Daniel Pick: Well the thing I’ve been real­ly inter­est­ed in the last few years in my research is think­ing about the prob­lem of fas­cism and Nazism, and the way in which in the human sci­ences, the his­to­ry of the human sci­ences, these phe­nom­e­na came to be under­stood. And so I start­ed to exca­vate, real­ly, the his­to­ry of that endeav­or to under­stand some­thing that seemed to many peo­ple so puz­zling. Which is why after the First World War there was this enor­mous attrac­tion for fas­cist leaders.

Of course there was anoth­er set of ques­tions to do with com­mu­nism, and some­times those ques­tions con­verged lat­er on in the idea of total­i­tar­i­an­ism, which brought togeth­er think­ing about Stalinism and fas­cism. But my research was real­ly focused on fas­cism and Nazism. And par­tic­u­lar­ly the role of psy­cho­analy­sis, the role that Sigmund Freud’s the­o­ries and the prac­tice psy­cho­analy­sis came to play dur­ing the inter-war peri­od, the 20s and 30s. And then par­tic­u­lar­ly in the Second World War, the way in which mod­els of the mind, Freud’s mod­el of the mind, was deployed by the Allies in try­ing to get a deep­er under­stand­ing of the attrac­tions of fas­cism. And the more famous kind of land­marks of that lit­er­a­ture were pro­duced lat­er, after the Second World War. Books like Adorno’s The Authoritarian Personality and some of his stud­ies of fas­cist pro­pa­gan­da and gen­er­al­ly the Frankfurt School work. 

But what I real­ized was there was a much kind of big­ger hin­ter­land of stud­ies on both sides of the Atlantic that focused real­ly on that set of prob­lems. And it’s a lit­er­a­ture that most­ly isn’t read now. That if it’s looked at by his­to­ri­ans it’s usu­al­ly just in a foot­note to say that it was sim­plis­tic or bad, psy­chobi­og­ra­phy, or psy­chohis­to­ry. But I think what I was inter­est­ed in doing was his­tori­ciz­ing it, sort of show­ing why it emerged, where it emerged, and where it led. And that’s real­ly what I did in that project, par­tic­u­lar­ly look­ing at there were two dif­fer­ent sto­ries, in a way, I got very absorbed in. One was the sto­ry of what hap­pened in Britain when Rudolf Hess, who was the Deputy Führer of the Nazi Party, became a pris­on­er of state after this bizarre flight when Hess came to Scotland on a plane with a kind of one-man peace mis­sion. And then he became a pris­on­er and he became the patient of var­i­ous army doc­tors because of Hess’ symp­toms. They start­ed to study him and to get inter­est­ed in his psy­chopathol­o­gy. And that led to a series of stud­ies and inves­ti­ga­tions both in Britain and then at the Nuremberg tri­al of Hess as an indi­vid­ual and his psychopathology. 

And on the oth­er side of the Atlantic at the same time, the American Secret Services com­mis­sioned some psy­cho­an­a­lysts to study Hitler. And these were pro­duced as intel­li­gence reports in Washington. And I was try­ing to com­pare and con­trast these endeav­ors and in a way to sit­u­ate them in a big­ger thing which came from the inter-war peri­od, which was not about indi­vid­u­als but about the so-called mass­es. And per­haps the most famous land­mark of that lit­er­a­ture would be Wilhelm Reich’s book The Mass Psychology of Fascism, which was in 1933.

Fiona Schouten: And this project you’re describ­ing end­ed up being a book. It’s called In Pursuit of the Nazi Mind, did I say that correct?

Pick: The Pursuit of the Nazi Mind, yes. I thought of in pur­suit,” but I changed it because actu­al­ly it’s not me in pur­suit, it’s real­ly a book— Although I’m a psy­cho­an­a­lyst and a his­to­ri­an, I thought of this book pri­mar­i­ly as a his­to­ry of the endeav­or that was made to pur­sue this—

Schouten: Okay.

Pick: —and to sort of in a way give the con­text and to show the diver­si­ty of what was done.

Schouten: Okay, yeah. I did read it. I could­n’t remem­ber cor­rect­ly. So, is the Nazi mind our mind? All kinds of con­clu­sions have been drawn over the years, most­ly by psy­cho­an­a­lysts, about the dark­er lay­ers in our­selves. How do you see that?

Pick: Well I think first of all I’m skep­ti­cal about the idea that there is such a thing as the Nazi mind, because clear­ly there would be a plu­ral­i­ty of states of mind that attract­ed peo­ple towards fas­cism. So I think the Nazi mind” in a way needs to be in quo­ta­tions. But it was a con­cept that became quite elab­o­rat­ed in the ear­li­er parts of the cen­tu­ry, that there was some­thing essen­tial about the mind and about fas­cism that came together. 

And I think the lan­guage of psy­cho­analy­sis did res­onate very much in that peri­od in try­ing to under­stand. I mean, of course there was a diver­si­ty of rea­sons why peo­ple were drawn to Mussolini, Hitler, and oth­er fas­cist lead­ers. But there was some sort of sense that the ter­rain that Freud and his fol­low­ers like Melanie Klein were inves­ti­gat­ing that was rel­e­vant to think­ing about the so-called Nazi mind. And peo­ple were I think very puz­zled dur­ing the peri­od of the rise of fas­cism real­ly to under­stand this phe­nom­e­non of what was it that seemed in a way so coun­ter­in­tu­itive. Why peo­ple would go for this polit­i­cal ide­ol­o­gy that was so extreme, so pho­bic, so para­noid in its struc­tures. And there was grad­u­al­ly a recog­ni­tion that stan­dard forms of polit­i­cal the­o­ry to explain fas­cism did­n’t seem to quite do it, did­n’t seem quite ade­quate. That were was some­thing else going on. A kind of enjoy­ment of fas­cism that you see obvi­ous­ly in dra­mat­ic ways at things like the Nuremberg ral­lies in the 30s. But a kind of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, and excite­ment, and eupho­ria in those sorts of fes­ti­vals and spec­ta­cles of fas­cism, that demand­ed some kind of expla­na­tion and why it was that peo­ple were drawn to this kind of extrem­ist philosophy. 

And it was in that kind of space of puz­zle­ment about what was going on between the leader and the led, both in the minds of the elite and the entourage around Hitler and in Hitler him­self, and then in raport between Hitler and the larg­er elec­torate, that led to a new kind of space for explo­ration in the human sci­ences. I think both psy­cho­analy­sis was brought to bear, and also cul­tur­al anthropology…other forms of knowledge—sociology, his­to­ry. And there was an attempt to—in a way a multi-disciplinary attempt, to bring all of these forms of knowl­edge togeth­er to try to under­stand what was going on, and above all to learn lessons about how you could avoid a relapse into new forms of fas­cism after 1945

So in a way my research project was both look­ing at the lead-up to the war and the war, and then at the after­math of the war, and the attempts that were made in America, in Britain, in Paris—UNESCO for example—which was set up as one of the kind of out­crops of the war through the UN and then UNESCO. But where they tried to bring peo­ple in who would think about this with a con­cern and then anx­i­ety, how did you avoid a return to new forms of fas­cism. And I thought those endeav­ors were worth recov­er­ing and explor­ing again because they also seemed very rel­e­vant to us. It’s not just a his­to­ry that’s dead or past. It’s a his­to­ry that in a way is rel­e­vant to con­tem­po­rary thinking.

Schouten: You [indis­tinct] in the project real­ly the 20th cen­tu­ry, when psy­cho­analy­sis was very impor­tant for all the rea­sons you’ve just men­tioned. What will its rel­e­vance be in the 21st century?

Pick: Well of course one of the things that’s very notable about psy­cho­analy­sis is it’s very much under attack. There are oth­er forms, both of ther­a­py that com­pete with it, and many peo­ple are very skep­ti­cal about it. Now, in a way that’s been true through­out the his­to­ry of psy­cho­analy­sis. There’s always been a his­to­ry of con­tro­ver­sy sur­round­ing its effi­ca­cy as a clin­i­cal pro­ce­dure, and its the­o­ry of the mind, and its method of inves­ti­ga­tion. So I think that’s part of the his­to­ry of psy­cho­analy­sis. But I think that it does con­tin­ue to have rel­e­vance as a kind of resource we have. A prob­lem­at­ic resource but nonethe­less a very rich resource, both for think­ing about men­tal process­es, and it pro­vides a very rich vocab­u­lary for think­ing about the mind. I think in a way it’s the most sophis­ti­cat­ed account we have of the inner world, you know. 

But it also does have rel­e­vance to think­ing about social, cul­tur­al, polit­i­cal ques­tions. Although one needs a big caveat with that, which is that it can’t replace oth­er forms of knowl­edge. And per­haps where psy­cho­analy­sis was at its worst as a kind of applied dis­ci­pline was when it at times in the 20th cen­tu­ry did seek to replace or to sort of pro­vide a key, a kind of explana­to­ry key to every­thing as though it could replace soci­ol­o­gy, or anthro­pol­o­gy, or eco­nom­ics, or his­to­ry. And I think it can’t do that. And that one needs to be cau­tious because minds are not the same as groups. And groups aren’t the same as states. All of these lev­els of exis­tence require dif­fer­ent kinds of investigation. 

But I think nonethe­less that psy­cho­analy­sis has some­thing of rel­e­vance to offer. Because in a way that’s a role of fan­ta­sy that is not just in the mind of indi­vid­ual peo­ple but that also res­onates in the life of groups. And also in cul­ture and ide­ol­o­gy. That there can be pow­er­ful fan­tasies mobi­lized that psy­cho­analy­sis has been quite good at explor­ing and con­tribut­ing to our under­stand­ing of.