Reviewing a new biography of Karl Marx and another one of Sigmund Freud, Daniel Johnson reflects on the impact these two larger-than-life figures had on the modern West. He concludes by commenting on their Jewish origins and respective attitudes toward religion:
Though they, like many other intellectuals, were Jewish, they eschewed anything religiously or culturally specific to Jews in favor of their own incorporation into the drama of the German spirit, Geistesgeschichte. Western civilization, flowering in their lifetimes as never since, had created a world stage that offered Freud and Marx more epoch-making roles than had ever been dreamt of in German philosophy—or in their beloved Shakespeare. . . .
But the vision of society that Marx bequeathed was an illusion—one that would prove lethal on an unimaginable scale. Freud was better at learning from his mistakes. Having denounced religion as an infantile neurosis in The Future of an Illusion, he belatedly understood the inability of science, psychoanalysis, or socialism to provide a substitute for God in conferring meaning on life. Unlike Marx, the dying Freud grasped the truth of the biblical injunction that man does not live on bread alone; in his last book, Moses and Monotheism, he returned to his Jewish roots. There is nothing illusory about the fact that the civilization of the West, without which neither Marx nor Freud could have existed, is at heart a Judeo-Christian one.