Carl Müller-Braunschweig: Biography, Ethics and Ambiguity

The story of Carl Müller-Braunschweig is one of those dark pages in the trajectory of psychoanalysis. It is true that he was the author of interesting works, almost all about ethics. However, he himself represents a questioning of analytic practice, mainly because he became a collaborator of Nazism during the Second World War.

Your position has been the subject of a great debate. On the one hand, there are those who think that in no way should psychoanalysis have been put at the orders of a regime that is clearly perverse. This would be a contradiction, because such an ideology is, by itself, an affront to mental health.

“The official acceptance is the unmistakable sign that salvation has been denied to us again; it is the clearest sign of a fatal incomprehension and it is also the kiss of Judas.”

-James Agee-

On the other hand, there are those who think that psychoanalysis is a scientific practice, subject to the laws of epistemology, and that, therefore, it is above ideologies or forms of power. In that sense, it does not matter if it advances in the framework of a fascist state or a liberal one. Finally, the only important thing is that it conforms to the methodological statutes that govern it. Carl Müller-Braunschweig received communion with this position.

Who was Carl Müller Braunschweig?

Carl Müller-Braunschweig was born on April 8, 1881 in the town of Braunschweig. He appended the name of that town to his own name. Initially, his name was, simply, Carl Müller. He was the son of a German carpenter, with a certain elegance.

In principle, he received extensive training in philosophy. Some of his teachers were: Crock von Brockdorff, Jonas Cohn, Carl Stumpf, Paul Menzer, Georg Lasson and Alois Riehl among others. All of them were great thinkers of the time. Carl Müller-Braunschweig was also trained in other sciences such as physics, biology, anthropology, history, psychology, chemistry and economics. He obtained his PhD in philosophy in 1905, at the University of Berlin.

It was then that he came into contact with psychoanalytic ideas, which captured his attention immediately. He psychoanalyzed first with Karl Abraham and, later, with Hans Sachs. The psychoanalysis captivated Müller and became a true follower of the ideas of Sigmund Freud. But, finally, his career would be more inclined towards bureaucratic activities than to psychoanalysis.

Carl Müller-Braunschweig and Nazism

As is known, most of the pioneers of psychoanalysis were Jews. With the gradual rise of Nazism, his position was compromised. At that time, psychoanalysis was not yet well known. It only aroused the interest of some intellectual groups, which corresponded to small sectors of the upper-middle classes. In other words, the number of people interested in protecting psychoanalysis was not very broad.

Nazism demanded that all Jews who occupy loaning places in entities or organizations of a scientific nature be fired. At that time, the most important psychoanalytic organizations were in the cities of Berlin and Vienna. It was then that Carl Müller-Braunschweig was in charge of the German organization, which the Nazis called the “German Psychoanalytic Society”.

The new institution was at the service of the Nazis, shortly afterwards, baptized as “Göring Institute”, in honor of its founder, Mathias Göring, first cousin of the famous Nazi Marshal. Freud’s position was to request that psychoanalysis be maintained in Germany, even if its name was not preserved. The Nazis were interested in this current, but they wanted to erase every possible Jewish trace of it.

The postwar

The position of Carl Müller-Braunschweig was ambiguous. He preserved psychoanalysis, but at the same time, he adapted to the demands of Nazism. Since 1938, Müller was immersed in a depressive crisis. These episodes were repeated several times throughout his life. Towards 1946, with the war already concluded, it undertook a work of reconstruction of the psychoanalysis in Germany. He counted for it with Ernst Jones and Ana Freud.

Later, John Rickman was commissioned to visit Germany to evaluate those who were at the forefront of psychoanalysis in that country. Their mission was to determine if they were able to direct the training of new analysts.

In his opinion, Carl Müller-Braunschweig was incompetent for this mission. He sustained his position in the evident psychic deterioration that this presented. However, it was speculated that this would have been a retaliation for Müller’s commitment to the Nazis. That is to say, in some way, it could have been a kind of punishment towards Müller for having adopted an ambiguous position.

In 1950, Müller-Braunschweig founded a new psychoanalytic organization that, over time, was recognized by the international community of psychoanalysts. Subsequently, Müller devoted himself to the private practice of psychoanalysis and the teaching of it at the University of Berlin. A good part of his writings is an attempt to justify his collaboration with Nazism. He died in Berlin, on October 12, 1958.

Undoubtedly, that of Müller is a somewhat obscure story, which shows how political and international conflicts could exert their influence on psychoanalysis. There are situations in history where it is difficult to adopt a neutral position or make a decision.

As we pointed out at the beginning, there are those who consider that no matter who is in power, the important thing is to be able to develop and continue to advance in investigations. Of course, at this point, certain issues of ethics and morality would come into play. Do we submit and preserve the investigation? Is it better to resign yourself or try to fight even if the battle is lost? Research and science must be well above political or economic interests, but sometimes, the answer is not so simple.