The Desecration of Love. For the Hildebrand Project 10th annual summer seminar: The Heart (6-10 July 2020)

The Desecration of Love

For the Hildebrand Project 10th annual summer seminar: The Heart, 6-10 July 2020

Anthony Stadlen

See also:
Copyright © Anthony Stadlen 2023

(This is a revised and expanded version of my response to a request 
for a statement of my position for the Hildebrand Project 10th Summer Seminar 2020, The Heart, on Zoom, at which I was an invited speaker.)

The Desecration of Love

Daseinsanalysis is grounded in the thinking of Martin Heidegger (1889-1976). But Daseinsanalysts could learn also from the work of Heidegger’s almost exact contemporary Dietrich von Hildebrand (1889-1977). Heidegger and Hildebrand were both favourite junior colleagues of Edmund Husserl, but Husserl was disappointed that both rejected his later ‘transcendental’ phenomenology; according to Hildebrand’s widow Alice, Husserl called them both his ‘black sheep’. That Heidegger became a Nazi and Hildebrand a Catholic further confirmed Husserl in his dismay and disapproval. Heidegger had started training as a Catholic priest, but gave up this path and became very critical of much in Catholicism and Christianity in general; he joined the Nazi party, although his relation to Nazism was complex. Hildebrand converted to Catholicism, and his philosophy became definitively Catholic, though having many features independent of Catholicism; he was a very courageous opponent of Nazism, founding an anti-Nazi journal; he was at the top of the Nazi death list, and had to escape to the United States.

Hildebrand’s essay ‘The Dethronement of Truth’ (1942; 1977a [1954a]) and his books The Heart: An Analysis of Human and Divine Affectivity (2007 [1965]) and The Nature of Love (1977c, 2009) deserve close attention from psychotherapists of all schools.

In his revised (1977a [1954a]) version of ‘The Dethronement of Truth’ (1942) Hildebrand shows how psychoanalysis has contributed to this dethronement. His works on the heart (2007 [1965]) and love (1977c, 2009) set a similar gold standard for love, of which the psychoanalytic (and psychiatric) concept is, as I shall try to show, a desecration. I shall give some examples of this psychologistic desecration of love.

1. Dora

The word ‘Liebe’ (‘love’) and its cognates are listed hundreds of times in the Konkordanz [Concordance] to the Gesammelte Werke [Complete Works] of Sigmund Freud. There are about sixty instances in his (1905) case study of ‘Dora’ alone. (The ‘Dora’ case also contains three references to ‘Herz’ [‘heart’], but not in Hildebrand’s sense.)

How do Freud and his followers understand ‘love’?

Dora claims that her father allows his friend Herr K. to molest her sexually in exchange for sexual favours from Herr K.’s wife. She tells Freud that, when she was in Freud’s own words ‘a child of fourteen’ (my historical research shows that she was almost certainly only thirteen, below the then Austrian age of consent),  Herr K. grabbed her and forced a kiss upon her lips in his shuttered and locked shop. She was disgusted and ran by a back door into the street. Freud claims, but without confirmation from Dora, that she had felt Herr K.’s erect penis pressed against her.

Freud says that her disgust at Herr K.'s sexually molesting her at this early age is in itself sufficient to diagnose her ‘unhesitatingly’ as an ‘hysteric’. Her disgust is thus, for Freud, a pathognomonic ‘symptom’ of ‘hysteria’.

Generations of psychoanalysts have endorsed Freud’s diagnosis and ‘pathognomonic symptom’. The Encyclopaedia of Psychoanalysis explains:

The feeling of disgust she felt when Herr K.’s erect penis pressed against her body (at 14) probably meant that she resented the size of her own member.
Herr K. denies making advances to Dora. Her father denies his affair with Frau K. But Freud states that, in his view, Dora’s perceptions of her father’s thus bartering her for sexual purposes were accurate. He says this was ‘one particular respect in which it was easy to see that her reproaches were justified’.
Freud writes, however, that ‘when a patient brings forward a sound and incontestable train of argument during psychoanalytic treatment, the physician is liable to feel a moment’s embarrassment....’ Freud’s solution (applauded by Lacan) is ‘to turn back each particular reproach on to the speaker himself’.
Hence, while agreeing with Dora’s perceptions, Freud regards her as sick because her perceptions upset her. While finding it ‘easy to see that her reproaches were justified’, he saw her as sick for making them.
Her father and Herr K. both alleged she was deluded. Herr K. declared she had imagined his sexually molesting her. Her father supported Herr K. in this. Her father also claimed Dora was imagining his own affair with Frau K. Freud believed Dora on both counts. On both counts, however, he found further evidence of Dora’s ‘hysteria’. A healthy girl, he considered, would not be so upset that her father and his friend were lying to her and about her and were saying she was deluded. 

When Dora was fifteen, Herr K. continued his molesting by propositioning her in the woods by an Alpine lake, saying: ‘You know I get nothing from my wife.’ Freud calls this a ‘Liebesantrag’ (love proposal [my italics]). But Dora knew that K. had already used the same words with his children’s governess. She slapped K.’s face and ran off. Freud calls this a ‘brutal’ response to what he calls K.’s ‘love and tenderness’ (my italics). 

She tells Freud: ‘...Herr K. had made me a present of an expensive jewel-case a little time before.’ Freud remarks: 

‘Then a return-present would have been very appropriate. Perhaps you do not know that “jewel-case” (“SchmuckkÀstchen”) is a favourite expression for ... the female genitals.’

Dora is here speaking of a time when she was fifteen. At the time of speaking she is just eighteen. Freud writes: 

... she frequently met her father with Frau K. in the street. She also met Herr K. very often, and he always used to turn round and look after her; and once when he had met her out by herself he had followed her for a long way....

Freud, in recounting the above exchange about the jewel-case, describes how, while responsible as her physician and therapist for the supposedly ‘ill’ Dora, he effectively acted as procurer for Herr K.

Her father’s collusion made this a triple seduction. It entailed Dora’s father’s attempts to seduce Dora and Freud himself into accepting Herr K.’s seduction. 

Freud makes plain that Dora’s father has an interest in having Dora diagnosed as psychologically or ‘nervously’ ‘ill’. Freud presents her father as quite prepared to lie to Freud about his sexual relationship with Frau K., and to support what Freud admits are Herr K.’s ‘slanders’ about Dora, rather than speak frankly for the sake of his daughter’s supposedly precarious ‘mental health’. 

Freud describes how Dora’s father urged him, at the outset, to ‘try and bring her to reason’. By this, Freud makes clear, her father meant that Freud should persuade Dora to drop her allegations about her father’s affair with Frau K. and about Herr K.’s molesting of Dora. 

Freud writes: 

... it must be confessed that Dora’s father was never entirely straightforward. He had given his support to the treatment so long as he could hope that I should talk Dora out of her belief that there was something more than friendship between him and Frau K. His interest faded when he saw that it was not my intention to bring about that result.

Thus Freud did not collude with Dora’s father in the way her father asked. But he colluded in a more subtle and effective way.

Her father had sought to seduce Dora into accepting Herr K.’s seduction. Then, when that failed, he tried to persuade her she had imagined this double seduction and was therefore ‘ill’. Then, when that failed, he ‘handed her over to’ Freud. Freud, in order to induce Dora to see herself as ‘ill’, did not have to ‘talk’ Dora out of her belief. It would be enough if he could talk her into seeing herself as ‘ill’ because her belief upset her. 

Freud thus colluded with Dora’s father’s complaint that the ethical (interpersonal) complaint that she made about him and Herr K. was merely a medical (intrapersonal) complaint from which she suffered.

Freud failed to analyse the primary presenting problem. The primary problem was not a medical complaint of Dora’s but her father’s complaint about Dora. The primary presenting problem was not manifested by Dora in signs or symptoms of illness. It was manifested by her father in his allegation that Dora  was  ‘ill’.

The psychoanalyst Ernest Jones, one of Freud’s intimate circle, in his authorised biography of Freud praises the ‘Dora’ case as having served for years as ‘a model for students of psychoanalysis’.

He calls Dora

a disagreeable creature who preferred revenge to love.

2. Mourning

In a brief paper, ‘Transience’ (1916), Freud discusses love and mourning. The capacity for love he calls ‘libido’, which he conceives as like an electric charge. When the loved ‘object’ dies, the libido with which the ‘ego’ has ‘cathected’ it can return to the ‘ego’. Why, he asks, does it not just straight away ‘cathect’ a replacement ‘object’? Mourning, he says, presents psychologists with a ‘riddle’.

3. Neighbour love 

In Civilisation and Its Discontents (1929), Freud ridicules the injunction to love one’s neighbour. He calls it Christian and, although he acknowledges that it is older than Christianity, he does not acknowledge in this book, or anywhere in his Collected Works, that it is stated in the Torah (Leviticus 19.18), which Jesus was quoting. He denounces it as a crippling burden imposed on mankind by mankind’s collective ‘superego’. He says his neighbour deserves his love only

if he is so like me in important ways that I can love myself in him.

This is the psychoanalytic vision and version of ‘love’: applied narcissism and self-love.

4. Ellen West

In 1942, the ‘existential’ psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Ludwig Binswanger, renowned as the founder of psychiatric ‘Daseinsanalysis’, published what the philosopher Martin Heidegger ridiculed as a ‘gigantic’ ‘treatise on love’. Binswanger claimed to be basing himself on Heidegger’s thinking, but Heidegger said that Binswanger had misunderstood him. Binswanger accepted this criticism but wrote that he hoped it had been a fruitful misunderstanding.

In 1944-5, Binswanger published ‘The Case of Ellen West’, a very long and complex case study, as a ‘paradigm’ of ‘schizophrenia’. He later republished it, with four other long case studies, in his book Schizophrenie (1957). It is translated in the book Existence: A New Dimension in Psychiatry and Psychology, edited by Rollo May, Ernest Angel, and Henri F. Ellenberger (1958: 237-364).

Binswanger makes plain that he also intends ‘The Case of Ellen West’ as a paradigm of ‘love’: of her alleged inability to love, and of his ‘love’ (not a personal love of her, but as it were his understanding, and indeed love, of love itself) which he claims is what makes possible his ‘scientific’ method of understanding her.

He writes that ‘love alone, and the imagination originating from it’ can rise above a ‘single point of view’ in order, by means of ‘historical science’, ‘to test and compare “personal” judgements […] and to place them in a scientific perspective’.

This he sets out to do, twenty-three years after Ellen West’s death

At thirty-three, in 1921, with the help of her husband, she had poisoned herself. This was facilitated by Binswanger himself. The participation of her husband and Binswanger has only become clear from recent research. It is not acknowledged in his case study.

She was a ‘patient’ in Binswanger’s ‘sanatorium’, Bellevue, at Kreuzlingen in Switzerland. He convened a case conference there in 1921 with two other eminent psychiatrists: his colleague Eugen Bleuler and an unnamed ‘foreign’ psychiatrist.

Binswanger and Bleuler agreed she was a case of ‘schizophrenia’, the new ‘disease’ that Bleuler had proposed in 1908. The third psychiatrist disagreed with this diagnosis; he ‘would label it a psychopathic constitution progressively unfolding’. But, wrote Binswanger,

[…] all three of us agree that [...] no definitely reliable therapy is possible. [...] Both gentlemen agree completely with my prognosis.

All three agreed that Binswanger should put it to her husband that he and his wife must decide whether Binswanger should lock her up with no hope of a ‘cure’ or discharge her as a hopeless case. All three agreed that her suicide was inevitable. It would be caused by, and be a ‘symptom’ of, the ‘disease’ she was supposedly suffering from.

Whatever this ‘disease’ was, Binswanger explained, in his case study, that it made Ellen West incapable of ‘love’. 

But he also wrote, without indicating any sense of contradiction, that her suicide was ‘authentic’. In her suicide, he claimed, she glimpsed for the first time the ‘dual mode’ of ‘being-in-the-world-beyond-the-world’ in ‘love’: 

Only in the face of nonbeing does Ellen West actually stand in being, does she triumph over the finiteness of being, including her own. But this is possible only where the existence knows or senses itself as Gestalt of this being, as a passing expression of the eternal Gestalt-metamorphosis. This knowing or sensing is the knowing or sensing of love.

We now know that the third psychiatrist at the case conference was the German, Alfred Hoche, coauthor of the book The Allowing of the Annihilation of Life Unworthy of Life, published the previous year (1920). Binswanger and Bleuler had shared a copy of this book and corresponded about it. Ellen West and her husband had also read it and discussed it with Binswanger. This book was later used by the National Socialists as a textbook justifying the extermination of the ‘ballast existences’ of the ‘mentally handicapped’ and ‘mentally ill’. 

Hoche mentions in his autobiography, published in 1935, this very case conference. He does not name Binswanger, Bleuler, the country where it took place, or the patient, whom he describes as a

young woman, highly gifted, sensitive, full of intellectual interests of every kind.

Hoche writes that the task of the triumvirate was to decide whether this was 

...still a life worthy of life.

He reports:

To this question we had to answer: No.

In 1944-5, when Binswanger wrote and published ‘The Case of Ellen West’, the extermination of man thousands of ‘ballast existences’ had been for some years a reality. He does not mention this. He remained friendly with Hoche and mentions in his obituary of Hoche that he has read Hoche’s book on so-called ‘euthanasia’ but will not discuss it. Nor does he allude in ‘The Case of Ellen West’ to Hoche’s own account of what Hoche himself in his autobiography had called

the strangest consultation in which I have ever taken part. 

5. ‘Ambivalence’ 

The English psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott asserts in his influential paper ‘Hate in the Countertransference’ (1947) that every mother ‘hates her infant from the word go’. As Naomi Stadlen points out in What Mothers Do – especially when it looks like nothing (2004: 169-70), he gives no evidence for this but, rather, a set of eighteen ‘reasons why a mother hates her baby’.  One reason he gives is that the baby ‘hurts her nipples even by suckling, which is at first a chewing act’. This is an empirically false ‘observation’ by this paediatrician who sometimes made brilliant observations of mothers and babies but had no children of his own. Another reason Winnicott gives why a mother ‘hates her baby’ is that ‘she mustn’t eat him or trade in sex with him’. Rozsika Parker, in her book Torn in Two: The Experience of Maternal Ambivalence (1995: 99), implicitly criticises Winnicott, not for his not giving evidence (which she does not mention), but (as Naomi Stadlen observes) for what Parker sees as his unjustified implication that ‘hate’ but not ‘love’ requires justification by ‘reasons’.

Today, a ‘mentally healthy’ mother is expected by ‘health professionals’ to experience ‘ambivalence’, meaning both ‘love’ and ‘hate’, towards her baby. It is assumed that where there is ‘love’ there must be ‘hate’. Not to feel such ‘hate’ is to be in ‘unhealthy’ ‘denial’. Mothers who do not admit to feeling ‘hate’ for their babies are pitied and made to feel guilty by psychotherapists, writers of advice columns, and ‘friends’. 

6. ‘Love is blind’ 

Today, ‘neuropsychoanalysis’ is popular. ‘Love’ is said to ‘matter’ because it shapes the baby’s brain. ‘Love’, that is to say, is useful. But psychiatrists also claim that brain scans prove ‘love is blind’.  ‘Love’, in other words, is divorced from truth. 

7. ‘Paedophilia’ 

Between 27 and 29 May 2010 the Dietrich von Hildebrand Legacy Project convened an international conference in Rome, The Christian Personalism of Dietrich von Hildebrand: Exploring his Philosophy of Love. I was there to give a lecture, ‘Von Hildebrand and psychotherapy’, and to meet again my dear friend Lily von Hildebrand, Dietrich von Hildebrand’s widow. The conference opened with a message from Pope Benedict XVI. 

A few months later, on 17 September 2010, The Guardian in London reported that the Pope, in an interview on his way to visit the United Kingdom, described the sexual abuse of children by priests as ‘paedophilia’, literally ‘love of children’ [my italics]. He called it an ‘illness’, whose ‘sufferers’ had ‘lost their free will’. But His Holiness also spoke of the need for ‘penitence’.

Is this not the language of one of those ‘aggressive forms of secularism’ that in the same interview the Pope deplored: psychologism, indeed psychobabble? Its absurdity is shown by His Holiness’s also speaking of ‘penitence’. What kind of ‘illness’ calls for penitence? And what kind of ‘love’ is an ‘illness’? 


In the above seven examples, psychotherapists, and even the kindly Pope, appear to have allowed themselves to be seduced by the temptation to psychologise, which means to desecrate, love. They have, at least in the examples, substituted for love a psychological ‘love’, a mere ‘feeling’, part of the instinctual dynamics of the ‘psyche’, ‘love-and-hate’ as a vector parallelogram of forces with a mechanical resultant, an ‘intrapsychic’ relationship to an ‘internal object’, the ‘representation’ of an ‘external object’ in the ‘external world’. It is a travesty of the irreducible freedom of our Heart to respond, as Hildebrand describes, to the irreducible wholeness and holiness of the Other.

The desecration of love and the dethronement of truth replace love and truth with mere ‘subjective’ ‘feelings’.

Psychoanalysts have contributed helpful studies of what Yeats called ‘the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart’. But it is a dreadful thing to suppose a foul rag-and-bone shop is what the Heart is

The Torah (the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses which open the Hebrew Bible, called by Christians the ‘Old Testament’) speaks again and again of the Ineffable God of chesed v'emeth, loving-kindness and truth.

The Holiness Code (Leviticus 19, verses 2,18,34) says (my translation}: 

You shall be holy for I the Everpresent your God am holy

Do not take revenge and do not bear a grudge but you shall love to [dative] your neighbour [who is] like [adjectival] yourself 

You shall love to [dative] him (the stranger) [who is] like [adjectival] yourself.

This dative use of ‘love [to]’ occurs in the entire Hebrew Bible only twice: in these latter two verses (Leviticus 19, verses 18 and 34) on loving ‘to’ the neighbour and ‘to’ the stranger. Rabbinical tradition contrasts this dative with the accusative in the other great principle, ‘And you shall love the Lord your God with all your [double] Heart [...]’. (Deuteronomy 6.5). Moreover, the tradition interprets these verses as saying we should love the neighbour and the stranger (who is) like [adjectival] ourselves; not as [adverbially] (we love) ourselves.   

However, in the Greek New Testament, Jesus is improbably reported as quoting both great principles, loving God and loving the neighbour, with ‘love’ taking the accusative. This has led to great confusion. Jesus, as far as we know, did not know or speak Greek. But he was inward with the Torah and would have quoted the Hebrew correctly. He is thus misquoted as misquoting the ‘love [to] your neighbour [dative]’ law as ‘love your neighbour [accusative]’. He is also misinterpreted as exhorting us to love our neighbour as [adverbial] we love ourselves.

The Jewish rabbinical tradition includes innumerable interpretations of the verse (Mendes-Flohr, 2007). But, from Nachmanides to the Gerer Rav and Buber and beyond, it emphasises both the dative ‘love (to)’, rather than the accusative ‘love’, and the adjectival ‘[who is] like yourself’, because made ‘in the image of God’, rather than the adverbial ‘as [you love] yourself’.

It is even questionable whether ‘self-love’ is a meaningful concept. Can I love myself? ‘Love’ has an active, a passive, a middle voice. Does it have a reflexive voice? Is ‘I love myself’ an abuse of grammar?

Kierkegaard in Works of Love bases his argument on the Greek accusative and adverbial mistranslation in the Gospels, and considers at length what would be an ‘appropriate’ ‘self-love’ on which to base love of neighbour. This does not mean that he is, like Freud, claiming that love of other is merely applied ‘self-love’. Nor does it mean that Kierkegaard’s meditations on ‘self-love’ are worthless. But they are based on a Christian mistranslation of the Hebrew original, and so are in a significant sense misleading. This also applies to John Lippitt’s thoughtful reflections in his book Kierkegaard and the Problem of Self-Love (2013). 

Hildebrand insists in The Role of Human Love (1977c: 11) that love can not be derived from self-love. He writes in The Nature of Love (2009 [1971]: 162) of the ‘dreadful error of trying to derive love from self-love’. Yet Hildebrand, as his widow Alice von Hildebrand confirmed in writing to me, knew no Hebrew at all. It is as if, even while he was basing himself on the Greek mistranslation in the Gospels, Hildebrand’s spiritual greatness transcended it and recovered the authentic Hebrew meaning.

Hildebrand (2007 [1965]: 110) writes of the ‘trembling love’ of the Sacred Heart.

Heidegger (1986: 396; 2003: 78) recalls how the goddess of Truth, Aletheia, speaks to Parmenides of the ‘untrembling heart of well-encircling aletheia [Truth, unconcealment]’.

Love is not applied ‘self-love’, truth is not ‘subjective truth’.  

We cannot find love if we dethrone truth, or truth if we desecrate love.


Heidegger, Martin (2003). Four Seminars.

Heidegger, Martin (1986). Gesamtausgabe 15.

Mendes-Flohr, Paul (2007). Love, Accusative and Dative: Reflections on Leviticus 19:18.

von Hildebrand, Dietrich (1942). The Dethronement of Truth. In The American Catholic Philosophical Association Proceedings for the Year of 1942: 3-16.

von Hildebrand, Dietrich (1977a  [1954a]). The Dethronement of Truth [revised version]. In von Hildebrand (1977b [1954b]): 55-100.

von Hildebrand, Dietrich (1977b [1954b]). The New Tower of Babel:  Manifestations of Mans Escape from God.

von Hildebrand, Dietrich (1977c). The Role of Human Love.

von Hildebrand, Dietrich (2007) [1965]). The Heart: An Analysis of Human and Divine Affectivity.

von Hildebrand, Dietrich (2009 [1971]). The Nature of Love.

Biographical Note

Anthony Stadlen is a practising IFDA-certified Daseinsanalyst, teacher, and supervisor, the Independent Effective Member for UK of the International Federation of Daseinsanalysis (IFDA); also a UKCP-certified existential therapist and BPC-certified psychoanalytic psychotherapist. Since 1977, he has conducted research, supported by the Nuffield Foundation, sponsored by the Department of Philosophy at the University of Essex, England, on the paradigmatic case-studies of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. Since 1996 he has convened the Inner Circle Seminars, a search for truth in psychotherapy. He is an Honorary Visiting Fellow of Regent’s University School of Psychotherapy and Psychology, London. He is a former Research Fellow of the Freud Museum, London. He received the 2003 Thomas S. Szasz Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Cause of Civil Liberties (professional category).

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