Yes to Life and to Meaning

T. Belman.  I read this book more than 50 years ago and was profoundly influenced by it. The New World Order envisages a world or life without meaning. As such it is doomed to failure.

In Israel, the Right is imbued with meaning and the Left is bereft of it.

By Samuel Kronen, CITY JOURNAL

Viktor Frankl survived the Holocaust and created a new psychology in which the search for meaning—not pleasure or power—is mankind’s central motivational force.

The Austrian psychiatrist, author, and Holocaust survivor Viktor Emil Frankl was a quintessential humanist. His memoir Man’s Search for Meaning, a psychological portrait of life inside the concentration camps, has become a go-to for seekers of every variety since its original German-language publication in 1946. Listed as “one of the ten most influential books in the U.S.” in 1991, it still appears as one of Amazon’s 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime. Having sold more than 10 million copies and having been translated into 24 languages, Man’s Search for Meaning is considered among the most inspiring nonfiction works. This “should be required reading for anyone desiring to live on this planet,” says a YouTube commentator, regarding one of Frankl’s interviews. Frankl’s crowning literary achievement, however—written in nine days and originally published anonymously—is just the capstone on his life and work.

Frankl was concerned with the meaning of suffering. Unlike camp inmates Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel, who grew understandably despairing in the years after Auschwitz, Frankl lived and died a happy man. Despite the horrors of what he saw and experienced in four concentration camps over three years, Frankl never lost faith in mankind. While suffering can make us feel less than human, Frankl used his to understand the pain of others and become, in a sense, more of a human being.

While most written accounts of the Holocaust emphasize its obvious racial and political dimensions, Frankl always sought out the uniquely human quality of any situation to draw out a universal message. His vision of a psychiatry that would counteract the depersonalizing forces of modern life may never have fully taken hold, but its urgency has only grown with time. What it means to be a person in the modern world remains a crucial question, the posing of which may be more important than any answer we can give.

Viktor Frankl was born in Vienna on March 26, 1905, the middle child of Gabriel and Elsa Frankl, with an older brother, Walter, and younger sister, Stella. In his final memoir, Recollections (1995), where he shares more about his private life than elsewhere, Frankl describes his mother as a warmhearted, pious woman and his father, who worked for the state on various relief programs, as the personification of justice. He characterizes his father’s philosophy as “Spartan,” pushing his children to meet their potential without being unnecessarily punitive. His father once rescued a toddling Viktor from an oncoming train after the child had scurried onto the tracks, a memory burned into Frankl’s consciousness. “With my eyes still closed,” he remembered, “I was flooded by the utterly rapturous sense of being guarded, sheltered. When I opened my eyes, my father was standing there, bending over me and smiling.” Frankl attributed his personality to the combination of deep emotions and rationality that his parents, respectively, embodied.

Frankl’s childhood was full of strange visions and synchronicities. He was born in Vienna’s second district, across the street from his future mentor, the founding psychologist Alfred Adler. He came into consciousness during the precarious years of World War I, standing in bread lines in the cold from 3 AM until 7:30 AM, at which point his mother would take his place.

To his parents’ delight, Frankl was determined at a young age to become a physician. While still in high school, he began attending adult night classes in psychology—then a new field. Sometime in his teen years, Frankl began corresponding with his idol, the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, who was so impressed by a two-page paper that the young man had written that he had it published in a major journal. “I hope you don’t object,” Freud wrote to a 16-year-old Frankl. A few years later, they would meet by chance on a street in Vienna; when Frankl introduced himself, Freud recalled his home address by heart from their letters.

Frankl loved his family ferociously. Years later, when Frankl and his father were being marched from the train station to the concentration camp at Theresienstadt, his father remained lucid and cheerful, repeating the mantra: “Be of good cheer, for God is near.” When Frankl was separated from his mother in another one of the camps, and soon to be deported to Auschwitz, he remembers calling out for her blessing. “I can never forget how she cried out, from deep within her heart, ‘Yes! Yes, I bless you!’ ” His thoughts would often dwell on his mother during his stay in the camps, imagining seeing her again and how he would “kiss the hem of her dress.” Except for his younger sister, who managed to flee the country, everyone in his immediate family, including his pregnant wife, Tilly, died in the Holocaust. He wouldn’t find out about the deaths of most of them until after the war.

When his father was afflicted with pulmonary edema in the camp, Frankl used a smuggled vial of morphine to ease his pain.

CONTINUE

Samuel Kronen is an independent writer and author of a new Substack, “Alien Nation,” on the meaning of suffering. 

August 26, 2023 | 5 Comments »

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5 Comments / 5 Comments

  1. @T. Bellman

    In Israel, the Right is imbued with meaning and the Left is bereft of it.

    You maybe right about modern leftists. But the original Bolsheviks had a very clear meaning and direction.
    They believed in their utopia of classless society where everyone is joyfully contributing according to their ability and everyone is receiving according to their needs.
    A vision of one peaceful world with no boundaries separating people. Where everyone lives as brothers and sisters everyone cooperates and nobody competes. The entire humanity is one big loving family. Where culture thrives and planned economy provides high living standard and everyone has time to enjoy nature and culture in various forms.
    A beautiful world with song and dance and people joyous working, and science serving humanity eliminates all illnesses and suffering.

    And early Bolsheviks gave their life for that vision just as readily as early Christians gave for theirs. Tragically, Soviet Union, China, and all other communist countries became the opposite of that beautiful vision on almost all points.
    Disillusioned with the original communism, modern leftist became purely destructive degenerates whose only dream is to destroy the existing order, and then somehow miraculously everything will be well.

  2. @clive

    I disagree with your assertion:
    I don’t believe in God.
    I don’t believe in Climate Change, nor in Woke, nor in the deadly threat of Covid, I think LGBTQ+ are suffering from mental problems, I don’t in giving more power to the state than absolutely necessary, and I most certainly am not a “nihilist”.

    Also, leftists are not at war with all religions, on the contrary, they strongly support Islam.
    This is because modern leftists are destructive, so they naturally love and admire Islam that is every bit as destructive as Bolshevism.

  3. Well, the most important meaning in Frankl’s life was to find his wife after the war. This longing this hope gave him the strength to survive the impossible.
    As it turned out, his wife was murdered the very first day after arrival to the death camp.
    So it is interesting that meaning can be completely fictitious and still give strength.
    His other meaning was to publish the manuscript of his book. After the war, he discovered that the manuscript was destroyed. So that too was fictitious, however he did publish his “Search for Meaning” so perhaps this goal was achieved in a different way.

    Personally I don’t think having a goal is necessary for meaning.
    I’d like to hear more from @EvRe1 about how he got meaning in his life during the time in hospital with pain and limitations.

  4. Thank you for this article.

    I read Man’s Search for Meaning when I was in the midst of a crisis of meaning in my own life: I was at that time chronically ill, I had to retire at age 48 from my profession on a disability, and I felt I was not making any contribution to society or to anyone. I found myself very moved by Viktor Frankl’s insight and capacity for empathy, and recalled one of the book’s central idea: no matter what your physical limitations, your life is meaningful.

    The book was part of the process of my attempts to master my grief and sadness. It took time, but ultimately I became able to bear the frustration and physical pain of intermittent hospital stays because I was able to make my life meaningful in between them.

    Eventually I overcame my illness and now am very healthy, more healthy than I have been in years.

    The author says that Frankl was able to make a “moral victory out of his father’s death in a concentration camp.” I believe Frankl was able to make his father’s death full of meaning for him: he was able to act on his deep love and respect for his father, and make his father’s death less painful.

    Frankl indeed understood that it is our love relationships that are the source of the most meaning in our lives.

    At a time when there is a fair amount of darkness in the world, it is so helpful to be reminded of people like Viktor Frankl, who brought light to our lives.

  5. The reason the Left are at war with the religious is because they can’t control them. If you don’t believe in G-D then you will believe anything. ‘Climate Change’ Covid or any other propaganda. The State(power) is their G-D. The Left are Nihilists. They hate humanity (Elon Musk)