This is a chapter from the book:
Psychology of the Private Individual

Chapter 11: Madness and normality

Both the point of view of self-assertion and that of a pretty fundamental self-incrimination can be practiced without the actors being lost to the activities of bourgeois society. Plenty of individuals drift along for years with the fear that they “won’t make it” while still remaining useful as housewife, husband, secretary, skilled worker, or singer. And even those who have settled down into some neurotic conceit along with its therapeutic support don’t necessarily get out of line, but at the most just get on the nerves of those around them.

Things become serious, however, when free will gets serious about its “problem,” when the individual makes self-assertion his life work and proves to himself that he is reckless enough to enforce his threatened interests. Then mere bragging turns into a practical demonstration of superiority and strength wherever this can be done; emancipated from the content of an interest, from the satisfaction of a need, psychopaths of all dimensions set out to get their money’s worth; and they decide extremely arbitrarily in which areas to act out their delusions.

The ideas that occur to an individual when he wants to live out his self-condemnation are just as arbitrary. He looks inward for “reasons” for “being a failure,” thus using his mind to prove that he simply can’t help it. And a neurotic accepts this proof only as a specific defect that really prevents him from doing all kinds of things: he lives out his invention to the point of somatic effects. Neurotics can point to just as proud a collection of afflictions as can their brothers and sisters of the other department who are afflicted by the “compulsion” to affirm themselves. Why should an “inferiority complex” develop less productive variants than a “delusion of grandeur”?

Official psychology knows just what to do with these “behaviors.” It attends to the cases with the feigned medical ethos of its founders, calls the people “sick,” and contributes theories to the interpretations the patients offer of themselves, in order to then proceed to action: getting the client, who never fails to perceive the attempts at interpretation as the acknowledgment of his defects, to judge the matter by the book. The acceptance of this version is considered a “success” when the crazy people make use of it in such a way that they — however limitedly — at least start dealing with two or three other things alongside their affliction while nursing their affliction. Such successes are reported en masse by the propagandists of this science, but on the other hand the lunatic asylums report otherwise and resort to more banal methods — so that protest has been emanating for some time from the ranks of the so humanely-minded friends of the “intact” bourgeois psyche. No matter that psychology, even with its development into psychiatry, has failed to become the medical science of “mental diseases” — that it couldn’t do even if it were familiar with the truth about such mental “illness.” In psychiatric hospitals, this guild is granted the institutional authorization to rest assured that it is a health care branch indispensable to this society.

11.1. Self-assertion as a purpose: Distinguishing oneself

The methodological handling of one’s own personality, the continual attempt to shape oneself into a respectable character mask, that is to say, the programs of self-assertion and self-condemnation that are nowadays so usual and honorable, present many a master of such arts of living with problems. On the one hand, efforts of this kind are definitely aimed at success in the bourgeois world, while on the other hand, psychological practices do not provide anyone with any objective means for asserting himself. After all, the focus is exclusively on the alleged deficiencies of one’s own subjectivity, quite as if only this “condition” determined whether an individual wins or loses the (daily) “struggle for existence.” The success he is concerned about has thus gotten different content in his turning toward himself: for a subject who cultivates the defensive idealism of his specialness as means and obstacle, decently making one’s way coincides completely with the gain of recognition he provides for himself; and in place of the performance he as a moral citizen still regards as the lever of advancement, he posits the ideal of a usefulness he would like to produce in himself.

Both the effort to show oneself off as a figure with very special attributes and skills, and the art of demonstrating quite special deficiencies, provide the arsenal of bourgeois characters with some strange enrichments. The first division graces humanity with that set of publicly recognized psychopaths who staff parts of the culture industry as competitive athletes: one of them climbs mountains in remote corners of the earth because he has made it his purpose in life to challenge his physique to the limit and to challenge the eight-thousand-meter peaks and has thus made a sensation of himself; another becomes obsessed with playing chess because he thinks he has to become world champion — and the whole nation appreciates his exclusive sensitivity; yet others make first themselves and then sport-viewing mankind happy with their skiing arts, which they cultivate the whole year round so that they can then zoom down mountains with the proper build with speeds that are otherwise reserved to those who drive 70 laps around a circle. From the ordinary person who makes wagers of the craziest kind to prove some kind of uniqueness, to the ridiculous entry in the “Book of World Records,” there is a wide spectrum of pretty small-minded individuals whose desire to distinguish themselves is honored in a society where even entertainment is based on role models because everyone finds himself much too ordinary. Frantic attempts to spur one’s own mind to invent some kind of world view, which defies all thought but is at least new and original, become hits at the book fair, just as a sadistic slasher can enjoy the warmest attention if only he chops up his victims outlandishly enough. And for the sheer attention that can readily be had for any extravagance, young people come up with the idea of making their clothes and hairstyle the seal of their lifestyle standing out from the “masses”; they run around as “preppies” or “punks,” get so caught up in their self-presentation that they beat each other up, and thereby prove what meaning they are exclusively claiming. No less intent on their specialness are people who, in perpetual anticipation of the agony of dealing with the other sex, don’t want to show any feeling for its members any more, or never develop any in the first place because they “came out” with a taste for homosexuality in time and stuck with it. The fitting answer they have come up with to their criminal prosecution and moral condemnation is, firstly, a racy cult of their exquisite “nature,” by which they have demonstrated to themselves their extraordinary gift for nonrepressive loving; and secondly, they have for some time been busy spreading ideologies about their variant of the right to happiness and founding a “movement” whose entire content is their own personal leanings, due to which they present themselves as the better part of mankind.

11.2. Demeaning oneself as service: The happiness of the Christian individual

As for the other branch: the method of taking one’s own weaknesses as the badge of a sort of person to be unconditionally respected, of awarding oneself a unique advantage with all one’s self-denunciation, can score a success in bourgeois society that makes the self-assertion artists pale in comparison as a quite harmless fringe group. The Christian mania of being deeply steeped in sin, with its hypocritical humility that undauntedly claims to be fighting materialism in oneself and especially in others, is not even considered something special, but as a realization of the human spirit per se. With it, the modern citizen’s willingness to submit turns against every other particularity, whether national or not, chastising it always as a danger — for each and every person — that arises from someone having the impudence to deny responsibility for everything negative, and to think of something “positive” without the deepest expression of gratitude for undeserved benefit.

Christians do not insist simply on going along with things, i.e., being good citizens. They prove themselves as the squeaky-clean brigade of both divine and worldly rule, which always boils down to perfecting the rule. This is particularly important to them on the part of those ruled in the world: no interest and need eludes their critical investigation, which takes on quite a psychological form. Use is always made of a religious anthropology, from “not by bread alone” to condemnations of the “hubris” of thinking, so that neither the eating nor the knowing redounds to the individual’s finding his real humanity, and morality always appears as supreme happiness. (And there is really no more to the idea of happiness!) The demonstration of religious simpleness is not one of righteousness, but always one of happiness, which befalls mankind with Pope, liturgy, joyful renunciation, and the declaration of powerlessness. The actual character mask chooses itself as the ideal, and anyone who does not himself cultivate the techniques of heart-rending declarations of his own inadequacy is immediately noticed by this majority (democracy!): he doesn’t want to be bad, therefore he is! After all, such a person doesn’t want to just survive while regarding himself as the sole danger for doing so, but rather actually presents himself as a purpose instead of a tool. Anyone unwilling to take himself to task has gambled away all human dignity, due to the modern necessity of an old faith for “man.” In the spitefulness with which Christian clerics and education ministers would best like to ban orange-robed Buddha disciples as liable to corrupt the young, although their Pope, the object of the dumbest veneration, is driven throughout the world like an club flag, Christians concede that that the difference between their teachings and congenial ones is a functional one. What matters is the service that this psychology inflated into a religious edifice performs; and this is why even the followers and revisionist fans of “Real Socialism,” with their songs, heroes, martyrs, and declarations, had to put up with the tough accusation of being an ersatz religion.

11.3. Totally mad

There is no acknowledgment, but rather ostracism and pity in store for a person with his freedom to be delusional when, and insofar as, he practices it in such a way as to lose his practical respect for the demands made by the bourgeois world on the fitness of its members. For it is not the content of the crazy idea he devotes his existence to that decides whether democratic society basically counts on him as one of its “achievers,” nor is it the stubbornness with which someone construes and sets up his life as the realization of certain tasks emanating from his imagination. In order for a person’s inner life to make him a case that no longer meets the criteria of usefulness, he must become so radical in his continually disappointed quest for acknowledgment of his imagined particularity that, in its name, he resolutely disregards any acknowledgement actually paid, denies his everyday bourgeois life as the sphere and criterion for proving himself, and instead invents a new everyday life in accordance with the desiderata of his fantastic individuality, whose demands and promises he henceforth exclusively complies with: he successfully drives himself mad.

The madman has freed himself from the desire, so hopelessly illusory for him and the majority of his fellow men, that the real circumstances should be willing material for his striving for “self-realization” — but only in favor of the freedom to establish the longed-for equation between the world, on the one hand, and his own made-up defects and claimed abilities, on the other hand, incontrovertibly and irrevocably in his imagination, and to make it come true in the conduct of his life. The sad and hopeful daydreams that every righteous person entertains in his disappointment at the “hard facts” of the capitalist world; the identification with a role model that is warmly recommended as a means of “finding oneself “ to every person asking for “orientation”; these comfortless comforts of solid bourgeois everyday life, in which ordinary people, alongside their real duties and deeds and in the interest of a productive consent to them, maintain the appearance of being the hub of what goes on in the world — all this is prevented by madmen, for themselves, from being discredited by actual requirements and one’s own achievements, as inevitably follows hard in normal life. A modern madman gets serious about the daily refuted bourgeois ideal of emancipation from “external control” by providing his image of himself and the world with all kinds of practical triumphs over objectivity before the forum of his own personal judgment — at the cost of definitive uselessness for the world, whose acknowledgement he was originally after.

And he’s still after it even in his delusions. For common neuroses and psychopathies in fact reveal their origin, not without good reason, in the activities of psychologically perfected calculation. There are people who demonstrate to their contemporaries in their “phobias,” “regressions,” and “pathological inferiority complexes” their uncontrollable, “compulsive” “inability” to satisfy the normal requirements with regard to “self-control,” i.e., who subsume themselves with every fiber of their being to the gamble on that element of acknowledgment that is even contained in disparaging pity in the form of a general absolution. And just as the conscience and its psychological refinement at the peak of ashamed self-condemnation gives rise, quasi automatically, to the shameless self-assurance of the individual, subjected only to his own judgment because he’s “unique,” so does “depressive insanity” include not only “manic insanity” but also the insane mission of discrediting the real world with its rules and prohibitions in practice before the imagined supremacy of one’s own true self. The “harmless” UN bosses and born-again Jesuses, who insist so vigorously on the respect of those around them (and offer all kinds of practical proof that madmen with all their inventiveness can’t hold a candle to the pluralism of acknowledged idiots of bourgeois intellectual life when it comes to crazy ideas), realize their exclusive ideal of their true usefulness known only to themselves, just as their colleagues from the locked wards do, who offer proof of their imagined mastery over the world with usually very purposeful “aggression” against their fellows and are categorized by the law and psychology as “compulsive offenders.” Every psychiatry textbook informs about the curio collection of mad exaggerations that the bourgeois mind is capable of, exaggerations of the normal struggle of characters for their recognition; about the various degrees of their emancipation from the world; and about the combinations of their alternatives, with the stereotypical — and always only extremely “preliminary” — distinctions between neuroses and psychoses, “hyperthymic, depressive, insecure, fanatical, self-seeking, emotionally unstable, explosive, affectless, weak-willed, asthenic”[1] or also “schizoid, cycloid, explosive, excitable and other psychopaths,” without giving even a hint of the banal truth about insanity. In fact, its manifestations are nothing but an encyclopedia of the achievements of an abstract free will reduced to their principle. Just as a person can only make a habit of obedience — submission to the regulations of a rule that aims to be understood as a humanitarian and humane order — if he judges himself according to the criterion of decency, puts his pride into personally appropriating and developing all the techniques of demonstrative submissiveness, and thus rates his remaining “egoism” as so inferior that a manifest inferiority complex is only a short step away, in quite the same way does a thinking subject endure the daily practiced comparison of performance only if he makes the thereby prescribed way to success his purpose in life, judges himself accordingly by the efficiency he proves in doing so, and is so conceited about the obvious extent of it, or the extent that has unjustly not become obvious, that by demonstrating this conceit he quite logically ends up with megalomania. It’s a rough way back from the radical alternatives of a bourgeois self-consciousness to its functional ways of operating, so lunatic asylums conversely need not worry about being continuously supplied by the world of successful decency.

Crazy people are most certainly not becoming fewer since large numbers of flip-out candidates have meanwhile found ways and means to produce the effects of insanity in themselves without concentrating with irrevocable determination on denying the difference between normal and imagined reality. Even in its own numbing by drugs, the mind struggling to assert itself endeavors to provide its dreams of itself with a reality that withstands its practical refutation by everyday life at least for a while. The fact that the delusional feeling of happiness, because it is induced pharmacologically, exists alongside the reality-oriented calculations of the mind, is an “advantage” over madness, while having its price in addiction. The resolve, habitually put into practice, to equip the fantasy world spun out of one’s own cultivated individuality with the indisputability of an objective fact asserts itself quite logically for the subject in his moments of wakeful calculation as a compulsion to the extent that he has subjected his psychological and physical “balance” to this habit. Quite apart from the other irony that definitely asserts itself against the drug addict: just like the delusions of the modern madman, his blissful states are none other than those of the imagined self-assertion of his ever so complex character.

11.4. Psychiatry

When the bourgeois intellect takes a scientific look at madness, it is interested less in the specific activities of the “sick” mind than in the unfailing result: the individual’s uselessness, which it thinks it has sufficiently characterized by the negative reason “disturbed”; “the organism fails to process the arising affects,” there is “a more or less complete loss of orientation ability in the real environment,” a “loss of the inner unity of the personality,” and for some scholars it also “seems reasonable to assume that schizophrenia may basically involve toxic disturbances of cell metabolism.” So madness is attributed to anyone who — and to everyone to the extent that he — becomes unfit for everyday life, and this standard of functionality can always easily prove its own fitness, beyond all the methodological debates about what is actually “normal.” There is no need to pay any attention to the differences between a normal technician of bourgeois morality, a neurotic at large, and a clinical case, or to what is common to the mental achievements peculiar to them. The achievement of the psychopath, who relinquishes his free will by acting in practice according to his self-interpretation, betrays to a specialist merely the “contrast” of this achievement to bourgeois “reason”; and the idiocies of the normal mind suffering from itself and well-disposed toward all kinds of solipsistic weaknesses appear as the most natural thing in the world for an intact intellect. That someone can prove their worth by getting in on the action therefore appears to the representatives of clinical psychology as the extremely humane goal of their work, regardless of the fact that their clients put their entire ambition in separating their self-assertion practice from its useful subordination under the imperatives of society, from which they, together with virtually all other individuals, claim to have culled the need for a special round of insisting on their own person — which “socially” oriented members of the profession actually credit them with as protest.

When the science of madness sets delusion against normality as the functional opposite, it is refusing to accept this connection between the mindscapes of a normal bourgeois character mask and the delusional worlds of that minority who can only save their morality by emancipation from their functionality. Unconcerned with the tautological nature of such an “explanation,” it insists on “dysfunction” as the essence of madness — and actually prides itself on this mistake. Since it thereby in fact loses sight of the difference between the consistently “successful” delusions of the moral mind and injuries or diseases of the brain and their consequences, as psychiatry it puts its pride in the age-old ethos of helping and healing and defines madnesses of all kinds and every caliber as diseases. In the same breath, it designates these “diseases” as “endogenous” and goes on record as knowing nothing about whether they are supposed to be actual diseases — “Thus, when one speaks of ‘endogenous’ mental disorders nowadays, one initially only means ‘mental disorders of unknown genesis’” — but this does not in the slightest impair its certainty that its clientele is suffering from “pathological dysfunctions.” And this is how it attends to its “patients,” both theoretically and practically.

On the one hand, psychiatry is in agreement with its clients from the beginning in the most important point: when the madman subsumes himself under an imagined determination of his thinking, feeling, wanting, and doing so consistently that he denies to the utmost of his power that he is the subject of this subsumption, this science confirms for him the actual existence of an objective force of the kind and especially of the incontrovertibility of a brain tumor — without, however, citing an actually identified germ for this highly scientific diagnosis, indeed without ever being able to cite any proof at all for an “impersonal power” “within” the mad striving other than: the testimony of the madman himself. On the other hand, the scientific mind by no means takes the fantasies of the “disturbed” mind at face value: anyone suspected of madness will find that his reflections on himself and the world at large are rejected on principle, even if he might have happened to notice some truth (in that case he will definitely be believed least of all!). Against the madman’s self-interpretations, psychiatry starts looking, unchallenged by its continually renewed failure, for the “real” reason for that “inner” higher power that it has conceded to its patient as the objective determination of his psyche. And while sharing the cynicism of a quasi-medical promise of help, which no longer takes any note of the madman’s struggle against the freedom of his will, but instead proceeds from the non-existence of his free will, the schools of psychiatry part company:

  • Some direct their psychiatric faith toward solid physiological causes of “endogenous” insanity, resorting with ironic logical consistency to therapies that are supposed to achieve, are able to achieve, and as a rule actually achieve, nothing other than this: they immobilize a dysfunctional will by physiological means — from cold showers and electric shocks to the “more elegant” chemicals of the pharmaceuticals industry.
  • Others use the fabrications of depth psychology to understand the crazy people’s delusional worlds by way of translation — into the sexual, in case of doubt — and plague their patients, while posing as having the deepest understanding, with their “offer” of an alternative delusional world, in which father, mother, and penis play the leading roles, and which is to be celebrated as a successful “release” when the madman accommodates himself to it while reverting to a couple of useful habits.
  • Behavioral therapists’ training attempts on the “black box” can sometimes also score a success of this kind — again, only because the opposite of their theoretical premise is true: the presented “stimuli” provoke the remains of calculation that the crazy person still practices after separating himself from the world of calculation.
  • And because all these “offers of help,” taken as a whole, look extremely bad against their own medical ethos, there is now also a faction within psychiatry that understands itself as “antipsychiatry,” because it chooses to see its “patients’” frame of mind as being determined as strange, in full agreement with the mainstream clique, but without the aspect of condemnation entailed by designating the “strangeness” as a disease. Unconcerned with the antagonism with the everyday world that the delusions of a crazy mind open up in practical terms as well, antipsychiatrists want to see its fantasies appreciated as quite respectable individual extravagance, if not the ability to defend oneself.

The antipsychiatrists’ reverence for insanity is, like the depth-psychologists’ interpretation of it, excellently suited of course for dealing with the “phenomenon” of madness in terms of world view, beyond the gates of the psychiatric fraternity. Because the bourgeois mind tends to puzzle psychologically over its products anyway, it is always easily and gladly tempted by the equation between lunacy and profundity to act as a philosophical parasite even when it comes to madness, and to credit it with providing proof for its own “questions about the meaning of life.” When it rightfully starts to fear that it might likewise be suddenly seized by the “enigmatic forces” of insanity itself — then the profound mind has already covered the first stage on the philosopher’s royal road to madness. For finally, and once again: a person goes mad only when he wishes to be pleasing to himself, measured against his self-made character ideal, strictly in opposition to reality.


[1]Kurt Schneider, “Die psychopathischen Persönlichkeiten” (1923).