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Thread: Jews and American Popular Psychology

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    Post Jews and American Popular Psychology

    Originally posted on Stirpes:

    Jews and American Popular Psychology:
    Reconsidering the Protestant Paradigm of Popular Thought

    by Andrew R. Heinze
    The Journal of American History
    Vol. 88, No. 3, December 2001, pp. 950-978

    Jews have played a greatly disproportionate role in marketing psychological history, but scholars have not systematically grappled with this fact as a problem of intellectual and cultural history. Historians generally describe American popular psychology as an aftereffect, mutation, or extenuation of Protestant modes of thought. Jews appear sporadically in the histories but generally as isolated individuals inexplicably dotting a post-Protestant landscape. Yet Jewish thinkers created much of the American lexicon of self in the twentieth century, articulating the human desire for self-expression and acceptance with such concepts as ego-id-superego, rationalization, projection, defense mechanism, identity, identity crisis, life cycle, inferiority complex, compensation, life-style, peak experience, self-actualization, and I-thou relationship. Jews also pioneered in what might be termed the social psychology of evil, producing classic studies of the conditons under which individuals violate their sense of right and wrong ...

    This essay ... will examine the disproportionate presence of Jewish psychologists and psychiatrists among the early populizers of psychology. It will argue that those writers and speakers shared core values by virtue of their Jewish background, and that they infused those values into American culture through the market of psychological advice and explanation ...

    In the public conversation on psychology, Jews found an avenue of cultural authority. As they participated in shaping American opinion about human nature, they answered urgent questions about the place of the Jew in modern society ... They adapted the progressive, functionalist orientation of American psychology, which emphasized change and human flexibility, to campaign against popular attitudes that they, as Jews, considered dangerous: hereditarian views of intelligence, the stereotype of the Jew as neurotic, and mystical as well as Christianized interpretations it the subconscious mind. Alone among American populizers of psychology, they emphasized the theme of evil in the form of irrational mob violence and thus challenged the radically optimistic notions of the psyche -- Jamesian transcendentalism and Watsonian behaviorialism -- that dominated popular thought. Through the idiom of modern psychology, Jews wrote middle-class Americans a moral prescription that, if followed, would produce a social order that was "good for the Jews" but also propitious for other outsiders seeking integration into American society ...

    Joseph Jastrow [was a] professional psychologist who wrote prolifically for a popular audience between 1890 and 1940 ... Hugo Munsterberg [was the] principal founder of American applied psychology ... Boris Sidis ... "pioneered in the study of split and dissociated personality ... Abraham Arden Brilla and Isador Coriat were two of the most important popularizers of [Sigmund] Freud in the United States ... Abraham Myerson[was] an influential voice in the heated debates on intelligence testing and eugenic sterilization ... Alfred Adler ... exert[ed] a tremendous influence through public lectures, interviews, and the translations of his popular books ... Walter Beran Wolfe[was] the most effective expositor of Adlerian psychology for the general public ... Taken together those Jewish psychologists and psychiatrists produced a very large corpus of books, magazines and newspaper aricles, and radio addresses from 1890 to 1940 ... With the exception of Coriat, all were foreign-born ...
    Serving in a kind of Jewish intellectual camp along with such luminaries as the anthropologist Franz Boas, the economist Edwin R. A. Seligman, and the journalist Walter Lippman, the exponents on the new psychology joined a moral-philosophical campaign whose essential idea is well-described in Dorothy Ross's assessment of Seligman: 'More pointedly than anyone had before him, the Jewish-American cosmopolitan declared that 'the American of the future will bear little resemblance to the America of the past' ...

    The most obvious effect of Jews as popular psychological writers was their introduction of Jewish themes into a genre that otherwise would have lacked them. Like Freud's writings, which were shot through with references to Jews and Jewish culture,
    Jewish contributions to American popular psychology called attention to Jews, especially immigrant Jews ...[M]ost of the writers, while maintaining close relationships with their other colleagues, reserved a special intimacy for fellow Jews... [i]t was significant that Jewish authors not only abstained from Christian influences but made Jewish ones ... The Jewish psychological writers were atheists or agnostics who nevertheless esteemed Jewish Scripture, rather than the Gospels, as the font of Western morality. Sometimes they juxtaposed Judaism and Christianity with a polemical edge ...

    Addressing the notion of neurotic Jews, Jewish psychological writers identified environmental causes, Christian persecutions and Jewish Orthodoxy, and offered a solution, assimilation of modern habits, but some of them went one step further, suggesting that the American character would benefit from a touch of Jewish nervousness ... The theme of the Jew as gifted for survival by the same history that made him nervous resonated among the psychological writers ...

    Along with familialism, urbanism, and intellectualism, there was a final component of the ghettoized Jewish personality,
    communalism, that these writers believed to be productive of both neurosis and mental health. The intense self-protectiveness or "clannishness" of Jews was probably the most conspicuous feature of traditional Jewish life ... 'The Jewish people are more or less introverted, or turned into themselves, as it were,' Brill declaimed, 'and this is the main factor in their neurotic character.

    Brill considered Jewish insularity a negative paradigm, one that he ironically underscored with a citation from the Talmud ... A final core value that Jewish psychological writers shared, regardless of their intellectual differences, was hostility to mass irrationalism, which they saw as the basis of social evil.

    As a result of this concern,
    Jews spoke out with greater unanimity and fervor than their colleagues about mystical views of the unconscious and popular movements, such as spiritualism and Christian Science, all of which they judged to be dangerous ... It is noteworthy that the most publicly vociferous opponents of spiritualism in America in the earlier twentieth century -- Jastrow, Munsterberg, and the magician Harry Houdini -- were Jews, and that Jastrow carried on the most extensive campaign against Christian Science. Jews were here going against the American grain, for the mystification of the subconscious was deeply appealing to American sensibilities ... The Jewish rejection of a mystified subconscious was linked to Jewish apprehension about popular enthusiasms, especially when they assumed quasi-Christian forms ... [These Jews] did not see the human being as infinitely malleable, which meant potentially indistinguishable from any other human being. It was difficult for them as Jews to discount the complicated reality of ethnic traits that were virtually, though not actually, hereditary."
    Great piece! Its obvious that they made a Psychology for a liberalcapitalistic, deconstructed mass society in which they made everything deviating from its ideals pathological.
    Magna Europa est patria nostra

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    Post Re: Jews and American Popular Psychology

    Quote Originally Posted by Agrippa
    Alone among American populizers of psychology, they emphasized the theme of evil in the form of irrational mob violence and thus challenged the radically optimistic notions of the psyche -- Jamesian transcendentalism and Watsonian behaviorialism -- that dominated popular thought.


    A final core value that Jewish psychological writers shared, regardless of their intellectual differences, was hostility to mass irrationalism, which they saw as the basis of social evil.
    The theme of irrational mobs originated in the works of the French Gustave Le Bon (for instance, in "La Psychologie des foules", or Mobs' Psychology), founder of Social Psychology.

    The theme was an indictment against democratic regimes, said by Le Bon to be driven by mobs and their irrational psychology. A Parlamient, for instance, was described as a mob.

    I suppose that these American Jews never quoted his works.

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    Post Re: Jews and American Popular Psychology

    Unfortunately, much of what is said in this article is true.

    It is even more unfortunate when our kinsmen in Europe serve the cause of such jewish thinkers by perpetuating the notion that such trends in thought are inherent to American thought, representative of all Americans, and an irreversible destiny for America.

    Perhaps the most relevant clause in the article:
    Jews were here going against the American grain...

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