The Later Theories (1921 - 32).

"My capacity for interest is so soon exhausted: that is to say, it turns away so willingly
from the present to other directions. Something in me rebels against the compulsion
to go on earning money....Strange secret yearnings rise in me - perhaps from my ancestral
heritage - for the East and the Mediterranean and for a life of quite another kind:
wishes from late childhood never to be fulfilled, which do not conform to reality
as if to hint at a loosening of one's relationship with it."
- Freud to Sandor Ferenczi, March 30 1922.

Freud's later writings were predominantly clarifications of his earlier theories, plus he extended his work to embrace the whole sphere of culture (including politics, art and religion). In 1921 he published Group Psychology and Analysis of the Ego. This demonstrated the dynamics of the leader principle as a mass "falling in love" whereby groups of people would identify their own egos with that of a leader, introjecting his standards into themselves in place of the individual moral code. This has traditionally been seen as a good explanation for the German acceptance of Adolf Hitler, but it also elucidates the almost fanatical devotion that Freud demanded from his own followers and the often brutal ways in which he "punished" dissenters (1).

Freud and his grandchildren

Cancer began to trouble Freud from 1923, and he had an operation in April of that year on an ulcer in his mouth that nearly killed him when he haemorrhaged badly on the operating table. The doctor in charge of the operation, Marcus Hajek, a rhinologist like Fliess, made no apology to Freud for his incompetence. The more hard hearted among us would perhaps see this as poetic justice for Freud's lack of sympathy for Emma Eckstein after his friend botched her operation. In June 1923, the death of Sophie's little son Heinz (pictured right with Freud and his elder brother Ernst) deeply affected Freud, more than any other death had before: "I am taking the loss so badly, I believe that I have never experienced anything harder...fundamentally everything has lost its value" (2). Freud believed that Heinz's death had killed something in him for good, and wept for him as he had failed to weep for Jacob and Sophie. In October of that year he had another operation in which the entire upper jaw and palate on the right side of his face were removed and replaced with a prosthesis, "the monster", as he called it. Freud would be in pain with this for the rest of his life and had to endure some thirty minor operations over his last fifteen years, but this did not stop him working. Even if he had wanted to, he needed the money, having once again found himself supporting other family members.

In the 1923 essay The Ego and the Id, Freud described the three main parts of the personality as the "ego", the "id" and the "superego". The id is the oldest and most primitive part of the mind and is solely concerned with seeking and obtaining instinctual gratification. The ego, which was described by Freud in his earlier writings as the "self", is the (predominantly) conscious part, which controls the relation to the outer world and is concerned with self preservation. The superego is the source of moral control, introduced in the phallic phase to determine the limits of acceptable behaviour. These three elements are always in conflict with each other as the ego has to mediate between the instinctual demands of the id and the moral demands of the superego, whilst trying to maintain its position in regard to external reality. This model was a modification of the earlier one of preconscious, conscious and unconscious (see above) by then regarded by Freud as too simplistic.

By the mid 1920's, Freud's status as a cultural icon was beginning to be confirmed. In June 1924 he was approached by the Chicago Tribune who wanted him to do a psychoanalytical appraisal of Leopold and Loeb, two University students who had killed a boy to prove their superior intelligence (their story also provided the inspiration for Alfred Hitchcock's 1948 film Rope). The same year Hollywood producer Sam Goldwyn asked for Freud's assistance in making a series of films about the greatest love stories in history, beginning with Anthony and Cleopatra. Freud declined both offers. He now had more fame than he had ever dreamed of, but also a reputation that made him "news" and vulnerable to scandalous rumours.

Freud was losing more "sons" too. The harmony that the Committee had enjoyed for the last ten years was beginning to be threatened by a rivalry between Jones and Rank ("brother hostility") which eventually turned on Rank's side to "father hostility" against Freud. In 1924 Rank published a book, The Trauma of Birth, in which he asserted that all neuroses were ultimately caused by the shock of being born and subsequent fantasy of returning to the womb which of course could never be fulfilled. Freud was slow to condemn this favourite son, initially greeting the book with a very ambivalent attitude, but eventually came to the conclusion that Rank's views were too divergent from his own to qualify as psychoanalysis. He finally broke with him in 1926, after attacking his views in Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety. Here Freud claimed that anxiety was formed from a variety of perceived threats to the ego, of which the trauma of birth was only one: it was succeeded by fears of separation and castration initiated by the superego.

In 1927 Freud outlined his views on religion in The Future of an Illusion. He described it as a universal "group neurosis" originating in the infantile need for protection, in which pious ceremonies replace the bizarre rituals of the obsessional neurotic and God replaces the psychoanalytic father figure (3). Freud showed here his debt to the Enlightenment - science and religion are incompatible. In 1930 he made a foray into politics with Civilisation and its Discontents. Continuing the arguments of Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud claimed that the whole of human history and culture is essentially a reflection of the conflicts in the individual between the id, ego and superego, played out on a larger scale. Our position in society is an enforced compromise between these forces - thus we are born to suffer in a civilisation that we cannot live in happily. As before, world events handily intervened to support Freud's ideas. The beginning of Great Depression showed how one event in America (the Wall Street Crash) could have a knock on effect on the rest of the world, proving that we are essentially unable to cope with our lot in life and must suffer hardship. The book also mirrored Freud's own state of mind as he was in constant pain from his continuous operations. He could take comfort from Civilisation's enormous popularity: clearly the unhappy, starving world agreed with his pessimistic appraisals. Freud would have even more proof soon as the worst effect of the Great Depression was that it enabled the Nazi Party to come to power. In September 1930, Freud's ninety-five year old mother died. Unlike with his father, Freud felt relieved. He would no longer have to worry that she would outlive him, and could concentrate on dying himself.

As if calling religion a "universal obsessional neurosis" was not controversial enough, Freud got himself involved in even more strife in these years with his views on women. He portrayed them as a passive, superficial and fundamentally inferior sex whose whole psychology was conditioned by their unfulfilled longing for a male genital organ. Although Freud did acknowledge his failings here - that his view of female sexuality was "incomplete and fragmentary" (4) due to the fact that the sex life of adult females (presumably due to the moral climate of the time) was a "dark continent" (5) for psychology, since most of what he did say was pretty offensive, perhaps it would have been better if he had left the "mystery of woman" completely untouched. Ironically, it was at this period of his life that Freud began to find himself surrounded by female psychoanalytic disciples. Helene Deutsch, Marie Bonaparte, Ruth Mack Brunswick, Karen Horney and Jeanne Lampl-de Groot were among the most prominent. These women proved no less quarrelsome in the battle for Freud's affections than his male followers had been some ten years earlier, but were at least some consolation for all the "sons" he was losing as yet another one was causing trouble. Ferenczi, following the absent Rank, annoyed Freud by developing new methods of treatment ("active therapy" or "mutual analysis") which entailed having a more relaxed and informal relationship with patients, often including kissing and hugging (6). He also began to re-examine the validity of the seduction theory that Freud had abandoned over thirty years earlier and kept a clinical diary from January 1932 discussing revisions of Freud's theories. Conveniently, Freud (and Jones) blamed Ferenczi's illness (the pernicious anaemia which eventually killed him in May 1933) for "turning" his brain, but there is in fact no real evidence to suggest that he was suffering from mental illness (7).


1) See, for example, Webster, Richard (1996) Why Freud Was Wrong (revised edition), HarperCollins Publishers, London.

2) See Gay, Peter ([1988] 1995) Freud: A Life for Our Time, Papermac, London, p.421.

3) Freud had always made his anti religious stance clear: he had expressed similar views in Obsessional Actions and Religious Practices (1907, Standard Edition IX) twenty years earlier.

4) See Femininity (1933), Standard Edition XXII, p.135.

5) See The Question of Lay Analysis (1926), Standard Edition XX, p.212.

6) Jung and Adler had adopted similar techniques after their respective breaks with Freud, perhaps partly as a form of rebellion against his oppressive authority.

7) See Webster, Richard (1996) p.298.

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ã Robin Tamblyn, 2000.

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