- The Rise and Crisis of Psychoanalysis in the United States: Freud and the Americans, 1917–1985
With this book, Nathan Hale completes a project that began as a doctoral dissertation a quarter of a century ago and has turned into a two-volume history of the rise and fall of American psychoanalysis. In volume 1, Freud and the Americans (1971), Hale traced the story from the first stirrings of medical psychology to the end of World War I. Here he completes the task, bringing up to date a tale that might properly have been subtitled “The Rise and Fall,” but that Hale, a true believer, prefers to see as a rise-and-crisis, a plight from which a newly invigorated psychoanalysis will extract itself in the twenty-first century.
Yet Hale’s cheerleading does not really intrude into what is a thoroughly researched and comprehensively told story, the first national history of psychoanalysis for any major country except France (where Elisabeth Roudinesco’s two-volume La bataille de cent ans: histoire de la psychanalyse en France [1982–86] has pride of place). Hale has worked in thirty-four manuscript collections, among them such treasure troves as the Ives Hendrick papers in Boston and the papers of other members of the second generation of American analysts whose lives are little known, such as Maxwell Gitelson, Ralph Greenson, and Lawrence Kubie. If, therefore, Hale’s history is superseded, it will not be because great new sources of evidence have come to light, but because other scholars might interpret these events differently.
In Hale’s story, psychoanalysis becomes influential within psychiatry as a result of the analysts’ capture of military psychiatry during World War II. Psychoanalysis goes on to become a mass movement within the culture as a whole as a result of a successful Kulturkampf waged by American cities against the small towns. If analysis gets into trouble after the 1970s it is, according to Hale, only the result of a “reaction” to its very success, rather than the result of fundamental flaws within the doctrine itself. At the end Hale enters the debate himself, cheering on researchers who believe they have found evidence for Freud’s theory of repression, and generally hoping for the best against the doubters.
The treatment is evenhanded, in that Hale does not come down for one school or another among the squabbling analysts, deploring their rivalries as damaging to the movement overall. From his Olympian height as historian he expresses bewilderment at onrushing competitors to analysis, such as the biological psychiatrists. He does not attempt to psychoanalyze any of the cast (save for the occasional aside about Freud’s “regarding the [psychoanalytic] movement unconsciously as his child, a product of his own body” [p. 29]). If anything, he neglects the biographical details and the histoires d’alcôve that might have given the volume some charm. One cannot say that it is sparklingly written, and some readers may find a certain tedium enveloping them at the long recitations of authorities who are only imperfectly (if at all) identified. Hale’s rehashes of their arguments belong more to the history of ideas than to social history, and whoever comes along next to take a cut at this material will not find it difficult to produce a more interesting book. Also, as psychoanalysis follows the other great dinosaur [End Page 144] ideologies of the nineteenth century toward the tar pits, whoever takes on the subject next might find a point of view markedly different from Hale’s.