Jordan Peterson and Carl Jung’s Worldviews Have Been Greatly Oversimplified – Merion West

Posted: April 30, 2020 at 12:49 pm

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With respect to McManus and Hamilton, who have admittedly produced a very interesting article, there are characterizations and theoretical points within their article that I feel need to be addressed.


As a practicing psychotherapist investigating political expressions of psychoanalytic thought, I was very interested to read Matt McManus and Conrad Hamiltons recent critique of Jungian and Lacanian perspectives. I was also intrigued by McManus and Hamiltons choice to assign, respectively, these thinkers to the Right and Left of the political spectrum. They did this, in large part, through their interpretations of how Jordan Peterson and Slavoj iek have, in turn, drawn from each psychoanalysts work. With respect to McManus and Hamilton, who have admittedly produced a very interesting article, there are characterizations and theoretical points within their article that I feel need to be addressed. In particular, it is necessary to demonstrate more accurately the complexity of the perspectives held up as representatives (I believe inaccurately) of Left-situated or Right-situated expressions of psychoanalysis.

Although clear divisions of Lacanian thought into the Left and Jungian thought into the Right might make for an engagingyet choppy articlethere are a number of similarities between the two perspectives. There are also complexities internal to these perspectives that have to be eclipsed for this interpretation to hold. Especially noticeable in reading their article were the failure to acknowledge the left-wing Jungian streams of theoretical development (that have largely been ignored since Jungs death), the equation of Petersons focus on order from chaos with the aim of Jungian analysis in general, and the erasure of theoretical similarities between Lacan and Jungs perspectives. Also, I believe there were some inaccuracies regarding admittedly difficult aspects of Lacanian theory (the misrepresentation of the early infants relationship to the mirror stage, for example), as well as a degree of irony when the two authors (themselves influenced by Marxism) invoke charges about lacking evidence or unfalsifiabilitywhen it comes to those with whom they disagree. However, I will sideline these later concerns in favor of primarily addressing the implicit characterization of Jungian thought as being inherently conservative or right-wing in analytic approach.

To a degree, I believe that the authors are aware and acknowledge partially the complexities of Jungian thought, and this causes some discomfort with the original premise of their piece. McManus and Hamilton take pains to differentiate and separate the decidedly un-progressive personal figure of Jacques Lacan (Freud was not a progressive) from the interpretations of Lacans interlocutors. These interlocutors were often the resolutely fashionable left-wing figures, who haunt the bookshelves and syllabuses of continental philosophy departments. These names include Julia Kristeva, Luce Irigaray, and, of course, the focal figure of their article: Slavoj iek. This highlighting of the development of Lacanian theory through its academic interpreters allows it to be positioned on the Left, within the topology of McManus and Hamiltons article.

It is strange, therefore, that the Jungian analogue to psychoanalysis (analytic psychology) does not receive the same treatment. Instead, when it comes to the supposedly right-wing orientation of Jungian analytical psychology, we are presented with a paucity of examples. We are offered Jungs alleged racism, his spurious personal actions during the Second World War, and his influence on Jordan Peterson as proof for their characterization of Jung as right-wing. It is important to note here that Peterson, while a renowned clinical psychologist, was not a trained Jungian analyst. iek, on the other hand, is a trained (albeit not practicing) Lacanian analyst. As such, to use Peterson and iek as examples of their relative schools is already perhaps to overstate the point. McManus and Hamiltons somewhat impoverished overview of Jungian thought may also be partly due to the acknowledged unpopularity of Jung within the academy. The authors are academics, rather than clinicians; so their seeming lack of familiarity with the outgrowths of Jungian theory can perhaps be forgiven. Who (outside the murky world of clinical psychoanalysis and psychotherapy) could be expected to know the permutations and arcane growths of post-Jungian theory? Instead, as they did in their piece, it might be easier to focus on the twin poisons of mysticism and racism, when it comes to Jung.

McManus and Hamilton reduce Jungian thought to the twin streams of the problematic proclamations of its founder and the fiery exhortations against progressivism leveled by its most easy listening popular exponent, Jordan Peterson. Yet, there are many broadly progressive and left-wing developments that have emerged from (and been influenced by) the Jungian field. Indeed, McManus and Hamilton mention the Anti-Oedipal work of Gilles Deleuze and Flix Guattari as being desirably progressive critics of Lacan. However, McManus and Hamilton fail to mention the tribute that these two thinkers pay to Jung in their 1980 book A Thousand Plateaus. Within A Thousand Plateaus work, Jungian archetypal theory is, indeed, referenced. Although described as insufficiently deterritorializing, Jungs approach is seen by Deleuze and Guattari as being closer to the mark than the single all-encompassing Oedipal model employed by Freud. This refers to the Oedipal framework which, of course, Lacan based his entire theoretical edifice around in his return to Freud.

This Deleuzian connection runs deeper than this single mention in the Capitalism and Schizophrenia series. Deleuze further references Jungs work inhis 1968 book Difference and Repetition, and Deleuzian ideas expressed within this book are reflected theoretically in the work of the former Jungian (and creator of Archetypal Psychology) James Hillman. Hillman was originally a Jungian analyst, who guided studies at the Jung Institute in Zurich. His workwithin books such as Re-Visioning Psychologyreflects a pluralist, deconstructionist, and anti-authoritarian turn within Jungian thought. There are also influences from the Sufi mysticism of Henry Corbin. Years before Jordan Peterson arrived on the scene, Hillman had already anticipated and argued against popular conservative interpretation of Jung. He did this by critiquing the over-emphasis on the monotheistic (slaying-the-dragon-of-chaos) Hero archetype, as well as the individualist ego later associated with it.

Hillman felt the over-identification with this archetype was inherent to Western cultures excesses. And his own pluralist re-imagining of Jungian theory sought to mitigate this through emphasis on difference. He also railed preemptively against Petersonian reductions of archetypal imagery to evolutionary psychology and biological processes. Again, Hillman saw these as attempts to slay the power of the images of the unconscious, stultifying them by turning them into abstract scientific concepts. Furthermore, Hillman questioned the individualist basis of therapy, advocating for changes in the political and social world. As such, he anticipated many left-wing critiques of this individualism inherent in the profession, such as those articulated in Anti-Oedipus. As perhaps the most popular post-Jungian psychologist in the United States (apart from Peterson), it can hardly be said that Hillman was right-wing or conservative.

Further examples of radical attitudes latent within the Jungian model of analysis are plentiful. For example, the interpretation of psychosis as a breakdown-to-breakthrough, a spontaneous reorganization of the conscious self by the unconscious, also reflects and anticipates the anti-Oedipal promotion of deterritorialization, within the work of Deleuze and Guattari. The importance of Jungs personal deterritorialization and psychotic breakdown to the creation of his system are most clearly illustrated via the posthumous release of the almost Lovecraftian esoteric tome called The Red Book.The Red Book features an articulation of the content of Jungs breakdown, complete with psychedelic artwork and a hallucinogenic narrative of underworld figures. Jungian scholars such as Sonu Shamdasani and Hillman have held this as being far more foundational to the creation of his school than the influence of Freud, and the entire book can be held up as an instance of deterritorialization, par excellence. These elements do not a conservative form of psychoanalysis make. Far from the imposition of a right-wing orderor, slaying of chaosthis is a descent into the abyss of the underworld and a reforging of self and identity through deterritorialization and radical difference, in the vein of Zarathustra.

To fail to present these elements of Jungian thought and characterize it as merely a vessel of Petersonian order is to exclude its essential origin myth. With the above points in mind, it becomes difficult to maintain the view of Jungian analysis as a right-wing perspective. Although the authors of the original article do pay some heed to the contradictions between Jung and Petersons interpretations, by excluding the other half of Jung (the many ways in which Jungian theory emerges from more of a Deleuzoguattarian upsurge of radical difference and otherness), a false image of theoretical conservatism is more sustainable. It is not my intention to hold up Jung as a progressive icon in opposition to McManus and Hamiltons articleor to present him as a hidden leftist. Rather, I seek to highlight the ambiguities within his work and the more progressive tendencies of those of his followers who are not named Jordan Petersonand who have had far more legitimate clinical (though perhaps less popular) impact.

Race, Antisemitism, and Jung

Jungs behavior during the Second World War is also put forward by McManus and Hamilton as to why Jungian analytic psychology should been regarded as an inherently right-wing articulation of psychoanalysis. While it is true that Jung performed ambiguous (often unacceptably complicit) actions in regard to Nazismand made statements that even for the time and context would have been considered Antisemitic (See Stephen Froshs work on the subject)he also worked in order to help Jewish colleagues escape from Nazi Germany. Jung also explicitly criticized the Nazi regime, once the explicit barbarity of it became more apparent. This, of course, does not excuse his earlier actions or his Antisemitism. However, again, we are presented with an ambiguity that has led to intense levels of soul-searching, within the Jungian analytic profession. Theoretically, as Hamilton and McManus point out, this profession has a vested interest in exploring and articulating the shadow not only of the individual client but also of the personality of Jung himselfand of Jungian institutions.

Jungs Antisemitism especially has been laid bare not only by Frosh but by the well-respected Jungian Analyst Andrew Samuels. Samuels, as one of the most prominent and high-profile Jungian thinkers, again shows the political ambiguity in Jungian thought. Samuels actually is far more deserving of the title of representative of this school of analysis than is Peterson. Samuels, for instance, has been the chair of the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy. He was also an advisor for the British Labour government and one of the first professors of Jungian Analytic psychology in the world. Samuels has also long been the pre-eminent voice in political psychotherapy of any denomination: promoting a very strongly pluralist, left-wing, and progressively-orientated approach to integrating these two fields. His identity as a Jungian is not in contradiction to his political identity as a leftist. Jung and Jungian thought hold a level of ambiguity that McManus and Hamilton miss, either owing to their ignorance of its existence or as a result of misconstruing Jungs complicated background for the convenience of creating a simple binary: Left or Right.

It is Jungs initialoften deeply flawed or problematicpersonal explorations around questions of plurality, difference, and race that allowed for post-Jungian theory to develop reflexivity around these questions, which Hillman and Samuels demonstrate. This evolution is even reflected in the tribute to Jungs theory that decolonial pioneer Frantz Fanon makes in his 1952 book Black Skin, White Masks. This is the book where Fanon attributes his own theories around introjected racial consciousness as being inspired by those made by Jung. Although Fanon was a Lacanian by training (and emphasizes the constructed rather than inherent basis to archetypes in his appropriation of archetypal theory), still Fanon acknowledges that his work owes some debt to Jungs original psychoanalytic exploration of racial consciousness. Again, my point here is not to excuse Jungs racism by reference to Fanon. Rather, I aim to illustrate that even around the issues of race, Jung (and also his legacy in terms of post-Jungian analytical psychology) is far more complex than McManus and Hamilton imply.

Peterson as Senex Possessed

Although McManus and Hamilton do mention in passing that Petersons work is an idiosyncratic rendition of Jung, it is perhaps not emphasized enough how Petersons over-emphasis on the aspects of order, the individual ego, and the heroic slaying of chaos moves away from anything resembling the aim of Jungian clinical work. What these aspects of Peterson perhaps would indicate to a Jungian analyst is a personality under possession of what is called a Senex archetype: This archetype is the Grey old man, the representative of established order. It is reminiscent of the image of Saturn devouring his children. While standing for repression, stasis and, conservatism, he rails against the attempts of the young to gain power and overthrow order. The Senex is often seen as being within an archetypal complex, in which it is positioned in conflict with the archetype of the Puer (the eternal youth). We can see Peterson falling into this complex through his position as the substitute dad of estranged Western masculinity. He follows this with father-like exhortations to clean ones bedroom. Then, there is the mutual hatred between Peterson and the infantilized Puers of the social justice movement. Petersons theoretical reduction of the images of the unconscious psyche to biological and evolutionary explanations would also be likely seen by many Jungian thinkers as an example of a Senex possession. This results in an attempt to make concrete the fluid material of the unconscious. In this way, individuation and differentiation can take place and, therefore, fossilize the unconscious: ossify it in a form that is more socially and academically acceptable to explainor, as Deleuze would have, Oedipalize it.

Possession of the personality through an archetypal complex such as this is far from the aim of individuation in the Jungian sense. With more integral interpretations of Jung as seen in the works of Hillman, Samuels, or even from Jung himself (within The Red Book), individuation is, instead, articulated as being the differentiation of self via bringing forth radical difference from the unconscious. In holding Peterson as an exemplar of Jungian thought, a caricature of analytical psychology as conservative can be promoted. However, this cannot be sustained if any sort of faithful account of Jungian theory is provided.

It might be said that in trying to cleanly divide Jung and Lacan into Right and Left political positions, it is almost a replication of the Senex-Puer complex that I identified Petersons work as suffering from. Admittedly, there is perhaps some attraction in framing the perspectives of complex, ambiguous thinkers in this way. It allows one to frame ones preferred perspective as either that of a righteous rebel or, alternatively, a defender of order. The truth is thatmuch like Lacanunderneath the unipolar portrayal of Jung by McManus and Hamilton, an ambiguous figure lurks. There is a figure who is sometimes conservative but sometimes radically other. There is a figure who emphasizes individuation and differentiationbut also the influence of collective archetypes. There is a figure who saves his Jewish colleagues but promotes theories of Aryan supremacy. Jung is a profoundly complex figure. As such, there must be a reckoning with himin all of his ambiguitythroughout the academy before his form of psychoanalysis can be labelled right-wing.

Nick Opyrchal is a psychotherapist in private practice. For his M.A., he researched the intersection between Lacanian and transpersonal perspectives in psychotherapy. His current doctoral work investigates the intersection of identity politics and the transpersonal within psychotherapy.

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Jordan Peterson and Carl Jung's Worldviews Have Been Greatly Oversimplified - Merion West

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April 30th, 2020 at 12:49 pm

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