simply and happily to be himself


The most important American psychologist since William James, and perhaps the most important psychologist altogether since Carl Jung, was Abraham Maslow (1908-1970). Maslow’s brainchild was the ideal of the “self-actualizing” person, the supreme human type who becomes everything he is capable of becoming. “Everything?,” one may justly ask. That has a Nietzschean ring to it, and leaves a lot of room for moral ugliness and even enormity. Thus self-actualization has drawn heavy fire, principally from conservative intellectuals, as typical Sixties folderol, a bad idea endlessly spreading, infesting the public mind like a colony of poisonous spiders, and contributing to the dangerous stupidity of our culture. Such censure is not entirely misguided. The predominant effect of Maslow’s key idea, at least as it has been transmitted by various acolytes, epigoni, and pseudo-philosophical beachcombers, is far from wholesome. And yet Maslow himself must be distinguished from his following. He was a serious thinker with a vision of human sublimity for a democratic age, revering the extraordinary and sometimes far from democratic minds with whom he consorted, and contended, throughout his life: Aristotle, Nietzsche, Freud. Maslow may indeed have a lot to answer for, even if he did not intend or foresee the worst consequences of his line of thought, but before he is pilloried as a false prophet or worse we need to measure him by his own ideas and not what others have made of them. Abraham Harold Maslow was born on April 1, 1908, in New York City, the first child of Samuel, a Russian Jewish immigrant who worked as a cooper, and Rose, his first cousin. Abe grew up in Brooklyn, fearing his father, a rough-hewn, hard-drinking man, and loathing his mother, whom he later described as “schizophrenogenic” — the type of mother “who makes crazy people, crazy children.”

more from Algis Valiunas at The New Atlantis here.