He is known for three things:
- He tried to join Marxism and psychoanalysis in studies of fascism, producing a very popular book, The Mass Psychology of Fascism.
- He claimed discovery of what he called orgone energy, which nearly all scientists call pseudoscience (as of 2004).
- The persecution of him and his theories by the Nazi Gestapo in Germany, and later the US government (which burned his books) until his death in a US prison.
Reich's early career
Reich was born in Austria. Between 1914 and 1918 Reich served in World War I during which he attained the rank of lieutenant. After four years in charge of a large infantry of troops he asked for a formal note of leave to further his education. He first entered Vienna School of Law, but soon realized that this was not for him, so he converted to medical school. Reich barely squeaked by college financially, but by tutoring other medical students he made it, frugally. He lived on oatmeal and dry fruit for two years. With all of this stress on his shoulders, Wilhelm was still able to pass his examinations in physics, chemistry, and biology with honors.
In 1919, Reich organized and lead a seminar on sexology. Sigmund Freud became aware of Reich's work and invited him to a meeting. Freud was one of the first to suggest workable cures for mental disorders, he also dealt with sexual problems between parents and children. Reich liked Freud, especially his up-front and open personality. Reich soon became a follower. Freud accepted him into his Viennese Psychoanalytic society. Here he analyzed patients with psychological problems. While doing examinations, Reich met an eighteen-year-old patient named Annie whom he started to court. They got an apartment together after Wilhelm graduated from the University of Vienna medical school with his doctorate.
Reich had been a member of the Austrian Socialist Party, but upon moving to Berlin in 1930, he joined the Communists. However, his views and theories on matters such as birth control and sex education conflicted with those of orthodox Marxism, and Reich was expelled from the Communist party in 1933.
His theories also became increasingly unpalatable to the Freudians, and the International Psychological association expelled him from membership in 1934. Freud did not agree with his scientific findings. His 1933 publication of The Mass Psychology of Fascism categorised the fascists as sexually-repressed neurotics. The book was banned by the Nazis when they came to power: Reich realised that he was in an extremely dangerous situation, and he hurriedly left Germany. He spent a couple of years in Norway, before his eventual arrival in the USA in 1939.
Reich's development of his orgone theories
During Reich's exile in the USA he claimed to have done scientific study of orgone energy, where Freud's concept of the libido has been transformed into orgone, a form of universal power (an "energy field", which some say is similar to qi -- many scientists claim Reich made scientific mistakes, some even call it pseudoscience). Orgone is an unproven form of energy first described by Reich in the late 1930s. Reich characterized orgone as a type of primordial cosmic energy, blue in colour, which is omnipresent and responsible for such things as weather, the color of the sky, gravity, the formation of galaxies, and good orgasms. (The sense of well-being felt after orgasm was supposed by Reich to be due to the orgasm optimising the flow of orgone energy throughout the body.)
Reich even speculated that this energy might be used for propulsion of UFOs.
As a consequence of his theory, illness was primarily due to depletion or imbalance in the orgone energy of the body. Reich devised devices known as orgone accumulators, which he claimed could concentrate and store orgone energy. Published descriptions of orgone accumulators depict a box made of alternating layers of metal and non-metallic material, with the metal on the interior. The outer, non metallic layer attracted orgone energy, and the metal inner layer trapped it and reflected it within the box: multiple layers amplified the effect. The patient would sit within the accumulator, and absorb the concentrated orgone energy. Reich also devised smaller, more portable accumulators of the same layered construction, for application to parts of the body to promote healing.
For these reasons the Orgone is very important in Alternative Medicine and it is still used by alternative practitioners, without any scientific recognition or verification.
At one point Reich claimed the existence of a second form of energy, oranur or DOR (for "deadly orgone radiation"). DOR seems to be the antithesis of orgone.
Reich designed orgone "guns" called cloudbusters to suck DOR from the sky. It has been claimed that they can be used to manipulate the weather and to create rainstorms in a process called weather engineering. According to some accounts, the government of Eritrea financed several such projects in the 1980s and 1990s in order to change the weather in the region.
Reich's later years
- This German [sic] immigrant described himself as the Associate Professor of Medical Psychology, Director of the Orgone Institute, President and research physician of the Wilhelm Reich Foundation, and discoverer of biological or life energy. A 1940 security investigation was begun to determine the extent of Reich's communist commitments. In 1947, a security investigation concluded that neither the Orgone Project nor any of its staff were engaged in subversive activities or were in violation of any statute within the jurisdiction of the FBI.
However, although he had been cleared of any suspicion of politically subversive activities, his claims for the benefits of orgone therapy -- including the treatment of cancer, a field notoriously rife with quack treatments -- led him into conflict with the Food and Drug Administration, which regarded the Institute as peddling an unproven and untested medical procedure. In 1954 the U.S. Attorney General filed a complaint seeking a permanent injunction to prevent interstate shipment of devices and literature put out by Dr. Reich's group. That same year, Dr. Reich was arrested for contempt of court for violation of the Attorney General's injunction.
Having fled persecution by the Gestapo to what he felt was persecution by the US authorities, he viewed these charges as somewhat political - in his mind more like Galileo Galilei on trial for heresy or a modern political trial than a standard criminal trial. He therefore refused to appear in court, and was convicted in absentia. Some people think if he had viewed his defense only from the position of getting off the charge, or getting a light sentence, he would have beaten the case, or at least had a lighter sentence. He was arrested, imprisoned and died in jail. His scientific work was burned by the US government.
Status of Reich's books
In his book, "The Function of the Orgasm", Reich argued that the "functional" orgasm causes an electrical discharge from the body and a spasm of the nervous system that are necessary for optimum health. Without such functional orgasms, the body becomes stiff and rigid and develops "body armor". Reich claimed that the masturbatory orgasm does not produce the functional electrical discharge, and that conscious thought during the sexual act prevented the functional orgasm.
Reich's earlier books, in particular his book The Mass Psychology of Fascism, are regarded as scientifically valuable to some extent. However, during his later career, Reich subsequently revised his older books to include the orgone concepts. As these are generally regarded unscientific, scholars of psychology and sociology prefer to refer to earlier, German, editions of his works. Any attempts to reprint old editions of his books is blocked by the foundation which owns the rights to Reich's works, which is why they are scarce and hard to find.
Part of the FDA's injunction against Reich's orgone accumulators included any documentation of the accumulators, as well as withholding any of his existing books from publication until mention of orgone energy was expunged from them. This has caused many to levy charges against the United States government of censorship of Reich's ideas.
Some well-known people such as Norman Mailer and William S. Burroughs underwent Reich's orgone therapy. In the late 1960s and early 1970s Reich's ideas enjoyed a revival and most of his books were reprinted and read by the loosely defined "New Left". As of 2003, the majority of the scientific community dismisses Reich's claims as pseudoscientific. Many people view Reich's theories as a system of magic.
- Der triebhafte Charakter : eine psychoanalytische Studie zur Pathologie des Ich, 1925
- Die Funktion des Orgasmus : zur Psychopathologie und zur Soziologie des Geschlechtslebens, 1927
- �ber den �dipuskomplex : drei psychoanalytische Studien with Felix Boehm and Otto Fenichel, 1931
- Character analysis or in the original: Charakteranalyse : Technik und Grundlagen f�r studierende und praktizierende Analytiker, 1933
- The Mass Psychology of Fascism - even the 1946 USA edition is regarded as bogus in scientific contexts, what should be referred to is the German 1933 edition of Massenpsychologie des Faschismus : zur Sexual Sexual�konomie der politischen Reaktion und zur proletarischen Sexualpolitik which was banned in Nazi Germany.
- Fury on Earth Myron Sharaf
- Reich for Beginners David Zane Mairowitz
- Wilhelm Reich in Hell Robert Anton Wilson
- Orgonon - The Wilhelm Reich Museum
- Reich's FBI File
- Skepdic: Wilhelm Reich and Orgone
- Response to Martin Gardner's Attack on Reich and Orgone Research in the Skeptical Inquirer
- The American College of Orgonomy
- Wilhelm Reich and his Amazing Orgone
- Scientific Reproduction of Reich's Biophysical Experiments
- A Skeptical Scrutiny of the Works and Theories of Wilhelm Reichde:Wilhelm Reich