Thursday, 22 September 2022

Jung versus Steiner

It is striking that two of the most influential spiritual writers (and movement-leaders) of the early twentieth century - CG Jung and Rudolf Steiner - both lived in Switzerland at the same time, and not far apart - and saying many of the same things...

Yet, apparently (from what little was written or recorded) the two men cordially disliked and rejected one another. 

This mutual dislike is not difficult to understand; but it is unfortunate - especially for Jung; because Steiner's work contained the answer to Jung's insoluble problem of how to 'integrate' Modern Man, and to overcome his alienation. 


Jung was far more prestigious a person - by birth and education, and concerned to maintain his upper class social status. To him, Steiner must have appeared as what he mostly was (from the bulk of his writings and lectures); just another Theosophist; an upstart cultist, locked-into what Jung frequently described the typical errors of the Theosophical Society; that is, a false emphasis that led to modern Westerners, superficially and selectively, trying to copy knowledge and practices from a promiscuous brew of 'Eastern' religion and philosophy. 

Such an attitude from Jung would, I don't doubt, strike Steiner as both ignorant and snobbish; Steiner being older and from a working class Austrian background.  

Also Steiner was, by nature, a 'right man' who would never acknowledge that his ideas had changed or that he ever made an error - and so he never repudiated his usage of the vast body of standard, mainstream Theosophical Society-derived 'information' (identical with, and presumably derived from, Madame Blavatsky, and her successors) about Man and Cosmology, that quantitatively dominate Steiner's public discourses. 

Steiner, indeed, reacted very badly to any criticism, including thoughtful, informed and sympathetic critiques; almost never refuting it directly but instead engaging in irrelevant and blistering ad hominem rants to his loyal followers! Whereas Jung, despite being far moodier, more selfish and bad-tempered than Steiner in his personal relationships, displayed a kind of sublime indifference to his critics.


Yet, buried within this mass of errors, and arbitrary (and implausible) assertions concerning medicine, education, agriculture, and anything else that anybody asked him about - Steiner contains the insight which could have made coherent sense from Jung's almost random, and contradictory, insights.  

Steiner's early books that led to The Philosophy of Freedom, and his later remarks derived from these works - including some of his cultural and prophetic insights concerning the 'destiny' of modern Man and what would happen if this destiny was rejected, were exactly what Jung most needed to know

Jung - who lived with a sound mind until 1961, might even have found these ideas more lucidly expounded by Steiner's posthumous disciple Owen Barfield; e.g. in Romanticism comes of age (1944), or Saving the appearances (1957).  


The core problem that Jung needed to solve, and never did solve; was that his idea of an integrated and un-alienated Man was that of an earlier stage of human history, a child, a dreamer or a psychotic. This arose because Jung regarded a life dominated by the mythic collective unconscious as the ideal and answer. 

To solve this, Jug needed a true and sufficiently-complete set of basic, metaphysical assumptions; on which could be built practical advice. But Jung's metaphysics was incomplete.  

Jung's solution to modern Man' search for soul was therefore to engage deliberately with the collective unconscious, and to become conscious of its content; to seek there the unity and engagement that was lacking. 


This was correct as far as it went; but Jung's methods all involved an atavistic, regressive, sinking-down into the unconscious, and aiming to bring-back the findings. 

He advised seeking a half-way state between the modern consciousness and ancient un-consciousness; striving either to maintain awareness and memory during a descent towards dreams or psychosis; or else assembling an intermediate and symbolic discourse (or images, ideas etc.) to bridge between them. 

In Steiner/ Barfield terms, Jung only acknowledged Original Participation and the modern Consciousness Soul - but disregarded Final Participation. 


From Steiner/ Barfield's perspective; Jung was trying and failing, because it is not possible to reverse the direction of human developmental-evolution. It is not possible to return to something like the Classical-Medieval mindset; during which Man lived-in, and was satisfied-by, Public Systems of symbol, ritual, sacred text and picture mythic or legendary narrative, allegory and the like. 

Jung, in essence, was advocating that modern Man re-create (by acts of personal - and private - creativity) some such symbolic intermediary for himself; make his own 'private religion'. This is what Jung did himself, in his private notebooks, his sculptures and pictures. 

But Jung also stated that any such private spirituality nonetheless had universal significance; so long as it drew from the collective unconscious. 


What emerged was unsatisfactory - it alleviated to some partial and temporary degree the alienation and dis-integration of modern Man (i.e. it has symptomatic therapeutic value) - but the method was inadequate, just didn't work well enough

It did not suffice. 

Why? Because we cannot return with full consciousness and memory and control of our thoughts to the collective unconscious/ Original Participation. What Jung offered was - at best - an alternation between modern consciousness and a simulacrum of the more ancient mind - but not the actuality of the ancient mind. 

The intermediate state of active imagination was - in effect - a kind of lucid dreaming or dissociated semi-sleep state; and this state is both unstable ('metastable' tending either toward waking or sleep) and also insufficient as a solution to the problems of modern Man. 

It is trying to be simultaneously passive, spontaneous and-unconscious; and at the same time active, creative and conscious. These are opposite states - and can only be alternated or else 'averaged'.  

Hence Jung and Jungians can be observed to lack the hallmarks of wisdom, insight, discernment etc. which would characterize an integrated and unalienated person; and they lack the resources (or honesty) to explain this failure.    


Steiner/ Barfield's solution was a third state that Barfield termed Final Participation; in which integration and participation (i.e. escape from alienation) was attained in a new and qualitatively different kind of thinking*. 

This was conceptualized primarily as a learning experience; and the fullness and permanency of this state could be attained only in Heaven (or else after many further incarnations) - thereby explaining its own 'failure': i.e. why Final Participation could only be partial and temporary in this mortal life.  

Jung believed in a life after death, but never integrated this with his other ideas; which his why his ideas have been merely therapeutic - i.e. directed at making this mortal life less miserable and more fulfilling. 

Jung's concepts therefore underlie much of New Age spirituality - which operates at the level of consumption and lifestyle: a quantitative amplification of whatever ideology is already present (nearly-always mainstream leftist); but without the strength to have a qualitative impact; without providing a profound or powerful alternative and satisfying motivation for modern living. 


Therefore, I regard Jung as one of those sources that are harmful if pursued primarily: Jung will not lead anyone to The Truth

But, for those who have already grasped The Truth and who have a Romantic Christian attitude (ie. with personal intuitive discernment acknowledged as the basis of metaphysics); then Jung's work can be an exciting and valuable resource. Read selectively; Jung can even be seen as himself a proto-Romantic Christian. 

Jung's ideas are overall a mass of contradictions: wisdom and foolishness; insight and triviality; truth-seeking and self-serving dishonesty... 

But if approached in the properly critical spirit, we may discover there many helpful and inspiring formulations.  


*Note: By contrast, Jung's reports of his own experiences of the collective unconscious are perceptual. That is; Jung describes visions, conversations and dramatic scenarios between himself and persons or events. These have a 'hallucinatory' quality - i.e. they are subjective, private perceptions; outwith normal discourse and imperceptible to others. 

Further comment: If the reader is unclear about any of the terminology used above, I would advise doing a word/s search on this blog (search box located to the upper left corner of the opening screen) to get background or further explanation.  

11 comments:

R.J.Cavazos said...

There was in Germany starting in late 19th earl 20th century a movement knowns as Monism.

There was a monism league formed by Ernst Haeckel (eminent professor of zoology and inventor of ecology) to which both Jung and Steiner along with other figures such as Ernst Mach, Ferdinand Tonnies and Rudolph Hess belonged. The purpose of this league was to form an evolutionary religion. The league was known to be hostile to Jewish and Christian traditions.

Bruce Charlton said...

@RJC - What is your point?

Jake said...

Thank you for this thoughtful essay that relates the two.

R.J.Cavazos said...

That generally both were in the thrall of their times--what was it that led such different yet highly intelligent people to get into Monism? What Specifically, that as adherents to monism they were into "scientific materialism" and evolution and how and why did this attract them. The point follows--something in the air led to this--what was it and are we witnessing a similar or more urgent call to come up with an better understanding of the world? Will vanity lead some to create ideas like Jung that are accessible though destructive or like Steiner useful only potentially as they are not accessible due to being embedded in incomprehensible tomes.

Bruce Charlton said...

@RJC - Well, no!

I've read about half a dozen or more detailed biographies of both Jung and Steiner; and (like most people) they were associated with all kind of groups, to very varying degrees and durations, at different points in life - some of them I regard as malign.

But such 'guilt by association' does not define their original and true insights and understandings, selectively discerned by a Christian in the way I describe! Someone who is net-malign, overall; may nonetheless have made genius level contributions - indeed, this is pretty much usual for creative geniuses.

john said...

I still say anything using the word evolution is wrong. Consciousness has not evolved. Its just that different ideas are popular. Basically "consciousness is a cultural construct."

Bruce Charlton said...

@j - "Consciousness has not evolved. "

You should be aware that this is Not a matter for empirical investigation. It cannot, in principle, be settled by evidence. It is a (metaphysical) assumption whether consciousness evolved, or did not.

And evolved merely means changed: thus, if consciousness evolved it may have done so secondarily to some other primary cause; or the evolution of consciousness may have been the driving cause behind cultural change.

And this culture-driving change of consciousness may have been due to some physical developmental process - or due to God's creative will.

That last is what I believe. That the development of human consciousness through history was the driving force behind cultural change, and was intended by God.

Of course that, in itself, leads to even more questions...

The Anti-Gnostic said...

I don't know the particulars of the evolution of consciousness. But I think we are very clearly different human beings occupying a different mental universe than preceding generations. All one has to do is read the Old Testament or Homer's Odyssey to see evidence of this.

Bruce, have you ever read Julian Jaynes's thesis: The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind? (Jaynes is unfortunately atheistic and takes the obligatory potshots at modern religious belief. But it's still pretty intriguing).

a_probst said...

All I have read of Jung are essays in Man and his Symbols and the entirety of Memories, Dreams, and Reflections.

As you said, he believed in an afterlife. But I had the impression he was leaving himself a materialistic 'out' and implying that the collective unconscious was a built-in neurological feature of the human brain, containing its compatible store of archetypes and legend forms.

Or maybe he did this to get materialists to listen.

Bruce Charlton said...

@A-G - I haven't read Jaynes, although I have read summaries and many people who purports to have been influenced by him. From this, Jaynes doesn't interest me, because it sounds obviously mistaken and unhelpful. When I was a 'brain scientist' (grinding up frozen brains and measuring receptors etc) or later as a theoretician (e.g. appendix one to https://www.hedweb.com/bgcharlton/psychhuman.html) Jaynes struck me as just obsolete pop science.

But also, a few decades ago, 'everyone' went on about brain structure and functional division, as if this somehow helped with spiritual problems. I first came across this in Colin Wilson - most recently in Iain McGilchrist. Although sometimes interesting, I never found this helpful - indeed it bored me when persisted-with.

But this kind of attempt to fuse science with the spiritual is a red herring at best (a futile attempt to return the modern to the medieval): at worst it subordinates the spiritual to mainstream, modern domination by the material; and points at material approaches to spiritual problems.

That's working for the wrong side!

Bruce Charlton said...

@a_p - It seems futile to try and work out what Jung "really" thought! Sometimes he said one thing, sometimes another. I don't think he really knew himself - and was not sufficiently honest to confront his own incoherence. And psychotherapy seems to be a strongly corrupting activity to engage in - so that didn't help.

But my impression is that Jung At His Best (if one is patient enough to sift through and find this) came pretty close to the Romantic Christian view. e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QGIUalJNBdE