C. G. Jung is one of the most significant figures in psychology of this century, second only to Freud in his influence on culture and intellectual life, as well as on psychiatry. Yet there has still not been a major biography of Jung, mainly because - as Richard Noll makes clear in The Aryan Christ - those who guard his personal archives are persistently unhelpful. Something ought to be done to overcome such intolerable barriers to the emergence of the truth.
Yet Noll, a Harvard historian of psychology, has shown what can be achieved by more indirect approaches. His first work, The Jung Cult, is so far unpublished in Britain, but transatlantic hints are to the effect that it is a highly erudite though critical analysis of the Jungian movement. In this book, Noll provides a lucid explanation of the origins of that movement, seen through some of Jung's extraordinary personal experiences and through extensive case histories of three female acolytes. Its scholarship is impeccable, with a remarkable command of German-language sources, showing among other things that Jung's quasi-autobiography (Memories, Dreams, Reflections) is not at all to be trusted.
Noll says that his project is to supply some of the missing chapters in the story of Jung's life, beginning with the family roots in Germany, where his paternal grandfather was an early nationalist. This man's obsession with the Volk was to be a powerful influence on his grandson. As a young psychiatrist, though, Jung's main involvement was with Freud, who became his spiritual guru and saw him as the successor who would transform psychoanalysis from being largely a "Jewish" enterprise. At the same time, Jung developed the word-association test, leading to introversion-extraversion theories of personality, that made him world famous by 1909. Yet while those paths had their uses, they were essentially blind alleys compared with his personal odyssey.
It was in fact after the break with Freud that the most surprising events occurred. From early on, Jung had believed that the unconscious was a source of higher knowledge and that he could establish a personal relationship with the voices and images within it. This led to a flirtation with pagan antiquity, which held sex and polygamy to be sacred, in contrast to Christianity's repressive orthodoxies. Jung's personal life has long been known to be a scandal, but Noll shows that this was no mere self-indulgence, but also what Jung saw as an essential step in founding a new religion: polygamy. By this process, he theorised that a life could be meaningful only if religious beliefs and practices resonated with those of one's racial ancestors - which in his case cut out Jews and Slavs.
Next occurred a most bizarre episode, not well documented before this book, in which Jung passed through a process of self-deification, becoming - in his eyes at least - the "Aryan Christ". In this, he became convinced that he had travelled to the realm of the gods and talked to Philemon, an old man with horns and wings. Next, he claimed to have absorbed the secrets of Mithraism and to have been reborn as a pagan god with a lion's head. The whole absurd cocktail was mixed up with some of the nastiest aspects of German cultural nationalism. Whether Jung was frankly psychotic at this time or drifting in and out of some form of dissociative trance will not be known until more of his papers are made available to scholars.
The later relationship between Jung and National Socialism has been a particularly sensitive issue for his followers. Noll sums it up quite briefly: "Jung had little interest in politics per se. He may have been a Volkish German and perhaps anti-Semitic, but there is no evidence that he was ever a Nazi. This is not to say that he opposed the Nazis either." But even more important, Noll provides the ideological and cultural background to this relationship, in which there is an unfortunate resonance between Jung's wish for a spiritual revitalisation of the German people and some of the Nazi ideology. Behind both was the Volkish belief in the power of soil, blood and the collective memory of a people occupying the same territory for centuries. That both were preoccupied with the importance of the Aryan race remains an embarrassment for present-day Jungians. Noll's account then gathers speed and comes to a rather breathless end in 1936.
Should Noll's two books, then, provoke some fundamental re-examination of the Jungian canon? Almost certainly they should. It would be a useful start, though, if some influential Jungian figures would at least admit that part of it is no more than higher nonsense. Meanwhile, the same analytical razor needs to be applied to the later stages of Jung's career, including the anthropological travels. Let us hope that Noll's thoughts have turned in that direction.
Hugh Freeman is honorary visiting fellow, Green College, Oxford, and former editor, British Journal of Psychiatry.
The Aryan Christ: The Secret Life of Carl Gustav Jung
Author - Richard Noll
ISBN - 0 333 66618 6
Publisher - Macmillan
Price - £20.00
Pages - 320