by Frederick Crews

August 24, 2017


When Sigmund— Schlomo Sigismund—Freud enrolled in the University of Vienna in 1873 at age seventeen, he bore with him the high expectations of a family that desperately needed him to become a salary earner. His father, Kallamon Jacob, formerly a wholesale wool merchant in Freiberg, Moravia, had gone bankrupt, and a year’s further search for business in Leipzig, Germany, had proved fruitless.

Relocated in Vienna since 1860, Jacob had long since given up actively looking for work. The Freuds were surviving mainly on charity from local and distant relatives, including the two sons from Jacob’s first marriage, who had emigrated to England and become modestly successful shopkeepers in Manchester.

If Sigismund had been the only child of Jacob and Amalie Freud, their future would have looked brighter, but the marriage was distressingly prolific in offspring. Although Jacob was already forty, with one or possibly two marriages already behind him, when he married the twenty-year-old Amalie, Sigismund’s birth proved to be the first of eight. And five of his siblings were sisters, unlikely to find middle-class employment or to make advantageous matches. Jacob was of no more financial help to his brood than Dickens’s Mr. Micawber, to whom his son would later compare him.

Freud’s childhood was marked by incidents whose traumatic effects he subsequently judged to have been severe. His Czech nanny in Freiberg, who functioned as a surrogate mother when Amalie went from one pregnancy to the next, had been abruptly fired and jailed for stealing. Years later, Sigismund was haunted by the awful thought that his ill wishes toward his first immediate sibling, Julius—born when Sigismund was just seventeen months old, and dead six months later—had somehow killed the baby. And his relocation from Freiberg to Leipzig and thence to a lower-class Jewish enclave within the Viennese district of Leopoldstadt, where he would grow up in the midst of overcrowding, illness, and penury, was evidently a protracted trial.

One incident in particular stands out as a source of continuing mortification. In 1865 Sigismund’s uncle Josef was sentenced to ten years in prison for having counterfeited rubles; a well-founded suspicion persisted that Sigismund’s half-brothers in Manchester had been involved in the scam. (The phony bills, after all, had been made in England.) Sigismund was nine when the Viennese newspapers were trumpeting the sting operation that had caught the Jewish forger Josef Freud. The boy and later the man may never have fully recovered from that shame.

The easygoing Jacob was proud of Sigismund and assumed loving charge of his early education, including his acquaintance with Judaism. Jacob looked forward each year to reading aloud the Passover Haggadah, and he twice presented his son with a Hebrew-German “Samuelson Bible”—the same volume both times, rebound for the adult and backsliding Sigmund and inscribed with a traditional cluster of sacred passages.1 But Jacob had little use for theology. He had embraced the movement known as Haskalah, which sought to bring European Jews out of their cultural isolation and, at the same time, to promote scriptural study in a nonliteral, nonmystical, ethical spirit.2 The editorial content of his son’s Bible, which moralized the epic tales of Moses and David, was itself an expression of Haskalah humanism.

This undogmatic idea of what it means to be a Jew was amplified by the teenage Sigismund’s religious studies, which were required by his college-preparatory school, the Sperl (Leopoldstadter Communal) Gymnasium. In extracurricular sessions with Samuel Hammerschlag, who would remain his friend in later years, he learned to regard the ethical aspect of Jewish thought as consonant with enlightened social values. From Hammerschlag, too, he came to value the heroic strain in another ancient tradition, that of the Greek and Roman classics.

In boyhood, Sigismund had idolized his father and associated him with the noblest Hebrews of the Bible. As his own dream of greatness took hold, however, disillusionment set in. Having grasped that parents can exercise a measure of choice regarding the size of their families, and finding himself required, vexatiously, to look after five young sisters and a final brother, the boy grew impatient with a father who had gone on engendering children while failing to provide for them.

Moreover, Sigismund was shocked when Jacob, seeking to let him know how bad things had formerly been for Jews in Freiberg, confided that he hadn’t fought back against gentile bullying. After learning of such “unheroic” conduct, Sigismund compensated by fantasizing himself as Hannibal, the Semitic Carthaginian general whose father had made him swear to “take vengeance on the Romans”—metaphorically, on the established Roman Catholics of Austria.3 Such daydreaming became chronic as Sigismund, with dawning consciousness of his family’s humble state, identified not just with Hannibal but also with the world-shaking Alexander, Caesar, and Napoleon, among others.

Meanwhile, his more practical ambitions were swelled by his irreligious mother, Amalie, who openly favored her firstborn at the expense of his siblings. Relying on the forecast of a fortune teller and on old-wives’ superstition, she insisted he was destined for a brilliant career. Sigismund appears to have taken the prophecy in earnest and to have accepted his special privileges in the household as nothing more than his due. But by giving birth to seven more children, and by withdrawing into mourning over baby Julius when Sigismund was not yet two years old, Amalie left him with a permanent sense of abandonment.

In different ways, both of Freud’s parents would strike the eventual theorist of the “family romance” as unworthy of his innate nobility and as an impediment to his social ascent. Along with thousands of other beneficiaries of the emperor Franz Josef’s lifting of anti-Jewish restrictions, they had both emigrated from Galicia, a region that now includes parts of Poland and Ukraine; Amalie had also passed some of her childhood still farther east, in Odessa. Strong-willed, boisterous, and histrionic, with “little grace and no manners,” this emotional “tornado” of a mother remained closer to her eastern roots than her upwardly mobile son would have liked.4 Jacob was more subdued, but too much so; his resignation to defeat gave Sigismund a constant reminder of how far he could fall if he were to lose his foothold on the ladder of professional success.

Jacob and Amalie Freud, whose personalities were even farther apart than their ages, agreed on one important point: the best hope for a turnaround in the family’s circumstances lay with Sigismund’s academic achievements. The parents were heartened when he proved to be a precocious reader, a deft student of Greek, Latin, and history, and, after home schooling until age nine, the academic star nearly every year in his class at Leopoldstadt’s multiethnic gymnasium. If Sigismund were to continue on the same prize-winning path, he would presumably earn the support of influential university professors. And in the distance lay respectable and remunerative career opportunities in a number of fields, from law and medicine to business, banking, higher education, and civil service.

Freud’s parents were not mistaken about his mental agility. Before founding and leading an international movement, he would become a skilled anatomist, the holder of a prestigious postgraduate fellowship, a pediatric neurologist, a family doctor, and a scientific author. None of those achievements and honors, however, would slake his appetite for greatness or earn him more than temporary peace of mind. Already disposed to regard himself as disadvantaged by his humble origins and poverty, he would gradually acquire a sense of isolation, a mistrust of others’ motives, and a panicked conviction that only some extraordinary breakthrough or windfall could allow him to realize his dreams.


The most important contributor to that feeling of narrowed access to recognition was the psychological weight of anti-Semitism. Freud himself, in his autobiographical remarks, recalled that burden and emphasized the adjustment of attitude he had needed to make in order to press ahead with his career. Interestingly, though, he said nothing about a topic that will concern us much later: the effect of prejudice on the shaping of psychoanalysis.

Freud’s eventual doctrine would constitute a turning of the tables on the anti-Semites—a “transvaluation of values” that delegitimized the Christian dichotomy between spirit and sexual passion. But Freud couldn’t acknowledge that impetus without exposing the “science” of psychoanalysis as an ideological production. Consequently, anti-Semitism figured in his retrospect only as an obstacle to be negotiated in his path to discovery of universal psychological laws. From Freud’s account we could never suspect either that he retained a lifetime grudge against gentiles or that—as we will find—one strain of anti-Semitism affected his own apprehension of fellow Jews.

Looking backward in his Autobiographical Study of 1925, Freud maintained that his struggle with prejudice had already been fully engaged in his adolescence. “Anti-Semitic feelings among the other boys,” he wrote of his concluding school years, “warned me that I must take up a definite position.… And the increasing importance of the effects of the anti-Semitic movement upon our emotional life helped to fix the thoughts and feelings of those early days.”5 But a look at the record will show that until he was about nineteen and beginning medical school, he hadn’t expected to be handicapped by his ethnicity.

We cannot doubt that Freud did experience some of the slights described in the Autobiographical Study. Even though, by the time of his graduation, Jews made up a full 73 percent of the Sperl Gymnasium’s pupils, that majority constituted no insurance against snubbing. The rapid increase in Jewish enrollment, from 68 to 300, during the years of Freud’s attendance was well suited to producing hostility from gentile teenagers who perceived “their school” as having fallen into alien hands.6 Nevertheless, the adolescent Freud didn’t regard prejudice as a credible threat to his advancement. A favorable sociopolitical climate encouraged him to believe that his opportunities would be almost limitless if he properly “Germanized” himself. This is not to say that his early fondness for Goethe, Schiller, and Heine was feigned. Rather, he saw no conflict between retaining his identity as a Jew and becoming culturally German.

That Freud aimed at Germanization from the outset is most clearly indicated by his early decision to alter his given name. In either 1869 or 1870, no later than age fourteen, he began registering for his school courses not as Schlomo Sigismund but as Sigmund, and his early letters also show him experimenting with the new version before definitively adopting it in his signature.7 Quite a bit of baggage was then left behind. “Schlomo,” honoring Freud’s paternal grandfather, means “Solomon.” “Sigismund” was his parents’ tribute to a sixteenth-century Polish monarch who had protected Jews against pogroms. But quite recently the name had come to stand, like the later “Hymie,” for the generic Jew in anti-Semitic jokes.8 In contrast, “Sigmund” would have evoked the Norse hero Siegmund in the Niebelungenlied, a work that was then serving as a rallying point for pan-Germanic sentiment; Wagner’s Die Walküre (1870) strongly advanced that connection.

Although Freud wasn’t trying to pass for a gentile, as a refashioned Sigmund he was announcing his eagerness to become as kulturdeutsch as anyone else. And he had an imposing model to follow. His first close friend—a fellow Jew and on-and-off classmate in the Leopoldstadt gymnasium—was Heinrich Braun, who would go on to attain prominence in Social Democratic politics and journalism; he even served briefly in the German parliament. The debonair, charismatic Braun, a bold rebel, encouraged Freud to supplement his school curriculum with implicitly subversive books by the progressive British historians W. E. H. Lecky and Henry Thomas Buckle and by the gentile German skeptics Ludwig Feuerbach and David Friedrich Strauss.9

Braun confided to Freud his plan of acquiring a law degree and then becoming a radical politician. Smitten by his panache, Freud thereupon decided he would follow that very course himself. Although he soon thought better of the idea and opted for a medical career, it was a telling sign of the times that two young Jews could plausibly imagine themselves becoming socialist leaders, operating freely within the broader society to accomplish reforms that would be applauded by Jews and gentiles alike.

An even more impressive crossing of ethnic lines was effected by Braun’s eventual brother-in-law, Victor Adler, whom Freud came to know (and envy, and dislike) at the University of Vienna. A physician in private life, Adler believed that his political organizing and parliamentary initiatives extended naturally from his concern for patients who were experiencing class oppression. As the founder of the first Social Democratic party in Austria, Adler would manage to legislate universal manhood suffrage in a land where the nobility’s illusions were still being humored. In 1907, thanks to Adler, the workers could vote at last, and they made his party the strongest in Austria. When the whole empire imploded at the end of World War I, it was the dying Adler who “led the orderly and peaceful revolution which removed the last formalities of Habsburg rule.”10

Neither Adler nor Braun, then, felt significantly limited by anti-Semitism. Nor, apparently, did Freud himself feel persecuted in his schoolboy years, as can be inferred from two fragmentary sets of extant correspondence: a handful of letters to his Freiberg companion Emil Fluss, with whom he had reconnected in a visit to his birthplace at age sixteen, and a more extensive collection, composed mostly in errant self-taught Spanish between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five, that he sent to his closest teenage friend and “private academy” confidant, Eduard Silberstein. Both Fluss and Silberstein were Jews, and Silberstein, one year behind in the gymnasium, had been exposed to the same local atmosphere as Freud. While each set of Freud’s letters occasionally mentions Jewish ethnicity, neither of them contains so much as a hint of ill treatment.

We meet in these archly ironizing documents a bookish, ponderously playful, sententious adolescent who exudes optimism about his studies and his plans for a sterling career. His literary and philosophical orientation is already German. He often sounds as if he is parroting judgments that were pronounced in class by his teachers. But there are signs, as well, of youthful cynicism about an older generation’s pomposities. Jewish, Christian, and imperial Austro-Hungarian customs alike are treated satirically, with an implication that forward-looking youths in this modern age can no longer be bothered with religious or patriotic nonsense.

According to Freud’s Autobiographical Study, a wall of anti-Semitism, more formidable than the occasional taunts of schoolboys, greeted him as soon as he undertook his higher education at seventeen:

When, in 1873, I first joined the University, I experienced some appreciable disappointments. Above all, I found that I was expected to feel myself inferior and an alien because I was a Jew. I refused absolutely to do the first of these things. I have never been able to see why I should feel ashamed of my descent or, as people were beginning to say, of my “race.” I put up, without much regret, with my non-acceptance into the community; for it seemed to me that in spite of this exclusion an active fellow-worker could not fail to find a little place [ein Plätzchen] in the framework of humanity. These first impressions at the University, however, had one consequence which was afterwards to prove important; for at an early age I was made familiar with the fate of being in the opposition and of being put under the ban of the “compact majority.” The foundations were thus laid for a certain independence [eine gewisse Unabhängigkeit].11

This stirring paragraph bears only an oblique relation to the truth. To begin with, had Freud really been so alone and despised during his first years at the University of Vienna? Although Jews composed only 10.1 percent of the Viennese population in 1880, they already made up 21 percent of the university’s students, and most of them who were enrolled in 1873 appear to have felt at home there. Even the nationalist fraternities had yet to turn against Germanizing secularists such as Freud. Although he had no taste for drinking and dueling, he told Silberstein that he could have joined such a fraternity in either of his first two years.12

Other letters from Freud suggest that he was delighted to be out of high school and immersed in a broadening program of reading. As he wrote to Silberstein after one year of study, he regarded his continuing youth to be a time of undiluted self-development, without the need to give a thought to earning money or attending to other people’s judgments and demands.13 “Never before,” he reported a year later, “have I enjoyed that pleasant sensation which may be called academic happiness, and which mostly derives from the realization that one is close to the source from which science springs at its purest and from which one will be taking a good long drink.”14

If Freud had been met with ostracism on entering the university, he surely would have wanted to end the ordeal as speedily as possible, but he lingered over an eclectic potpourri of courses. Nor does it appear that he was deprived of an active social life. Although he was by no means gregarious, and although he continued to associate privately only with Jews, he had numerous gentile acquaintances. One of his first acts as a student was to join an influential club, the Leseverein der deutschen Studenten Wiens (Reading Society of Viennese German Students), in which Jews and gentiles freely mingled.15 Significantly, that club’s mission was to forward the cause of Germanic culture in Austria, with the ultimate hope of seeing the western half of the empire disembarrassed of its Slavic Hungarian twin and completely integrated into Germany.

The prevailing mood of the Leseverein was naively utopian. As a fellow Jewish medical student who knew Freud, Solomon Ehrmann, recollected of the club, “We abandoned the altars upon which our fathers served and offered ourselves—in common with our fellow man of a different confession—to what was allegedly new, because we were told that now a new ideal, the ideal of humanity, the fraternization of mankind, was to be worshiped.”16 Ehrmann’s remark suggests that comradeship between Jewish and gentile members, however awkward it may have proved in the execution, was mandated by the club’s guiding principles.

Freud would remain a member of the Leseverein until its dissolution by a pro-Slavic imperial administration in 1878, when open tension had surfaced between Jewish and gentile members.17 By then Freud would understand that pan-German nationalism had acquired an explicitly anti-Semitic character and that the Leseverein would offer him no shelter. But in the early years Victor Adler, Heinrich Braun, and Freud himself felt sufficiently welcome to take active roles in the club’s activities. Indeed, Adler would be one of its leading officers until the end. And when Freud described to Silberstein the issues currently exercising the Leseverein, he wrote not as someone who might have been suspected of dual loyalty but as a fully equal participant.

We can see, then, that Freud’s Autobiographical Study misrepresented his university experience in at least two respects. He hadn’t been expected to feel inferior as soon as he arrived, and he hadn’t been excluded from casual social contact with gentiles. On the contrary, he had sought it out in the Leseverein and had been pleased to blend in with the membership at large, adopting at least some of its values as his own. He hadn’t even resigned when anti-Semitism did finally erupt within the club. All in all, his desire for acceptance seems to have been much stronger than we could have inferred from his self-description as an outcast who had nobly embraced his fate.


Long before he felt anti-Semitism to be closing in on him, Freud allowed it to exert an influence over his own perceptions. He was aware that the identifiably “eastern” Jews were already objects of scorn. As a son of two Galicians himself, he might have been suspected of being less than fully Viennese. The implicit goal of his self-improvement was to distance himself from his origins. Thus he was perturbed whenever he encountered Jews who struck him as “too Jewish” in their appearance and deportment.

As early as 1872, for example, at age sixteen, Freud told Emil Fluss how repulsed he was by an encounter with a family on a train:

Now, this Jew talked in the same way as I had heard thousands of others talk before, even in Freiberg. His very face seemed familiar—he was typical. So was the boy, with whom he discussed religion. He was cut from the cloth from which fate makes swindlers when the time is ripe: cunning, mendacious, kept by his adoring relatives in the belief that he is a great talent, but unprincipled and without character.… I have enough of this riffraff [Gesindel]. In the course of the conversation I learned that Madame Jewess and family hailed from Meseritsch: the proper compost-heap for this sort of weed.18

This burst of venom was far from unique. In 1875, at age nineteen, Freud wrote to Silberstein about a new acquaintance who “is undoubtedly brilliant, but unfortunately a Polish Jew.”19 In 1878, at twenty-two, he told the same friend that he was appalled by the behavior of a “grobber Jüd”—a coarse Jew—at a dinner party.20 At age twenty-seven, in recounting a funeral to his fiancée, he characterized one speaker as a fanatic who manifested “the ardor of the savage, merciless Jew.”21 Further, at twenty-nine he told his fiancée that he had been disagreeably struck by the sight of “somewhat wretched Jewish faces” in a social gathering in Berlin.22 And in the same year he described an acquaintance as “a typical little Jew with sly features.”23 It would seem, then, that the young Freud’s chief response to anti-Semitism wasn’t to protest against its invidious stereotypes but to hope that they wouldn’t be applied to himself.

The success of Freud’s strategy—acquiring kulturdeutsch manners and holding to an antithesis between better and worse categories of Jewishness—depended entirely on the willingness of gentiles to observe the same distinction. But a stock market crash in May 1873, several months before Freud attended his first university classes, initiated an irreversible hardening of the public mood. When a full decade of hard times followed the collapse, gentile artisans found their opportunities cramped and their wages depressed—so they reasoned, anyway—by Jewish laborers and peddlers. The resultant frustration, along with resentment of the corrupt financiers who had brought liberalism into disrepute, sufficed to revive an ethnic demonizing that the state-established Catholic church had never disowned. Now, for the first time, anti-Semitic agitation struck demagogic politicians as a useful means of swelling party ranks and swinging elections.

A telltale incident from the period of Freud’s medical studies can illustrate how he must have been pushed from the cautiously fraternizing mentality of the Leseverein to this sense of an unbridgeable chasm between the ethnicities, all the more devastating because he had been taken by surprise. In 1875 the University of Vienna’s medical school, where Freud was finally settling down to concentrate on degree requirements, suffered an ominous convulsion. Most of the school’s professors and students believed that, under an open-admission policy, academically unprepared eastern Jews were becoming disproportionately represented. In a book-length report on the situation, the famous surgeon-professor Theodor Billroth proposed placing numerus clausus limits on the enrollment of Hungarian and Galician Jews.

But he didn’t stop there. Although many of Billroth’s distinguished colleagues were Jewish, he maligned all of them by implication. Jews, he asserted, constitute a single nation, no less distinct than Persia or France, and members of that nation will never be capable of understanding the Romantic German mind. In a wild emotional flourish, he declared that “pure German and pure Jewish blood” could never commingle.24 Demonstrations and violent clashes between Jewish and German-nationalist students quickly followed.

Billroth would later repent of his inflammatory words and renounce anti-Semitism altogether. It can easily be imagined, though, that when Freud studied surgery under him for three semesters in 1877 and 1878, their relations must have been tense.25 From the midseventies on, mutual suspicion affected all cross-ethnic interactions within the medical school and the university-affiliated hospital where Freud would serve his internship.

Jewish-gentile relations in Austria became even more ominous in the 1880s. The Berlin professor Eugen Dühring’s malicious tract of 1881, The Jewish Question as a Racial, Moral, and Cultural Question, served as a match to the tinder of Viennese anti-Semitic sentiment. In the following year, the German nationalist movement, many of whose most early supporters had been Jewish, produced the splinter Austrian Reform Association, whose platform included repealing the civil rights of Jews. The decade also witnessed the rise of the Christian Social party, whose rabble-rousing leader, Karl Lueger, advocated having Jews stripped of their positions in civil service and the professions. On April 8, 1897, Lueger would be confirmed as the mayor of Vienna, an office he would hold for the following thirteen years. By the nineties, open derision of Jews as a racially unitary group—rootless, avaricious, shifty, hideous, and diseased—became commonplace in the press.26

In fact, however, it was not until the Nazi Anschluss of 1938, annexing Austria to Germany, that hatred of Jews would become an official position of the state. Until then, as Freud understood, gentile Austrians of the “better class,” though bigoted in their opinions, tended to maintain a hypocritical civility toward those Jews whose conduct mirrored their own. The latter felt pressure to conform in all outward respects while they assumed, with good reason, that the smiles of their peers and superiors in the workplace were far from benevolent. They knew that well-earned preferment could be denied without explanation and bestowed instead on a gentile administrator’s incompetent cousin or nephew. If a Jew happened to be predisposed to anxious suspicion, this world of trapdoors and false appearances would be sure to elicit it.

Indeed, Eduard Silberstein’s usually optimistic and self-satisfied correspondent is scarcely recognizable in the touchy and suspicious Freud of the 1880s. True, the latter personage was burdened with new problems relating to his engagement and his career. But in his twenties Freud seems to have contracted a morbid distrust of other people’s motives toward himself. Fearing arbitrary rejection on the grounds of his “race,” he would try (not always successfully) to be unusually humble and diplomatic with authorities who held his future in their hands. Then he would despise them all the more for having put him through that demeaning ordeal.*

Freud would never attempt to deny his ancestry, and he never doubted that cultivated Jews were ethically and intellectually superior to gentiles of any stripe. But he also became, and remained, acutely class conscious. Vienna’s heightened anti-Semitism stifled any remaining sympathy he might have felt for the masses, both Jewish and gentile, and made him wish for closer association with prosperous, achievement-oriented Jews who stood above reproach.

This selective closing of ranks would be epitomized in his joining B’nai B’rith five months after Karl Lueger’s confirmation as mayor of Vienna. At that time B’nai B’rith was a fraternal order of mostly wealthy, service-minded Jews whose local chapter had been formed in 1895 to pursue progressive goals without relying on the wider Austrian polity.27 Until the psychoanalytic movement came to preoccupy him full-time, Freud would be one of that chapter’s most active and devoted members, and he would remain on its rolls until his flight to London in 1938. Significantly, he would read early chapters of The Interpretation of Dreams not to a university audience but to his lodge brothers, who could be relied upon for encouragement even though his argument was exotic to their ears.

But this tightening of Freud’s bond with worldly, philanthropic Jews would be accompanied by a hardening of his antipathy to Jewish religion in all of its outward forms. He even briefly considered declaring himself a Christian simply in order to avoid a rabbinical wedding. His bride, the pious granddaughter of a distinguished Hamburg rabbi, would be admonished that no religious observances could be tolerated in his household. He would arrive late for his father’s religious funeral and would skip his mother’s altogether. His sons would not be circumcised, and it is said that none of his children, while living at home, ever entered a synagogue. At Christmas they would gather around the traditional German tree and exchange gifts in the manner of the Christians.28 And at the end of Freud’s life, on the eve of the Holocaust, he would publish Moses and Monotheism, wherein it would be maintained that the great leader and teacher of the Hebrews—a “Freud figure,” as every reader has noticed—was no Jew but an Egyptian prince, murdered by the ignorant idolators whom he had tried to enlighten.29

In part, Freud’s spurning of Judaism was a straightforward expression of his disbelief in supernatural claims. Yet many other Viennese professionals who shared his atheism were willing to pay token deference to the customs still observed by their elder relations. And Freud, as we recall, had been schooled in Jewish tradition by a father and an instructor who placed no emphasis on theology. The implacability of his anti-Judaism expressed a determination to cut every tie to Leopoldstadt and its culture of meek acquiescence to inferiority. Later, Freud would aim at both explaining and replacing all religions with psychoanalysis; but he might never have arrived at such a grand project if orthodox customs and rituals hadn’t proved such an attractant for anti-Semitic mockery.

In spite of his apprehensions, Freud isn’t known to have ever been deprived of a career opportunity because of ethnic bias.30 Rather, anti-Semitism was an important factor in his life because, descending on him just when he was preparing for a life in medicine, it amplified his self-doubts, distorted his attitude toward gentile colleagues, and aroused a permanent rage against Christian smugness. One result would be a peculiarly inward form of revolutionism, symbolically anti-Christian but outwardly respectable and nondenominational. The public reforms of Victor Adler, Heinrich Braun, and Freud’s sometime neighbor Theodor Herzl would strike him, by comparison, as relatively shallow and, at the same time, as likely to stir up needless trouble.

Insofar as family ties and traditions constitute a source of emotional strength, it was unfortunate that Freud’s drive for success pitted him against his origins. The race hatred that troubled his young manhood was largely to blame for that alienating effect. I have already suggested, however, that his insecurity had earlier sources as well. As we will see, some challenges in the realms of love and work, Liebe und Arbeit, would exacerbate nervous tendencies in Freud that must have been present all along. And it was those tendencies and their consequences, in tandem with the soaring ambition he had contracted in more innocent years, that would lead him to make his extraordinary claims about the nature of the mind.

Copyright © 2017 by Frederick Crews

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FREDERICK CREWS is the author of many books, including the bestselling satire The Pooh Perplex and Follies of the Wise, which was a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle award. He is also a professor emeritus of English at the University of California, Berkeley, a longtime contributor to The New York Review of Books, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

1 J, 1:19. See generally Gresser 1994.
2 See Feiner 2002, 2004.
3 SE, 4:197.
4 M. Freud 1957, p. 11. See also Margolis 1996.
5 SE, 4:196.
6 Klein 1981, p. 48.
7 Ibid., p. 46.
8 Heer 1972, p. 6.
9 Knoepfmacher 1979a, pp. 294–296.
10 McGrath 1974, p. 249.
11 SE, 20:8–9; translation modified.
12 12/6/74; FS, p. 73.
13 9/18/74; ibid., pp. 60–61.
14 4/11/75; ibid., p. 109.
15 See especially McGrath 1974, pp. 33–52.
16 Quoted by Klein 1981, p. 48.
17 Scheuer 1927; McGrath 1974.
18 9/18/72; Freud 1969, p. 420; translation modified. Meseritsch was a Czech town that had contained an independent Jewish community since the seventeenth century.
19 6/28/75; FS, p. 121.
20 8/14/78; FS, p. 169.
21 9/16/83; FMB, 2:252.
22 3/21/86. (Dates without a further citation indicate as yet unpublished Brautbriefe, or engagement letters.)
23 8/5/85.
24 Quoted by Klein 1981, p. 51.
25 Bernfeld 1951, pp. 216–217.
26 See Gilman 1985, 1986, 1993a.
27 See Knoepfmacher 1979b.
28 For Freud’s curious leaning toward Christianity in various respects, see Vitz 1988.
29 SE, 23:1–138; see Yerushalmi 1991.
30 It is by no means certain that anti-Semitism caused the delay of Freud’s promotion to honorary professor. See Gicklhorn and Gicklhorn 1960.