Monday, 3 November 2014

Forgetting Wilhelm Reich (24 March 1897 - 3 November 1957)

Wilhelm Reich died 57 years ago today. He was a Freudo-Marxian psychoanalist, sexual pervert, conspiracy theorist, ufologist, and quack. To his 1933 book, Mass Psychology of Fascism, we owe the fatuous idea that fascism is a symptom of sexual repression. This idea is still taken seriously today, notably by post-modern intellectuals. He died in prison after being convicted for contempt of court in a fraud case.

Reich was born in Dobzau, now in the Ukraine, but then in the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, a part of Austro-Hungarian Empire. Soon after birth, the family relocated to Bukovina. His parents, Leon and Cäcilia, well-to-do farmers, were vehemently apostate Jews: they raised him and his brother as non-Jews, taught them only German, punished their use of Yiddish expressions, and forbade them from playing with local Yiddish-speaking children—all in vain, however, for as an adult Reich operated in an overwhelmingly Jewish milieu.

His childhood may explain his—shall we say, 'colourful'—career: his younger sister died an agonising death while still an infant, and Reich, according to his second daughter, was abused by a paedophile, which triggered an early and unhealthy obsession with sex. He recorded in his diaries that at the age of four he attempted to have sex with the family maid, with whom he shared a bed, he sexually abused horses with a whip handle while masturbating, had almost daily sexual intercourse with the servants from age 11, visited brothels regularly from the age of 15, daily from the age of 17 (even though women disgusted him), and even had sexual fantasies about his mother, whom he kept in his thoughts while pleasuring himself. What is more, his father was cold and jealous, while his mother cuckolded her husband with Reich's live-in tutor. Reich, then 12, knew about his: he secretly followed his mother on her nocturnal visits to the tutor's bedroom, feeling jealous to the point that he considered forcing her to have sex with him too by threatening to inform his father. This he did eventually, leading to beatings and, finally, to her suicide in 1910. The tutor was, of course, ordered out of the house, and Reich, who had hitherto been taught at home, was sent to a gymnasium in Czernowitz, where he developed life-long psoriasis. And there was yet more to come, for his father died of tuberculosis in 1914, inflation wiped out his inheritance, and the Russians invaded Bukovia, causing him and his brother to flee, losing everything. The brother, Robert, would also die of tuberculosis in 1926.

At this point, with the Great War in full swing, there was nothing to do but enroll in the Austro-Hungarian Army. He served from 1915 to 1918, and rose to lieutenant. Afterwards, he went to Vienna, where he enrolled at the University of Vienna to study law. The subject bored him to tears, however, so he switched to medicine. This he loved, but he was sulky about the mechanistic view of life in vogue at the time. As a student, he was impecunious, surviving on soup, oats, and dried fruit from the university canteen, and living in a shared room that might as well have been a meat refrigerator. Indeed, he had to keep his coat and gloves on at all times. He also fell in love with a fellow student while dissecting a corpse—why not?—but she snubbed him.

More bad luck intervened: in 1919 he met Sigmund Freud, then on his final year before retiring as university lecturer. Reich asked him for a reading list for a seminar on sexology. Inevitably, given their base fixations, they took an instant liking for each other, and Freud permitted Reich to see psychoanalytic patients that same year (despite Reich being a callow undergraduate of 22), and even to join his Vienna Psychoanalytic Association, which operated from at flat and consisted of sycophantic followers. Reich, now with a modest income, began his own psychoanalysis, and then moved to a few houses away from Freud's base, on the same street.

The unseriousness and semi-criminal nature of Freudian psychoanalysis soon became manifest. Reich took on a 19-year-old female patient, Lore Kahn, with whom he quickly had an affair. As Reich's landlady and the girl's parents forbade their meetings, she rented a freezing room for purposes of sex. Bloodied knickers subsequently found by her mother in a cupboard suggest Reich got her pregnant, attempted an illegal abortion, using who knows what equipment (a coat hanger, perhaps?), and caused the girl to develop and infection that led to her death by sepsis. When Lore's mother made the allegation, the conceited butcher claimed she had made it up because she had been sexually attracted to him and, in the spirit of hell hath no fury, she wanted spitefully to damage him. Lore's mother then committed suicide and Reich was never investigated or prosecuted for his crime.

Worse still, this set a pattern, because poor Lore would be the first of four partners who would end up having abortions at this Reich's insistence.

But the monster was only getting started. His fourth psychoanalytic patient, 18-year-old Annie Pink, was also seduced by him. This time he was forced to take responsibility, for her father demanded he married her. The wedding took place in 1922 and was witnessed by two of his movement chums.

All the same, Reich was given useful breaks. Because he was a war veteran, he was allowed to complete his six-year medical degree in four, and thereafter he enjoyed the opportunity to study neuropsychiatry under the soon-to-be Nobel Prize winner Julius Wagner von Jauregg. If only he'd put this to good use!

Instead, Reich chose to work for Freud at his Vienna Ambulatorium, a psychoanalytic outpatients clinic. Like the one that opened two years earlier in Berlin , this was clearly designed by Freud to gain followers for his movement and build his market share: it offered low-cost psychoanalysis to naïve and vulnerable people who could not otherwise pay for it (labourers, farmers, and students), many of whom were victims of shell-shock. While at the Ambulatorium, Reich sought out psychopaths, and it is perhaps telling that, later on, when Freud brought him into the executive committee of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, Paul Federn objected to the appointment on the basis that, having psychoanalysed Reich, he had concluded that the man was a psychopath too.

Within a short time, Reich rose to become the Ambulatorium's assistant director. But he was a man on a mission, not to mention a political agenda, so he also opened no less than six free sex clinics, pompously called German Society of Proletarian Sexual Politics, where he pumped his clients' heads full of not only psychoanalytical pseudoscience, but also Marxist babble, to a degree that even fellow members of the Freudian cult found alarming. Not content with this, Reich added advocacy of sexual permissiveness and a constant supply of contraceptives for the working class. And he still went a step further, discarding any form of professional dignity and taking his Freudo-Marxism to the streets in the form of mobile clinics. Thereby psychiatry was reduced to wares at a market stall. There were enough gullible people around to overcrowd his practice.

Of course, the Psychoanalytic Institute in Vienna thought highly of him: in 1924 Reich was added to the faculty and made director of training. His first book, Der triebhafte Charakter: Eine psychoanalytische Studie zur Pathologie des Ich, was published a year later, and brought him professional recognition. If it was not entirely without merit, in that it argued for a systematic theory of character, it was certainly by the wrong author, for reasons that should be obvious by now, and which will become even more obvious as we progress in this narrative.

Concurrent with his work on character, Reich became obsessed with the idea of a good orgasm being the cure for every neurosis. In fact, Reich subordinated character analysis to this hobby horse of his, arguing that the aim of the latter was 'orgastic potency'. Even the pseudo-scientific cultists of the Freudian movement looked askance at Reich's idea. In time, however, they became amused, and took ridiculing him as 'the prophet of the better orgasm' and the 'founder of the genital utopia'. And when, in 1927, Reich handed over to Freud the manuscript of his a new book on the function of the orgasm, his elderly mentor raised an eyebrow and said, 'That thick?' Freud procrastinated writing a reply, and opted to be kind, penning a brief note of commendation. But Freud thought his impetuous disciple had much to learn.[1]

In 1927 Reich contracted tuberculosis, which led him to spend some time at a sanatorium in Davos, Switzerland. Instead of profiting from the natural beauty and fresh air, Reich experienced an existential crisis, and returned to Vienna filled with anger, doubt, and paranoia. Not long after, he took part in the July Revolt of 1927, where he encountered full-on human irrationality. His response? To join the Communist Party, of course.

Now a fully fledged communist, all that was left was to save up for a pilgrimage to the Soviet Union, then under Stalin. This he did in 1929. All he learnt from the trip, however, was that Marx had to be integrated with Freud.

Throughout this period and until 1933, Reich worked on his 'masterpiece', Charakteranalyse: Technik und Grundlagen für studierende und praktizierende Analytiker. Ostensibly, this was about character analysis, but in reality it was an effort to open pathways for social engineering by reconfiguring a person's character structure. This was pure Freudian pseudo-science: character structure was, according to Reich, the result of castration and Oedipal anxieties within the nuclear family. Reich thought that a person developed a muscular or body armour, based on character, emotional blocks, and corporal tension. Thinking that blockages resulted from childhood repression, Reich proposed dissolving the body armour to bring back the memory of that repression and thus clear the blockage.

Accordingly, Reich deemed Freud's mandibular cancer was due to his character armouring, not in his compulsive smoking, and—somewhat anti-Semitically—he also decided that Freud's Judaism was the result of repressing his impulses.

In 1930—that is, in the midst of this—Reich moved to Berlin, where he reprised the strategy he'd deployed in Vienna: he opened sex clinics in working-class districts, taught sex 'education', and littered the community with sexo-political pamphlets. He also joined the Communist Party of Germany, but he was no team-player and, upon becoming impatient with a delay publishing one of his pamphlets (Der sexuelle Kampf der Jugend), in 1932 he set up his own publishing house to push his propaganda.

Despite this minor irritant, thus far Reich was doing pretty well for himself. Soon, however, those around him decided they'd had enough. After Reich got involved in a conference promoting adolescent sexuality, the Communist Party informed him that they would no longer publish his material. In turn, Freud informed him that his publishing contract for Charakteranalyse with the International Psychoanalytic Publishers was cancelled. And, finally, after repeatedly cheating on his wife, their marriage was ended.

Reich had by this time been in a relationship with a dancer, Elsa Lindenberg. Hitler had come to power, and the Völkischer Beobachter published an attack on his Der sexuelle Kampf der Jugend. Reich deemed it best to make a move; he and Elsa packed their bags and went to Vienna. From there they moved to Denmark, but Reich found the Communist Party there wanted nothing to do with him, excluding him before he even joined, due to his promotion of teenage sex and his preposterous tome, then recently published, The Mass Psychology of Fascism, which even they thought rubbish. You know you've hit rock bottom when even communists won't have you.

The only thing that made sense, then, was to try and find support among the British, who are tolerant of eccentrics. Fortunately, British psychoanalysts concluded, after a number of interviews, that he Reich was going to prove troublesome, so they sent him on his merry way.

Next, Reich tried Sweden, but the Swedes were no fools and quickly placed him under surveillance. Not without good reason, given his antecedents and aggressive hands-on style of psychoanalysis, they thought Reich was running a brothel from his hotel room, using Lindenberg as a prostitute. Consequently, the Swedish government refused to extend his visa, and Reich was forced to go back to Denmark, this time under a fake name.

Concerning Reich's hands-on style of psychoanalysis, this is meant literally. From 1930 he had adopted a confrontational posture as a psychoanalyst: he sat facing his patients and began lecturing them and answering his own questions. He also asked them to strip naked or almost naked, depending on his mood, and forcefully to apply pressure on parts of their bodies, to the point of eliciting pain. Essentially, this was not psychological analysis but physical assault. Reich sometimes noticed waves of pleasure rippling through his clients' bodies, and he interpreted this as an orgasmic reflex. As a result of this, he considered calling his sessions 'orgasmotherapy', but he seems to have had a modicum of sense left, and opted instead for the meaningless—and innocuous-sounding—term 'vegetotherapy'.

Now, Freud was not one to tolerate deviation. As a cult leader, he demanded absolute conformity and obedience from his followers. Independent thought was not allowed. Those who followed this simple rule, staffed his movement; those who didn't were expelled. And Reich was clearly a loose cannon. Therefore, he was asked to resign from the Psychoanalytic Association. He didn't and in 1934 went to Lucerne to attend a conference organised by this group. He was informed he had been expelled the previous year. Reich and his girlfriend camped in a tent outside the conference, and Reich chose also to carry a large knife in his belt, confirming his reputation as a madman.[2][3] Federn was singularly unimpressed, declaring, 'Either Reich goes or I go!'[3]

Yet even then there were some still willing to give Reich a helping hand. Harald K. Schjelderup, professor of psychology at the University of Oslo, invited Reich to lecture on character analysis and vegetotherapy. Offered a hand, he took an arm, and Reich and his girlfriend stayed on for five years.

While in the future Mecca of Black Metal, Reich attempted to find a biological basis for his theories. Drawing from the work of Friedrich Kraus (the father of electrocardiography), who postulated a bio-electrical system was present in the body that acted like a relay system of charge and discharge, Reich grafted onto this his orgasmic theories. His simple orgasmic formula is, perhaps serendipitously, not wholly without merit: tumescence led to charge, which led to discharge, which led to detumescence. It was a start, at any rate. However, less meritorious were his methods of quantitative testing: he lured students into volunteering to masturbate, suck each other's nipples, scratch, lick, and kiss with an oscillograph attached. Among the duped were the future German Chancellor Willi Brandt, who was then dating Reich's secretary. In 1970 Brandt would achieve immortality as the living emblem of Germany on its knees.

Things only became more bizarre from here. From 1934 until the outbreak of the war, Reich conducted 'bion experiments'. This consiting of making a witch's brew, cooling it down, and observing the bacteria, which—by now approaching delusions of godhood—he deemed to have created himself, when they were simply airborne straphylococci that had ended up there because of his methodological failures. He concluded that cancer was the result of a decline in 'orgone' energy. Orgone was what he deemed to be the joy-filled life force expressed in the orgasm.

Not surprisingly, the idea of this charlatan being taken seriously irked the scientific community. His work on 'bions' was derided as nonsense, and in the space of a year than 100 articles appeared in the Norwegian press denouncing him. And rightfully so, because Reich was misusing finite university resources. Upon examining Reich work, Leiv Kreyberg concluded that he knew less about bacteria and anatomy than a first-year student. And when Reich protested and asked for a detailed control study, Kreyberg replied his work did not merit it.

When Reich's visa finally expired, Norwegian scientists were keen to get rid of him. They argued against an extension. But they were also decent folk, and preferred a humane solution to handing Reich over to the Gestapo. With the country proud of its intellectual tolerance, and with the government having already got rid of Leon Trotsky less than two years earlier, a compromise was reached: Reich's visa was extended, but from then on, and by Royal decree, all psychoanalysts wanting to practice would need a licence, and it was made absolutely clear to Reich that he would not qualify for one. Completely humiliated, Reich was left boiling with impotent rage. He became a recluse and from then on kept everyone at arm's length.

In tandem with this turmoil, Reich got his girlfriend pregnant. Initially, they were happy. But then Reich had second thoughts and insisted on an illegal abortion. Lindenberg was greatly distressed, but Reich browbeat her into submission, and the couple snuck back into Germany. In Berlin, Edith Jacobson, a fellow psychoanalyst, helped to arrange the operation. By 1937 Reich was already having simultaneous affairs. The first was with one of his patients, who was married to a colleague. The psychoanalysis would end because of the affair, then the affair would end and the psychoanalysis resume. And so on. Eventually, Reich's scandalous lack of ethics became intolerable, and his illicit paramour threatened to go to the press. Reich got away with it by persuading her that the revelations would damage her was much as him. The second affair was with a Gerd Bergensen, a 25-year-old Norwegian. The hypocrite conducted these infidelities while keeping Lindenberg under his thumb, jealously prohibiting her from having any kind of separate life. When he assaulted a composer she was working with, she thought of calling the police, but she took pity and decided against it, thinking the wretch could not afford yet another scandal. All the same, it was over: when Reich asked her to move with him to the United States in 1939, she told him to get lost.

How Reich ended up in America shows that there is always enough gullible or naive people out there for a rascal to survive, so long as he thinks himself a great man.[4] Theodore P. Wolfe, a professor of psychiatry at Columbus University, had travelled to Norway to study under Reich, and when the so-called 'Reich Affair' unfolded he offered the master help resettling in the United States. Wolfe convinced The New York School for Social Research—a New York university that would be strongly influenced by the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School—to invite Reich to teach 'Biological Aspects of Character Formation'. Together with Walter Biehl, a former student of Reich, Wolfe put up $5000 to guarantee Reich's visa. Wolfe also pulled strings with his contact in the State Department. The visa came through, and Reich ended up renting a flat in Queens, New York.

Once installed and with a secretary, it was back to his old tricks. He began experimenting with animals. He got himself a new lover, Ilse Ollendorf. And he got her pregnant and then asked to abort, illegally. This time, however, the managed to keep the girl. Reich had no friends—only colleagues, none of whom dared call him by his first name.

It was in New York that Reich finally transitioned from quack to full kook. While injecting mice with his 'bions', he claimed to see traces of 'orgone' in the sky. He therefore began building orgone boxes, with which he hoped to accumulate this cosmic life force. Initially, he made animal versions. But soon enough he made a man-sized one. The latter was basically a chair inside a closet lined with various materials. He expected his patients to sit naked. And he began testing on humans without a medical licence. This, however, didn't go on for long: although he somehow managed to attract patients, some of them eventually realised they were in the presence of a nutter—a nutter without a medical licence. Rumours began to circulate that he was insane (not far from the truth) and that he'd been an inmate at a madhouse (Utica State Mental Hospital). Reich begged his supporters to ignore the criticism and stick with him, believing he had discovered a cure for cancer and a grand unified theory of mental health.

Convinced of his own greatness, in December 1940 he wrote to Albert Einstein, desiring to discuss his discoveries. Einstein was open minded, and agreed to meet him the following month. They talked for five hours. During the conversation, Reich claimed that his orgone could be used as a bomb against fascism. Reich came away abuzz with excitement. Einstein was interested in the war against fascism, so they met again, and this time Reich left Einstein with a small orgone box. When Einstein tested it, he recorded different temperatures inside and above the box. Reich told him this was due to orgone. But one of Einstein's assistants pointed out the temperature gradient in the room: hot air rose, so the air near the floor was cooler than the air near the ceiling. For Einstein, this settled the matter completely. For Reich this was only the beginning, and he conducted elaborate tests in the open air, about which he wrote to Einstein in a 25-page letter. When Einstein ignored him, Reich persisted. In fact, Reich persisted for three years, regularly, getting no clues from Einsteins monolithic silence. Finally, Reich lost his rag and threatened Einstein with publishing their initial exchange of letters. Einstein finally replied, saying he had no time for him and demanding he refrain from using his name for self-promotion. Infuriated, Reich interpreted this as evidence of a conspiracy, hatched by communists or by instigated by his rumoured insanity, and in 1953 published the correspondence in a volume ominously titled The Einstein Affair.

Reich did not last two years at the New York School for Social Research. Its director, Alvin Johnson, was aware of Reich's claims to have found a cure for cancer with the orgone boxes, and when Reich finally wrote to tell him that he'd saved several lives with his secret experiments, Johnson fired him.

Neither did Reich last at his flat in Queens. His neighbours complained about his animal experiments and his landlord threw him out. But Reich was a cat of nine lives, and his gullible supporters raised $14,000 ($221,000 today!) for him to buy himself a house. He bought one on 69th Avenue.

A few months later the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour, leading the American authorities to hunt down suspected subversives. On 12 December 1941, in the dead of night, the FBI knocked on his door, frowned at a few of the tomes on his bookshelf (Hitler's Mein Kampf and Trotsky's My Life, and a biography of Lenin, among others), and arrested him. It seems they thought he was the Wilhelm Reich from New Jersey, a bookseller who distributed communist literature. He was taken Ellis Island, where he was kept in a hall with members of the German American Bund. His psoriasis broke out, however, and he was transferred to the hospital ward. After repeated interrogations, he was released upon threatening to go on hunger strike. All the same, he remained under surveillance. Two years later, the FBI finally realised their mistake and closed his file.

The orgone racket was profitable, and in 1942 Reich was able to buy an old farm in Maine. He called it Orgonon and used it as a summer retreat. He built a cabin, then a laboratory, then a larger cabin, and an observatory, until he finally decided, in 1950, to live there permanently. Others—including physicians, assistants, a publisher, and the artist William Moise, who later married Reich's daughter, moved in with him, and Orgonon developed into a sort of cult compound.

It was during this period that Reich's surviving reputation was shredded at last. In 1947, freelance journalist Mildred Edie Brady, decided to look into Reich's claims. She had correctly identified psychoanalysis as a pseudoscience, no better than astrology, and suspected Reich was involved in a confidence trick. Her resulting article, 'The Strange Case of Wilhelm Reich', appeared in Harper's and The New Republic. This prompted the director of the Federal Trade Commission's Medical Advisory Division, J. J. Durrett, to contact the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asking them to investigate Reich's claims. The FDA concluded that Reich was involved in 'fraud of the first magniture', and suspected some sort of sexual racket.

However, the investigation was a protracted one, and meanwhile Reich was allowed to set up an Orgonomic Infant Research Centre. His aim was, again, social engineering: the prevention of body armouring from birth. The 'research' was conducted in the basement of Reich's house in Forest Hills. What this 'research' amounted to was child sexual abuse and assault. The abusers were not Reich, but his 'therapists'. Several of the children later came forth to report sexual abuse. And when there was no sexual abuse involved, there still was straightforward abuse: the 'vegetotherapy' sessions inflicted pain. Children as young as five were taught how to masturbate. A therapist was arrested, but Reich, once again, escaped punishment: in exchange for his agreeing to close the centre, the charges were dropped.

Reich had married Ollendorf some years earlier, and the two had a child. This presented no difficulty for the knave, who thought nothing of conducting an affair with his employee, Louis Wyvell. The two-faced liar, however, was insanely jealous towards Ollendorf, and in 1951 demanded a divorce when he suspected her of an affair. Adding insult to injury, he even forced her to sign confessions admitting fear and hatred towards him.

This same year Reich decided he'd discovered another type of energy: 'Deadly Orgone Radiation'. He blamed it for desertification and built a 'cloudbuster', consisting of aluminium pipes mounted on a mobile platform and connected to cables dipped in water. He pointed this device at the sky in the hopes of bringing rain. This provided another potential revenue stream. During the drought of 1953, desperate farmers, willing to try anything to save their crop, came to him offering money in exchange for rain. Reich pointed his cloudbuster at the sky. By sheer coincidence, it rained that evening, enabling the smiling Reich to pocket his fee.

By 1952, the FDA's investigation had caught up with Reich. Three FDA inspectors arrived at Reich's farm, unannounced. The reclusive Reich, who was known to chase people away at gun point, including people looking at the adjacent property, was irate, and told them to take a hike, arrogantly stating that they'd need to read his work first before interacting with him. This attention made him belligerent. At the same time, he developed the delusion that he had friends in powerful places, that President Eisenhower was flying US Airforce jets over Orgonon to protect him. In reality, the bureaucracy continued to plod along relentlessly, and by 1954 had the Attorney for the District of Maine file an injunction prohibiting Reich from shipping orgone boxes between states and banning promotional literature. Reich refused to appear in court, superciliously dismissing the authority of any court. As a result, the injunction was granted by default; the judge ordered the destruction of the orgone boxes and the withholding of any literature mentioning orgone.

This only contributed to make Reich even more erratic. From early 1954 he became convinced that the Earth was under attack by UFOs, which flew over leaving black contrails of Deadly Orgone Radiation in an effort to destroy the planet. Hence, Reich rolled out his cloudbuster and began pointing it at the alleged UFOs, thinking he could suck the radiation out of them. Together with his son, Peter, Reich spent his nights playing a non-computerised version of Space Invaders, engaged in a 'full-scale interplanetary battle'. By 1956 he had published a book, Contact with Space, in which he claimed his father may have been an alien from outer space.

Throughout this period, Reich had two more affairs—the first with the wife of a colleague who'd recently given birth to a child.

The FDA clearly had no confidence that Reich would abide by the injunction, and, while he was in Arizona, had one of its agents place an order for an orgone box part posing as a customer. The part was duly shipped, and both Reich and an associate found themselves charged with contempt of court. Reich refused to appear in court, so he was arrested and forced to appear. He chose to represent himself, but before he had even finished the judge suggested to Reich's ex-wife that he undergo a psychiatric evaluation. None was conducted, however, and Reich was found guilty. The sentence was two years in prison and a $10,000 fine against the Wilhelh Reich Foundation.

The FDA then saw to it that the orgone boxes were axed to pieces and the related literature burnt. The latter amounted to six tonnes. The American Civil Rights Union was incensed at this act, which has since come to be cited as one of the biggest instances of censorship in America, and sought to help, but Reich, annoyed that they had not objected to the destruction of his orgone boxes, told them not to bother.

Having exhausted—unsuccessfully—the appeals process, Reich and his collaborator entered the Danbury Federal Prison on 12 March 1957. His IQ was measured at 118, hardly brilliant. A psychiatrist who admired him and had him examined upon admission concluded that he exhibited paranoia, manifested by delusions of grandiosity, persecution, and ideas of reference. A week later he was examined again after being transferred to Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary; he was deemed to be sane, but liable to become psychotic under stress. Yet as far back as the 1920s, the various psychoanalysts who examined Reich's psyche had detected 'incipient schizophrenia' (Federn), psychopathy (Federn), full-on schizophrenia (Sado), and bipolar disorder (Lore, his own daughter).

The jailbird applied for a presidential pardon, only to find he had no friend in the White House. Fellow inmates knew him as 'the flying saucer guy' and the 'sex box man'. He lasted only eight months: while in his cell, death—or could it have been an alien?—paid him a visit and the scoundrel was found dead after not showing up for the morning roll call.

To be fair, the birth of scientific disciplies involves intuition and speculation. Crackpot theories may, in time, lead to something. Therefore, Reich's work on character, at a time with psychology was in its infancy, must be given a modicum of leniency. Neither must one be overly prudish when it comes to human sexology: researching sex empirically involves sex. The problem with Reich is that he was the wrong man to do this. Indeed, the wrong man at the wrong time, for the state of the science in his day gave him leeway that otherwise he would have been denied; today, with his methods, he would have been imprisoned fairly quickly. In fact, he almost certainly would have ended up in the Sex Offenders Register.

His only defence would have been insanity. And there is some evidence to suggest that he suffered from one or more mental disorders, which may have been subclininal, or not properly diagnosed. I say not properly diagnosed because, though two of Reich's colleages identified him as schizophrenic, Freudian psychoanalysis is not a science; besides, schizophrenia is an umbrella term for what may be several different disorders, as yet not understood. Whatever Reich may have been suffering from, we cannot ignore that he was a tormented man, whose unhealthy obsessions may have sprung from childhood abuse.

In the light of all this, what seems extraordinary is the degree to which Reich was taken seriously by Left-wing intellectuals. We can forgive novelists for taking an interest in his work; a novelist or poet has creative licence to draw from all kinds of arcana for inspiration. However, those who did were all, not coincidentally, figureheads of the Beat Generation (Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William Burroughs) and / or of the 1960s counter-culture (Norman Mailer, Dwight MacDonald, and Paul Goodman). At the same time, we must look askance when we find Wilhelm Reich's Mass Psychology of Fascism as a serious theoretical text in university reading lists. Or when Macmillan, via one of its imprints, decides to bring his works back into print, when a small, fringe publisher along the lines of Adventures Unlimited would be more appropriate. Or when a purportedly serious newspaper, like The Guardian, describes Reich as 'the most brilliant of the second generation of psychoanalysts', treating him in a lenghty article as if he were a visionnary ahead of his time. In reality, his own son described him as 19th century scientist in collision with the 20th century.[5]

It seems there is a Journal of Orgonomy, published by The American College of Orgonomy (yes, there is an entire college dedicated to study Reich's theories), but academic contributors dare not publish under their real names to avoid ridicule and thus protect their careers.[6]

If Reich had been just another deluded quack, his enthronement as some sort of seer and guru would be just a question of rolling one's eyes and moving on. But he was not just a deluded quack whom we can dismiss as just one of many. He was influential, inter alia, in the pornographicisation of contemporary Western culture. And for this, on top of all of the above, he deserves no honour.


[1] "Letter from Freud to Lou Andreas-Salomé, May 9, 1928". That Freud's believed there was no single cause of neurosis, see Myron Sharaf Fury on Earth: A Biography of Wilhelm Reich (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 1994) 154.

[2] Richard F. Sterba, Reminiscences of a Viennese Psychoanalyst (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1982) 89

[3] Christopher Turner, Adventures in the Orgasmatron: How the Sexual Revolution Came to America (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2011) 166-167.

[4] From Reich's diary: 'Essentially, I am a great man, a rarity, as it were. I can't quite believe it myself, however, and that is why I struggle against playing the role of a great man.' Quoted in Robert S. Corrington, Wilhelm Reich: Psychoanalyst and Radical Naturalist (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003) 187.

[5] Turner 376

[6] Sharaf 482.

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