FOR YOUR OWN GOOD - Alice Miller
10 [Pages 74-98 in the print edition]

A properly raised child will never be able to detect it if this father--this big and mighty man--should happen to be power-hungry, dishonorable, or basically insecure. And so it goes; such a child can never gain any insight into this kind of situation because his or her ability to perceive has been blocked by the early enforcement of obedience and the suppression of feelings.

A father's nimbus is often composed of attributes (such as wisdom, kindness, courage) he lacks, along with those every father undoubtedly possesses, at least in the eyes of his children: uniqueness, bigness, importance, and power. If a father misuses his power by suppressing his children's critical faculties, then his weaknesses will stay hidden behind these fixed attributes. He could say to his children, just as Adolf Hitler cried out in all seriousness to the German people: "How fortunate you are to have me!"

If we keep this in mind, Hitler's legendary influence on the men who surrounded him loses its mystery. Two passages from Hermann Rauschning's book, The Voice of Destruction , illustrate this:

[Gerhart] Hauptmann was introduced. The Führer shook hands with him and looked into his eyes. It was the famous gaze that makes everyone tremble, the glance which once made a distinguished old lawyer declare that after meeting it he had but one desire, to be back at home in order to master the experience in solitude.

Hitler shook hands again with Hauptmann.

Now, thought the witnesses of the meeting, now the great phrase will be uttered and go down in history. Now! thought Hauptmann.

And the Führer of the German Reich shook hands a third time, warmly, with the great writer, and passed on to his neighbor.

Later Gerhart Hauptmann said to his friends: "It was the greatest moment of my life."

Rauschning continues:

I have frequently heard people confess that they are afraid of him, that they, grown though they are, cannot visit him without a pounding heart. They have the feeling that the man will suddenly spring at them and strangle them, or throw the inkpot at them, or do some other senseless thing. There is a great deal of insincere enthusiasm, with eyes hypocritically cast up, and a great deal of self-deception behind this talk of an unforgettable experience. Most visitors want their interviews to be of this kind....But these visitors who were fain to hide their disappointment gradually came out with it when they were pressed. Yes, it is true he did not say anything special. No, he does not look impressive, it is impossible to claim that he does. Why, then, make up things about him? Yes, they said, if you look critically at him he is, after all, rather ordinary. The nimbus--it is all the nimbus.

And so, when a man comes along and talks like one's own father and acts like him, even adults will forget their democratic rights or will not make use of them. They will submit to this man, will acclaim him, allow themselves to be manipulated by him, and put their trust in him, finally surrendering totally to him without even being aware of their enslavement. One is not normally aware of something that is a continuation of one's own childhood. For those who become as dependent on someone as they once were as small children on their parents, there is no escape. A child cannot run away, and the citizen of a totalitarian regime cannot free himself or herself. The only outlet one has is in raising one's own children. Thus, the citizens who were captives of the Third Reich had to rear their children to be captives as well, if they were to feel any trace of their own power.

But these children, who now are parents themselves, did have other possibilities. Many of them have recognized the dangers of pedagogical ideology, and with a great deal of courage and effort they are searching for new paths for themselves and their children.

Some of them, especially the creative writers, have found the path to experiencing the truth of their childhood, a path that was blocked for earlier generations. In Lange Abwesenheit (Long Absence) , Brigitte Schwaiger, for example, writes:

I hear Father's voice; he is calling my name. He wants something from me. He is far off in another room. And wants something from me, that's why I exist. He goes past me without saying a word. I am superfluous. I shouldn't even exist.

If you had worn your wartime captain's uniform at home from the beginning, perhaps then many things would have been clearer. --A father, a real father, is someone who mustn't be hugged, who must be answered even if he asks the same question five times and it looks as though he is asking it for the fifth time just to be sure that his daughters are submissive enough to give an answer every time, a father who is free to interrupt one in midsentence.

Once a child's eyes are opened to the power game of child-rearing, there is hope that he or she will be freed from the chains of "poisonous pedagogy," for this child will be able to remember what happened to him or her.

When feelings are admitted into consciousness, the wall of silence disintegrates, and the truth can no longer be held back. Even intellectualizing about whether "there is a truth per se," whether or not "everything is relative," etc., is recognized as a defense mechanism once the truth, no matter how painful, has been uncovered. I found a good example of this in Christoph Meckel's portrayal of his father in Suchbild: Über meinen Vater (Wanted: My Father's Portrait):

In the grown-up there is a child who wants to play.

There is in him a dictator who wants to punish.

In my grown-up father there was a child who played heaven on earth with his children. Part of him was an officer type who wanted to punish us in the name of discipline.

Our happy father's pointless pampering. On the heels of the lavish dispenser of sweet treats came an officer with a whip. He had punishment ready for his children. He was the master of what amounted to a spectrum of punishments, a whole catalogue. First there were scoldings and fits of rage--that was bearable and passed over like a thunderstorm. Then came the pulling, twisting, and pinching of the ear, the blow to the ear, and the little, mean punches to the head. Next came being sent from the room and after that being locked away in the cellar. And further: the child was ignored, was humiliated and shamed by reproachful silence. He was taken advantage of to run errands, was banished to bed or ordered to carry coal. Finally, as reminder and as climax came the punishment, the exemplary punishment pure and simple. This punishment was a measure reserved for Father, and it was administered with an iron hand. Corporal punishment was used for the sake of order, obedience, and humaneness so that justice might be done and this justice might be imprinted in the child's memory. The officer type reached for the switch and led the way down into the cellar, followed by the child, who had no sense of guilt to speak of. He had to stretch out his hands (palms up) or bend over his father's knee. The thrashing was merciless and precise, accompanied by loud or soft counting, and took place without any possibility of reprieve. The officer type expressed his regret at being forced to take this step, claiming it hurt him too, and it did hurt him. The shock of the "step" was followed by a prolonged period of dismay: the officer demanded cheerfulness. He led the way up the stairs with exaggerated cheerfulness, set a good example in a charged atmosphere, and was offended if the child wasn't interested in being cheerful. For several days, always before breakfast, the punishment in the cellar was repeated. It became a ritual, and the obligatory cheerfulness became a form of harassment.

For the rest of the day, the punishment had to be forgotten. Nothing was said about guilt or atonement, and justice and injustice were kept out of sight. The children's cheerfulness did not materialize. White as chalk, mute or crying furtively, brave, dejected, resentful, and bitterly uncomprehending--even in the night they were still in the clutches of justice. It rained down on them and made its final impact, it had the last word out of their father's mouth. The officer type also punished them when he was home on leave and was downcast when his child asked him if he didn't want to go back to war.

It is obvious that painful experiences are being described here; the subjective truth, at least, comes through in every sentence. Anyone who doubts the objective content because the story seems too monstrous to be true need only read the manuals of "poisonous pedagogy" to be convinced. There are even sophisticated analytical theories which suggest in all seriousness that the perceptions of the child as presented here by Christoph Meckel are the projections of his "aggressive or homosexual desires" and which interpret the actual events he describes as a expression of the child's fantasies. A child whom "poisonous pedagogy" has made unsure of the validity of his or her perceptions can easily be made even more unsure of these theories later as an adult and can be tyrannized by them even if the theories are belied by experience.

For this reason, it is always a miracle when a portrayal such as Meckel's is possible in spite of his "good upbringing." Perhaps the explanation in his case is that his upbringing, at least one side of it, was interrupted for several years while his father was away at war and then a prisoner of war. It is highly unlikely that someone who was consistently subjected to such treatment throughout childhood and adolescence would be able to write so honestly about his father. During his decisive years he would have had to learn day in and day out how to repress the misery he endured; if acknowledged, his misery would show him the truth about his childhood. He will not accept this truth, however, but will instead subscribe to theories that make the child the sole projecting subject instead of the victim of the parents' projections.

When someone suddenly gives vent to his or her rage, it is usually an expression of deep despair, but the ideology of child beating is not harmful serve the function of covering up the consequences of the act and making them unrecognizable. The result of a child becoming dulled to pain is that access to truth about himself will be denied him all his life. Only consciously experienced feelings would be powerful enough to subdue the guard at the gates, but these are exactly what he is not allowed to have.

The Central Mechanism of "Poisonous Pedagogy"


In 1943, Himmler gave his famous Posen Address, in which he, in the name of the German people, expressed his appreciation to the SS group leaders for their role in the extermination of the Jews. I shall quote here the part of his speech that finally enabled me, in 1979, to comprehend something for which I had been vainly seeking a psychological explanation for thirty years:

I shall speak to you here with all frankness about a very serious subject. We shall now discuss it absolutely openly among ourselves, nevertheless we shall never speak of it in public. I mean the evacuation of the Jews, the extermination of the Jewish people. It is one of those things which is easy to say: "The Jewish people are to be exterminated," says every party member. "That's clear, it's part of our program, elimination of the Jews, extermination, right, we'll do it." And then they all come along, the eighty million upstanding Germans, and each one has his decent Jew. Of course the others are swine, but this one is a first-class Jew. Of all those who talk like this, not one has watched [the actual extermination], not one has had the stomach for it. Most of you know what it means to see a hundred corpses lying together, five hundred, or a thousand. To have gone through this and yet--apart from a few exceptions, examples of human weakness--to have remained decent, this has made us hard. This is a glorious page in our history that has never been written and never shall be written.

The wealth which they [the Jews] had, we have taken from them. I have issued a strict command...that this wealth is as a matter of course to be delivered in its entirety to the Reich. We have taken none of it for ourselves. Individuals who have violated this principle will be punished according to an order which I issued at the beginning and which warns: Anyone who takes so much as a mark shall die. A certain number of SS men--not very many--disobeyed this order and they will die, without mercy. We had the moral right, we had the duty to our own people, to kill this people that wanted to kill us. But we have no right to enrich oursleves by so much as a fur, a watch, a mark, or a cigarette, or anything else. In the last analysis, because we exterminated a bacillus we don't want to be infected by it and die. I shall never stand by and watch even the slightest spot of rot develop or establish itself here. Wherever it appears, we shall burn it out together. By and large, however, we can say that we have performed this most difficult task out of love for our people. And we have suffered no harm from it in our inner self, in our soul, in our character. [Quoted by Fest]

This speech contains all the elements of the complicated psychodynamic mechanism that can be described as splitting off and projection of parts of the self, which we encounter so often in the manuals of "poisonous pedagogy." Schooling oneself to be senselessly hard requires that all signs of weakness in oneself (including emotionalism, tears, pity, sympathy for oneself and others, and feelings of helplessness, fear, and despair) be supressed "without mercy." In order to make the struggle against these humane impulses easier, the citizens of the Third Reich were offered an object to serve as the bearer of all these qualities that were abhorred because they had been forbidden and dangerous in their childhood--this object was the Jewish people. Freed from their "bad" (i.e., weak and uncontrolled) feelings, so-called Aryans could feel pure, strong, hard, clean, good, unambivalent, and morally right if everything they had feared in themselves since childhood could be attributed to the Jews and if, together with their fellow Germans, these "Aryans" were not only permitted but required to combat it relentlessly and ever anew among members of this "inferior race."

It seems to me that we are still threatened by the possible repetition of a similar crime unless we understand its origins and the psychological mechanism behind it.

The more insight I gained into the dynamics of perversion through my analytic work, the more I questioned the view advanced repeatedly since the end of the war that a handful of perverted people were responsible for the Holocaust. The mass murderers showed not a trace of the specific symptoms of perversion, such as isolation, loneliness, shame, and despair; they were not islolated but belonged to a supportive group; they were not ashamed but proud; and they were not despairing but either euphoric or apathetic.

The other explanation--that these were people who worshipped authority and were accustomed to obey--is not wrong, but neither is it adequate to explain a phenomenon like the Holocaust, if by obeying we mean the carrying out of commands that we consciously regard as being forced upon us.

People with any sensitivity cannot be turned into mass murderers overnight. But the men and women who carried out "the final solution" did not let their feelings stand in their way for the simple reason that they had been raised from infancy not to have any feelings of their own but to experience their parents' wishes as their own. These were people who, as children, had been proud of being tough and not crying, of carrying out all their duties "gladly," of not being afraid--that is, at bottom, of not having an inner life at all.

In A Sorrow Beyond Dreams Peter Handke describes his mother, who committed suicide at the age of fifty-one. His pity and concern for her permeate the book and help the reader understand why her son searches so desperately for his "true feelings" (A Moment of True Feeling is the title of another Handke book) in all his works. Somewhere in the graveyard of his childhood he had to bury the roots of these feelings in order to spare his unstable mother in difficult times. Handke depicts the atmosphere of the village in which he grew up:

No one had anyting to say about himself; even in church, at Easter confession, when at least once a year there was an opportunity to reveal something of oneself, there was only a mumbling of catchwords out of the catechism, and the word "I" seemed stranger to the speaker himself than a chunk out of the moon. If in talking about himself anyone went beyond relating some droll incident, he was said to be "peculiar." Personal life, if it had ever developed a character of its own, was depersonalized except for dream tatters swallowed up by the rites of religion, custom, and good manners; little remained of the human individual, and indeed, the word "individual" was known only as a pejorative....

All spontaneity...was frowned upon as something deplorable....Cheated out of your own biography and feelings, you gradually became "skittish," as is usually said only of domesticated animals--horses, for example; you shied away from people, stopped talking, or, more seriously deranged, went from house to house, screaming.

Lack of feeling as an ideal manifested itself in many modern writers until approximately 1975 as well as in the geometric trend in painting. In Karin Struck's Klassenliebe (Class Love) 1973, we read:

Dietger can't cry. He was terribly upset by his grandma's death; he loved his grandma deeply. On the way back from the burial service, he said, I'm trying to decide if I should squeeze out a few tears--squeeze out, he said....Dietger says, I don't need to have dreams. Dietger is proud of the fact that he doesn't dream. He says, I never dream, I sleep soundly. Jutta says Dietger is denying his unconscious perceptions and feelings as well as his dreams.

Dietger is a postwar child. And what feelings did Dietger's parents have? Little is known about that, for their generation was allowed to express its true feelings even less than the present one.

In Suchbild , Christoph Meckel quotes from the journal kept by his father, a poet and writer, during World War II:

A woman in my compartment on the telling...about the...Germans' business dealings everywhere in the government. Bribery, high prices, and the like, and about the concentration camp in Auschwitz, etc. --As a soldier, you are so far removed from these things, which really don't interest you at all; you represent an entirely different Germany out there and you aren't looking for personal gain from the war but just want to keep a clear conscience. I have nothing but scorn for this civilian rubbish. Maybe I'm stupid, but soldiers are always the stupid ones who have to pay. At least we have a sense of honor, and no one can take that away from us. (1/24/44)

On a roundabout way to have lunch I witnessed the public shooting of twenty-eight Poles on the edge of a playing field. Thousands line the streets and the river. A ghastly pile of corpses, all in all horrifying and ugly and yet a sight that leaves me altogether cold. The men who were shot had ambushed two soldiers and a German civilian and killed them. An exemplary modern folk-drama. (1/27/44)

Once feelings have been eliminated, the submissive person functions perfectly and reliably even if he knows no one is going to check up on him:

I agree to see a colonel who wants something from me, and then he gets out of the car and approaches. With the help of a first lieutenant speaking broken German, he complains that it's not right to let them go for five days with almost no bread. I reply that it's not right for an officer to be a follower of Badoglio and am very curt. For another group of officers said to be Fascists, who thrust all kinds of papers at me, I have the car heated and am more polite. (10/27/43)

This perfect adaptation to society's norms--in other words, to what is called "healthy normality"--carries with it the danger that such a person can be used for practically any purpopse. It is not a loss of autonomy that occurs here, hbecause this autonomy never existed, but a switching of values, which in themselves are of no importance anyway for the person in question as long as his whole value system is dominated by the principle of obedience. He has never gone beyond the stage of idealizing his parents with their demands for unquestioning obedience; this idealization can iasily be transferred to a Führer or to an ideaology. Since authoritarian parents are always right, there is no need for their children to rack their brains in each case to determine whether what is demanded of them is right or not. And how is this to be judged? Where are the standards supposed to come from if someone has always been told what was right and what was wrong and if he never had an opportunity to become familiar with his own feelings and if, beyond that, attempts at criticism were unacceptable to the parents and thus were too threatening for the child? If an adult has not developed a mind of his own, then he will find himself at the mercy of the authorities for better or worse, just as an infant finds itself at the mercy of its parents. Saying no to those more powerful will always seem too threatening to him.

Witnesses of sudden political upheavals report again and again with what astonishing facility many people are able to adapt to a new situation. Overnight they can advocate views totally different from those they held the day before--without noticing the contradiction. With the change in the power structure, yesterday has completely disappeared for them.

And yet, even if this observation should apply to many--perhaps even to most--people, it is not true for everyone. There have always been individuals who refused to be reprogrammed quickly, if ever. We could use our psychoanalytic knowledge to address the question of what causes this important, even crucial, difference; with its aid, we could attempt to discover why some people are so extraordinarily susceptible to the dictates of leaders and groups and why others remain immune to these influences.

We admire people who oppose the regime in a totalitarian country and think they have courage or a "strong moral sense" or have remained "true to their principles" or the like. We may also smile at their naïveté, thinking, "Don't they realize that their words are of no use at all against this oppressive power? That they will have to pay dearly for their protest?"

Yet it is possible that both those who admire and those who scorn these protesters are missing the real point: individuals who refuse to adapt to a totalitarian regime are not doing so out of a sense of duty or because of naïveté but because they cannot help but be true to themselves. The longer I wrestle with these questions, the more I am inclined to see courage, integrity, and a capacity for love not as "virtues," not as moral categories, but as the consequences of a benign fate.

Morality and performance of duty are artificial measures that become necessary when something essential is lacking. The more successfully a person was denied access to his or her feelings in childhood, the larger the arsenal of intellectual weapons and the supply of moral prostheses has to be, because morality and a sense of duty are not sources of strength or fruitful soil for genuine affection. Blood does not flow in artificial limbs; they are for sale and can serve many masters. What was considered good yesterday can--depending on the decree of government of party--be considered evil and corrupt today, and vice versa. But those who have spontaneous feelings can only be themselves. They have no other choice if they want to remain true to themselves. Rejection, ostracism, loss of love, and name calling will not fail to affect them; they will suffer as a result and will dread them, but once they have found their authentic self they will not want to lose it. And when they sense that something is being demanded of them to which their whole being says no, they cannot do it. They simply cannot.

This is the case with people who had the good fortune of being sure of their parents' love even if they had to disappoint certain parental expections. Or with people who, although they did not have this good fortune to begin with, learned later--for example, in analysis--to risk the loss of love in order to regain their lost self. They will not be willing to relinquish it again for any price in the world.

The artificial nature of moral laws and rules of behavior is most clearly discernible in a situation in which lies and deception are powerless, i.e., in the mother-child relationship. A sense of duty may not be fruitful soil for love but it undoubtedly is for mutual guilt feelings, and the child will forever be bound to the mother by crippling feelings of guilt and gratitude. The Swiss author Robert Walser once said: "There are mothers who choose a favorite from among their children, and it may be that they will stone this child with their kisses and threaten...its very existence." If he had known, had known on an emotional level, that he was describing his own fate, his life might not have ended in a mental institution.

It is unlikely that strictly intellectual attempts to seek explanations and gain understanding during adulthood can be sufficient to undo early childhood conditioning. Someone who has learned at his or her peril to obey unwritten laws and renounce feelings at a tender age will obey the written laws all the more readily, lacking any inner resistance. But since no one can live entirely without feelings, such a person will join groups that sanction or even encourage the forbidden feelings, which he or she will finally be allowed to live out within a collective framework.

Every ideology offers its adherents the opportunity to discharge their pent-up affect collectively while retaining the idealized primary object, which is transferred to new leader figures or to the group in order to make up for the lack of a satisfying symbiosis with the mother. Idealization of a narcissistically cathected group guarantees collective grandiosity. Since every ideology provides a scapegoat outside the confines of its own splendid group, the weak and scorned child who is part of the total self but has been split off and never acknowledged can now be openly scorned and assailed in this scapegoat. The reference in Himmler's speech to the "bacillus" of weakness which is to be exterminated and cauterized demonstrates very clearly the role assigned to the Jews by someone suffering from grandiosity who attempts to split off the unwelcome elements of his own psyche.

In the same way that analytic familiarity with the mechanisms of splitting off and projection can help us to understand the phenomenon of the Holocaust, a knowledge of the history of the Third Reich helps us to see the consequences of "poisonous pedagogy" more clearly. Against the backdrop of the rejection of childishness instilled by our training, it becomes easier to understand why men and women had little difficulty leading a million children, whom they regarded as the bearers of the feared portions of their own psyche, into the gas chambers. One can even imagine that by shouting at them, beating them, or photographing them, they were finally able to release the hatred going back to early childhood. From the start, it had been the aim of their upbringing to stifle their childish, playful, and life-affirming side. The cruelty inflicted on them, the psychic murder of the child they once were, had to be passed on in the same way: each time they sent another Jewish child to the gas ovens, they were in essence murdering the child within themselves.

In her book Kindesmisshandlung and Kindesrechte (Mistreatment of Children and Children's Rights), Gisela Zenz tells about Steele and Pollock's psychotherapeutic work in Denver with parents who abuse their children. The children are treated along with their parents. The description of these children is useful in helping us to understand the origins of the behavior of the Nazi mass murderers, who undoubtedly were beaten as children:

The children were virtually unable to develop object relationships commensurate with their age. Spontaneous and open reactions directed at the therapist were rare, as was the direct expression of affection or anger. Only a few of them took a direct interest in the therapist as a person. After six months of therapy twice weekly, a child was unable to remember the name of the therapist outside of the consulting room. In spite of apparently intense interaction with the therapist and a growing bond between therapist and child, the relationship always changed abruptly at the end of the hour, and when the children left, they gave the impression that their therapist meant nothing to them. The therapists attributed this partly to an adjustment on the child's part to the imminent return to the home environment and partly to a lack of object constancy, which was also observed when therapy was interrupted by vacation or illness. Almost uniformly, all the children denied the importance of the loss of object, which most of them had experienced repeatedly. Some of the children were gradually able to admit that the separation from the therapist over vacation had affected them, had made them sad and angry.

The authors were struck most by the children's inability to feel at ease and to experience pleasure. Some never laughed for months on end, and they entered the consulting room like "gloomy little adults," whose sadness or depression was only too obvious. When they played games, they seemed to be doing it more for the therapist's sake than for their own enjoyment. Many of the children seemed to be unfamiliar with toys and games and especially with playing with adults. They were surprised when the therapists took pleasure in the games and had fun playing with the children. By identifying with the therapist, the children were gradually able to experience pleasure in playing.

Most of the children saw themselves in an extremely negative light, describing themselves as "stupid," as "a child no one likes," who "can't do anything" and is "bad." They could never admit to being proud of something they obviously did well. They hesitated to try anything new, were terribly afraid of doing something wrong, and frequently felt ashamed. Several of them seemed to have developed scarcely any feeling of self. This can be seen as a reflection of the attitude of the parents, who did not regard their child as an autonomous person but entirely in relation to the gratification of their own needs. An important role also seemed to be played by frequent changes in the living situation. One six-year-old girl, who had lived with ten different foster families, couldn't understand why she kept her own name no matter whose house she was living in. The drawings the chilren made of people were exceedingly primitive, and many of them were unable to make a drawing of themselves although the pictures they drew of inanimate objects were appropriate for their age.

The children had a conscience--or rather, a system of values that was extremely rigid and punitive. They were highly critical of themselves as well as of others, became indignant or extremely agitated when other children overstepped their iron-clad rules for what was good and bad....

The children were almost completely unable to express anger and aggression toward adults. Their stories and games, on the other hand, were full of aggression and brutality. Dolls and fictitious persons were constantly being beaten, tormented, and killed. Many children repeated their own abuse in their play. One child, whose skull had been broken three times as an infant, always made up stories about people or animals who suffered head injuries. Another child, whose mother had attempted to drown it when it was a baby, began the play therapy by drawing a doll baby in the bathtub and then having the police take the mother to prison. Although these real-life events played little part in the children's openly expressed fears, they were the basis of a strong unconscious preoccupation. The children were almost never able to express their anxieties verbally, yet they harbored intense feelings of rage and a strong desire for revenge, which, however, were accomopanied by a great fear of what might happen if these impulses should erupt. With the development of transference during therapy, these feelings were directed against the therapist, but almost always in an indirect passive-aggressive form. For example, there was an increase in the number of accidents in which the therapist was hit by a ball or something "accidentally" happened to his belongings....

In spite of minimal contact with the children's parents, the therapists had the strong impression that the parent-child relationship in these cases was characterized to a great degree by seductiveness and other sexual overtones. One mother got into bed with her seven-year-old son whenever she felt lonely or unhappy, and many parents, often in competition with each other, urgently sought out the affections of their children, many of whom were in the midst of the Oedipal stage. One mother described her four-year-old daughter as "sexy" and a flirt and said it was obvious she would have trouble in her relationships with men. It appeared as if those children who were forced to serve the needs of their parents in general were not spared having to serve the parents' sexual needs as well, which usually took the form of covert, unconscious advances toward their children.

It can be regardred as a stroke of genius on Hitler's part that for purposes of projection he offered the Jews to the Germans, who had been brought up to be self-controlled and obedient and to suppress their feelings. But the use of this mechanism is by no means new. It can be observed in most wars of conquest, in the Crusades, and in the Inquisition, as well as in recent history. Little attention has been given up to now, however, to the fact that what is called child-rearing is based for the most part on this mechanism and that, conversely, the exploitation of this mechanism for political purposes would be impossible without this kind of upbringing.

Characteristic of these examples of persecution is the presence of a strong narcissistic element. A part of the self is being attacked and persecuted here, not a real and dangerous enemy, as, for example, in situations when one's life is actually threatened.

Child-rearing is used in a great many cases to prevent those qualities that were once scorned and eradicated in oneself from coming to life in one's children. In his impressive book, Soul Murder: Persecution in the Family, Morton Schatzman shows the extent to which the child-rearing methods advocated by Daniel Gottlob Moritz Schreber, a renowned and influential pedagogue of the mid-nineteenth century, were based on the need to stifle certain parts of one's own self. What Schreber, like so many parents, tries to stamp out in his children is what he fears in himself:

The noble seeds of human nature sprout upwards in their purity almost of their own accord if the ignoble ones, the weeds, are sought out and destroyed in time. This must be done ruthlessly and vigorously. It is a dangerous and yet frequent error to be put off guard by the hope that misbehavior and flaws in a child's character will disappear by themselves. The sharp edges and corners of one or the other psychic flaw may possibly become somewhat blunted, but left to themselves the roots remain deeply imbedded, continuing to run rampant in poisonous impulses and thus preventing the noble tree of life from flourishing as it should. A child's misbehavior will become a serious character flaw in the adult and opens the way to vice and baseness.... Suppress everything in the child, keep everything away from him that he should not make his own, and guide him perseveringly toward everything to which he should habituate himself. [Quoted by Schatzman]

The desire for "true nobility of soul" justifies every form of cruelty toward the fallible child, and woe to the child who sees through the hypocrisy.

The pedagogical conviction that one must bring a child into line from the outset has its origin in the need to split off the disquieting parts of the inner self and project them onto an available object. The child's great plasticity, flexibility, defenselessness, and availability make it the idea object for this projection. The enemy within can at last be hunted down on the outside.

Peace advocates are becoming increasingly aware of the role played by these mechanisms, but until it is clearly recognized that they can be traced back to methods of child raising, little can be done to oppose them. For children who have grown up being assailed for qualities the parents hate in themselves can hardly wait to assign these qualities to someone else so they can once again regard themselves as good, "moral," noble, and altruistic. Such projections can easily become part of an Weltanschauung.

Is There a Harmless Pedagogy?

Gentle Violence

Overt abuse is not the only way to stifle a child's vitality. I shall illustrate this by the example of a family whose history I was able to trace over several generations.

A young, nineteenth-century missionary and his wife went to Africa to convert people to Christianity. Through his work, this man was able to free himself of the tormenting religious doubts of his youth. At last he became a true Christian, who--like his father before him--gave his all to transmitting his faith to others. The couple had ten children, eight of whom were sent to Europe as soon as they were old enough to go to school. One of the children was the future father of A., and he always told his only son how lucky he, the son, was to grow up at home with his family. He himself, after being sent away to school as a little boy, had not seen his parents again until he was thirty years old. With trepidation he had waited at the train station for the parents he could not remember, and, sure enough, when they arrived, he had not recognized them. He often told this anecdote, not with any sign of sadness, but with amusement. A. described his father as kind, good-natured, understanding, appreciative, contented, and genuinely devout. All his family and friends also admired these qualities in him, and there was no ready explanation for why his son, having such a kindhearted father, should develop a severe obsessional neurosis.

Since childhood, A. had been burdened with disturbing obsessive thoughts of an aggressive nature, but he was unable to experience feelings of annoyance or dissatisfaction, to say nothing of anger or rage, in response to actual frustrations. He also had suffered since childhood because he had not "inherited" his father's "serene, natural, trusting" piety; he attempted to attain it by reading devotional literature, but "bad" (because critical) thoughts, which filled him with panic, always stood in the way. It took a long time in therapy before A. was able to express criticism without clothing it in alarming fantasies he then had to struggle to keep at bay. When his son joined a Marxist group at school, this came to his aid. It was easy for A. to locate contradictions, limitations, and intolerance in his son's ideology, and this subsequently enabled him to subject psychoanalysis to critical scrutiny as well and define it as the "religion" of his analyst. During the stages of transference he became increasingly aware of the tragedy of his relationship with his father. Examples of his disappointment with various ideologies multiplied, and he realized more and more how these ideologies served as defense mechanisms for their adherents. Intense feelings of indignation at all possible forms of mystification came to the surface. The newly awakened anger of the deceived child finally led him to be suspicious of all religious and political ideologies. His obsessions diminished, but they did not disappear entirely until these feelings could be experienced in connection with the long dead and internalized father of his childhood.

In his analysis A. was now able to acknowledge the helpless rage he felt at the terrible constrictions that had been imposed on him by his father's attitude. He was expected to be, like his father, good-natured, kind, appreciative, undemanding, not to cry, always to see everything "from the positive side," never to be critical, never to be dissatisfied, always to think of those who were "much worse off." A.'s previously unrecognized feelings of rebelliousness revealed to him the narrow confines of his childhood, from which everything had to be banished that was not suitable for his devout and "sunny" nursery. And only after he had been allowed to articulate his own revolt (which he had had to split off and project onto his son so that he could oppose it there) was his father's other side revealed to him. He had found it in his own rage and mourning; no one else could ever have convinced him of it, because his father's unstable side had found a home only in the psyche of the son, in his obsessional neurosis, where it had taken root in a remorseless way, crippling this son for forty-two years. By means of his illness, the son had helped preserve his father's piety.

Now that A. had found the way back to his childhood emotions, he was also able to empathize with the child that his father had once been. He asked himself how his father had dealt with the fact that his parents sent eight children so far away without ever visiting them, for the sake of promulgating the Christian idea of brotherly love in Africa. Wouldn't he necessarily have deep doubts about such a love and about the meaningfulness of work that required such cruelty toward one's own children? But he dared not have doubts, for fear his devout and strict aunt would not keep him. And how is a little six-year-old, whose parents are thousands of miles away, to fare all by himself? He has no choice but to believe in this God who demands such inconceivable sacrifices (for this makes his parents obedient servants of a good cause); he has no choice but to become devout and cheerful if he wants to be loved. In order to survive, he has to be content, appreciative, etc., and develop a sunny, happy disposition so that he will not be a burden to anyone.

If someone who has turned into this kind of a person becomes a father himself, he will be confronted with a situation that threatens the whole structure he has taken such pains to erect: he sees before him a child full of life, sees how a human being is meant to be, how he could have been if obstacles hadn't been placed in his way. But his fears are soon activated: this cannot be allowed to happen. If the child were allowed to stay as he is, wouldn't that mean that the father's sacrifices and self-denial weren't really necessary? Is it possible to have a child turn out well without forcing him to be obedient, without breaking his will, without combating his egotism and willfullness, as we have been told to do for centuries? Parents cannot permit themselves to ask these questions. To do so would cause no end of trouble, and they would be deprived of the sure ground provided by an inherited ideology that places the highest value on suppressing and manipulating vital spontaneity. A.'s father found himself in this same position.*
*The mother had also grown up with this ideology. I do not discuss her here because the faith A. was compelled to hold in spite of the doubts he felt was an important factor in his case and this was connected primarily with his father.

He tried to make his son control his bodily functions while still an infant, and he succeeded in having him internalize this control at a very early age. He helped the mother to toilet train him as an infant, and by distracting him "in a loving way" taught him to wait patiently to be fed, so that feedings were kept to an exact schedule. When A. was still very little and didn't like something he was given to eat or ate "too greedily" or "misbehaved," he was put in a corner, where he had to watch his parents calmly finish eating their meal. It may be that the child in the corner was serving as a surrogate for his father, who had been sent away to Europe as a child and who had wondered what sins he had committed to cause him to be taken so far away from his beloved parents.

A. did not remember ever being struck by his father. Nevertheless, without meaning to and without realizing it, the father treated his child just as cruelly as he treated the child within himself--in order to make a "contented child" out of him. He sytematically tried to destroy everything that was vital in his firstborn. If the remnants of vitality had not taken refuge in an obsessional neurosis and from there sent out a call for help, then the son would indeed have been psychically dead, for he was only a pale shadow of his father, had no needs of his own, and no longer had any spontaneous feelings. All he knew were a depressing emptiness and fear of his obsessions. In analysis he learned for the first time, at the age of forty-two, what a vital, curious, intelligent, lively, and humorous child he had actually been. This child was now able to come alive in him and develop his creative powers. A. gradually came to realize that his severe symptoms were, on the one hand, the result of the repression of important vital aspects of his self and, on the other, a reflection of his father's unlived, unconscious conflicts. The father's fragile piety and his split-off, unacknowledged doubts were revealed in the son's tormenting obsessions. If the father had been able to face his doubts consciously, come to terms with them, and integrate them, his son would have been freed of having to grow up with them and could have had a full life of his own at a much earlier age and without the help of analysis.

Pedagogy Fills the Needs of Parents, Not of Children

The reader will have noticed long before now that all pedagogy is pervaded by the precepts of "poisonous pedagogy," no matter how well they may be concealed today. Since the books of Ekkehard von Braunmühl unmistakably expose the absurdity and cruelty of the pedagogical approach in today's world, I need only call attention to them here (see Bibliography). Perhaps the reason it is difficult for me to share his optimism is that I regard the idealization of one's own childhood as a major, unconscious obstacle to learning for parents.

My antipedagogic position is not directed against a specidic type of pedagogical ideology but against all pedagogical ideology per se, even if it is of an anti-authoritarian nature. This attitude is based on insights that I shall describe shortly. For now, I should simply like to point out that my position has nothing in common with a Rousseauistic optimism about human "nature."

First of all, I do not see a child as growing up in some abstract "state of nature" but in the concrete surroundings of care givers whose unconscious exerts a substantial influence on the child's development.

Second, Rousseau's pedagogy is profoundly manipulative. This does not always seem to be recognized by educators, but it has been convincingly demonstrated and documented by Braunmühl. One of his numerous examples is the following passage from Emile (Book II):

Take an oppposite route with your pupil; always let him think he is the master, but always be it yourself. There is no more perfect form of subjection than the one that preserves the appearance of freedom; thus does the will itself become captive. The poor child, who knows nothing, can do nothing, and has no experience--is he not at your mercy? Are you not in control of everything in his environment that relates to him? Can you not control his impressions as you please? His tasks, his games, his pleasure, his troubles--is all this not in your hands without his knowing it? Doubtlessly, he may do as he wishes, but he may wish only what you want him to; he may not take a single step that you have not anticipated, he may not open his mouth without your knowing what he is going to say.

I am convinced of the harmful effects of training for the following reason: all advice that pertains to raising children betrays more or less clearly the numerous, variously clothed needs of the adult . Fulfillment of these needs not only discourages the child's development but actually prevents it. This also hold true when the adult is honestly convinced of acting in the child's best interests.

Among the adult's true motives we find:

  1. The unconscious need to pass on to others the humiliation one has undergone oneself
  2. The need to find an outlet for repressed affect
  3. The need to possess and have at one's disposal a vital object to manipulate
  4. Self-defense: i.e., the need to idealize one's childhood and one's parents by dogmatically applying the parents' pedagogical principles to one's own children
  5. Fear of freedom
  6. Fear of the reappearance of what one has repressed, which one reencounters in one's child and must try to stamp out, having killed it in oneself earlier
  7. Revenge for the pain one has suffered
Since at least one of the points enumerated here is present in everyone's upbringing, the child-rearing process is at best suitable for making "good" pedagogues out of its objects. However, it will never be able to help its charges to remain vital. When children are trained, they learn how to train others in turn. Children who are lectured to, learn how to lecture; if they are admonished, they learn how to admonish; if scolded, they learn how to scold; if ridiculed, they learn how to ridicule; if humiliated, they learn how to humiliate; if their psyche is killed, they will learn how to kill--the only question is who will be killed: oneself, others, or both.

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