1907 photograph of an 1872 Leon Berger model guillotine, stored with its body basket. The photograph was reproduced by someone who currently makes historic replicas of guillotines. There had to be someone out there doing this. Oddly, there is more than one. Some people make mini-guillotines as a side hobby. The 1792 French Revolution guillotine mini-model plans are offered to aspiring carpenters on the Internet for USD $38, here. The finished mini-model (perfect for your back yard?) is here; the full-sized 1792 model, five times larger, built from the same plans for a Belgian museum, is here. Image Source: Bois de Justice.
This post was written before the terrorist attacks in Nice (14 July 2016) and Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray (26 July 2016). With regard to those attacks, no disrespect is intended in discussing today's anniversary of the end of the Terror during the French Revolution. To be clear, although this analysis runs up to the present, it does not source radical Islamic terrorism in the western political system. I would argue that jihadism has its own specific origins, although it ironically mirrors as nemesis a western concern with the relationship between fear and control in psychology and politics.
This post on politics is the second of three on how perceived understanding or framing of reality diverges from hard facts, and creates problems in the historical narrative. I have a theory that when human beings build governments and devise theories of government, they project outwardly their awareness of the inner structure of the human psyche. That is, when we build and control society in the outer world, we embed how we think, perceive and feel into those constructions. And if there are parts of ourselves we would rather not face, we embed the suppression, too.
On a basic level, it makes sense. We fear our capacity for savagery and bloodshed, and know that the hell-pit at the dark end of the behavioural spectrum is something we ought to avoid. That is why the idea of climbing toward something higher through renewed social order is so appealing. The initial drive begins with a justified fear of the demons inside us and a moral journey to find the "better angels of our nature."
The French Revolution presents a powerful example of that journey and its challenges. Today marks the 222nd anniversary of the end of the Terror (6 September 1793 - 28 July 1794), a period of mass execution of enemies of the Revolution. It is ironic that 'terror' - described today as the greatest nemesis of global civilization - played a critical part of the establishment of modern western politics. Although there were revolutionary precursors in England and America, the founding moment began with the French Revolution. Everything we take for granted, from left-wing and right-wing politics, to the basic rights of human beings, was most clearly expressed there.
Today's post reconsiders the circumstances in which the west's current political ideologies developed, to see how the story of rational modern politics diverged from its reality. The French Revolution came dressed in the rhetoric of liberty, equality and fraternity, respectively sources of liberalism, socialism and nationalism. Revolutionaries changed how we measure time, months, hours, days. 18th century perceptions of time were different from post-revolutionary modern ones. The revolutionaries standardized weights and measures - previously a privilege of the nobility - with the creation of the metric system. They developed the modern media in their propaganda. They overturned a corrupt and bankrupt absolutist monarchical system, a privileged nobility and aristocracy, and a dominant clergy.
They did it through a commitment to rationalism. 1789's Tennis Court Oath was a pledge to develop a constitution, made in the spirit of earlier writings from the empiricist political philosopher and father of modern liberalism, John Locke (1632-1704). Locke's plan for government derived from his view of psychology. With his certainty that the mind was a tabula rasa, Locke insisted on experiential and logical systems of governance. He espoused the natural rights of man, of life, liberty, and property. He protected those innate values was through the social contract, imposed from outside upon the consenting individual in an embrace of nuture over nature. But starting with man's natural rights, he maintained that no one is innately superior to anyone else. He removed God and superstition from human politics, government and law, by stating that all men were divinely appointed to their state in nature. There was no divine right of kings: all people are equal.
From that natural and secular socialist equality, Locke derived fraternity and liberty as human beings left the pure state of nature and entered the body politic. As far as fraternity was concerned, toleration depended on having sufficiently enlightened, educated and morally informed citizens, who understood that some surrender of liberty was necessary to maintain a commonwealth. That social contract, if properly ordered, would clearly broadcast the principles and preconditions of mutual tolerance inside a nation. Within those non-totalitarian bounds, liberal citizens were free.
Locke influenced the French philosophes, notably Voltaire (1694-1778) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). Further principles of liberty and separate powers came from other Enlightenment thinkers such as Montesquieu (1689-1755) to form the familiar 18th century values of the American constitution and the French Revolution. These thinkers drew the line between a divine source for the unified Church and State in absolutist monarchical systems and enlightened, secular, humanist, rationalist, democratic republics, with a separated Church and State. According to Montesquieu, there were underlying collective psychological trends in political development toward victory or defeat. Different types of government used varying core principles to drive those trends. The transition from monarchy to republic marked a shift in principles from honour to public virtue. But what must be avoided above all was a loss of liberty through fear. Wiki:
Thus, removing God from everyday government had created an interesting philosophical gap in the conception of modern politics. The unknown and unknowable had to be understood in new rational ways, or they would give rise to fear and dictatorship. In Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693), Locke cautioned against raising children by intimidating them with fear. He warned against servants filling children's heads with fear of the dark, or goblins and monsters. Infantile superstition and threats bred subjection in grown men:"[T]here were three main forms of government, each supported by a social 'principle': monarchies (free governments headed by a hereditary figure, e.g. king, queen, emperor), which rely on the principle of honor; republics (free governments headed by popularly elected leaders), which rely on the principle of virtue; and despotisms (enslaved governments headed by dictators), which rely on fear."
Locke's rational suppression, denial and dismissal of fear remained a weak alternative to the absolutist monarch's God. Given his denial of a priori knowledge and insistence on a posteriori knowledge, Locke faced the dilemmas of the rationalist, locked inside his own mind, guided only by his sense impressions of the world. Locke did consider what lay beyond empirical experience. In chapter 27 of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689), he argued that worldly identity depended on an eternal, immaterial soul, incarnated in a physical body in the real world. In one example, that notion led him to suggest that a human being's worldly personal identity was distinct from the soul's consciousness. Worldly personality did not extend beyond the individual's rational thoughts, memories and life experiences. An eternal soul would have had past human lives, but a temporal individual personality housing that soul would have no memory of those past lives. In other words, Locke admitted that there were things beyond a posteriori awareness, but we have no rational access to them. Our only access to consciousness when building our personal identities would be through real life experiences and the memory of real life experiences. And that was the rock on which modern political order must be built."Such bug-bear thoughts once got into the tender minds of children, and being set on with a strong impression from the dread that accompanies such apprehensions, sink deep, and fasten themselves so as not easily, if ever, to be got out again; and whilst they are there, frequently haunt them with strange visions, making children dastards when alone, and afraid of their shadows and darkness all their lives after. I have had those complain to me, when men, who had been thus used when young; that though their reason corrected the wrong ideas they had taken in, and they were satisfied that there was no cause to fear invisible beings more in the dark than in the light, yet that these notions were apt still upon any occasion to start up first in their prepossessed fancies, and not to be removed without some pains. ...
And to let you see how lasting and frightful images are, that take place in the mind early, I shall here tell you a pretty remarkable but true story. There was in a town in the west a man of a disturbed brain, whom the boys used to teaze when he came in their way: this fellow one day seeing in the street one of those lads, that used to vex him, stepped into a cutler’s shop he was near, and there seizing on a naked sword, made after the boy; who seeing him coming so armed, betook himself to his feet, and ran for his life, and by good luck had strength and heels enough to reach his father’s house before the mad-man could get up to him. The door was only latch’d; and when he had the latch in his hand, he turn’d about his head, to see how near his pursuer was, who was at the entrance of the porch, with his sword up ready to strike; and he had just time to get in, and clap to the door to avoid the blow, which, though his body escaped, his mind did not. This frightening idea made so deep an impression there, that it lasted many years, if not all his life after. For, telling this story when he was a man, he said, that after that time till then, he never went in at that door (that he could remember) at any time without looking back, whatever business he had in his head, or how little soever before he came thither he thought of this mad-man."
However, when it came time to build the rational project during the French Revolution, to bring down the absolutist monarchy and remove God from government, the unknown manifested in the undertaking, in the form of the irrational element of fear. The rationalization of western politics depended on the Terror, on force as an instrument of fear to impress conformity to those ideals. Modern politics sealed a commitment to high intentions, rejected superstition and hereditary inequality; but it did so through mass intimidation and mass killing. From a psychological point of view, this means that when we strive toward highest purpose, we are still enmeshed in lowest impulses. The history of the French Revolution reflects a conscious-unconscious duality, as western political ideals emerged from bloodshed. The complete formula of the French Revolution would have been: liberty, equality, fraternity - and terror.
Perhaps the biggest red flag of the unconscious at work in the French Revolution was the guillotine. The National Razor has been explained away as a more modern, humane way of killing people. In fact, it had been used since the 13th century across Europe because it was more efficient than beheading people with swords. It was not the revolutionary-era invention of Joseph-Ignace Guillotin (1738-1814), nor of contemporary physician Antoine Louis (1723-1792), but rather their updated medieval tool, employed in a belated zenith to help give birth to the modern era. It established a murderousness beneath the civilized aims of western politics, a subtext which is deeply troubling. The total number of death sentences by guillotine during the Terror (6 September 1793 - 28 July 1794) was 16,594. Approximately another 25,000 people were summarily executed across France. This machine, emblem and source of class freedom and modern politics, helped revolutionaries to execute some 40,000 people associated with the old French order. In a way, those numbers are only being digested now. In 2009, the names of over 13,000 of those who died at the guillotine were posted online on the genealogical Website, Ancestry.co.uk.
Revolutionaries enforced the Terror by natural egalitarian right, overturned a bankrupt absolutism, and established a democracy. Unfortunately, terror became the actual natural order beneath revolutionary promises of natural rights. Blonde wigs were reportedly made at an infamous tannery at Meudon from the heads of French noblewomen and revolutionary leaders' breeches were made from human leather of executed French noblemen. Stack Exchange quotes Thomas Carlyle's The French Revolution: A History, volume 3 The Guillotine (1837). Decades after the Revolution, Carlyle considered these accounts with shock:
"The Blond Perukes; the Tannery at Meudon. Great talk is of these Perruques blondes: O Reader, they are made from the Heads of Guillotined women! The locks of a Duchess, in this way, may come to cover the scalp of a Cordwainer: her blond German Frankism his black Gaelic poll, if it be bald. Or they may be worn affectionately, as relics; rendering one suspect? (Mercier, ii. 134.) Citizens use them, not without mockery; of a rather cannibal sort.
An Eighteenth Century Newsletter gives a grisly, detailed account of the tannery at Meudon (here) and describes books from the period bound in, and clothes made from, the skins of the executed. Revolutionary leaders in the Committee of Public Safety supposedly sported boots made of human leather, a secret statement of victory, mutually known amongst themselves, and displayed in plain sight. Accounts about the Meudon tannery and similar human body part relics - skulls and bits of the condemned displayed or worn as gruesome trophies - came from counter-revolutionary sources, and can be questioned for that reason. The soundness of one of Carlyle's sources, Abbé Guillaume Honore Rocques de Montgaillard (1772-1825), is qualified by Chris Vanden Bossche (here, see fn. 223.19). An Eighteenth Century Newsletter contends that even if the tannery at Meudon was fiction, local people believed the rumours, and that was enough to make them fear the revolutionaries and support the cause. This was another example of how terror, intimidation and conformity became tied to the Revolution's principles.Still deeper into one’s heart goes that Tannery at Meudon; not mentioned among the other miracles of tanning! ‘At Meudon,’ says Montgaillard with considerable calmness, ‘there was a Tannery of Human Skins; such of the Guillotined as seemed worth flaying: of which perfectly good wash-leather was made:’ for breeches, and other uses. The skin of the men, he remarks, was superior in toughness (consistance) and quality to shamoy." [Thomas Carlyle, The French Revolution: A History vol. 3, The Guillotine (London: James Fraser, 1837), pp. 341-342.]
This 1908 painting depicts events during the 1792 September Massacres, before the Terror: Death of the Princess de Lamballe by Léon-Maxime Faivre (1856-1914). The princess's head was passed around the district and her headless, mutilated body was displayed in public for a day on a pike. After these incidents, her body was never found and never interred. Image Source: Wiki.
Out of obvious motives of self-preservation, most contemporary French artists refrained from depicting the carnage and collection of body parts during the Revolution. In The French Revolution as Blasphemy (University of California Press, 1999), William L. Pressly claims that a minor watercolourist, Etienne Béricourt, depicted defeated Swiss Guards being torn apart by Sans-culottes. Pressly further includes plates from anonymous artists who recorded terrifying scenes of bloodlust and atrocities committed in the September Massacres of 1792, which included incidents of "abject butchery, with corpses dismembered, eviscerated and either paraded or put on public display." Alpha History:
"Perhaps the highest profile victim [of the September Massacres] was Marie Thérèse, Princess de Lamballe [1749-1792], once a prominent lady-in-waiting to Marie Antoinette. The princess was not a political figure but her proximity to the queen had made her a target for political pornographers; their libelles had portrayed her as Antoinette’s lesbian lover. On September 3rd Marie Thérèse was snatched from a prison in eastern Paris, given a brief but humiliating show trial, then handed to a waiting mob. According to different reports, some of them conflicting, she was publicly raped, murdered and dismembered, her head removed and her breasts and genitals hacked off. The severed head was paraded outside Antoinette’s window on a pike, though the queen did not see it."
Un petit Souper a la Parisienne - or - A Family of Sans-Culotts refreshing after the fatigues of the day (1792). As French refugees arrived in London, the British were horrified to hear accounts of the September Massacres. This satire from James Gillray (1756 or 1757-1815) exaggerated those accounts, and assumed that the Sans-culottes had descended into cannibalism. Image Source: British Museum.
Under revolutionary circumstances, when all bets were off and an ends-justifies-the-means mentality prevailed, these atrocities could be indulged and their meaning inverted. Inverted morality became preserved within the ensuing model. In The Taking and Displaying of Human Body Parts as Trophies by Amerindians (in Springer's series on Interdisciplinary Contributions to Archaeology, 2008, pp. 374-375), Alberto Esquit-Choy writes: "In the relationship between warfare and religion, the triumph of good over evil is sometimes symbolized in the taking and displaying of human body parts as trophies." One recent book which explores this mentality is Simon Harrison's Dark Trophies: Hunting and the Enemy Body in Modern War (Oxford: Berghahn, 2012).
The Revolution's moral conflict between its vaunted democratic ideals in the defense of natural law and the brutal acts required to institute those ideals was further evident in a quotation from George Duval, Souvenirs de la Terreur de 1788 à 1793, vol. 1 (Paris, 1842), p. 184:
Mass beheadings and bloodshed, the manufacture of body relics from the remains of counter-revolutionaries, and a profound psychological darkness, were realities upon which modern western ideologies were founded in France."'Les droits de l'homme étaient méconnus depuis des siècles: ils ont été rétablis par l'humanité entière.' L'humanité des cannibales apparrement!" ("'Human rights were ignored for centuries: [now] they have been restored by the whole of humanity.' The humanity of cannibals apparently!")
The last public execution by guillotine occurred on 17 June 1939. After that, executions were held behind prison walls, due to the fact that that 1939 execution was secretly filmed from a building across the street (the footage is on Youtube here). The last use of the guillotine in France - and the last execution by beheading as criminal punishment in the western world - took place on 10 September 1977. As if in muted acknowledgement of the Terror's legacies, abolition of the death penalty became one of the hallmarks of western political development. It is supremely ironic that al-Qaeda and ISIS have employed beheadings as statements of ultra-violence and slick-and-sick anti-western techno-media protests to goad western powers into an apocalyptic war. It is almost as if they are making manifest the unconscious horror at the founding moment of modern western politics and government.
It is impossible to contend with that unconscious horror now without understanding the Terror in 18th century France. The extreme inequality of the Ancien Régime and mirrored gruesomeness of the Revolution are rarely considered in terms of abnormal psychology, because that would present France's great rationalist experiment in a bad light. I write this post, not to question the moral coherence of western liberty and the current political ethos, nor to attack the principles of humanist rationalism, but to reconsider as incomplete those idealized concepts, given the actual historical events in which those concepts were conceived and born. There is a question as to why these high values for better, more prosperous, egalitarian, free and law-abiding civil societies remain mysteriously, cryptically entangled with inequality and power hierarchies; oppression and establishment domination; and xenophobia and genocide. These are respectively the anti-equality, anti-liberty, and anti-fraternity shadow sides of socialism, liberalism, and nationalism.
Enduring violence, murder and mayhem look like bad results or errors from a good program. The knee-jerk reaction is to blame others outwardly for these outcomes, to scapegoat any number of political or geopolitical opponents. Looking within, we are taught that these errors emerge from insufficient or imperfect application of good political formulas; or from a bad mixture of the formulas (as with National Socialism); or from a bad population who do not understand how to behave in a way that is good for them. In that last case, there are calls to improve and intensify their political, economic and social education, through the mass media or popular culture. All may be true, yet the fact remains that the original formulas, no matter how they were or are combined or taught, presented an incomplete view of human nature and the human soul. If savagery, murder and fear were part of the equation from the start, you cannot cover that up with democratic window dressings, declarations of rights, constitutions, free elections, a rationalized calendar, and the metric system.
Image Source: Library of Congress. Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Bollingen Series XVII (New York: Pantheon Books, 1949). Library of Congress General Collections. Courtesy of the Joseph Campbell Foundation (www.jcf.org) (030.00.00). [Digital ID # rb0030].
Perhaps the problem was not that Enlightenment rationalists confined themselves to the strictly material, but that they confined themselves in their definition of rationality and the mind's capabilities. The Swiss founder of analytical psychology, Carl Jung (1875-1961) would have responded that the Lockean understanding of perception, with its emphasis on sensory information from the envionment as a source of rational consciousness, was incomplete. To describe the whole psyche, Jung drew from two main sources. First, he studied evidence from his clinical practice, which revealed the negative unconscious in mental illness. Jung wanted to know why anti-rational expressions of mental illness appeared to his patients as rational solutions to their problems. He considered why all people (sane or not) made so many bad behavioural choices, even when those choices damaged individual or collective well-being. He became convinced that the anti-rational, dark side to our personalities served some rational or sensible purposes; those purposes could be discovered, with the routes to them discovered, and the processes to harness them delineated.
20th century psychologists wrestled with the unseen, then mostly retreated from Jung's research into clinical, experimental realities. They focused on psychology as a rational science, in which anti-rational urges were categorized as irrational mental illnesses. Jung combined the medical with the holistic and cultural; he was interested in how people resolved complex problems by resorting to the symbolic. Jung's critics in the field of psychology deemed these ideas to be unscientific and less respectable. The distinction was one between scientifically diagnosed sickness and Jung's medical evaluation of a sometimes sick, sometimes incomprehensible, engagement with the unknown.
As the unseen, the unacknowledged, and the unhealthy reappear in human organization and politics, so do Jung's explanations. One can relate Freud's structural model of the psyche (the theory of the Id, Ego and Super-Ego) and Jean Piaget's developmental process of human cognition to Jung's correlation of the psyche to dynamical systems, and from there, to a mapped schema of systems of government and ideologies as expressions of different dominant impulses. There is a popular fear today that there is a mystery about politics, which brings forth the unknown as bitter fruit. In the cryptic power game, many politicians seem to be wolves in sheep's clothing. They are elected for their idealistic platforms, but true outcomes from their policies are often different from their stated intentions. The people elect a Super-Ego - and they get an Id as leader.
Jung analyzed what Freud called the Id, to see if it could be a source of positive impulses, not just primal, base negativity. He understood that modern, secular rationalism, and the corresponding humanist ideal of socio-political order, contained within it a fear and denial of everything deemed irrational. This suppression of the anti-rational ironically brought irrationality to the fore, and made it a persistent problem in the system. Jung tried to find something redeemable outside the rationalist's comfort zone.
After his clinical studies of patients, his second body of real world evidence comprised works emanating from the human imagination, that is, the positive unconscious output articulated in myths, legends, epics, as well as other artistic creations and dramatic performances. He found that these narratives-as-cultural-artefacts continually repeat the same images and stories, regardless of time, place and culture. They are resilient, accurately reflecting something indelible in human nature; and they are as old as humanity itself. They move beyond the conventionally rational, while remaining tangible and experiential, and systematic if not always linear, to form a kind of super-order in the human mind and society. Art and narrative are as durable as language. We instinctively respond to the emotional power of symbols. We instinctively expect life to form a dramatic story, with a beginning, middle and an end. We instinctively enjoy certain chords and beats in music. Human patterns in the arts and languages were encapsulated in Joseph Campbell's Jungian idea of the journey of the hero, who goes through a period of social alienation and confronts the unknown in a quest for knowledge.
Joseph Campbell's The Hero with the Thousand Faces (1949) incorporated Jungian ideas to show how social alienation and anti-rational action could be reintegrated into a functioning social system and help it grow, rather than destroying it. Images Sources: Blogger and The Writer's Journey.
Raya A. Jones remarks:
In Jung's grasp of human affairs, a Lockean picture would seem overly focused on the conscious aspect of behaviour, while ignoring the unconscious. A social contract built on Lockean rational consciousness would be riddled with problems because the suppressed unconscious would always rise to the surface. Jung argued that to understand how our soulful mentality finds expression, be it inside the subjective personality, or projected outwardly through the imagination in the creative arts, or expressed in the organization and politics of society, one must consider the conscious rational mind and the unconscious shadow side of ourselves. Some researchers have begun to do this. Even Forbes, aware that the economy and high technology are giant expressions of human psychology, puzzled over this problem in 2011."Jung was a man of science by virtue of being a medical doctor, but he was not a scientist. He averred that unlike experimental psychology, analytical psychology does not isolate functions and then subject them to experimental conditions, but is 'far more concerned with the total manifestation of the psyche as a natural phenomenon' (, par. 170). To him, the totality includes the unconscious as well as conscious mind. Being centered on the unconscious characterizes analytical psychology as a psychology with the psyche; and this characterization means that it would 'certainly not be a modern psychology,' since 'all modern psychologies without the psyche are psychologies of consciousness, for which an unconscious psychic life simply does not exist' (, par. 658).However, his psychology does not merely state that an unconscious exists. It is premised on the notion that its existence can be demonstrated through observations of its effects. In this regard, his psychology is modern. It subscribes to the worldview—not the method—of modern science. As Weber put it in 1918, 'The fate of our times is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization and, above all, by the disenchantment of the world' (, p. 155); (see  for a historian’s account of this worldview). The model of the psyche that Jung was formulating in the same era could be viewed as an attempt to rationalize and intellectualize the enchantment of the world in myths, beliefs in the supernatural, and so forth." [From Raya A. Jones, "Jung’s 'Psychology with the Psyche' and the Behavioral Sciences" in Behavioural Sciences (Basel). 2013 September 3(3): 408–417.]
The youthful Winston Churchill is known to have been influenced by G. A. Henty's books. Image Source: Little Stour Books.
Image Source: University of Kansas.
Image Source: Little Stour Books.
Image Source: pinterest.
Image Source: pinterest.
Henty's books contain imperialist and colonial themes which are now very controversial. In the 2000s and 2010s, they have become popular in the American conservative Christian homeschooling movement. Image Source: Wiki. Cover of the 1902 first edition of To Herat and Cabul, A Story of the First Afghan War by G. A. Henty and illustrations by Charles A. Sheldon (London: Blackie and Son Ltd., 1902).
Because this sounds so anti-modern and mythical, it is easy to misunderstand or dismiss the Jungian addition to the rational political picture. Jung would not have put God back into government. But he would have said that when people enter government, they are profoundly tempted to play God or to embody God semi- or sub-consciously. And when politicians enter that field of behaviour, they follow certain patterns and symbolic behaviours, unexpected by economists and political theorists, but well known to dramatists, novelists and artists. Under those circumstances, what politicians say may diverge from what they do, not because of practical limitations, but because as they exercise power, they start to live in the grip of a mystery. If they come to embody an archetype of power, they draw their society into that mystery with them. At that moment, the rule book changes, and popular politics becomes an act of adventure and faith, even of rapture. Oddly, this was Jung's humanist analysis: divine archetypes which came into play were simply aspects of the human mind and every archetype had light (heroic) and dark (villainous) potential.
This is why earlier posts on this blog explored how American superheroism is evolving. Before a crisis arrives, a culture will have spent decades hammering out its heroic values and options for a moment of great crisis, the unforeseeable moment of a plunge into the unknown. It will have articulated to itself the Jungian hero's journey in many different ways until it settles on a core story about how to deal with fear of the unknown, set for its times and circumstances. One could argue that there is not much difference between America's Batman stories from the 1980s to the 2000s and England's G. A. Henty books from the 1880s to the 1900s, which influenced the generation of young men who fought for the British Empire in World War I, including Winston Churchill.
A leader must not lose the plot! Because godlike power is so seductive, it takes a deep grasp of heroism for a politician or leader to travel the Jungian journey and remain a hero, rather than become a villain: there is a big difference between a Churchill and a Hitler. Perhaps the mental difference between the two, and the societies they led, cannot even be explained by applying clinical psychology to history. Some in the field of psychohistory postulate (here) that Central European societies were 'sick' before the Second World War, as opposed to Anglo-American cultures, which were 'healthy.' For Jung, political roles were cultural and archetypal, and therefore almost normative and legal, before they were irrational. Arguing that Hitler was pathological explained little. Maintaining that Hitler rose to power through a spell-binding appeal to an epic, mystical story of the German Volk explained more. He saw Hitler as a mesmerizing shamanic figure, over and above labeling him as insane. Jung felt that the dark archetypes in Germanic cultures were closer to the surface, poorly suppressed by Christianity, and more unstable than in other European cultures. In the 1930s, Jung thought that Nazism would allow the Germans to explore their shadow side, and this might let them work through national neuroses in a way that might heal them collectively.
Some sources online claim Franz von Stuck (1863-1928) was Hitler's favourite painter from childhood onward. This painting depicts the god Wotan on horseback. Different artists portrayed Wotan in alternate forms, with dark or light characterizations. In 1915, Hitler wrote a mystical poem about Wotan being his guide (quoted here). Wilde Jagd (Wild Hunt; 1889). Image Source: Besten Gemälde.
Of Franz von Stuck, Jung remarked: "Stuck, whose snake-pictures bear significant titles like "Vice," "Sin," or "Lust". The mixture of anxiety and lust is perfectly expressed in the sultry atmosphere of these pictures." Wilde Jagd (Wild Hunt; 1899, Musée d'Orsay, Paris). Image Source: Wiki.
Hans Thoma (1839-1924), engraving of the hero Siegfried: Stimme des Waldvogels (Songs of the Forest Birds; 1914). Image Source: Androgon.
How does the rationalist system deal with purely anti-rational forces? The clip shows Bruce Wayne, the rationalist citizen, his alter-Ego Batman, who is an alienated Jungian hero; both face an anti-rational and irrational Jungian villain, the Joker, a shadow entity of pure Id. From Dark Knight (2008) © DC/Warner. Video Source: Youtube. Reproduced under Fair Use for non-commercial discussion.
To bring the problem into the present, see the film clip above; the same question reappears in mass entertainment in the Anglo-American sphere. In this Jungian superhero fantasy, the American hero Batman has sworn never to kill his enemies - he has 'abolished the death penalty.' It would seem that the prosperous, egalitarian, enlightened, and humanitarian order has finally been achieved. Why then, right at that moment of greatest accomplishment, does the Joker arise as a fearsome antagonist in Gotham City?
The film rattles off familiar problems, mysterious bad results from an overtly good program: an underground economy run by organized crime, corruption of the police force and town government, good leaders struggling to work with weak leaders, law enforcement and special forces barely strong enough to keep the peace, and traumatized citizens. Up to that point, the rational system can function and cope. But the Joker is a totally chaotic figure, motivated by pure lust for violence and the anti-rational destruction of society: "Some men just want to watch the world burn."
The film's characters debate what to do when their system fails because the Joker is breaking all the rules, not just of an orderly society, but of human psychology. He is the Terror, embodied in a character. He does not care if he dies. He has no common feeling with other humans, other than to terrify and murder them. It seems he cannot be stopped except by killing him; but killing him would inspire ten more monsters in his place. So he cannot be killed. But is the Joker crazy? "I'm not. No, I'm not." He implies he is not irrational. He is anti-rational. He is both, but the point is, labeling him as crazy will get his opponents nowhere.
Confronted with this chaos, the rationalist despairs. The old solution to this problem was to (temporarily) transform democracy into a dictatorship, starting with the appointment of a Jungian hero, protector, a strong man, in a flirtation with authoritarianism:
"Harvey Dent: When their enemies were at the gates, the Romans would suspend democracy and appoint one man to protect the city. It wasn't considered an honor, it was considered a public service.
Rachel Dawes: Harvey, the last man whom they appointed to protect the Republic was named Caesar and he never gave up his power.
The appointment of the protector is an incredibly dangerous moment. The society in crisis crosses a line into the unknown, and could go either way. Jung would have argued that confronting the anti-rational on its own territory, giving it an airing, is the most rational thing you can do, and the only way to tame it. However, because the protector operates beyond the normal bounds of rationality, there is a test. He or she can survive in a non-linear fashion and become a hero - or, immersed in fear and control, become a villain.Harvey Dent: Okay, fine. you either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain."
The only possible response for the rationalist Bruce Wayne is to battle the Joker's chaos by descending into the unconscious via Jungian archetypes. As Batman, the 'caped crusader,' he fights the Joker, a nemesis out in the world. But Wayne must also struggle with Batman's alter-Ego darkness inside himself. He is the 'dark night detective.' The end of Dark Knight envisions the Millennial American hero as a scapegoat. Batman sees District Attorney Harvey Dent as Gotham's 'white knight,' that is, Dent represents law, order, and the rationality of civil society. But the Joker makes Dent into a scarred, terrifying figure, Two-Face. Thus, the film acknowledges that idealized western political values have a dark side - as does human nature: liberty, equality, fraternity - and terror.
The Two-Face character in Dark Knight implies that the idealized side of western government has an unacknowledged mirror side in fear and violence, in Terror. Image Source: Wiki.
Batman understands this totality, but he is aware that Gotham's citizens need to believe that their rational values are unsullied and intact or they will despair. To protect Dent's image, Batman becomes the scapegoat for Dent's crimes. Although this film is a mass marketed fantasy, the real inspirations for it are evident everywhere in anti-political carnage and anti-systemic movements in today's world. Just as Batman allows himself to be seen as the broken figure, a monster and murderer when he is not, so this version of American heroism suggests that America allows herself to be seen by her fellow western countries as the broken, compromised western power, when she actually protects all of them. This misconception and self-sacrifice allows the other democracies to nurse a false sense of superiority, assured that their liberty, equality and fraternity are pure and preserved, whereas America's version of the formula is immersed in anti-rationality and darkness. This idea of self-sacrifice to overcome scapegoating is of course, a Christian one.
The self-sacrifice of the Jungian hero to protect overt political ideals at the end of Dark Knight. Video Source: Youtube.
In political terms, the Dark Knight characters describe the classically-recognized shift from democracy to tyranny. In the Jungian terms of the psyche, this moment is called enantiodromia, the instant when the rational conscious side of the self is no longer driving the self, and the anti-rational unconscious takes over. Because the people appoint a protector in their moment of crisis, the moment of political enantiodromia centres on a question of leadership. The selection of leader depends on the people's accurate judgement of their leader's character. It also depends on the true character of the protector, and how well he or she can navigate through the society's dark night of the soul.
Image Source: Slideshare.
The unconscious and shadow sides of western culture are relevant because liberalism, socialism and nationalism are not necessarily depleted or obsolete, but they are incomplete. 21st century democracies are entering realms beyond the scope of 18th century ideologies and governmental institutions. There is growing pressure to expand and rethink these values and state forms to address aspects of human nature which were there from the start. The Terror was always there at the heart of the question, but responding to it with fear makes it stronger. It may be contained, but cannot be defeated through surveillance, tyrannical oppression, police state law and order, and hierarchical top-down controls. Soft pressure, through dismissive injunctions, social education, selective media coverage, and entertainment outreach, do not transform it. Nor can the 18th century ideologies be replaced with contending rationalist ideologies. The dramatic and creepy emergence of neo-Nazism requires a deeper reassessment of the psycho-political landscape. That landscape now includes what Jung would surely have seen as a real manifestation of the collective unconscious: the Internet.
- DCU Continuity for Terra: Terra in the 2000s (29 May 2010)
- The Night of First Ages (16 January 2011)
- Rationalism and Anti-Rationalism (15 March 2011)
- Saluting the Dearly Departed Doom Patrol (4 May 2011)
- Embrace Your Immortality (19 July 2012)
- Establishing the New Establishment (27 May 2013)
- Lessons in Crypto-Anarchy (3 April 2014)
- History in the Echo Chamber (19 July 2014)
- Magic, Numerology and the IMF (1 July 2015)
- Post-It Note Enantiodromia (3 October 2015)
- Post-Apocalypse Rehab (6 October 2015)
- The Gnostic-Hermetic Synthesis of 2015 (23 November 2015)
- Providence (25 November 2015)
- Death and Bitcoin's Children (16 January 2016)
- The New Millennium's Gothic Moment (26 February 2016)
- Predicting the Future, A Tricky Business (4 May 2016)
- I Remember the French Revolution (13 July 2016)
See all my posts on Time and Politics.
See all my posts on Millennial views of past events.