'After the Catastrophe' by Carl Jung (1945)

A selection from After the Catastrophe by Carl Jung, 1945.

Note: see the Appendix for some excerpts taken from a talk given by Jung in 1946, and broadcast by the British Broadcasting Corporation, called The Fight with the Shadow

Questions are being asked on all sides about the meaning of the whole tragedy. [...] I am only too well aware that 'German' presents an immense problem, and that the subjective views of a medical psychologists can touch only a few aspects of this gigantic tangle of questions.

Living as we do in the middle of Europe, we Swiss feel comfortably far removed from the foul vapours that arise from the morass of German guilt. But all this changes the moment we set foot, as Europeans, on another continent or come into contact with an Oriental people. What are we to say to an Indian who asks us: 'You are anxious to bring us your Christian culture, are you not? May I ask if Auschwitz and Buchenwald are examples of European civilization?' [...] The world sees Europe as the continent on whose soil the shameful concentration camps grew... .

If the German intends to live on good terms with Europe, he must be conscious that in the eyes of Europeans he is a guilty man. As a German, he has betrayed European civilization and all its values; he has brought shame and disgrace on his European family, so that one must blush to hear oneself called a European... .

If a German is prepared to acknowledge his moral inferiority... before the whole world, without attempting to minimize it or explain it away with flimsy arguments, then he will stand a reasonable chance, after a time, of being taken for a more or less decent man, and will thus be absolved of his collective guilt... .

Long before 1933 there was a smell of burning in the air, and people were passionately interested in discovering the locus of the fire and in tracking down the incendiary. And when denser clouds of smoke were seen to gather over Germany, and the burning of the Reichstag gave the signal, then at last there was no mistake where the incendiary, evil in person, dwelt.
The sight of evil kindles evil in the soul... . Something of the abysmal darkness of the world has broken in on us, poisoning the very air we breathe and befouling the pure water with the stale, nauseating taste of blood... .

When evil breaks at any point into the order of things, our whole circle of psychic protection is disrupted.

The terrible things that have happened in Germany, ... are a blow aimed at all Europeans. (We used to be able to relegate such things to 'Asia!') The fact that one member of the European family could sink to the level of the concentration camp throws a dubious light on all the others. Who are we to imagine that 'it couldn't happen here'? [...] ...a terrible doubt about humanity, and about ourselves gnaws at our heart.
Nevertheless, it should be clear to everyone that such a state of degradation can come about only under certain conditions. The most important of these is the accumulation of Urban, industrialized masses- of people torn from the soil, engaged in one-sided employment, and lacking every healthy instinct, even that of self-preservation. Loss of the instinct of self-preservation can be measured in terms of dependence on the state... . Dependence on the State means that everybody relies on everybody else (=State) instead of on himself. Every man hangs on to the next and enjoys a false feeling of security, for one is still hanging in the air even when hanging in the company of ten thousand other people. The only difference is that one is no longer aware of one's own insecurity. The increasing dependence on the State is anything but a healthy symptom; it means that the whole nation is in a fair way to becoming a herd of sheep, constantly relying on a shepherd to drive them into good pastures. [...] The steady growth of the Welfare State is no doubt a very fine thing from one point of view, but from another it is a doubtful blessing, as it robs people of their individual responsibility and turns them into infants and sheep. [...] ...once a man is cut off from the nourishing roots of instinct, he becomes the shuttle-cock of every wind that blows. He is then no better than a sick animal, demoralized and degenerate, and nothing short of a catastrophe can bring him back to health.
I own that in saying all this I feel rather like the prophet who, according to Josephus, lifted up his voice in lamentation over the city as the Romans laid siege to Jerusalem. It proved not the slightest use to the city, and a stone missile from a Roman ballista put an end to the prophet.

This is a pathological, demoralized, and mentally abnormal condition: one side of us does things which the other (so called decent) side prefers to ignore. This side is in a perpetual state of defence against real and supposed accusations. In reality the chief accuser is not outside, but the judge who dwells in our own hearts. Since this is nature's attempt to bring about a cure, it would be wiser not to persist too long in rubbing the noses of Germans in their own abominations, lest we drown the voice of the accuser in their hearts... . [...] The Germans were never wholly indifferent to the impression they made on the outside world. They resented disapproval and hated even to be criticized. Inferiority feelings make people touchy and lead to compensatory efforts to impress. As a result... 'German efficiency' is demonstrated with such aplomb that it leads to a reign of terror and the shooting of hostages. The German no longer thinks of these things as murder, for he is lost in considerations of his own prestige.
This spectacle recalls the figure of what Nietzsche so aptly calls the 'pale criminal,' who in reality shows all the signs of hysteria. [...] He will stoop to every kind of self-deception if only he can escape the sight of himself. It is true that this happens everywhere, but nowhere does it appear to be such a national characteristic as in Germany. [...] This condition can easily lead to an hysterical dissociation of the personality, which consists essentially... in wanting to jump over one's own shadow, and in looking for everything dark, inferior, and culpable in others. Hence the hysteric always complains of being surrounded by people who are incapable of appreciating him and who are activated only by bad motives; by... a crowd of submen who should be exterminated neck and crop so that the Superman can live on his high level of perfection. The very fact that his thinking and feeling proceed along these lines is clear proof of inferiority in action. Therefore all hysterical people are compelled to torment others, because they are unwilling to hurt themselves by admitting their own inferiority. But since nobody can jump out of his skin and be rid of himself, they stand in their own way everywhere as their own evil spirit- and that is what we call an hysterical neurosis.
All these pathological features- complete lack of insight into one's own character, auto-erotic self-admiration and self-extenuation, denigration and terrorization of one's fellow men..., projection of the shadow, lying, falsification of reality, determination to impress by fair means or foul, bluffing and double-crossing- all these were united in the man who was diagnosed clinically [in 1918 at the psychiatric ward of the Reserve Hospital IV in Pasewalk by a Jewish doctor, Dr. Karl Kroner] as an hysteric [suffering from 'hysterical blindness'], and whom a strange fate chose to be the political, moral, and religious spokesman of Germany for twelve years. Is this pure chance?

Hitler's theatrical, obviously hysterical gestures struck all foreigners (with a few amazing exceptions) as purely ridiculous. When I saw him with my own eyes, he suggested a psychic scarecrow (with a broomstick for an outstretched arm) rather than a human being. It is also difficult to understand how his ranting speeches, delivered in shrill, grating, womanish tones, could have made such an impression. But the German people would never have been taken in and carried away so completely if this figure had not been a reflected image of the collective German hysteria. It is not without serious misgivings that one ventures to pin the label of 'psychopathic inferiority' on to a whole nation, and yet, heaven knows, it is the only explanation which could in any way account for the effect this scarecrow had on the masses. [....] These personal observations led me to conclude at the time (1937) that, when the final catastrophe came, it would be far greater and bloodier than I had previously supposed. For this theatrical hysteric... was not strutting about on a small stage, but was riding the armoured divisions of the Wehrmacht, with all the weight of German heavy industry behind him.

...one is at a loss to imagine how anything quite so monstrous ever came to power. But we must not forget that we are judging from today, from a knowledge of the events which led to the catastrophe. Our judgement would certainly be very different had our information stopped short at 1933 or 1934. At that time, in Germany as well as in Italy, there were not a few things that appeared plausible and seemed to speak in favour of the regime. An undeniable piece of evidence in his respect was the disappearance of the unemployed, who used to tramp the German highroads in their hundreds of thousands [see his essay on Wotan]. And after the stagnation and decay of the post-war years the refreshing wind that blew through the two countries was a tempting sign of hope.

Nobody but a German could ever have devised such a figure [as Goethe's Faust], it is so intrinsically, so infinitely German. In Faust we see the same 'hungering for the infinite' born of inner contradiction..., the same eschatological expectation of the Great Fulfilment. [...] Faust... is split and sets up 'evil' outside himself in the shape of Mephistopheles... . [...] He remains the German idea of a human being, and therefore an image- somewhat overdone and distorted- of the average German.
The essence of hysteria is a systematic dissociation... . [...] As a rule there is amazing ignorance of the shadow; the hysteric is only aware of his good motives... .

Ignorance of one's other side creates great inner insecurity. [...] This sense of insecurity is the source of the hysteric's prestige psychology, of his need to make an impression, to flaunt his merits and insist on them, of his insatiable thirst for recognition, admiration, adulation, and longing to be loved.

To my mind, the history of the last twelve years is the case-chart of an hysteric patient.

The European, or rather the white man in general, is scarcely in a position to judge of his own state of mind. He is too deeply involved. I had always wanted to see Europeans through other eyes, and eventually I was able, on my many journeys, to establish sufficiently close relationships with non-Europeans to see the European through their eyes. The white man is nervous, restless, hurried, unstable, and (in the eyes of non-Europeans ) possessed by the craziest ideas, in spite of his energy and gifts which give him the feeling of being infinitely superior. The crimes he has committed against the coloured races are legion... . Primitives dread the sharply focused stare in the eye of the European, which seems to them like the evil eye. A Pueblo chieftain once confided to me that he thought all Americans (the only white men he knew) were crazy, and the reasons he gave for this view sounded exactly like a description of people who were possessed. Well, perhaps we are. For the first time since of the dawn of history we have succeeded in swallowing the whole of primitive animism into ourselves, and with it the spirit that animated nature. Not only were the gods dragged down from their planetary spheres and transformed into chthonic demons, but, under the influence of scientific enlightenment, even this band of demons, which at the time of Paraclesus still frolicked happily in mountains and woods, in rivers and human dwelling places, was reduced to a miserable remnant and finally vanished altogether. From time immemorial, nature was always filled with spirits. Now, for the first time, we are living in a lifeless nature bereft of gods. [...] The mere act of enlightenment may have destroyed the spirits of nature, but not the psychic factors that correspond to them... - in short, all those qualities which make possession possible. Even though nature is depsychized, the psychic conditions which breed demons are as actively at work as ever. The demons have not really disappeared but have merely taken on another form: they have become unconscious psychic forces. The process of reabsorbtion went hand in hand with an increasing inflation of the ego, which became more and more evident after the sixteenth century. Finally we even began to be aware of the psyche, and, as history shows, the discovery of the unconscious was a particularly painful episode. Just when people were congratulating themselves on having abolished all spooks, it turned out that instead of haunting the attic or old ruins the spooks were flitting about in the heads of apparently normal Europeans. Tyrannical, obsessive, intoxicating ideas and delusions were abroad everywhere.... .

The phenomenon we have witnessed in Germany was nothing less than the first outbreak of epidemic insanity, an irruption of the unconscious into what seemed to be a tolerably well-ordered world. A whole nation, as well as countless millions belonging to other nations, were swept into the blood-drenched madness of a war of extermination.

Just think for a moment what anti-Semitism means for the German: he is trying to use others as a scapegoat for his own greatest fault! This symptom alone should have told him that he had got on to a hopelessly wrong track.
After the last World War the world should have begun to reflect, and above all German, which is the nerve-centre of Europe [not see 'Course of German History' where Germany is described as the mid point of Europe, in every sense]. [...] If, as Burckhardt says, Faust strikes a chord in every German soul, this chord has certainly gone on ringing. We hear it echoing in Nietzsche's Superman... . [W]here has the feminine side, the soul, disappeared to in Nietzsche? Helen has vanished in Hades, and Eurydice will never return.

While Nietzsche was prophetically responding to the schism of the Christian world with the art of thinking, his brother in spirit, Richard Wagner, was doing the same thing with the art of music. Germanic prehistory comes surging up, thunderous and stupefying, to fill the gaping breach in the Church. Wagner salved his conscience with Parsifal... but the Castle of the Grail vanished into an unknown land. [...] Wotan the storm-god had conquered.

Now Germany has suffered the consequences of the pact with the devil,... she has been ravished by the berserkers of her god Wotan, been cheated of her soul for the sake of gold and world-mastery, and defiled by the scum rising from the lowest depths.

But the fate of Germany should not mislead Europeans into nursing the illusion that the whole world's wickedness is localized in Germany. They should realize that the German catastrophe was only one crisis in the general European sickness. Long before the Hitler era, in fact long before the first World War, there were symptoms of the mental change taking place in Europe. The medieval picture of the world was breaking up and the metaphysical authority that ruled it was fast disappearing, only to reappear in man. Did not Nietzsche announce that God was dead and that his heir was the Superman... ? It is an immutable psychological law that when a projection has come to an end it always returns to its origin. So when somebody hits on the singular idea that God is dead, or does not exist at all, the psychic God-image, which is a dynamic part of the psyche's structure, finds its way back into the subject and produces a condition of 'God-Almightiness'... .

'God-Almightiness' does not make man divine, it merely fills him with arrogance and arouses everything evil in him. It produces a diabolic caricature of man, and this inhuman mask is so unendurable, such a torture to wear [recall that David Lynch spoke, in the context of discussing meditation, of 'the suffocating rubber clown suit of negativity' and how much it 'stinks'], that he tortures others. He is split in himself, a prey to inexplicable contradictions. Here we have the picture of the hysterical state of mind, of Nietzsche's 'pale criminal.' Fate has confronted every German with his inner counterpart: Faust is face to face with Mephistopheles and can no longer say, 'So that was the essence of the brute!' He must confess instead: 'That was my other side, my alter ego, my all too palpable shadow which can no longer be denied.'
This is not the fate of Germany alone, but of Europe.


...the tide that rose in the unconscious after the first World War was reflected in individual dreams [of my German patients], in the form of... mythological symbols which expressed primitivity, violence, cruelty: in short, all the powers of darkness.

I was able to... observe how the uprush of dark forces deployed itself in the individual test-tube. I could watch these forces as they broke through the individual's moral and intellectual self-control, and as they flooded his conscious world.

...the uprush of mass instincts was symptomatic of a compensatory move of the unconscious. Such a move was possible because the conscious state of the people had become estranged from the natural laws of human existence. Thanks to industrialisation, large portions of the population were uprooted and were herded together in large centres [cities]. This new form of existence-- with its mass psychology and social dependence on the fluctuation of markets and wages-- produced an individual who was unstable, insecure, and suggestible. He was aware that his life depended on boards of directors and captains of industry, and he supposed, rightly or wrongly, that they were chiefly motivated by financial interests. He knew that, no matter how conscientiously he worked, he could still fall a victim at any moment to economic changes which were utterly beyond his control. And there was nothing else for him to rely on. [...] No wonder, therefore, that it was precisely Germany that fell a prey to mass psychology, though she is by no means the only nation threatened by this dangerous germ. The influence of mass psychology has spread far and wide.
The individual's feeling of weakness, indeed of non-existence, was thus compensated by the eruption of hitherto unknown desires for power. it was the revolt of the powerless, the insatiable greed of the "have-nots." By such devious means the unconscious compels man to become conscious of himself. [...] Thus the avalanche rolled on in Germany and produced its leader, who was elected as a tool to complete the ruin of the nation. But what was his original intention? He dreamed of a "new order." We should be badly mistaken if we assumed that he did not really intend to create an international order of some kind. On the contrary, deep down in his being he was motivated by the forces of order... . Hitler was the exponent of a "new order," and that is the real reason why practically every German fell for him. [...] Like the rest of the world, they did not understand wherein Hitler's significance lay, that he symbolized something in every individual. He was the most prodigious personification of all human inferiorities. [...] He represented the shadow, the inferior part of everybody's personality, in an overwhelming degree, and this was another reason why they fell for him.

In Hitler, every German should have seen his own shadow, his own worst danger.