- Delivering Truth Around the World
Custom Search

Freud, Sexual Abuse, and B'nai B'rith

Smaller Font Larger Font RSS 2.0


In the last few years, there have been lots of news reports (e.g., here), documentary films (e.g., Yoland Zauberman’s “M”), and articles (e.g., here and here) about sexual abuse of children in Orthodox Jewish communities. In March 2017, for instance, Haaretz reported that the Israeli police arrested 22 ultra-Orthodox Jews for sex crimes against minors and women, and in July 2019 The Times of Israel reported that “Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman was alleged to have improperly intervened to aid at least 10 sex offenders from Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community.” In 2015, Jewish attorney Michael Lesher wrote Sex Abuse, Shonda and Concealment in Orthodox Jewish Communities, to document

“the dismal history of how far too many of those cases have been assiduously concealed both from the public and from the police: how influential rabbis and community leaders have sided with the alleged abusers against their victims; how victims and witnesses of sexual abuse have been pressured, even threatened, not to turn to secular law enforcement for help; how autonomous Jewish ‘patrols,’ displacing the role of official police in some large and heavily religious Jewish neighbourhoods, have played an inglorious part in the history of cover-ups; … how some Jewish communities have even succeeded in manipulating law enforcement officials to protect suspected abusers.”

This reminds me of the story of how Freud, having stumbled upon the widespread reality of child abuse among his mostly Jewish clientele, covered it up with the theory that all little girls desire their fathers’ penis and all little boys dream of screwing their mothers — and named his theory after a Gentile myth.

2. Freud’s Assault on Truth

The story has been told by Jeffrey Masson in The Assault on Truth: Freud’s Suppression of the Seduction Theory (1984).[1] In 1895 and 1896, Freud, listening to his neurotic and hysterical patients, became convinced that most of them had suffered from traumatic sexual abuse in their childhood. The traumatic origin of “hysteria” (an overused diagnosis in those days) had already been discussed by neurologists, including Jean-Martin Charcot, whose conferences Freud had attended in Paris, and Hermann Oppenheim, who published in Berlin in 1889 a treatise on traumatic neuroses. Yet psychological traumas of sexual nature were rarely discussed openly. On the other hand, there were medical publications, known to Freud, documenting the frequency of violence on children, including sexual assaults, but they focused on the physical consequences. In April 1896, confident to have made a major breakthrough in psychiatry, Freud presented his findings to the Society for Psychiatry and Neurology in Vienna, his first major public address to his peers. His lecture met with total silence. According to Masson, Freud was urged never to publish it, lest his reputation be damaged beyond repair. He found himself isolated, but nevertheless published his paper, “The Aetiology of hysteria.”

Freud’s conclusions are drawn from 18 case studies (6 men and 12 women), all of which, he claims, bear his general thesis:

“I therefore put forward the thesis that at the bottom of every case of hysteria there are one or more occurrences of premature sexual experience, occurrences which belong to the earliest years of childhood but which can be reproduced through the work of psycho-analysis in spite of the intervening decades. I believe that this is an important finding, the discovery of a caput Nili in neuropathology.”

“Sexual experiences in childhood consisting in stimulation of the genitals, coitus-like acts, and so on, must therefore be recognized, in the last analysis, as being the traumas which lead to a hysterical reaction to events at puberty and to the development of hysterical symptoms.”

Freud suggests that this conclusion applies not only to hysteria but to most neuroses. Among other remarks, he suggests that children who aggress sexually other children do so as a result of having been sexually abused themselves: “children cannot find their way to acts of sexual aggression unless they have been seduced previously.”

However, one year after this article, Freud decided that he had made a mistake in believing his patients. He determined that what he had taken as repressed memories of sexual abuse, were in fact “phantasies.” For the rest of his life, he would keep telling how he overcame his error and discovered that “these phantasies were intended to cover up the auto-erotic activity of the first years of childhood, to embellish it and raise it to a higher plane. And now, from behind the phantasies, the whole range of a child’s sexual life came to light” (The History of the Psychoanalytic Movement, 1919).

From the standpoint of Freud’s earlier theory—which he euphemistically called the “seduction theory”—his new theory of spontaneous infantile sexual fantasies can be seen as a projection, not unlike sex offenders’ tendency to blame their victims: the patients themselves are now accused of both sexual passion and murderous fantasies toward their parents. By repressing these self-generated impulses, says Freudian orthodoxy, they have created their own neuroses which may, in hysterics, take the forms of false memories of abuse.

Thirty-five years later, Freud’s most gifted disciple, once president of the International Psychoanalytical Association, stumbled on the same realization that Freud had shared in “The Aetiology of hysteria.” Sandor Ferenczi wrote in his diary in July 1932 that the Oedipus complex could well be “the result of real acts on the part of adults, namely violent passions directed toward the child, who then develops a fixation, not from desire [as Freud maintained], but from fear. ‘My mother and father will kill me if I don’t love them, and identify with their wishes.’” Overcoming his apprehension of Freud’s reaction, Ferenczi dared present his conclusions before the 12th International Psycho-Analytic Congress in a lecture titled “Confusion of tongues between the adults and the child”. His paper contains a number of important ideas confirmed by later research, such as the victims’ psychological “identification with the aggressor,” or “introjection”: “the aggressor disappears as external reality and becomes intrapsychic instead of extrapsychic,” so that even the guilt feelings of the aggressor are introjected. Ferenczi hypothesized that helplessness causes the victim to empathize with the aggressor, a process today known as “Stockholm syndrome”.

“Extreme adversity, especially fear of death,” may also trigger a premature development, for which Ferenczi uses the metaphor of “a fruit that ripens or becomes sweet prematurely when injured by the beak of a bird, or of the premature ripening of wormy fruit. Shock can cause a part of the person to mature suddenly, not only emotionally but intellectually as well.” Such traumatic maturation happens at the expense of psychological integration, and Ferenczi brings in the notion of a personality split: “there can be no shock, no fright, without traces of a personality split.” In his personal diary, reflecting on a patient who cannot remember having been raped, but dreams of it ceaselessly, Ferenczi writes:

“I know from other analyses that a part of our being can ‘die’ and while the remaining part of our self may survive the trauma, it awakens with a gap in its memory. Actually it is a gap in the personality, because not only is the memory of the struggle-to-the-death effaced, but all other associatively linked memories disappear… perhaps forever.”

1922 group portrait, with Ferenczi sitting next to Freud
1922 group portrait, with Ferenczi sitting next to Freud

This observation is consistent with the findings of French medical doctor and psychologist Pierre Janet (1859-1947), whose work has long been overshadowed by Freudian psychology but has generated increased interest since the 1980s. Janet theorized the first model of “dissociative identity disorders,” now included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. In Les Névroses (1909), Janet wrote: “Just as synthesis and association are the great characteristics of all normal psychological operations, so dissociation is the essential characteristic of all diseases of the mind.” Dissociation accounts for the evolution of traumatic memories, composed of physiological, sensory, affective, and cognitive experiences, which Janet calls “idées fixes.” These fragmented aspects of the experience do not allow a real memory to integrate the biography of the subject, and instead develop into separate psychic entities, which nevertheless interfere with the main personnality. In the most severe cases, it can develop into schizophrenia or multiple personnalities.

Ferenczi’s lecture “Confusion of tongues” met with the same disapproval from members of the Psycho-Analytic Association as Freud’s “Aetiology of hysteria” had met from Viennese psychiatrists. Ferenczi was ostracized by Freud and his sectarian disciples, and his paper was never translated in English for the International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, as was customary. He died a few years later, a broken man.

3. The hidden fault of the father

This story raises two questions: First, what is it that made Freud change his mind in the first place, and made him shun Ferenczi’s work thirty years later? Secondly, and more importantly, why was Freud’s theory so successful, despite being long proven scientifically flawed, and its therapeutic value baseless?

On the first question, Masson shares his “conviction that what Freud had uncovered in 1896—that, in many instances, children are the victims of sexual violence and abuse within their own families—became such a liability that he literally had to banish it from his consciousness.” This theory has been challenged, and Masson has been criticized for exaggerating the negative reaction to Freud’s seduction theory (read here). All that can be said with confidence is that his paper didn’t bring him the instant fame he expected.

Masson takes other factors into account. He believes that Freud was influenced by the wacky otorhinolaryngologist Wilhelm Fliess, unhappy inventor of the “nasal reflex neuroses,” with whom Freud had developed a very peculiar emotional bond (incidentally, Fliess’ son Robert would later write on sexual abuse and hint of his own abuse by his father). Masson is the editor of the unexpurgated version of Freud’s letters to Fliess (Freud destroyed Fliess’ letters, but failed to have his own letters destroyed), which provide unique information on the way Freud elaborated his theories (most important excerpts here). Yet at the end of his fascinating investigation, Masson admits that the full explanation for Freud’s sudden conversion eludes him.

Additional insight has been supplied by two books published almost simultaneously (1979), one in French and one in German, both translated in English in 1982: Marie Balmary, Freud and the Hidden Fault of the Father, and Marianne Krüll, Freud and His Father. Both draw extensively from Freud’s letters to Fliess, which document how Freud was led to his theoretical about-face by his introspective self-analysis. Balmary and Krüll point out that Freud undertook this self-analysis just after the death of his father Jacob. On November 2, 1896, ten days after his father’s death, Freud wrote to Fliess about a dream he had the night before the funeral, in which appeared a sign saying, “You are requested to close the eyes,” which he interpreted as referring to “one’s duty to the dead.” Yet on February 11, 1897, after mentioning that forced oral sex on children can result in neurotic symptoms, he adds: “Unfortunately, my own father was one of these perverts and is responsible for the hysteria of my brother (all of whose symptoms are identifications) and those of several younger sisters. The frequency of this circumstance often makes me wonder.” The following summer, he went through a depressive episode, and wrote on July 7: “I still do not know what has been happening to me. Something from the deepest depths of my own neurosis set itself against any advance in the understanding of the neuroses, and you have somehow been involved in it.” Soon after, September 21, he announced to his friend: “I want to confide in you immediately the great secret that has been slowly dawning on me in the last few months. I no longer believe in my neurotica [his seduction theory].” He gave as one explanation, “the surprise that in all cases, the father, not excluding my own, had to be accused of being perverse.” In the next letter, October 3, he wrote confidently that in the case of his own neurosis, “the old man plays no active part.” Finally, October 15, he referred to the Oedipus story:

“A single idea of general value dawned on me. I have found, in my own case too, [the phenomenon of] being in love with my mother and jealous of my father, and I now consider it a universal event in early childhood.”

Sigmund and his father Jacob in 1854
Sigmund and his father Jacob in 1854

Balmary and Krüll independently build a strong case that Freud backed off from a theory which tarnished the ideal image of the father he was grieving. After his father’s death, Freud felt constrained by a mandate that he was unable to resist, and hence, “dutiful son that he was, took the guilt upon his own shoulders with the help of his Oedipus theory” (Krüll, p. 179). Balmary and Krüll bring in the equation a recent biographical discovery of Jacob Freud’s less than perfect behavior; a forgotten second wife named Rebecca, who mysteriously disappears, possibly by suicide, at the time of Jacob’s marriage with his third wife, the beautiful Amelia Nathansohn, half his age and already pregnant of Sigmund (a fact Jacob tried to conceal by falsifying Sigmund’s date of birth). In light of post-Freudian developments in transgenerational depth-psychology,[2] it is possible that Freud had from early age an intuitive sense of a “hidden fault of the father” linked to his own identity, which may have combined with memories of his father’s sexual abuse on himself and his brother and sisters. During his self-analysis at the age of 40, the whole thing came knocking at the door of his consciousness, but he finally surrendered to the subconscious imperative to “close the eyes.” To cover-up the menacing truth of his father’s faults, Freud invented the Oedipus complex, charging children themselves of “polymorphous perversion.”

Balmary points out that, in his personnal identification with the hero Oedipus (who solved the riddle of the Sphinx), Freud truncated the myth. According to Greek tragedians, Oedipus’ father Laius was cursed by the gods for seducing a young teenage boy and leading to his suicide. Then, frightened by the oracle’s prophecy that he would be killed by his own son if he conceived one, Laius had his newborn son abandoned in the forest, “ankles pierced by the middle with iron spikes” (Euripides, The Phoenician Maidens). Thus, in the complete myth, Oedipus’ predestination to kill his father and marry his mother is not determined by his own impulses, but by the fault of his father. For Balmary, Freud’s ignorance of this part of the myth reveals and symbolizes his own blind spot, his failure to discover the secret guilt of the father—both his own father and, by consequence, the fathers of his neurotic and hysterical patients.

4. The “dark, emotional powers” of Jewishness

Neither Masson not Balmary deal with the Jewish aspect of the issue. Marianne Krüll hints that the father’s mandate to “close the eyes” was a question of “filial piety on which, ultimately, the entire Jewish tradition is based” (Krüll, p. 178), but, although Jewish herself, she does not insist on that aspect.

For an interesting reflection on the Jewish hidden background of the Oedipus complex, we can turn to the very stimulating book of John Murray Cuddihy, The Ordeal of Civility.[3] The author points out that Freud had been fascinated by Sophocles’ play Oedipus Rex from his adolescence. When he saw it played in 1885, it made again a deep and mysterious impression on him. Twelve years later, he wrote to Fliess (October 15, 1897) that he has found, with his new theory of universal repressed wishes of incest and parricide, the explanation for “the gripping power of Oedipus Rex.” In other words, comments Cuddihy, Freud “proposes a theory to explain the play’s power over him and to make ‘intelligible’ why he should identify so deeply with its hero, Oedipus. It is in the course of that effort that the core of the theory of psychoanalysis is born.”

But then, Cuddihy suggests that Freud failed to see the real origin of his fascination with Oedipus Rex. What had resonated deeply in him from the time he first read Oedipus Rex was not so much the general plot of the play (the hero killing his father and marrying his mother), as the circumstances in which Oedipus killed his father: coming down a narrow road, Oedipus was rudely ordered to step aside by the herald of the king, then was struck on the head by the king himself. Enraged, Oedipus slew the king, his herald and the rest of his retinue except one. This story—not acted but narrated in the play—bears an uncanny resemblance with another story that had made a lasting impression on Freud a few years earlier, as he explained in The Interpretation of Dreams. This is a story that his father, a shtetl Jew from Moravia—where Sigmund was born—, had told him when he was ten or twelve years old,

“to show how much better things were now than they had been in his days. ‘When I was a young man,’ he said, ‘I went for a walk one Saturday in the streets of your birthplace; I was well dressed, and had a new cap on my head. A Christian came up to me and with a single blow knocked off my cap into the mud and shouted: ‘Jew! get off the pavement!’ ‘And what did you do?’ I asked. ‘I went into the roadway and picked up my cap,’ was his quiet reply. This struck me as unheroic conduct on the part of the big, strong man who was holding the little boy by the hand. I had contrasted this situation with another which befitted my feelings better: the scene in which Hannibal’s father, Hamilcar Barca, made his boy swear before the household altar to take vengeance on the Romans. Ever since that time Hannibal had had a place in my fantasies.”

Freud, Cuddihy argues, had experienced shame of his father, and “to be ashamed of a father is a kind of ‘moral parricide.’”

“Freud presumably experienced not only this rage and shame, but guilt about the rage and shame. He quickly ‘censored’ these unacceptable feelings, unacceptable to a dutiful son ostensibly proud of his father; he ‘repressed’ them. Years later he encounters Sophocles’ tragedy and it lays a spell on him.”

Still later, after his father’s death, he rationalized this spell with a universal theory that discharged him from further inquiry into his own family story. “But the idee fixe that Oedipus was to become for Freud,” Cuddihy maintains, “hinges on a small detail (small, but structurally indispensable for the action of the story) that Freud never mentions in all the countless times he retells the ‘legend’: … a social insult, a discourtesy on the road, stemming from someone in a position of social superiority (King Laius to the unknown wayfarer, Oedipus, just as the Christian in Freiberg who forced Jacob Freud into the gutter).” According to Cuddihy, the supposedly universal “Oedipus Complex” that Freud thought he discovered was in reality the veil of a characteristically Jewish complex of his time.

Even if we judge that thesis overstrained (it is questionable how the phantasies of avenging and killing the father could merge), we can appreciate how Cuddihy draws attention to the fact that Freud’s father—the father whom he felt compelled to exculpate, but toward whom he nevertheless experienced a murder wish—was a Jewish father recently immigrated from Yiddishland into the heart of European civilization.

Freud’s disciple and first biographer Ernest Jones remarks that Freud “felt himself to be Jewish to the core, and evidently it meant a great deal to him.”[4] Books dealing specifically with Freud’s Jewishness (such as Moshe Gresser, Dual Allegiance: Freud as a Modern Jew, Sunny Press, 1994) can rely on several statements made by Freud himself, either in private correspondence or in Jewish environment. In the preface for the Hebrew translation of Totem and Taboo, for example, asking himself rhetorically what is Jewish in his work, Freud answered: “a very great deal, and probably its very essence.”[5] In a speech prepared for delivery at the B’nai B’rith Lodge in Vienna in 1926, Freud explained his motivation for joining thirty years earlier (1897):

“Whenever I have experienced feelings of national exaltation, I have tried to suppress them as disastrous and unfair, frightened by the warning example of those nations among which we Jews live. But there remained enough to make the attraction of Judaism and the Jews irresistible, many dark emotional powers all the stronger the less they could be expressed in words, as well as the clear consciousness of an inner identity, the familiarity of the same psychological structure. … So I became one of you.”[6]

This statement is an excellent illustration of what Cuddihy calls “the ordeal of civility,” the struggle of every Jew who wishes to assimilate yet feels unable to overcome the “dark emotional powers” of his ancestral Jewishness, with its implicit imperative not to assimilate. Jewishness has much to do with what Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy calls those “invisible loyalties” that can bind a person to his ancestors, by an irresistible system of values, obligations and debts.[7] The question is to what extent Freud’s psychoanalytical theory is the result of Freud’s surrender to those “dark emotional powers.”

We must take Freud seriously when he tells us, in The Interpretation of Dreams, that his own Jewishness took the form of an identification with Hannibal, and the fantasy of “taking vengeance on the Romans.” He went on to say:

“I myself had walked in Hannibal’s footsteps … Hannibal, with whom I had achieved this point of similarity, had been my favourite hero during my years at the Gymnasium; … Moreover, when I finally came to realize the consequences of belonging to an alien race, and was forced by the anti-Semitic feeling among my classmates to take a definite stand, the figure of the Semitic commander assumed still greater proportions in my imagination. Hannibal and Rome symbolized, in my youthful eyes, the struggle between the tenacity of the Jews and the organization of the Catholic Church. The significance for our emotional life which the anti-Semitic movement has since assumed helped to fix the thoughts and impressions of those earlier days. Thus the desire to go to Rome has in my dream-life become the mask and symbol for a number of warmly cherished wishes, for whose realization one had to work with the tenacity and single-mindedness of the Punic general, though their fulfillment at times seemed as remote as Hannibal’s life-long wish to enter Rome.”

The significance of this public confession, printed in 1899 for all the world to read, cannot be overestimated. Here Freud names as the driving force in his life the fantasy of entering Rome (the Christian world) and destroying it to avenge the Phoenicians (the Jews).

If Freud was deeply influenced by his Jewish background, so were the other founding members of the psychoanalytical movement. Dennis Klein writes in Jewish Origins of the Psychoanalytic Movement:

“From its beginning in 1902 to 1906, all 17 members were Jewish. The full significance of this number lies again in the way their viewed themselves, for the analysts were aware of their Jewishness and frequently maintained a sense of Jewish purpose and solidarity. … this feeling of positive Jewish pride formed the matrix of the movement in the psychoanalytic circle: As a spur to renewed independence, it tightened the bond among the members and powered their self-image of a redemptive elite.”[8]

The exception is Carl Jung, whom Freud named president of the International Psychoanalytical Association in 1910 precisely to deflect the reproach that psychoanalysis was a “Jewish science.”[9] Interestingly, Jung is the only member who never subscribed to Freud’s theory of infantile sexuality. In response to a letter by Karl Abraham, who complained that “Jung seems to be reverting to his former spiritualistic inclinations,” Freud explained : “it is really easier for you than it is for Jung to follow my ideas, for … you stand nearer to my intellectual constitution because of racial kinship (Rassenverwandtschaft).” Freud asked Abraham not to antagonize Jung because “it was only by his appearance on the scene that psychoanalysis escaped the danger of becoming a Jewish national affair.”[10]

In contrast to Jung, Abraham was the most zealot supporter of Freud’s theory of infantile sexuality. In The History of the Psychoanalytic Movement, 1919, Freud wrote that, “The last word in the question of traumatic etiology was later on said by Abraham, when he drew attention to the fact that just the peculiar nature of the child’s sexual constitution enables it to provoke sexual experiences of a peculiar kind, that is to say, traumas” (self-inflicted traumas, so to speak). Freud was referring to a 1907 paper by Abraham, “The Experiencing of Sexual Trauma as a Form of Sexual Activity.” It is perhaps significant that Abraham, son of an Orthodox rabbi, was also the most ethnocentric of Freud’s disciples. He wrote in 1913 an essay “On Neurotic Exogamy,” diagnosing Jewish men who say they “could never marry a Jewess” with a neurosis resulting from “disappointed incestuous love.”[11]

5. Denial, projection, inversion

I suggest that Freud’s abandon of the seduction theory and its cover-up by the Oedipus complex were motivated, half-unconsciously at least, by Freud’s loyalty, not only to his father, but to his Jewish community. In the 1890s, Freud’s clientele was drawn exclusively from the Jewish middle class. Imagine if Freud’s seduction theory had earned him the recognition he craved for: although he disguised the identity of his patients in his case studies, it would not have been long before his work was attacked, not just as “Jewish science,” but as evidence of the depravity of Jewish mores.

However, I don’t think Freud reasoned consciously in this manner. As he was turning a blind eye on the incestuous sexuality of his patients’ families, his blindness was not fake, but psychologically constrained; it is the blindness that characterizes Jewishness. At the core, Jewishness is the conviction, deeply internalized from the earliest age, of the superiority of Jews over non-Jews—“chosenness”. Anything contradicting this superiority creates a cognitive dissonance which is overcome by denial.

Denial means projection: to protect the dirty secret of child abuse in Jewish families—including his own—, Freud projected an imaginary repressed infantile perversion on all mankind. Projection, in turn, means inversion: Freud’s close disciple Otto Rank claimed that Jews had a more primitive, and therefore more healthy sexuality than Gentiles (Rank, “The Essence of Judaism,” 1905). Freudians and Freudo-Marxists have systematically denounced Christian civilization as suffering from sexual repression. According to Wilhelm Reich, anti-Semitism is itself a symptom of sexual frustration, and could be cured by sexual liberation (The Mass Psychology of Fascism, 1934)—an improvement from Leo Pinsker’s theory that Judeophobia was a “hereditary” and “incurable” “disease transmitted for two thousand years.”[12] In order to understand the psychological background of this Reichian messianic mission to cure the Christian West, and in order to see more clearly the projective nature of the psychoanalytical theory of repression, it is helpful to know the personal story of Wilhelm Reich, which reads as a caricature of Freud’s: At ten years old, when he realized that his mother was having an affair with his tutor, the young Wilhelm thought of blackmailing his mother into having sex with him. Eventually, he confided in his father about his mother’s adultery. In 1910, after a period of beatings from his father, his mother committed suicide, for which Reich blamed himself.[13]

One of the most puzzling aspects of Jews’ relationship with their host nations is its ambivalence—patterned on biblical “history”: within Jewish thinking, saving the nations and destroying them are not two sides of the same coin, but one and the same, because what nations are supposed to be cured of is their very identity (their gods, in biblical terms). According to Andrew Heinze, author of Jews and the American Soul, Jews have shaped “American ideas about the mind and soul” with the preoccupation “to purge the evils they associated with Christian civilization.”[14] It really started with Freud. In September 1909, invited to give a series of lectures in New England, Freud jokingly asked his companions, Sandor Ferenczi and Carl Jung: “Don‘t they know we’re bringing them the plague?”[15] An extraordinary statement for a medical doctor pretending to have found a “cure” for neurosis. And a prophetic one: Freudism became a justification for a sexual “liberation” that can be seen in retrospect as a massive sexual abuse of the youth.

Sigmund’s grandson Sir Clement Freud, British MP, pedophile, rapist, and suspected murderer of a three-year-old girl
Sigmund’s grandson Sir Clement Freud, British MP, pedophile, rapist, and suspected murderer of a three-year-old girl

6. B’nai B’rith and the road to fame

By a stunning coincidence, Freud was initiated into the recently founded B’nai B’rith in September 1897, precisely the time of his conversion to the dogma of infantile sexuality. Dennis Klein writes in chapter 3 of his book (“The Prefiguring of the Psychoanalytic Movement: Freud and the B’nai B’rith”) that after the bitter disappointment of being denied professorship, “Freud filled, through the B’nai B’rith, the professional as well as the social vacuum in his life.” He was a very active member attending almost every meeting during the first decade, his most productive years. He recruited at least three members and in 1901 was a founding father of a second lodge in Vienna, the Harmony Lodge. The same year, he gave a talk on “Goals and Purposes of the B’nai B’rith Societies.” Freud often presented his work to the B’nai B’rith before publishing it. In this respect, writes Klein, the Viennese B’nai B’rith lodge “was a precursor of the movement of psychoanalysis.” “After his death in 1939, the B’nai B’rith of Vienna continued, relentlessly, the support granted during his lifetime to the famous ‘brother.’”[16]

To what extent were the B’nai B’rith masonic meetings influential in Freud’s swing from the seduction theory to the Oedipus theory? No one can say. However, we can hold as fairly certain that Freud’s membership in the B’nai B’rith was influential in his becoming one of the major intellectual stars and gurus of modernity.

As a scientist, Freud was a failure, duped by his own unconscious and his unrealistic confidence that he could solve the human enigma by self-analysis alone. He was also an impostor who, in his published case studies, invented cures when they was none (as investigations into the real biographies of his patients have shown).[17] True, he was sometimes insightful. But the hagiographic image of Freud as the “discoverer of the unconscious” is totally unwarranted, as Henri Ellenberger has shown in his classic study, The Discovery of the Unconscious:

“throughout the nineteenth century there existed a well-rounded system of dynamic psychiatry. … The basic features of the first dynamic psychiatry were the use of hypnosis as an approach to the unconscious mind, the interest in certain specific conditions called ‘magnetic diseases,’ the concept of a dual model of the mind with a conscious and an unconscious ego, the belief in the psychogenesis of many emotional and physical conditions, and the use of specific psychotherapeutic procedures; the therapeutic channel was seen as being the ‘rapport’ between hypnotist and patient. … the cultural impact of the first dynamic psychiatry was far greater than is generally believed.”[18]

It could easily be argued that, in matters of psychology, every sensible thing that Freud said had been said before him, and that almost everything he said that hadn’t been said before has been proven wrong.

So why did Freud become so famous? The long answer is that Freud benefitted from the same kind of communication networking that produced many other Jewish intellectual “geniuses”, and made French novelist André Gide comment in 1914 (in his diary) about “this tendency to constantly emphasize the Jew, … this predisposition to recognizing in him talent, even genius”[19] The shorter answer to the question above is: B’nai B’rith. I will not suggest that the B’nai B’rith supported Freud’s Oedipus theory because they saw its potential for the moral corruption of the West. Nor do I suggest that the B’nai B’rith and Freud conspired to ruin Western civilization with the pestilential idea of infantile sexuality. But I do suggest that, had Freud maintained his earlier conviction in the reality of the abuses suffered by his Jewish patients, he would not have received as much support.

To clarify this point, it is appropriate to recall a memorable demonstration of power by the B’nai B’rith, which has an obvious relevance to Freud’s intellectual biography. In 1913, the B’nai B’rith created the Anti-Defamation League to save the life and the reputation of Leo Frank, the wealthy young president of the Atlanta chapter of B’nai B’rith, who was convicted of the rape and murder of Mary Phagan, a thirteen-year-old girl working in his pencil factory. The evidence for Frank’s guilt was overwhelming, but tremendous financial resources were deployed for his legal defense—including false testimonies—and an intense publicity was orchestrated in the news media, with the New York Times devoting enormous coverage to the case. I quote from Ron Unz’s article:

“For almost two years, the nearly limitless funds deployed by Frank’s supporters covered the costs of thirteen separate appeals on the state and federal levels, including to the U.S. Supreme Court, while the national media was used to endlessly vilify Georgia’s system of justice in the harshest possible terms. Naturally, this soon generated a local reaction, and during this period outraged Georgians began denouncing the wealthy Jews who were spending such enormous sums to subvert the local criminal justice system. … All appeals were ultimately rejected and Frank’s execution date for the rape and murder of the young girl finally drew near. But just days before he was scheduled to leave office, Georgia’s outgoing governor commuted Frank’s sentence, provoking an enormous storm of popular protest, especially since he was the legal partner of Frank’s chief defense lawyer, an obvious conflict of interest. … A few weeks later, a group of Georgia citizens stormed Frank’s prison farm, abducting and hanging him, with Frank becoming the first and only Jew lynched in American history.”

Thanks to the mobilization of the Jewish power elite—“as one man”—, Leo Frank has been turned from a convicted pedophile and child murderer into a martyr of anti-Semitism. We don’t know what Freud thought of the case, but there is an obvious resonance between his “assault on truth” and the B’nai B’rith’s. If young Mary Phagan had visited a Freudian psychoanalyst before her atrocious death, and complained of her boss’ sexual overtures, she probably would have been told about her own “penis envy”; had she protested, she would have been told that her protest proved her sexual repression—exactly as happened to Freud’s patient Dora, Ida Bauer by her real name, an eighteen-year-old girl suffering from hysterical symptoms.[20]

Mary Phagan
Mary Phagan

7. The Isaac complex

The son’s repressed wish to murder his father is perhaps Freud’s most fertile intuition. The problem is with Freud’s abusive generalization. Only the neurotic son of a destructive and manipulative father has a repressed wish to “kill the father.” Freud discovered this impulse in himself, and, confounding his self-analysis for a scientific quest of universal laws, he projected it on all mankind. But the fact that Freud’s Jewish disciples all discovered the same impulse, and that Freudism became so widely accepted by Jews, suggests that Freud’s generalization was not without merit. It only suffered from the tendency of Jewish intellectuals to project Jewish issues on all humankind. The child’s repressed wish to kill his father is not universally human, but may be characteristically Jewish. For the Jewish father is the guardian of Jewishness and the representative of the Jewish god. And every Jew aspires in the depth of his soul to free himself from Yahweh, the archetypal abusive and castrating Father. As Philip Roth’s character Smilesburger says in Operation Shylock: “To appeal to a crazy, violent father, and for three thousand years, that is what it is to be a crazy Jew!”[21] And so the secret wish to murder the Jewish father is also a secret wish for the death of the Jewish god. It is therefore identical with the so-called “Jewish self-hatred” that Theodor Lessing saw as affecting every Jew without exception: “There is not a single man of Jewish blood in whom cannot be detected at least the beginning of Jewish self-hatred.”[22]

By choosing a Greek myth as a metaphor for his theory, Freud was projecting on Gentiles a Jewish problem. Had he recognized the Jewish overtone of the complex, he might have called it the “Isaac complex,” since Isaac is the son that Abraham was willing to slaughter.

The expression “Isaac complex” has actually been used by French heterodox psychoanalyst Jean-Pierre Fresco, who defines it as “the overall consequences in the son’s psyche of a father perceived as psychologically menacing, destroying or murderous.”[23] Fresco calls such a father “Abrahamic.” He draws his insight from a reading of Franz Kafka’s autobiographical and posthumously published Letter to the father, in which Kafka describes the devastating effect on his personality of a father whose means of education were “abuse, threats, irony, spiteful laughter, and—oddly enough—self-pity.” Kafka also wrote to his father: “My writing was all about you, all I did there, after all, was to bemoan what I could not bemoan upon your breast.”

Kafka’s major novels refer autobiographically to his relationship with his father and its deleterious psychic consequences. The Metamorphosis tells of Gregor Samsa’s transformation into a repulsive insect chased and killed by his father, whose incestuous violence is suggested in the scene where the father attacks his son from behind with a cane, tapping his feet and “pushing out sibilants, like a wild man.” After the death of Gregor appears his sister Grete, his double in the other sex, the homosexualized son. In The Verdict, Georg (anagram of Gregor) has just become engaged with Frieda Brandenfeld (same initials as Felice Bauer, the woman that Kafka had just started dating), and announces it to his father. The father opposes a terrible prohibition to this project of marriage, accompanied by extreme narcissistic violence. The paternal prohibition of emancipation through marriage is linked to an incestuous domination that becomes clear when Georg submissively proposes to the father to exchange beds. Fresco also finds the psychic trace of the father in Kafka’s novel The Trial, whose narrator Joseph K. was arrested without knowing who slandered him nor who will judge him. According to Fresco, this uncomprehensible and omnipotent slanderer-accuser-judge is “the palimpsest of an archaic Abrahamic father unconsciously introjected as an archaic and sadistic superego, and turned into an inner persecutor.”

I find it very significant that Kafka—by his own admission—drew his inspiration from his experience as the son of a psychopathic father, while his Jewish literary critics consider him quintessentially Jewish. “By common consent,” said Harold Bloom, “Kafka is not only the strongest modern Jewish writer, but the Jewish writer.”[24] (Hence Israel’s decade-long legal battle to secure his autograph manuscripts as national treasure.) Who is right, of Kafka and his critics? Does his genius come from his being Jewish, or from his having a psychopathic father? Obviously, it is impossible to distinguish the two factors, because the psychopathic father happens to be Jewish; he is, in Fresco’s terms, the typical “Abrahamic father.” But are not all Jewish fathers Abrahamic in the measure of their Jewishness? Is not the Jewish god a psychopathic father—and the psychopathic father a Jewish god?

Kafka perceived his sadistic father as a cruel divinity, whose laws were totally arbitrary and yet unquestionable, just like the Jewish god: “for me as a child everything you called out to me was positively a heavenly commandment,” he wrote in his Letter to the Father. “From your armchair you ruled the world. Your opinion was correct, every other was mad, wild, meshugge, not normal. Your self-confidence indeed was so great that you had no need to be consistent at all and yet never ceased to be in the right.”

“Hence the world was for me divided into three parts: one in which I, the slave, lived under laws that had been invented only for me and which I could, I did not know why, never completely comply with; then a second world, which was infinitely remote from mine, in which you lived, concerned with government, with the issuing of orders and with the annoyance about their not being obeyed; and finally a third world where everybody else lived happily and free from orders and from having to obey. I was continually in disgrace; either I obeyed your orders, and that was a disgrace, for they applied, after all, only to me; or I was defiant, and that was a disgrace too, for how could I presume to defy you; or I could not obey because I did not, for instance, have your strength, your appetite, your skill, although you expected it of me as a matter of course; this was the greatest disgrace of all.”

8. The trauma of eight-day circumcision

Above all, the Abrahamic father is the executionneer of the commandment given to Abraham: “As soon as he is eight days old, every one of your males, generation after generation, must be circumcised” (Genesis 17:12). Had Freud preserved his original insight into the psychological damage of sexual abuse on children, he might have eventually reflected on the impact of neonatal circumcision. But he has been rather discreet on the subject—though he didn’t have his own sons circumcised. He broaches it in his latest books, but only in the context of anthropological speculations. In New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, he speculated that “during the human family’s primeval period, castration used to be carried out by a jealous and cruel father upon growing boys,” and that “circumcision, which so frequently plays a part in puberty rites among primitive people, is a clearly recognizable relic of it.”[25] Freud went further in Moses and Monotheism:

“Circumcision is a symbolical substitute of castration, a punishment which the primeval father dealt his sons long ago out of the awfulness of his power, and whosoever accepted this symbol showed by so doing that he was ready to submit to his father’s will, although it was at the cost of a painful sacrifice.”[26]

Interestingly, Freud originally got that idea from Sandor Ferenczi, who had written in an article that greatly impressed Freud, that circumcision is “a means of inspiring terror, a symbol of castration by the father.”[27]

But we note that in the above quotations Freud isn’t referring to Jewish circumcision of eight-day-old children, only to circumcision of adolescent boys. Given the Jewish undercurrent in Freud’s intellectual biography, it is reasonable to assume that his inability to deal with the issue of Jewish neonatal circumcision is connected to his refusal to face the devastating reality of child abuse. Isn’t the first abuse suffered by every Jewish male from the part of his parents and kins, circumcision on the eighth day? It physically impresses on every Jew, and on all Jews collectively, the traumatic domination of Yahweh and his Covenant.

The psychological impact of neonatal circumcision, performed without anesthesia and causing unbearable pain, has been studied by Professor Ronald Goldman, author of Circumcision, the Hidden Trauma. His research shows a disturbance in the mother-child bonding process after the ritual.[28] Testimonies from “Mothers Who Observed Circumcision” show that the mothers’ guilt is also part of the equation. Here is one, from Elizabeth Pickard-Ginsburg:

“I don’t feel I can recover from it. […] We had this beautiful baby boy and seven beautiful days and this beautiful rhythm starting, and it was like something had been shattered! … When he was first born there was a tie with my young one, my newborn. And when the circumcision happened, in order to allow it I had to cut off the bond. I had to cut off my natural instincts, and in doing so I cut off a lot of feelings towards Jesse. I cut it off to repress the pain and to repress the natural instinct to stop the circumcision.”

The unnatural incestuous wish that Freud and his Jewish male disciples discovered in their repressed unconscious could perhaps be explained as a result of the inhibition in mother-child bonding caused by the trauma of neonatal circumcision. A trauma caused at this age has little chance to ever be brought back into consciousness and be healed. More research is perhaps needed on the possible link between Jewish circumcision and the fact, according to the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, that “the Jews are more subject to diseases of the nervous system than the other races and peoples among which they dwell.”[29]

Research done by sociologist Leo Srole in 1962 showed that the rate of neuroses and character disorders among Jews was about three times as high as among Catholics and Protestants.[30]

In The Future of an Illusion, Sigmund Freud describes “religion”—meaning essentially Christianity—as a “universal obsessional neurosis” which has for believers the merit that “their acceptance of the universal neurosis spares them the task of constructing a personal one.”[31] With a similar approach, Judaism can be described as a “collective sociopathy.” This does not mean that “the Jews” are sociopaths, but rather that, in proportion to the degree of their identification as Jews, they are victims of a sociopathic mindset patterned from the Tanakh, “marked in their flesh” (impressed traumatically in their subconscious) by circumcision, and fuel by their elites with the paranoia of anti-Semitism. The difference between collective sociopathy and individual sociopathy is the same as between collective neurosis and individual neurosis according to Freud: participation in a collective sociopathic mentality allows members of the community to channel sociopathic tendencies toward the outside of the community, and to maintain inside a high degree of sociability.

Laurent Guyénot, Ph.D., is the author of From Yahweh to Zion: Jealous God, Chosen People, Promised Land … Clash of Civilizations, 2018, and JFK-9/11: 50 years of Deep State, Progressive Press, 2014.


[1] Jeffrey Masson, The Assault on Truth: Freud’s Suppression of the Seduction Theory, Farrar Strauss & Giroud, 1984.

[2] For instance, Nicolas Abraham and Maria Török, L’Écorce et le Noyau, Aubier-Flammarion, 1978.

[3] John Murray Cuddihy, The Ordeal of Civility: Freud, Marx, Lévi-Strauss, and the Jewish Struggle with Modernity, Delta Book, 1974 (on, chapter 4, pp. 48-57.

[4] Ernest Jones, The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud, vol. 1, The FormativeYears and the Great Discoveries, 1856-1900, Basic Books, 1953, p. 22, quoted by John Murray Cuddihy, The Ordeal of Civility: Freud, Marx, Lévi-Strauss, and the Jewish Struggle with Modernity, Delta Book, 1974 (on, p. 24.

[5] Richard J. Bernstein, Freud and the Legacy of Moses, Cambridge UP, 1998, p. 1, on

[6] Sigmund Freud, “On Being of the B’nai B’rith,” reprinted in Commentary, March 1946, pp. 23-24, quoted in Peter Homans, The Ability to Mourn: Disillusionment and the Social Origins of Psychoanalysis, University of Chicago Press, 1989, p. 71.

[7] Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy, Invisible Loyalties: Reciprocity in Intergenerational Family Therapy, Harper & Row, 1973.

[8] Dennis B Klein, Jewish origins of the psychoanalytic movement, The University of Chicago press, 1985, p. xi.

[9] Andrew Heinze, Jews and the American Soul: Human Nature in the Twentieth Century, Princeton University Press, 2004.

[10] Moshe Gresser, Dual Allegiance: Freud as a Modern Jew, State University of New York Press, 1994, p. 138; Cuddihy, The Ordeal of Civility, op. cit., p. 77.

[11] Karl Abraham, “On Neurotic Exogamy,” in Clinical Papers and Essays on Psycho-analysis: The Selected Papers of Karl Abraham, ed. Hilda Abraham, trans. Hilda Abraham and D. R. Elison, Basic Books, 1955, p. 48-50.

[12] Leon Pinsker, Auto-Emancipation: An Appeal to His People by a Russian Jew, 1882, on

[13] Myron Sharaf, Fury on Earth: A Biography of Wilhelm Reich, St. Martin’s Press, 1983, retold by Gilad Atzmon in Being in Time: A Post-Political Manifesto, Skyscraper, 2017, pp. 93-94.

[14] Andrew Heinze, Jews and the American Soul: Human Nature in the Twentieth Century, Princeton University Press, 2006, pp. 3, 352.

[15] George Prochnik, Putnam Camp: Sigmund Freud, James Jackson Putnam, and the Purpose of American Psychology, Other Press, 2006, p. 422.

[16] Dennis B. Klein, Jewish origins of the psychoanalytic movement, The University of Chicago press, 1985, p. 74; Alain Lelouch, “Freud (1856-1939) au B’nai B’rith,” on

[17] Richard Webster, Why Freud was Wrong, Orwell Edition, 2005.

[18] Henri F. Ellenberger, The Discovery of the Unconscious: The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry, Basic Books, 1981, p. vii.

[19] André Gide, Œuvres complètes, Gallimard, 1933, tome VIII, p. 571.

[20] Kevin MacDonald, The Culture of Critique: Toward an Evolutionary Theory of Jewish Involvement in Twentieth-Century Intellectual and Political Movements, Praeger, 1998, p. 124.

[21] Philip Roth, Operation Shylock: A Confession, Simon & Schuster, 1993, p. 110.

[22] Theodor Lessing, La Haine de soi: ou le refus d’être juif (1930), Pocket, 2011, pp. 68.

[23] Jean-Pierre Fresco, “Kafka et le complexe d’Isaac ,” Le Coq-Héron, 2003/2 (n° 173), pp. 108-120, on

[24] “Foreword” in Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory (1982), University of Washington Press, 2011.

[25] Sigmund Freud, New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1933), Hogarth Press, 1964, p. 86.

[26] Sigmund Freud, Moses and Monotheism, Hogarth Press, 1939, p. 192.

[27] Sandor Ferenczi, Further Contributions to the Theory and Technique of Psycho-Analysis (1926), Hogart Press, 1999, p. 228.

[28] Ronald Goldman, Circumcision, the Hidden Trauma: How an American Cultural Practice Affects Infants and Ultimately Us All, Vanguard, 1997.

[29] “Nervous diseases,” by Joseph Jacobs and Maurice Fishberg, on www.jewishency

[30] Leo Srole, Mental Health in the Metropolis: The Midtown Manhattan Study, McGraw-Hill, 1962, New York UP, 1978; Nathan Agi, “The Neurotic Jew,” The Beacon, December 5, 2011.

[31] Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion, Hogarth Press, 1928 , p. 76.