Sigmund Freud wrote about Adolf Hitler

Brother Hitler, Fuhrer Freud?

Ludger Lütkehaus ⋅ In the spring of 1938, two historical and biographical paths crossed in Vienna that could hardly have been more divergent. The “leader” of the National Socialist “movement”, Adolf Hitler, returns to the country of his birth with the “Anschluss” of Austria.

Ludger Lütkehaus ⋅ In the spring of 1938, two historical and biographical paths crossed in Vienna that could hardly have been more divergent. The “leader” of the National Socialist “movement”, Adolf Hitler, returns to the country of his birth with the “Anschluss” of Austria. A little later, the patriarch, discoverer and inventor of psychoanalysis, which also calls itself a "movement", Sigmund Freud, was given over to the flames of their stake by the National Socialists, who immediately after the transfer of power in 1933 because of "overestimating instinctual life", forced to emigrate to Great Britain. Freud noted “Finis Austriae” on March 11, 1938 in his “Shortest Chronicle”.


However, it is forbidden to compare Freud and Hitler even remotely. There is an overall difference between them. If, as an author, you dare to make a comparison, you are taking considerable risks. And the question is how much knowledge can be used to justify it. Mark Edmundson, professor at the University of Virginia, shines with his book “Sigmund Freud. The legacy of the last few years »of wanting to take this risk sometimes. He speaks straightforwardly of Freud as a "leader figure". Then, however, to the relief of the reader, he turns into a more moderate path.

The extent of provocation that Thomas Mann dared with his disconcerting formula "Brother Hitler" is avoided by Edmundson. He contrasts the "Führer principle", which is fixed on unrestricted rule, unconditional obedience, and even submission, and whose continuity he sees as given from fascism to the fundamentalism of our day, with a Freud who has indeed become the authority par excellence in the history of psychoanalysis And despite all the rebellions directed against him, it remained, but in his writings that are critical of society, culture and religion, especially in “Mass Psychology and Analysis of the Ego”, “Totem and Taboo” and “The Future of an Illusion”, it is precisely the longing for authority and fixation and deconstructed in the therapeutic process of psychoanalysis. The "free association" and the transference analysis behave critically to all authority ties from which the regressive and identificatory nourishes the unconscious submission and wants to nourish again and again.

Edmundson's presentation is based on the theses of Adam Phillips, but also gains a few instructive accents of its own from the authority complex. The leitmotif is provided by Freud's last work on "The Man of Moses and the Monotheistic Religion", which has again attracted increased attention in recent decades. In Edmundson's reading, it becomes a testimony to ambivalence. Freud, who seldom made a concession in matters of science, seems here with the hypothesis of Moses as an Egyptian - rebellious through and through, defiant to all authorities to the end - the otherwise very well practiced loyalty to his own people in his to engage in ethnic and religious dispossession. At the same time, however, Freud identifies himself with the iconoclasm which, in his view, is the most important legacy of the Mosaic religion. Moses' bond with the internalized invisible God of the Ten Prohibitions religiously anticipates the same sublimation, the therapeutic equivalent of which psychoanalysis demands of its patients.

In the historical and biographical, however, Edmundson offers no new results. In fact, he is not always reliable, often speculative. A large number of trivial psychological, popular scientific formulations are not suitable to compensate for these shortcomings. That Freud, of all people, gave up Vienna's “Apollonian style” is astonishing. And whether in Lou von Andreas-Salomé we will be allowed to venerate the “most notorious woman in the European intellectual world of the 19th century” is probably not.

Freud's last years in particular have been traced in detail by research, unrivaled by Peter Gay, who, following in the footsteps of the last Freud doctor, Max Schur, gave an extremely impressive portrait of the cruel and serene death of the neo-Stoic Freud in his monumental biography. Controversial points in the biographical Freud debate - such as the reasons why Freud's sisters stayed behind in Austria (they were murdered in the Nazi extermination camps), or Freud's sarcastic clearance certificate when leaving Vienna, stating that he could recommend the Gestapo to everyone in the best possible way - are not discussed.

A double agent

Most notable, although already well known, is the picture of “Dr. Sauerwald ”, whose task as Nazi commissioner in Vienna was to liquidate the psychoanalytic institutions, especially the International Psychoanalytical Publishing House. He could have refused Freud's departure, actually ought to refuse it according to Nazi standards, but did not do so because he had studied with a friend of Freud he admired, the pharmacologist Wilhelm Herzig, and even more because he thought of Freud as a personality was most impressed. At the beginning of October 1938 he even visited Freud while he was in exile in London.

The question of whether Sauerwald was paying tribute to the authority of a revered and beloved "Führer" in Freud is only hinted at by Edmundson. But the double agent Sauerwald is a revealing representative of the same ambivalence that the leader principle wanted to liquidate in people's souls and minds in favor of their unconditional submission. The non-Führer had taught Freud to tolerate the ambivalence. Because this is where every soul story of liberation begins.