Will We Experience World War III? Jung’s Answer

Sue Mehrtens is the author of this and all the other blog essays on this site. The opinions expressed in these essays are her own and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other Jungian Center faculty or Board members. Honesty, as well as professional courtesy, require that you give proper attribution to the author if you post this essay elsewhere.



Will We Experience World War III? Jung’s Answer



Recently, given all the media reports on the blustering by certain heads of state threatening nuclear war, a student asked me if Jung ever spoke about the likelihood of atomic war. In fact, he was asked this exact question around 1954, in a meeting of the Psychology Club.[1] The context then was the Cold War, that interval when the world witnessed the formation and rivalry of two camps: the “West” and the Soviet Union. Both camps had nuclear weapons, and, then as now, people worried if these weapons would be used. Barbara Hannah, one of Jung’s most devoted students, recorded his answer:

“I think it depends on how many people can stand the tension of the opposites in themselves. If enough can do so, I think the situation will just hold, and we shall be able to creep around innumerable threats and thus avoid the worst catastrophe of all: the final clash of opposites in an atomic war. But if there are not enough and such a war should break out, I am afraid it would inevitably mean the end of our civilization as so many civilizations have ended in the past but on a smaller scale.”[2]

As he did so often, Jung saw the individual as the key to the future: If there are enough individuals who are conscious, who recognize the reality of the opposites, who have done sufficient work on themselves to face and manage the opposites in themselves, then we might avoid this most horrendous of tragedies.[3]

In this essay, I’d like to examine some other, less explicit but more explanatory of Jung’s statements in this regard, beginning first, with his understanding of the nature of our time, then considering the various levels of consciousness Jung recognized, and concluding with some of Jung’s warnings to us.


The Nature of Our Time


In earlier essays archived on this blog site,[4] I wrote about Jung’s sense that we are living in an apocalyptic time. I noted in these essays that the root meaning of “apocalypse” is not “the end of the world,”[5] as many people assume, but rather “a time when what had been covered (kaluptein) is removed,”[6] i.e. a time of revelations of secrets. Not surprisingly, given this meaning, we have witnessed the revelations from Wikileaks, Bradley/Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden, and, more recently, the many leaks from the dysfunctional White House of Donald Trump.

Julian Assange, Manning, Snowden and others reveal nefarious goings-on, covert government activities, and other information that the “powers that be”[7] do not want us to know. But secrets are not the only thing being released in this apocalyptic time. Son of a pastor that he was, Jung knew his Bible well, and he wrote about the release of Satan:

“… Satan is locked up in the bottomless pit for a thousand years, and Christ shall reign for the same length of time. ‘After that he must be loosed a little season.'”[8]

The Greek actually says “…mikron chronon,” “for a little/short time;”[9] that is, we get to witness more than revelations of spying, lying and gossip: Ours is a time of experiencing the “reign of the Antichrist.”[10] Jung was explicit about this:

“… The setting free of Satan… must therefore correspond… to the enantiodromia of the Christian aeon, that is, to the reign of the Antichrist, whose coming could be predicted…”[11]

Predicted, because of the invariable law of enantiodromia, first articulated by Heraclitus, Jung’s favorite ancient author.[12] This principle means a “running to the opposite.”[13] Any imbalance will inevitably give rise to its opposite eventually. In our context here, this means that, because for two thousand years we have lived with a focus on Christ, we must eventually experience Christ’s opposite, i.e. the Anti-Christ.

For two millennia, not only have we not given Satan equal billing, we have gone so far as to dismiss the reality of evil, in the concept of the privatio boni,[14] i.e. evil has been defined as nothing but “the absence of good.” Jung would have none of this. He consumed many hours and much ink in both discussions and letters to various Christian religious on this point.[15]

What might make one think that we are now in the time of the Anti-Christ? I have gotten this question frequently from students here at the Jungian Center. To answer it, let’s first consider Christ as an archetype. What do we associate with Christ? Goodness, truth, humility, wisdom, peace, non-violence, unity come to mind.[16] If the Anti-Christ is the opposite, what might we expect to see, in some person living this archetype? Evil, lying, arrogance, stupidity, violence, disunity, divisiveness. The Anti-Christ would be someone who stirs unrest, pits people and nations against each other, creates tensions and anxieties, and fosters fear. Do we see any persons like this now on the world stage?


Levels of Consciousness


How one answers this question may depend on one’s level of consciousness. Jung recognized that there are many levels of consciousness now.[17] The most primitive level is exhibited by those few indigenous tribal people who still believe in tree demons and other such projections.[18] The second level of consciousness

“… has effected a differentiation between the object ‘tree’ and the unconscious content projected into it, thereby achieving an act of enlightenment. The third level rises still higher and attributes ‘evil’ to the psychic content which has been separated from the object.”[19]

This level is more enlightened than the first and second levels, in recognizing the reality of the psyche, and in regarding “evil” as a psychic phenomenon.

Jung considered a fourth level, which he felt was the level of “our consciousness today.”[20] The consciousness of modern people denies “… the objective existence of the ‘spirit’ and dismisses the notions of primitive peoples as “auditory hallucinations.” The result of such materialistic attitudes has been that “the evil spirit becomes obviously non-existent and sinks into ridiculous insignificance.”[21] This may be why some of our students at the Jungian Center find it hard to grasp the notion of the Anti-Christ and how it has become incarnated in our time.

Truly enlightened figure that he was, Jung recognized a fifth level of consciousness. This is the level which admits the reality of the intangible, of “phenomenon thrusting up from the unconscious, the existence of which cannot be denied if one is minded to grant the psyche any kind of reality….”.[22] Jung did not believe the psyche was real: he knew it was real, from his decades of experience dealing with it, in himself and in his patients.[23] It was at this fifth level that Jung was able to identify and speak about the reality of the Anti-Christ and its appearance: “The coming of the Antichrist is not just a prophetic prediction—it is an invariable psychological law…”[24]


Jung’s Warnings


Like any other law, this law comes with warnings–warnings we do well to note and respect. What are some of these?

First, the dangers in one-sidedness. Focusing only on the good, the tangible, the scientific, the externals is perilous. Why? because it has brought about a “backwardness of psychic development in general and of self-knowledge in particular”[25]–a situation that Jung felt “has become one of the most pressing contemporary problems.”[26] At this, many people would ask “Why a problem? What does it matter that we don’t recognize the psyche or know ourselves?” Because such a one-sidedness means we dismiss the fundamental reality of who we are and how the world works. We are not primarily material beings, but spiritual beings. By dismissing the psyche, we cut ourselves off from our intuitive wisdom and inner guidance. By focusing on “out there,” we externalize our locus of security, which assures constant feelings of anxiety and fear, as well as making us vulnerable to the con artists who would seduce us with promises like “making America great again” and “I can fix it.”[27] Nonsense! When we fail to know ourselves, we render ourselves vulnerable to scam artists with their “fake news.”

Second, there are dangers that derive from self-ignorance, primarily the danger of delusion. When we are out of touch with our souls, we are easily susceptible to “current ‘isms’,” which are “the most serious threat… because they are nothing but dangerous identifications of the subjective with the collective consciousness.”[28] Jung refers here to how we find it impossible to differentiate our own values, perspectives and truths from the “mass mind” when we fail to know ourselves. The result is that we tend then to “identify infallibly… [with] a mass psyche with its irresistible urge to catastrophe.”[29]–a situation which Jung watched unfold in the 1930’s in Nazi Germany. Jung was blunt:

” … ‘isms’… are only a sophisticated substitute for the lost link with psychic reality. The mass psyche that infallibly results destroys the meaning of the individual and of culture generally.”[30]

Jung would have us avoid ‘isms,’ delusions, mass psyche and the catastrophes which come with these dangers.

Finally, Jung put the psyche on a par with the physical aspect of being human, and urged “the careful consideration of psychic factors” so as to restore “not merely the individual’s balance, but society’s as well…”.[31] Failing to do this–on both the personal and the collective level–could result in “destructive tendencies easily gain[ing] the upper hand….”[32] Jung went so far as to warn that

“The present situation is so sinister that one cannot suppress the suspicion that the Creator is planning another deluge that will finally exterminate the existing race of men.”[33]

Jung was not sanguine about our prospects for heading off disaster–a situation of being cut off, literally, from heavenly guidance (Latin dis + astrum: cut off from the stars).[34]




So what are we to do in these times of turmoil? Jung was explicit: As individuals we must take up the challenge to look within, to foster belief in the reality of the psyche and the existence of archetypes. We won’t find these in outer reality:

“… if anyone imagines that a healthy belief in the existence of archetypes can be inculcated from outside, he is as simple as the people who want to outlaw war or the atom-bomb. … Change of consciousness begins at home; it is an age-long process that depends entirely on how far the psyche’s capacity for development extends.” [35]

Clearly Jung had little use for the impractical dreamers who felt we could “ban the bomb” or outlaw war. Such “activists” accomplish nothing if they trade rigorous inner work on themselves to become more conscious for activities out in the world: they just spew more unconsciousness and confusion, accomplishing nothing.

Rather than outer actions, Jung stressed “single individuals”[36] who commit to their self-development, and by so doing, exert a positive influence in outer life. In other words, “walk your talk.” You want peace? Then be peace-filled.

Can we prevent World War III? Jung knew about the concept of the tipping point. He noted that “there are single individuals who are capable of developing. How great their total number is we do not know, …”[37] nor do we know just how many people would be required to tip the world into a higher level of consciousness.[38] But Jung knew that every person counts: “So much is at stake and so much depends on the psychological constitution of modern man. … does the individual know that he is the makeweight that tips the scales?”[39] You could be the person that prevents world war.




Aland, Kurt, Matthew Black, Carlo Martini, Bruce Metzger & Allen Wikgren (1975), The Greek New Testament. New York: United Bible Societies.

Edinger, Edward (1999), The Psyche in Antiquity, Book I. Toronto: Inner City Books.

Hannah, Barbara (1976), Jung: His Life and Work, A Biographical Memoir. New York: G.P. Putnam.

Jung, C.G. (1960), ”The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche,” CW 8. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1959), ”The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious,” CW 9i. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1959), “Aion,” Collected Works, 9ii. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1970), “Civilization in Transition,” CW 10. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1969), “Psychology and Religion: West and East,” CW 11. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1967), “Alchemical Studies,” CW 13. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1963), “Mysterium Coniunctionis,” CW 14. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1976), ”The Symbolic Life,” CW 18. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1975), Letters, ed. Gerhard Adler & Aniela Jaffé. 2 vols. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Lammers, Ann & Adrian Cunningham eds. (2007), The Jung-White Letters. New York: Routledge.

Lewis, Charlton & Charles Short (1969), A Latin Dictionary. Oxford: The Clarendon Press.

Liddell & Scott (1978), Greek-English Lexicon. Oxford: The Clarendon Press.

Schell, Jonathan (1982), The Fate of the Earth. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Schwartz, Stephan (2015), The 8 Laws of Change. Rochester VT: Park Street Press.

Wink, Walter (1984), Naming the Powers. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

________ (1986), Unmasking the Powers. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

________ (1992), Engaging the Powers. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

________ (1998), The Powers That Be. New York: Doubleday.

[1] Hannah (1976), 129.

[2] Ibid.

[3] For a graphic description of what such a tragedy would entail, see Schell (1982).

[4] E.g. “Jung and the Archetype of the Apocalypse,” “Our Apocalyptic Time,” and “Life at the End of an Aeon.”

[5] Some of my students seem to confuse “apocalypse” with “Armageddon.” Megiddo is a place in Israel that has lent its name to the site where the final battle ending the world is supposedly to take place.

[6] Liddell & Scott (1978), 99.

[7] For an in-depth discussion of the powers, cf. Wink (1984) (1986) (1992) & (1998).

[8] Collected Works 11 ¶725. Hereafter Collected Works will be abbreviated CW. Jung is quoting Rev. 20:3.

[9] Aland et al. (1975), 888.

[10] CW 11 ¶725.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Edinger (1999), 32.

[13] That is, en + antia + dramein = “a running against;” Liddell & Scott (1978), 77 & 212.

[14] Lit. “a deprivation of good;” Lewis & Short (1969), 1447.

[15] Cf. CW 9i ¶603n; CW 9ii ¶s 75,79n,80-83,85,89,94,98,104,113-114,115n,171,428; CW 10 ¶s640, 677, 879; CW 11 ¶s247,248,456-459,470,600n,685; CW 14 ¶86; CW 18 ¶s1537,1553,1593-1594,1600,1606, 1613,1639; Jung, Letters I, 450,540,555; II, 52-53,58-61,71-73,79,93,147,153,213,236,268,277,281,484, 519,611; and the in-depth treatment given to this issue in The Jung-White Letters; Lammers & Cunningham (2007).

[16] For some of the personality traits and values of Christ, cf. Matt. 6:24; 19:21-24; 23:8-12; 26:52; Mark 7:15; 12:28-40; Luke 6:34-35; 7:36-50; 8:1-3; 9:46-48; 10:30-37; 12:37; 13:10-17; 14:7-14; 22:24-27,49-51; John 4:4-30; 13:1-17; 15:15.

[17] CW 13¶s248-249.

[18] Ibid. ¶248.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] CW 11 ¶751; CW 18 ¶1507. For more on the psyche as real, see the essay archived on this blog site “The Psyche is Real.”

[24] CW 9ii ¶77.

[25] CW 8 ¶426.

[26] Ibid.

[27] We hear phrases like this frequently from Donald Trump.

[28] CW 8 ¶426.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid. ¶427.

[31] Ibid. ¶428.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Lewis & Short (1969), 184 & 585.

[35] CW 8 ¶428.

[36] Ibid.

[37] CW 8 ¶428.

[38] Stephan Schwartz believes this is about 24 million people, or 10% of adult Americans; Schwartz (2015), 186.

[39] CW 10 ¶586.

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