Trump and Biden, Senex and Puer

On this momentous day, when Proud Boys and other Trump supporters menace the Capitol and the Congress inside debates the challenges to Biden’s electoral victory, I think of the Jungian concept of senex and puer.

James Hillman | NWA Friends of Jung
James Hillman, Jungian psychologist, 1926–2011.

According to James Hillman (1926–2011), a prominent Jungian, the senex or old man (as in the English word “senescent” and “senile”) is the figure of “tradition, stasis, structure & authority,” while the puer or boy (as in “puerile” or “puberty”) is an amalgam of insight, fantasy, rebellion, creativity. (See “James Hillman on the Archetypes of the Senex and the Puer.”)

You might think that these two archetypes of Jungian psychology are dualistic, opposite, irreconcilable — as Trump’s Proud Boys and us not-so- proud or sure-of-what-we-have-to-be-proud-of boys appear to be. There is plenty of conflict and mutual contempt to go around, the gods know. But Hillman sees these archetypes otherwise, in a way that might lend hope to our political as well as artistic landscapes, among others.

In his words, senex and puer are a “union of sames,” or “not so much a marriage of opposites as a confluence of Consciousness — a dance of attitudes & sensibilities.”

Just about any good story has this drama and conflict of old and new. Just about any good story — literary, corporate, political — goes through this battle of attitudes that ends in reconciliation, if not in terms of plot or character (all characters), then in the minds of the readers, those of us who may be not so proud as reflective and who see and acknowledge the need to sit tight and accommodate the voices of the people, uproarious and furious as they may be.

(Beat. Pause. Rest.)

 Trump mob
A Trump mob attempts to break into the Capitol, while Capitol police draw their guns.

Menace the Capitol is right! I see just now on TV, after starting to write this piece, that Trump’s mob has broken into the Capitol, and the cops and National Guard have been called out. This is taking the puerile side of the puer role too far. Odd and ironic, isn’t it? Trump, the old man, should be senex, authority, though his behavior is more often that of an infant throwing tantrums. The mob seems to have taken the cue from baby Trump. If it can’t get its way, it will scream and yell and holler till Daddy or Mommy provide what it wants.

It may be a long while before Trump’s fascist authority is put to rest, and if it’s not we’re in for a long dark night. I can only hope that idealistic calls for unification, whether Jung’s or Joe Biden’s, will be answered in the affirmative. That the people will acknowledge our authority and freedom. Isn’t there enough maturity, as well as juvenile resistance, in us all?