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Was Austrian Marxist psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich a trenchant socio-political thinker or a total crank? A fraud or a prophet? Maybe a little from each column, at different times during the course of his bizarre career. Here, Reich brought Marx and Freud together to argue that sexual inhibition and fear led to arrested development and submission to authoritarianism. Orgone and related concepts appear in his early work, but by the end of the s, they came to entirely dominate his thinking. Reich intensified his belief in the glowing blue energy of orgone with the invention of the Orgone Energy Accumulator, an isolation box that supposedly charged those who sat inside it with the power of orgone.
Reich's work on character contributed to the development of Anna Freud 's The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence , and his idea of muscular armour—the expression of the personality in the way the body moves—shaped innovations such as body psychotherapy , Gestalt therapy , bioenergetic analysis and primal therapy. After graduating in medicine from the University of Vienna in , Reich became deputy director of Freud 's outpatient clinic, the Vienna Ambulatorium. He visited patients in their homes to see how they lived, and took to the streets in a mobile clinic, promoting adolescent sexuality and the availability of contraceptives, abortion and divorce, a provocative message in Catholic Austria. From the s he became an increasingly controversial figure, and from until his death in all his work was self-published. In he started building orgone accumulators, devices that his patients sat inside to harness the reputed health benefits, leading to newspaper stories about sex boxes that cured cancer.
W hen Wilhelm Reich, the most brilliant of the second generation of psychoanalysts who had been Freud's pupils, arrived in New York in August , only a few days before the outbreak of war, he was optimistic that his ideas fusing sex and politics would be better received there than they had been in fascist Europe. Despite its veneer of puritanism, America was a country already much preoccupied with sex — as Alfred Kinsey's renowned investigations, which he had begun the year before, were to show. However, it was only after the second world war that the idea of sexual liberation would permeate the culture at large. Reich could be said to have invented this "sexual revolution"; a Marxist analyst, he coined the phrase in the s in order to illustrate his belief that a true political revolution would be possible only once sexual repression was overthrown. That was the one obstacle Reich felt had scuppered the efforts of the Bolsheviks.