Jung's Reflections at the End of the First World War


"Would that people could learn the lesson of this war!"

From Jung's The Role of the Unconscious (1918):

To the layman’s ears, the word “unconscious” has an undertone of something metaphysical and rather mysterious.  This peculiarity, attaching to the whole concept of the unconscious, is primarily due to the fact that the term found its way into ordinary speech as a designation for a metaphysical entity.  Eduard von Hartmann, for instance, called the unconscious the “Universal Ground.”  Again, the word was taken up by occultism, because people with these leanings are extremely fond of borrowing scientific terms in order to dress their speculations in a “scientific” guise.  In contradiction to this, the experimental psychologists,... adopted a negative attitude towards the concept of the unconscious, on the ground that everything psychic is conscious and that consciousness alone deserves the name “psyche.”

But... abnormal psychic processes... demonstrate most clearly the existence of an unconscious.  For this reason it was the medical men, and above all the specialists in the field of psychic illnesses, who supported the hypothesis of the unconscious and defended it most vigorously.

It has remained a purely medical concept in the Freudian school.  According to the views of this school, man, as a civilized being, is unable to act out a large number of instinctive impulses and wishes, for the simple reason that they are incompatible with law and morality.  In so far, therefore, as he wants to adapt himself to society, he is obliged to suppress these wishes.  [...]  ...very often, as a result of the suppression of an inadmissible wish, the thin wall between wishing and being conscious of the wish is broken, so that the wish becomes unconscious.  It is forgotten, and its place is taken by a more or less rational justification - if, indeed, any motivation is sought at all.  This process, whereby an inadmissible wish becomes unconscious, is called repressioin, as distinct from suppression, which presupposes that the wish remained conscious. Although repressed and forgotten, the incompatible content - whether it consist of wishes or of painful memories - nevertheless exists, and its unperceived presence influences the conscious processes.  This influence expresses itself in the form of peculiar disturbances of the conscious, normal functions; we call these disturbances nervous or psychogenic disturbances.

These can assume a great variety of forms, such as obsessional ideas, anxiety states, depression, moods, fantasies, pathological affects and impulses and so on.  At the root of all these disturbances we find repressed psychic contents, i.e., contents that have become unconscious.  On the basis of these purely empirical findings, the concept of the unconscious as the sum-total of all incompatible and repressed wishes, including all painful and repressed memories, gradually took form.

Now it is an easily demonstrated fact that the overwhelming majority of these incompatible contents have to do with the phenomenon of sexuality.  Sexuality is a fundamental instinct which, as everyone knows, is the most hedged about with secrecy and with feelings of delicacy.  In the form of love, it is the cause of the stormiest emotions, the wildest longings, the profoundest despairs, the most secret sorrows, and, altogether. of the most painful experiences. ...sexuality, as I have said,  is a fundamental instinct in every human being, and this is reason enough for the well-known Freudian theory which reduces everything to sexuality, and sketches a picture of the unconscious which makes it appear as a kind of lumber-room where all the repressed and inadmissible infantile wishes and all the later, inadmissible sexual wishes are stored.

But it will never be proved that sexuality is the fundamental instinct and the activating principle of the human psyche.

...the Freudian school explains that religious feelings or any other sentiments that pertain to the spiritual sphere are “nothing but” inadmissible sexual wishes which have been repressed and subsequently “sublimated,”... .

...if we reject the exclusively sexual theory of the unconscious and put in its place an energic view of the psyche, we must say that the unconscious contains everything psychic that has not reached the threshold of consciousness, or whose energy charge is not sufficient to maintain it in consciousness, or that will reach consciousness only in the future.  We can then picture to ourselves how the unconscious must be constituted.  We have already taken cognizance of repressions as contents of the unconscious, and to these we must add everything that we have forgotten.  When a thing is forgotten, it does not mean that it is extinguished; it simply means that the memory has become subliminal.  Its energy-charge has sunk so low that it can no longer appear in consciousness; but, though lost to consciousness, it is not lost to the unconscious. [...]   The experience of reading. though long forgotten, leaves traces behind it, and from these traces the previous experience can be recognized.  This long-lasting, indirect influence is due to a fixing of impressions, which are still preserved even when they are no longer capable of reaching consciousness.
Besides things that have been forgotten, subliminal perceptions form part of the contents of the unconscious.  These may be sense perceptions occurring below the stimulus-threshold of conscious hearing, or in the peripheral field of vision; or they may be apperceptions... .
 All this material constitutes the personal unconscious.  We call it personal because it consists entirely of acquisitions deriving from personal life.  Therefore, when anything falls into the unconscious it is taken up in the network of associations formed by this unconscious material.  Associative connections of high intensity may then be produced, which cross over or rise up into consciousness in the form of inspirations, intuitions, “lucky ideas,” and so on.
 The concept of a personal unconscious does not, however, enable us fully to grasp the nature of the unconscious.  If the unconscious were only personal, it would in theory be possible to trace all the fantasies of an insane person back to individual experiences and impressions.  No doubt a large proportion of the fantasy-material could be reduced to his personal history, but there are certain fantasies whose roots in the individual’s previous history one would seek for in vain.  What sort of fantasies are these?  They are, in a word, mythological fantasies.  They are elements which do not correspond to any events or experiences of personal life, but only to myths.
 Where do these mythological fantasies come from, if they do not spring from the personal unconscious and hence from the experiences of personal life?   [...]  We receive along with our body...  brings with it its entire history, and when [the brain] becomes creative it creates out of this history - out of the history of mankind.  By “history” we usually mean the history which we “make,” and we call this “objective history.”  The truly creative fantasy activity of the brain has nothing to do with this kind of history, but solely with that age-old natural history which has been transmitted in living form since the remotest times... .  And this structure tells its own story, which is the story of mankind: the unending myth of death and rebirth, and of the multitudinous figures who weave in and out of this mystery.
This unconscious,... disclosing its living presence only through the medium of creative fantasy, is the suprapersonal unconscious.

The collective unconscious forms the dark, background against which the adaptive function of consciousness stands out in sharp relief.  [...] We laugh at primitive superstitions, thinking ourselves superior, but we completely forget that we are influenced in just as uncanny a fashion as the primitive by this background, which we are wont to scoff at as a museum of stupidities.  Primitive man simply has a different theory - the theory of witchcraft and spirits.  I find this theory very interesting and very sensible - actually more sensible than the academic views of modern science. [...] The processes in the unconscious influence us just as much as they do primitives... .

This mysterious background, which from time immemorial peopled the nocturnal shadows of the primeval forest with the same yet ever-changing figures, seems like a distorted reflection of life during the day, repeating itself in the dreams and terrors of the night.  Shadowily they crowd round, the revenants, the spirits of the dead, fleeting memory-images risen from the prison of the past whence no living thing returns, or feelings left behind by some impressive experience and now personified in spectral form. [...] In them the spiritual element manifests itself autonomously to the primitive psyche - whose reflexes are purely animal - in projected, sensuous form, and we Europeans must sometimes be struck with wonder at the tremendous influence the experience of the spirit can have on primitive man. For him, the sensuous immediacy of the object attaches to spiritual phenomena as well.  A thought appears to him, he does not think it; it appears to him in the form of a projected sensuous perception, almost like an hallucination, or at least like an extremely vivid dream.  For this reason a thought, for the primitive, can superimpose itself on sensuous reality to such an extent that if a European were to behave in the same way we should say he was mad.
 These peculiarities of primitive psychology, which I can only touch lightly on here, are of great importance for an understanding of the collective unconscious.  A simple reflection will bear this out.  As civilized human beings, we in Western Europe have a history reaching back perhaps 2,500 years.  Before that there is a prehistoric period of considerably greater duration, during which man reached the cultural level of, say, the Sioux Indians.  Then come the hundreds of thousands of years of neolithic culture, and before that an unimaginably vast stretch of time during which man evolved from the animal.  A mere fifty generations ago many of us in Europe were no better that primitives.  The layer of culture, this pleasing patina, must therefore be quite extraordinarily thin in comparison with the powerfully developed layers of the primitive psyche.  But it is these layers that form the collective unconscious, together with the vestiges of animality that lose themselves in the nebulous abyss of time.
Christianity split the Germanic barbarian into an upper and a lower half, and enabled him, by repressing the dark side, to domesticate the brighter half and fit it for civilization.  But the lower, darker half still awaits redemption and a second spell of domestication.  Until then, it will remain associated with the vestiges of the prehistoric age, with the collective unconscious, which is subject to a peculiar and ever-increasing activation.  As the Christian view of the world loses its authority, the more menacingly will the “blond beast” be heard prowling about in its underground prison, ready to burst out with devastating consequences.  When this happens in the individual it brings about a psychological revolution, but it can also take a social form.
In my opinion this problem does not exist for the Jews.  The Jew already had the culture of the ancient world and on top of that has taken over the culture of the nations amongst whom he dwells.  He has two cultures, paradoxical as that may sound.  He is domesticated to a higher degree than we are, but he is badly at a loss for that quality in man which roots him to the earth and draws new strength from below.  This chthonic quality is found in dangerous concentration in the Germanic peoples.  Naturally the Aryan European has not noticed any signs of this for a very long time, but perhaps he is beginning to notice it in the present war; and again, perhaps not.  The Jew has too little of this quality - where has he his own earth underfoot.  The mystery of the earth is no joke and no paradox.  One only needs to see how, in America, the skull and pelvis measurements of the European races begin to indianize themselves in the second generation of immigrants.  That is the mystery of the American earth.
The soil of every country holds some such mystery.  We have an unconscious reflection of this in the psyche: just as there is a relationship between mind to body, so there is a relationship of body to earth.  I hope the reader will pardon my figurative way of speaking, and will try to grasp what I mean.  It is not easy to describe, definite though it is.  There are people, quite a number of them - who live outside and above their bodies, who float like bodiless shadows above their earth, their earthy component, which is their body.  Others live wholly in their bodies.  As a rule, the Jew lives in amicable relationship with the earth, but without feeling the power of the chthonic.  His receptivity to this seems to have weakened with time.  This may explain the specific need of the Jew to reduce everything to its material beginnings; he needs these beginnings in order to counterbalance the dangerous ascendency of his two cultures.  A little bit of primitivity does not hurt him; on the contrary, I can understand very well that Freud’s and Adler’s reduction of everything psychic to primitive sexual wishes and power-drives has something about it that is beneficial and satisfying to the Jew, because it is a form of simplification.  For this reason, Freud is perhaps right to close his eyes to my objections.  But these specifically Jewish doctrines are thoroughly unsatisfying to the Germanic mentality; we-still have a genuine barbarian in us who is not to be trifled with and whose manifestation is no comfort for us and not a pleasant way of passing the time.  Would that people could learn the lesson of this war!  The fact is, our unconscious is not to be got at with over-ingenious and grotesque interpretations.  The psychotherapist with a Jewish background awakens in the Germanic psyche not those wistful and whimsical residues from the time of David, but the barbarian of yesterday, a being for whom matters suddenly become serious in the most unpleasant way.  This annoying peculiarity of the barbarian was apparent also to Nietzsche - no doubt from personal experience - which is why he thought highly of the Jewish mentality and preached about dancing and flying and not taking things seriously.  But he overlooked the fact that it is not the barbarian in us who takes things seriously - they become serious for him.  He is gripped, by the daemon.  And who took things more seriously than Nietzsche himself?
It seems to me that we should take the problem of the unconscious very seriously indeed.  The tremendous compulsion towards goodness and the immense moral force of Christianity are not merely an argument in the latter’s favour, they are also a proof of the strength of its suppressed and repressed counterpart - the antichristian, barbarian element.  The existence within us something that can turn against us, that can become a serious matter for us, I regard not merely as a dangerous peculiarity, but as a valuable and congenial asset as well.  It is still untouched fortune, an uncorrupted treasure, a sign of youthfulness, an earnest of rebirth.  Nevertheless, to value the unconscious exclusively for the sake of its positive qualities and to regard it as a source of revelation would be fundamentally wrong.
The unconscious is, first and foremost, the world of the past, which is activated by the one-sidedness of the conscious attitude.  Whenever life proceeds one-sidedly in any given direction, the self-regulation of the organism produces in the unconscious an accumulation of all those factors which play too small a part in the individual’s conscious existence.  For this reason I have put forward the compensation theory of the unconscious as a complement to the repression theory.
The role of the unconscious is to act compensatorily to the conscious content of the moment. By this I do not mean that it sets up an opposition, for there are times when the tendency of the unconscious coincides with that of consciousness, namely, when the conscious attitude is approaching the optimum.  The nearer it approaches the optimum, the more the autonomous activity of the unconscious is diminished, and the more its value sinks until, at the moment when the optimum is reached, it falls to zero.  We can say, then, that so long as all goes well, so long as a person travels the road that is, for him, the individual as well as the social optimum, there is no talk of the unconscious.  The very fact that we in our age come to speak of the unconscious at all is proof that everything is not in order.  This talk of the unconscious cannot be laid entirely at the door of analytical psychology; its beginnings can be traced back to the time of the French Revolution, and the first signs of it can be found in Mesmer. [...] This is nothing but a rediscovery of the primitive concept of soul-force or soul-stuff, awakened out of the unconscious by a reactivation of archaic forms of thought.

 It is evident from this development that analytical psychology does not stand in isolation but finds itself in a definite historical setting.  The fact that this whole disturbance or reactivation of the unconscious took place around the year 1800 is, in my view, connected with the French Revolution. This was less a political revolution than a revolution of minds.  It was a colossal explosion of all the inflammable matter that had been piling up ever since the Age of Enlightenment. The official deposition of Christianity by the Revolution must have made a tremendous impression on the unconscious pagan in us, for from then on he found no rest.  In the greatest German of the age, Goethe, he could really live and breathe, and in Hölderlin he could at least cry loudly for the glory that was Greece.  After that, the dechristianization of man’s view of the world made rapid progress despite occasional reactionaries.  Hand in hand with this went the importation of strange gods.  Besides the fetishism and shamanism already mentioned, the prime import was Buddhism. retailed by Schopenhauer.  Mystery religions spread apace... .  This picture reminds us vividly of the first centuries of our era, when Rome began to find the old gods ridiculous and felt the need to import new ones on a large scale.  As today, they imported pretty well everything that existed, from the lowest, most squalid superstition to the noblest flowerings of the human spirit.  Our time is fatally reminiscent of that epoch, when again everything was not in order, and again the unconscious burst forth and brought back things immemorially buried.

 A doctor who treats the body must know the body, and a doctor who treats the psyche must know the psyche.  If he knows the psyche only under the aspect of sexuality or of the personal lust for power, he knows it only in part.  [...] The language of the unconscious is particularly rich in images, as our dreams prove.  But it is a primitive language, a faithful reflection of the colourful, ever-changing world.  The unconscious is of like nature: it is a compensatory image of the world.  In my view it cannot be maintained either that the unconscious has a merely sexual nature or that it is a metaphysical reality, nor can it be exalted into a “universal ground.”  It is to be understood as a psychic phenomenon, like consciousness.  We no more know what the psyche is than we know what life is.  They are interpenetrating mysteries, giving us every reason for uncertainty as to how much “I” am the world, and how much “world” is “I”. [...]  I like to visualize the unconscious as a world seen in a mirror: our consciousness presents to us a picture of the outer world, but also of the world within, this being a compensatory mirror-image of the outer world.  We could also say that the outer world is a compensatory mirror-image of the inner world.  At all events we stand between two worlds, or between two totally different psychological systems of perception; between perception of external sensory stimuli and perception of the unconscious.  The picture we have of the outer world makes us understand everything as the effect of physical and physiological forces; the picture of the inner world shows everything as the effect of spiritual agencies.

The right way may perhaps be found in the approximation of the two worlds.  Schiller thought he had found this way in art, in what he called the “symbol” of art.  The artist, therefore should know the secret of the middle path.  My own experiences led me to doubt this.  I am of the opinion that the union of rational and irrational truth is to be found not so much in art as in the symbol per se; for it is the essence of the symbol to contain both the rational and the irrational.  It always expresses the one through the other; it comprises both without being either.

How does a symbol originate?  This question brings us to the most important function of the unconscious: the symbol-creating function.  There is something very remarkable about this function, because it has only a relative existence.  The compensatory function, on the other hand, is the natural, automatic function of the unconscious and is constantly present.  It owes its existence to the simple fact that all the impulses, thoughts, wishes, and tendencies which run counter to the rational orientation of daily life are denied expression, thrust into the background, and finally fall into the unconscious.  There all the things which we have repressed and suppressed, which we have deliberately ignored and devalued, gradually accumulate and, in time, acquire such force that they begin to influence consciousness.  This influence would be in direct opposition to our conscious orientation if the unconscious consisted only of repressed and suppressed material.  But this, as we have seen, is not the case.  The unconscious also contains the dark springs of instinct and intuition, it contains all those forces which mere reasonableness, propriety, and the orderly course of bourgeois existence could never call awake, all those creative forces which lead man onwards to new developments, new forms, and new goals.  I therefore call the influence of the unconscious not merely complementary but compensatory, because it adds to consciousness everything that has been excluded by the drying up of the springs of intuition and by the fixed pursuit of a single goal.
This function, as I say, works automatically, but, owing to the notorious atrophy of instinct in civilized man, it is often too weak to swing his one-sided orientation of consciousness in a new direction against the pressures of society.  Therefore, artificial aids have always been needed to bring the healing forces of the unconscious into play.  It was chiefly the religions that performed this task. [...] When... unconscious contents accumulate as a result of being consistently ignored, they are bound to exert an influence that is pathological.

An elderly woman-patient, who, like many others, was upset by the problem of the war, once told me the following dream which she had shortly before she visited me:
She was singing hymns that put particular emphasis on her belief in Christ, among others the hymn that goes:

Christ’s blood and righteousness shall be
My festal dress and jewellery;
So shall I stand before the Lord
When heaven shall grant me my reward.
They shall be saved at Judgment Day
Who put their trust in Christ alway.

While she was singing it, she saw a bull tearing around madly in front of the window.   Suddenly it gave a jump and broke one of its legs.  She saw that the bull was in agony, and thought, turning her eyes away, that somebody ought to kill it.  Then she awoke.
The bull’s agony reminded her of the torturings of animals whose unwilling witness she had been.  She abominated such things and was extraordinarily upset by them because of her unconscious identification with the tortured animal. There was something in her that could be expressed by the image of an animal being tortured. [...] the profound religious disquiet she had felt during the war,... shook her belief in the goodness of God and in the adequacy of the Christian view of the world. [...]  [The] animal element in the unconscious which was personified by the bull... is just the element that is represented by the Christian symbol as having been conquered and offered up in sacrifice.  In the Christian mystery it is the sacrificed Lamb, or more correctly, the “little ram.”  In its sister-religion, Mithraism, which was also Christianity’s most successful rival, the central symbol of the cult was the sacrifice not of a ram but of a bull.  The usual altarpiece showed the overcoming of the bull by the divine saviour Mithras.  We have, therefore, a very close historical connection between Christianity and the bull sacrifice. Christianity suppressed this animal element, but the moment the absolute validity of the Christian faith is shaken, that element is thrust into the foreground again.  The animal instinct seeks to break out, but in so doing breaks a leg - in other words, instinct cripples itself. [...]  ...when the animal in us is split off from consciousness by being repressed, it may easily burst out in full force, quite unregulated and uncontrolled.  An outburst of this sort always ends in catastrophe - the animal destroys itself.  What was originally something dangerous now becomes something to be pitied, something that really needs our compassion.  The tremendous forces unleashed by the war bring about their own destruction... .

By being repressed into the unconscious, the source from which it originated the animal in us only becomes more beastlike, and that is no doubt the reason why no religion is so defiled with the spilling of innocent blood as Christianity, and why the world has never seen a bloodier war than the war of the Christian nations.  The repressed animal bursts forth in its most savage form when it comes to the surface, and in the process of destroying itself leads to national suicide.

...the unconscious is continuously compensatory in its action upon the conscious situation of the moment.  It is therefore not a matter of indifference what our conscious attitude is towards the unconscious.  The more negative, critical, hostile, or disparaging we are, the more it will assume these aspects, and the more the true value of the unconscious will escape us.
Thus the unconscious has a symbol-creating function only when we are willing to recognize in it a symbolic element. The products of the unconscious are pure nature.  Naturam si sequemur ducem, nunquam aberrabimus ["If we take nature for our guide, we shall never go astray"], said the ancients.

...the contemporary world and its newspapers present the spectacle of a gigantic psychiatric clinic... .

The country [which primitive man] inhabits is at the same time the topography of his unconscious. [...] Thus does primitive man dwell in his land and at the same time in the land of his unconscious. [...] How different is our relationship to the land we dwell in! [...] A whole world of feeling is closed to us and is replaced by a pale-aestheticism. Nevertheless, the world of primitive feeling is not entirely lost to us; it lives on in the unconscious. The further we remove ourselves from it with our enlightenment and our rational superiority, the more it fades into the distance, but is made all the more potent by everything that falls into it, thrust out by our one-sided rationalism. This lost bit of nature seeks revenge and returns in... distorted form... .

We should listen to the voice that speaks to us from the unconscious.

The question of the relations between conscious and unconscious is not a special question, but one which is bound up in the most intimate way with our history, with the present time, and with our view of the world.  Very many things are unconscious for us only because our view of the world allows them no room; because by education and training we have never come to grips with them, and, whenever they came to consciousness as occasional fantasies, have instantly suppressed them. The borderline between consciousness and unconscious is in large measure determined by our view of the world.

... just as our view of the world up till now has been a decisive factor in the shaping of the unconscious and its contents, so the remoulding of our views in accordance with the active forces of the unconscious is laid upon us as a practical necessity.