The Holiness of Sin: Freud, the Frankfurt School and the Kabbalah

by David Livingstone

MK-Ultra, the CIA’s infamous “mind control” program, was an extension of the behavior control research conducted by the Tavistock Institute. Formed at Oxford University, London, in 1920 by the Royal Institute for International Affairs (RIIA), a sister organization to the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) created by the Round Table, the Tavistock Clinic became the Psychiatric Division of the British Army during World War II.[1] The clinic took its name from its benefactor Herbrand Russell, Marquees of Tavistock, 11th Duke of Bedford. The Dukes of Bedford was the title inherited by the influential Russell family, one of the most prominent aristocratic families in Britain who came to power and the peerage with the rise of the Tudor dynasty. Herbrand Russell and arch-conspirator Bertrand Russell shared the same great-grandfather, John Russell, 6th Duke of Bedford. Bertrand Russell was descended from John Russell’s third son, Bertrand’s grandfather, John Russell, 1st Earl Russell, who served twice as Prime Minister of England in the 1840s and 1860s. Herbrand Russell’s son, Hastings Russell, Lord Tavistock, the 12th Duke of Bedford, went on to become a patron of the British Peoples Party, a far-right political party founded in 1939 and led by ex-members of Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. It was he whom Rudolf Hess flew to England to contact about ending World War II.

The basis of the project of the Tavistock Institute was explained by Round Tabler, Lord Bertrand Russell, is considered one of the founders of analytic philosophy along with his predecessor Gottlob Frege and his protégé Ludwig Wittgenstein, and is widely held to be one of the twentieth century’s premier logicians. Russell offered a revealing glimpse into Frankfurt School’s mass social engineering efforts, in his 1951 book, The Impact of Science on Society:

I think the subject which will be of most importance politically is mass psychology… Its importance has been enormously increased by the growth of modern methods of propaganda. Of these the most influential is what is called “education.” Religion plays a part, though a diminishing one; the press, the cinema, and the radio play an increasing part…. It may be hoped that in time anybody will be able to persuade anybody of anything if he can catch the patient young and is provided by the State with money and equipment.

…Although this science will be diligently studied, it will be rigidly confined to the governing class. The populace will not be allowed to know how its convictions were generated. When the technique has been perfected, every government that has been in charge of education for a generation will be able to control its subjects securely without the need of armies or policemen.[2]

A successor organization, the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, was then founded in 1946 under a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation when it separated from the Tavistock Clinic. According to John Coleman, a former British Intelligence agent, it was Tavistock-designed methods that got the US into World War II and which, under the guidance of Dr. Kurt Lewin, established the OSS. Tavistock became known as the focal point in Britain for psychoanalysis and the psychodynamic theories of Sigmund Freud and his followers. Tavistock is ostensibly a British charity concerned with group behavior and organizational behavior. Tavistock engages in educational, research and consultancy work in the social sciences and applied psychology. Its clients are chiefly public sector organizations, including the European Union, several British government departments, and some private clients. Its network now extends from the University of Sussex to the US through the Stanford Research Institute (SRI), Esalen Institute, MIT, Hudson Institute, Brookings Institution, Aspen Institute, Heritage Foundation, the Center of Strategic and International Studies at Georgetown, US Air Force Intelligence, and the RAND Corporation.[3]

The Tavistock Institute’s projects were a follow-up on the work of the Frankfurt School, a predominantly Jewish group of philosophers and Marxist theorists who fled Germany when Hitler shut down their Institut für Sozialforschung, “Institute for Social Research,” at the University of Frankfurt. The school’s main figures sought to learn from and synthesize the works of such varied thinkers as Kant, Hegel, Marx, Freud, Weber and Lukacs, and focusing on the study and criticism of culture developed from the thought of Freud. The Frankfurt School’s most well-known proponents included Max Horkheimer, media theorist Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Walter Benjamin and Jurgen Habermas. Dr. Kurt Lewin, the founder of the study of “group dynamics,” was a member of the Frankfurt school in America, and an important influence on the work of the Tavistock.

In producing their critical theory, the Frankfurt School brought together the dialectical versions of history of Hegel and Marx. They were deeply influenced by Hegel’s idealism and dialectical interpretation of history and derived a sense of the power of Spirit(Geist) or of cultural forms in human cultural life. From Marx they derived a sense of the importance of material forces in history and the role of economics in human and social life. They were also heavily influenced by Nietzsche, particularly his critiques of mass culture, society, morality and the state, which in Thus Spake Zarathustra, he had denounced the new idol, a new object of worship. Nietzsche also criticized “mass man” and conformity, and was one of the first critics of the role of journalism in creating mass opinion. The Frankfurt School agreed with Nietzsche that a lot of the common cultural forms repressed natural instincts, and therefore tried to develop a philosophy that would lead to the supposed emancipation of the human being in society.

The Frankfurt School recognized that modern consumer society was the new form of capitalism, creating novel forms of social institutions that integrated the working class into advanced capitalist systems. Important, therefore, was their attempt to update traditional Marxist interpretation by analyzing the role of what they recognized as state and monopoly capitalism. While, beginning in the late nineteenth century, a new era of monopoly capitalism had arrived, additionally, with the Great Depression the state began to play a much more important role in managing the economy, resulting in the new model of state capitalism exemplified by the New Deal. There were two forms of state monopoly capitalism: there was the fascist and authoritarian state capitalism of Nazi Germany and the democratic state capitalism of the United States. In both of these forms of state capitalism, new types of administration, bureaucracy and methods of social domination emerged that contributed, they believed, to a curtailing of individual freedom and democracy, giving rise to conformity and massification. In particular, the Frankfurt School explored the role of the mass media. Where control of mass media was overt in Nazi Germany, and similarly in the Soviet Union, the Frankfurt School saw that the instruments of mass culture and communication were playing an equally important role in marketing capitalism, democracy and the American way of life.

The members of the Frankfurt School were, for the most part, from assimilated Jewish families. And it would seem, due to their secularism, despite retaining a Jewish identity, as well as their cohesiveness and theories promoting a reinterpretation of traditional morality, particularly sexual morality, that they must have been of Sabbatean origin. When they treated religious topics, as in the case of Walter Benjamin, it was of a decidedly mystical orientation. Benjamin was highly influenced by his close friend Gershom Scholem, the renowned twentieth-century expert on the Kabbalah, regarded as having founded the academic study of the subject. Scholem, by tracing to the origins of Jewish mysticism from its beginnings in Merkabah and all the way forward to its final culmination in the messianic movement of Sabbatai Zevi, rehabilitated perceptions of the Kabbalah as not a negative example of irrationality or heresy but as supposedly vital to the development of Judaism as a religious and national tradition.[4] According to Scholem’s “dialectical” theory of history, Judaism passed through three stages. The first is a primitive or “naïve” stage that lasted to the destruction of the second Temple. The second is Talmudic, while the final is a mystical stage which recaptures the lost essence of the first naïve stage, but reinvigorated through a highly abstract and even esoteric set of categories.

Frankfurt School historian Martin Jay concedes that a certain degree of Jewish identity nurtured the Frankfurt School’s perspectives. Having attempted to live assimilated lives in Weimar Germany with dubious success, he says, must have had an impact. “The sense of role-playing that the Jew eager to forget his origins must have experienced,” says Jay, “could only have left a residue of bitterness, which might easily feed a radical critique of the society as a whole.”[5] Jay additionally concedes that the Kabbalah would have had some influence as well, as noted by one of its own members, Jurgen Habermas. Jay summarizes:

Jurgen Habermas has recently argued that a striking resemblance exists between certain strains in the Jewish cultural tradition and in that of German Idealism, whose roots have often been seen in Protestant Pietism. One important similarity, which is especially crucial for an understanding of Critical Theory, is the old cabalistic idea that speech rather than pictures was the only way to approach God. The distance between Hebrew, the sacred language, and the profane speech of the Diaspora made its impact on the Jews who were distrustful of the current universe of discourse. This, so Habermas has argued, parallels the idealist critique of empirical reality, which reached its height in Hegelian dialectics… The same might be argued for its [the Frankfurt School’s] ready acceptance of [Freudian] psychoanalysis, which proved especially congenial to assimilated Jewish intellectuals.[6]

Habermas cites the example of the Minima Moralia of Theodor Adorno who, despite his apparent secularism, explains that all truth must be measured with reference to the Redemption, meaning the fulfillment of Zionist prophecy and the advent of the Messiah.

Philosophy, in the only way it is to be responsive in the face of despair, would be the attempt to treat all things as they would be displayed from the standpoint of redemption. Knowledge has no light but what shines on the world from the redemption; everything else is exhausted in reconstruction and remains a piece of technique. Perspectives would have to be produced in which the world is similarly displaced, estranged, reveals its tears and blemishes the way they once lay bare as needy and distorted in the messianic light.[7]

David Bakan, in Sigmund Freud and The Jewish Mystical Tradition, has shown that Freud too was a “crypto-Sabbatean,” which would explain his extensive interest in the occult and the Kabbalah. As shown in “The Consolation of Theosophy II,” an article by Frederick C. Crews for The New York Review of Books, several scholars have established that Freud was among the key figures who developed therapy through the retrieval of forgotten trauma, through a debt to Franz Anton Mesmer.[8] Adam Crabtree’s From Mesmer to Freud: Magnetic Sleep and the Roots of Psychological Healing traces Mesmer’s use of artificially induced trance-states to uncover the influence of unconscious mental activity as the source of unaccountable thoughts or impulses. Jonathan Miller traced the steps by which psychologists gradually stripped Mesmerism of its occult associations, reducing it to mere hypnosis and thus paving the way for recognition of nonconscious mental functioning.[9]

Hypnotism is nothing new. It is merely what had been known as putting someone under a spell, and practiced for thousands of years by witchdoctors, spirit mediums, shamans, Buddhists, and yogis. Freud himself was renowned in Vienna as a suggestive healer, his practice relying heavily on the use of hypnosis, a method he characterized as essentially “mystical.”[10] Freud engaged in magical propitiatory acts and tested the power of soothsayers. He confided to his biographer Ernest Jones his belief in “clairvoyant visions of episodes at a distance” and “visitations from departed spirits.”[11] He even arranged a séance with his family members and three other analysts. He also practiced numerology and believed in telepathy. In Dreams and Occultism, he declared, “It would seem to me that psycho-analysis, by inserting the unconscious between what is physical and what was previously called ‘psychical,’ has paved the way for the assumption of such processes as telepathy.”[12]

Freud, when he was made aware of the Lurianic Kabbalah apparently exclaimed, “This is gold!” and asked why these ideas had never previously been brought to his attention.[13] Carl Jung, who had worked with Freud, commented approvingly on the Jewish mystical origins of Freudian psychoanalysis, stating that in order to comprehend the origin of Freud’s theories:

…one would have to take a deep plunge into the history of the Jewish mind. This would carry us beyond Jewish Orthodoxy into the subterranean workings of Hasidism…and then into the intricacies of the Kabbalah, which still remains unexplored psychologically.[14]

Freud’s theories were excessively concerned with sex and even incest, which is reflected in Sabbatean antinomianism. As Gershom Scholem noted, the Sabbateans were particularly obsessed with upturning prohibitions against sexuality, particularly those against incest, as the Torah lists thirty-six prohibitions that are punishable by “extirpation of the soul,” half of them against incest. Baruchiah Russo (Osman Baba), who in about the year 1700 was the leader of the most radical wing of the Sabbateans in Salonika and who directly influenced Jacob Frank, not only declared these prohibitions abrogated but went so far as to transform their contents into commandments of the new “Messianic Torah.” Orgiastic rituals were preserved for a long time among Sabbatean groups and among the Dönmeh until about 1900. As late as the seventeenth century a festival was introduced called Purim, celebrated at the beginning of spring, which reached its climax in the "extinguishing of the lights” and in an orgiastic exchange of wives.[15]

As Bakan indicated, in his book Moses and Monotheism, Freud makes clear that, as in the case of the Pharaohs of Egypt, incest confers god-like status on its perpetrators. In the same book, Freud argued that Moses had been a priest of Aten instituted by Akhenaten, the Pharaoh revered by Rosicrucian tradition, after whose death Moses was forced to leave Egypt with his followers. Freud also claims that Moses was an Egyptian, in an attempt to discredit the origin of the Law conferred by him. Commenting on these passages, Bakan claims that his attack on Moses was an attempt to abolish the law in the same way that Sabbatai Zevi did.

Thus, Freud disguised a Frankist creed with psychological jargon, proposing that conventional morality is an unnatural repression of the sexual urges imposed during childhood. Freud instead posited that we are driven by subconscious impulses, primarily the sex drive. In Totem and Taboo, published in 1913, which caused quite a scandal. Freud theorized about incest through the Greek myth of Oedipus, in which Oedipus unknowingly killed his father and married his mother, and incest and reincarnation rituals practiced in ancient Egypt. He used the Oedipus conflict to point out how much he believed that people desire incest and must repress that desire.

Freud also read Nietzsche as a student and analogies between their work were pointed out almost as soon as he developed a following. Freud and Nietzsche had a common acquaintance in Lou Andreas-Salomé, a Russian-born psychoanalyst and author. Her diverse intellectual interests led to friendships and affairs with a broad array of well-known western intellectuals, giving her a reputation of somewhat of a femme fatale. These included Richard Wagner and Rainer Maria Rilke, considered one of the most significant poets in the German language, and who was a friend to Gurdjieff’s collaborator, Thomas de Hartmann. Salomé claimed that Nietzsche was desperately in love with her and that she refused his proposal of marriage to her. During her lifetime she achieved some fame with her controversial biography of Nietzsche, the first major study of his life.

Salomé was a pupil of Freud and became his associate in the creation of psychoanalysis. She was one of the first female psychoanalysts and one of the first women to write psychoanalytically on female sexuality. She developed Freud’s ideas from his 1914 essay on Narcissism and argued that love and sex are a reunion of the self with its lost half. She was eventually attacked by the Nazis as a “Finnish Jewess,” though her parents were supposedly of French Huguenot and Northern German descent. A few days before her death the Gestapo confiscated her library, because she was a colleague of Freud, practiced "Jewish science” and had many books by Jewish authors. The fact that Salomé would have secretly been Jewish despite professing a Christian heritage would suggest that her family were Sabbateans. We may suppose that their deviant sexual practices might have contributed to a trauma that gave rise to her inability to develop normal relationships with other men, and in turn to her unconventional theories. We may speculate that, sadly, the origin of Salomé’s dysfunctions were possibly incestuous relationships with her father and five older brothers. In fact, Lou would claim to see a brother hidden in every man she met. Lou married linguistics scholar Friedrich Carl Andreas, and despite the marriage never being consummated, they remained together from 1887 until his death in 1930. Nevertheless, Salomé maintained sexual relationships outside marriage and visited regularly a gathering place for gay men and lesbians. Freud considered Salomé’s article on anal eroticism from 1916 one of the best things she wrote. This led him to his own theories about anal retentiveness, where the prohibition against pleasure from anal activity “and its products,” is the first occasion during which a child experiences hostility to his supposedly instinctual impulses.[16]

Essentially, by rejecting that man could be driven by a higher moral inclination, Freud believed all that was left was man’s animal nature, particularly what he called the libido, a belief that was reflective of his association with the traditions of occult thought and its veneration of the act of sex as the only true vital impulse. Freud believed that the libido developed in individuals by changing its object of desire, a process codified by the concept of “sublimation.” He argued that humans are born “polymorphously perverse,” meaning that any number of objects could be a source of pleasure. He further argued that as humans develop they become fixated on different and specific objects through their stages of development. The first is the oral stage, exemplified by an infant’s pleasure in nursing, then in the anal stage marked by a child’s “pleasure” in evacuating his or her bowels, and finally in the phallic stage. In the phallic stage, Freud contended, male infants become fixated on the mother as a sexual object, referred to as the Oedipus Complex, a phase brought to an end by threats of castration, resulting in the castration complex, the severest trauma in man’s young life.

Through Freud’s influence, the “incest taboo” would become an issue of fundamental concern to the Frankfurt School. For example, Claude Levi-Strauss (1908 – 2009), a French anthropologist and one of the central figures in the structuralist school of thought, considered the universal taboo against incest as the cornerstone of human society. Incest, he believed, was not naturally repugnant, but became prohibited through culture. Lévi-Strauss’ theory was based on an analysis of the work of Marcel Mauss who believed that the basis of society is the need for the exchange of gifts. Because fathers and brothers would be unwilling to share their wives and daughters, a shortage of women would arise that would threaten the proliferation of a society. Thus was developed the “Alliance theory,” creating the universal prohibition of incest to enforce exogamy. The alliance theory, in which one’s daughter or sister is offered to someone outside a family circle starts a circle of exchange of women: in return, the giver is entitled to a woman from the other’s intimate kinship group. This supposedly global phenomenon takes the form of a “circulation of women” which links together the various social groups in single whole to form society.

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