The Case of Wilhelm Reich

Wilhelm Reich
Wilhelm Reich; drawing by David Levine

There are two popular views of Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957), farmer’s son, army officer, physician, psychoanalyst, communist, discoverer of orgone energy, inventor of orgone therapy and of a new science, orgonomy, and finally inmate of the Federal Penitentiary, Lewisburg, Pa. He was either a madman or a genius, a half-baked, sex-crazed crank or one of the liberators of mankind. In the hope of deciding whether either of these conceptions is true, I have attempted in the following to construct a synoptic picture of his ideas. While doing so I have leaned heavily on his Selected Writings (Farrar, Straus),1 a work edited by Mary Boyd Higgins, a trustee of the Wilhelm Reich Infant Trust Fund, and have assumed that her selection constitutes a definitive and accurate statement of Reichian theory, as left by him and accepted by his present followers. I have also used Ilse Ollendorf Reich’s recent biography of her husband (St. Martin’s Press)2 and Paul A. Robinson’s essay on Reich in his The Freudian Left (Harper & Row).3 I conclude with some comments of my own.

Our civilization produces two types of human being, mechanists and mystics. Mechanists are interested in material things and the natural sciences but have no sense of life. Mystics, on the other hand, have a sense of life but interpret it supernaturally by reference to a “soul,” which they conceive to have only an accidental and regrettable connection with the body.

The division of mankind into mechanists and mystics is the result of an unexplained “original sin” which led mankind to develop a defensive armor against his own life forces. Mechanists have turned completely against themselves and have totally repressed their life forces, and have as a result no awareness of their own true nature. Mystics have retained some sense of life but deny its connection with their bodies and locate it in a hypothetical soul.

Since both mechanists and mystics have turned against the life of the body, science and religion have both failed to recognize the significance of orgasm, that bodily experience in which physical pleasure and spiritual union with the infinite are at one with each other.

Furthermore, since orgasm unites the bodily and the spiritual, understanding of its essential nature makes it possible to break down the dichotomy between the mechanical and the mystical, and to arrive at a Weltanschauung which combines both. Anyone who succeeds, as Reich did, in achieving such understanding finds, however, that he is in the embarrassing position of having

stepped beyond the intellectual framework of present-day human character structure and, with that, the civilization of the last 5,000 years.

He also incurs the hostility of both mechanists and mystics and becomes a threat to the established order. Reich’s two anticipators, Jesus Christ and Giordano Bruno, were indeed both martyred.

The new form of thinking, feeling, and experiencing which arises when the significance…

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