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.

We cannot go back to singing and dancing in front of our huts or around a great tree. But Rousseau's myth implies that there is a form of self-validation prior to the envious perversion of desire that came to afflict his singers and dancers, and that this fundamental form of self-validation has been, or could be, the basis of a community of more authentic individuals than they became and that most people are now. The religious language that Chrysostom uses to say the same thing may be taken psychologically to refer to the self in the Jungian sense of a psychic totality that may be expressed in god-images. To validate oneself in the way that Rousseau and Chrysostom have in mind is to be supported by an inner authority that is not simply an internalized image of something once imposed from without, It is to be supported by the self in Jung's understanding of that term. The self under the aspect with which I am now concerned I have called the self that knows what is good for itself. I assume that only by means of the self that knows what is good for itself can we recognize anything else as good, even mistakenly. Despite the inwardness I would claim for it, this self is not isolated but open to mutuality and even finds its fulfillment in it. It was, we may recall, the sacrifice of mutuality to egocentric isolation that cost Freud his authority in Jung's eyes.

4. Science and Fantasy, Father and Mother, and the Self

Since this subtitle may appear a riddle, I want first to offer a succinct solution to it, upon which I will then comment. Science and fantasy are very different, as Jung's "Two Kinds of Thinking" in Collected Works, Vol. 5, might persuade us—indeed are in many ways inimical. Yet fantasy and science blend in science fiction, and science partly originates in fantasy. Relations between the two become especially problematic in depth psychology, which tries to be science about fantasy. It is widely assumed that the authority of science is paternal. But this is from the outset an oversimplification, quite apart from questions of what "feminine" science is or might be. Consideration of authority must finally lead to the self which, however individuated the person, always implies the mother-infant relationship, the self being known in receptivity, which is grounded in our experience of Mother.

I will now elaborate on this answer to my seeming riddle. Is truth something personal that I find or establish using my own resources? Or is it something that I accept on the basis of my trust in a person or an institution? These questions by no means exclude one another. Thus the philosopher Michael Polanyi has remarked that in science opinion is "not held by any single human mind, but is held by a multitude of individuals, each of whom endorses the others' opinion at second hand, by relying on the consensual chains which link him to all the others through a sequence of overlapping neighborhoods." That is, scientists should in principle be able to replicate the results of one another's experiments, but as a matter of practical fact, a particular scientist may have to trust that scientists in another field are examining one another's work properly and that their consensus is reliable. Owing to such relativity, the issue of inner authority may assume forms in science that are very important and that bear on the integrity of the self In science, that is to say, wary ego control is unavoidably tempered by trust. One may trust and be vigilant—and should. But trust entails the expectation that one's standards will be met. And this implies, further, that they are inner, one's own, in a way that cannot be made secondary to what others do and think. The self that knows what is good for itself may learn things at odds with its own original knowledge. But this is only to say that life is complicated and difficult, as science therefore also is.

The relationship between Freud and Jung entailed questions regarding the final basis of whatever truth value psychoanalysis had as science. Freud founded psychoanalysis to an important extent on the basis of his own fantasy experiences and his own interpretation of them (his "self-analysis"), and then elevated that interpretation to the status of an orthodoxy binding for all future interpretations of psychic life. Jung's own powerful fantasy experiences were so unlike Freud's that they did not for him support Freud's interpretive argument, and indeed Jung urgently felt that their content demanded a different conception of the nature of fantasy.

I want now to distinguish between two kinds of fantasy. Fantasy may be regressive in the sense of replaying old patterns apparently having little to do with transformation and the further development of psychic life. I think, for example, of an accomplished and successful engineer who occasionally, instead of going directly home from work to his wife and family, supplies himself with marijuana and a six-pack of beer, and then watches soft-porn movies in a drive-in movie theater. Doing this gives him a low-grade satisfaction of a diffuse erotic interest. The low-grade quality of the satisfaction is appropriate to the diffuseness of the interest; anything more "real"—including movies more vividly pornographic—would provoke him to inner conflict and psychic work and thus deprive him of the satisfaction he seeks.

Fantasy, however, may mean something very different from this. For Jung, with other things in mind than the preoccupations of our moviegoer, fantasy was "the clearest activity of the psyche. It is, preeminently, the creative activity from which the answers to all answerable questions come; it is the mother of all possibilities, where, like all psychological opposites, the inner and outer worlds are joined together in living union. Fantasy it was and ever is which fashions the bridge between their reconcilable claims of subject and object."

Jung's statement strikingly makes fantasy basic to our experience in such a way that it is implicitly an expression of the self with its structuring and authenticating powers. (By "fantasy" Jung means what others would prefer to call "imagination," but what is meant by the two terms must remain relative, and so the distinction between them need not now concern us.) Jung's statement implies that the self has an authority, imaginatively expressed, that cannot legitimately be abrogated, whether by the will of one's own ego or by that of another person. The clash between Freud and Jung was one of egos, but Jung understandably felt that his self, his very being, was at stake.

Since fantasy and interpretation are linked in complicated ways, a body of theory such as that of psychoanalysis, which is about fantasy, must—if it is to be scientific—be allowed to develop in the way Polanyi describes as governed by "mutual authority." For Freud authority could not be made mutual. (There is room for questions about the degree to which it could for Jung, but surely he was the more open of the two.) Regarding the clash of egos in which Freud and Jung were caught, one could say that the self as supraordinate to the ego is more open to mutuality than the ego is, and that the authority of the self is inseparable from its openness. And so in this way, too, the clash of the two violated the self of each.

On two occasions Freud fainted in Jung's presence, thus symbolizing the death he thought Jung wished for him, since Freud was convinced he saw evidence of parricidal impulses in Jung's dreams. In refusing this interpretation and the authority seeking to impose it, Jung, in effect, appealed to the deeper, preoedipal authority of the self as manifested in the mother-infant bond. 1 say this because the mutuality of this bond is the basis of all other experiences of mutuality. And one of the transformations of the mother-infant relationship is the mutual authority Polanyi regards as necessary to empirical science.

Freud's opinion to the contrary notwithstanding, the authority of which I am speaking is not that of Father overwhelming and superseding the non-authority of Mother. Experiences of the self, which require receptivity, always have a maternal cast.

5. The Voice or Voices of the Self

In Psychology and Religion, Jung speaks of an authoritative voice that sometimes makes itself known in dreams. About it he comments: "It always utters an authoritative declaration or command, either of astonishing common sense or of profound philosophical import. It is nearly always a final statement, ... and it is, as a rule, so clear and convincing that the dreamer finds no argument against it. It has, indeed, so much the character of an indisputable truth that it can hardly be understood as anything except a final summing up of a long process of deliberation and weighing of arguments."

When Jung asks people to whom they think such a voice belongs, one answer they sometimes give him is that it is the voice of the dreaming individual himself. But he objects that would be like being giving money as a present and then saying to the person giving it, "Thank you for my money." "Since psychic contents are conscious and perceivable only when they are associated with an ego," Jung concludes, "the phenomenon of the voice, having a strongly personal character, may also issue from a center—but a center which is not identical with the conscious ego. Such reasoning is permissible," he proposes, "if we conceive of the ego as being subordinated to, or contained in, a supraordinate self as a center of the total, illimitable, and indefinable psychic personality," It is important to recognize that such phenomena exist and that Jung's understanding of them is cogent. But it is also important to exercise caution in imagining that they provide a model of relations between ego and self.

In one work of Erich Neumann, what he calls "the Voice," clearly related to the dream voice of which Jung is speaking, serves as a special term for the revelation to a great individual of a new ethical imperative then to be adopted by his group: the Voice speaks to him as though from another center. And in another work Neumann conveys something of the same idea with the term "the ego-self axis." This means in part that the ego and the self are always in some sort of very real relation. More problematically, the several meanings of the word "axis" all indicate that it is a straight line: the ego somehow directly reaches the self, or the self somehow directly acts upon the ego, as the Voice speaks directly to the great individual.

How limited this way of conceiving matters is should become clear, however, if we make two reflections. First, the dream voice of which Jung is speaking is rare, and many other kinds of dreams lacking anything like such a voice may be understood as picturing relations between the ego and the self. And second, if the "supraordinate self" is, as Jung maintains, the "center of the total, illimitable, and indefinable psychic personality," it is hard to imagine what definite meaning the word "center" in this statement might have. If someone who has read Jung has a dream about something he or she planned to do and says, "My dream told me not to do it," one may well be justified in doubting whether the dreamer has understood the dream, since it is rare that the self as one entity composing a dream speaks so simply to the ego of the dreamer as another. If the self in Jung's sense is inward, the deepest and most comprehensive level of our inner life—if it is subject—we also experience it—it is object, there, somewhere, to be encountered. Still, "the wind bloweth where it listeth": as object the self is wherever we happen to experience it. There is no way to harness the wind of spirit to generate electricity to run a factory. Likewise, contrary to the implications of Neumann's "ego-self axis," there is no ascertainable straight line between ego and self.

The phrase "the ego-self axis" may encourage another misconception worth mentioning in closing. This misconception is that the ego-self axis and what Jung called individuation should spare the ego work and make the ego less important as the field of reference of such unconscious products as dreams.

6. The Ego-Reference of Symbols

Two vignettes may clarify my reservations about the misconception that now concerns me.

In the 1920's the Irish poet William Butler Yeats wrote a strange book called A Vision based at first on automatic writing done by his bride Georgie and then on things she said in her sleep. These utterances were presented as those of spirits communicating arcane knowledge to him. The procedure had one rule, which Yeats expressed as follows: "Except at the start of a new topic, when they would speak or write a dozen sentences unquestioned, I had always to question, and every question to rise out of a previous answer and to deal with their chosen topic. My questions must be accurately worded, . . [and] I was constantly reproved for vague or confused questions....." On top of other difficulties he met in his work, it was disturbed by the activity of spirits called Frustrators. "Who these frustrators were, or why they acted so was never adequately explained," Yeats comments. "The automatic script would deteriorate, grow sentimental or confused, and when I pointed this out the communicator would say, 'From such and such an hour, on such and such a day, all is frustration.' I would spread out the script and he would cross all out back to the answer that began it, but had I not divined frustration he would have said nothing." In Yeats's interaction with the spirits, who are like the figures in anyone's dreams, they hardly could be said to do the work of his ego for him.

A man consulted an accomplished Tarot-card reader and drew a card showing a burning tower with a man and woman falling from it. The card lady explained that the falling man and woman represented illusion. When the man consulting her wanted to know what the card meant as a whole and in general, as though the card were a voice expressing its own non-ego point of view, the card lady insisted that she could not say what the card meant apart from the person who drew it. "If the person drawing it is full of illusion, it is a card of great suffering," she remarked. "If, on the other hand, the person drawing it is without illusion, the card is the card of genius."

The person drawing the card is thus left with the question, "Who am I?" And this question requires answering both on the level of the self or larger personality and on that of the ego with its mundane particularities.

7. Conclusion

Inwardness is an irreducible dimension of psychic life and has its own irreducible authority. Persona, projection and repression play important roles in the actual workings of authority. But the self is its ultimate source. Though inward, the self is fulfilled in mutuality And though the self may speak directly, its nature and its workings are mostly known in mundane particularities. Thus, however remote and mysterious such symbols as those of dreams may seem, they must be explored in the fullness of their reference to the life of the ego here and now.


  1. Hogenson, George B. Jung's Struggle With Freud. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983.
  2. Jung, C.G. Psychologial Types, Collected Works, Vol. 6. (On fantasy as creative, reconciling opposites.)
  3. ——. "Psychology and Religion," in Collected Works, Vol. 11. (On the authoritative voice in dreams.)
  4. Kerr, John. A Most Dangerous Method: The Story of Jung, Freud, and Sabina Spielrein. New York: Knopf, 1993. (Treating issues raised by Hogenson.)
  5. Neumann, Erich. The Child: Structure and Dvnamics of the Nascent Personality. London: Karnac, 1973. (On the ego-self axis.)
  6. ——. Depth Psychology and a New Ethic. New York: Putnam, 1969. (On "the Voice" as source of revelation to a great individual.)
  7. Polanyi, Michael. "The Republic of Science: Its Political and Economic Theory," in Marjorie Grene, Ed., Knowing and Being: Essays by Michael Polanyi. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969. (On mutual authority in science.)
  8. Rieff, Philip. The Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith After Freud. New York: Harper & Row, 1966. (On inner authority and Jungian therapy.)
  9. Willeford, William. Feeling, Imagination, and the Self: Transformations of the Mother-Infant Relationship. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1987. (On Rousseau, Chrysostom. and the self that knows what is good for itself.)
  10. Yeats, William Butler. A Vision. New York: Macmillan, 1961. (First section on Frustrators, etc.)