disturbance, if he gains self-confidence, he also loses all those character traits which compensated for his sense of worthless¬ ness. Self-confidence based on free-flowing work accomplishment is similar among all men. A person•s attitude toward sexual life is influenced in the same manner. For example, someone who represses his sexuality develops his own particular forms of moral and aesthetic self¬ protection. H the patient regains contact with his sexual needs, his neurotic differences vanish. The attitude toward a natural sexual life becomes more or less the same among all individuals
- particularly in the affirmation of pleasure and the loss of sexual guilt feelings. The formerly insoluble conflict between instinctual needs and moral inhibitions resulted in a sickness in which the person had to act according to the criteria of an established norm outside himself. Everything he did and thought was measured by the moral standard that had been created for him; at the same time he protested against it. If, in the course of restructuring, he recognizes not only the necessity but also the indispensability of genital gratification, the moral straitjacket drops off along with the damming up of his instinctual needs. H previously the pressure of morality had strengthened the drive or made it antisocial, and this had, in turn, required a stronger moral inhibition, now the equalizing of the capacity for gratification with the strong drives destroys the moralistic regulation in the patient. The formerly indispensable mechanism of self-control also disappears because vital energies are withdrawn from the antisocial impulses. There is scarcely anything left to be con¬ trolled. The healthy person is virtually without compulsive moral¬ ity, but neither does he have any impulses that would require a restraining morality. Any residual antisocial impulses are easily controlled if the basic genital needs are gratified. This is evident in the daily conduct of the orgastically potent individual. Sexual intercourse with prostitutes becomes offensive; any existing fantasies of murder or rape lose their force and significance. To force a partner into a love affair or to rape her becomes bizarre and unthinkable, just as do any impulses to seduce chil¬ dren that may have existed previously. By the same token, former anal, exhibitionistic, or other perversions also recede, along with social anxiety and guilt feelings. The incestuous ties to parents and siblings lose their interest, freeing energies hitherto re¬ pressed. In brief, the processes mentioned here are all to be regarded as a sign that the organism regulates itself. It has been shown that people with the capacity for orgastic gratification are considerably better adjusted to monogamous relationships than those whose orgastic function is disturbed. However, their monogamous attitude rests not on inhibited po¬ lygamous impulses or moralistic considerations but on the sex¬ economic ability to experience pleasure repeatedly with the same partner. The prerequisite is sexual harmony with the partner. (In this respect, no difference between men and women could be clinically established.) But if no suitable partner is available, as seems to be the rule under the prevailing conditions of sexual life, the tendency toward monogamy turns into its opposite, namely, into the uncontrollable search for the right partner. If that partner is found, the monogamous behavior is spontaneously restored and is maintained as long as sexual harmony and gratification last. Fantasies and wishes for other partners are either very weak or else ignored because of the interest in the current partner. However, the relationship collapses irretrievably if it becomes stale and if another companion promises greater pleasure. This unshakable fact is the insoluble contradiction in the sexual organization of modern society, encumbered with economic obligations and considerations for children which op¬ pose the principle of sex-economy. For this reason, it is the healthiest people who suffer most severely under the conditions of the sex-negating social order. The behavior of orgastically disturbed people, i.e., the major¬ ity, is diHerent. Since they feel less pleasure in the sexual act or ._-

¬ can do without a sexual partner for greater periods of time, they are less selective: the act does not mean very much to them. Here promiscuity in sexual relationships results from sexual disturb¬ ance. Such sexually disturbed people are more capable of adapt¬ ing to a lifelong marriage; however, their fidelity rests not on sexual gratification but on moral inhibitions. If a patient regaining his health succeeds in finding a suitable partner, all nervous symptoms disappear and he can order his life with an astonishing ease previously unknown to him. He can resolve his conflicts without neurosis and develop self-confidence in regulating his impulses and social relationships. He follows the pleasure principle. The simplifying of his attitude toward life, in action, thought, and feeling, removes many sources of conflict. At the same time, he acquires a critical attitude toward the prevailing moral order, thus demonstrating that the principle of sex-economic self-regulation opposes that of compulsory moral regulation. In today’s sexually depraved society, the healing process frequently runs into almost insurmountable obstacles-particu¬ larly the paucity of sexually healthy people who might become partners for patients who are approaching health. Beyond that, there are the general impediments of a compulsive sexual moral¬ ity. One might say that the genitally healthy person turns from an unconscious into a conscious hypocrite toward those institutions and social conditions which impede his healthy, natural sexuality. On the other hand, some develop the faculty of changing their environment to such an extent that the effects of today’s social order are diminished or removed altogether. I have had to limit myself here to the briefest of descriptions and I refer the reader to my extensive investigations in The Function of the Orgasm and Character Analysis. Clinical experi¬ ence has permitted me to draw basic conclusions about the social order. The wide scope of these conclusions for the prophylaxis of neuroses, the fight against mysticism and superstition, the old problem of the apparent contradiction between nature and cul¬ ture, instinct and morals, was at first surprising and confusing; but, after years of reexamination on the basis of ethnological and sociological material, I became convinced that the conclusions based on the structural change from the moralistic principle to that of sex-economic self-regulation are correct; they were confirmed everywhere. If a social movement were to succeed in changing social conditions in such a manner that today’s sex negation would be replaced by general sex affirmation (with all its eco¬ nomic concomitants), then the principle of restructuring the human masses would become reality. Of course, we do not mean to treat every member of society. The fundamental idea of sex¬ economy has often been misconstrued in this way. The experi¬ ences gleaned from the restructuring of individuals will serve merely to establish general principles for a new form of educa¬ tion of infants and adolescents in which nature and culture, individual and society, sexuality and sociality, would no longer contradict each other. t But the therapeutic experiences and their theoretical results, through which it was possible to make the orgasm theory acces¬ sible to psychotherapy, contradicted, and still contradict, virtually all approaches which have been developed in all relevant scien¬ tific fields. The absolute contradiction between sexuality and culture governs all morality, philosophy, culture, science, psy¬ chology, and psychotherapy as an inviolable dogma. Here the most significant position is nn doubt held by Freud’s psychoanal¬ ysis, which adheres to these contradictions, in spite of its clinical discoveries rooted in natural science. It is essential to describe briefly the contradictions which produced the psychoanalytic theory of culture and led to the deterioration of scientific psy¬ choanalysis into metaphysics. This cultural theory has caused only confusion.

2. A CONTRADICTION IN FREUD’S THEORY OF CULTURE SEXUAL REPRESSION AND INSTINCT RENUNCIATION A serious discussion of the sociological consequences of psychoanalysis must first of all clarify whether the so-called psychoanalytic sociology and world view, as reflected in Freud’s later writings, and then obscured to the point of grotesqueness in the works of several of his students such as Roheim, Pfister, M liller-Braunschweig, Kolnai, Laforgue, and others, are the lOgical outcome of analytic psychology or whether this sociology and world view stem from a break with the analytic principles of clinical observation, due to a misconstrued or incomplete con¬ ceptualization of clinical facts. If such a rift or break could be demonstrated in the clinical theory itself, if furthermore we could show the relationship between the divergent clinical concept and the basic sociological viewpoint, we would have found the most important source of error. (Another source lies in equating the individual and society. ) Freud endorsed the cultural-philosophical viewpoint that culture owes its existence to the repression or renunciation of instinctual drives. The basic idea is that cultural achievements result from sublimated sexual energy, indicating that sexual suppression, or repression, is an indispensable factor in establish¬ ing any culture. Now there is already historical proof that this concept is erroneous, for there are highly cultured societies in which sexual suppression is nonexistent and whose members enjoy completely free sexual lives. 1 This theory is accurate only insofar as sexual suppression forms the mass-psychological basis for a specific culture in all its forms, namely, the patriarchal culture, but it does not apply to the basis of culture and its formation in general. How did Freud arrive at this concept? It was certainly not from conscious politi¬ cal and philosophical motives. On the contrary, early writings such as his essay on "cultural sexual morality" point in the direc¬ tion of a revolutionary sexual critique of culture. But Freud never again proceeded along that path; instead, he struggled against any eHorts in that direction and once described them, in a con¬ versation, as being "outside the middle line of psychoanalysis." It was precisely my attempts at a sex-political criticism of culture that gave weight to our first differences of opinion. 1 Cf. Reich: The Invasion of Compulsory Sex-Morality (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1971). In analyzing the psychic mechanisms and contents of uncon¬ scious emotional life, Freud found that the unconscious was filled with asocial and antisocial impulses. Anyone using the corre¬ sponding analytic method can confirm this discovery. Ideas of murdering the father and possessing the mother are of central importance in the fantasy life of every man. Cruel impulses are inhibited in everyone by more or less conscious guilt feelings. The majority of women are seized by violent urges to castrate the man and acquire his penis or incorporate it in one form or other, as, for instance, by swallowing it. If these impulses are retained in the unconscious, their inhibition creates not only social adapta¬ tion but also a number of emotional disturbances, e.g., hysterical vomiting. Cruel fantasies in the’man, such as injuring, stabbing, or piercing the woman in the sexual act, give rise to various forms of impotence if they are blocked by feelings of anxiety and guilt; and they are at the root of perverse actions, including sex murder, if the inhibiting mechanism is disturbed. Analysis shows that impulses to eat their own or others’ feces fill the unconscious of a large number of people in our culture, regardless of their social class. The psychoanalytic discovery that the overaHection¬ ate mother or wife acts in direct ratio to the force of her uncon¬ scious murderous fantasies was anything but agreeable to the ideologues of "sacred mother love" and the "marital communion." We might list countless other examples, but let us return to our subject. These contents of the unconscious largely proved to be residues of infantile attitudes toward the immediate environ¬ ment, toward parents, siblings, etc. The child had to master these impulses in order to exist in our culture. Most people, however, pay for this mastery with a more or less severe neurosis, even at an early age, i.e., with a serious impairment of their capacity for work and their sexual potency.

The discovery of the antisocial nature of the unconscious was correct, as was the finding that instinct renunciation is necessary for adaptation to social life. The latter, however, results in two contradictory facts: on the one hand, the child must suppress his instinctual drives so that he can become capable of adapting to culture; on the other hand, this suppression of in¬ stinctual gratification usually leads to a neurosis, which in turn restricts his capacity for cultural adaptation, sooner or later makes it completely impossible, and again turns him into an asocial person. In order to restore the individual to the conditions of his true nature, however, his repressions must be eliminated and his instinctual drives set free. This is the prerequisite for recovery but not the cure itself, as Freud’s early therapeutic formulations suggested. But what is supposed to replace the repression? Certainly not those impulses which have been freed from repression, for then the individual would be unable to exist in this culture. In various passages of analytic literature we find the state¬ ment (which, incidentally, has already become part of the psy¬ choanalytic viewpoint) that the discovery and liberation of the unconscious, i.e., the affirmation of its existence, should on no account signify an affirmation of corresponding action. Here the analyst establishes the rule of conduct for life as well as for the analytic situation: "You must and should say whatever you want; but this does not mean that you can do what you want." How¬ ever, the question of what should happen to the drives that had been liberated from repression still confronted, and continues to confront, the responsible analyst with its vast implications. The answer given was: condemn and sublimate. But since only a small number of patients proved capable of the sublimation re¬ quired by the recovery process, the demand for instinct renuncia¬ tion by means of condemnation took precedence. Repression should now be replaced by censure. To justify this demand, it was argued that the instincts which in infancy faced a weak, undeveloped ego that could merely repress were now confronted by a strong, adult ego that could resist by "voluntary renuncia¬ tion of the instincts." Although this therapeutic formulation is largely at odds with clinical experience, it has been-and still is-the dominant formulation in psychoanalysis. It also governs analytic pedagogy and is advocated, for instance, by Anna Freud. In this view, the individual becomes capable of culture and a bearer of culture through instinct renunciation instead of repression; and since, according to the other basic psychoanalytic concept, society behaves like the individual and can be analyzed as such, it follows logically that the culture of society is predi¬ cated and based on instinct renunciation. The whole construct seems flawless and enjoys the approval of the vast majority of analysts as well as the exponents of an abstract concept of culture in general. For the substitution of repression by condemnation and renunciation seems to ward off a threatening specter which caused grave uneasiness when Freud disclosed his first unequivocal findings that sexual repression not only causes sickness but also renders people incapable of work and culture. The world was up in arms because his theory seemed to threaten morality and ethics, and it accused Freud of preaching, nolens volens, a form of "living out" which was a menace to culture, and so on. Freud’s alleged antimoralism was one of the strongest weapons of his early opponents. His original assurances that he affirmed "culture" and that his discoveries did not endanger it had left little impression, as was shown by the countless references to Freud’s "pansexualism." The specter re¬ ceded only when the theory of renunciation was established. Then hostility was partly replaced by acceptance; for as long as the instinctual drives were not acted out, it did not matter, from the cultural viewpoint, whether the mechanism of instinctual renunciation or that of repression played the role of Cerberus who would not allow the shadows of the netherworld to rise to the surface. One could even register progress, namely, from the unconscious repression of evil to the voluntary relinquishment of instinctual gratification. Since ethics is not asexual but fights off sexual temptations, all parties arrived at a meeting of minds, and the proscribed psychoanalysis itself became culturally accept¬ able-unfortunately, by "instinct renunciation," i.e., by renounc¬ ing its own theory of the instincts. I regret that I must destroy the illusions of all concerned, for this formulation contains a demonstrable error which proves it wrong. It is not wrong in the sense that the findings of psycho¬ analysis, on which the conclusions are based, are incorrect. On the contrary, they are entirely accurate; it is only that they are partly incomplete and they partly obscure the true consequences by their abstract terminology.

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