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Letters Volume II

To F.V. Tischendorf

Dear Colleague, 19 April 1958

You have posed a rather ticklish question for where “national character” is concerned the most unlikely people become sensitive and sometimes even go to the length of asserting that no such thing exists.

Just as a person refuses to recognize his own shadow side, so, but all the more strongly, he hates recognizing the shadow side of the nation behind which he is so fond of concealing himself.

At any rate, remarks on national character, particularly when they are to the point, are the least appreciated and are fought tooth and nail.

Furthermore, a psychology that takes its stand on nationality does not yet exist, or is only in its most tentative beginnings.

For this a mind is required that is not only not blinded by national prejudice but is also capable of seeing other nationalities objectively, that is,not in terms of its own national bias.

This prerequisite is most exacting and is seldom if ever met with.

As a Swiss, my situation is such that by nature my heart is divided into four and because of the smallness of our country I can count on coming into contact at least with the four surrounding nations or cultural complexes.

In so far as I am to some extent international and well acquainted with the Anglo-Saxon world, and have also learned a thing or two about Oriental cultures, I might almost fancy myself capable of saying something almost to the point.

But on the other hand I must admit that the limited horizon of the Swiss Can be effectively preserved only thanks to a national prejudice.

We experience nationality as a peculiar factor that differs essentially from the national feeling of other peoples.

The strength of the prejudice depends very much on whether one belongs to a numerically small or large nation.

These prejudices are unavoidable and, I would say, of almost superhuman proportions.

That is why no useful work has yet been done on the psychology of nations.

With special regard to “road behaviour,” a psychological approach to this problem would first of all have to concern itself with the psychology of the persons suffering and causing accidents, and only then seek to establish the more general conditions to which individual modes of behaviour can be reduced.

The primarily personal causes of negligence or recklessness derive from a whole series of more or less typical attitudes which are well known to the characterologist.

Less known are those causes which are not traits of character or behaviour but derive from general assumptions.

Here we enter the realm of assumptions underlying national psychology, general consciousness of the law, religious ideas, etc.

Investigation of these conditions then necessarily leads to observations on national differences.

One of the most important points in this respect is one’s attitude towards emotionality, and to what extent an affect is held to be controllable or not.

The English believe in controlling emotions and bring up their children accordingly.

Having emotions is “bad taste” and proof of “bad upbringing.”

The Italians cultivate their emotions and admire them, for which reason they become relatively harmless and at most absorb too much time and attention.

The Germans feel entitled to their manly anger, the French adore analysing their emotions rationally so as not to have to take them seriously.

The Swiss, if they are well brought up, do not trust themselves to give vent to their emotions.

The Indians, if influenced by Buddhism, habitually depotentiate their emotions by reciting a mantra.

Thus, in Ceylon, I once saw two peasants get their carts stuck together, which in any other part of the world would have led to endless vituperation.

But they settled the matter by murmuring the mantra “aduca anatman” (passing disturbance-no soul).

The high figures for motoring accidents, relatively the same in all
countries, show that none of these attitudes is an adequate palliative.

Only the way in which accidents come about or are dealt with displays certain differences.

With the exception of the English and the Buddhists, nobody is aware that an affect is in itself a morbid condition.

The well-known fact that the Englishman feels at home everywhere comes out in the story of the Austrian and the Englishman.

The Austrian says to him: “I see you’re a stranger here.”

The Englishman replies: “Of course not, I’m British!”

This kind of prejudice can make a motorist very careless and reckless.

The German feels a stranger everywhere because he suffers from a national feeling of inferiority.

Consequently, he lets himself be far too much impressed by foreign ways and habits, and at the same time feels obliged to protest against them, thus making himself thoroughly unpopular.

The Italian will tell you a lie because he doesn’t want to make a disagreeable impression.

The well brought up Frenchman is extremely polite in order to keep you at a distance.

The American is a problem in himself.

It is his national prejudice to be as harmless as possible, or at least to appear so.

He has the unpleasant task of having to assimilate primitive cultures in his midst, and to do this he has to believe pre-eminently in himself in order to escape infection.

As a result, he is always animated by the best motives and is profoundly unconscious of his own shadow.

You see from these examples that all sorts of apen;us can be arrived at, but they lack any kind of system because the subject is too large.

National prejudice is something bigger than the individual and is answered by compensations coming from the collective unconscious.

This causes almost insuperable difficulties for the rational intellect.

Hence, too, the old idea that every country or people has its own angel, just as the earth has a soul.

And in the same way that nations lead lives of their own, the unconscious compensation has an existence of its own which manifests itself in a special development of symbols.

It can be seen in religious and political developments as well-for instance, loss of monarchy and difficulties in establishing a democracy; or, as in England, retention of monarchy and a correspondingly smoother course of democratic development.

The French have never got over the murder of their king.

For France as well as Germany democracy is not a uniting bond but an unleashing of regional interests having all the marks of an infantile condition.

The fact that one can go on with these aperqus ad infinitum Demonstrates the unwieldiness of the problem.

Thanks to my profession and my clients, I have an intimate knowledge of modern man in his national setting.

But for that very reason I could in no circumstances muster up the courage to tackle this problem.

If the psychology of individuals is still only in its beginnings, how much more so is the psychology of nations-not to mention the psychology of mankind.

We are still a long way from being able to frame generally valid theories, let alone construct a system.

Even if, undeterred by age, I tried to fulfill the task you have set me, this tour de force would nonetheless be impossible to bring off because the difficulty of the problem far exceeds my powers.

All the same, I am extremely interested that you have recognized its existence so clearly.

I feel rather like old Moses, who was permitted to cast but a fleeting glance into the land of ethno-psychological problems.

Yours sincerely,

C.G. Jung ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. II, Pages 430-433