Commentary Magazine


Wilhelm Reich Defended

To the Editor:

Philip Rieff’s article, “The World of Wilhelm Reich” [Sept. '64] . . . can only serve to obstruct a sober evaluation of the work of a strange and brilliant man. Mr. Rieff is not unfair in calling attention to the egomania of Reich’s last years or to the religious flavor of certain of his later pronouncements. The important question, however, is not whether Reich had a “brilliant vision,” but whether he made any significant contributions to science. To regard the whole corpus of his work . . . as a tightly knit system which one has to accept or reject in toto is preposterous . . . [for] in fact there is not the slightest logical connection between Reich’s theories about the physiological anchoring of repressions or the relation between anxiety and sexual frustration on the one hand, and his claims about the existence of orgone energy, the uses of the orgone accumulator, or the invasion of the earth by spacemen, on the other. . . . To accept Reich’s position on the causes and treatment of neurosis in no sense implies a commitment to his theories about the orgone. . . .

Mr. Rieff conveys certain misleading impressions which should not be allowed to go uncorrected. One such impression made throughout the article is that people became Reich’s “disciples” because of their religious needs. . . . What apparently did not occur to the author is that there are people—psychiatrists and other doctors, patients and just plain observers—who have found that Reich’s work on the ways in which repressions are expressed in chronic muscular tensions and rigidities and the therapeutic technique based on these studies constitute a tremendous and exciting advance over all that went before. (I remember listening to a lecture by A. S. Neill, who told about his treatment by orthodox methods and his subsequent treatment by Reich. In one session with Reich, Neill said, more dammed emotions were released than in years of traditional analysis.) Mr. Rieff expresses surprise that certain talented writers and artists were attracted to Reich, but there is nothing mysterious in this. To them, as to ordinary mortals, Reich’s primary appeal lay in his new, more effective therapy, and not in anything he may have said about the “revolutionary” nature of art.

Rieff’s neglect of Reich’s clinical work is most evident when he assures us, in breezy fashion, that Reich’s “natural man is a stale leftover of the 18th-century imagination”. . . . It may well be true that, like others, Reich had a tendency to confuse fact and theory, but not in this instance. There is a wealth of published material, dealing with the treatment of adults as well as of children, which shows that, as the patient’s body changes and as he becomes able to function in work and in love, his destructive and sadistic impulses are automatically reduced or eliminated. . . . People working with disturbed children, without engaging in actual therapy, have frequently witnessed the same phenomenon. Is it Mr. Rieff’s contention that Reich’s case histories are lies and that people like A.S. Neill are imagining the changes they see in children who have come to feel loved and who are no longer oppressed by irrational taboos and authorities?

A final point will illustrate the level of scholarship in this article. Mr. Rieff repeats the fabrication of Reich’s enemies that the orgone accumulator could cure impotence. Reich never made such a claim and the Food and Drug Administration did not charge him with doing so. . . .

Paul Edwards
Department of Philosophy
New York University
New York City

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To the Editor:

Under the guise of rational argument and interpretation, Philip Rieff . . . has written an attack full of errors, distortions, illogical thinking, and contempt. . . .

He calls Reich a “Freudo-Marxist,” for instance, but Reich clearly stated that his sex-economic clinical practice with the workers of Vienna was neither Marxist nor Freudian oriented; that sex-economy lay at the roots of pleasure and work, but was not an addition of the two. . . . Rieff states that the “Orgone Energy Accumulator . . . [can cure] . . . cancer, impotence . . . everything . . .,” an error which is more than misunderstanding, for Rieff was corrected on this point after his review of Reich’s Selected Writings.

He is in error again in asserting that there is a “sinister anti-intellectualism about Reich’s theory.” Reich’s motto, “Love, work, and knowledge are the well-springs of life . . .,” which appears in most of Reich’s books, is one evidence among many others of his appreciation of the creative uses of intelligence. Reich did, to be sure, discourage intellect but only in its defensive function as intellectualism. . . .

Rieff writes further that “Only Reich appeared able to conduct [his experiments]” and that “trained opinion has yet to confront [Reich's] work.” Yet Reich’s experiments have been confirmed many times by reputable physicians and scientists. Psychiatric Orgone Therapy, the Orgone Energy Accumulator, and Reich’s weather control apparatus are being used today in England, France, Norway, Canada, Israel (and the United States where permitted by law). Anyone seriously interested in Orgonomy could have found this out by a careful reading of Orgonomic publications or discussing the matter with a recognized authority on the subject. . . .

Rieff errs further in his view that except for an important point, there is “not much [in Character Analysis] that is not vintage Freud. . . .” What was new in Character Analysis was the theoretical solution of the problem of masochism and the clinical refutation of the Death Instinct theory, a description of specific character types (till then psychoanalysis knew only character traits), and the elucidation of a new technique of therapy necessitated by the inability of classical technique to bring about the desired cure. . . .

The author also distorts Reich’s intentions. He implies that Reich was but an arm-chair theorist . . . when he writes of “the game of relating the ideological to the psychological process”. . . . Reich never wrote so blithely of such things. . . . In Rieff’s terms, the “genital character” becomes an “ideal,” a “man of power,” incapable of “moral indignation,” one who suffers “at low cost to himself” and “gratifies every fleeting desire without cost to others,” . . . a phallic psychopath. One is not surprised that Rieff interprets Reich as saying that the “best in [one's self are] his erotic impulses.” This is Rieff’s notion. . . . To Reich, on the other hand, eroticism is a defense against natural sexuality. . . .

The real weakness of Rieff’s argument is to be found, however, in his central thesis that “The World of Wilhelm Reich” is but a “scientific theological fantasy.” In order to buttress this thesis, Rieff tries to make the reader believe that Reich saw his laboratory as a therapeutic community, . . . a notion . . . which is quite contrary to fact. . . .

Continuing this, . . . Rieff distorts completely Reich’s concepts and discoveries. He finds that “oceanic feeling” (concrete sensations described by others before Reich) are but the “surest sign” that biotherapy (practiced by physicians in many parts of the world) “developed into mysticism.” Scientists who must terminate their work in Orgonomy because of unmanageable anxiety have but “died to God.” Reich’s theories are but a “reconstruction” of the “All.” And where Reich, the natural scientist, saw nature without moral or ethical connotation, Rieff, the mystic, must see “meaning and value”. . . .

That Rieff lacks understanding of the concept of “emotional plague” comes as no surprise. If he really knew what it was all about he would never have written the paper, for this is the plague.

Dr. Richard A. Blasband
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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To the Editor:

How does Philip Rieff introduce us to Reich, . . . a man of “brilliant vision”? By mimicking, in his very first paragraph, Reich’s “oratorical style.” This graceless overture . . . represents the camaraderie of the orthodox: the quickest means of entry to the mob around the outcast is to show that you, too, are carrying stones. . . .

Rieff is most relaxed in his handling of heresies. These get winks or half-winks. He is less comfortable with the work that has not yet been accepted as unacceptable. This is presented in noncommital, catalogue style, . . . often miscomprehended, . . . as in the case of Reich’s concept “emotional plague” which Rieff sees as “turning out to be . . . Judaeo-Christian moralism.”

It is interesting that “men of moral science” should find Reich’s work a “challenge.” How intellectually martial! But they did not find his imprisonment a challenge. Only in prison did Reich enjoy the silence of the professors and the psychoanalysts . . . [who] uttered not a syllable of protest. . . .

By the end of the article Wilhelm Reich’s works have disappeared. What remains as an “issue” are Reich’s “eccentricities” which may “reveal something important about,” . . . etc. If the author brings Reich’s “brilliant vision” and “challenge” only to this foggy denouement, what is the purpose of his article? I think it is that Rieff . . . dimly senses Reich’s greatness, and he would like to be the first to stake out a claim to this forbidden new world. . . .

Arthur Steig
Lakewood, New Jersey

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We mourn the passing of Nathan Asch, who died last December just as his article, “My Father and I,” in our January issue, was coming off the press.—Ed.

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