Fallen heroes

It has become fashionable to complain about our hunger for exposes. It is as if we are all indulging in Schadenfreude in learning that Picasso was a monster to women, or that Einstein was unfaithful and cruel to a long-suffering woman (long-suffering is one of those cliches that seems just right and to fit just about all women). But maybe it is more than curiosity. Maybe there is a need, at the moment, to understand just why so many of our heroes are deeply flawed. It is one thing to learn that Scott Fitzgerald had no good reason to send his wife away to an asylum, or that Armand Hammer, the philanthropist, gave a new identity to one of his mistresses so that she could continue to work for him without arousing his wife's suspicions. But these people, public figures no doubt, were nonetheless not part of the cultural firmament. They were not like TS Eliot, Paul de Man, Mircea Eliade, Bruno Bettelheim, Carl Jung, or Martin Heidigger. What do all these men have in common? They have all been the subject of recent exposes, they were all anti-Semitic (though Bettelheim was a Jew) and some of them were also misogynists. But even more important, they all have their defenders, even now.

A stunning new biography of Bettelheim recently appeared in the United States, making clear, for the first time, the extent of his deceptions, lies and physical violence to the children under his charge. The New Yorker published a response by Daphne Merkin on 24 March that did not attempt to dispute the facts, but basically blamed you and me, readers, for what she calls our "negative transference", which means that Bettelheim was our analyst and we could not bear the truths he exposed.

Bettelheim, without any doubt, was an impostor. Why should we not be interested in the psychology of the charlatan? Sometimes the fraudulence is focal: people who claim to have degrees they do not have, to be a medical doctor, for example, when they have never set foot in a medical school, (Bettelheim claimed to be a psychoanalyst, and analysts were only too happy to accept him in their fold, basking in the reflection of his glory - now of course, they say he was never one of them). Does it matter? You bet it does. How would you like to be operated on by a surgeon who had given himself that title? I can understand the argument that Wagner's anti-Semitism did not affect his music, even if I disagree, or being told that Picasso's execrable behaviour toward women did not translate into his paintings, but when your character is your art, as is the case with a psychologist for example, then to argue that a rotten character doesn't really matter is perverse.

While Anthony Julius's book makes clear that T S Eliot's anti-Semitism was more virulent than anybody he knew, what could people have thought when they read in After Strange Gods that "reasons of race and religion combine to make any large number of free-thinking Jews undesirable"? Did we think he was kidding?

Some years ago, I took the simple and obvious step of looking at those issues of the German Journal of Psychotherapy that Carl Jung edited during the war years. I was appalled at the amount of anti-Semitism in the articles in a journal with Jung's name on the cover. The existence of these articles, and their content, had not previously been reported. In response to this new information, Jungian analysts, even Jewish ones, with one or two notable exceptions, immediately came to the master's defence. The undeniable anti- Semitism, they said, was his "shadow side". Everybody has one, they told me. But not everybody would speak as an anti-Semite before and during the war, and then in 1945, right afterwards, speak as a philosemite. Jung is dead, and cannot respond, but we can investigate our own collusion in silence and ignorance.

Why do anti-Semitism, racism and misogyny seem to crop up so often together? What is it about this unholy troika that makes it so tempting to modern sages? I believe these are the very themes that have always been covered up, denied, or made to seem funny, or ridiculous in our culture, because so many people (primarily men) engaged in them. They want to, they choose to, and they get away with it, at least for some time. And, when they are finally exposed, other men come to their rescue by attempting to belittle the new knowledge. This is why so often people will respond to a story of abuse or an expose, with: "There but for the grace of God, go I", or "Who can throw the first stone?" It is important to recognise that all of these men have their defenders. Eliade, Jung, Eliot, De Man are still taught in university colleges. All are still the objects of hero worship by intellectuals around the world. The need to protect "great" figures from critical scrutiny might well underlay the fact that these figures were canonised in the first place. In other words, it is possible, even likely, that we already knew what was to come from the exposes, and that this knowledge made them inevitable, only a matter of time, but also made inevitable the massive scrambling to undo the effects of the exposure. How sad. There is a way out. But first we have to see how bad things have become around sexuality which we thought might offer a solution. That will be my second diary entry. And the third will offer the real solution

Jeffrey Masson's `Dogs Never Lie About Love', will be published by Jonathan Cape on May 29, price pounds 15.99