Jung on Surviving Politically Perilous Times

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 Jung on Surviving Politically Perilous Times

“Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside awakes.”

Jung (1916)[1]

“We have here the feeling as if one were sitting on a box full of dynamite that might go off in the next moment. Yet one is quiet, …”

Jung (1940)[2]

“I think the night has descended upon Europe. Heaven knows if and when and under which conditions we shall meet again. There is only one certainty – nothing can put out the light within.”

Jung (1940)[3]

“You know time and space are only relative realities, which under certain conditions do not exist at all. Yet our conscious life detains us within the confines of time and space. Perhaps you ought to realize the facts as they are. We don’t know what is going to happen over here. Germany exhales a simply devastating atmosphere. It is well-nigh indescribable. I’m not going to lecture this winter. I feel it is time to reduce my public work. A time might come when there will be nothing left but the life within.”

Jung (1941)[4]

“I would dearly like to talk with you about this, as it seems to me, most important matter if it were possible in the circumstances, but now is not the time for horizontal movements: everyone is in the prison and can only move vertically. We have all become katachoi tou theou, miraculously and without knowing it. One can only hope that in time, by the grace of God, the shackles hung upon us will be sufficiently loosened for European conversation to be conducted in quietude. Until then each must go through his incubation period.”

Jung (1942)[5]

“The human mind, still an adolescent boy, will sacrifice everything for a new gadget but will carefully refrain from a look into himself.”

“You must judge for yourself whether my view is pessimistic or optimistic, but I am rather certain that something drastic will have to happen to wake up the dreamers who are already on the way to the moon.”

Jung (1960)[6]

Having been born in 1875 and dying in 1961, Jung lived through politically perilous times, e.g. World War I and the Cold War, but none came so close to home or felt so perilous as World War II. With the German-Italian alliance, and the fall of France in 1940, Switzerland was surrounded by enemies, and for many months Jung and his family did not know if their country was going to be invaded. Hitler and Mussolini decided to respect Swiss neutrality, and so Jung was able to maintain limited contact with his friends in England and America.[7] His letters give us vivid insight into how he endured the terrible tensions of the war. His experience can help us as we grapple with unpredictable, potentially perilous politics. In this essay we will consider the state of the world Jung lived through during and after World War II, then note the feelings Jung mentioned in his letters as he endured these perilous times, and finally we’ll examine how Jung coped, in terms of his activities and attitudes.

The State of the World, 1938-1961

Visionary that he was, Jung had a long personal history of premonitions about the world as a whole, in addition to his own life.[8] As he noted in a letter to Erich Neumann, he “foresaw bad things for Germany, actually very bad, but now that they have come to pass they seem unbelievable….”.[9] More than “unbelievable,” in a letter to Esther Harding,[10] Jung described the state of the situation in Europe in 1939 as “opaque because of the inhuman terror the whole population is kept under by.”[11] Intense fear made it impossible for people, including Jung, to get a clear bead on just what was going on.

Knowing that Harding would want to know what he was up to, in terms of his scholarly writing, Jung had to admit that it was “not exactly the time when one could be busy with the book,” because “the atmosphere is terribly disturbed and it is quite difficult to keep out of it.”[12] Difficult perhaps because the terror and “disaster”[13] were occurring just a short few yards across the Rhine,[14] and no one could be sure how events were going to pan out.

For years, as “night …descended upon Europe,”[15] the Swiss “clung”[16] to their soil, committed to sharing its fate, while wondering “what the future will bring us.”[17] Jung looked ahead and could only say that “the future is full of unheard-of possibilities.”[18] And these were not positive possibilities.

Even after the “hot” war ended in 1945 and quickly turned into the “Cold War,” there was no peace. Jung wrote to Wilfrid Lay “this peace is no peace at all. I think there is no such thing as peace,…”[19] Why? because, Jung explained, “Man, on the whole, is a fool and remains a fool,”[20] oblivious to the “atrocities that are going on in the world,”[21] living amid illusions “which behave exactly as if they were real.”[22]

Jung looked at the world and saw a “political situation… which reminded [him] of the Tower of Babel and its fate.”[23] Jung asked E.L. Grant Watson to

“Consider please that in the year 1960 we are still far from being out of the primitive woods. There are very few beings yet capable of making a difference between mental image and the thing itself. This primitivity is poisoning our human world and is so dense a mist that very few people have discovered its existence yet….”[24]

Because most people are so “immature,”[25] Jung felt that we are incapable of “evading the vicious circle in which [we] move.”[26] Jung likened the mass consciousness of modern people to “an adolescent boy,”[27] who “will sacrifice everything for a new gadget but will carefully refrain from a look into himself.”[28]

Especially is introspection unlikely with Americans. Jung decried “the narrow-mindedness of American rationalism,”[29] which would destroy the “light,… consciousness and… meaning”[30] of Native American wisdom–a destruction that would spread to the whole world as the “soft power”[31] of American culture came to dominate the late 20th century global society. Perhaps, Jung wondered, he was being “too pessimistic, but it does not look too nice, does it?”[32] Jung asked his correspondent to

“judge for yourself whether my view is pessimistic or optimistic, but I am rather certain that something drastic will have to happen to wake up the dreamers who are already on the way to the moon.”[33]

Clearly Jung had no use for those who would look at our global crises and respond by planning colonies on Mars.[34]

Jung’s Feeling Responses to Perilous Times

Living surrounded by battlefields, bombings and daily reports of atrocities happening just miles away gave Jung the feeling “as if one were sitting on a box full of dynamite that might go off in the next moment.”[35] He described the feeling as “entirely apocalyptic.”[36]–a feeling that left “Everyone here… profoundly shaken by what is happening….”[37] In his own life, he confessed that he was “living provisionally, expecting all sorts of possibilities,”[38] and hoping “not to be implicated in the war…”.[39]

For months and months the Swiss lived “impressed by the immediate danger of war in our own country,…”[40] without knowing if they would be sucked into the conflagration of war. Everything was “still in suspense,”[41] and the result was a daily experience of “a fantastic tension of opposites,”[42] hope and despair, optimism and pessimism, freedom and the prison of fear.

Jung admitted that the Swiss were “in prison. You don’t see the walls, but you feel them.”[43] When invasion seemed imminent, Jung took his family–children and grandchildren–“to the West of Switzerland because we expected an attack”[44] from the Germans on the eastern border. Meanwhile, they listened to the radio and followed “the exploits of the R.A.F. with the greatest admiration”[45] and they marveled at the courage of the British people, which Jung felt was “at least a light in the darkness which we feel very much, being so close to it.”[46]

When news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor reached Jung, he “went through a period of black depression during the first four days.”[47] Afterwards he “felt very tired and deeply depressed by the senselessness of this war. It is mere destruction.”[48] Jung could not adequately describe the “simply devastating atmosphere”[49] which “Germany exhales,”[50] and which Switzerland, being in such close geographic proximity, was inhaling.

Tension, fatigue, depression, sadness, anxiety–so many negative feelings assailed Jung in the perilous years of World War II and the subsequent Cold War. Yet none of these feelings led Jung to become inert. His example can give us guidance for how to handle the tension of living through perilous political times.

How Jung Coped Living through Wars

Jung offers us examples on two levels–the collective (outer actions) and the personal (inner actions). In outer life, Jung began even before World War II broke out in September 1939 to help his Jewish acquaintances to get to safety in England or America.[51] He wrote letters of reference for them, and worked his network of highly placed and influential contacts[52] to provide for their welfare. To people who sought his advice about what they should do, Jung suggested:

“If you want to do something useful, it only can be there where you live, where you know the people and circumstances. In nosing around among them you will find a possibility to help.”[53]

But while Jung felt it was quite likely people would find ways to help others, he also gave a warning:

“It is certain that you will find one, but not rarely the unconscious blindfolds you, because it does not want you to find an application of your energies to external circumstances.”[54]

By the “blindfold,” Jung was referring to how our unconscious can blind us to reality, making it unlikely that we will see the opportunities or how best to utilize them. If we find ourselves feeling frustrated or at a loss as to how to cope well in hard times, Jung suggests we recognize our resistance and its cause:

“The reason for such a resistance lies in the fact that you need some reconstruction in yourself which you would gladly apply to others. Many things should be put right in oneself first, before we apply our imperfections to our fellow-beings.”[55]

When we spot a problem “out there,” we have to be sure to look within and clean up our own shadow stuff first. Which brings us to the second level, the level Jung felt was most important: the personal.

In perilous times, the tension and anxiety we feel will be uncomfortable, but Jung would have us recognize its benefit. As Jung told his student Erich Neumann,

“… such tension is highly beneficial for the progress of your inner development, as it brings out the meaning with particular clarity.”[56]

Holding the tension of opposites also is a powerful way for us to grow and change, assuming we can hold, and withstand the temptation to fall to one side or the other.

In times when he felt like he was “sitting on a box full of dynamite that might go off in the next moment,” Jung got quiet, knowing that “nothing can put out the light within.”[57] While he didn’t know what the future would bring, this uncertainty did not stop Jung from his customary annual routine: “… as often as I can I work in the garden to prepare a field for potatoes next spring.”[58]

“Victory gardens” were not found only in America: all over the world foodstuffs became limited during the war, as supply lines dried up and global transportation became dangerous. Jung told one correspondent that

“We are practically cut off from the world as far as supplies are concerned and have to live on our wits as well as we can. My daughter from Paris and her children are with us since the beginning of the war, happily enough…”[59]

All sorts of commodities get rationed, and the daily challenge of eating and living call up inner resources, as well as bringing families closer together.

Perilous times can hone our sense of what is really important. For Jung that meant maintaining his work life, while, at the same time, withdrawing into himself, reducing his “public work”[60] in the recognition that there might come a time “when there will be nothing left but the life within.”[61] Jung recognized that politically chaotic times are

“not the time for horizontal movements: everyone is in the prison and can only move vertically. We have all become katachoi tou theou, miraculously and without knowing it. One can only hope that in time, by the grace of God, the shackles hung upon us will be sufficiently loosened for European conversation to be conducted in quietude. Until then each must go through his incubation period.”[62]

Such “incubation” is a time of patient waiting with an inward focus, in the knowledge that one is evolving, growing, changing in ways that, for the moment, are impossible to describe. “Yes,” Jung reminds us, “it is apparently indispensable to believe in a better future.”[63] He would have us, in difficult times, listen to our dreams, and ignore the “mouthings of human lemurs.”[64] Rather than blustering around, eager to be doing something, we should “wait for an order from within,”[65] and to model being “reasonable”[66] in our own lives, and, if possible, try “to help a few others to be also reasonable.”[67] By “reasonable,” Jung means being conscious, for if we work at becoming more self-aware, and help those around us who are also open to becoming conscious

“Even if the great disaster should overtake us, there may survive a few who have learned to be reasonable and who were helped by the serious attempt to get a bit more conscious than their somnambulistic entourage.”[68]

Whether or not the world survives the perils that confront us, the future will be more promising if there are some who are conscious.

By “great disaster” I think Jung was referring to the possibility of global nuclear war, a disaster that is still very much possible, even more so now, given the erratic, unpredictable nature of some of our global leaders. Less severe, but still perilous is the fragility of our democratic system now in light of how Donald Trump displays such a “weak commitment to democratic rules of the game” and customary norms; how he tries to capture referees (e.g. the courts, law enforcement agencies etc.); how he sidelines players (e.g. his Secretary of State); how he denies “the legitimacy of political opponents” and tries “to undermine the legitimacy of elections;” how he tolerates or encourages violence; and how he has “threatened to take legal or other punitive action against critics in rival parties, civil society, or the media.”[69] All of these actions are characteristics of democracies that fail, as we have seen in the experiences of Argentina, Ecuador, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Peru, Poland, Russia, Turkey and Venezuela in the 1930-2015 interval.[70] Can such a failure happen here? Surely. Will it?

Jung would have us prepare for the worst while we hope for the best:

“I think it is even better to make ready for the great catastrophe than to hope that it will not take place …”.[71] How to do this? By doing what Jung did: “guarding my light and my treasure,”[72] in the conviction that

“nobody would gain and I myself would be badly, even hopelessly injured, if I should lose it. It is most precious not only to me, but above all to the darkness of the creator, who needs man to illuminate His creation.”[73]

Our positive response to the challenges and perils of our time matters not just to us, or to our friends and family, but to the world and even to the Divine.

Bibliography

Economy, Elizabeth (2018), The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State. New York: Oxford University Press.

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

Levitsky, Steven & Daniel Ziblatt (2018), How Democracies Die. New York: Crown Publishers.

[1] “Letter to Fanny Bowditch,” 22 October 1916; Letters, I, 33.

[2] “Letter to Henriette Goodrich,” 20 May 1940; Letters, I, 282.

[3] “Letter to Mary Mellon,” 19 June 1940; Letters, I, 284.

[4] “Letter to Mary Mellon,” 8 September 1941; Letters, I, 304.

[5] “Letter to Eugen Diesel,” 10 April 1942; Letters, I, 314-315. The Greek means “prisoners of God.”

[6] “Letter to Leo P. Holliday,” 6 November 1960; Letters, II, 609.

[7] E.g. Peter Baynes, Esther Harding, and Mary Mellon.

[8] E.g. his vision of Europe being flooded with blood before World War I, and his intuition that he would marry Emma Rauschenbach years before it happened; Hannah (1976), 111, 83.

[9] “Letter to Erich Neumann,” 19 December 1938; Letters, I, 257.

[10] An American physician and former pupil of Jung’s; one of the founders of the New York Jung Institute and prolific author of Jung-related books.

[11] “Letter to Esther Harding,” 28 September 1939; Letters, I, 276.

[12] “Letter to Anonymous,” 5 October 1939; Letters, I, 278.

[13] “Letter to H.G. Baynes,” 12 August 1940; Letters, I, 285.

[14] The Rhine River forms the border between Switzerland and Germany on the north around Basel; some suburbs of Basel are in Germany.

[15] “Letter to Mary Mellon,” 19 June 1940; Letters, I, 284.

[16] “Letter to Henriette Goodrich,” 20 May 1940; Letters, I, 282.

[17] “Letter to H.G. Baynes,” 9 December 1940; Letters, I, 288.

[18] “Letter to Anonymous,” 5 October 1939; Letters, I, 278.

[19] “Letter to Wilfrid Lay,” 20 April 1946; Letters, I, 426.

[20] Ibid.

[21] “Letter to Jean Vontobel-Ruosch,” 28 April 1959; Letters, II, 503.

[22] “Letter to Gualthernus Mees,” 15 September 1947; Letters, I, 479.

[23] “Letter to E.L Grant Watson,” 8 August 1960; Letters, II, 579.

[24] Ibid., 578.

[25] “Letter to H. Richard Mades,” 3 August 1959; Letters, II, 512.

[26] Ibid.

[27] “Letter to Leo P. Holliday,” 6 November 1960; Letters, II, 609.

[28] Ibid.

[29] “Letter to Miguel Serrano,” 14 September 1960; Letters, II, 597.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Economy (2018), 218-224. “Soft power” is the cultural and social influence that a nation has through its media, entertainment, social, educational and cultural activities. The United States has a great deal of soft power, while a country like Communist China has very little, in part due to its totalitarian ethos.

[32] “Letter to H. Richard Mades, 3 August 1959; Letter, II, 513.

[33] “Letter to Leo P. Holliday,” 6 November 1960; Letters, II, 609.

[34] E.g. Elon Musk’s Space X program.

[35] “Letter to Henriette Goodrich,” 20 May 1940; Letters, I, 282.

[36] “Letter to Anonymous,” 5 October 1939; Letters, I, 278.

[37] “Letter to Erich Neumann,” 19 December 1938; Letters, I, 257.

[38] “Letter to Esther Harding,” 28 September 1939; Letters, I, 276.

[39] Ibid.

[40] “Letter to Erich Neumann,” 19 December 1938; Letters, I, 257.

[41] Ibid.

[42] “Letter to Erich Neumann,” 4 April 1938; Letters, I, 243.

[43] “Letter to H.G. Baynes,” 12 August 1940; Letters, I, 285.

[44] Ibid.

[45] “Letter to H.G. Baynes,” 9 December 1940; Letters, I, 289.

[46] Ibid.

[47] “Letter to Alice Lewisohn Crowley,” 20 December 1941; Letters, I, 307.

[48] “Letter to Mary Mellon,” 18 April 1941; Letters, I, 297.

[49] “Letter to Mary Mellon,” 8 September 1941; Letters, I, 304.

[50] Ibid.

[51] “Letter to Erich Neumann,” 19 December 1938; Letters, I, 257.

[52] E.g. Edith Rockefeller, Joseph McCormick, and Paul Mellon.

[53] “Letter to Anonymous,” 14 February 1961; Letters, II, 626-627.

[54] Ibid., 627.

[55] Ibid.

[56] “Letter to Erich Neumann,” 4 April 1938; Letters, I, 243.

[57] “Letter to Mary Mellon,” 19 June 1940; Letters, I, 284.

[58] “Letter to H.G. Baynes,” 9 December 1940; Letters, I, 288.

[59] Ibid., 289.

[60] “Letter to Mary Mellon,” 8 September 1941; Letters, I, 304.

[61] Ibid.

[62] “Letter to Eugen Diesel,” 10 April 1942; Letters, I, 314-315.

[63] “Letter to Wilfrid Lay,” 20 April 1946; Letters, I, 426.

[64] “Letter to Jolande Jacobi,” 19 August 1946; Letters, I, 441.

[65] “Letter to Jean Vontobel-Ruosch,” 28 April 1959; Letters, II, 503.

[66] “Letter to H. Richard Mades,” 3 August 1959; Letters, II, 512.

[67] Ibid.

[68] Ibid.

[69] These features of how democracies fail are explained in depth in Levitsky & Ziblatt (2018), 65-67

[70] Ibid., passim.

[71] “Letter to H. Richard Mades,” 3 August 1959; Letters, II, 512.

[72] “Letter to Miguel Serrano,” 14 September 1960; Letters, II, 597.

[73] Ibid.

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