The Systems of Judaism, Marxism, and Freudianism

Structurally speaking, Judaism, Marxism, and Freudianism each constitute a thought system, and their systems, at least in some respects, share a certain number of characteristics with each other: that the system is triadic, comprised of the higher, the lower, and the intermediate; that the higher oppresses the lower; that the intermediate is dependent on and vulnerable to the other two agents; that the order is gained through the lower spontaneously subjecting itself to the higher, and the higher controlling the lower, suppressively or secretly; and that the triad, in time, dissolves into the duality. Now let’s see what can be found in these thoughts.

The Agents of the Systems and Their Characters

Our mind and our society both constitute a system. The system, surrounded by the objective reality, is composed of three agents, the higher, the lower, and the intermediate.

In the three systems, the higher, like Yahweh in the Old Testament, acts like a strict and even merciless father, commanding, forbidding, blaming, and punishing the other two agents, especially the lower. Genuine or false, it represents our conscience, and it is learned and not necessarily natural. The higher is Jehovah in Judaism, the royalty and nobility and priesthood in Marxism, and the superego in Freudianism.

Freud, in The Ego and the ID [E&I], writes that the superego’s main function is “self-criticism and conscience”, which means that a person’s superego is always critical of her, and so it orders “you ought to be like your father” or “you may not be like your father”. It mostly orders and/or forbids the lower, the childish and instinctive part of us, the id, with sheer strictness.

Marx, in The Communist Manifesto [CM], believes that “the ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class”, suggesting that law, morality, and religion are just the ideas of the ruling class, the royalty and nobility and priesthood before the advent of the bourgeoisie, with a view to its controlling the other inferior and lowbrow classes from within. Here we see a similarity between Freud’s concept of the superego and that of Marx’s ruling class.

The lower is the farthest agent from a sense of order, disunified, behaving like a child that hasn’t learned morality yet, and so its behavior seems to have to be organized, or at least suppressed, by the higher, otherwise the system might be in total chaos. The lower is the people Moses set free in Judaism, the proletariat in Marxism, and the id in Freudianism.

In Exodus [Ex], Aaron sees Moses come down Mount Sinai and lament “you know how prone these people are to evil” [32:22], due to the people’s disobedience to the orders Yahweh and Moses gave. As for Marxism, Marx himself writes, “masses of labourers, crowded into the factory, are organised like soldiers”, which suggests that the proletariat, outside of the factory, is itself unorganized [CM]; logically, the organization of the proletariat can only be possible if it is not organized. In psychoanalysis, Freud says that the id “has achieved no unified will” [E&I]. Regarding both Marxism and Freudianism, Georges Bataille claims in The Solar Anus that “communist workers appear to the bourgeois to be as ugly and dirty as hairy sexual organs, or lower parts”. An interpretation of this is that hairy sexual organs are a manifestation of, and so another name for, the id. Since communist workers are the proletariat, a structural similarity can be found between the proletariat and the id.

The mediator is a reasonable adult; we can say that it is sensible, and so tries to mediate between two parties focused on survival and self-interest. At the same time, the mediator allows for and adapts to the circumstances. For Moses, survival is that of the people; for the bourgeoisie, it is self-survival, and may be that of the society as a whole, for if there were no priesthood or laborers, society might fall and the bourgeoisie perish. For the ego, survival means that of the person bearing that ego. The higher and the lower both tend to take little notice of survival; only the intermediate takes much notice of it. The intermediate is Moses in Judaism, and it is the bourgeoisie in Marxism. Marx writes that “the bourgeoisie, … has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous ‘cash payment” [CM]. Self-interest is the spokesperson for, and cash payment the symbol of, survival instinct. The intermediate is the ego in Freudianism. Freud writes that “the ego represents what may be called reason and common sense” [E&I]; in this way, the main purpose is for the person bearing the ego to adapt to the circumstances.

the higherYahwehroyalty, nobility, preisthoodsuperego
the intermediateMosesbourgeoisieego
the lowerthe peopleproletariatid

The Higher Oppresses the Lower

The higher will highly likely oppress both the lower and the mediator. This is because the main function of the higher is blaming, punishing, forbidding, and ordering the others, especially the lower, which means that the higher tends to harass the lower.

In the Ten Commandments in Judaism, we can find a variety of commandments and prohibitions [Ex 20]: you shall have no other gods, you shall not make for yourself an image, you shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, remember the Sabbath day, honor your father and your mother, and so on. If we break the contract, even our children will be punished “for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation”, which is very strict.      

From the viewpoint of Marxism, the oppression means that the members of the higher ruling class, a group consisting mainly of aristocrats and priests, exploit the lower workers. As Marx writes, “… they [aristocrats and priests] join in all coercive measures against the working class” [CM].

In Freudianism, if the id only has a striving for the satisfaction of instinctive needs subject to the observance of the pleasure principle, then it is the id, not only the ego, that should be trained and disciplined strictly by the superego. Repression, by the superego, is rapidly done through authority and religious teachings.

The Mediator’s Helplessness and Vulnerability

The mediator is helpless and vulnerable; it alone cannot solve the problems it faces even when it urgently needs to. The intermediate seems too exposed to the presence of the other agents to keep itself stable. The agents other than the mediator seem overwhelming and troublesome.

The prophet in Exodus was helpless and vulnerable to the pressures from the other two agents. There was a time when Moses was about to be killed by Yahweh [ibid. 4:24]; there was a time when he enraged Yahweh [ibid. 4:14]; there was a time when he was on the verge of being stoned to death by the people [ibid. 17:4]; and there was more than once when he was bitterly complained to by the people [ibid. 14:11, 16:13, 17:2]. One of the greatest leaders in human history, as a matter of fact, had at least several narrow escapes.

In Marxism, the bourgeoisie is not as strong as we might think it is. It cannot fight alone against the aristocracy or the proletariat. This is why the bourgeoisie sometimes asks the laborers for help in order to overthrow the aristocracy, and at other times it demands that the aristocracy fight against the proletariat together. The fact that the bourgeoisie has to constantly compete with the aristocracy or with the proletariat means that a moment’s carelessness might cost it its wealth or even its existence, which implies its implicit vulnerability. In any case, concerning the fate of the bourgeoisie, Marx concludes: “its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable” [CM]. How weak and miserable the bourgeoisie is!

Freud thinks the ego can be regarded as “…a poor creature owing service to three masters and consequently menaced by three dangers: from the external world, from the libido of the id, and from the severity of the super-ego” [E&I]. It has to adapt to the harsh outer environment, quiet the playful and essentially amoral id, and respectfully listen to and submissively obey the heartless superego, which is a very tough job. The ego is too weak and fragile to manage to do that fully. In addition, Freud, referring to Georg Groddeck, says that our ego behaves essentially passively in life and that we are lived by unknown and uncontrollable forces, the id [ibid.]. He further adds “often a rider, if he is not to be parted from his horse, is obliged to guide it where it wants to go; so in the same way the ego is in the habit of transforming the id‘s will into action as if it were its own” [ibid.].

How Order is Internally Created

Here I use the word ‘order’ to mean the internally static stability in the system: if the system is stable, hardly any free motion can be found. The higher is on the constant watch for the other agents, and the lower is just obedient, rarely able to enjoy the full extent of what it desires.

In Exodus [20, 21], Moses told the people not to fear Yahweh, since the fear of Yahweh, staying within them, will surely stop them from sinning. One of the reasons why He appeared before them was to make them not afraid of Him but away from sin: First the people feared Yahweh’s anger and punishment consciously, and then they avoided committing a sin without knowing the reason. Now the people could be amenable and gentle, and the communal order created. This is one of the things Yahweh and Moses intended. As far as I understand, this is where the psychoanalytical concept of internalization originated. What Freud found in human psychology in the 20th century was confirmation of the same concept from 3,000 years ago.

Marx writes that “law, morality, religion, are … so many bourgeois prejudices, behind which lurk in ambush just as many bourgeois interests” [CM], which shows that the ruling class, in a sense, brainwashes the other classes through the superstructure. There can be no order without the teachings that we must obey the authority through law, morality, and religion; there can only be an order if we are obedient to their teachings. In other words, the oppressed internalize what is not within them, not in their interests, but in those of the ruling class.

The superego is formed in the process of internalization. Internalization is taking in values of behavior early in childhood, and thus forming the superego within, which is passed on from our parents. We are told to take a set of attitudes mainly by our parents by way of scolding, punishment, encouragement, and so on, and at last we spontaneously do and say what our parents want us to. This is internalization, which is the counterpart of that Judaic idea that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

The Dissolution of Triad into Duality

A time is certain to come when the mediator sides with one of the agents, facing the other together. Moses often spoke for the people, at one time asking for their rescue [Ex 5:23], at other times soothing furious Yahweh [ibid. 32:11,32:12]. Moses was together with the people, and Moses’s anger burned when he was going down Mount Sinai, because, as the Book says, he saw the calf and the dancing [ibid. 32:19]. So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, “whoever is for the Lord, come to me” [ibid. 32:26], and then continued, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor’” [ibid. 32:27]. Here, Moses was one and the same with Yahweh, punishing the people to death.

Marx writes that “society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other — Bourgeoisie and Proletariat” [CM], which means that there may be more than two components of society, but the camps polarize when the time comes. Also, Marx seems to say that, just before modern times, the bourgeoisie found itself in a constant battle with the aristocracy with the help of the lower workers; and in the modern times, its battle is against the proletariat. That is, when the bourgeoisie first appeared in history, it was, together with the workers, confronted with the aristocracy and priesthood; after the aristocracy and priesthood became weak, the bourgeoisie turned against the proletariat, naturally with the aid of the aristocracy and priesthood. Theoretically, there are three agents; the aristocracy as well as the priesthood, the bourgeoisie, and the proletarian. In reality, the mediator fuses into one of the other two agents, so what can be seen is the polarization between the higher and the lower class.

Freud, in Beyond the Pleasure Principle [BPP], writes, “…the course of mental processes is automatically regulated by ‘the pleasure-principle’: that is to say, we believe that any given process originates in an unpleasant state of tension and thereupon determines for itself such a path that its ultimate issue coincides with a relaxation of this tension, i.e. with avoidance of ‘pain’ or with production of pleasure.” That is, our mind is governed by the pleasure principle. The gentle ego, though always keeping an eye on the boss-like superego, usually has no other choice but to follow the selfish id. However, things will change in time. It is not always possible that we only seek what we deeply desire. We cannot eat ice cream in class, nor can we have a barrel of beer during worktime. We work in these cases, or we would be kicked out. As Freud notes, “under the influence of the instinct of the ego for self-preservation it is replaced by the ‘reality-principle’” [BPP]. This is how the pleasure principle of the id will be replaced by the reality principle of the ego, with the aid of the superego. Now we try our best to preserve ourselves, not just seeking pleasure without thinking how things are around us, which could mean that the id gives way to the ego and the superego. It may perhaps be only natural that the ego goes hand in hand with the superego, suppressing the id. In either case, the triad is in reality the duality.

I have not criticized the three ideas, nor have I described whether they were right or not. That’s not my intention here. What I did was point out some of the common characteristics in the three thought systems in a structuralist manner.


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