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"]

(3rd part)

For others, to whom nature, love, play and diversion are realities as genuine as business it is hard to realize what happened during this man's development. He was born an average human being, with the average person's needs and requirements, which are greater and richer than those he recognized. He did not have the time, or perhaps the necessary psychic and moral strength and intelligence, to recognize and resist the dangerous force of modern business life. It absorbed him completely, and everything else became unimportant and remote. He was remolded into a business man. All his other needs and requirements, the human part of him, became peripheral, and were no longer dynamically active. Thus he lived in a sort of psychic strait-jacket, in an artificial shape. There may be some connection between this and the fact that before his illness he was nervous and high strung and had a tendency to suffer from high blood pressure; he reached a precarious state of equilibrium since he lived under the lasting inner stress of this deformation and had to adapt to it. For the same reason he was somewhat on the defensive, loud and pretentious. This was a somewhat unstable and immature psychological state of affairs, with the latent danger of a crisis as soon as events should endanger this pseudo-equilibrium. This crippling process certainly developed slowly and unobtrusively throughout the years; he was not aware of it as long as it did not cause any acute inner disturbance, and he was able, in spite of the strain, to keep up the artificial state to which he was accustomed.

One cannot exist without a world. We are made to be always part of a world. If it becomes exceedingly limited and small, then it is all the more important that this rudimentary world be stable and secure as the indispensable "framework of reference," in which alone one can find orientation, a clear line of conduct and a satisfactory understanding of oneself. If this framework of reference, in such a precarious state, is suddenly destroyed, and if there is, so to speak, no other territory, no other part of the world into which one may temporarily retreat, then something is bound to happen which is quite analogous to what happens if our spatial framework of reference [2] is suddenly destroyed. This manic spell actually reminds one of the behavior of a dizzy man who frantically tries to secure a framework which affords him secure anchorage and orientation.

The very reduction of the world, and of himself as a part of it, made the rudiments dynamically important; when he lost his business he not only lost part of his world; it was attacked in its center. After the crippling process had taken place he was not longer able, as others might be, to go into a public library and read a good book, or to turn on the radio and listen to a good symphony, or perhaps to go to church and pray. He simply was lost, and that accounts for the violence of his reaction.

This man was molded by the very powerful forces of his life into this state of being nothing but a business man, living in a reduced world. He did not get what one has a right to demand, the right to develop as a natural, full, rich, open-minded human being with a natural and proper attitude towards the events in the world. The right to grow up in a natural and open way, to develop one's possibilities according to the "law in us" seems to be essential to man, and does not include the tendency to such narrowing. [3]

Some features of this case are connected with the problem of "equality." In our discussion, we have encountered three different meanings of this term. First, the conception of equality as it was defined in this man's business world is the equal chance to make a business profit and not to be interfered with in this occupation by the government or anyone else. The second meaning is the right of every man to get the necessities of life, with its consequences on his fellowmen and the state. This is the meaning of social consciousness. The third meaning is the right to grow up and develop according to the law within us, to unfold our human possibilities and reach the state of good equilibrium required by our system and its essential systemic functional needs; this is the right not to be unduly exposed to the danger of being crippled and molded into nothing but a function of a pauperized, empty, artificial and one-sided world, such as that represented by this man's business world and many other worlds in modern times.

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[2] Cf. KOFFKA, Kurt, Principles of Gestalt Psychology (New York 1935), p. 389. [-> back to text]

[3] This right seems to be valid as long as the requirements of the individual are not incompatible with the requirements of the embedding social field, as is the case in some criminal instances. [-> back to text]

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