THE ten years immediately following the close of the World War may best be remembered as the Decade of the Dollar. But they might also be appropriately recalled as the Period of the Psyche. For between 1919 and 1929 literate America, and much of illiterate America, were more deeply interested in the whats and whys and wherefores of the human mind than they ever were before, and than, it seems likely, they will ever be again.
This consummate curiosity about man’s mysterious inner life was becoming apparent even before the Armistice. It was especially evident in the morbid delight which Americans everywhere took in Sir Oliver Lodge’s pitiable attempt to convince himself, by convincing others, that he had actually talked with the spirit of his dead son Raymond. Such concern over eery manifestations was, however, really not so new. It was a somewhat hysterical and extremely sentimental revival of an intellectual fad of the century before — a fad which had its inception when the furniture began to prance weirdly about in the humble home of the Fox sisters, and which reached its climax when the famous Mrs. Piper confounded the learned men of Boston with her intimate gossip about their decently buried friends.
But table-rapping and mediumistic messages were too naïve and leisurely an approach to the psychic mysteries for the hard-boiled nineteen-twenties. They belonged with family albums and long evenings around the parlor grate at home. The generation which had faced and lived through the quick realities of the war years needed a tougher and meatier dish than spiritualism. And one was ready for them. They found it in psychology.
This post-war psychology was not that quiet form of speculative inquiry by which Aristotle and Plato had once hoped to ‘discover and ascertain the nature and essence of the soul.’ Indeed, its strongest recommendation was that it had little relation to contemplative philosophy at all. It was first and foremost, at least so its proponents declared, scientific. And they offered intricate graphs and complicated charts and an almost unintelligible new terminology to prove their assertion. And their charts and graphs and terminology, it should be said in all fairness, were every bit as awe-inspiring and as accurate as those by which the equally scientific economists of the same period foretold the perpetuity of prosperity.
Thus the new psychology was acutely in tune with its time. Furthermore, it was as outspoken, as brash, and as blatantly ambitious as the era which fostered it. And lastly, like the New Freedom with which it was so intimately allied, it was also in its way a product of the war. At least it was the circumstance which the American Psychological Association has officially described as ‘the military emergency’ which gained it its greatest publicity. For April 1917 was the first time in history that a group of highly respected, much belettered professors of psychology banded together for the express purpose of offering their services to their recently martial government.
These learned men, however, had volunteered for a higher duty than carrying either hand grenades or stretchers. They proposed to show recruiting officers how to secure the ablest fighters by the use of ‘intelligence tests.’ For their ardor more than a hundred patriotic pedagogues received commissions on the Surgeon-General’s Staff and the privilege of commanding almost two million bewildered young soldiers to ‘write the letter which follows the letter which comes after C in the alphabet,’ and ‘cross out the g in tiger.’
So it happened that the new science of psychology became, for a while, an integral part of the government of that country where it was to have its richest flowering.
In the interest of strictest accuracy it should be interpolated here that in 1917 the science of psychology was really not quite so recent as these warlike testers and their enraptured press agents made it appear. William James had called it old in 1899. And twenty years earlier, when Wilhelm Wundt at Leipzig opened his first experimental laboratory, his colleagues in the more material branches of science had cordially received psychology as a rightful and respectable close cousin to their own disciplines. Indeed, psychology’s scientific status had not often been questioned since 1834, when Ernst Weber had so neatly refuted Immanuel Kant’s contention that mind could never be measured, by ingeniously estimating the quantity of those mental processes which are known as sensations.
But Wundt and Weber were men of other and more innocent generations. They conceived of science as a detached and unhurried search for truth. They did not realize that by 1920 its meaning would be radically changed. They did not foresee that by then science would be symbolized in the popular mind by the washing machine, the telephone, and the motor car. They could not know that in our day the test of a ‘scientific fact’ would have changed from ‘Is it true?’ to ‘Will it get me anywhere?’ So the psychology which developed in those early laboratories, here as well as in Germany, was accurate, academic, and almost wholly lacking in any immediate practical value.
But the American professors who had been so eager to save democracy through their tests and tabulations knew only too well that in the modern world, and in popular esteem, pure science gives way before technology. And they were determined that the new psychology should be every bit as practical and as helpful as the new physics — indeed, a great deal more so. The physical inventor, with his power over electricity, could, to be sure, lighten housework, shorten distances, and transform our ways of life. But the psychological inventors, with their powers over the human mind, felt very nearly equal to the task of transforming life itself. There was no human activity, they felt certain, which did not have its own peculiar psychology, and no human being who would not benefit from its knowledge. During those expansive post-war years, therefore, the high priests of the youngest science set forth to save the world by making it psychological.
In long and learned tomes they expounded the relationships between Psychology and Common Life, Psychology and Sex Life, Psychology and Business Efficiency, Psychology and the Christian Religion, Psychology and Dramatic Art, Psychology and the Day’s Work, Psychology and the Christian Day School, Psychology and Parenthood, Psychology and Politics, Psychology and Nursing, Psychology and Preaching, Psychology and Teaching, Psychology and Writing.
They also wrote books explaining in detail the Psychology of Æsthetics, the Psychology of Athletics, the Psychology of Arithmetic, the Psychology of Alcoholism, the Psychology of Beauty, the Psychology of Buying, the Psychology of Bolshevism, the Psychology of Business Success, the Psychology of the Christian Life, the Psychology of Citizenship, the Psychology of Coaching, the Psychology of Death, the Psychology of Dress, the Psychology of Fasting, the Psychology of Golf, the Psychology of Group Insurance, the Psychology of Jesus, the Psychology of Leadership, the Psychology of Learning, the Psychology of Marriage, the Psychology of Murder, the Psychology of Package Labels, the Psychology of the Poet Shelley, the Psychology of Selling Life Insurance, the Psychology of Your Name.
These are only a few titles taken from the mighty list of books upon the subject published between 1919 and 1928. It could be continued for pages, but even the entire list could not give the full flavor of the psychological revival. There was during that industrious decade not only a special psychology to fill every human need, there were almost as many interpretations of the word ‘ psychology ’ itself as there were psychologists who sought to interpret it. And from every interpretation a wholly new system of the science was evolved. Thus within the great psychological boom there were many smaller booms, each of which had its particular day of glory before it was crowded aside by still another. The greatest of these, in chronological order, were Intelligence Testing, Psychoanalysis, and Behaviorism.
It was mental testing, of course, which, because of its military importance, brought about the whole psychological renaissance. The army testers had been hard at work during their twenty months of service. They had not only examined, they had computed means and modes and media. They had not only recommended that 8646 of the recruits they tested be discharged for lack of intelligence, they had also worked out on paper the average ‘ mental age’ of the 1,726,966 whom they had allowed to remain in uniform. The result was made public in the succinct statement that the average American soldier, and by implication the average American citizen, had the mentality of a normal child aged exactly thirteen years and one month.
Now this simple figure could have several significances. It might mean, as the psychologists sought to prove it did, that the limit of mental development is reached by the thirteenth year. It might also mean, and this is the simplest and most reasonable interpretation, that the particular tests used in the army were assembled so rapidly and so arbitrarily that there was no chance to scale them accurately and, consequently, their results could have no direct bearing upon actual life.
But comparatively few people cared for either of these interpretations. There was an easier and much more sensational one. This was that Americans, particularly military Americans, had been discovered by competent psychologists to be abnormally stupid. And it was this interpretation which set the whole country reading, talking, and arguing about mental age, intelligence quotients, and subnormal mentality. The excitement reached its peak in 1922, when Bruce Barton was explaining to the readers of the American Magazine the meaning of I.Q.; when Professor Lewis Terman, who had invented these cryptic symbols, was debating their efficacy with Walter Lippmann throughout successive issues of the New Republic; and when almost the only persons not talking knowingly of ‘morons’ were the certified morons themselves.
Although mental tests were thus able to arouse America’s curiosity about the human mind, they could not satisfy it. Intelligence testing proved, after the discussions about it had become somewhat calmer, to be almost too scientific to be really enlightening. The tests could tell that one mind was different from, brighter or duller than, another, but they did not even attempt to explain why. And surely a nation which was inflamed with curiosity over its psyche had a right to know more about it than the simple, cold numerals by which the testers fenced in its mental range. So the American public sought an authority from whom they might learn more. Almost immediately they found him. He was a Viennese physician by the name of Sigmund Freud. And he was able to tell the American people more about the dark unconscious mysteries of the human psyche than had been suppressed and forgotten by all their Victorian forbears.
Now, to try to decide whether Sigmund Freud made the New Freedom one of the most characteristic marks of the nineteen-twenties, or whether the New Freedom made Sigmund Freud one of the most significant influences of the period, is to get into another of those endless chicken-egg, horse-cart arguments. But certainly when young America, in revolt against its immediate and prissy past, was ready for Freud, Freud was ready for it.
Indeed, he had actually been in this country some ten years earlier, when, at Stanley Hall’s invitation, he had come over to Clark University to address an assemblage of American psychologists. This especially selected audience, however, rather muffed the performance. Those American professors did not realize on that June day in 1909 that they were hearing words that would, before long, change not only the vocabulary but the very thought of their countrymen. Most of them were of the opinion that they were merely listening to a bearded foreigner make some altogether preposterous remarks.
But among the neurologists of the country there were those who were more canny. They recognized Freud immediately as their Master. Soon they were diagnosing all mental derangements, and many physical ailments, too, as ‘functional neuroses.’
The advanced intellectuals, also, were not long in discovering the libido and all its tortuous and tortured ways. And just as quickly they translated Freud’s esoteric case histories into literature. The brave heroes and chaste heroines of our traditional fiction became in the most modern novels thwarted and miserable beings, driven incessantly by goading inferiorities and hideous suppressions. It has been said that the reason the denizens of Greenwich Village never recognized the fact of prohibition was because at the time the Eighteenth Amendment was proposed they were too busy discovering the variants of psychoanalysis to read about its passage. A few years later the New York Times Magazine carried an erudite article which explained the enormous popularity of the then current song, ‘ Yes, We Have No Bananas,’in terms of a national inferiority complex.
So in 1923, when the public, which had already become conversant with the normal, subnormal, and supernormal ranges of the I. Q., sought more information about the elusive psyche, there were the doctrines of Freud and of his illustrious, if slightly dissenting, disciples Jung and Adler, to enlighten it.
The next year an event of national interest brought the terminology of psychoanalysis to a still larger audience. In 1924 two wealthy Chicago youths brutally murdered the small cousin of one of them. This was news that belonged in large black headlines. In July of that year young Leopold and Loeb were brought to trial. State’s Attorney Crowe, who was to die a few years later from the fire of a gangster’s machine gun, prosecuted them, and Clarence Darrow was chief of counsel in their defense. The news interest did not lag. But the most remarkable ingredient of that whole trial was the presence in the courtroom of no less than ten eminent psychiatrists, five employed by the prosecution and five by the defense. And the outcome of the trial depended, not upon the proof that Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold had or had not murdered Bobby Franks, but upon what Doctors White and Glueck and Healy and their psychiatric colleagues had to say about the condition of the two defendants’ minds. They said plenty. And when Darrow finally interpreted their arguments to the jury, Leopold and Loeb were sentenced, not to the gallows, but to life terms in prison — and the newspaper-reading public knew a great deal about phantasies, complexes, neuroses, psychoses, fixations, inhibitions, repressions, and perversions. And it was determined to know still more.
In the fall and winter following the trial, the more fashionable psychiatrists in New York City, so I was informed by a reputable member of the craft, were able to double, triple, and, in some cases, quadruple their fees for analyses. Even so, they could not take care of all their would-be customers. Their most numerous and profitable patients were, as has been remarked before, well-todo, restless, and youngish women who wanted more from life than a comfortable home and a stolid husband, and were able to make ’transferences ’ their careers. But not all psychoanalytical patients belonged in this category, not by far. During the winter of 19241925, when I was working as assistant to a Freudian analyst, among our clients were a novelist, a public lecturer, a kindergarten teacher, a theological student, a musical-comedy actress, a social worker, a banker, a short-story writer, a famous diva, a governess (sent by her employer), a college professor, a maiden lady of some sixty-odd years, an instructor in a school for Quaker children, a stenographer, a candidate for an M. D. degree in a local university, and a business man from the cloak and suit district.
How much all these people benefited ultimately from having their unconscious probed, I have no way of knowing, for I have lost touch with most of them since that year. But that, at the time, they not only hoped but expected psychoanalysis to solve their most intricate problems, I have no doubt. For, in that great era of libido liberation, psychoanalysts were supposed to be possessed of a kind of superknowledge which made them superauthorities upon every subject of our modern life. The psychiatrists’ actual, empirical knowledge of housekeeping, or acting, or banking might be entirely superficial, or even nonexistent, yet from the mastery of their own special subject they were accepted as being able to tell a housewife, an actress, or a banker just how to perform his tasks.
In the arts, for a while, it seemed as though the psychic physicians were to be established as the arch-critics. Their judgment was asked upon plays, upon novels, upon sculpture and painting. They wrote articles, lectures, and books, analyzing the unconscious motivation and the symbolism of Ibsen, Wagner, and Nietzsche. Dead literati were their favorite subjects, live literati their most flattering imitators. Between 1922 and 1928 a familiarity with the technique of psychoanalysis and a glibness with its jargon profited an aspiring young writer far more than a clear and graceful prose style or any true insight into character.
Psychology, to be sure, had had its influence upon contemporary literature long before the incestuous criminality of the infant libido was generally recognized. Indeed, the writers of our novels and short stories had been most respectfully impressed by psychological theories ever since William James bequeathed to them the ‘stream of consciousness’ method, a technique which is popularly supposed to have reached its final culmination in the last several hundred pages of Ulysses. But Joyce’s Mrs. Bloom, for all the haphazardness of her thought processes, does not afford us the ultimate in introspection. This is to be found in the stories of Gertrude Stein, who got her training straight from James himself, while he was still unbored by the methods he had learned from Wundt. And, if Miss Stein’s writing sounds a trifle meaningless, it does not sound a bit more so than quantities of ‘laboratory data’ which were printed with elaborate footnotes in the more conservative psychological journals at the beginning of the century.
Recently Edmund Wilson has been wondering whether Ernest Hemingway’s written dialogue is an imitation of Gertrude Stein’s individual manner of talking, or if Miss Stein has patterned her own conversation after that of Hemingway’s characters. But Mr. Wilson forgets an important temporal circumstance: Gertrude Stein still depicts the world as it is supposed to be projected through her consciousness into her tongue or pen, while Hemingway did not write a short story until after the latter-day psychologists had robbed man of his consciousness — and of all his impulses except those issuing from fear and hate and lust. If in their apparent simplicity their two styles become almost identical, nevertheless they represent the beginning and the end of more than a quarter century of radical psychological changes. Some of our writers, indeed, have become so adept at psychological analysis that they can combine the vagueness of introspection with behavioristic starkness, and motivate the whole by truly Freudian complexes into such an effective single novel as William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury.
But psychic probing during those days was not confined to books, nor transferences to consultation rooms. Psychoanalysis, which had begun its existence as a method of curing neuroses, was becoming in America a veritable psychosis itself. Social-service workers were no longer content with recording the financial, hygienic, and sanitary conditions of their charges; they must also discover their psychic states and tabulate the fixations, inhibitions, and daydreams of all those who sought their aid. The entire personnel work of one of New York’s greatest department stores ‘was put upon a strictly psychiatric basis,’ with four physicians and their specially trained assistants analyzing the thousands of employees, outside of working hours as well as in. The founder of the most famous of the new progressive schools boasted that she had established her institution for the express purpose of applying psychoanalytic doctrines to the education of the young, and pointed with the pride of achievement to the fact that her entire teaching stafT and almost all the parents of her pupils had been psychoanalyzed. And everyone who knew anything at all about the theories of Freud or Jung or Adler felt completely free to set himself up as amateur analyst, and discuss and criticize and pass judgment upon the most delicate affairs of his friends’ lives.
Prohibition has been accused, and not unjustly, of violating the sanctity of the home and destroying our respect for private property. But psychoanalysis violated a deeper sanctity and destroyed our respect for a thing more private than property could ever be. It killed the ingrained conviction that a decent man’s inner emotional life remains, so long as he wishes it, his own private concern.
Still, psychoanalysis, for all its majestic verbiage and its high-minded meddlesomeness, was fated, like mental testing before it, to give way in popular favor to another and yet more modern brand of psychology. It would be pleasant to agree with those optimistic commentators who believe that psychoanalysis lost ground in America because the public, by some miracle, discovered that its grandiose theories far outnumbered its proved facts. But there is slight evidence to support this view. The real trouble with psychoanalysis was that it was too slow, too difficult, too uncertain, and paid such small dividends for the time spent in trying to understand it. A nation which believed that it could learn French and ballroom dancing and saxophone playing and how to make ten thousand dollars a year in ten easy lessons could not waste its time in following the subtle conflicts between the subconscious and the superconscious, or the animus and the anima. So, after the novelty of talking openly about incest and perversions had worn off, Americans lost, in a measure, their awe of Freud. They asked for a mental guide that would be more direct and objective. And they turned back, at last, to a native son. It was just about the time when buying on margin became our most exciting national pastime that Dr. John B. Watson began to give his startling interviews to the papers, and behaviorism burst into its public glory.
As a popular doctrine, behaviorism could be said to possess most of the appealing points of psychoanalysis, with few of its tedious difficulties. It was just as iconoclastic; but instead of explaining away religion and morals in terms of phantasies, wish fulfillments, and psychic censors, it simply called them ‘responses.’ It was equally frank in its discussion of sex; but instead of talking about it in unusual words, like ‘libido’ and ‘fixation,’ it merely named it ‘stimulus.’ There was no foolishness about behaviorism, no bookishness, no unconscious, no consciousness, no imagination, no thought processes, no mind. There was only Stimulus and Response. And that was all, too, according to its tenets, that there was to life, to art, to history, to happiness, to success. Know the right stimulus and learn the correct response, and the world, said Watson, wall be yours.
A cheering doctrine, surely— direct, objective, and completely American. And, what is more, it was authoritative. Its perpetrator was no upstart exhorter. He had been a professor in two of the most respected universities in the land, a President of the American Psychological Association, and a first-rate scientist. He had experimented upon rats in Chicago, upon noddy terns in the Galapagos, and upon babies in Baltimore. More than that, he was, at the time he brought his behavioristic theories to the public, a vice president in an international advertising agency — an industry which was as closely allied to Coolidge Prosperity as stock trading itself. If he could not tell us how to obtain success and happiness, who could?
From 1925, when Watson published his first really popular book, Behaviorism, until 1928, when his still more popular Ways of Behaviorism was brought out, he added no new facts or theories or even ideas to the gospel he propounded so insistently. He simply reiterated, in more startling and bolder forms, his few arresting provisos: that neither consciousness nor the unconscious can have any meaning for science; that we are born with no instincts and only three modes of emotional response; and that all of life is a process of conditioning our reflexes. Yet with this small quiver of behavioristic darts he took a pot shot at nearly every modern activity; and after each shot he claimed to have hit the bull’seye.
His fame grew, not only because of the loudness with which he shouted these claims, but because his very cockiness drew almost equally loud rebuttals from his psychological enemies, for he considered and did not hesitate to call all psychologists who disagreed with him his enemies. As behaviorism gained in favor, therefore, all those other psychologies — those which were slipping in popular appeal, those which had already slipped, and even those which were almost unknown outside the college classrooms — came in for a brief fling of public glory.
William McDougall, the last of the psychological moralists, met Watson in a debate to argue, and none too calmly, the existence of a free will. The structuralists and the functionalists, those implacable foes of the days when the ‘stream of consciousness’ was the last word in psychological realism, came forth from their sequestered laboratories hand in hand to uphold the dignity of introspection. A new and somewhat esoteric doctrine from Germany, known as Gestalt Psychologie, was expounded in the more intellectual magazines as behaviorism’s most formidable rival. By 1928 behaviorism had become such a mighty word to conjure with that Harvey Wickham wrote a book criticizing a lot of people he did not like, not only Watson himself, but Freud and James and McDougall as well — and he lumped them all together under the inclusive title The Misbehaviorists.
But Watson had champions who were as staunch as his enemies were rabid. George Dorsey, the anthropologist, in his tremendously popular Why We Behave Like Human Beings, sanctioned behaviorism enthusiastically. And he was not the only authority upon another subject who at that time turned trustingly to psychology. Indeed, one of the most significant indications of the true importance of psychology during the nineteen-twenties is to be found in the number of men who, trained and eminent in other fields, became for a while ardent devotees of this newest and most voluble of the sciences. The public during that period really learned less about the human mind from the bona fide psychologists themselves than from such sympathetic interpreters as Harry Elmer Barnes the sociologist, James Harvey Robinson the historian, Louis Berman the endocrinologist, Walter Pitkin the professorial journalist, Albert Edward Wiggam the geneticist, and Harry Overstreet the philosopher. By 1928 it seemed that the fervent wish, first expressed by Hugo Münsterberg some twenty years before, that psychology might become the scientific basis of modern culture, was rapidly being fulfilled.
At that time, Münsterberg had also voiced another and more specific hope. This was that Congress would soon see fit to establish a ‘government bureau of applied psychology,’ composed of men especially trained in the science and qualified to give expert advice upon the ‘ psychology of commerce and industry.’ In 1929 the need for such a bureau, if it could ever have been needed, had become heartbreakingly evident.
For in October of that year America developed a novel phobia — a fear of numbers, specifically of those figures which in brokers’ offices appear so mysteriously upon ticker tape. Experts — statesmen, economists, bankers, and business men — gathered to diagnose the trouble. The patient grew steadily worse. Numero-phobia was complicated by fixed ideas of want and hunger. The experts were all the more baffled. There was food to be had, quantities of it on farms and in warehouses, means of transporting it, and money, somewhere, with which it might be bought. The experts refused to believe that their country could be suffering from an actual physical disease.
But the psychoanalysts had not, during the preceding years, preached their doctrine of functional neuroses to deaf ears. Even Presidents and Congressmen had learned that a malady could be entirely mental. So the titular rulers of America capitulated eagerly to that word which for a decade had so enthralled their subjects. They diagnosed their country’s ills as ‘psychological.’
Now this might have been the highest opportunity for the psychologists to prove what really practical men they were. It was a crisis far more drastic than the ‘military emergency’ which had produced the golden age of mental tests. And one might imagine that the psychologists would have taken full advantage of it: that the clinicians would have started to compile the longest and most tedious case history of their careers; that the professors would have rushed their latest theories into print; that the technicians of the laboratories would have set up the most stupendous reaction experiment of all time; that psychological conclaves would have resembled Democratic conventions as the disciples of Watson and those of Freud resorted to their fists in deciding whether the sage of Vienna or the native son should be proclaimed America’s savior; and that the lowliest member of the psychologists’ guild would have made at least six suggestions for turning our defeatist mental attitude back once more to rosy optimism.
As a matter of cold fact, however, the psychologists have had less to say about the depression than about almost any social phenomenon of recent times. They had opinions in plenty, and highly vocal, about the younger generation, companionate marriage, and the social life of speak-easies. But about this sorry economic and mental state in which we have recently found ourselves they have been conspicuously silent. By 1930 Watson had ceased making those sweeping pronouncements which so delighted him during the boom years. Freud, reaching his seventy-fifth birthday in 1931, has apparently been content to hear himself eulogized as the greatest thinker of our time without troubling to do any new thinking about the greatest problem of this time. William McDougall has been almost the only prophet of the psyche who has had the courage to face the depression and call it by its name. But he, characteristically, has interpreted it as a judgment on our mechanistic sins, and therefore sees no promise of its alleviation through the hard-boiled tenets of contemporary psychology.
If our statesmen thought that by calling our depression psychological they were conferring upon it the most up-to-date of adjectives, they were only proving again their ingrained conservatism. If they had not at the time been so horrified by watching the decline in the value of stocks, they might have noted a less spectacular but equally great deflation in the value of psychology. There was, as a survey of the Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature attests, coincident with the falling off in business output a correspondingly rapid slump in the psychological industry. Fewer articles were published upon that subject in 1929 than in any other year since the war, and fewer still in each succeeding year.
A more detailed inspection of the Readers’ Guide furnishes yet more startling evidence of psychology’s recent but sure wane. Take, for instance, the case of intelligence testing, which, as we saw, had reached its zenith in 1922, and had been since then slowly declining in popular interest — slowly, that is, until 1928, when the subject interested only half as many authors as it had six years before. Yet in 1928 there were twice as many articles published about mental tests as in 1929. And the case of the ‘subconscious’ is even more decisive. In 1925 eleven magazines printed papers upon that elusive topic; in 1928 eight did so; but by 1930 not one popular periodical contained a single article upon the subject. And behaviorism, whose virtues were extolled by eleven articles during its peak in 1928, had not one defendant or even commentator in 1931.
The steady decline in the interest in psychology is apparent not only from the decreasing number of words being written about it, but from the very spirit of the writing. Adler’s is the only one of the great psychological names that has graced the publishers’ lists since 1928. The Gestalt Theorie, which received its greatest popular attention in that same year, but which was being discussed by the cognoscenti as early as 1924, still stands as the latest of psychological innovations. The books upon the subject which are now being published by the lesser men in the field show very little of that confident and buoyant vitality which characterized them during the boom years. Some are frankly pessimistic about the mental powers of the human race, as such titles as Sorry, But You’re Wrong About It, The Jungle of the Mind, and A Short Introduction to the History of Human Stupidity indicate. Others take the form of historical critiques or analytical surveys, or go in for a half-hearted and muddle-headed kind of eclecticism — books which have about them the stultifying air of post-mortem examinations. Even Joseph Jastrow, who during his forty years’ work with the ever-changing subject has tempered his enthusiasm with sagacity, has now admitted that ‘ psychology may not be a science.’
In this admission may be found the explanation not only of psychology’s downhill but of its earlier rapid and still more dramatic rise in popular esteem. For ten years ago psychology was accepted for what it was proclaimed to be, a full-fledged modern science — not a groping, hopeful, semi-philosophical discipline, but an established and competent technology which could analyze and explain man to his vaguest thought or his slightest muscle twitch. This was what the public wanted and what it offered its good dollars for at the bookstores. But eventually it got more than it had paid for — and a good headache into the bargain. As article followed article, and book followed book, and theory superseded theory, the essential nature of man, instead of becoming increasingly clear, seemed more and more obtuse and difficult to understand — until at last it was all but obscured by a mass of conflicting and unintelligible verbiage. The public which had asked for facts realized that it was being stuffed with words.
In another and more important way, too, the psychologists disappointed their hopeful readers. Science, in the modern popular conception, is more than factual; it is our last remaining form of magic. And, because psychologists were accepted as scientists, they were believed to be able to work the same kind of legerdemain upon the human mind that the modern surgeon works upon the human body, or the engineer upon cold, inhuman steel. But psychology, for all its theories, has performed no miracles. It has renamed our emotions ‘complexes’ and our habits ‘conditioned reflexes,’ but it has neither changed our habits nor rid us of our emotions. We are the same blundering folk that we were twelve years ago, and far less sure of ourselves.
What the fate of psychology will be now that it has hit its new low is as difficult to predict as the level to which United Aircraft will some day rise. A merger with sociology or anthropology might be its happiest solution, but it is still too early to find evidence of such a move. Only one fact can be stated with any certainty. That is that there is at present no shadow of a new psychological prosperity peeping around the corner. Mental tests have been given back to the young school children for whom Binet invented them. The other theories are still, like Latin, being taught in the colleges, and just as painstakingly pursued by hopeful candidates for graduate degrees; but that great horde of men and women who not so long ago renounced the religion of their fathers for redemption by Watson or Freud are now finding solace in philosophy, or, according to their temperaments, in communism or astrology.