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Paul Edwards on Nietzsche, Freud, and Reich.

Great original thinkers have a tendency to go "off the rail," advancing dubious and even absurd theories along with their sound ideas. Therefore, remarked Dr. Paul Edwards in the 1995 Prometheus Books Lecture Series, it becomes the task of critical and sympathetic commentators to separate the true and valuable from the false and unfruitful.

In three lectures, given in New York at the New School for Social Research on November 3, 10, and 17, 1995, Edwards focused on Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, and Wilhelm Reich.

Nietzsche's rejection of the substance self in favor of a Humean "bundle" theory, his materialism, and his "hard" determinism were discussed and mostly affirmed in the first lecture. Nietzsche, Edwards said, was exactly right when he called free will a "necessary illusion." As for his subtle analysis of the emotions that inspire life-denying religions like Christianity, the notion of God is, as Nietzsche found, extremely harmful because it is employed by Christian moralists to denigrate earthly happiness and other secular values. Unfortunately, however, Nietzsche's attack on Christian morality is accompanied by tirades against compassion and vaguely worded recommendations to exterminate the "bungled and the botched." This side of Nietzsche's work has been soft-pedaled by some recent writers, but it cannot be denied that there is some affinity between Nietzsche and the Nazis. Edwards also discussed Nietzsche's doctrine of the eternal return. He pointed out that the theory is not supported by physics and, furthermore, that in such a universe the notion of choice becomes incoherent.

In the second lecture, on Freud, a sharp distinction was made between Freudian therapy and Freud's various theories. The overwhelming evidence, coming from many sources, Edwards declared, is that Freudian therapy does not work. Patients are often as distraught at the end as they were at the beginning. The main difference, Edwards noted, to his large audience's amusement, seems to be that they have acquired a vocabulary with which to annoy their friends and acquaintances. Also, some of Freud's theories seem to be mistaken, especially his theory of dream symbolism, the claim that paranoia is the result of repressed homosexuality, and the Oedipus complex. On the other hand, Freud's theories about verbal slips, transference, and the power of unconscious emotions are quite plausible. He complimented the critical work of Adolf Grunbaum, Frederick Crews, and some other recent commentators and expressed the hope that the dismantling of the Freudian empire would not result in the loss of Freud's sound ideas.

Reich, in Edwards's third lecture, was described as a genius who went berserk. Like Freud, Reich did not pay sufficient attention to genetic factors in mental disturbances. Also, he accepted the Oedipus theory and other Freudian mistakes. But, fortunately, this did not interfere with his novel ideas about the causes and treatment of neurosis. Reich's main contributions include an emphasis on negative transference, the substitution of treatment of neurotic character attitudes for treatment of symptoms, and, above all, his discovery of the "muscular armor," the way in which repressed emotions are anchored in chronic muscular rigidities.

For all his sins Reich can be forgiven, Edwards advised, particularly because of this remarkable and simple discovery of the technique for dissolving the armor. Students, he noted, have no difficulty understanding these ideas. The only people who do not understand them are Freudians and philosophers! During Reich's tragic last years, Edwards had numerous contacts with the psychiatrist who has had such an enormous influence on current therapeutic techniques. He has no doubt that Reich was insane during these years and that much of his work at that time was without value. But, Edwards warned, if Reich's remaining followers do not admit this and review his work with an open mind, the Reichian movement will die like Freud's.

The series of lectures originally had been planned to be given in one of the large classrooms at the New School for Social Research. But the room was filled long before the lecture started, and up to four times as many people arrived as could be accommodated. Fortunately, the main auditorium became available, and up to four hundred moved to the larger facility. Repeat attendees exceeded those who came for just one of the three lectures, and the audience consisted of the old and the young, some who had been in his classes at Brooklyn College, New York University, or the New School for Social Research, and some who have followed his career through such of his works as his editing of The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, his introduction to Bertrand Russell's Why I Am Not A Christian, and the textbook written with the late Arthur Pap, A Modern Introduction to Philosophy. Edwards's most recent work is Reincarnation: A Critical Examination (Prometheus Books).

The overflow crowds appeared to be impressed by how well Edwards knew his subject and, equally important, his teaching abilities. After each of the two-hour lectures, he stayed on until the last question was addressed.

Following the third lecture, Edwards said he would like to have three achievements carved onto his gravestone: "He demonstrated the emptiness of Heidegger's philosophy. He helped to bury Freudian therapy without sacrificing the whole of Freud's theories. He tried to rekindle interest in Reichian psychiatry."

Warren Allen Smith is a FREE INQUIRY editorial associate and lives in New York City's Greenwich Village.
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Author:Smith, Warren Allen
Publication:Free Inquiry
Date:Mar 22, 1996
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