In “The Pursuit of the Nazi Mind: Hitler, Hess and the Analysts by Daniel Pick – review,” Frances Stonor Saunders (The Guardian , August 1, 2012) – inadvertently? – sheds some light on the irreducible complexity of human nature, while reviewing Pick’s book about the psychoanalysis of a captured Nazi, Rudolph Hess. During and after World War II, many Freudians tried their hand at psychoanalyzing Nazis, usually from a distance. The output was about as useful as evolutionary psychology attempts to psychoanalyze Neanderthal man (yes, that too has been tried).
At any rate, she writes,
Whether or not such a thing as the Nazi mind could be said to exist, let alone recovered or explained, lies at the heart of this book, which examines how psychoanalysis was harnessed to political thought about Nazism, and the legacy of that encounter. Just as the teams of Bletchley Park and the US Army Signals Intelligence Service sought to crack the enemy’s secret codes, so psychoanalysts and psychiatrists were mobilised to decipher the unconscious encryptions and fantasies that were thought to drive Nazi ideology.
The analogy has its limitations: one approach is empirical and scientific, the other is amorphous and speculative. The Enigma Code could be broken, whereas the enigma of the unconscious cannot. Indeed, in four years of forensic probing, the psychoanalysts assigned to Hess were unable to reach any coherent opinions as to the subterranean contours of his mind. Was there a repressed homosexual identification with the Führer? Did he exert a Svengali-like influence on Hitler, or was it the other way around? Did he have a mother fixation? Did his rise in the Nazi party derive from a triumph of the will or its elimination? Was he insane? “No discrete diagnostic view of Hess lasted for long without some amendment,” Pick writes. “He was conceptualised variously, or in combination, as obsessional, hysterical, paranoid and schizoid; a malingerer, manipulator and fantasist; highly neurotic; dissociated and confused; perverse and phobic.”
Yes indeed. The key point is that Engima was a code, designed by certain individuals to communicate specific, concrete information of agreed importance, and it could be broken by other, enemy individuals in order to listen in. Nothing was amorphous and general.
Nothing like Enigma explains, or ever can explain, in reductive terms, the behaviour of a large group of people, all with separate individual histories, who get involved with a mass movement.
And depending on one captured individual (Rudolph Hess) for a lot of information, helps us understand why Freudianism – at the heart of the project Pick’s book details – bit the dust, as Darwinism also must, despite the intense beliefs of its proponents and the large amounts of taxpayer cash and judicial power they command.
Prediction: Fewer people will mis evolutionary psychology than missed Freudian psychology.