Society Against Itself: Howard Schwartz On The Suicide Of Western Civilization


Howard Schwartz chooses to begin Society Against Itself (Karnac 2010) – a book that belongs on the shelf with Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind (1987) and Paul Gottfried’s Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt (2002) – with an epigraph from Euripides’ tragedy, said to be his last in order of composition, The Bacchae. In the twilight of the polis-phase of Greek existence, in the aftermath of the catastrophic wars between Athens and Sparta, and under the looming shadow of Macedonian hegemony, Euripides draws a picture of a state in precipitous dissolution, gripped by a combination of religious mania and petulant rebellion against the limitations of civic life. The source of the crisis is the siren-call of a wandering stranger who urges the women of Thebes to renounce civic order as the equivalent of unbearable tyranny and to desert their city for the sake of orgiastic Amazonism in the surrounding countryside. In the scene that has piqued Schwartz’s imagination and which forecasts his argument, Agave, daughter of Cadmus and mother of Pentheus, the reigning king, has just murdered her son under the mad delusion that he was a lion, and she is displaying the trophy of her kill, a severed head, for her sire to see.

Cadmus, founder of Thebes and its first king, replies in an upwelling of anguish: “Fair is the victim thou hast offered to the gods, inviting me and my Thebans to the feast. Ah, woe is me first for thy sorrows, then for mine.” Yet Cadmus himself is not guiltless in the enormity, for he too has felt the allure of the antinomian cult, donning the goatskin to dance with the women in the Bacchanals. Even Pentheus, seeking to restore order, had yielded to prurient curiosity; he let himself be persuaded to spy on the mountainside orgies and thereby fell into the Bacchants’ homicidal clutches.

As Nietzsche writes in The Birth of Tragedy (1870), the phenomena of the Dionysus cult, which so troubled the Athenian assembly that it once banned the rites, were and are quite real and are fully attestable in other historical contexts than the Classical one. In Nietzsche’s words: “So also in the German Middle Ages singing and dancing crowds, ever increasing in number, were whirled from place to place under this same Dionysian impulse.” Thus, “in the dancers of St. John and St. Vitus, we rediscover the Bacchic choruses of the Greeks, with their early history in Asia Minor, as far back as Babylon and the orgiastic Sacaea.” Perhaps also in revolutionary disintegration, as in Paris in 1789, or in the Central European Soviets after 1918, the Dionysian wrath against the principium individuationis reappears. The yearning for “Primal Unity,” as Nietzsche calls it, in the mob, for the rebuke of constraint and limit, haunts every society, community, or civilization, our own not excepted.


Howard Schwartz


I. Schwartz, longtime professor of managerial psychology at Oakland University in Michigan, uses Freudian rather than Nietzschean vocabulary, but his succinct sketch of the psychoanalytic theory of social order shows how closely to Nietzsche Freud stands because for Freud as for Nietzsche order is a male principle, just as organization is a male activity. The purpose of order in traditional organizations has been functionality. Mid-twentieth century corporate organizations – manufacturing concerns, newspapers, banks, universities, and so forth – pursued functionality by subordinating other concerns to the end of efficient and profitable production. Contemporary organizations, operating under the insistent strictures of political correctness, have increasingly dedicated themselves to “diversity,” and in so doing they have subordinated all other concerns to this novel end. Organizations have embraced “diversity” despite the fact that no study has ever shown that it conduces to increased productivity. On the contrary, Schwartz notes, diversity demonstrably degrades productivity. Society Against Itself thus necessarily takes under critique both “diversity” and political correctness, both the practice and the discourse. Schwartz furthermore emphasizes the matriarchal character of these phenomena, linking them to the rapidly spreading feminization of Western culture. Schwartz quotes New York Time writer Richard Bernstein, who defined political correctness succinctly as a revolt against “Patriarchal Hegemony.”

In the quest to understand “organizational self-destruction,” Schwartz argues, “psychoanalytic theory leads us to focus on the term ‘patriarch’ in Bernstein’s definition… for psychoanalysis has much to say about the father, and the patriarch can only be that.” The intellectual and emotional disposition of the traditional adult person corresponds, in Schwartz’s exposition, to the “Oedipal Psychology.” The traditional adult person of the Western dispensation has reconciled himself (or herself) to the structure of reality as mediated by the father, whose pragmatic commitments to work and earning permit him to support the household where the children mature, largely free from worry, under the supervision of the mother. Remoteness belongs to the child’s image of the father because the father is perforce absent – out in the world working. By contrast closeness and the emotional tone of immediate nurturing belong to the image of the mother because she is necessarily in continuous proximity to the children. The image of the mother therefore dominates the early world-picture of the children. Healthy maturation entails bringing the two images into balance; but insofar as the incipient adult adapts himself to work in an organized, impersonal context, his primary and redeeming commitment must be to paternal mediation of reality through the image of the father.

The image of the father stands for objective order as the primary value of a functioning society. It also stands for that which the child must in effect sacrifice as he weans himself from the infantile state: Namely the mother’s unconditional validation of his desires and protection against the buffeting of the world.

Schwartz writes: “[The] primordial mother is the world to the infant; her love for the infant is experienced as absolute, unalloyed, and entirely sufficient for every purpose.” The mother’s love furnishing “the fulcrum of the person’s basic feeling of being good,” the subject experiences the source of that love as “the most powerful figure in the psyche.” Even in the case of a genuinely mature subject who has undertaken the askesis necessary to bring the paternal image into balance with the maternal image, the pull of the mother remains strong, exercising its allure as “a fantasy of returning to primary narcissism,” in which the ego, instead of integrating itself by many compromises with the other egos who constitute the social reality, dreams of “becoming again the center of a loving world.” A component of this fantasy is the notion that the father forced a rupture between the infant and the mother. In that rupture we recognize Freud’s Oedipus Complex, wherein the subject, in Schwartz’s words, “wants to kill the father so that his intimate and exclusive bond with the mother can be reinstated.” As Schwartz notes, the Oedipus complex has implications beyond the restrictively psychological: Through “successful resolution of the… complex” the subject achieves nothing less than the “socialization” that produces “competent adult members of society.”

At the same time, as Schwartz argues, “the psychologies of love and work are not separate.” The subject accepts the requirement to work – he identifies with the paternal image – precisely because in marriage, which he earns by steady labor, and through recreating the traditional household, he sees the prospect of love regained. In fact, “we never fully regain that loving world… But the idea that we can attain it, that we can realize the ego ideal, is what gives our lives meaning.” It is the case, however, that the subject can fail to achieve a balance between the psychology of love and the psychology of work. The power of the maternal image, in the delinquency of an equally convincing paternal image, can foster a petulant refusal to integrate reality. It is to this condition, nowadays socially endemic and even expressing itself as an ideology, that Schwartz names the Anti-Oedipal Psychology and that he equates both with “irrationality” and “the apotheosis of diversity.” Political correctness, as Schwartz writes, “is today about identity,” and it is emphatically about a fanatical politics of non-normative and non-Western identity. What are the traits of this Anti-Oedipal Psychology? Before examining the question, it would be useful to say something about Schwartz’s method.

Schwartz’s theory is rooted in Freud and Jacques Lacan, but his method is rooted in the intuitive or introspective approach to philosophical description codified by Edmund Husserl and known as phenomenology. Schwartz writes of Society Against Itself, that, “this is a work in the phenomenological tradition,” in which perforce “the focal point of… understanding is my own mind.” Schwartz declares himself keen “to comprehend [his own mind’s] most irrational elements.” So in the case studies that constitute the main part of the book – the chapters on the Jayson Blair scandal at The New York Times, on the liberal takeover of the United Church of Christ in the name of protecting homosexuals and cultivating diversity, on the self-destruction of Antioch College, and on sexual harassment regulations as “organized hysteria” – Schwartz does what good psychologists and good literary critics do: He vets the words of the plaintiffs so as to discern the essential features of the way in which they perceive and cognize the world. In almost every case, this procedure requires the investigator to put himself in the ego-position of someone who sees himself as the absolutely moral victim of an absolutely immoral perpetrator. A necessary task, it cannot have been a particularly happy one.

The Anti-Oedipal Psychology is, not incidentally, a type of passionate, self-justifying victim psychology that expresses itself, entirely without grasping the contradiction, in fierce and inveterate “scapegoating.” Whereas “the function of the father was built on engaging reality and keeping it at distance from the family, so that the mother’s love could operate safely within the family,” modern men might well, in Schwartz’s analysis, “have succeeded in that attempt, all too well.” The involvement of an entire paternal generation in its work and its creation of the greatest affluence and ease ever to have existed on the face of the earth in the 1950s and 60s resulted in “the idea that there is an independent reality that needs to be engaged [losing] its conviction.” We can see this sociological shift in the prolongation of adolescence, in the fascination of devices and toys over people who are chronologically adult while psychologically still children, and in the massive contemporary loss of understanding about the function of institutions.


II. Schwartz theorizes that, in the Anti-Oedipal Psychology, nowadays rampant and triumphant, “the meaning of the father’s role has been lost and he has come to be seen, not as a model for our aspirations, but as an invader.” The themes of this narcissistic fantasy are familiar to readers from their expression in what might be called standard feminist discourse. The father’s love of the mother is refigured as aggressive, acquisitive, rapine, and brutal. In Schwartz’s reconstruction of the trope, “He took her by force… made her turn her attention away from us, her children.” In respect of the mother, the father “deprived us of union with her, which would be all that we would need, and to which we are entitled.” Under this fantasy of matriarchal sufficiency and entitlement, “the affective core” of the subject is a fiery kernel of “rage against the father.” For such an enraged subject, “meaning is structured… around the rejection of the very developmental achievement that provides the base for socialization in the Oedipal model.” Finally, “the rage and resentment that the child feels towards the father, and the indifference of the world that he represents, are taken as the touchstone of meaning” and “the superego, which is the internalization of the demands of external reality, becomes an alien presence in our own psyche,” interpreted by the subject “as internalized oppression” that must, of course, be overthrown.

Insofar as political correctness gives verbal and discursive expression, if not exactly articulation, to this malevolent Peter-Pan fantasy, then, as Schwartz observes, “we can see where the emotional power of PC comes from.” Recently at the View From the Right website, the redoubtable Lawrence Auster argued that the phrase political correctness had become a kind of euphemism, disguising in its vagueness and abstraction the destructive nastiness of modern liberal totalitarianism. One of the merits of Schwartz’s Society Against Itself is that it rescues the phrase political correctness – for which I can think of no useful substitute – from its desuetude of meaning, reestablishing it as the label for an insidious, emotion-based, contagious, and dangerously nihilistic assault on the institutional organs through the creation of which Western Civilization has integrated its project with the implacableness of external reality. The “correctness” in political correctness is savage and sacrificial, a resurrection of primitive taboos and limitations in a resurgence of tribalism.

Schwartz assists us in thinking of “PC” in the way that we ought to think of it – in connection with those grim, obese Earth-Mother statuettes of the Neolithic period, whose myths invariably involve the punitive sacrifice of an errant son whose desire for independence violates maternal sodality. In Euripides’ Bacchae, for example, Dionysus frankly divulges that he has come to punish the Thebans under Pentheus for the wrong done by Cadmus’ generation to his mother, Semele.

Schwartz insists repeatedly on the tribal-matriarchal essence of the identity politics for which its advocates mendaciously invoke the name of diversity. The devotees of ethnic and sexual identity and of “diversity” have discovered that “the power of the mother can be mobilized and directed by those who identify with her” and that “they can offer fusion and create desire,” just as the rebellious women do in The Bacchae. In sum, “One’s life is given meaning by the offer of fusion with the perfect mother on condition that we reject the father and destroy his works, all of which bring evil along with them.” Because the matriarchal view of the world regards the father as the source of all evil, as himself being absolutely evil, it can only view those institutions that the fathers, as a collective, have wrought as being just as odious and intolerable as their creators. The chief institution of modern Western society is the market, the abstract locus of exchange, hence the hand-in-glove relation of Anti-Oedipal malice and ready-made socialist resentment.

We recall that Schwartz is an organizational psychologist. Naturally his interest alights on the consequences of triumphant political correctness for organizations that succumb to the contagion. Some of these in the abstract are deducible without recourse to empirical cases. On the one hand, “the relationships within [an] organization… may be considered to be expressions of what the organization believes it needs to do in order to maintain its status as an agent by satisfying external demands.” On the other hand, “Anti-Oedipal psychology, with its denial of external reality, not only cannot make sense of exchange relationships and, hence, organizational structure; it actually comes alive through resistance against it.” Schwartz coins a term for Anti-Oedipal resistance to organizational structure: Anti-Oedipal Decay. Such decay takes hold “when an organization abandons its standards and other elements of organizational structure in order to manifest love for those who have not, cannot, or will not accept their legitimacy” and who see in them only a complex “instrument of oppression.”

Schwartz takes as his initial example the implementation of affirmative action in admissions at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan, in the 1990s. American readers will perhaps remember that a young woman, Jennifer Gratz, failed to gain admission to MSU and sued the institution, taking her case all the way to the United States Supreme Court. The court’s ruling partially and rather unsatisfactorily struck down the admissions policy that Gratz had challenged. Nevertheless the litigation forced the affirmative-action advocates in the MSU faculty and administration publicly to explain and justify their criteria for admitting prospective students. As Schwartz points out, “The University acknowledged that there are no direct educational benefits from diversity, but claimed, without evidence, that a diverse student body is necessary for various kinds of ‘diversity exercises’ to have effects.” The claim, unrelated to the traditional mission of the university or higher education, is a tautology; by making it the university officials were saying in effect that they needed a “diverse” student body so that members of the student body could experience “diversity.”

Even then, as Schwartz writes, “these effects… consisted entirely of self-reported social, attitudinal, and behavioral differences, with no demonstrated connection to grades, test scores, or any other of the traditional indices of learning.” Meanwhile the university was turning away applicants like Gratz while accepting applicants with much lower qualifications simply because Gratz was white and the other applicants belonged to one of the new privileged classes.

When a longtime faculty member, Professor Carl Cohen, an old-school gentleman of impeccable liberal qualifications, spoke out in favor of Gratz and against the race-quotas that had kept her out of the institution, the administration in concert with various leftist and race-based groups conducted a campaign of rabid vilification against Cohen. The administration conspicuously failed to defend Cohen and actively sided with his libelers. Cohen had threatened the fantasy on which PC bases itself. Schwartz argues that: “The nature of meaning requires that issues like loss of standards must be generalized. One cannot cover a proposition with caveats in one area, and expect it to be taken absolutely in another.” Thus the “diversity” regime at MSU in order to defend itself had to destroy its critics, like Cohen.

The university also had to reformulate the rationale of its own organizational existence, which would no longer be higher education along traditional lines by which students learn to negotiate the demands of the inalterable external reality, but rather the imposition of an unreal, subjective view of existence “sacrosanct” in status that could tolerate the existence of no dissent whatsoever. “Once the process of reformulation of meaning has begun,” Schwartz writes, “every process within the organization is brought to go along with it.”


III. Schwartz thus identifies a powerful matriarchal-narcissistic fantasy of unqualified love, based in the emotional fusion of the mother with her children, a nexus that, in action on the social scene, exhibits noticeable sacrificial tendencies. The psychic disposition of this fused group of mother-and-children bears a resemblance to the “herd morality” or “slave morality” that Nietzsche discusses in Beyond Good and Evil (1886). In Nietzsche’s analysis, as in Schwartz’s, a reversion occurs – from the principium individuationis on which the modern adult person models himself to a new tribal compactness in which the individual gives itself up – whose subject (insofar as one can speak of a subject in the context) pits himself against the demands of civilization, particularly the demand of careful impersonal examination of moral issues. Instead of examination under the criterion of better and worse and as informed by historical education, this reverted subject (my term, for convenience) deals in egocentric assertion. Nietzsche writes, “In Europe [today] people evidently know what Socrates thought he did not know, and what the famous serpent of old once promised to teach – they ‘know’ today what is good an evil.”

Again Nietzsche writes: “It must then sound hard and be distasteful to the ear, when we always insist that that which here thinks it knows, that which here glorifies itself with praise and blame, and calls itself good, is… herding-animal morality.” Nietzsche’s “herd” uses the vocabulary of liberation and clamors for a “free society,” but its real tendency is “instinctive hostility to every form of society other than that of the autonomous herd” combined with hatred for law and revulsion against merit as, on the one hand, “a violation of the weak,” and on the other, “unfair.” According to Nietzsche, the “herd” seeks “the great discharge from all the obligations of the past.”

One constituent obligation of a functioning society is the subject’s internalization of the ethics of exchange. For my work – and again for the quality of my work, in comparison with that of others – the organization rewards me. It is the immemorial arrangement of “do ut des.” For the narcissistic imagination expressing itself in the language of political correctness, however, the “do” element in “do ut des” is perceived as an intolerable tyrannical gesture, and the notion of quality offends against the insistence that the organization must treat all persons as absolutely equal. In this way A’s superior performance allegedly victimizes B. This can be so only because B neurotically interprets A’s productivity or talent as ontologically unjust hence also as an offense through its mere existence that threatens B’s very being. Schwartz, writing of the effects of mandatory “diversity” in the workplace, comments that, “within the victim group, the exchange aspect of work disappears and the demands of work come to be experienced as part of the whole pattern of oppressive attacks that have historically marked one’s victimhood.” When this pattern of perverse pseudo-meaning lends its structure to the ego, or rather when it de-structures the ego, then in fact, “the individual has disappeared.” When “the balance of rewards shifts to those defined by their historical victimization… the connection between inducements and contributions is attenuated” and those whom “diversity” fails to valorize undergo “demotivation.”

Schwartz devotes a chapter to the case of Jayson Blair. The Blair scandal illustrates both the dissolution of the functioning individual into the useless emotional insipidity of the matriarchal-narcissistic fantasy and the “demotivation” of those whom the fantasy excludes. Blair figured in the news in 2003 when the story broke of how this young black affirmative-action employee of The New York Times, hired and promoted under the newspaper’s aggressive “diversity” program, had plagiarized from other reporters and turned in fake stories the sources of which were Blair’s imagination. It was too much even for the ultra-liberal guardians of the Times, who fired the miscreant. The facts never prevented Blair from representing himself as the injured party in the affair nor did it hinder widespread sympathy for the plagiarist. Truth? What is the truth? After all, as Schwartz argues, “if white heterosexual patriarchy [such as the ownership of the Times] is suspect, then its claim to represent the truths of our lives is suspect.”

While there is no doubt that the Times has often, especially in recent years, skewed the truth in its reporting, the journal has nevertheless prided itself on being “the newspaper of record,” a claim requiring a nod, at least, to the existence of a verifiable objective reality. Where the Anti-Oedipal psychology prevails, however, obligations such as verifiability and objectivity (and, in a word, truth) “are redefined as impositions and agencies of oppression.’

Schwartz has read Blair’s own account of the episode with critical acuity. Schwartz writes that Blair’s “primary experience of the Times seems to have been as an assault on his self-esteem.” It is as though the plagiarist “saw the Times as the father, but this was a father defined within anti-Oedipal psychology… felt to be depriving him of the ego ideal.” Schwartz detects in Blair’s prose the notion that “the only legitimate function of the paper [towards him] would be maternal: to love and take care of him, defending him against the oppressive father.” Recounting the amazing prolongation and upward mobility of Blair’s tenure at the Times before hybris met nemesis, Schwartz comments on why people who knew of Blair’s incompetence and dishonesty failed to check him or even went so far as to promote him despite their knowledge.

Blair’s Times supervisors were terrified to criticize a black employee. “The psychological strain imposed by political correctness,” Schwartz writes, “is that the racial thoughts that are stimulated [by someone like Blair] are simultaneously repressed.” The consequence is that “people are unable to make meaning together on objective terms, even on issues that deeply concern them.” Finally, the Blair episode left the Times’ honest employees demoralized – or demotivated, as Schwartz writes.

Quite as fascinating as the subversion of institutional purpose at The New York Times is the story of the United Church of Christ, which Schwartz takes as the paradigm of how political correctness and the “diversity” myth corrupt organized religion. The case of the UCC demonstrates that political correctness, stemming from the matriarchal-narcissistic fantasy, is not merely a neurosis that debilitates those whom it afflicts; but rather political correctness is savage and aggressive, vilifying and seeking to punish those who dissent from it – or whom it imagines might dissent. The case of the UCC also illustrates for Schwartz how the elites of a suicidal society pit themselves against those whom they ostensibly represent. Faced, as man congregations were, with declining membership, the UCC hierarchy in 2003 devised a television advertising campaign to recruit replacement members. A thirty-second “spot” entitled “The Ejector” blatantly and basely implied that other congregations regularly and bigotedly excluded from membership handicapped people, racial minorities, and homosexuals. The “spot” was so obviously slanderous in its generalized accusation that television stations refused to broadcast it, to the noisy irritation of its proposers.

As Schwartz remarks, “the idea of Christians turning sinners away from services, absurd as it is, stands as nothing against the idea of Christians rejecting the disabled from services.” Why then did the UCC feel justified in claiming that other Christians entertained such thoughts? Bluntly, “The UCC believes [those thoughts] are in the minds of other Christians because it has projected them there.” Having already transformed itself from a descendant of the Patres into “the maternal church,” the UCC saw no reason to reconcile itself with objective reality. In fact, it no longer regarded itself as organized religion; rather “the maternal identification” required that “the offering of love,” the inducement to new members, “be accompanied by hatred of organized religion.” Thus, “organized religion… in the mind of the UCC is religion as organized by the hated father,” a reversion that is widespread in American Protestant Christianity and is making itself felt in American Catholicism.


IV. Schwartz’s presentation of the religious example of “organizational self-destruction” commands attention, in part, for its cognizance of the sacrificial impulse in the sweeping socially reconstructive agendas designated by such innocuous-sounding names as “diversity” and “multiculturalism.” Independently Schwartz has discovered what another critic of liberal modernity, René Girard, has also pointed out: That modernity’s rejection of traditional institutions – especially its rejection of Judeo-Christian morality – is not at all an instance of progress but rather an instance regress, from the two higher religions that explicitly rejected scapegoating and sacrifices back into a primitive scapegoating and sacrificial mentality. Nietzsche saw this lapse into antique religion in the emergence of the “herd.” Nietzsche writes of the “herd” that, for it, for the homogeneous sodality, “différence engendre haine.” Girard for his part once noted in spoken remarks that today, although there is a great need on the political left for sacrificial victims (“oppressors”), the only way to produce them is to accuse people of being victimizers or of intending to sacrifice others. That is an exact description of what the UCC was doing in Schwartz’s analysis of their recruitment campaign.

In the Euripidean tragedy of Thebes the rebellious dissolution of civic custom eventuates necessarily in a holocaust of victims – precisely those who would uphold order, like King Pentheus. So too the UCC, caricaturing traditional religious order, sought the preparatory vilification of alleged banishers of the lame and the homosexual. “The point here,” as Schwartz writes, “is that hatred and rejection of the father, and hence of organized religion, is part of the essential makeup of the maternal church.”

The narcissistic or Anti-Oedipal personality does not recognize the difference between Self and Other in the way that the healthy adult personality does. The narcissistic or Anti-Oedipal personality, appealing to the unqualified love of the mother, only recognizes the difference between the good, that is itself, and the evil, or anything that in any way threatens, even merely through criticism, or simply by having the effrontery to exist, itself. Thus in its religious manifestation the Anti-Oedipal mentality “is based on a need to expel unacceptable thoughts and feelings; to project them on someone else who can be righteously hated.” The leading self-notion of the enfant sauvage is, as Schwartz so succinctly puts it, “I hate therefore I am.”

It is perhaps worthwhile quoting a remark made recently by the Australian social commentator Edwin Dyga in a Quadrant article on “Challenges to ‘Progressive’ Feminist Orthodoxy”: “One is often reminded that ‘progressive’ social theory requires a rejection of moral absolutes, while ‘politically correct’ devices serve to protect the relativist assumptions upon which this theory often relies. As these devices continue to take greater hold in public discourse, they have ironically become uncompromising and dogmatic in the manner in which they treat dissenting opinions.”

For Schwartz, the present age is “The Age of Hysteria.” Society Against Itself includes a chapter on “Organization in the Age of Hysteria.” Now it is the received and dogmatic opinion among contemporary professional psychiatrists that hysteria is an obsolete concept belonging to the embarrassingly patriarchal side of Freudian theory. That Schwartz disagrees with this bit of untouchable wisdom should come as no surprise: “Hysteria is not only alive and well, but positively thriving.” If it seemed as though hysteria had disappeared, because the repressive strictures that provoked it have been disestablished, such an appearance would be an illusion. When we consider that “the hysteric engages in a performance that is designed to bring a sympathetic response from those around her”; that, “the collusive relationship between the hysteric and the expert never results in permanent ‘cure’”; and that, “these are noisy affairs” and that “nothing outside these dramas”: Then we swiftly see that hysteria is the underlying form of political correctness. And in this part of Schwartz’s argument we come to the relation between political correctness and all its manifestations and feminism.

The post-World War Two affluence of North America, with its overprotective household and permissive cultural environment, led to the narcissistic male who prolongs his adolescence and rejects the reality principle embodied in and signified by the father; that same generous dispensation also led to the widespread arrest of female psychological development at the early teenaged phase before the girl has come to terms with sexuality. The “women’s movement” and feminism are the specific manifestations that this hysteria-prone arrest assumes in contemporary society. Schwartz writes: “If the place of sexuality within human relationships is not understood, its meaning must be represented with imagery that gains its power from the girl’s specific self-reference, both as a sexual being and as a plenum.” (By his term “plenum,” Schwartz refers to the image of the perfect mother, with which the adolescent female still fully identifies.) The result of the developmental derailment will be the militant virgin whose concept of the male will correspond to an “imagery… of penetration or invasion.” Lest the claim seem exaggerated, one need only think of the insistent feminist equation between the male gaze, a term always used pejoratively, and rape.

The arrested female psyche sees the male as “an alien entity that seeks to corrupt and dominate the girl’s perfection and self-sufficiency.” The girl’s reflex “will be disgust and the rage to expel [the male].” According to Schwartz, that reflex also and necessarily entails the expulsion of “the symbolic,” that is, the correlation between signs, or words, or language on the one hand and reality on the other. The evidence in support of the analysis is again empirical. It consists in the many documented instances where women have accused men of sexual assault, where the forensic data cannot establish such an assault. But in an environment where the cue-givers insist that any correlation of words and things is spurious – an instance of phallogocentrism, that nasty and oppressive verbal trick of the patriarchy – then to imagine rape is tantamount to experiencing rape. To see the plausibility one has only to consider the specific case of the Duke University lacrosse team.

This phase of the analysis brings us to the real object of Schwartz’s chapter, the enormous “sexual harassment” apparatus that has made the workplace a daytime nightmare for men and a free-fire zone for disgruntled women.

In Schwartz’s critique, sexual harassment regulations are chaotic and yet they represent a form of, let us say, marshaled disintegration. Schwartz writes: “Hysteria can be organized through shared imagery. It represents shared subjectivity rather than shared objectivity, as organization based on the symbolic represents.” Schwartz’s dissection of the hysterical imagination explains a great deal. It explains, for example, the noteworthy preeminence of the lesbian point of view over feminism; it explains under the term “co-optional hysteria” the crowd-forming power of the harassment charge; and it explains the hostility against defendants in sexual harassment cases. While hysteria can temporarily organize groups, it cannot of course sustain any kind of large-scale productive organization. Hysteria belongs therefore to the category of organized self-destruction.


I wish to end with a disclaimer. I have known Howard Schwartz for fifteen years. I first made acquaintance with him during my decade in Michigan in the 1990s when we were both active in the Michigan Association of Scholars. I nevertheless insist on the objectivity of my account of Society Against Itself. I might say, for example, that my own intellectual orientation is much more toward Nietzsche, Voegelin, and Spengler on the one hand, and to Girard and Eric Gans on the other, than it is to Freud and Lacan. I should also like to make it explicit that I have concentrated on the theoretical framework of Society Against Itself, within the parameters of which Schwarz carries out his rich detailed analyses of organized self-destruction in the Cincinnati Police Department, Michigan State University, The New York Times, and Antioch College, Schwartz’s own, now defunct, alma mater. It is for that convincing rich detail and the accompanying persuasive analyses that I hope readers of The Brussels Journal will acquire Schwartz’s keen and urgent book.

Update, 23 February 2011: A self-correction: The Jennifer Gratz case concerned, not Michigan State University (East Lansing), as I erroneously stated in the article, but rather the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor); also – Carl Cohen is on faculty at the University of Michigan.

In appreciation

In the closing pages of Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov dreams that the world has been subjected to a plague whose microbes are endowed with intelligence and will. Those who become infected are stricken with a furious conviction that they are supremely intellectual and scientifically infallible in all their judgments and actions. Towns, cities, and whole institutions collapse to the point where each person is at the throat of his neighbor, believing that he alone possesses the truth. Tom Bertonneau is fascinated by such states of communal hysteria and has devoted considerable thought to diagnosticians of nihilism both in late Classical and modern times. His present essay takes its place in a long line of works in which he seeks to anatomize this sickness of the soul, often with a singular finesse that finds just the right phrase which sticks in the mind. A striking instance of this talent appears in his closing lines, in which he cites Howard Schwartz's observation that “Hysteria can be organized through shared imagery" and goes on to note that "it explains under the term 'co-optional hysteria' the crowd-forming power of the harassment charge; and it explains the hostility against defendants in sexual harassment cases." Like his earlier subjects under review, this section is engrossing in itself, yet this final example of modern-day Political Correctness gains added significance as a gathering together of each separate discussion, whose central theme is the feminization of political discourse and institutional life. More pointedly yet, the observations of the entire review reach their maximum strength from that single descriptive phrase about "the crowd-forming power of the harassment charge," for in Bertonneau's understanding, as among those thinkers about whom he cares deeply, what is most destructive about the language of nihilism is "the crowd-forming power" of its perverse notions and abstractions, whereby words become group identification sounds and lose every trace of meaning except as triggers for primitive feelings.  



“Judeo-Christian” is more precise.

What may be less precise is the use of the term 'The West.' A geographical reference point would seem somewhat limited  for an entity which is making universal, eternal claims on Mankind. 

Responding to Mpresley

It would perhaps be economical to begin where Mpresley ends, with his words about equality.  Left free to pursue happiness, people will distinguish themselves through the differentiations, qualitative and quantitative, of their successes and failures.  To measure those differences, a society needs a conceptual baseline, which the Founding Fathers granted us in the dispensation of formal equality under the law.  The most abject practical failure retains the same rights as the most exalted and brilliant success.  When it was healthy, American society functioned by holding formal equality in balance with actual inequality.  The remark is not original to me, but someone on the right said recently that a distinguishing characteristic of liberals is that they cannot count past one.  Liberal outrage over actual inequality exemplifies the observation.  Liberalism uses the vocabulary of difference (“diversity,” “multiculturalism”), but in reality liberals despise difference. Because difference belongs to reality (despite formal equality, actual inequality insists on manifesting itself), liberals necessarily reject reality, for which they want to substitute their own image of reality.  Liberalism means war against reality.


It is true that the coinage “Judeo-Christian” is historically recent.  Very likely it belongs to the period of earnest assimilation in the mid-nineteenth century and very likely it has about it something of the spirit of a slogan designed to further a somewhat difficult agenda.  Quite apart from the word, we should remember that Jesus was a Jew and that all the early Christians were Jewish Christians.  That Judaism and Christianity are a continuum therefore belongs to the realm of historical facts. A qualification is that the continuity is easier for Christians to accept than for Jews, largely because in absorbing Judaism, Christianity critiques and revises Judaism.  Maybe if we called it Greco-Judeo-Christianity, its synthetic character would be more readily understandable than the mere two-part term permits.


An experiment is imaginable.  One might pull some pages from Origen, Philo Judaeus, and Lycopolis  (an Alexandrian Christian, an Alexandrian rabbi, and an Alexandrian Platonist) and, removing the author identifications, try to separate them out.  The task would be difficult because the outlook, the moral disposition, is homogeneous.  One word for this compatibility of the Pagan, the Jewish, and the Christian is: The West. 

Concerning the Oedipus complex: Like Mpresley, I cannot remember wanting to kill my father although I can remember being in various angry arguments with him from time to time in my adolescence; nor can I remember wanting to appropriate my mother away from my father.  I also cannot remember learning English although the fact that I can speak it suggests that my learning it must have happened.  Like Mpresley, Freud inspires me to a certain skepticism, but on the analogy of not remembering my infantile acquisition of language, I am willing to grant that psychological processes might have happened in my infancy and early childhood that formed me even though they lie beyond my capacity for recall.  For idiosyncratic reasons (accidents in my education), René Girard’s “mimetology” appeals to me more than does Psychoanalysis as an explanation for irrational (but perfectly natural and predictable) types of human behavior.

Girard indeed criticizes the Oedipus complex for being too specific: The hated figure need not be the father; he need only be the most prominent figure in the group to become the hated rival of all.  Nevertheless, the fact that Freudian theory leads to a judgment about the contemporary condition that is consistent with judgments about the same made by Spengler, Guénon, Voegelin, and Girard – this fact, I say, reconciles me to the usefulness of Freudian theory.


As for Howard Schwartz, he has never struck me as being a dogmatic Freudian.  Schwartz has a point of view and he finds that Freudian theory helps him in communicating that point of view to his audience.  In Society Against Itself, Schwartz also draws on Jacques Lacan, who, by the way, Schwartz makes to seem plausible.  Except in Schwartz’s usage of him, Lacan has always seemed to me to belong among the polysyllabic nihilism of “French Theory.”  Schwartz, who was educated in philosophy, is a widely and deeply educated, a formidably cultured, man whose impressive learning, while he expresses it in the Psychoanalytic terminology, possesses an horizon greater than that of Psychoanalysis by itself.  That Society Against Itself takes its epigraph from The Bacchae by Euripides is one sign of this larger horizon.

Agreed times two..

As Capodistrias points out, and it is a point I freely admit to perhaps abusing, the idea of “the West” must be defined, and not used casually. Within the context of a discussion written in a text combo-box on a Weblog one must expect a certain vagueness, though. I would, however, question whether “the West” (whatever it could mean, and I do think that it means something) can legitimately hold universal claims upon the totality of men. It is enough to police one's own house before attempting to direct the neighborhood.

I also appreciate Mr. Bertonneau's comments. Whenever he writes, it is often better to pause and think a while. At least that is what I've discovered participating over the past few years within the Journal.

Guilt and Equality

Sometimes I wonder, especially when reading anything about the Viennese doctor, whether what follows could possibly be the way things really are, or whether it is just a sometimes way of interpreting phenomena we all more or less recognize, but are at the same time unsure regarding its exact “why.”

A component of this fantasy is the notion that the father forced a rupture between the infant and the mother. In that rupture we recognize Freud’s Oedipus Complex, wherein the subject, in Schwartz’s words, “wants to kill the father so that his intimate and exclusive bond with the mother can be reinstated.”

I've never understood (perhaps experienced is the better word) this “complex.” I've never found within myself a desire to kill my father, although I cannot honestly say that there haven't been times the opposite wasn't the case, mostly during my wilder adolescent days. Also, as a (hopefully) normal (or at least average) male, I never looked to my mother as anyone I'd want to emulate, understanding her natural role as feminine, and not masculine.

The power of the maternal image, in the delinquency of an equally convincing paternal image, can foster a petulant refusal to integrate reality.

This may well be true and I would not argue against it. Yet, without meaning to appear flippant, these days what we have is not a maternal image, but a grand-maternal one. These days procreating youngsters leave the mothering to grandma, often the only adult (chronologically speaking) left in the household.

Schwartz theorizes that, in the Anti-Oedipal Psychology, nowadays rampant and triumphant, “the meaning of the father’s role has been lost and he has come to be seen, not as a model for our aspirations, but as an invader.”

Actually, often the father has no role at all, not because his role has somehow been “lost,” but because the father himself has been lost, making an appearance during the act of procreation, but then wandering off, never to be found.

The chief institution of modern Western society is the market, the abstract locus of exchange, hence the hand-in-glove relation of Anti-Oedipal malice and ready-made socialist resentment.

For a variety of economic and psychological reasons (a general inflation leading to a commensurate loss of purchasing power, along with a desire to attain the latest and greatest throwaway consumer product from China), women, even those living within a more “traditional” marriage, have entered the labor force. Likewise, they have not been expected to adapt to existing institutions, but rather the market has had to adapt itself to their presence.

That modernity’s rejection of traditional institutions – especially its rejection of Judeo-Christian morality – is not at all an instance of progress but rather an instance regress, from the two higher religions that explicitly rejected scapegoating and sacrifices back into a primitive scapegoating and sacrificial mentality.

I am hesitant at this juncture to read too much into the idea of a comprehensive Judeo-Christian morality as responsible for Western culture. As I mentioned in my review of Alain de Benoist's book, the idea of a Jewish-Christian moral groundwork is a relatively recent idea—at least if we can legitimately extrapolate a particular meaning from the phrase's appearance in the literature (this is affirmed by the Google Ngram tool). Instead, I would probably now want to argue that what we have is a general degeneration of traditional Christian morality.

This is a very large topic. When discussing liberalism and political correctness there is always the idea of resentment (as Dr. Bertonneau has mentioned elsewhere), and one cannot at all downplay the feeling of guilt and its attendant psycho-intellectual properties. Too, we must consider another strictly ideological notion: equality. With this in mind, I am not sure that guilt manifests equally among all peoples. Guilt has always been a fundamental psychological prerequisite for Christianity, and equality, a strictly political idea, has grafted well upon the Christian religious rootstock—especially very well within that strain of Christianity viewing mankind's nature as both equally sinful, but equally open to salvation.

Although I will not speak to the religious aspects of equality, its political aspect is pernicious. It is one thing to view citizens as equal under the law. It is quite another to view everyone as essentially equal in every other respect. But that is the liberal mindset (whether right or left liberal). And when unequals do not express an equal outcome, guilt follows on the part of those who are superior in whatever particular measure is being considered. Needless to say, no artificial means will ever correct this natural end. Thus, for those held under the spell of equality, their guilt will never be assuaged. Only when we come to understand that the idea of equality is itself a fundamental denial of nature, or reality, will we then be able to face the world as adults.