Learning from Hitler and his childhood
What point is there for us today in learning about Hitler and his history? For me, the main point is this: our knowledge will serve as a warning against our blindness and encourage us to give it up once and for all and to struggle against collective repression. This is what I do consistently in all my books in order to help people understand the psychodynamics of the mistreatment of children and its immeasurable danger for society, as demonstrated by Hitler's case. My explanations are by no means intended to suggest pity for a man as merciless as Hitler.
it was in large part owing to Hitler and his history that I became aware of the dangers of our traditional morality. We are exhorted to honor our parents and never question them no matter what they have done. Yet when I realize that millions of human beings had to die so that Adolf Hitler could keep his repression of childhood trauma intact, that millions were subjected to humiliation in concentration camps so that he never had to recognize how he had once been humiliated, then I believe that one can't point out these connections often enough in order to shed light on this unconscious production of evil. How should young people be expected to recognize and reject inhumanity and crime if these continue to be disguised instead of being pointed out as plainly as possible? Only when young people are permitted to know exactly what happened and how it could happen, only if they don't allow anything to stifle their curiosity and are not afraid of the truth, can they free themselves from the burden placed upon them by their forebears' blindness.
Adolf Hitler: How Could a Monster Succeed in Blinding a Nation?
For Your Own Good: Preface to the American Edition
For Your Own Good: Adolf Hitler's Childhood: From Hidden to Manifest Horror
The "Final Solution", Adaptation to Society's Norms, Morality and Duty, and Childhood Feelings
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.
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 purpose. It is not a loss of autonomy that occurs here, because 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 easily be transferred to a Führer or to an ideology. 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.
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.
For Your Own Good: The Central Mechanism of "Poisonous Pedagogy"
Other tyrants and their childhood
In the lives of all the tyrants I examined, I found without exception paranoid trains of thought bound up with their biographies in early childhood and the repression of the experiences they had been through. Mao had been regularly whipped by his father and later sent 30 million people to their deaths, but he hardly ever admitted the full extent of the rage he must have felt toward his own father, a very severe teacher who had tried through beatings to "make a man" out of his son. Stalin caused millions to suffer and die because even at the height of his power his actions were determined by unconscious infantile fear of powerlessness. Apparently his father, a poor cobbler from Georgia, attempted to drown his frustration with liquor and whipped his son almost every day. His mother displayed psychotic traits, was completely incapable of defending her son and was usually away from home either praying in church or running the priest's household. Stalin idealized his parents right up to the end of his life and was constantly haunted by the fear of dangers that had long since ceased to exist but were still present in his deranged mind. The same might be true of many other tyrants. The groups of people they singled out for persecution and the rationalization mechanisms they employed were different in each case, but the fundamental reason behind it was probably identical. They often drew on ideologies to disguise the truth and their own paranoia. And the masses chimed in enthusiastically because they were unaware of the real motives, including those operative in their own biographies. The infantile revenge fantasies of individuals would be of no account if society did not regularly show such naive alacrity in helping to make them come true.
The Political Consequences of Child Abuse
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