14 August 2011

Bernstein on Freud on Moses

Richard J. Bernstein, Freud and the Legacy of Moses (1998).

"We may feel uneasy about the way in which Freud so freely appeals to the Hebrew Bible when it suits his purposes, and dismisses it as a distortion when it contradicts his beliefs.  Freud does open himself to serious methodological critique when he self-confidently asserts: 'No historian can regard the biublical account of Moses and the Exodus as anything other that a pious piece of imaginative fiction, which has recast a remote tradition for the benefit of its own tendentious purposes'....It is difficult to resist the conclusion that once Freud became convinced about what he thought really happened, he then scanned the Bible in order to select the evidence that would support his case."

That would seem spot on.  Bernstein doesn't think Freud makes a contribution to our understanding of Moses or ancient Egypt, although he does think that studying this particular book can make a contribution to our understanding both of Freud and of his circle.

Both the friends and the enemies of psychoanalysis called it a "Jewish science."  Anna Freud herself said in 1977 that such characterizations, even though or in part because they were once hurled by Nazis, "can serve as a title of honour."    

The questions that intrigue Bernstein concern the issue of what Jewish identity meant in the time of Alfred Dreyfus, at least for the highly educated and secular European Jews of whom Freud was an example, and whether psychoanalysis, in a sense that need be neither a disparagement nor a title of honor, was in origin Jewish.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.