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A Study of Love and Hate

ISSUE:  Spring 1943

Love against Hate. By Karl Menninger. Harcourt, Brace and Company. $3.50.

Dr. menninger’s books are written by a man who has found his proper life work. What he is doing, how he thinks and feels about his job, and what he himself is, are all one. His views are in general Freudian, but with the liberty to differ, as for example in his thesis that religion is rather a protection against our own aggressive tendencies than against outside forces. I think he would agree with Freud that psychoanalytic theories are a part of the mythology of the subject; “mythology” being used here not as a fancy name for fairy stories or lies, as these are usually understood, but rather to indicate a rationalization in sympathy with an underlying insight. If they are fairy stories, they are Freudian fairy stories; and if they are lies, they are also deeply meaningful as expressions of a generating attitude or insight.

Dr. Menninger’s books are balanced and clear exemplifications of this underlying insight upon a level comprehensible to the general reader and in connection with problems of interest to all of us. The conviction behind all modern study of the human mind is that human nature can be understood if we can learn to accept it. Psychoanalysis holds in addition that we can learn to accept human nature in others only if we have first learned to accept it in ourselves, and that this in turn requires us to accept the fact that we belong to a family group. Thus a definite social setting is an unavoidable ingredient of all psychoanalytic knowledge, as indeed of all genuine psychological knowledge.

That psychoanalysis has regarded the family situation as one and the same everywhere is an unnecessary weakness in its position. A science at this level of generality need not claim omnicompetence, as did natural science in its effort to win an absolutely abstract and general control over nature. This is probably why Dr. Menninger is suspicious of the social sciences as agencies for the improvement of human living. They too were founded on abstractions and, like the natural sciences, have been reduced to an aimless and unhelpful empiricism because of the remoteness of their principles. Sciences so organized are the friends of any who care to master them, and can as easily be used against humanity as for it. Psychoanalysis points to the need of disciplines— perhaps not so much pure sciences as arts, although they will not only guide activities but exhibit logics—dwelling in an intermediate area between the absolute abstractions and the absolute data of conventional science.

In this study of love and hate, Dr. Menninger presents one of these logics at work, although I am not certain that he is explicitly aware of the fact that he is using a logic of a special kind. It is a triadic logic—a three-termed logic of the interplay of “love” and “hate” thought of as opposites, in the face of “intelligence” thought of as a reconciling function—rather than a dualistic logic of “data” and “laws.” Living for him is primarily not a matter of the rational organization of primary data (as for example the data of sensation) , but is rather the working together of our tendencies towards and away from our experience itself, carried on in the light of the totality of the racial experiences, symbolized rather loosely in terms either of fundamental sexual demands or of “the reality principle”—both being rather puzzlingly treated as though they were fixed entities of the old-fashioned take-it-or-leave-it materialistic kind.

Here Dr. Menninger is following Freud himself. It is a pity, although perfectly explicable in Freudian terms, that the peculiarities of Freud’s own life-history led him to interpret the categories of his thinking in a manner itself not Freudian, but instead for the most part as though his principal task was the denial of the prevailing conventions of his day—a denial which as negativism he himself many times interpreted as being psychically identical with their acceptance. Thus the germ of the genuine difference between his thinking and that of his milieu—the difference, that is, between triadic and dualistic thinking—was obscured. The principal unfortunate result upon the Freudian movement has been the backwardness of its social thinking. Thus we find Dr. Menninger saying that “a rearrangement of instinctual expression is possible, granted sufficient opportunity and a sufficient degree of insight on the part of the individual himself.” But our world is so organized that few can possess the opportunity or the insight requisite for a psychoanalytic reorganization of their lives

It is a great recommendation of Dr. Menninger’s study, however, that in spite of weaknesses that it shares with Freud himself, it gives us some hint of a new way of living, not only through the feeling we get of its author, but through much of its specific content. This is the case, for example, with the interpretation of real love as an advance on romanticism (all too briefly touched upon), with the claim that women have a central place in our living that must be recognized, with the analysis of the necessity and character of play, and with the very pregnant thoughts on the social virtues of listening, derived of course from the techniques of psychoanalysis. This is a book amply worth both reading and study.


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