Thinking Inside the Box

Why some of America’s most prominent minds fell for the wildly eccentric ideas of Wilhelm Reich.

By HENRY ALLEN

This maddening, saddening account of Wilhelm Reich’s crash-and-burn life leaves you yearning for a poet or philosopher who understands a fundamental truth: Nothing explains everything. (I recommend Shakespeare.)

Reich did not understand this truth. He was a disciple of Freud (who later excommunicated him). He was a world-famous psychoanalyst back when psychoanalysts could be world-famous, a crusader for sexual freedom back when that cause belonged to intellectuals, not Hugh Hefner or Lady Gaga. He was a prophet of salvation through perfection of the orgasm, sometimes referred to as the "apocalyptic orgasm."

The spiritual hysteria that Reich inspired in the America of the 1940s and early ’50s is as hard to explain now as the madness that 1920s crowds felt hearing Bix Beiderbecke play the cornet, especially when you consider that most Reichians were supposed to be educated skeptics and cultural critics. Even—or especially—intellectuals are not immune to America’s chronic and recurring religious revivals in their various forms.

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REICH

Dave Plunkert

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