A Case of Mania with its Social Implications

by Erwin Levy

[first published in: Social Research, 3 (1936), pp 488-493;
German translation 1997 by Gerhard Stemberger in ÖAGP-Informationen, 6 (3), S. i-v:
"Ein Fall von Manie und seine sozialen Implikationen"]


(1st part)

A business man in his forties was brought to a mental hospital as a case of "manic depressive psychosis, manic phase." In short, he had suffered a stroke from which he had recovered quickly, except for some residua which, for practical life, were unimportant. After this he fell into a state of deep depression for some time, accompanied by suicidal ideas, followed by a state of high excitement. He was now irritable, loud and grandiose, with a tendency to assert himself at all costs and to attack as soon as he felt in the least offended. He was quite unmanageable. Through an attempt to understand the case it became possible to approach the human side of the processes occuring in the man. I shall merely mention, in a sketch, some factors of this case. To put the problem paradoxically, this man became a victim of the concrete clash of two different meanings of the term äequalityô, living a life exclusively shaped by a world which was determined by one of these meanings.

He was in the oil business, and owned a small independent plant which sold mostly to gasoline stations. Since he had to compete with the large companies he developed a high degree of efficiency in his organization, paying his workers lower wages than did the larger companies, and working them overtime in order to get his trucks on the road before those of his rivals. His men were out in the small hours of the morning in order to reach the stations first. Within his plant he tried to maintain a patriarchal emotional relationship with his workers, and by these methods he obtained good results. He was a very hard worker, and his business was his main interest. In this competitive struggle he had become somewhat ruthless, and was very proud of his independence. He enjoyed maintaining a spacious appartment in one of the best sections of New York, strove to dress well and to see that his family, too, took good care of their outer appearance. There were no particular hobbies or other interests that we know of. He was inclined to have a stubborn one-track mind and a certain lack of imagination and versatility. He was intensely attached to his business and would not easily change his situation. Rather stout, stocky, red-faced and warmblooded, he was also somewhat nervous and highstrung, showing a tendency to suffer from high blood pressure. He liked good food, was jolly, but always somewhat excitable, boisterous and loud, though never unduly so. He was satisfied with his private life. In business he was distinctly the boss, and a go-getter, although not unkind.

The "New Deal" came in. He was invited to sign the code of his industry. In his particular case this meant he would have to pay higher wages and would be restricted in the number of hours he required his men to work. Both changes were insupportable for his kind of business, and to sign the code would mean ruin. He became infuriated and refused to sign. The only alternative he could think of was to fight against the change. He wanted his workers to "stick it out with him," and he appealed to them, explaining the situation as he saw it. He fought the authorities and the unions. He lost the fight, and his business was ruined.

The stroke followed.

During his illness most of his harangue was centered around his business and the NRA. He was utterly infuriated by what he considered the injustice done to him. According to his interpretation of the situation he, an honest worker, and a friend to his workers, was thrown out of business by a bunch of hypocrites who claimed to protect the workers, but actually, as was proved by his own case, helped the large companies against the small and independent man. He felt he was the underdog and deserved sympathy. He worked very hard and deserved the $ 50.000 which he annually made. He was entitled to the fine life he led. What is life worth if you are out of business and cannot make $ 50.000 a year? Who is the doctor? He makes perhaps $ 2.000; he is a poor fellow, a pauper, a contemptible "piece of cheese." Should he, the business man, be expected to associate with and be considerate of the other patients who belonged to a lower social level? He was supposed to be their boss. He wanted his rights. He was ready to fight all of them. The world had wronged him; the world was going to make good. He, the great business man, would take what was due him: money, women, the nurses. He would make a donation to the hospital and kill its inefficient "president" ...

To put the case as he saw it, NRA was unjust; it threw him, one of the few remaining independents, out of business. It was not his fault that the large companies had forced him into an unfair competitive struggle. He did not want to cheat his workers; he was their friend. If he cheated them it was because he was forced to do so in order to live. Everyone's chances are equal. He wanted to use his chance, but the NRA took it away from him. All he wanted was non-interference. NRA denied him his constitutional right to an equal chance.


 Go to 2nd part of this paper


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