Carl Jung: “There are demons, all right”

Here is  a Carl Jung quote from long ago that I think highly appropriate to our time. It comes from the book C.G. Jung Speaking, edited by William McGuire and R.F.C. Hull, volume 97 (XCVII) of the Bollingen Series of publications.

This interview with Peter Schmid was published on May 11, 1945 — only four days after Germany’s unconditional surrender at the end of World War II — in a Zürich periodical under the title “Will the souls find peace?” I think Jung’s incidental prophecy of the danger faced by the victorious Americans was fully realized in the following decades. Indeed, it often seems that most people haven’t yet realized that we, no less than the Russians, succumbed to the power demons. The underlinings below are mine.

The Germans today are like a drunken man who wakes up the next morning with a hangover. They don’t know what they’ve done and don’t want to know. The only feeling is one of boundless misery. They will make convulsive efforts to rehabilitate themselves in face of the accusations and hatred of the surrounding world, but that is not the right way. The only redemption lies, as I have already indicated, in a complete admission of guilt. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa! Out of honest contrition for sin comes divine grace. That is not only a religious but also a psychological truth. The American treatment of conducting the civilian population through the concentration camps and letting them see all the abominations committed there is therefore quite right. Only, the object lesson should not be driven home with moral instruction; repentance must come from inside the Germans themselves. It is possible that positive forces will emerge from the catastrophe, that from this introversion prophets will once again arise, for prophets are as characteristic of this strange people as the demons. Anyone who falls so low has depth. In all probability there will be a miraculous haul of souls for the Catholic Church — the Protestant church is too split up. There are reports that the general misery has reawakened the religious life in Germany; whole communities fall to their knees in the evenings, beseeching God to deliver them from the antichrist.

Then one can hope that the demons will be banished and that a new and better world will rise on the roads?

No, the demons are not banished, that is a difficult task that still lies ahead. Now that the angel of history has abandoned the Germans, the demons will seek a new victim. And that will be difficult. Every man who loses his shadow, every nation that falls into self-righteousness, is their prey. We love the criminal and take a burning interest in him because the devil makes us forget the beam in our own eye when observing the mote in our brother’s and in that way outwits us. The Germans will recover when they admit their guilt and accept it; but the others will become victims of possession if, in their horror at the German guilt, they forget their own moral shortcomings. We should not forget that exactly the same fatal tendency to collectivization is present in the victorious nations as in the Germans, that they can just as suddenly become a victim of the demonic powers. “General suggestibility” plays a tremendous role in America today, and how much the Russians already fascinated by the devil of power can easily be seen from the latest events, which must dampen our peace jubilation is a bit. The most sensible in this respect are the English: their individualism saves them from falling for the slogan, and the Swiss share their amazement at the collective unreason.

Then we must anxiously wait and see which way the demons go next?

I have already suggested that the only salvation lies in the piecemeal work of educating the individual. That is not as hopeless as it may appear. The power of the demons is immense, and the most modern media of mass suggestion –, radio, film, etc. — are at their service. But Christianity, too, was able to hold its own against an overwhelming adversary not by propaganda and mass conversions — that came later and was of little value — but by persuasion from man to man. And that is the way we also must go if we wish to conquer the demons.

Jung added:

I don’t envy you your task in writing about these things. I hope you will succeed in presenting my ideas in such a way that people won’t find them too strange. Unfortunately it is my fate that other people, especially those who are themselves possessed by demons, think me mad because I believe in these powers. But that is their affair; I know they exist. There are demons all right, as sure as there is a Buchenwald.

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