“Answer to Job” Revisited : Jung on the Problem of Evil

Reprinted from the San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal 21, no. 3 (2002): 5–21.

“Answer to Job” Revisited : Jung on the Problem of  Evil

by David Sedgwick

San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal 21, no. 3 (2002): 5–21.

I have landed the great whale; I mean “Answer to Job.” I can’t say I have fully digested this tour de force of the unconscious. It still goes on rumbling a bit, like an earthquake.

Answer to Job was Jung'’s Moby Dick, his great whale. The small book gripped him personally and, to a large extent, involuntarily. “"It came upon me suddenly and unexpectedly,"”  he said shortly after its publication, “during a feverish illness.” Whether it caused the illness, was released by it, or cured it is unclear. It is clear, however, that Answer to Job was one of those crucial creative tasks Jung’s unconscious periodically demanded of him.

Even though the book may have had a sudden birth, its gestation period in Jung’'s unconscious was long. The subject of God, and what Jung saw as the dark side of God, was a lifelong preoccupation. An emotional and theoretical struggle with the core nature of deity is evident in Jung'’s earliest fantasies and dreams, as well as in his complex relationships with his father (a traditional minister), his mother (who had a strong spiritual-mystical dimension), and the Christian church itself. Jung'’s account of his childhood in his quasi-autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (New York: Vintage, 1963; henceforth MDR), provides deep, personal background about his early religious roots– and conflicts.

Jung’'s childhood need to understand the dual nature of God continued in his adult years with his clinical-theoretical discussions of the shadow and the Self. Much of this seemed to come to a head externally in some of Jung’'s controversial writings and semi-political efforts during the 1930s and 1940s. Returning subsequently to the inner world, Jung'’s quest culminated in old age with this “little book” on Job, written when he was seventy-six. But Jung'’s need to understand did not mellow with age, nor did his ability to ruffle feathers. He cites Answer to Job as a pure example of  “the spirit seizing one by the scruff of the neck,” which suggests how alive, and perhaps how unresolved, the issues were, even during his later years (C. G. Jung: Letters, vol. 2, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975, p. 20).

Answer to Job was  first published in 1952 in German and became part of volume 11 of Jung’'s Collected Works in all translations. Following many paperback printings, it has been reissued this year in a new, fiftieth-anniversary edition by Princeton University Press, Jung'’s long-time American publisher. This latest reissue is timely: it comes at a time when many Americans, previously aware of but relatively insulated from violence on a collective level, find themselves confronting the deeper questions about the reality of Good and Evil, inhumanity and insanity in a personal way. The horror and extent of the World Trade Center and Pentagon hijack-bombings, the subsequent war against Islamic extremists in Afghanistan, and ongoing anti-terrorism initiatives have brought fundamental moral issues home to the U.S. for the first time in a generation. Against the backdrop of world events, this republication of Jung'’s controversial musings in Answer to Job seems almost synchronistic. When he wrote Job, Jung was trying to figure things out “after the catastrophe” of World War II, after the fact. In fact, he was reflecting on horrors even greater (forty million deaths, the Holocaust, etc.) and a world even crazier than our own, however terrifying current events seem to us today. So it is relevant now to ponder what he had to say then about the dark side of human, and God’'s, nature.

The Passion of Job –and Jung

Answer to Job is probably Jung’'s most passionate book, or at least the most passionate of his formal writings in the Collected Works. Only his aforementioned personal memoirs, some of his informally transcribed seminars, and his personal letters reveal Jung so vividly as a person. It is not surprising, then, that Job should have an unrestrained feel to it at times, such that Jung repeats himself practically verbatim on several occasions. Commenting, for instance, on the apocalyptic writings of John, author of the Book of Revelation, Jung says: "“I have seen nothing that even remotely resembles the brutal impact with which the opposites collide in John’'s visions, except in cases of severe psychosis”" (para. 731). Then a few pages later he again notes, “In all my experience I have never observed anything like it, except in cases of severe psychoses or criminal insanity” (para. 742). Likewise, regarding what are now known as “weapons of mass destruction,” Jung warns, "“Already the atom bomb hangs overs us like the sword of Damocles, and behind that lurk the incomparably more terrible possibilities of chemical warfare, which would eclipse even the horrors described in the Apocalypse”" (para. 733). Ten pages later he repeats, “"The dark God has slipped the atom bomb and chemical weapons into his [mankind’s] hands and given him the power to empty out the apocalyptic vials of wrath on his fellow creatures”" (para. 747).

The significant thing here is not necessarily a lack of editing--for Jung’'s dire warnings may bear repeating–--but the emotion that drives him to say these things twice, and so vividly (so apocalyptically, really). As noted above, Jung wrote the book under extreme duress–“--feverish” and ill--–and this fervid quality came through to others. He even felt obliged to deny that he had been hallucinating, telling Islam scholar Henry Corbin: “"I don’t belong to the auditory type. So I did not hear anything. I just had the feeling of listening to a great composition, or rather of being at a concert"” (Letters, 2:116). For the deeply moved person–--Jung in this instance--–the subject of his thought or the object of his attention can seem almost literally to come alive. (Robert Lowell'’s dramatic poem For the Union Dead, for example, similarly describes the lifelike, quasi-religious experience of William James–--Jung’s old acquaintance and fellow psychological traveler--–at the unveiling of St. Gaudens’ “Shaw Memorial” statue on the Boston Common: “"at the dedication, William James could almost hear the bronzed Negroes breathe.”")

God was alive to Jung, who had approached the subject of the Christian myth and God more theoretically in Aion a year or so before Job. But most of Aion is dense, almost impenetrable to any but the most dedicated Jungian reader. Applying a classically Jungian style of understanding--–typology--–to the contrast between Aion and Job, one could say that Jung used his thinking function (with intuition) in the former, but that in Job the feeling dimension erupted–--an earthquake, a great whale, a fever. Although Jung still relies considerably on intuition, he also speaks from the heart about God, wrestling with him–--as did Job and even Christ himself, both wondering why God had forsaken them. Perhaps, after his long life and recent illnesses and professional controversies, Jung wondered too.

The theme of the biblical Book of Job is the “sufferings of the just,” and the topic–--the case, we might say–--of Job seemed to possess Jung. For although he subsequently studies in Answer to Job the evolution of the God-image grounded in Daniel, Isaiah, Ecclesiastes (and the apocryphal Ecclesiasticus), and Revelation, the core of Jung'’s discussion is the plight of Job himself and God’'s response to it. For the nonreligious, the Book of Job can be read as not only about the just and the religiously faithful, but about the sufferings of the innocent, regardless of religious persuasion. God takes everything from Job, and the biblical book is a lament, much like many of the psalms, which come just after it in the Bible. The psalms, of course, have many dimensions, but the psalmist(s), like Job, often wonder what they have done to deserve their various plights and repeatedly ask when, after all, God will finally make an appearance to save them from “the Pit,” crush their enemies, forgive them, and so on (“How long, O Lord?”). The feeling in many of the psalms, and certainly the feeling of Job, resembles those guilt-ridden and helpless-feeling dreams where one seems unfairly accused of a crime and protests one’s innocence in vain. As Job says, "I know I am not what I am thought to be"” (9:35), "“You know that I am not guilty”" (10:7), and, more hopefully, "“I know that my redeemer [vindicator] liveth"” (19:25).

God as Narcissist

Job’s innocence is indeed righteous, and the tricky thing about his unfair fate, as Jung zeroes in on, is that the Devil made God do it. Somewhat like the serpent manipulating the first woman and man in the Garden of Eden, Satan challenges God to test Job’'s faith by inflicting maximum suffering on this innocent civilian. Satan bets God that Job will then “curse thee to thy face.” God takes the wager, at the obvious and total expense of Job.

But in Jung'’s view God hasn’'t just taken a wager, he’'s taken the bait. Jung says that God  has been suckered (“bamboozled”), and goes on to cast an extremely critical eye on the Old Testament Yahweh. He describes God’'s “personality” and actions vis-a-vis Job in these words: unconscious, amoral, totally lacking in self-reflection...no insight, savage, ruthless, revolting, touchy, suspicious, double-faced, jealous [Jung means here “envious”], despotic, intolerable, tantalizing, less than human, non compos mentis, clueless, a monster, etc. If God were a man--–and Jung addresses and assesses him as such–--Job would clearly be the better man. Furthermore, from Jung’'s description God sounds like some sort of superhuman narcissistic personality disorder:

"Yahweh is no friend of critical thoughts which in any way diminish the tribute of recognition he demands....Yahweh needs the acclamation of a small group of people. One can imagine what would happen if this assembly suddenly decided to stop the applause: there would be a destructive rage, then a withdrawal into hellish loneliness and the torture of non-existence, followed by a gradual reawakening of an unutterable longing for something which would make him conscious of himself." (para. 575)


"His thunderings at Job so completely miss the point that one cannot help but see how much he is occupied with himself....Yahweh has no interest whatever in Job'’s cause but is far more preoccupied with his own affairs." (paras. 587-8)

At the same time, this God is so lacking in self-definition that

"It is as if he existed only by reason of the fact that he has an object which assures him that he is really there." (para. 574)

In this picture of primitive, almost malignant narcissism and marginal identity, God acts out his apparently desperate mirroring needs and narcissistic rage on Job. From a different perspective: Yahweh has a selfobject transference to man.

This is blasphemous stuff–--what kind of God is this?–--but Jung didn'’t care about such things, not from the time of his vision at age eleven of God defecating on the Basel Cathedral (MDR, p. 39). Jung goes toe-to-toe with the archetype of God, a battle of heavyweights; or, more accurately, Jung puts his consciousness up against his image and experience of the Deity. As he understood his boyhood fantasy, it wasn’'t that he, Jung, was shattering the Cathedral and the dried-up Christian church with “an enormous turd,” it was God doing so. (Which gives credence to the quote Joseph Campbell attributes to Jung in The Power of Myth: “"Religion is a defense against religious experience."”) This interior battle between Jung’'s ego and Self was ongoing, and a key aspect of his early, spiritual disappointment in his father as well. In Answer to Job, Jung demands an answer, on equal terms with God; but, unlike Job, he does not have to knuckle under. As Jung demonstrated and recommended to those who could stand it, one must meet the numinosum head-on and see what it has to say and whether one can integrate it. The ego thus makes a settlement with the Self, or, in non-Jungian terms, the individual with God.

Jung’'s writing in Answer to Job is a personal process, and in part a dialogue, even an active imagination, with God (via Job). Jung seems to identify with Job'’s plight, and perhaps with Job’s presumably unconscious resentment, which must go unexpressed before God’'s omnipotence. Jung, however, in this post-war era is pretty mad at God, and he claims the right to respond just as forcefully as he allegedly did to his patients, "“I expose myself completely and react with no restriction"” (CW 18, p. 139). Never one to bow down to paternal authority (as he himself admitted), Jung speaks his piece.

It is small wonder, then, that most of the critical response to Answer to Job was, according to Jung, either misplaced or furious: “"It has unleashed an avalanche of prejudice, misunderstanding, and, above all, atrocious stupidity"” (Letters, 2:115). After all, Jung has presumed not only to judge God but to suggest that He has problems, including a “dark side” next to the good at his core. The nature of evil, Jung thinks, is not the absence of good (the privatio boni, which Jung calls “nonsensical”) but something more fundamental right inside the godhead. Jung once attributed this dualism to man alone, as he wrote in 1931 to Katherine Briggs (of later Myers-Briggs fame): "“Man is not fundamentally good, almost half of him is a devil"” (Letters, 1:84). Twenty years later Jung has now implicated God, too, and therefore “God is an ailment man has to cure” (Letters, 2:33). Both God and man have deep shadow, they mirror each other, and man has to fix it because God himself apparently won'’t or can'’t.

Jung goes on in Job to say that the image of God also lacks the feminine dimension–--traditionally viewed as relatedness, Eros, or anima in Jungian analytic terms but, as Jung crucially explicates, also represented in the Christian deity archetype by Sophia, or wisdom. Accordingly, after confronting God'’s mean-spiritedness and despotism in the Book of Job, Jung next considers “Lady Wisdom,” who makes a biblical appearance in Proverbs. For Jung, she is the “prototype” for the human Virgin Mary (later deified) of the New Testament, who helps incarnate God’'s later, more evolved incarnation of Himself in the human form of  his son, Jesus. The crowning moment of this feminine-aided incarnation, so to speak, is Christ on the cross, because "“at that moment God experiences what it means to be a mortal man and drinks to the dregs what he made his faithful servant Job suffer. Here is given the answer to Job"” (para. 647, emphasis added). Jung continues this idea a bit later, stepping back for a wider perspective, "“Yahweh’'s intention to become man, which resulted from his collision with Job, is fulfilled in Christ’'s life and suffering"” (para. 648). God is moving, in this view, out of his unconsciousness and primary narcissism and becomes a “God in time.” The “answer,” then, is when God as Christ crucified becomes fully human and can now empathically see and suffer humanity'’s pain.

But this process, according to Jung, is not complete with Christ or with faith; in other words, the answer to Job is not fully given there. The incarnation process must continue to advance, post-Jesus, in his followers; that is, not in Jesus Christ himself (a god) but in humans themselves (a la Job, who is a forerunner of subsequent attempts to bring God to consciousness). Jung makes special note that even the Christian “Lord'’s Prayer,” in its "“lead us not into temptation"” phrase, indicates that God is not entirely trustworthy and can lead us astray.

Jung interprets the Book of Revelation, which he subsequently analyzes, as confirmation of this motif. Here, interestingly, Jung offers a rare, personalistic interpretation: John of Revelation is the same author as John of the Epistles (or Letters, which immediately precede the Book of Revelation), and this same John'’s pent-up rage and bile have exploded from the unconscious in his apocalyptic second book as a result of the “chronic virtuousness” evident in the early Christian attitude. The result is the shadowless “solution” of the Apocalypse: “not a "reconciliation of the opposites, but...their final severance....[an identification] with the bright, pneumatic side of God”" (para. 728). This splitting represents a defensive or even borderline condition in humans vis-a-vis the deity and vis-a-vis themselves (both their sexuality and their deepest Self). It is this that Jung was trying to tackle, within himself and perhaps for others (including the Christian church).

Analyzing God

Jung’s exegesis in Answer to Job of Old and New Testament texts, Christianity, and, ultimately, the nature of God is, as he said, a tour de force, not just of spiritual feeling but of biblical scholarship. His extraordinary knowledge of the Bible and religious history, combined with his overarching perspectives on “collective” spiritual developments, enables his close scriptural reading and quasi-prophetic understanding. Still, Jung'’s is, naturally, a Jungian analysis of God, and Jungian analysis is a extension of Jung'’s personal psychology–--“a subjective confession,” as he once put it. So discussion about God, regardless of whether God ultimately turns out to be a transcendent object or a personal one, is personally revealing, a kind of projective test. As Jung struggles with good and evil in the godhead, he is struggling, to some degree at least, with good and evil in himself  (especially as God is “within us,” in Jung'’s and much of contemporary Christianity'’s view).

What’s more, talking about God (or, in Jungian terms, the Self) is theoretically nearly impossible. The tendency is to anthropomorphize and give the Deity a quasi-human, if omnipotent, personality, an act Jung both realizes he is doing and goes ahead with. What God ultimately is, however, is unknowable. Jung knows this, of course, and says so most lyrically at the end of Answer to Job:

"Even the enlightened person remains what he is, and is never more than his own limited ego before the One who dwells within him, whose form has no knowable boundaries, who encompasses him on all sides, fathomless as the abysms of the earth and vast as the sky."

Jung, like Job, bows before the ultimate mystery, but not before he has waded into the ages-old spiritual conundrums: When we talk about God, we are creating God, psychologically speaking, and we are, yet again, talking about ourselves in a way, or at least within our human epistemological limitations. In Jung’'s terms, we can only apprehend or try to comprehend God through our own, limited psyches. Jung famously (famously in Jungian circles anyway) said about his belief in God, “I know. I don’'t need to believe. I know.” But he may not have been so sure. He seemed to be sure that God existed–-he was not agnostic–--but Answer to Job is his further and continued wrestling with God’'s very essence. God exists, but what is he like? Answer to Job is the Answer from Jung, and it does not fit traditional Christian preconceptions.

Many who knew Jung (or who did not know Jung but follow in his footsteps) rely on Jung for guidance in this area. They believe (they know)...in Jung. The late Edward Edinger, for instance, seemed to regard Jung’'s work as the new dispensation and Jung himself as representing “the highest level of consciousness yet achieved by humanity.” As a result, Jung'’s work is peerless and therefore beyond critical evaluation (Jung at Heart 29, Fall 1998, p. 2). One is not allowed to judge it. Be that as it may, one can see Answer to Job as one of Jung'’s last great inner explorations, taken in advanced age and failing health. If one wishes, one can see this as something he did for us, which we are still striving to understand. In Job, Jung returns yet again with the riches. But these riches are less clear than before, and somewhat dire.

Jung'’s Brush with Evil

Jung, though he sometimes seemed to prefer private, interior spaces, was nevertheless quite of this world. As previously noted, one context for Answer to Job is World War II, from which Jung and indeed the whole world had just emerged. The war came just twenty years after the end of the previous world war--–“the war that will end war” (H. G. Wells)--–and ended with the unparalleled “revelations” (the apocalypse, indeed) of the Holocaust and the atom bomb, to which Jung refers. However much one may see the Second World War, especially from the Allied side, as righteous, just, or in a moral sense “good,” the overall event–--worldwide devastation, genocide, “the horror--”–can only be characterized as an evil, or even as Evil. This is where, for some, God comes in. Jung was responding to these things, or trying to, through the vehicle of his book and his discussion about the godhead.

But discussion of good and evil in the abstract or even in the shape of God runs the danger of intellectualization, or at least of a certain distancing. The proof of this intellectual pudding is truly in the tasting, that is, in real-life responses to the conditions that give rise to fundamental questions about the moral nature of God and man. Jung stated this succinctly: "“The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality”" (Aion, CW 9ii, p. 8).

The closest Jung came to dealing firsthand with big-time evil, though he didn’'t seem consciously to know it, was near the beginning of World War II, when he was drawn into the political tar-baby of German psychotherapy under the emerging “Third Reich.” As a result of some of his statements and actions then, his name and professional reputation have been tarred by the brush of being, at worst, a Nazi collaborator, and at least, an anti-Semite. (For a good Jungian discussion of this, see Lingering Shadows: Jung, Jungians, and Anti-Semitism, edited by A. Maidenbaum and S. Martin, Boston: Shambhala, 1991). Even those favorably disposed to Jung wonder about the ethics of a man whose “psychoanalytic creativity didn'’t deter him from a murky involvement with Nazi-controlled psychiatry” (Robert Coles, The Secular Mind, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999, p. 101). Other critics, some of them close professional and personal friends in fact, conclude that Jung’s statements during the 1930s  about Jews, if not his behavior, were "“a grave human error...that one has to deplore”" (Aniela  Jaffe, From the Life and Work of C. G. Jung, New York: HarperCollophon, 1971, p. 96).

Jung was not a Nazi, and in my view not an active or vicious anti-Semite, but the collaborator label has stuck to him due to 1) some of his published writings about “Jewish” psychology, 2) the appearance of his having played ball with the Nazi-“conformed” German Medical Society and Goring Institute, and 3) Freud’'s having averred when they parted that Jung was anti-Semitic (or once had been). Also, maddeningly, Jung never seemed to make a clean breast of it. Like Job perhaps, he felt unfairly accused. His only ex-post-facto statement of regret about his pre-war activities and statements reportedly was "“I slipped up,"” which, although some Jungians have tried to reframe it as a vivid statement from Jung as Alpine mountaineer, is mild and minimal at best. Jung defended himself on this score to the end, not able to fathom how his opinions on “Jewish” vs. “Aryan” psychology, for instance, could be taken as racist or anti-Semitic. Certainly, a fair case can be made that Matthias Goring, German psychotherapy, and various Nazis wanted to use Jung or his reputation for political purposes (Geoffrey Cocks, Psychotherapy in the Third Reich: The Goring Institute. 2d ed. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1997, pp. 125, 133). But even if, as Cocks persuasively suggests, German therapists and politicians ultimately found Jung’s theories “superfluous”--–inconsistent with or not grounded enough for their purposes–--Jung is still responsible for what he thought and wrote.

Not only German psychotherapists but Freud, too, had wanted to use Jung, both to legitimize and carry forward psychoanalysis and, speaking of racial politics, to unite “Jews and goyim in the service of psychoanalysis” (Freud to Sandor Ferenczi, as quoted in Peter Gay, Freud: A Life for Our Time, New York: Norton, 1988, p. 26). Perhaps at some point Jung got tired of people trying to manipulate him for their own prestige; maybe he got tired of being pushed around. At any rate, despite this and his personal and professional conflicts with Freud, Jung was capable of a strikingly reasonable, even ecumenical, approach to Freudian and Adlerian viewpoints. In two excellent papers from 1929, for instance, Jung cites the validity and influence of these former colleagues’ theories, even suggesting that he makes full use of them “whenever possible” (“The Aims of Psychotherapy,” CW 16, p. 38; see also “Problems of Modern Psychotherapy,” CW 16). One wonders if Jung ever really made much use of Freud’s and Adler’s theories in psychotherapy, but nevertheless his critique of them in these papers is appropriate and professional, allowing their perspectives credit while differentiating his own. (The latter paper–with its references to “reciprocal influence,” the therapist “as much ‘in the analysis’ as the patient,” and “the personality of the doctor as a curative or harmful factor”–is really a seminal paper in the history of psychotherapy.)

Yet in the early 1930s Jung began to revisit the theme he had outlined in 1927: “It is a quite unpardonable mistake to accept the conclusions of a Jewish psychology as generally valid (“The Relations between the Ego and the Unconscious,” CW 7, p. 152n). By 1934 this line of thinking has a Germanic boost to it: although he sees the Aryan unconscious as “not yet fully weaned from barbarism” (in comparison to the more “differentiated” Jewish unconscious), he ascribes “higher potential” to the Aryans. This fits with Jung’s thinking about the “divine child” archetype and psychopathology in general, namely, that something infantile or neurotic may have a positive, not-yet-developed aspect. Returning to Freud and Adler, Jung states, “In my opinion it has been a grave error in medical psychology up till now to apply Jewish categories–which are not even binding on all Jews–indiscriminately to Germanic and Slavic Christendom” (“The State of Psychotherapy Today,” CW 10, p. 166).

Jung draws the us/them line pretty clearly here, in effect hurling psychoanalysis back into the “Jewish science” category, which designation was one of Freud’s worst fears for psychoanalysis. (Early on, Freud worried about psychoanalysis being designated “a Jewish national affair”; Jung is saying, in effect, psychoanalysis is a Jewish national affair.) Although we’ll never know, it is certainly possible, as some have suggested, that Jung was getting back at Freud personally with such comments–both seemed to harbor considerable anger about their father-son “divorce,” and such painful situations, still alive,  readily degenerate into name-calling (e.g., “Semite”/“anti-Semite”). More to the point, however: when Jung writes things like “In so far as [Freud’s] theory is based in certain respects on Jewish premises, it is not valid for non-Jews” (Letters, 1:154), the problem, aside from whatever anti-Semitism may be inherent in the content, is the way Jung argues. The basis of his argument suddenly becomes racial, or even racist, not clinical. Freud and Adler’s theories may indeed be wrong, or not applicable to everyone, but it’s not because they are Jewish.

Supposed national and racial differences–based on allegedly collective and archetypal dimensions of the human being, deep in the unconscious–occupy a significant place in Jung’s viewpoint over time. He felt there was a specifically  racially determined aspect to a person’s unconscious. This is ironic, or confusing, because Jung’s concept of the collective unconscious finds one of its major justifications in parallel mythological motifs that appear to transcend individual races (e.g., the myth of the hero, the great mother, rebirth). Much of his speculating about racial inheritances and differences has to do with the earth: the ground under one’s feet, the homeland, and a mystical-spiritual connection to the ancestors who trod there for generations. This sort of Gone with the Wind, home-to-Tara motif (“remember Katie Scarlet, land–it’s the only thing that lasts”) comes up full force in Jung’s analysis of the so-called Jewish unconscious, which he says is unconnected to a native soil, “has no cultural form of its own,” and therefore needs “a more or less civilized nation to act as host” (“Psychotherapy Today,” p. 166).  One can see how these mistaken ideas, embedded in their parasite-dependency-symbiosis metaphor, had potential appeal to Nazi Triumph of the Will, “best blood” prejudice and propaganda.

Thus, however one evaluates retrospectively Jung’s quasi-political attempts to preserve German psychotherapy and even help out Jews–“collaborationist,”  “realistic,” a behind-the-scenes form of  “resistance”?–some of his written statements are not difficult to judge. And even if one does not characterize his ideas as anti-Semitic, it is tough not to accuse Jung of an almost boneheaded political naivete when he said in 1934 in his own defense, “I have tabled the Jewish question” (“A Rejoinder to Dr. Bally,” CW 10,  p. 539). (The translation “tabled” is an intriguing choice: it is meant to indicate “put on the table,” but its perhaps more common usage, at least in my experience, is to take something “off the table,” that is, put off or delay the discussion). Jung was messing with some serious evil here–playing with fire, with man’s capacity for murderous aggression and hate. Perhaps his growing isolation from the mainstream, or Switzerland’s historic isolation-neutrality, or an innocent yet grandiose therapeutic optimism gave him to think that Germans and Jews or the psychiatric community could get together and do a little consciousness-raising around this, ultimately, life-or-death  issue. Maybe we can talk it over?

Even if such a psychological discussion were remotely realistic, Jung still framed the question as “Let’s take a look at the Jewish problem...” But what about the more glaring German problem? Or what about, in Jungian terms and if you want to talk about nationalities, the German-shadow question? Furthermore, what about the classically Jungian angle that Germans and others may have been projecting their own shadow onto Jews? Jung did not get to these until 1945. Questions about “race” were not “neutral” questions, even then (or especially then), as Jung suggested they were. The question Jung did not ask, or could not quite feel or articulate, was: “Why don’t we take a look at the psychology, not of nations and creeds, but of anti-Semitism?” This is actually a question Jung did not seem able to resolve within himself, and as he himself pointed out in 1937, “An analyst can help his patient just so far as he himself has gone and not a step farther” (CW 16, p. 330). In these and all “shadow” questions, one must start at home, with oneself, and Jung didn’t help us much with this one. Admittedly, it is difficult; for a real, not abstract, dealing with shadow begins with acknowledging one’s propensity–how terribly easy it can be–to be anti-Semitic, racist, sadistic, hateful, or whatever.

It is easy, too, to be politically correct and critical in retrospect. No one, of course, could foresee the extent of the horrors of the final solution and other atrocities of the Second World War; they were not–are not–humanly comprehensible (though they must be). Nor was Jung responsible for them; he was not even a German. The Swiss, surrounded by the Nazis, were guarding the mountain passes, and Jung may indeed have been on Hitler’s blacklist, as Barbara Hannah noted. Jung did admit that early on in the thirties he, like many others of Germanic descent, had high hopes for or was himself infected by the idea of a heroic, Wotan-inspired Germany. Even Winston Churchill, the British bulldog, was susceptible to “Hitler’s ability to exercise a hood-winking charm” and in early 1933 was “capable of romanticizing some aspects of the early Nazi impact on Germany.” But Churchill’s references to “splendid, clear-eyed [German] youths marching forward on the road of the Reich singing their ancient songs” were primarily meant as a warning about British unpreparedness and isolationism; by April 1933 Churchill (an early friend of Zionism, incidentally) was decrying the “odious conditions” in Germany and the “the persecution and pogrom of Jews” (Roy Jenkins, Churchill: A Biography, New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2001, pp. 469-70). No Churchill, Jung did not really call the Germans out until after the fact. Perhaps he was too close to them, literally and emotionally, to see; perhaps they were too dangerous to cross; perhaps he too was bamboozled. Perhaps, if war is too serious to be left to the generals, politics is too tricky to be left to psychologists.

What we see in Jung in this context is a failure of his sometimes uncanny intuition and a fairly striking lack of empathy for the Jews. In his written statements, Jung does empathize, but it is with the Germans, whose heritage and hopes he partially shared, and arguably whose guilt he later shared. At the end of the war, Jung published “After the Catastrophe” (1945, CW 10), where he took Germans to task, but unfortunately the visionary capacities that informed Jung, as he saw it, about collective events before and after World War I (“rivers of blood,” “the blond beast”) did not emerge during World War II.

In general, people cannot be held responsible post hoc for something they were truly ignorant of. Then, too, as von Franz has pointed out, total Evil may be too much to grasp all at once (Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales, Zurich: Spring Publications, 1976, p. 9). Jung himself put it well in Aion: “It is quite within the bounds of possibility for a man to recognize the relative evil of his nature, but it is a rare and shattering experience for him to gaze into the face of absolute evil” (p. 10). If absolute evil, whatever that means, exists, then with the Holocaust and such surely we are looking right at it. Possibly, when Jung first looked at it he blinked. More likely, he simply did not realize what he was looking at. Almost no one did until a good deal later. A lesson is that major evil may not come with a capital E; rather, it may be part of its insidious nature to be subtle, easily missed, readily denied and deniable, “banal.” It hides in small decisions and feeling failures. Sometimes the devil is truly in the details.

Jung on God vs. Jung on Politics

It may seem a long way from Jung on world affairs to Jung on Job and God. But in 1951, looking back over a lifetime and particularly at the aftermath of the devastating events–and personal controversies–that just preceded, Jung may himself have felt somewhat besieged and Job-like. There is a thread in anyone’s thinking over time, and there is a link between Jung’s ideas, concerns, and patterns of thought in both the pre- and postwar years. He had always been interested in God, God’s shadow, evil, and man. Returning to Answer to Job, we can see similarities in how Jung talks about Yahweh and how he finally talked about Germans: he describes both in terms of dissociation, arrogance, gratuitous violence, amorality, and infantilism. And in so far as archetypal forces are imagined as “persons,” the irascible Yahweh of Job (1951) is not very different from the volatile German storm god of “Wotan” (1936, CW 10). In his psycho-political musings before and shortly after the war, Jung was usually trying to describe putative archetypal events happening, as it were, behind world events and collective psychological patterns. He was, in a further sense, trying to describe the possible oscillations of a world Self behind world phenomena. The question remains whether this flies, whether it is a worthwhile form of analysis or simply “wild analysis”–i.e., an overextension of analysis or (Jungian) analytic principles to so-called national characteristics and political movements. Historian and Freudian biographer-analyst Peter Gay somewhat sardonically refers to Jung’s near-celebrity role as a “famous, much-traveled psychiatrist and journalists’ oracle,” given to making “pronouncements” on various issues (Freud, pp. 198, 789). Well, there’s nothing wrong with oracular pronouncements–as long as they’re accurate. Jung took his best shot, but he continually missed the target on Nazi Germany.

He was on safer, if unprovable, ground when he speculated about what was going on in the godhead in Answer to Job. Here he speaks with authority: he was better with theology than politics. When Jung turns from world events to individual, individuation issues and to the nature of the God image, his introverted rather than extraverted intuition is penetrating and provocative: man needs God, but this unconscious God also needs man. This is a huge personal spiritual issue, and thus Answer to Job stands up well on its own essentially nonpolitical terms today, providing a springboard to reflection about the core natures of man and God, and their interaction. But to see archetypes–or God, God’s evolution, or God’s unconscious purposes–in current events, as Jung often tried to do, is too difficult; maybe God does not belong in the discussion there, where we render unto Caesar. The spiritually minded might, of course, see it otherwise–see their God(s) in all things–but in the political arena, as we know, this leaves the question of “Whose God?” (Mine? Yours? Osama bin Laden’s?). Maybe we should leave God’s will, which it is presumptuous of us to invoke or even decipher, out of it. This right-sizes our inflated egos (smaller) and our responsibilities (greater), and “makes of fate a human matter, to be settled among men” (Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, New York: Vintage, 1955, p. 91).

No doubt, some of  his followers (or I, anyway) expect too much of Jung, who was a psychological explorer but not a philosopher king. To be fair, when it comes down to the nitty gritty, who knows if we could have seen better or could have done any better than he did in the 1930s. Let us hope so, or at least strive to do so. The depressing results of Stanley Milgram’s famous and controversial experiments in the early 1960s about “obedience to authority” suggest that we’d all pull the switch simply if somebody in a white coat told us to. Jung was a great psychologist and, perhaps, a spiritual prophet of some secular, psychological  sort. But as he would probably have been the first to admit, he was also just another human being, one who was not always perceptive about people and politics, and one whose inner vision was generally far superior to his outer one.

© David Sedgwick 2002.

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