February 15, 2015
Peter Jones discusses some of the issues raised in his book Artificers of Fraud. Wilhelm Reich (1897 – 1957) was an Austrian psychoanalyst, a member of the second generation of psychoanalysts after Sigmund Freud, and one of the most radical figures in the history of psychiatry. He was the author of several influential books, most notably Character Analysis (1933) and The Mass Psychology of Fascism (1933). His writing influenced generations of intellectuals and during the 1968 student uprisings in Paris and Berlin, students scrawled his name on walls and threw copies of The Mass Psychology of Fascism at the police.
From the 1930s onward, he became an increasingly controversial figure. After moving to the United States, he coined the term ‘orgone’ for a cosmic energy he claimed to have discovered, which he said others referred to as God. In 1940, he started building orgone accumulators, devices that his patients sat inside to harness the reputed health benefits. However, following vociferous media criticism, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration obtained an injunction against the shipment of orgone accumulators and Reich’s books. Charged with contempt in 1956 for having violated the injunction, Reich was sentenced to two years in prison, and that summer over six tons of his publications were burned by order of the court. He died in jail of heart failure just over a year later. Reich’s case is both bizarre and disturbing, but it speaks to a situation still prevalent today, in which scientists and researchers beyond the margins of mainstream academia are routinely derided, ridiculed, and in some cases, ruined. In the name of intellectual rigour, a new religion – Scientism – has been born.