C. G. Jung – The Undiscovered Self

C. G. Jung – The Undiscovered Self

London Routledge, 2014 Pp.79 pbk.

This is a new edition of Jung’s 1958 work under the banner of Routledge Great Minds and contains a new forward written by Sonu Shamdasani. Jung was 83 years old when it was published, and it is one of his final works. As Shamdasani tells us in his forward, the final five years of Jung’s life were spent on three main projects; Memories, Dreams and Reflections, completing the transcription of the Red Book (a task that he never finished) and the work under discussion here which is a sustained attempt to look at contemporary political and social life through the lens of analytical psychology. The text appeared a year before in 1957 in a journal under the title Present and Future and also an excerpt was published in the Atlantic Monthy entitled God, The Devil and the Human Soul. It was for the American market that the title The Undiscovered Self was arrived at by the publisher. It is well to bear these other titles in mind when reading the book, since all three titles bear a strong relation to the content and Jung’s cast is so wide that, indeed, one could invent other titles for the book.


If the individual is not anchored in the extramundane there is no defence against persuasions of the world and its collective patterns.


Jung highlights the problem of a broad belt of collective unconsciousness in society which leaves humankind open to all sorts of influences and psychic infections. Since in modern times theoretical knowledge based on statistics is the prevalent paradigm, the real individual facts of experience go unnoticed. This is one of the leitmotifs of the book; that real facts are individual.

“If I want to understand an individual human being, I must lay aside all scientific knowledge of the average man and discard all theories in order to adopt a completely new and unprejudiced attitude. I can only approach the task of understanding with a free and open mind, whereas knowledge of man, or insight into human character, presupposes all sorts of knowledge about mankind in general.” (p.6)

Jung advises the doctor to do one thing while not losing sight of the other; i.e. keeping knowledge and understanding both in mind, which results in a paradox. He criticises science for it’s supposed objectivity (except modern physics where the observer is included in the picture) which results in a picture of the world from which the individual is excluded. Thus scientific assumptions create a statistical world picture which is dangerous to individuality and inevitably leads to the state as the highest principle, with individual moral responsibilty being replaced by the policy of the state.

Undiscovered Self, 1999 (Jerry Uelsmann)
Undiscovered Self, 1999 (Jerry Uelsmann)

Jung brings his critical eye to socially established forms of religion and it’s point of intersection with the state. To maintain its power the sate must cut the ground from under the religions as religion means dependence on the irrational facts of experience. But an attitude to the external facts of life can only be gained when there is a reference point outside of it. Religions are, or were, the provider of this experience. However religious doctrines tend to mirror the outer doctrine of the state on another level causing the same estrangement. Jung calls these ‘creeds’ because they give expression to a definite collective belief and uses the word religion as a “subjective relationship to certain metaphysical, extramundane factors”. (p.14) Without this there are no real ethics as the lack of individual responsibility means they are only a collective moral code. Moreover, adherence to a creed is more often sought for social reasons rather than an individual religious concern. In an individual relationship with the extramundane the subject must surrender the authority of his ego to an authority that is transcendent, and he or she achieves this through empirical awareness which acts as a counterpoise to our “enlightened” mass world view. Jung is very unforgiving here;

It is not ethical principles, however lofty, or creeds, however orthodox, that lay the foundations for the freedom and autonomy of the individual, but simply and solely the empirical awareness, the incontrovertible experience of an intensely personal, reciprocal relationship between man and an extramundane authority which acts as a counterpoise to the “world” and its “reason”. (p.16)

If the individual is not anchored in the extramundane there is no defence against persuasions of the world and its collective patterns.

Jung tackles the problem of religious fanaticism which he sees as the primary holding principle behind the formations of dictator states – religious because the religious function of the psyche is at work, however distorted, and thus the dictator and state is deified and is the highest principle. The West is powerless to counter the threat from the East precisely because this religious deification is impervious to appeals to reason. The only effective defence against ‘psychic infection” would be an equally potent religious attitude of a wholly different nature, but since in the West adherence to a creed is the norm then the basis for this faith is unreflecting belief which is not ratified by inner experience. Were the Christian texts to be understood symbolically rather than literally then it could not be repudiated by the scientific standpoint and might avert the possibility of being wiped out completely and be able to sustain religious needs. This would allow for the individuality of the person to be respected as the symbolic process itself is a psychic phenomenon involving the individual. Without this understanding, individuality becomes lost in the statistical evaluations of both science and the church, which for the latter translates as heresy and spiritual pride. Not only this, because individuality involves empirical experience which has fallen by the wayside, the psyche has been devalued by an attitude of fear. Science, religious creeds and an attitude of fear thus all conspire to prevent the individual from experiencing the psyche empirically, by which Jung means the experience of the instincts and their archetypal forms.

Jung goes into some detail about how these collective versus individual forces appear in therapy, in the relationship between the doctor and patient as well as in relation to the historical forces that have shaped the patient’s life. Jung clearly sees it as the doctor’s duty not to preach oughts and shoulds so that he can at least offer a space to counteract the barrage of propaganda from outside the consulting room. He also makes it clear what an enormous achievement it is to even begin to be the owner of conscious individual impulses, for the environment “cannot give him as a gift that which he can win for himself only with effort and suffering.” (p.41)

There is a passage that is worth quoting at length because Jung gives us an insight into just why it should be in our modern age that individuality is so easily driven to the wall.

“Where the many are, there is security; what the many believe must of course be true; what the many want must be worth striving for, and necessary, and therefore good. In the clamor of the many there lies the power to snatch wish-fulfillments by force; sweetest of all, however, is that gentle and painless slipping back into the kingdom of childhood, into the paradise of parental care, into happy-go-luckiness and irresponsibility. All the thinking and looking-after are done from the top; to all questions there is an answer; and for all needs the necessary provision is made. The infantile dream state of the mass man is so unrealistic that he never thinks to ask who is paying for this paradise. The balancing of accounts is left to a higher political authority, which welcomes the task, for its power is thereby increased; and the more power it has, the weaker and more helpless the individual become.” (p.42)

It is Jung’s position, that far from being finished and antiquated, the Christian myth might continue in an altered and reconsidered form and could well quell the collective orientation of modern society. However, politics, science and technology have gained the upper hand and nobody is interested as to how this Christian myth might be reconsidered and extended, and nobody is aware of the psychic facts the underlie religious myths. The mythic qualities of the natural religious function rather get projected and if not by the deification of the leaders of the mass state then by a peculiar kind of dynamic energy which infects social life in forms associated with work, money and other spaces which are thought to be entirely free of any religious inflexions. This picture of a lost natural function that is denied conscious expression is responsible for the split in the modern psyche which has its political analogy in the Iron Curtain of East/West divide.

Jung concentrates on this aspect of his time and it is always in evidence as ones reads every page, although only sometimes explicit. The divide is really what he is getting at and what it all comes down to in the end. Ones realise that the whole subject of the book is really about the discrepancy between intellect and feeling in the modern age and all the opposites that can be derived from this basic configuration.

The consequences of this widespread division on the social and political level are disastrous, leading to what some have called the post-human age. In a post-human world, the world is not organised to serve human needs and human goals. Rather human beings serve the objective and impersonal systems of politics, economics and technology. In a world so constructed subjective inner experience is superfluous, and it is arguably Jung’s whole life project to reintroduce this fact of inner experience on an individual level.

This is a short book, but characteristic of Jung that he manages so much in so few pages. It is characteristic of Jung too that he can carry the roles of doctor and cultural critic at one and the same time. Jung saw that pathology could not merely be regarded from the clinical standpoint but that it needed to be situated within a social web and thus saw various pathologies as a psychosocial phenomenon with the individual at the centre of a sick system of social relationships. This book, perhaps more than any other single work of Jung, is an attempt to expose this from a socio-political position.







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