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"]

(2nd part)

One can call this the attitude of a rugged individualist. The authorities claimed that this man underpaid his workers and exploited them. In other words, he did not give them their own chance of equality with respect to the recognized minimum standards of life. He denied the rights of his fellowmen. This contention may, roughly, be the point of view of "social consciousness".

This man was apparently not only a business man, but a "nothing-but-business" man. His world was altogether centered around his business, his plant, his own way of making a living. This determined his attitude toward life, and his matter-of-course understanding of the world. To understand such a point of view as was held by the authorities of the New Deal was impossible for him. Within his world such ideas had no place; they did not fit in and lay beyond its limits, beyond the scope of his thoughts. Since he was entirely centered by this world, he was unable to look at such a theory in an objective way. The facts to which this theory pertained, such as the private life of a worker, had no relevant place in his world; instead, he could see such thoughts only in relationships determined by his world. These relationships meant simply: these are unjust disturbances.

His complete fixation on and determination by this world already existed before his illness. It made his whole life the life of a "business man." He wore the clothes of the "business man," rented the appartment appropriate for the "business man," had the manners, the style of the "business man" and his evaluation of other people and other professions was, as a matter of course, the evaluation of the "nothing-but-business" man. In this respect the psychosis only revealed and emphasized what was already there, but essentially did not add anything new.

This closed world was suddenly destroyed. Realities which originated outside his sphere entered and became powerful factors: the laws of the New Deal. The particular reasoning which entered from the outside did not fit into this world, and could not reasonable be accounted for; it worked simply as a disturbance. It violated the rules, the structure and dynamic laws of this world, and therefore seemed to be a true injustice. Just and unjust were defined in relation to his own system of reference, his business world. He had not done anything unjust. He simply followed the rules of the business world and therefore it was to him an act of wilfulness to punish him because he obeyed the laws of his own system.

The idea of starting anew, of getting a new job, did not occur to him. He was simply distressed; this was the depressed phase. Later he tried to assert himself as he understood himself as a part of this world. This was the manic phase. It was obvious, however, that he was at bottom keenly aware of the precarious situation, aware that actually he was no longer a business man and that this continuation of his world was artificial and in constant jeopardy. His attack was a form of defense and he was hurt and afraid.

Why was he so unable simply to accept the situation, to face it and to try to find some way out? Why was it that he could not find a new world?

It is indeed astounding that an apparantly normal human being can be reduced to nothing but a business man, and his world to nothing but a business world. This appears to be a rather narrow world and a rather poor sort of human being. The process of reduction to this shape, which must have taken place throughout this man's life, appears to have been some sort of psychological amputation, a more or less voluntary crippling. [1] Such a process seems to be artificial. No one is born to be a mere oil man.

 Go to 3rd part of this paper


[1] Crippling here means the inability to perceive facts other than the one-sided way which was determined and centered by the rigid structure of his special world. This is the extreme opposite to open-mindedness. Facts cannot be perceived as they demand to be perceived, objectively and with open-mindedness. This happens very often in normal persons, but in this case it jeopardized the dynamic equilibrium which is an essential factor of sound behaviour. [-> back to text]

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