Legend has it that Freud, although educated in the philosophies of his day, studiously avoided the work of Nietzsche to preserve the originality of his ideas against external influence. Nietzsche’s analysis of the human psyche, how values were supposedly projections of people’s unspoken jealousies and fears, ran dangerously close to Freud’s idea (still a work in progress at the end of the 19th century) that the roots of conscious behavior lay in unconscious desires.
But after reading Dr. Peter Kramer’s outstanding new biography of Freud, one wonders if Freud feared something else, not influence but self-knowledge, for Dr. Kramer’s Freud is practically the living embodiment of Nietzsche’s will to power. It’s not simply that Freud was incredibly ambitious. (At age four, after soiling a chair, he reassured his mother that he would grow up to be a great man and buy her another.) Rather, it was Freud’s determination to systematize the world, to bring order to chaos, and to impose his theory of life on life itself — a determination so intense that one of Freud’s colleagues called it a “psychical need.”