Inner Authority

The author of two books on Freud and his successors, Philip Rieff, remarks, "The object of therapy, in the Jungian sense, is to reconcile the individual to whatever authority he carries within himself.

Panel Discussion on Psychological Authority at the October 26-30, 1994, conference of the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts at Asheville, North Carolina


1. Introduction

The author of two books on Freud and his successors, Philip Rieff, remarks, "The object of therapy, in the Jungian sense, is to reconcile the individual to whatever authority he carries within himself. Such an authority is inescapable; the wise man adapts himself to it. Indeed, in therapy one seeks just that authority which experience, now set in a confusedly anti-authoritarian frame, has hidden from the individual, sick to that degree in which he cannot find the authority directing his inner life." Though Rieff's sympathy is more with Freud's therapy of "relentless talk," this characterization of Jung's approach to therapy is accurate and well put. I wish to elaborate upon it.

2. Authority and Inwardness

At the beginning of Shakespeare's The Tragedy of King Lear set in the dim past of pre-Christian Britain, the King, in his eighties, dispossesses himself of his kingship, banishes his virtuous youngest daughter, and makes himself a ward of her evil older sisters, while pretending that he still reigns. He thus sets in motion a process that will lead him to madness and death. His loyal servant Kent, whom Lear has dismissed in a rage, disguises himself and seeks to be readmitted to the King's service. "Who wouldst thou serve?" the King asks. "You," Kent replies. "Dost thou know me, fellow?" "No, sir; but you have that in your face which I would fain call master." "What's that?" the King asks. "Authority," Kent replies. Since Lear has done all he could to unking himself, Kent's response might seem strange.

Much more recently. the theme of authority came to the fore in an important exchange between Freud and Jung. In 1909 the two were invited to Clark University near Boston, and on the sea voyage there they analyzed one another's dreams. When Jung asked for further associations to something in one of Freud's dreams, Freud demurred, explaining that to reveal himself further would be to risk his authority. "At that moment he lost it altogether," Jung later commented.

In the meeting between Lear and the disguised Kent, what is the authority that Kent sees in the King's face? Is it Lear's demeanor, an expression of Lear's conviction that he is of central importance and that whatever he at the moment happens to be saying is right and true? Is it an expression of Kent's identification with convention, with unexamined notions of what perhaps ideally ought to be but is not except as fiction—as Lear perhaps ought to be King but is no longer, except as one of Shakespeare's "player kings"? Or is Lear's authority an expression of what in Shakespeare's time could still be considered a transcendent order—does Lear for Kent embody what Jung would call an archetype?

Certainly Kent sees Lear's authority in Lear; in this sense it is inner rather than outer. But with another emphasis, Lear's authority is something that Kent sees in him. This may mean in part that Lear's authority belongs to his persona, the aspect of him intended for others to see. (After all, Kent sees Lear's authority in his face which may serve as a mask.) And it may mean in part that Lear's authority is in some measure a product of Kent's projection, which a persona such as Lear's is intended to invite. And so while Lear's authority may be inner, it is not that in any simple way. Indeed, the reason Kent has sought Lear out is that in Kent's mind the two of them are indissolubly and irreducibly interconnected, and, whatever else it may be, Lear's authority is also for Kent an expression of that interconnectedness. (One of the key words in the play is "bonds," and they are one source of Lear's authority.) Their interconnectedness prefigures what I will in a moment speak of as mutuality.

The exchange between Freud and Jung about authority invites ponderings akin to those I have just suggested with regard to the meeting of Kent and Lear. Indeed, the exchange is so rich that George B. Hogenson used it as the focus of an entire book, a fine one, entitled Jung's Struggle with Freud. In it Hogenson reflects on several important and interrelated matters. One is the nature of authority in science and in psychoanalysis, which some psychoanalysts vehemently claim to be a science while they half know that they would be hard put to support that claim in any really convincing way. Another matter is the power of authority sometimes to reduce speech and especially dialogue to meaningless silence. Thus parents sometimes assert their authority by announcing, "End of discussion." And thus Jung ended his correspondence with Freud with Hamlet's final words, "The rest is silence." In inducing silence, authority can be repressive, and repression can play an important role in creating and maintaining authority.

I believe there are reasons for granting primacy to inner authority—and thus, by implication, to inwardness, to what is sometimes called the inner life—and reasons to resist the incursions of extroversion when it tries improperly to reduce the reality of introversion, to which it is yoked in some ways so uneasily. (In his psychology Jung tries to be fair to both introversion and extroversion while at times favoring introversion as the attitude essential for knowing some of the most important things that are to be known. I think there are good reasons for such fairness but also for an occasional artful and judicious favoring of introversion, since the inner life has to remain real and has to remain inner.) I now want to reflect on inner authority in the hope of clarifying some of its main features. And I want to do so while bearing in mind the considerations I have sketched with regard to the meeting of Kent and Lear and the thwarted exchange between Freud and Jung.

3. The Self as the Source of Inner Authority

If I raise the topic of inner authority in a way that from the outset entails criticism of some manifestations of extroversion, I do so for reasons that I think deeper than introversion as a temperamental bias. I believe that earlier writers with important things to say about inner authority bear out these reasons.

One of these writers, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in some ways a forerunner of Freud and Jung, addressed the topic in his Discourse on Inequality of 1755. There, in a bit of fanciful but illuminating anthropology, Rousseau imagines savages just before they took the first step toward the inequality that characterizes all of the more complex societies. These people were accustomed to singing and dancing unselfconsciously in front of their huts or around a great tree. The step toward inequality came when each of them wanted to be admired by the others, with the result that his sense of self-worth came to be determined by public opinion as to who could sing and dance the best. Before this step they were presumably guided by a sense of rightness having its own demands, quite apart from the pangs of shame or guilt that beset them afterwards. (One might compare their previous condition with that of a good musician trying to make a musical phrase sound right: it is the rightness or wrongness of what he hears himself play or sing that guides his further actions. Even if he feels shame or guilt about the wrongness of the phrase, one cannot make such feelings out to be primary motives determining in a secondary way what comes to sound good to him.) These savages of Rousseau have taken the step toward a condition common today in which public officials make decisions in accord not with what they deem right but rather with what pollsters tell them the public happens to want

I want now to turn to a contrasting figure. From an orthodox Christian perspective, and hence in a very different kind of language, Saint John Chrysostom in the fourth century expressed a related idea in his comments on the prayer "Fill us with the Holy Ghost." About this petition he said that "it is not even possible to approve one's self as one ought" unless one is already "filled...with grace." To venture a minimal psychological translation of being already filled with grace, the phrase would seem to refer to an ego enhanced by a kind of self-validation that is not primarily reactive to what others think. (One might think of the musician guided by his sense of the rightness of a musical phrase.) Chrysostom bears out this understanding of him by maintaining that the followers of Christ have not the slightest regard "for the shame that proceeds from the many," though such Christians are greatly concerned to be unashamed and pleasing in the sight of the Lord. For Chrysostom, as for Rousseau, proper valuation of one's actions proceeds primarily from the relation of the conscious ego to a more fundamental and embracing interior principle.