According to [Freud’s] theory, the prime mover in human nature is an unperceivable entity with a will and purpose of its own, the unconscious—which is basically an “id,” i.e., a contradictory, amoral “it” seething with innate, bestial, primevally inherited, imperiously insistent cravings or “instincts.” In deadly combat with this element is man’s conscience or “superego,” which consists essentially, not of reasoned moral convictions, but of primitive, illogical, largely unconscious taboos or categorical imperatives, representing the mores of the child’s parents (and ultimately of society), whose random injunctions every individual unquestioningly “introjects” and cowers before. Caught in the middle between these forces—between a psychopathic hippie screaming: satisfaction now! and a jungle chieftain intoning: tribal obedience!—sentenced by nature to ineradicable conflict, guilt, anxiety, and neurosis is man, i.e., man’s mind, his reason or “ego,” the faculty which is able to grasp reality, and which exists primarily to mediate between the clashing demands of the psyche’s two irrational masters.
As this theory makes eloquently clear, Freud’s view of reason is fundamentally Kantian. Both men hold that human thought is ultimately governed, not by a man’s awareness of external fact, but by inner mental elements independent of such fact. Both see the basic task of the mind not as perception, but as creation, the creation of a subjective world in compliance with the requirements of innate (or “introjected”) mental structures . . . .
The real root of the outrage his own doctrines provoked, Freud says with a certain pride, is their assault on “the self-love of humanity.” Whatever the “wounds” that men have suffered from earlier scientific theories, he explains, the “blow” of psychoanalysis “is probably the most wounding.” The blow, he states, is the idea that man is not “supreme in his own soul,” “that the ego is not master in its own house.” . . . .
Freud offers to the world not man the dutiful, decorous nonperceiver (as in Kant); not man the defeated plaything of grand-scale forces, such as a malevolent reality or God or society or a “tragic flaw” (as in the works of countless traditional cynics and pessimists); but man the defeated plaything of the gutter; man the smutty pawn shaped by sexual aberrations and toilet training, itching to rape his mother, castrate his father, hoard his excrement; man the sordid cheat who pursues science because he is a frustrated voyeur, practices surgery because he is a sublimating sadist, and creates the David because he craves, secretly, to mold his own feces.
Man as a loathsomely small, ordure-strewn pervert: such is the sort of “wound” that Freud inflicted on the being who had once been defined, in a radiantly different age, as the “rational animal.”