[Carl Jung’s defense of Erich Neumann.]

To Jilrg Fierz.

Dear Dr. Fierz, 13 January 1949

Above all you must realize that I am not in the habit of interfering with my pupils.

I have neither the right nor the might to do that.

They can draw such conclusions as seem right to them and must accept full responsibility for it.

There have been so many pupils of mine who have fabricated every sort of rubbish from what they took over from .me.

I have never said that I stand “uncompromisingly” behind Neumann.

There is naturally no question of that.

It should be obvious that I have my reservations.

If you want to understand Neumann properly you must realize that he is writing in the spiritual vacuum of Tel-Aviv.

Nothing can come out of that place for the moment except a monologue.

He writes as he fancies. No doubt this is provocative, but I have found that provocative books are by no means the worst.

The get people’s goat only because such people cannot be reached in any other way.

If people want to know what I think about these things they have my books, and everyone is free to listen to my views.

They could just as well read my books instead of getting worked up about Neumann.

If I recommend his book it is chiefly because it shows the sort of conclusions you come to when you ruthlessly think out ethical problems to the end.

One must also remember that Neumann is a Jew and consequently knows Christianity only from the outside; and further, that it has been drastically demonstrated to the Jews that evil is continually projected.

For the rest-where confession is concerned-it is indeed the case that if a person does not regard something as a sin he has no need to confess it.

If Neumann recommends the “inner voice” as the criterion of ethical behaviour instead of the Christian conscience, this is in complete agreement with the Eastern view that in everybody’s heart there dwells a judge who knows all his evil thoughts.

In this respect Neumann also stands on the best footing with very many Christian mystics.

If the mentally insane assert the same thing, that has always been so, only one should know that the voices of the insane are somewhat different from what Neumann calls the inner voice.

Many insane people play themselves up as ethicists par excellence with no encouragement from Neumann.

There is of course no external justification for the inner voice, for the simple reason that nobody knows what is good and what evil.

It would all be terribly simple if we could go by the decalogue or the penal code or any other moral codex, since all the sins catalogued there are obviously so pointless or morbid that no reasonable person could fail to see how fatuous they are.

Ethical decision is concerned with very much more complicated things, namely conflicts of duty, the most diabolical things ever invented and at the same time the loneliest ever dreamt of by the loneliest of all, the Creator of the world.

In conflicts of duty one codex says Whoa there! and the other says Get up! and you are none the wiser for it.

It is an actual fact that what is good to one appears evil to the other.

You have only to think of the careworn mother who meddles in all her son’s doings-from the most selfless solicitude of course-but in reality with murderous effect.

For the mother it is naturally a good thing if the son does not do this and does not do that, and for the son it is simply moral and physical ruin-so scarcely a good thing.

You are quite right when you say that Neumann’s individual ethic makes far heavier demands on us than the Christian ethic does.

The only mistake Neumann commits here is a tactical one: he says out loud, imprudently, what was always true.

As soon as an ethic is set up as an absolute it is a catastrophe.

It can only be taken relatively, just as Neumann can only be understood relatively, that is, as a religious Jew of German extraction living in Tel-Aviv.

If one imagines one can simply make a clean sweep of all views of the world, one is deceiving oneself: views of the world are grounded in archetypes, which cannot be tackled so easily.

What Neumann offers us is the outcome of an intellectual operation which he had to accomplish for himself in order to gain a new basis for his ethic.

As a doctor he is profoundly impressed by the moral chaos and feels himself in the highest degree responsible.

Because of this responsibility he is trying to set the ethical problem to rights, not in order to give out a legal ukase but to clarify his ethical reflections, naturally in the expectation of doing this also for the world around him.

In reading such a book you must also consider what sort of a world we are living in.

You know, perhaps, that today Christianity is relativized by the splitting of the Church into so-and-so many million Catholics and so-and-so many million Protestants and that
Bolshevism reigns supreme from Thuiringen to Vladivostok-and on top of this there is an East with several billion non-Christians who have their views of the world too.

Since this world is one world we are faced with the question: How do we come to grips with it?

We cannot simply restrict ourselves to our view of the world, but must perforce find a standpoint from which a view will be possible that goes a little step beyond the Christian as well as the Buddhist, etc.

As a Christian you must exert yourself and make it your daily preoccupation to bridge the woeful conflict in the Church by finding a mediating position .

One cannot be simply Protestant or Catholic.

That is much too facile, for in the end the one is the other’s brother and this cannot be got rid of simply by declaring one of them invalid.

Neumann postulates a position which in the deepest sense is valid for everyone.

If there is an inner deciding factor it must be valid for all men.

The question is only: is there an inner voice, i .e., a vocation?

Undoubtedly there isn’t for 99% of humanity, just as a whole lot of things don’t exist for this vast majority for the simple reason that they don’t know about them.

There isn’t even a quite ordinary hygiene which would be valid for more than about 90% of humanity, let alone a corresponding moral code.

If ethical decision is not in the last resort somehow inherent in human nature, then the case is completely hopeless, for no book of laws has lasted in the long run.

Subjectively I am absolutely convinced of the inner deciding factor and my practical work with patients aims exclusively at bringing it to consciousness.

What you can learn from moral codes and manuals of morality and penal codes are practicalities which no intelligent person will overlook.

But no book of laws has ever been written for conflicts of duty and there alone does the real ethical problem begin.

There alone will you learn ethical responsibility.

Everything else is settled by adaptation and plain horse sense.

I do not regard it for a moment as particularly meritorious morally for a person to avoid everything that is customarily considered a sin.

Ethical value attaches only to those decisions which are reached in situations of supreme doubt.

That is the question that burns Neumann’s soul and in this he has my support, no matter whether my position is relativized or not. I am no opportunist, but I observe in this respect certain fundamental ethical principles and not utilitarian ones.

If I were to write about ethics I would naturally not express myself like Neumann.

But neither am I the Neumann who has been pushed by an atrocious fate into a militant counter-position.

If he has confronted the world with a difficulty which so-and-so many people have to torment themselves with, it does not surprise me in the least and I shall not fault him for that.

Nor can I regret it if these so-called Christians are tormented a bit.

They have richly deserved it.

They are always gabbling about Christian morality and I would just like to see someone for once who really follows it.

They can’t muster even the slightest understanding for Neumann, let alone brotherly love.

I only wish the Christians of today could see for once that what they stand for is not Christianity at all but a god-awful legalistic religion from which the founder himself tried to free them by following his voice and his vocation to the bitter end.

Had he not done so there would never have been a Christianity.

It is quite certain that the “community” will be outraged by this problem of an individual ethic, but that must be so for the question nowadays is: Community of whom or with whom? Not community as such, for we have always had that and what was the result?

The “people’s community” in Germany and suchlike.

It is high time people reflected how they are constituted or what is the constitution of the thing they want to introduce into a community.

A bad cause is not made better by multiplying it by 10,000 and 100 rapscallions do not add up to a single decent man.

As a first rule for book-reading I would recommend you always to consider who the author is.

We should have learnt by now that thoughts expressed by words never represent anything absolute, and that only the clueless make themselves new garments out of the rags of thought.

With best regards,

Yours sincerely,

C.G. Jung ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. 1, Pages 518-522.

Image: Erich Neumann
Image: Erich Neumann, Carl Jung, Mircea Eliade

Depth Psychology and a New Ethic by Erich Neumann http://www.amazon.com/dp/0877735719/ref=cm_sw_r_pi_dp_DedGub1597JN8

Liked it? Take a second to support lewislafontaine on Patreon!