Carl Jung, privatio boni, and the return of Manichaeism

Abstract : St Augustine’s privation theory of evil remains relevant. The dissatisfaction with it has a simple explanation. Jung’s critique of it is dubious. Narratives of evil are required as a complement.

Keywords : privatio boni, evil, sin, moral dualism, cognitive metaphor, witch-hunts, St Augustine, Carl Jung.

Carl G. Jung was very angry at the Christian doctrine of privatio boni, the notion of evil as the privation of good. Evil occurs with the lack of good and has no metaphysical reality as such: “For evil has no positive nature; but the loss of good has received the name ‘evil’ ” (Augustine, De Civ. xi:9). Notably, Augustine never made light of the reality of evil — quite the reverse, he laments the scandal of evil: “For what flood of eloquence can suffice to detail the miseries of this life?” (ibid. xix:4). His purpose is to make clear that good and evil are not to be seen as polar opposites which are always at loggerheads. Nevertheless, many have complained that the doctrine seems to downplay evil, and this is something that flies in the face of the horrible experiences of humanity. Jung says:

I am indeed convinced that evil is as positive a factor as good. Quite apart from everyday experience it would be extremely illogical to assume that one can state a quality without its opposite. If something is good, then there must needs be something that is evil or bad. (CW 18, para. 1592)

So he sees good and evil as qualities. They are experiences of human psychology, i.e., what we subjectively perceive as good and evil:

On the practical level the privatio boni doctrine is morally dangerous, because it belittles and irrealizes Evil and thereby weakens the Good, because it deprives it of its necessary opposite: there is no white without black, no right without left, no above without below, no warm without cold, no truth without error, no light without darkness, etc. If Evil is an illusion, Good is necessarily illusory too. That is the reason why I hold that the privatio boni is illogical, irrational and even a nonsense. (Jung, 1976, p. 61)

Indeed, this is how we experience the opposites emotionally. Yet, from a theoretical perspective, darkness is merely the privation of light, because light is substance (photons) whereas darkness is lack thereof. Cold is merely the privation of warmth, since only warmth is corporeal (heat radiation and molecular motion). From a theoretical perspective, the privatio boni often holds good. People have always known that darkness is the privation of light. They close the curtains to make the room darker; but the room does not get lighter if they close the curtains to the darkness outside. It’s because light and dark are not polar opposites. Jung doesn’t think so, however: “Darkness is certainly a decrease of light, as light is a decrease of darkness” (1976, p. 72) and “cold is the […] privation of warmth and vice versa” (1976, p. 213).

That there can be no truth without error is a curious idea. Surely, we cannot say that theoretical correctness is merely a quality of mind, as correct scientific and mathematical theory exist independently of faulty theory. But this is actually how Jung thinks, for theories aren’t objectively true. They are merely provisional models of a noumenal reality forever beyond our grasp (cf. Winther, 2020).

Augustine identifies “measure, form and order” as the conditions of goodness in the temporal realm (cf. De Civ. xi:15). That’s why evil is the corruption of the natural measure of form and order (cf. De nat. boni. iv). Orderliness proceeds from God, but has a tendency to decay with time. In the science of thermodynamics, a system having “low entropy” is equal to a highly ordered system. In thermodynamics, order and disorder are not seen as polar opposites — disorder is merely the privation of order. We still tend to think that order is good and disorder is bad. The way in which scientists employ the principle of the “privation of order” reflects on Augustine’s theology. Despite Jung’s insistence to the contrary (cf. CW 11, para. 459), the principle is central to our understanding of the empirical world.

A common argument against the privatio boni is that we could equally well say the reverse: that good is the privation of evil. Jung uses this argument, too. But it is false, because good is constituted by measure, form and order. One can destroy order to create disorder, but not destroy disorder to create order. One can remove light to create darkness, but not remove darkness to create light. It doesn’t work both ways.

In Christian theology, God is Being (esse) itself (cf. Augustine, De Morib. i). For something to exist, it requires measure, form and order. A grain of sand has Being because it consists of a remarkable machinery of protons, neutrons, electrons, and quarks always in the process of exchanging colour charges. (Physicists would love to have a complete understanding of a grain of sand!) Should its inner orderliness dissolve, it would cease to exist. Science has established that Augustine was correct in associating Being with measure, form and order. Our modern value judgment sees existence as good, and we see the corruption of order as evil, because it leads to non-existence.

Despite all this, Jung saw the privatio boni merely as an intellectual petitio principii. There are no grounds for believing that it is ingrained in our psychology and remains part of the archetypal foundation (cf. CW 11, para. 459). In fact, cognitive science has found that Essence and the reduction of Essence are central cognitive metaphors. Reason is not purely literal, but largely metaphorical and imaginative, governed by unconscious cognitive metaphors (cf. Lakoff & Johnson, p. 4). According to the Folk Theory of Essences, every object has an essence that makes it the kind of thing it is, and it is the causal source of its natural behavior. Each person has also a Moral Essence that determines his or her moral behavior (ibid. pp. 306-308). It follows that if the person experiences a relative privation of this essence, she is no longer entirely good, but may at times be malevolent. However, in religious history, immorality has alternatively been understood as the contamination of moral essence, which is different than privation. Lakoff & Johnson say:

There is a category of all things that exist. From the Folk Theory of Essences, it follows that this all-inclusive category has an essence, and from the Folk Theory of Intelligibility, it follows that we can at least in principle gain knowledge of that essence. This all-inclusive category is called Being, and its essence is called the Essence of Being. (1999, p. 349)

Accordingly, Augustine understands God as Ultimate Being. He adheres to Plato’s view that the very Essence of Being is the Form of the Good. It follows that evil is the privation of good, while the latter is the only ultimate essence. So there is no dualism. Augustine manages to explain natural evil along these lines, which did much to root out superstition. Clearly, Augustine’s thought is highly metaphorical, naive as it might seem. But metaphorical assertions can be both logically and empirically true. Metaphor is the principal tool that makes philosophical insight possible. We cannot simply replace the metaphor by literal truth conditions, because

we have no special access to any form of purely objective or transcendent reason. We must necessarily use common human cognitive and neural mechanisms […] The fact that abstract thought is mostly metaphorical means that answers to philosophical questions have always been, and always will be, mostly metaphorical. In itself, that is neither good nor bad. It is simply a fact about the capacities of the human mind. (ibid. p. 7)

In late antiquity, people experienced a demonic craze. Illness and all kinds of misfortune were understood as demonic in origin (cf. Brown, pp. 53 ff). Today, we have left this behind and generally understand all kinds of nuisances, as well as catastrophic events, as privation. The levee breaks because a little crack with time grows larger. (Not much is needed to unleash a flood of evil.) A car is a “good” car as long as its functions. When it malfunctions, we don’t see it as possessed by a demon. Rather, we understand it as the effect of privation of its functional wholeness caused by the relentless wheel of time. Typically, a part has become worn out. As soon as the car mechanic has replaced it, the car is “good” again. The medical doctor also reasons according to privatio boni (even when illness is caused by an infectious agent or a tumour). The patient’s body has experienced a privation of its good functional wholeness, and now the doctor has to restore it to proper functioning, by resort to medication or by repairing or replacing a bodily part.

If we go even further back in history (and still in India) all kinds of evil resulted from defilement by “a quasi-material something that infects as a sort of filth” (Ricoeur, p. 25). Sin was seen as a positive metaphysical substance that one could get rid of by a procedure of ritual cleansing. This is also a cognitive metaphor (Morality Is Cleanliness) embedded in the metaphorical unconscious as a habitual way of thought (cf. Lakoff & Johnson, p. 307). Sten Rodhe says:

We see that there is no distinction made between deliverance from sin, from uncleanness, and from curse. Sin is uncleanness, and uncleanness is something that man commits. Fire, water, plants deliver from every kind of evil. (1946, p. 150)

In late antiquity, people were still very much in thrall to a view of evil as a positive and active force. But Augustine’s view slowly gained traction, i.e., the view that sin and evil are expressions of privation. Sin is not a substance, but results from the erosion of good. It is a cutback in the quantity of the wholeness of being, given by God to natural creatures. In fact, we are born with original sin, meaning that we lack the wholeness that we were originally designed for. That’s why we must strive to repair ourselves. Only Jesus Christ is one hundred percent human; all others are deficient.

It makes a great difference if sin is viewed as contamination or as privation. Contaminative (substantial) sin can be transferred to a victim, as in the scapegoat sacrificial logic. It’s a common theme in the history of religion and in social interaction. On the Augustinian view, such incriminations lack substance. Privative sin, on the other hand, calls for inner repairment. During medieval times diverse views of evil existed in parallel. Only in the modern era, in the Enlightenment, the privative view of evil finally gained the upper hand, at least among intellectuals such as the Encyclopédistes. The literate elite became convinced that diseases had not supernatural but natural causes. Illness is a deprivation of the natural functionality of the organism.

But something important happened in the late 19th century. This was the discovery of the unconscious, which again actualized evil as an objective demonic force. Psychoanalysts began to think that the medical view of illness as privation was not without exception. Patients could be possessed by unconscious complexes, or at least the conscious side experienced disturbances from them. These could be seen as “tumours of the soul” or “parasitic hypostases” in terms of Proclus. The discovery of this unconscious domain, which bears a similarity to the ancient spiritual realm, made it possible to see evil as a positive reality again. In course of time, the overestimation of these findings led Sigmund Freud to postulate a Manichaean view of the psyche. In Beyond the Pleasure Principle he says:

Our conception has been a dualistic one right from the outset, and remains so today more emphatically than ever, particularly since we started classifying the two opposites as ‘life drives and death drives’ rather than ‘ego drives and sexual drives’.

Jung long maintained his view of the psyche as self-regulatory and self-repairing. The nucleus of this process is the self, which Jung defines as the innate God-image in man. The self compensates an improper conscious standpoint and strives to maintain stability and harmony, essential to a healthy psychic life. It pertains to the wholeness of the individual and bears a resemblance to Augustine’s picture of God, who oversees and maintains the wholeness of the universe. The dark sides of existence must be, in order for the wholeness to work. (This, by the way, coincides with the modern ecological view.) Thus, Augustine’s God is good, and so is Jung’s self, as it was originally defined. The archetypal complexes can be both destructive and wholesome, but the psyche as a whole is always self-regulatory, enhancing the survival value of the organism.

Yet in 1952, with the publication of Answer to Job, he definitely abandons this view and adopts Freud’s dualistic perspective — a decisive change of view that negated his earlier position and cost him his friendship with Fr. Victor White. White characterized Jung’s new position as “quasi-Manichaean dualism”. Jung had finally capitulated to Freud. Robert Aziz says:

How could a psychology continue to trust itself to the self-regulatory model if it believed that that which was doing the regulating was as likely to sponsor evil as it was good? Yet that is exactly what the Jungian Paradigm continued to do long after it theoretically concluded that the central ordering archetype, the self, which, of course, is understood by Jung to oversee and direct all self-regulatory activity within the psyche, is as likely to sponsor evil as it is to sponsor good […] Of course the core essay out of which the 50/50 formula emerged is Jung’s 1952 paper “Answer to Job.” […] The source of Job’s suffering, Jung tells us, is God’s own psychopathology, God’s own “divine darkness.” […]
    About the evil workings of the self-regulatory psyche, Neumann elsewhere states in his Depth Psychology and a New Ethic: “what used to be known as Satan…now parades in modern dress as the demands of the unconscious…luring us to our destruction.” […]
    They still have no sense whatsoever that they have been led out of the self-regulatory model of their own paradigm back into the Freudian conflict model — a model in which the ego, rather than being led forward by an intrinsically moral nature, has no recourse but to seek in vain refuge in the largely, pseudo morality of the collective. (Aziz, 2012, pp. 90-97)

The envy of the god(s) is a well-known theme in the history of religion. It is strange that Jung does not employ an archetypal perspective when analyzing the Book of Job, but instead sees it from a Freudian personalistic perspective. In Greek mythology, the gods strike down the mortal who aspires to the divine abode. In Hindu texts, the gods are endangered by any excess of wickedness among mortals, but also by an excess of virtue among them. Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty says:

Many early Sanskrit texts deal with the basic disinclination of the gods to allow crowds in heaven, a manifestation of their jealousy of mortals. (1980, p. 248)

[W]hen men become too virtuous, the gods send a flood to destroy their shrine, an inversion of the motif of the flood sent to punish or destroy sinners. (p. 271)

When pilgrimage to shrines (tīrthas) came to replace asceticism as a means of achieving religious power, the gods who had previously destroyed asceticism or corrupted virtuous Vedic kings began to destroy the shrines… (p. 253)

The Book of Job could be interpreted in terms of divine jealousy, because the story in itself is believed to be much older than the biblical book. As I see it, through the effort of virtuous men the divinity becomes more and more tied down to temporal reality. As the divine manifests on earth, it coincides with a depletion of divine autonomy and vitality. But the potential between earthly and divine must remain, much like the potential between two electrical terminals. Otherwise the gods risk being forgotten. The sacrifice is forced upon humanity for to transfer merit to the gods. This is radically different than how Jung understands the Job story (cf. Winther, 2014).

Jung’s quasi-Manichaeism locates both good and evil in the self, from an empirical perspective equatable with the Godhead. (Historical Manichaeism locates good and evil in two different gods — a much different concept.) The self is a complexio oppositorum, containing “full paradoxicality”. It means that all kinds of opposites exist in a state of tension, always ready to fly apart. The self is unconscious, and this is also how Jung views God (cf. CW 11, pars. 560 ff). God is morally unconscious and needs guidance from conscious mankind, which is morally superior. It’s a central tenet of Jungian psychology that the integration of unconscious content with ego consciousness allows the opposites to exist in stasis, as they are now under conscious control.

The ideal is to establish a complexio oppositorum in consciousness. As long as the opposites are unconscious, they cannot sustain stasis but will remain chaotic and uncontrolled. Thus, since God is unconscious, he cannot be a complexio oppositorum, despite what Jung says (cf. CW 18, pars. 1640, 1668). Such a configuration of opposites can only be conscious. Jung never resolves this obvious self-contradiction. He bolsters his view by saying that Nicholas of Cusa calls God a complexio oppositorum (cf. CW 18, pars. 1537; 1637). In fact, Cusa only uses the term coincidentia oppositorum, which means that God is simplex, wholly in line with Augustinian theology (cf. Hopkins). The consequence is that, in Jungian psychotheology, God has come to be regarded as an ambivalent madman, far from a responsible person who keeps the psychic opposites on a tight leash (cf. Winther, 2019). This view is purported to be based on empirical experience. These excerpts should clarify Jung’s standpoint:

I am an empiricist and adhere as such to the phenomenological standpoint […] Inasmuch as religion has a very important psychological aspect, I deal with it from a purely empirical point of view, that is, I restrict myself to the observation of phenomena and I eschew any metaphysical or philosophical considerations. (CW 11, para. 2)

God is a universal experience which is obfuscated only by silly rationalism and an equally silly theology. (1976, p. 4)

If theologians think that whenever they say “God” then God is, they are deifying anthropomorphisms, psychic structures and myths. (1976, p. 261)

[Theologians] are talking of anthropomorphic ideas about which we do not know how exactly or inexactly they depict a possible metaphysical fact. (1976, p. 67)

To me it is a conundrum, since I do not experience the unconscious psyche as ambivalent. The unconscious seems friendly disposed toward ego consciousness, as it tries to guide conscious personality on the right path, although sometimes by causing fright. The notion of human consciousness as “morally superior” fails to convince me. People are moral when it suits their purposes, something which already Jesus observed. So I side with Augustine in this matter; without the guidance of the Holy Spirit we are lost.

Something must be said of Jung’s philosophy of science. He constantly refers to it as the scientific method. In fact, he represents a defunct version of traditional empiricism. Informed by Kantianism, Jung believed that we cannot really know anything about the real world (inner or outer) that lies beyond the flow of sensations and the “veil of ideas”. The only source of knowledge is experience:

[T]he physicist’s models ultimately rest on the same archetypal foundations that also underlie the speculations of the theologian. Both are psychology, and it too has no other foundation. (CW 11, para. 279)

[A scientist’s] primary interest is the verification of psychic facts and their regular occurrence, to which he attaches incomparably greater importance than to abstract possibilities. (CW 11, para. 454)

The empiricist does not think from above downwards from metaphysical premises, but comes from below upwards from the phenomenal world and, conscious of the limitations of his mind, must be content with understanding the psychic processes reconstructively. (1973, p. 196)

Such an extreme standpoint is all but abandoned in the scientific community. Today, the most popular view is scientific realism, according to which an “actual and reasonable aim […] is to give us accurate descriptions (and other representations) of what reality is like. This project includes giving us accurate representations of aspects of reality that are unobservable” (Godfrey-Smith, p. 176). Peter Godfrey-Smith continues:

[T]he chemical structures of various important molecules like sugars and DNA are detectable although not observable. So why shouldn’t science aim at giving us accurate representations of the detectable features of the world as well as the observable features? Why shouldn’t science aim to tell us what the molecular structure of complex sugars is like? […] Why should science stop before trying to work out what lies beyond this boundary? We might need to be even more careful with our beliefs about those features of the world, but that is no problem.
    You can see how the argument is going. From the realist point of view, there is no boundary that marks the distinction between features of the world that science can reasonably aim to tell us about and features that science cannot reasonably aim to tell us about. As we learn about the world, we also learn more and more about which parts of the world we can expect to have reliable information about. And there is no reason why science should not try to describe all the aspects of the world that we can hope to gain reliable information about. (2003, pp. 185-86)

We should not think in terms of two domains in reality, one accessible and one mysterious. We are biological systems embedded in a world containing objects of all sizes and at all different kinds of distance and remove from us. Our mechanisms of perception and action give us a variety of different kinds of contact with these objects. Our “access” to the world via thought and theory is really a complicated kind of causal interaction. This access to the world is constantly being expanded, as our technology improves. Parts of the world that must, at one time, be the subject of indirect and speculative inferences can later be much more directly observed, scanned, or assayed. (p. 222)

So science really aims to tell us, and often succeeds in telling us, what the world is like. It also seeks to explain as well as describe (ibid. p. 190). Jung gives a faulty picture of the scientific method, although it accords well with the alchemical method. He thinks that the scientist goes “from below upwards from the phenomenal world” and moulds empirical facts into some provisional and sketchy theory. All else are philosophers’ and theologians’ flights of fancy.

Facts are that science often goes in the other direction, from lofty theory down to the phenomenal world. Ludwig Boltzmann (1844-1906) promoted the atom theory at a time when most scientists didn’t believe in atoms. Nobody had seen them and Boltzmann was by many regarded a fantasist. Yet, he managed to prove their existence mathematically. Peter Higgs, in 1964, postulated the existence of the Higgs boson, an elementary particle that gives mass to other particles. Many were skeptical, but on 14 March 2013, CERN confirmed that its existence had been proven experimentally. In 1917, Albert Einstein, with mere pen and paper, calculated that the universe expands, but “corrected” the equation to make it static. When it was found that the universe expands, he described his correction as “my biggest blunder”.

Unworldly mathematicians have contributed immensely to our understanding of the world. Already in the early sixteenth century mathematicians made due use of the square root of negative numbers, although there is no such thing. (Try and input the root of a negative number on your calculator. It says “error”.) Nevertheless, today physicists and electroengineers cannot fare without the imaginary unit i = √-1. It’s a component of complex numbers, indispensable for the mathematics of electromagnetism, among other things. The mathematicians of old had no clue, of course, that their mathematical fantasies had anything to do with physical reality.

Jung, from early on, maintained that the mainspring of evil are the unconscious complexes, but had not yet located absolute evil in the self. To explain the Nazi movement and World War II he found “Wotan quite suitable as a causal hypothesis”:

But what is more than curious — indeed, piquant to a degree — is that an ancient god of storm and frenzy, the long quiescent Wotan, should awake, like an extinct volcano, to new activity, in a civilized country that had long been supposed to have outgrown the Middle Ages. (CW 10, para. 373)

As an autonomous psychic factor, Wotan produces effects in the collective life of a people and thereby reveals his own nature. For Wotan has a peculiar biology of his own, quite apart from the nature of man. It is only from time to time that individuals fall under the irresistible influence of this unconscious factor. (para. 391)

Such notions are close to ideas around devil’s possession in the early modern era, elaborated in books such as Tractatus de hereticis et sortilegiis (Paolo Grillandi, 1536), Magical Investigations (Martin Delrio, 1600) and Practica Rerum Criminalium (Benedict Carpzov, 1635). People can enter a pact with the devil, which is called witchcraft. The worship of the devil implied doing works of evil, such as temptation and destruction. It could involve gruesome acts such as cannibalistic infanticide. It gave rise to an intermittent witch-craze in Europe that went on for almost 300 years. Although no one was ever caught in the act, around 45,000 people were executed as witches by the authorities in European countries (cf. Levack, p. 23).

The way in which Christian Europe overestimated the power of the devil came close to dualist heresy, like Manichaeism. Sensible voices during this period, among them Puritan clergyman George Gifford (c. 1548–1620), wanted people to have faith in God’s sovereignty. This would put an end to the witch-hunts. In Christian theology, the devil does not have such power that he can be a significant threat to God’s order.

This argument can be used also against Jung’s analysis, i.e., that it overestimates the power of evil in the form of an unconscious archetype. Unlike what we sometimes see in mental hospitals, it wasn’t as if the German people were besieged by a demonic power. Something had been stirred in the depths of the collective psyche, enough to produce in the subject a disorderly will. The rest can be explained in terms of René Girard’s theory of mimesis (cf. Andrade). People tend to follow along with the group, because they do not want to be left out. There was no bloodthirsty Norse god who took possession of the German people. If we think along Augustinian lines, people had merely lost their bearings. In the following excerpt, Jungian analyst Marie-Louise von Franz thinks of ‘possession’ as the “one-sidedness of a momentary affect”:

[Man], too, tends to be swept away by certain patterns of behavior, that is, by archetypal patterns, which cause affects and fantasies. And, as in animal life, if anyone is overcome by these patterns, we speak of his being possessed. Possession for us is still just as bad as in primitive society, for it means being swept away by one tune in the melody of one’s inner possibilities, and in that there is already a great amount of evil. Now you see why and how that links with pure evil in nature, because if you are swept away by an affect, it is exactly like a landslide, but one within you rather than outside. The boulders of your affect roll over you, and you are completely overcome; anything like reason or relatedness or any other mode of behavior is gone.
    In analysis, people who are threatened with being swept away by a pathological rage may dream of a landslide or an avalanche, and there the unconscious uses an apt symbolic image to predict not an outer but an inner landslide, where the cultural behavior built up within the personality is completely covered up and swept away by one single mode of behavior — aggression or fear, or anything of that kind, by a powerful primitive reaction, pure nature, you could call it. Thus we would not deny that the evil spirits in nature have reference not only to actual evil in nature, but just as much to pure nature within us which contains these same phenomena. If you look at it from that angle, the fact that these creatures are so often represented as cripples is very adequate, because that implies distorted one-sided human nature; there is only one leg. If, for instance, you get so angry with your wife that you hit her, then you are walking on one leg; you remember only your rage, and not that you also love her. You forget the opposite, so to speak, forget the other side of your behavior. You behave in a “one-legged way,” in a “crippled way,” being swept away in the one-sidedness of a momentary affect, and therefore have only one leg, or are only a head rolling along. (von Franz, 1974, pp. 182-83)

Here von Franz verifies the privation theory from the empirical material. She analyzes moral evil as psychological crippledness. We are sometimes out of balance, and then we commit moral blunders. Some people are permanently crippled. (Thus, she departs from Jung by degrees. Von Franz also had the temerity to contradict Jung on the subject of alchemy.) Accordingly, Augustine thinks that moral evil occurs with the corruption of the human will as well as the angelic will (cf. De Civ. xii:6–9; De Libero Arb. 3.17.48 ff). Moral evil is the privation of goodness in the soul, resulting in a misdirection of our action. Thereby the subject loses participation in God’s being. The consequence is the corruption of measure, form and order natural to man. Comparatively, if a car malfunctions, it is likely to be dangerous, or even outright “evil”.

Augustine repudiated the Manichaean belief that the flesh is responsible for moral evil, for the body also belongs to God’s good creation. The source of our evil-doing resides in the soul, in our own free will (cf. De Civ. xiv:3). But then the question remains, what causes the will to become evil, and what makes the subject turn away from God? If it’s neither from God nor from the body, where does this movement come from? After all, “there is no nature you encounter that is not from God” (cf. De Libero Arb. 2.20.54). To this question Augustine answers: “I do not know” (ibid.). He continues:

We admit that this movement is sin, since it is a defective movement, and every defect is from nothing. Be assured that this movement does not pertain to God! (ibid.)

Augustine further explains that one cannot have knowledge of nihil. In my view, the reason why Augustine cannot answer this question is because he lacked knowledge of the unconscious. The unconscious complex can disturb and counteract the conscious will, sometimes to good and sometimes to bad effect. Disturbance can unbalance personality, as in von Franz’s example. Both evil and good can grow in the unconscious in the form of a complex. A collective complex, shared by many, has a cumulative effect. This is due to the pronounced mimetic nature of human beings. People prefer to be like everybody else, and they refrain from contradicting the majority view.

We see this phenomenon today, in the almost religious adoration of the liberal welfare state. Von Franz argues that the welfare state is a mother archetype that induces “a secret unobtrusive return to matriarchy and materialism” (cf. von Franz, 1980, pp. 212-15). The Swedish nation feels not only responsible for the welfare of its own citizens, but for all the poor people in the whole world, who can come here and have everything for free. It could be named matriarchal megalomania, a term that ought to be included in the diagnostic manual. But not every citizen is this crazy. It results from the cumulative effect of a collective complex.

How can people sink into madness as a collective even though they aren’t crazy as persons? It requires only a minor privation of the goodness in each individual — the mimetic and cumulative functions of group psychology will do the rest. The defective movement proceeds out of nihil, since the complex grows from nothing by accumulating content. The complex parasites on the energy of the organism. It seems that, with the aid of modern psychoanalytic theory we can answer the question of where the impetus of evil comes from, yet maintaining a privative view of moral evil. So this is something that theologians should look into.

What has caused the quasi-Manichaean regression in psychology? Arguably, it’s a rationalization motivated by chock, affect, fear and despair. Brian P. Levack discusses what underlied the belief that diabolism was multiplying in the early modern era:

What developments in the late medieval and early modern periods led them to believe that the Devil was loose and that he was recruiting large numbers of human accomplices?
    There is no simple answer to this question. The apparent manifestations of demonic power during these centuries were many and varied. The numerous calamities of the late fourteenth century, most especially the Black Death, may have encouraged intellectuals to assume greater demonic intervention in the world, whereas the profound economic crises of the early modern period, the trauma of the Reformation and the frequency of war and plague might easily have reinforced the conviction of men like Rémy, Boguet, Carpzov and Guazzo that the Devil was especially active […] But if we wish to identify one factor that underlay both the formulation and the transmission of the cumulative concept of witchcraft, one that most solidly buttressed the belief that the Devil was active in human affairs, then we should focus on the fear of rebellion, sedition and disorder that beset ruling elites throughout Europe during these years. It is no coincidence that the earliest descriptions of the witches’ sabbath appeared when Europe was experiencing a wave of social rebellions in the late fourteenth century. Nor is it any coincidence that the learned belief in organized witchcraft spread through Europe during a period of profound instability and chronic rebellion. The era of the great witch-hunt was the great age of popular rebellion in European history, centuries that witnessed countless peasant jacqueries, religious civil wars and ultimately the first national revolutions of the modern world. These disturbances terrified members of the ruling elite throughout Europe, and these fears were reflected in the imagery of the sabbath […]
    Like the Devil himself, who began his malevolent career with an act of rebellion against God, the witch was the quintessential rebel […] If witchcraft and rebellion were as closely related as these examples suggest, then the fear of rebellion probably did have an important influence on the formulation and dissemination of the cumulative concept of witchcraft. (2006, pp. 65-66)

Freud lived through the First World War, and Jung was to suffer through both. When emotions are in turmoil, one easily tends to cultivate archaic archetypal thoughts and create unscientific explanations involving satanic evil. In ancient times people projected emotional images of angry gods when nature wreaked havoc. So it’s no wonder that modern people invoke Gnostic ideas to rationalize the horror of the greatest catastrophe that has ever befallen humanity. Mythological narrative fulfils the function of coming to terms emotionally with adverse personal experience. The unconscious produces such narratives autonomously. There is a way in which dream stories are created to put our emotions into an archive, so that they won’t have a damaging influence. Sander van der Linden says:

Dreams seem to help us process emotions by encoding and constructing memories of them. What we see and experience in our dreams might not necessarily be real, but the emotions attached to these experiences certainly are. Our dream stories essentially try to strip the emotion out of a certain experience by creating a memory of it. This way, the emotion itself is no longer active. This mechanism fulfils an important role because when we don’t process our emotions, especially negative ones, this increases personal worry and anxiety. (Van der Linden, 2011)

The practice which Jung teaches is to use our imagination to engage with the archetypes that appear in the guise of spirits and demons. People in history have always personified evil. Elemér Hankiss explains the wholesome effect:

One possible way of reducing this uncertainty and anxiety was to personify evil. It was a clever strategy to confine the chaotic and unknown forces of evil by condensing them into virtual beings: wicked spirits, demons, devils. By identifylng them and giving them names, people gained a kind of control over them. While they could not do anything with unknown, mysterious, cosmic forces, they could cope with personified evil; they could bind demons by magic, they could pray to them, exorcise them, pacify them. If demons are persons, we may believe that we understand them, that they are moved by the same motives as we are, by hatred and love, revengefulness and wickedness, vanity and appetite. Then we may hope that we can communicate with them and handle them.
    As a second step, some mythologies and cultures advanced to the stage of ‘mono-demonism’, that is, they condensed the myriads of evil spirits and demons swarming in all corners of the world into one majestic and horrifying person, Satan. The fight against evil became thus more dramatic and apocalyptic but, at the same time, it became much more simple and promising. If all the evil of the universe was condensed in one person, then the defeat of this person would free mankind, forever, from all the evil in the world — suffering, misery, death. (2001, p. 147)

To create a symbolic narrative of the machinations of evil helps us overcome the trauma. This could help us understand why Augustine’s theory of evil frustrates so many authors. Unlike in other branches of theoretical research, the problem of evil requires also mythic narrative in order for us to come to terms with it. We need to make sense of adversity in concrete images by formulating a memory — a drawer where to store the feelings. The enormous prevalence of fairy tales in European history gives evidence to this. They tend to revolve around the problem of evil. Notorious figures are the devil, the witch, and the troll, and on the good side St Peter, the naive stable boy, and the devil’s daughter(!) (vid. von Franz, 1974).

So the problem is not the mythologization of evil, as it can have a healing effect. It is when it’s elevated as a theory about evil that it becomes Gnostic tomfoolery. The conclusion is that we can’t get rid of the devil because we need him. What we don’t need are vulgar and illogical quasi-Manichaeic theories of either the self or God. Already in the late seventeenth century, Dutch minister Balthasar Bekker (1634-1698) wrote a comprehensive critique of the devil as autonomous agent of evil. Says Levack:

For Bekker the Devil was merely a symbol of evil and was incapable of exercising power over the physical world, even the power of illusion that figured so prominently in the work of Weyer. Once the Devil was reduced to this status, the possibility that a human being could commit the crime of witchcraft vanished. Indeed, Bekker boldly suggested that when accusations of witchcraft are forthcoming, the state should prosecute the accusers, not the accused, a course of action that was becoming common at precisely this time. Bekker declared that both scripture and reason prove that ‘the empire of the devil is but a chimera and that he has neither such a power nor such an administration as is ordinarily ascribed to him’… (2006, p. 273)

Nor has Wotan the power ascribed to him by Jung. These divine powers are symbols, and they are valuable as such. But Jung promotes his narrative of evil into a theory of evil, as did Grillandi, Delrio and Carpzov in the early modern period. What does Jung mean when he says that “[my] criticism of the privatio boni holds only so far as psychological experience goes […] Arguments of this kind have no power of conviction” (CW 9ii, para. 98). Facts are that it has great power of intellectual conviction. It simply holds true. However, this isn’t good enough. What Jung means to say is that it has no therapeutic value. What does it help to say to the suffering client that malum est privatio boni ?

The gist of Jung’s criticism is that an evil act is never the privation of a good act. Of course, Augustine never says this. He discusses the nature of evil, which is nihil. Physicists say that cold is nothing but the absence of heat. Cold is nihil. Do they mean to say that freezing to death is merely the privation of basking in the sunshine? No, the bodily experience of hot and cold is another thing than the theoretical understanding of the temperature phenomenon.

At any rate, Jung could not accept a theoretical description that did not directly mirror psychological experience. It’s an anti-theoretical stance. But theory is a reality that has proven its worth, regardless of its remoteness from human experience. Anyway, modern people do put the privation theory of evil into practice. A sick person, mentally or bodily, can be made whole through a procedure of repairing. A person who has committed an evil act can with time be reinstated in society. An unruly child is neither regarded as demon-possessed nor as bearer of sinful substance. The child is merely “out of order”, which is bad enough.

It is perhaps difficult to narrate Augustine’s theory of evil in symbolic language, in order to forge a memory that appeases our emotions. After all, it is theology, the product of a sophisticated intellect. This is what disappoints readers of Augustine, and why they feel that he makes light of evil. But it’s not true; it’s just that the privative theory of evil needs a narrative complement. Why can’t we have both?

© Mats Winther, 2020.


Andrade, G. ‘René Girard (1923-2015)’. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (IEP). (here)

Augustine, St. (2014) (Dods, M. transl.). The City of God. Project Gutenberg. (De Civitate Dei) (here)

  ----------   (2010). On Free Choice of the Will (De libero arbitrio) in On the Free Choice of the Will, On Grace and Free Choice, and Other Writings (2010) (King, P. transl.). Cambridge University Press.

  ----------   (2017). On the Morals of the Manichaeans (De Moribus Manichaeorum) in The Complete Works of Augustine. Kindle Edition.

  ----------   (2017). On the Nature of Good (De Natura boni) in The Complete Works of Augustine. Kindle Edition.

Aziz, R. (2012). The Syndetic Paradigm: The Untrodden Path Beyond Freud and Jung. Suny Press.

Brown, P. (1971). The World of Late Antiquity – From Marcus Aurelius to Muhammad. Thames and Hudson.

Doniger O’Flaherty, W. (1980). The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology. University of California Press.

‘Entropy (order and disorder)’. Wikipedia article. (here)

Franz, M-L von (1980). Alchemy – An Introduction to the Symbolism and the Psychology. Inner City Books.

  ----------   (1974). Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales. Shambhala.

Freud, S. (2003). (Reddick, J., transl.) Beyond the Pleasure Principle and Other Writings. Penguin Books.

Godfrey-Smith, P. (2003). Theory and Reality: an introduction to the philosophy of science. The University of Chicago Press.

Hankiss, E. (2001). Fears and Symbols – An Introduction to the Study of Western Civilization. Central European University Press.

Hopkins, J. ‘Coincidentia Oppositorum in Nicholas of Cusa’s Sermons’. (here)

Jung, C. G. & Adler, G. (ed.). (1973). Letters, Vol. 1: 1906-1950. Princeton University Press.

  ----------   (1976). Letters, Vol. 2: 1951-1961. Princeton University Press.

Jung, C. G. (1979). Aion : Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self. Princeton/Bollingen. (CW 9ii)

  ----------   (1964). Civilization in Transition. Princeton/Bollingen. (CW 10)

  ----------   (1969). Psychology and Religion: West and East. Princeton/Bollingen. (CW 11)

  ----------   (1979). The Symbolic Life. Princeton/Bollingen. (CW 18)

Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. (1999). Philosophy in the Flesh – The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western thought. Basic Books.

Levack, B. P. (2006). The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe (third ed.). Pearson / Longman

Linden, S. van der (2011). ‘The Science Behind Dreaming’. Scientific American (July 26, 2011) (here)

Ricoeur, P. (1969). The symbolism of evil. Beacon Press.

Rodhe, S. (1946). Deliver Us From Evil: Studies on the Vedic Ideas of Salvation. C. W. K. Gleerup / Ejnar Munksgaard. (here)

Tornau, C. (2019). ‘Saint Augustine’. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edward N. Zalta (ed.) (here)

Winther, M. (2014). ‘Complementation in Psychology’. (here)

  ----------    (2020). ‘Jung’s metaphysic and epistemology: Platonism or Phenomenology?’ (here)

  ----------    (2019). ‘The psychologization of God’. (here)

See also:

Winther, M. (2020). ‘An Assessment of the Theology of Carl Gustav Jung’. (here)