Though rarely to be remembered for his computer counterpart, it should be recognized that in many other respects Carl Rogers was both famous and revered by many students, teachers, universities, peers, industrial leaders and clergy. But the question remains, why? One possibility is that his approach clearly “resonated” with the post WWII world, which seemed to greet the relief of peace-time as a space to catch up with a zeitgeist that had long been developing.
A view to bear in mind here is that we are, or most of us are, living in an ontology developing according to philosophical thought since the 18th century, which started when science began to offer to explain everything. That was about the same time that Friedrich Nietzsche’s Zarathustra spoke God dead, (along with the death of most objective truths). By the end of the new modern period of Enlightenment led by Rene Descartes, God was no longer seen as the center of the Universe –man had taken His place as the main force of cause and effect in the world. Unfortunately this tended to leave life without much meaning beyond itself; some thoughtful writers saw the modern and post-modern thinking as leading directly to Auschwitz and Hitler’s death camps, among other calamities. Scholar James Sire noted “a ‘postmodern’ despair of any universal standard for justice. Society then moves from medieval hierarchy to Enlightenment democracy to ‘postmodern’ anarchy.” Anarchy might, in some respects, be descriptive of the effects Rogers has had on some of those who followed him. Judith Thurman, staff writer for the New Yorker (May 2, 2005) puts it succinctly: “Men facing annihilation …They remind us that a mere eighty years ago ‘the death of God’ wasn’t a graduate conceit but a viscerally felt void of authority and grandeur that ideology rushed to fill. Action is (Malraux’s) cure for the ‘absurdity’of life in a universe without salvation.” (p. 101).
Rogers was the respected president of the American Psychological Association of 1947 who lived to personally influence many people for the next forty years. I remember a speaking visit to L. A. in 1966 by a past president of that association, O. Hobart Mower. By his time ideas of therapeutic public confession of one’s most apparently “sacrilegious” actions and impulses, i.e., being authentic rather than dominated by external rules and regulations, held sway. Mower’s confessions of youthful erotic explorations down on the farm mostly aroused feelings of embarrassment to listeners of other persuasions. About that period an attractive young woman was assigned to our clinic on a training assignment from a local college. During one of our tutorials she confided to me that her most recent advancement in personal growth was her realization that she wanted to defecate in the streets; it also soon occurred to her that she might find other local training opportunities more congenial to her clinical posture. (The suggestion that she complete her toilet training should perhaps have been offered).
But in that welter of self realization groups, sensitivity training, encounter group, classes and workshops where much the same “openness” was encouraged from participants eager to be freed of their crippling cultural bonds, the air was electric with attempts at change and self exposure. This was the beginning era of sexual freedom: Rogers and cohorts were much in demand as all walks of life seemed to desire “hip” status, including freedom from taboos and moral restrictions.