Although this book is a meticulously researched and carefully written non-fiction book, in many ways it reads like a mystery thriller. Did Freud discover a dark secret about society while studying with his French mentor? Was Freud pressured by the rich and powerful to help them cover-up a grotesque aspect of the modern world? Did Freud accept the trade of fame and influence in exchange for publicly compromising a basic truth about mental dysfunction while, in private, holding firm to his knowledge of brutal violence shaping unfortunate young minds?
...The truth or falsity of my research was not questioned, only the wisdom of making the material available to the public. My interpretations, the critics seemed to feel, put in jeopardy the very heart of psychoanalysis.
It was my conviction that what Freud had uncovered in 1896—that, in many instances, children are the victims of sexual violence and abuse within their own families—became such a liability that he literally had to banish it from his consciousness. The psychoanalytic movement that grew out of Freud’s accommodation to the views of his peers holds to the present day that Freud’s earlier position was simply an aberration. Freud, so the accepted view goes, had to abandon his erroneous beliefs about seduction before he could discover the more basic truth of the power of internal fantasy and of spontaneous childhood sexuality. Every first-year resident in psychiatry knew that simple fact, yet I seemed incapable of understanding it. And I now claimed that this accepted view actually represented a travesty of the truth. The prevalent opinion in psychotherapy was that the victim fashioned his or her own torture. In particular, violent sexual crimes could be attributed to the victim’s imagination, a position held by Freud’s pupil Karl Abraham and enthusiastically accepted by Freud himself. It was a comforting view for society, for Freud’s interpretation—that the sexual violence that so affected the lives of his women patients was nothing but fantasy—posed no threat to the existing social order. Therapists could thus remain on the side of the successful and the powerful, rather than of the miserable victims of family violence. To question the basis of that accommodation was seen as something more than a historical investigation; it threatened to call into question the very fabric of psychotherapy.
Many of the basic elements discussed in this book are more than a hundred years old. But almost all the social dynamics at work in Europe more than a century ago are still active in modern America today. We see them in the continuing struggle to ascertain whether repressed memories are buried truths or invented fantasies. We see them in the day-care sex scandals, where the testimony of children is ‘scientifically’ rebutted by psychiatric experts. We see them on the so-called ‘tin-foil’ fringe of political intrigue in the purportedly true stories of real-life Le Femme Nikita’s like Cathy O’Brien now at TranceFormation of America and the two young women in “Secret Weapons.” And we wonder if the dynamics are at work buried beneath the rage of killers like Andrew Cunanan and Seung-Hui Cho.