It is about the granddaughter of Queen Victoria, Princess Alice of Battenberg, born in Windsor Castle and later married to Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark. She was born deaf as a congenital disease, however, she was able to communicate and learned French, German, English, and Greek.
After some time of marriage, her husband, besides showing a notorious frivolity and wanting to ensure a stable relationship with his mistress, conspired with psychiatrists. First, with Thomas Ross and then with Sigmund Freud, who committed her to a Swiss institution under the diagnosis of suffering from schizophrenia as a consequence of “sexual frustrations”, for which she underwent radiation on her ovaries and other compulsive treatments.
After repeated attempts to escape, she succeeded. Being a devotee of the Orthodox Church she dedicated herself to the constitution of a congregation of nuns – the Christian Sisterhood of Martha and Mary – and hid Jews persecuted by the Nazis in her house. Finally, her son, the Prince of Edinburgh, took her with him to live in Buckingham Palace where she died years later.
This devastating case exposes once again the reason of the psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, who argues that from the point of view of pathology, an illness translates into a lesion of tissues, cells, or bodies, but ideas and behaviors cannot be sick. That is why of his many books, The Myth of Mental Illness stands out, which does not ignore possible chemical problems in the brain, in neurotransmitters and synapses.
The latter, among others, is developed by the philosopher of science Karl Popper in a work co-authored with the Nobel Prize winner in neurophysiology John Eccles, who emphasizes the difference between the purely cerebral and the mind or psyche, a book with the suggestive title of The Self and its Brain. Szasz warns of the dangers of arbitrary hospitalizations based on discrepancies with the way of life of supposed patients.
In order to illustrate what has been said in the context of the unjust and heartless suffering of Alice of Battenberg, it is appropriate to review some points of Freud’s theories on what I have written above. However, given the resonance of the death of the Prince of Edinburgh, it is pertinent to review what has been said in the context of the painful life of his mother.
Undoubtedly, as is the case with practically all authors of renown, Freud has made contributions that have been useful for a variety of purposes, for example, his concern that people who repress in the subconscious facts and images that they consider inconvenient can assume the problems and bring them to the level of the conscious. He was also the one who initiated the method of association of ideas by resorting to per analogiam even for the interpretation of dreams, moving away from a strict exegesis and entering into a sort of hermeneutics of dreams and of life events in general.
But these two examples are controversial, since there are those who argue that often the so-called repression is a defense mechanism to avoid further damage and that it is only constructive to bring problems to the surface if they can actually be solved and not simply by the mere fact of bringing them to light. At the same time, there are those who argue that the analogical interpretation of various events leads to tortuous and mistaken conclusions when, in truth, a direct (or, if you will, literal) interpretation leads to a better understanding of what is being analyzed.
It is very difficult to judge a writer in toto and the greater the number of his works, naturally the greater the difficulty. In order to give an opinion on an author, we generally refer to what we consider to be the central axis of his contribution. In any case, the task is not always easy, since in some instances positive and negative aspects are intertwined in the contributions.
In the case of Sigmund Freud, it seems pertinent to quote some of his thoughts in order to arrive at rigorous conclusions. For example, in “Problems of Civilization” he argues that, in the human being, the principle of an original and, so to speak, natural faculty, capable of distinguishing good from evil, must be “discarded”.
Moreover, in “Totem and Taboo” he writes that “the prohibitions dictated by the customs and morals to which we obey, have in their essential features a certain affinity with the primitive taboo” and, in the same book, he states that the denial of incestuous relations constitutes “the bloodiest mutilation, perhaps, that has been imposed in all times on the erotic life of the human being”.
This goes for morals and customs but he also attacks the very meaning of freedom, for example, in his Introduction to Psychoanalysis where he refers to “the illusion of such a thing as psychic freedom […] that is unscientific and must yield to the demand of determinism whose rule extends over mental life”.
According to C.S. Lewis, this perspective, which would turn human beings into mere machines, would mean “the abolition of man”, a position – Freud’s – that adheres to the philosophical materialism or physical determinism so criticized also by the aforementioned Popper and Eccles and before that by the Nobel Prize winner in physics Max Planck in Where is Science Heading?
In the epilogue to the third volume of his “Law, Legislation and Freedom” the Nobel Prize winner in economics Friedrich Hayek writes: “I believe that mankind will look back on our era as one of superstitions basically connected with the names of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud”.
Hans Eyseneck points out in “Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire” that “what is true of Freud is not new and what is new is not true.” Richard LaPierre comes to the same conclusion in “Freudian Ethics” and Ronald Dabiez in his voluminous treatise “The Psychoanalytic Method and Freudian Doctrine” points out that the ideas not shared by Freud are considered neuroses, which opens the door to dangerous persecutions under the cloak of “treatment”.
For example, Dabiez explains that “Freud’s attitude towards religious beliefs has evolved in the direction of an increasingly accentuated hostility, at least by the frequency of its manifestations, since, for Freud, the fundamental equation of religion to obsessional neurosis has been found since 1907”.
Henry Hazlitt also concludes in “The Foundations of Morality” that, according to Freud, “society” must compulsorily finance the irresponsibility of permissive homes and schools and that “the criminal is “sick” and, therefore, should not be punished” and that “compliance with moral standards only leads to neurosis”.
Among the 673 pages of one of Richard Webster’s works entitled “Why Freud Was Wrong”, we read that “Freud was convinced that the mind could and should be described as if it were part of a physical apparatus […] Freud made no intellectual discoveries of substance […], his habits of thought and his attitude to scientific research are far removed from any responsible method of study”. Of this book James Liberman writes in the Journal of the History of Medicine that “to my knowledge, it is the best treatment of the subject both in content and style.”
Lecomte du Noüy emphasizes in “Human Destiny:” “From top to bottom in the whole scale, all animals, without exception, are slaves to their physiological functions and to their hormones and endocrinal secretions,” but, with man, “a new discontinuity appears in nature, as profound as that between inert matter and organized life. It signifies the birth of conscience and freedom […] Freedom is not only a privilege, it is a test. No human institution has the right to deprive man of it”. The result of this test depends on each one of us, and not on the determinisms of the Viennese professor of that time, which would be outside the realm of what is properly human.
What has been said is not at all a refutation of psychoanalysis in general, nor does it intend to deny the valuable help of psychology in understanding the eventual problems of some people and psychiatry that aim to solve distortions, for which Freud was largely a pioneer. It does not follow that his conclusions in much of the subject matter addressed are relevant or free of contradictions and inconvenient derivations such as those pointed out in this summary.
The life of Alicia of Battenberg became a hymn to goodness and perseverance. Yet, it also became a major embarrassment for the spirits that respected each and every person as a unique and unrepeatable manifestation in the history of mankind that must be respected to the letter if they do not harm the rights of third parties.