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Szasz on Freud

In his first professional years Szasz is an admirer of Freud. He conspicuously examines whether his positions correspond with Freud’s in his earliest works. When he quotes Freud in 1949, he adds praise, such as: “as Freud … so clearly describes…”; “this beautiful analogy of Freud’s…” In a 1955 article he stresses in a footnote that certain of his positions should not be taken as criticism of Freud’s views. When, fairly early in his career, Szasz criticizes aspects of psychoanalytic theory, he carefully avoids personal criticism of Freud. By 1959 he openly attacks Freud about the ambiguity of using both biomedical-therapeutic and psychological-moral frames of reference. Shortly afterwards Szasz states that Freud’s motives for vacillating between stressing a medical approach to psychoanalysis and a psychological one were not scientific but of a social, professional, legal, and political nature. Just how dangerous it was in those days to attack Freud becomes apparent in the ensuing discussion about Szasz. Several of his opponents accuse him of shortchanging Freud and quoting him out of context, even though to varying degrees they concede to the criticism.

Szasz’s criticism of Freud becomes clearer in The Myth of Mental Illness, but remains circuitous and is directed at Freud’s theory, not at him personally. Two years later in an article entitled “Freud as a Leader” Szasz directly attacks Freud. He describes him as a kind of industrialist who wished to patent psychoanalytic discoveries, who opposed anyone with ideas on psychoanalysis that differed from his own, and who wished to monopolize the determination of what is included in the concept of psychoanalysis and what is not. That is why, according to Szasz, Freud had endless confrontations with his disciples as soon as they tried to make their own contributions. Freud made psychoanalysis a movement rather than a science. Not only was he an autocratic leader – this had been claimed before – but he was also deceitful, pseudo-democratic, and pseudo-scientific. Szasz ascribes psychoanalysis’s resemblance to a movement rather than a science to Freud’s leadership. In 1913 Freud wrote to Ferenczi, “We possess the truth; I am as sure of it as 15 years ago.” Szasz calls that an example of how leadership ought not be. On the side, I note that although Szasz has no ambition to form a movement comparable to psychoanalysis, it is ironic that he responded to Roth’s criticism of his (Szasz’s) views on schizophrenia as follows: “I believe, therefore, that my influence is due … to the fact that I tell the truth …”

Karl Kraus and the Soul Doctors is published in 1976. Karl Kraus was a Viennese journalist who published a magazine, Die Fackel, for decades at the beginning of the twentieth century. He wrote most of the articles himself. Szasz describes him as an individualist with integrity who opposed every form of collectivism and advocated human freedom and dignity, as well as purity of language. Thus Kraus is presented as a man who strives for the same ideals as Szasz. The book about Kraus is however as much about Freud, and opposes him as well as the psychoanalysts around him. Szasz scathingly criticizes Freud as a man whose “basic aims” were “to annex morals to medicine, to create a cryptoreligious ideology and be its leader.” (p. 52)
Szasz posits that both Kraus and Freud were rhetoricians, describing rhetoric as the use of language with the intention of influencing others. He quotes Richard Weaver: there are three ways in which language can influence us. It can move us in the direction of good (“noble rhetoric”), it can move us in the direction of evil (“base rhetoric”), or, hypothetically, in no direction. Weaver states, “Base rhetoric is therefore always trying to keep its object from the support which personal courage, noble associations, and divine philosophy provide a man.” (p. 53) Szasz considers Kraus a noble rhetorician, whereas Freud is a base rhetorician, someone who “uses language to increase his own power, to produce converts to his own cause, and to create loyal followers of his person.” (pp. 53-54) Freud was also a “base rhetorician” because he aimed to mislead people by labeling their conflicts illnesses, and by humiliating his opponents, defaming them, and often even stigmatizing them as sick.

Szasz accuses the historians of psychoanalysis of falsifying history. They ascribe Kraus’s opposition to psychoanalysis to his personality, as assessed by one of Freud’s followers, Wittels, at a meeting of the Viennese Psychoanalytic Society in 1910. Such a procedure, “psychoanalysis” of a personage from the past or present in his absence and without his consent, was customary in the at the time still small circle of psychoanalysts. In fact, Freud himself did so in his writing on Leonardo Da Vinci, about which Szasz says, “Where Freud is at his best as a base rhetorician, defaming one of the most revered artists the world has ever known.” Szasz demonstrates that Kraus already rejected psychoanalysis in 1908, and that Wittels’ view was “an exercise in psychoanalytic denigration and defamation for which no special knowledge of the victim’s personality is required.” (p. 27) This book will not be further discussed here. Szasz’s condemnation of Freud as a person and as a practitioner of a pseudo-science has been sufficiently highlighted. Also Szasz’s view on the role of Freud’s Jewishness, which is discussed thoroughly in The Myth of Psychotherapy (1978), is omitted here for the sake of brevity.
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