Agony, Analysis, Action: Analytical Psychology, Jungian Analysts, and the Suffering of the World

Andrew Samuels
London, England
Society of Analytical Psychology


No school of psychotherapy is making a greater contribution to the alleviation of the suffering of the world today than Jungian analysis and analytical psychology.

How wonderful to be able to say such a thing, with hand on heart! Here we are, supposedly the most unworldly, introverted, even mystically- inclined group of therapists on the planet, getting passionately involved in a huge range of cultural, social and political problems. We are part of the attempt to recover the political from the swamps into which it has sunk in many countries, not just detached commentators upon such an attempt. This turnaround probably derives its energy from a sense that the change of direction was urgently needed, perhaps as reparation for past misjudgments. Anyway, the job is well started and is carried out these days by so many of us that I don’t think I can produce a list of names. There are so many of you in this hall who have sensed the danger of losing the revolutionary idealism of Jung’s pioneering work if we stand still and rest on our laurels. You know that our common interests will collapse if we only pursue our common interests, if we only invest in what advantages us. Literally dozens of us here today or in the Jungian community worldwide have invested ourselves in a politics of transformation, in the transformation of politics.

We are in the middle of developing Jung’s radical intuition, floated in the politically fraught decade of the 1930s, of the need to create a culturally sensitive psychology. A culturally sensitive psychology does not level out all differences in the psyche that stem from ethnicity, religion, nation, social class, gender and sexual orientation. Jung was against the universal imposition of a single system of psychology. Inevitably, so-called universal psychologies (like Freud’s) are in fact context-bound, limited, personal confessions. So Jung was perhaps the first to anticipate and write about the ethical and political disaster of a one-size-fits-all, colonial psychology. Hence he is one of the founding fathers of transcultural and intercultural psychotherapy. He was also one of the first to understand that we cannot insulate clinical practice from contemporary history, saying that the analyst ‘feels the violence of its impact even in the quiet of his consulting room’. (CW 10, p. 11) And he goes on in the same passage (which is from the Preface to Essays on Contemporary Events) to make a suggestive and evocative reference to the analyst’s having ‘duties as a citizen’.

Throughout this talk, I’ll refer to other ideas of Jung’s that are central to today’s cutting edge political depth psychology, capable of being used all the time by those analysts and therapists who seek to explore the possibilities – and discover the limitations – of the relationship between psychological healing and politics.

Though I said I would not mention names, there is one I must mention, because I would like to dedicate this paper to him. He cannot be with us (though he had intended to be here) because he is in New York, working at the United Nations, planning a program to train conflict resolution specialists. His own compassionate, skillful and innovative work with refugees has attained international renown. I’m referring, of course, to my professorial colleague, friend, buddy, compadre, Renos Papadopoulos. Renos’ contribution to the IAAP has been immense. He it was who initially undertook the expansion and professionalization of the Newsletter, organized the first academic conference and conceived of the idea of Developing Groups.

Amongst the many things I have learned from Renos is the critical need not to psychologise or psychopathologise those whose emotional suffering has political roots. (Papadopoulos, 1997; 1998; 2000; 2002) He repeatedly criticised the tendency ‘to psychologise political dimensions and pathologise both evil actions as well as human suffering’. (Papadopoulos, 2001, p. 6)

The bigger the theme, the more personal the speaker’s connection to it. I’d like to sketch my own development in relation to what I will be talking about. Aged eighteen, I was a highly political young man, but trying to realize my political dreams through the arts – specifically, theater. We were a committed, radical theater company, in those days at the end of the 1960s when, in Britain, you could get government money for radical theater. Then, after becoming a counselor using theater to work with disadvantaged and delinquent youth, I went into analysis, and dropped out of the political world for a decade. So, when Mrs Thatcher came to power and Thatcherism and Reagonomics were the dominant Western ideologies, I was busy writing Jungian and post-Jungian books. Gradually, the political side of my personality and my interest in society came back and merged with my analytic concerns, leading in particular to the formation of Psychotherapists and Counselors for Social Responsibility. Then, when I began to have children, as often seems to happen with men, a third strand came in, which we could call ‘spiritual’. Politics, psychotherapy, and spirituality – three sides of a coin!

I have come here to break some boundaries – the edges and frontiers that we have been told exist between analysis and politics, between the inner world and the outer world, between being and doing, and even between what people still call ‘feminine’ approaches to life and ‘masculine’ approaches to life. Working these forbidden zones, and doing it in the company of a growing number of Jungian analysts world-wide, shows that it is legitimate and necessary to reframe the relationship of the public and the private, the political and the personal, extraversion and introversion, politics and psychology – seeking a new connection between the fantasies of the political world and the politics of the fantasy world.

Politics in many countries is broken and in a mess; we urgently need new ideas and approaches. Jungian analysts, working alongside other psychotherapists, economists, social scientists, religious people, environmentalists and others, can contribute to a general transformation of politics and, step by stumbling step over many years, to an alleviation of the suffering of the world.

The actions of today’s mainstream politicians leave many people in agony, with a sense of deep despair and disgust. The politicians themselves seem to lack integrity, imagination and new ideas. Across the globe, and in response to the challenge, a search is on to remodel politics. Jungian analysts will contribute to this search by opening up a two-way street between inner realities and the political world. So we need to balance attempts to understand the secret politics of the inner world of emotional, personal and family experiences with the secret psychology of pressing outer world matters such as leadership, the economy, environmentalism, nationalism and war.

I’ve divided the talk into four sections. The first is called ‘the inner politician’ and it is going to be very experiential and personal for you in the audience. The second section will involve me asking the question: ‘Can Jungian analysts really make any difference whatsoever in the world today?’ In the third section, I’ll interweave reflections on analysis, politics and spirituality to discover the extent of our responsibility. Finally, to bring us to our destination, there’ll be a ‘homage to Catalonia’.

Just so you know, I have tried to be careful and appropriate in my choice of words when it comes to words like: ‘Western’, ‘the West’, ‘Western-type’, ‘non-Western’ and – most difficult of all, ‘we’.

The Inner Politician

I want to address the ‘inner politician’ in each of you here today. I am asking you, simply and directly about your political selfhood, about where you got your politics from. I should explain that I’m not in pursuit of some measurable, so-called ‘objective’ truth about you and your politics, more in finding out what happens psychologically when a person constructs her or his own political myth and tells her or his own political story.

So, let me ask: What influence did your mother have on the politics you now have? Or your father? And what about differences in political outlook between your parents? Some people have been significantly influenced politically by others, such as teachers, priests, an older friend at school. Were you? The gender you are is really very significant in the kind of attitude to politics that you will have; women and men have differing attitudes, never mind the politics of their relationships. Your sexual orientation is equally important. Lesbians and gay men live more closely to political aspects and nuances of life than straight people do. Class and socio-economic factors are obviously central, too, and so is one’s ethnic, religious and national background.

Let’s do a simple experiential exercise to make this more real and less abstract. Please help me out here by turning to someone sitting close to you, ideally someone you don’t know at all or don’t know very well, maybe someone from another country, and telling them something about the influences on your politics, about where you got your politics from. Try to find a common language if you can. Take it in turns to share what you have to say – but don’t take too long!

There is a common experience people have in Western families of feeling oppressed by a domestic tyrant, whether male or female, or seeing other family members as oppressed, that can give rise to a sharp sense of injustice and embryonic revolutionary feelings. Was this your experience? Think about it.

Sometimes, when I talk to people about what has formed their politics, they start to speak about a political event or moment from long ago in their lives that they can remember today. This is your first political memory, meaning the first time you became aware that there is a political system with power at its core, including disparities of wealth and influence, aware of insiders and outsiders, aware of violence in society and in the world. If you in the audience are following along in this experiential political journey, then ask yourselves ‘Did I explore these first political memories in my analysis?’

Please may we do another experiential exercise? Turning once again to the person you were talking to a few moments ago, please take it in turns to share whatever was your first political memory – not your biggest or most impressive, just the very first one from childhood. Usually people can recapture a political memory – something about money or power or violence or war perhaps – from before the age of thirteen.

That’s the last experiential exercise, so you can relax! The idea was to see what happens when we use one of psychology’s typical maneuvers – the workshop-style experiential exercise – in relation to politics. (Incidentally, you don’t have to be part of the world of therapy and psychology to do these kinds of exercises – I’ve done it with political audiences in many countries. And, if you can do it at Britain’s Labour Party Conference, you can do it anywhere!)

Another way to enter the world of the inner politician is to imagine playfully a scale from zero to ten for political energy, where ten stands for political fanaticism, even martyrdom. Zero stands for absolute passivity and a total lack of interest in politics. Where would you place yourself, what score would you give yourself right now, what level of political energy do you think you have? Just award yourself privately a number from zero to ten for political energy, the libido available to your political self. How political are you?

If you like, you can play around with the scale of political energy. When you’re with people of the same sex, does the energy level go up or down or stay the same? Is it higher at home or at work? Are there some issues that send your level of political energy skyrocketing and some issues that bring it down? I’d like to ask you to think of the last big interpersonal disagreement or fight you had in a professional or work context. Just focus and concentrate on the fight and the other person you were in dispute with. Could it be that there was a different level of political energy at work in each of you?

This notion of political energy derives directly from Jung’s idea that there is a neutral form of psychic energy that exercises its generative effect by running down various ‘channels’: biological, psychological, spiritual and moral channels, for example.

Let’s take this thinking into the traditional heartland of conventional therapy. What was your mother’s level of political energy compared to yours, or to your father’s? More widely, what was your level compared to the typical level of the street or neighbourhood in which you grew up.

Continuing to build on Jung’s ideas to analyse the inner politician, I want to propose the idea of ‘political type’or ‘political style’.

In the conflict resolution work I’ve done, I have noticed that the various people in conflict are often operating in very different political styles. People live out the political aspects of themselves in different, individual ways. Some will be violent terrorists; some pacifists. Some will want empirical back-up for their ideas; others will fly by the seat of their pants. Some will definitely enjoy co-operative political activity; others will suffer the nightmare of trying to accomplish things in a group only because they passionately believe in the ends being pursued.

As we begin to make a start on creating a new hybrid language of psychology and politics, let’s not make the mistake of assuming that everyone will use it in exactly the same way. If we want to promote political creativity, we need to honor and value diverse political types and styles, and to think of ways of protecting such diversity. (I’ll return to the question of diversity in our professional lives in the next section of the paper.)

As I mentioned, the notion of political style is useful when addressing conflict, whether interpersonal or within organisations or between nations or parts of nations such as regions. Just as introverts and extraverts suffer from mutual incomprehension, people or groups that employ a particular political style often have very little idea about how the other person or group is actually functioning politically. This is not to say that political content is irrelevant, only that there may be more that divides opponents than their different views.

I imagine differing political types in a list, like this: warrior, exhibitionist, leader, activist, parent, follower, child, martyr, victim, trickster, healer, analyst, negotiator, bridge-builder, diplomat, philosopher, mystic, ostrich.

Please don’t think you should choose which style you are and stick to it! That is what happens when negotiations get stuck and the frustration that is created is a direct incentive to violence. In fact, the opposite is what is needed to reduce frustration. People have to learn to access many political styles, according to context. Some people will already use one political style in one setting and quite another in a different setting. A negotiator at work may be a terrorist at home. Or people may have a superior political style and an inferior political style, to borrow the words of Jung’s seminal typological schema. Given what we know about the inferior function and the gold it reveals when worked on, isn’t the key question: which of these styles or types are you really bad at?! That’s the one to work on, to try to develop and mature. (See Samuels, 2001, for a fuller account of the foregoing material.)

Can Jungian Analysts Really Make Any Difference Whatsoever in the World Today?

I’m moving on to the second section of the talk now, and asking that question: can Jungian analysts really make any difference whatsoever in the world today? If the previous section illustrated an analytical approach to politics, this one shows the use of political thinking and imagery in connection with analysis.

Although I am enthusiastic about the role of Jungian analysts and analytical psychology in refreshing political culture, I am also somewhat sceptical. So my answer to the question, ‘Can Jungian analysts really make any difference whatsoever in the world today?’ is that it depends on how effectively we deal with the problems of such a project. ‘Therapy thinking’, in concert with the views of others, has the potential to add something quite profound to our understanding of the political. But will it? What changes and reforms must we first make?

To answer these questions, which is what I want to try to do in this section, let’s turn to the history of our profession. To play with the brilliant title of the book by James Hillman and Michael Ventura (1992), we’ve already had more than a hundred years of psychotherapists wanting to change the world, but the world has stayed pretty much the same. For it is truly not a new project for psychotherapists to want to do something in relation to the world (see Foster, Moskowitz, Javier, 1996; Totton, 2000). The pioneers – Freud, Adler and Jung – all wanted it. The cast-out ones – Gross and Reich – wanted it, the Frankfurt School, Franz Fanon and R.D. Laing wanted it, as did the founders of humanistic psychotherapy like Maslow, Rogers, and Perls. All of these great names and their followers invited the world into therapy but the world didn’t show up for its first therapy session. There are good reasons why the world didn’t show up, not just resistance.

One reason is that therapists so much want and need to be right! (Me too, this shadow issue of what John Beebe once called the maddening rectitude of the analyst is not one I pretend to have fully dealt with.) Therapists want to reduce everything to the special knowledge that they have. This kind of reductionism gets therapy a bad name when it comes to political and social issues. For example, I remember reading in the London Guardian an article – later the object of intense ridicule – by a Kleinian psychoanalyst about the phallic symbolism of cruise missiles going down ventilator shafts in Baghdad. Some Jungian colleagues are just as bad when they tell us that the military-industrial complex is all the responsibility of the Greek God Hephaestos. The world won’t listen to that level of explanation from analysts and is right not to. That’s why the priority for psychotherapists and analysts is to embark on multi-disciplinary work with others, to try to have a therapist or analyst on every government committee or commission – but – please God! – not a committee of analysts.

But there is more than therapy reductionism that has stopped us from being useful outside of a few specific areas like psychoanalytically influenced social casework or, in some countries, child and family legislation. Overall there is a rather bad political record to own up to. Psychotherapists of various kinds have colluded with oppressive regimes in Nazi Germany, the former Soviet Union, Argentina and South Africa. They have been involved in dubious activities such as sending soldiers suffering from shellshock and battle fatigue back to the line of battle in both World Wars. In addition to that kind of bad record, there is also the ever-present role of psychotherapy in all manner of normative, judgemental and oppressive practices, including the psychopathological stigmatisation of lesbians and gay men (which still continues in many implicit ways in a wide range of locations – see Magee and Miller, 1997; Davies and Neal, 2000). In addition, there’s the easy joining by therapists all over the Western world in conventional politicians’ attacks on father-lacking lone parent families usually headed by women. On this conservative reading, these families, totally responsible for spoiling our wonderful world, only need a father or father figure to come back to sort them out. I love fathers and was one of the first to write about what good-enough fathers actually do, especially with their bodies, in furthering the sexual, aggressive and spiritual development of their children (1986, 1989, 1993, 2001). But I utterly loathe the damaging idealization of fathers that so many Western politicians have gone in for, backed by complacent analysts, therapists and other mental health professionals.

Then there is the problematic matter of psychotherapy’s implicit claim that Western androcentric, middle-class values and ways of thinking have universal value and are superior to and can be imposed on the values and ways of thinking of non-Western cultures (see Luepnitz, 1988; Kareem and Littlewood, 1992; Adams, 1996). Incidentally, when non-Western cultures are idealized, exoticized and orientalized, the claim for Western superiority secretly gets stronger.

Clearly, these unspoken assumptions reflect the typical caseloads of analysts and therapists, especially in private practice, in many countries (but see Altman, 1995). The treatment of women within much analytic thinking and practice has also been damaging to some. The rise of feminist and gender-sensitive psychotherapy has had an important impact in ameliorating this situation (e.g. Eichenbaum and Orbach, 1982). And what a lot of therapists and analysts say about men is also beginning to receive the same kind of critique that definitions of women and generalizations about them used to receive.

Another reason why people are not so likely to listen to analysts therapists who want to make a difference in the world is that we are completely crazy in our own professional politics and the way we conduct and organize ourselves radiates that craziness. No profession has been quite as subject to splits as the therapy profession, no profession has so frequently used personal demonization and pathological pigeonholing to deal with and get rid of troublesome outsiders and those who question from within. (Turkle, 1979)

These remarks about the amoral professional politics of the analytical world lead me to comment on the damaging absence of a wider political perspective in much current thinking in the field of professional ethics, including, I believe, in the IAAP. All the careful work on codes and practices of ethics, or valorisation of the ethical attitude in analytical work, will be hollow rhetoric if the very framework in which the work is going on is itself unethical. What if the way the profession is organized in many countries excludes suitable people who might want to train, and excludes others who might want to have analysis? What if lack of affirmative action means that those with little money, or from ethnic minority communities, can neither train in nor experience analysis? Aren’t these ethical matters? What if the way we conduct our training programs ignores Jung’s sensitivity to the immense diversity of post-modern psychologies? Hence, isn’t the content of a training program an ethical matter? It seems to me urgent to look at ethics in a wider context and not only in terms of an analyst’s non-retaliatory attitude to her or his patient, crucially important though that is.

When it comes to questions of diversity, both in relation to professional issues and to politics in general, I have found much of interest in Islamic approaches. I have been on a steep learning curve in relation to Islam as a result of participating in inter-faith dialogue in connection with the conflict in the Middle East. In the Koran, we find the idea of Ta’Aruf, which means ‘that you might come to know one another’. The full verse says: ‘O Mankind, we have created of you male and female, and have made you peoples and tribes, that you might come to know one another’. I think this is a brilliant and inspiring take on diversity, giving a true telos (goal, aim, purpose) to it. The world is not homogeneous because, if it were, we would have no need or impulse to know one another. Diversity will involve conflict, but conflict often masks the deepest desire to get in touch and communicate. Difference has been visited up on us by Allah for benevolent reasons: no diversity, no relationality.

A few weeks ago, I gave the keynote address at an ethics conference organized by the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy and, in preparation, made a thorough study of the relevant literature in English. I could not find any references at all to the social and political aspects of our professional world I have just been describing. Hence my interest in reframing questions of inclusivity and diversity as ethical matters. As far as the IAAP is concerned, this line of thinking leads to a new understanding of our work in the Developing Groups as a profoundly ethical undertaking.

Continuing to engage with the embarrassing question of why we world-oriented therapists do not have a client, I turn now to the practice of analysis itself. Reading most clinical texts, it seems that much analysis still seems (or claims) to take place in a political vacuum. There are several delusional aspects of this virginal fantasy about what we do. One delusion is that there are no politics going on the session itself, whereas increasing numbers of clinicians know how the power dynamics and imbalances of the typical therapy set up cannot be wished away by interpreting them as parental transferences to the suffocating mother or the castrating father. These power imbalances can be very subtle, as when they involve the denial of difference of any kind between therapist and client who are spuriously claimed just to be two ordinary and identical human beings on the same journey. Sometimes, the analyst’s use of power over the patient is more obvious, leading to the bending of the client to the moral will of the therapist. And the ongoing phenomenon of sexual misconduct can’t really be looked at without considering its political dimension as an abuse of power. (Samuels, 1996)

Another delusion is that it is not possible to find a responsible way to work directly with political, social and cultural material in the clinical session without moving too quickly onto the symbolic level. I don’t intend today to discuss this technical topic in depth (but see Samuels, 1997, 1999). Briefly, my position is that it is timely to begin to think together about how we might change our practices and our thinking about the nature and purpose of clinical work in order to incorporate these taboo themes of politics, society and culture. In order to explore empirically what has been happening at the interface of psychotherapy and politics in the actual session, I surveyed 2,000 analysts and therapists of diverse schools in several different countries, asking them which political issues their clients mentioned in therapy, how they handled this phenomenon, and related questions. Approximately 700 responded. Quite a few respondents are here today and I am delighted to be able to thank them for their assistance. The questionnaire asked how frequently the clients raised such issues, whether this was increasing or decreasing, and about how the therapists reacted. I also asked the respondents about their own political views and histories. The survey revealed that the therapy profession is far more politically sensitive than one would think, and that politics is a welcome theme in a significant minority of clinical offices. (It underlined the importance of shopping around for and interviewing a potential analyst or therapist.) The answers to the questions about which political and social issues are raised (published in Samuels, 1993, 1994) also made it clear that clients are raising economic, environmental and gender–political issues in their therapy sessions much more than they used to. The respondents clearly wanted to honor and respond to this development but almost all admitted that they lacked training, helpful texts and a general encouragement to do it on a regular, professional, reputable basis. In fact, many felt it would be regarded as bad practice even though they wanted very much to engage more expertly with such material when clients bring it to the session.

I believe that yesterday’s bad practice is set to become today’s good practice. The question will cease to be ‘Why did you let yourself get involved in that political discussion?’ but ‘Why did you evade the political discussion that the patient was seeking?’ I would like to see this matter of politics being part of the clinical material become a rather ordinary, everyday matter, nothing special; not nothing special in the sense of no big deal, but in the sense of something familiar. We surely don’t want to limit political discussion only to those moments of war or attack that make avoidance of the world ‘out there’ impossible. This is not a High Days and Holy Days project. There is a big difference between a mutual exploration of some huge external event that has dominated everyone’s lives (such as September 11, 2001) and struggling to working out regular, ongoing, ordinary ways of working in the session with the patient’s political selfhood (and that of the therapist) as they have evolved over a lifetime. Though a fascinating and important moment in any therapy, engagement with high political drama is simply not the same as making depth work upon the political dimensions of internal and external experience part of contemporary good practice. All that said, we can definitely learn much about how to do this in an ordinary way by sharing experiences we have had in therapy and analysis of the very un-ordinary in politics, as in the recent special issue of the journal Psychoanalytic Dialogues, ‘Reflections on September 11, 2001’and or in Luigi Zoja’s and John Beebe’s edited volumes on that event and other similar publications. Much more work is still neded on the mutually transformative aspects of what I call ‘political discussion’ within the sealed vessel of an ordinary therapy relationship.

I will conclude this section on whether Jungian analysts can make a difference with a political reading or treatment of the analytical situation itself. Analyst and patient are citizens in the same polity. But they will occupy different citizen-positions due to economic, cultural, ethnic and other differences. Nevertheless, despite such differences they are linked by social bonds. I have been wondering about the psychological ramifications of this political depiction of the analytical relationship. Could it be that these social and political linkages facilitate unconscious-to-unconscious communication in the session? That is to say, it is the immersion of analyst and patient in the same social order that promotes unconscious-to-unconscious communication. Citizenship constitutes the alchemical vessel. If so, then everything we know and value about transference-countertransference is made possible by the political relationship of analyst and patient as citizens. The upside-down conclusion of this is that it is the political relationship which leads to the psychological relationship which is a reversal of the usual formulation. Politics has been secretly facilitating our psychological work all along!

If this is so, then we can with confidence begin to radically revise our understandings of what causes emotional distress in humans to include what I call non-personal fields. These are political, social and cultural arrangements that impact on individuals who are apparently not directly affected by them. Such non-personal fields include economic injustice, species depletion, and violence in all its forms. My experience is that the strongest imaginable affects, disturbances in self-image, and psychological conditions (such as depression) involve etiologies at least partly rooted in such non-personal fields. Economic injustice in society at large leads to guilt and insecurity even in the middle classes, species depletion leads to depression at what has been lost and is being mourned, violence leads to the anxiety and fear of the borderline condition.

At the start of this section, I said that my answer to the question of whether Jungian analysis could make any difference was that it depends on how we reform ourselves. Many engaged in psychological healing, probably many in this room today, wish psychotherapy and analysis to realize their social and political potential. But there is a huge gap between desire and outcome. We need to acknowledge that anyone, not just a therapist, who wants to improve things is up against massive impersonal forces that do not want change: the economic system, the workings and institutions of global finance, patriarchy. But there is another, more insidious and paradoxical problem: the human unconscious and the human soul are the sources of imagination, creativity and hope, but they are also the sources of our difficulties, In its cruel and negative aspects, the unconscious resists improvement and change and contributes to the crisis. The unconscious is as destructive and in love with inequality and privilege as it is creative and in love with equality and justice. The very thing that gives us hope that solutions might be found is also the source of the problems that cry out for resolution.


So – what can we do, as analysts and as citizens? What is the scope and nature of our responsibility towards a suffering world? Responsibility is the theme of this third section of the talk.

The viewpoints advocated here today may never, ever be applied to political cultures. Everything psychotherapists and analysts have said or done may fail to make one iota of difference to the condition of the world.

But before we pack up in despair and go home let’s recall that the official politicians and the governments of the world, with all possible resources at their disposal, have not done such a terrific job.

Governments do constantly try improve things in the political world, usually by redistributing wealth or changing legislative and constitutional structures or defusing warlike situations. It is not that nothing is being tried to make things better. But a materialist approach deriving exclusively from economics, or one that depends solely on altering the structures of the state, will not refresh those parts of the individual citizen that a psychological perspective can reach. There is disappointment at liberal democracy’s failure to deliverer the spiritual goods and a sense of meaning and purpose – can we not find a new and better bottom line? There is a growing realization that there are limits to what can be achieved by economic redistribution within a country or between the countries of the world. Similarly, we cannot truly believe any more that altering constitutional structures will provide what is missing in contemporary Western-style politics and heal the calamitous denial of secret psychological life at its core. We can change the clothes, shift the pieces around, but the specter that haunts materialist and constitutional moves in the political world is that they only ruffle the surface. They do not (because, alone, they cannot) bring about the transformations for which the political soul yearns.

What is our responsibility, then? The English words ‘responsible’ or ‘responsibility’ come from the Latin root spondere – to pledge. The dictionary refers to being held to account, being morally responsible for one’s actions and, interestingly, answerable to a criminal charge. If you are responsible for something then there’s a perpetual sense that you are answering a charge, that something is ‘wrong’. These etyomological roots mean that responsibility can only ever be a relational business. One cannot really be responsible if there isn’t another with whom or towards whom one is responsible.

People give themselves much too hard a task when it comes to political responsibility. They lose sight of the very important psychological, spiritual and political notion of good-enoughness. My preference is not to use Winnicott’s notion of good-enoughness developmentally, limiting its use to the parent-child relationship. To me, there is an exciting possibility of refreshing the spiritual and political vocabulary offered to us by our analytical notion of goodenoughness. For example, there’s the good-enough leader who might admit that she or he will fail, and sees their primary task in our risky world as the management of failure. Yes, they will fail their country – but they’ll fail the country in the country’s own way. What about the good-enough citizen? A citizen who recognizes that alone one can do so little, but with other people can achieve much more. I suggest ‘responsible-enough’ should be good-enough for most of us. This idea makes notions of personal responsibility more viable, more achievable. Being responsible-enough involves processes of self- forgiveness and atonement. These processes lie behind the Hebrew word Tikkun, meaning the restoration and repair of the world. We cannot rehabilitate the world if we are so hard on ourselves that we see ourselves only as permanently fractured. We can only move to restore the world on the basis of self-forgiveness and atonement. As Samuel Beckett put it: ‘No matter, try again, fail again, fail better.’ Let’s also recall Rumi’s words: ‘Failure is the key to the kingdom’.

Synchronistically, at the time this talk was given, there was an exhibition at the Miro Foundation on the hill above the Congress hotel entitled ‘The Beauty of Failure and the Failure of Beauty’. This was an evocation of anarchism in Barcelona in 1936, during the Spanish Civil war. Also on Montjuic hill, we find the cemetery of the International Brigade members who didn’t make it home. This sets the scene for the final section of the talk.

Homage to Catalonia

So far, we’ve met the inner politician, asked whether we Jungian analysts can make a difference, and probed the extent of our responsibility. Now this is the final section, the homage to Catalonia.

The book Homage to Catalonia was George Orwell’s biographical memoir of the Spanish Civil War, published in 1938. In it, he paid tribute to the generosity and humanity of Spaniards in general and Catalans in particular. It was the seedbed for his great later works such as Animal Farm and 1984. In the book, we find Orwell concerned about the betrayal of idealism by the manipulators of politically ruthless and power seeking ideologies. He tracks the painful collapse of interpersonal solidarity in the face of the temptations to pursue self-interest. Above all – and this is why I have turned to Orwell and Homage to Catalonia – Orwell laments the failure of what is local, specific and separate to survive the hegemonizing tendencies of the much more powerful centers. He hoped that the Spaniards would ‘drive all the foreigners out of Spain, Germans, Russians and Italians alike’. Later, in 1942, Orwell reflected that ‘the outcome of the Spanish war was settled in London, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Moscow – at any rate not in Spain’.

The political theme of the preservation of regional or national difference vis-a-vis the geopolitical centre is an immensely psychological one, and central in our time. It could even be a psychological metaphor for the psychological vicissitudes of individuation on a personal level. But more concretely, I cannot think of a single present-day global flashpoint where the image of ‘nation’ is absent. Orwell’s concern from the 1930s and 1940s has become our concern today. And in my book, The Political Psyche, I tried to show how the image of ‘nation’ was one that deeply engaged Jung at exactly the same time (Samuels, 1993, pp. 287-336). This image – nation – is found everywhere in world politics as the discourse shifts towards a conscious project of ‘nation-building’ – in Brazil, South Africa, Palestine, Iraq. And there’s the related contrary political and psychological discourse of dismantling the nation so that new nations form from what had hitherto been regarded as ‘regions’ – in Britain, Turkey, Russia, Spain. The problem with the idea of ‘the nation’, as Jung noted, is that its great benefit is also its most damaging feature. Nations imply a transcending of numerous conflictual differences – historical, cultural, ethnic, religious. As Aristotle said, ‘Similars do not make a state’. We do not have to be the same to inhabit the same space. But therein lies the destructive genius of the nation: to destroy difference even whilst making it a social possibility. Some would say that the nation is, so far, the best way we have found to manage differences on a collective scale. But the question then arises: when should we acknowledge the psychological validity of a separatist claim?

As the worldwide furore since September 11th 2001 has shown, the place where one starts from, and from where one does one’s experiencing and observing, is tremendously important. We may live in a global world, but there’s no single global perspective on that world.

When George Orwell returned home from Spain, and was recovering from his wound, he wrote a mystical meditation on England that, with a chilling sting in its tail, became the final passage of Homage to Catalonia. I will let it be my final passage as well. Orwell was, as you know, deeply in touch with the idea of ‘home’ and, for him, home was England, particularly the England he had known in his childhood, the England of the English countryside with its wild flowers and meadows and little cottages. In Orwell’s words, an England with ‘the newspapers telling of cricket matches and royal weddings, the men in bowler hats, the pigeons in Trafalgar Square, the red buses, the blue policemen – all sleeping the deep, deep sleep of England from which I sometimes fear that we shall never wake until we are jerked out of it by the roar of bombs.’

I hope we wake before then. Thank you for listening.


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