For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence

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For Your Own Good, the contemporary classic exploring the serious if not gravely dangerous consequences parental cruelty can bring to bear on children everywhere, is one of the central works by Alice Miller, the celebrated Swiss psychoanalyst.

With her typically lucid, strong, and poetic language, Miller investigates the personal stories and case histories of various self-destructive and/or violent individuals to expand on her theories about the long-term affects of abusive ...

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For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence

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For Your Own Good, the contemporary classic exploring the serious if not gravely dangerous consequences parental cruelty can bring to bear on children everywhere, is one of the central works by Alice Miller, the celebrated Swiss psychoanalyst.

With her typically lucid, strong, and poetic language, Miller investigates the personal stories and case histories of various self-destructive and/or violent individuals to expand on her theories about the long-term affects of abusive child-rearing. Her conclusions—on what sort of parenting can create a drug addict, or a murderer, or a Hitler—offer much insight, and make a good deal of sense, while also straying far from psychoanalytic dogma about human nature, which Miller vehemently rejects.

This important study paints a shocking picture of the violent world—indeed, of the ever-more-violent world—that each generation helps to create when traditional upbringing, with its hidden cruelty, is perpetuated. The book also presents readers with useful solutions in this regard—namely, to resensitize the victimized child who has been trapped within the adult, and to unlock the emotional life that has been frozen in repression.

In a new preface, the author describes the radical change in her attitude toward psychoanalysis and warns her readers that she considers psychoanalytic treatment to be obscure, misleading and even dangerous.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This is a book of extraordinary importance, for it makes as clear as a beacon light the root causes of violence as a consequence of our misguided child-rearing practices. For Your Own Good should be read by all who are troubled by what has happened to our world and to our children. I cannot sufficiently stress the importance and urgency of reading [this book]."—Ashley Montagu

"A shattering, frightening [book], and eventually one of the most illuminating and life-view-changing works I have ever read . . . I challenge any thinking and feeling person to read this book [and] not in turn be changed or altered."—Church World

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374522698
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 11/14/2002
  • Edition number: 3
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 246,151
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Other books by Alice Miller, the internationally renowned psychoanalyst, include The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self, The Body Never Lies: The Lingering Effects of Cruel Parenting, The Truth Will Set You Free: Overcoming Emotional Blindness and Finding Your True Adult Self, Banished Knowledge: Facing Childhood Injuries, Breaking Down the Wall of Silence: The Liberating Experience of Facing Painful Truth, and The Untouched Key: Tracing Childhood Trauma in Creativity and Destructiveness. Miller lives in Zurich, Switzerland.

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Read an Excerpt

For Your Own Good

How Child-Rearing Crushes Spontaneous Feelings: Glimpses of a Revered Tradition

"Poisonous Pedagogy"

Punishment followed on a grand scale. For ten days, an unconscionable length of time, my father blessed the palms of his child's outstretched, four-year-old hands with a sharp switch. Seven strokes a day on each hand: that makes one hundred forty strokes and then some. This put an end to the child's innocence. Whatever it was that happened in Paradise involving Adam, Eve, Lilith, the serpent, and the apple, the well-deserved Biblical thunderbolt of prehistoric times, the roar of the Almighty and His pointed finger signifying expulsion-I know nothing about all that. It was my father who drove me out of Paradise.



Whoever inquires about our childhood wants to know something about our soul. If the question is not just a rhetorical one and the questioner has the patience to listen, he will come to realize that we love with horror and hate with an inexplicable love whatever caused us our greatest pain and difficulty.



ANYONE who has ever been a mother or father and is at all honest knows from experience how difficult it can be for parents to accept certain aspects of their children. It is especially painful to have to admit this if we really love our child and want to respect his or her individuality yet are unable to do so. Intellectual knowledge is no guarantee of understanding and tolerance. If it was never possible for us to relive on a conscious level the rejection we experienced in our own childhoodand to work it through, then we in turn will pass this rejection on to our children. A merely intellectual knowledge of the laws of child development does not protect us from irritation or anger if our child's behavior does not correspond to our expectations or needs or if—even worse—it should pose a threat to our defense mechanisms.

It is very different for children: they have no previous history standing in their way, and their tolerance for their parents knows no bounds. The love a child has for his or her parents ensures that their conscious or unconscious acts of mental cruelty will go undetected. Descriptions of what can be done to children without fear of reprisal are readily available in recent works dealing with the history of childhood (cf., for example, Philippe Ariès, Lloyd de Mause, Morton Schatzman, and Ray E. Helfer and C. Henry Kempe [see Bibliography]).

The former practice of physically maiming, exploiting, and abusing children seems to have been gradually replaced in modern times by a form of mental cruelty that is masked by the honorific term child-rearing. Since training in many cultures begins in infancy during the initial symbiotic relationship between mother and child, this early conditioning makes it virtually impossible for the child to discover what is actually happening to him. The child's dependence on his or her parents' love also makes it impossible in later years to recognize these traumatizations, which often remain hidden behind the early idealization of the parents for the rest of the child's life.


In the mid-nineteenth century a man named Schreber, the father of a paranoid patient described by Freud, wrote a series of books on child-rearing. They were so popular in Germany that some of them went through forty printings and were translated into several languages. In these works it is stressed again and again that children should start being trained as soon as possible, even as early as their fifth month of life, if the soil is to be "kept free of harmful weeds." I have encountered similar views in parents' letters and diaries, which provide the outsider with a clear indication of the underlyingcauses of the serious illnesses that developed in their children, who were later to become my patients. But initially, these patients of mine were unable to derive much benefit from these diaries and had to undergo long and deep analysis before they could begin to see the truth in them. First they had to become detached from their parents and develop their own individuality.

The conviction that parents are always right and that every act of cruelty, whether conscious or unconscious, is an expression of their love is so deeply rooted in human beings because it is based on the process of internalization that takes place during the first months of life—in other words, during the period preceding separation from the primary care giver.

Two passages from Dr. Schreber's advice to parents, written in 1858, will illustrate the method of raising children prevalent at the time:

The little ones' displays of temper as indicated by screaming or crying without cause should be regarded as the first test of your spiritual and pedagogical principles ... . Once you have established that nothing is really wrong, that the child is not ill, distressed, or in pain, then you can rest assured that the screaming is nothing more than an outburst of temper, a whim, the first appearance of willfulness. Now you should no longer simply wait for it to pass as you did in the beginning but should proceed in a somewhat more positive way: by quickly diverting its attention, by stern words, threatening gestures, rapping on the bed ... or if none of this helps, by appropriately mild corporal admonitions repeated persistently at brief intervals until the child quiets down or falls asleep ... .

This procedure will be necessary only once or at most twice, and then you will be master of the child forever. From now on, a glance, a word, a single threatening gesture will be sufficient to control the child. Remember that this will be of the greatest benefit to your child since it will spare him many hours of agitation inimicable to his successful growth, freeing him from all those inner torments that can, moreover, very easily lead to a proliferation of pernicious character traits that will become increasingly difficult to conquer. [Quoted in Morton Schatzman, Soul Murder]

Dr. Schreber doesn't realize that what he is in fact attempting to curb in children are his own impulses, and there is no doubt in his mind that he is recommending the exercise of power purely for the child's own good:

If parents are consistent in this, they will soon be rewarded by the emergence of that desirable situation in which the child will be controlled almost entirely by a parental glance alone.

Children raised in this way frequently do not notice, even at an advanced age, when someone is taking advantage of them as long as the person uses a "friendly" tone of voice.

I have often been asked why I refer mostly to mothers and so seldom to fathers in Prisoners of Childhood: The Drama of the Gifted Child. I designate the most important care giver in the child's first year of life as the "mother." This does not necessarily have to be the biological mother or even a woman. In Prisoners of Childhood I took pains to point out that looks expressing disapproval and rejection that are directed at the infant can contribute to the development of severe disturbances, including perversions and compulsion neuroses, in the adult. In the Schreber family it was not the mother who "controlled" her two infant sons with "glances," it was the father. (Both sons later suffered from mental illness accompanied by delusions of persecution.) In the last decades, however, there has been an increasing number of fathers who have assumed positive maternal functions and have been able to give their child tenderness and warmth and to empathize with his or her needs. In contrast to the era of the patriarchal family, we now find ourselves in a phase of healthy experimentation with sex roles, and this being the case, I have difficulty speaking about the "social roles" of the father or mother without resorting to outdated normative categories. I can only state that every small child needs an empathic and not a "controlling" human being (whether it be father or mother) as care giver.


An enormous amount can be done to a child in the first two years: he or she can be molded, dominated, taught goodhabits, scolded, and punished—without any repercussions for the person raising the child and without the child taking revenge. The child will overcome the serious consequences of the injustice he has suffered only if he succeeds in defending himself, i.e., if he is allowed to express his pain and anger. If he is prevented from reacting in his own way because the parents cannot tolerate his reactions (crying, sadness, rage) and forbid them by means of looks or other pedagogical methods, then the child will learn to be silent. This silence is a sign of the effectiveness of the pedagogical principles applied, but at the same time it is a danger signal pointing to future pathological development. If there is absolutely no possibility of reacting appropriately to hurt, humiliation, and coercion, then these experiences cannot be integrated into the personality; the feelings they evoke are repressed, and the need to articulate them remains unsatisfied, without any hope of being fulfilled. It is this lack of hope of ever being able to express repressed traumata by means of relevant feelings that most often causes severe psychological problems. We already know that neuroses are a result of repression, not of events themselves. I shall try to demonstrate that neuroses are not the only tragic consequences of repression.

Because this process does not begin in adulthood but in the very first days of life as a result of the efforts of often well-meaning parents, in later life the individual cannot get to the roots of this repression without help. It is as though someone has had stamped on his back a mark that he will never be able to see without a mirror. One of the functions of psychotherapy is to provide the mirror.

It is true that psychotherapy is still a privilege of a minority, and its achievements are often questioned. But having witnessed in case after case the forces that are set free when the results of a cruel upbringing are counteracted; having seen how these forces would otherwise have to be mobilized on all fronts to destroy vital spontaneity in oneself and in others because this quality has been regarded as bad and threatening from an early age, I want to communicate to society something of what I have learned in the therapeuticprocess. Society has a right to know, to the extent that this is at all possible, what actually takes place in the analytic setting; for what comes to light there is not only the private affair of a few ill or disturbed people; it concerns us all.

Breeding Grounds of Hatred


FOR a long time I asked myself how I could go about giving a vivid and not purely intellectual portrayal of what is done to many children in their earliest days and the consequences this has for society. How could I best tell others, I often wondered, what it is people have discovered concerning the beginning of their life after having gone through a lengthy and laborious process of reconstruction? In addition to the difficulty involved in presenting this material, there is the old dilemma: on the one hand, there is my pledge of professional secrecy; on the other, my conviction that principles are at work here that ought not to remain the special knowledge of a few insiders. Furthermore, I am aware of the resistance on the part of the reader who has not been in analysis, of the guilt feelings that arise when cruel treatment is discussed and the way to mourning still remains blocked. What, then, should be done with this sad fund of knowledge?

We are so used to perceiving everything we hear in terms of moralizing rules and regulations that sometimes even pure information may be interpreted as a reproach and thus cannot be absorbed at all. We justifiably resist new exhortations if moral demands were frequently imposed upon us at too young an age. Love of one's neighbor, altruism, willingness to sacrifice—how splendid these words sound and yet what cruelty can lie hidden in them simply because they are forced upon a child at a time when the prerequisites for altruism cannotpossibly be present. Coercion often nips the development of these prerequisites in the bud and what then remains is a lifelong condition of strain. This is like soil too hard for anything to grow in, and the only hope at all of forcibly producing the love demanded of one as a child lies in the upbringing given one's own children, from whom one then demands love in the same merciless fashion.

For this reason, it is my intention to refrain from all moralizing. I definitely do not want to say someone ought or ought not to do this or that (for example, ought not to hate), for I consider maxims of this sort to be useless. Rather, I see it as my task to expose the roots of hatred, which only a few people seem to recognize, and to search for the explanation of why there are so few of these people.


I was giving serious thought to these questions when I came upon Katharina Rutschky's Schwarze Pädagogik (Black Pedagogy), a collection of excerpts from books on child-rearing, published in Germany in 1977. These texts describe all the techniques, which I refer to in this book as "poisonous pedagogy," that are used to condition a child at an early age not to become aware of what is really being done to him or her; they offer clear corroboration on a concrete level of the conjectural reconstructions I have arrived at in the long course of my analytic work. This gave me the idea of juxtaposing certain passages from this excellent but very lengthy book so that with their help readers can answer for themselves and on their own personal terms the following questions I shall be raising: How were our parents brought up? How were they permitted—even forced—to treat us? How could we, as young children, have become aware of this? How could we have treated our own children differently? Can this vicious circle ever be broken? And finally, is our guilt any less if we shut our eyes to the situation?

It may be that I am trying to attain something with these texts that either is not possible at all or is completely superfluous. For as long as you are not allowed to see something, you have no choice but to overlook it, to misunderstand it, toprotect yourself against it in one way or another. But if you have already perceived it for yourself, then you don't need me to tell you about it. Although this observation is correct, I still do not want to give up the attempt, for it strikes me as worthwhile, even though at the moment only a few readers may profit from these excerpts.

I believe the quotations I have chosen will reveal methods that have been used to train children not to become aware of what was being done to them—not only "certain children" but more or less all of us (and our parents and forebears). I use the word reveal here although there was nothing secretive about these writings; they were widely distributed and went through numerous editions. We of the present generation can learn something from them that concerns us personally and was still hidden from our parents. Reading them, we may have the feeling of getting to the bottom of a mystery, of discovering something new but at the same time long familiar that until now has simultaneously clouded and determined our lives. This was my own experience when I read Rutschky's book about the phenomenon of "poisonous pedagogy." Suddenly I became more keenly aware of its many traces in psychoanalytic theories, in politics, and in the countless compulsions of everyday life.


Those concerned with raising children have always had great trouble dealing with "obstinacy," willfulness, defiance, and the exuberant character of children's emotions. They are repeatedly reminded that they cannot begin to teach obedience too soon. The following passage by J. Sulzer, written in 1748, will serve as an illustration of this:

As far as willfulness is concerned, this expresses itself as a natural recourse in tenderest childhood as soon as children are able to make their desire for something known by means of gestures. They see something they want but cannot have; they become angry, cry, and flail about. Or they are given something that does not please them; they fling it aside and begin to cry. These are dangerous faults that hinder their entire education and encourage undesirable qualities in children. If willfulness and wickedness are not driven out, it is impossible to give achild a good education. The moment these flaws appear in a child, it is high time to resist this evil so that it does not become ingrained through habit and the children do not become thoroughly depraved.

Therefore, I advise all those whose concern is the education of children to make it their main occupation to drive out willfulness and wickedness and to persist until they have reached their goal. As I have remarked above, it is impossible to reason with young children; thus, willfulness must be driven out in a methodical manner, and there is no other recourse for this purpose than to show children one is serious. If one gives in to their willfulness once, the second time it will be more pronounced and more difficult to drive out. Once children have learned that anger and tears will win them their own way, they will not fail to use the same methods again. They will finally become the masters of their parents and of their nursemaids and will have a bad, willful, and unbearable disposition with which they will trouble and torment their parents ever after as the well-earned reward for the "good" upbringing they were given, But if parents are fortunate enough to drive out willfulness from the very beginning by means of scolding and the rod, they will have obedient, docile, and good children whom they can later provide with a good education. If a good basis for education is to be established, then one must not cease toiling until one sees that all willfulness is gone, for there is absolutely no place for it. Let no one make the mistake of thinking he will be able to obtain any good results before he has eliminated these two major faults. He will toil in vain This is where the foundation first must be laid.

These, then, are the two most important matters one must attend to in the child's first year. When he is over a year old, and is beginning to understand and speak somewhat, one must concentrate on other things as well, yet always with the understanding that willfulness must be the main target of all our toils until it is completely abolished. It is always our main purpose to make children into righteous, virtuous persons, and parents should be ever mindful of this when they regard their children so that they will miss no opportunity to labor over them. They must also keep very fresh in their minds the outline or image of a mind disposed to virtue, as described above, so that they know what is to be undertaken. The first and foremost matter to beattended to is implanting in children a love of order; this is the first step we require in the way of virtue. In the first three years, however, this—like all things one undertakes with children—can come about only in a quite mechanical way. Everything must follow the rules of orderliness. Food and drink, clothing, sleep, and indeed the child's entire little household must be orderly and must never be altered in the least to accommodate their willfulness or whims so that they may learn in earliest childhood to submit strictly to the rules of orderliness. The order one insists upon has an indisputable influence on their minds, and if children become accustomed to orderliness at a very early age, they will suppose thereafter that this is completely natural because they no longer realize that it has been artfully instilled in them. If, out of indulgence, one alters the order of the child's little household as often as his whim shall dictate, then he will come to think that orderliness is not of great importance but must always yield to our whim. Such a false assumption would cause widespread damage to the moral life, as may easily be deduced from what I have said above about order. When children are of an age to be reasoned with, one must take every opportunity to present order to them as something sacred and inviolable. If they want to have something that offends against order, then one should say to them: my dear child, this is impossible; this offends against order, which must never be breached, and so on ... .

The second major matter to which one must dedicate oneself beginning with the second and third year is a strict obedience to parents and superiors and a trusting acceptance of all they do. These qualities are not only absolutely necessary for the success of the child's education, but they have a very strong influence on education in general. They are so essential because they impart to the mind orderliness per se and a spirit of submission to the laws. A child who is used to obeying his parents will also willingly submit to the laws and rules of reason once he is on his own and his own master, since he is already accustomed not to act in accordance with his own will. Obedience is so important that all education is actually nothing other than learning how to obey. It is a generally recognized principle that persons of high estate who are destined to rule whole nations must learn the art of governance by way of first learning obedience. Qui nescit obedire, nescit imperare: the reason for this is that obedienceteaches a person to be zealous in observing the law, which is the first quality of a ruler. Thus, after one has driven out willfulness as a result of one's first labors with children, the chief goal of one's further labors must be obedience. It is not very easy, however, to implant obedience in children. It is quite natural for the child's soul to want to have a will of its own, and things that are not done correctly in the first two years will be difficult to rectify thereafter. One of the advantages of these early years is that then force and compulsion can be used. Over the years, children forget everything that happened to them in early childhood. If their wills can be broken at this time, they will never remember afterwards that they had a will, and for this very reason the severity that is required will not have any serious consequences.

Just as soon as children develop awareness, it is essential to demonstrate to them by word and deed that they must submit to the will of their parents. Obedience requires children to (I) willingly do as they are told, (2) willingly refrain from doing what is forbidden, and (3) accept the rules made for their sake. [J. Sulzer, Versuch von der Erziehung und Unterweisung der Kinder (An Essay on the Education and Instruction of Children), 1748, quoted in Rutschky]

It is astonishing that this pedagogue had so much psychological insight over two hundred years ago. It is in fact true that over the years children forget everything that happened to them in early childhood; "they will never remember afterwards that they had a will"—to be sure. But, unfortunately, the rest of the sentence, "the severity that is required will not have any serious consequences," is not true.

The opposite is the case: throughout their professional lives, lawyers, politicians, psychiatrists, physicians, and prison guards must deal with these serious consequences, usually without knowing their cause. The psychotherapeutic process may take years to work its cautious way back to the roots of the trouble, but when successful, it does in fact bring release from symptoms.

Lay persons repeatedly raise the objection that there are people who had a demonstrably difficult childhood without becoming neurotic, whereas others, who grew up in apparentlyfavorable circumstances, become mentally ill. This is supposed to be proof of an innate predisposition and thus a refutation of the importance of parental influence.

The Sulzer passage helps us to understand how this error can (and is meant to?) arise on all levels of society. Neuroses and psychoses are not direct consequences of actual frustrations but the expression of repressed traumata. If primary emphasis is placed upon raising children so that they are not aware of what is being done to them or what is being taken from them, of what they are losing in the process, of who they otherwise would have been and who they actually are, and if this is begun early enough, then as adults, regardless of their intelligence, they will later look upon the will of another person as if it were their own. How can they know that their own will was broken since they were never allowed to express it? Yet something one is not aware of can still make one ill. If, on the other hand, children experience hunger, air raids, and the loss of their home, for instance, but in such a way that they feel they are being taken seriously and respected as individuals by their parents, then they will not become ill as a result of these actual traumata. There is even a chance for them to remember these experiences (because they have had the support of devoted attachment figures) and thus enrich their inner world.


The next passage, by J. G. Krüger, reveals why it was (and still is) so important to pedagogues to combat "obstinacy" vigorously:

It is my view that one should never strike children for offenses they commit out of weakness. The only vice deserving of blows is obstinacy. It is therefore wrong to strike children at their lessons, it is wrong to strike them for falling down, it is wrong to strike them for wreaking harm unwittingly; it is wrong to strike them for crying; but it is right and proper to strike them for all of these transgressions and for even more trivial ones if they have committed them out of wickedness. If your son does not want to learn because it is your will, if he cries with the intentof defying you, if he does harm in order to offend you, in short, if he insists on having his own way:

Then whip him well till he cries so: Oh no, Papa, oh no!

Such disobedience amounts to a declaration of war against you. Your son is trying to usurp your authority, and you are justified in answering force with force in order to insure his respect, without which you will be unable to train him. The blows you administer should not be merely playful ones but should convince him that you are his master. Therefore, you must not desist until he does what he previously refused out of wickedness to do. If you do not pay heed to this, you will have engaged him in a battle that will cause his wicked heart to swell with triumph and him to make the firm resolve to continue disregarding your blows so that he need not submit to his parents' domination. If, however, he has seen that he is vanquished the first time and has been obliged to humble himself before you, this will rob him of his courage to rebel anew. But you must pay especial heed that in chastising him you not allow yourself to be overcome by anger. For the child will be sharp-witted enough to perceive your weakness and regard as a result of anger what he should deem a meting out of justice. If you are unable to practice moderation in this regard, then yield the execution of the chastisement to another, but be sure to impress upon the person not to desist until the child has fulfilled his father's will and comes to beg you for forgiveness. You should not withhold your forgiveness entirely, as Locke justly observes, but should make it somewhat difficult of attainment and not show your complete approbation again until he has made good his previous transgression by total obedience and has proven that he is determined to be a faithful subject of his parents. If children are educated with befitting prudence at a young age, then surely it will very rarely be necessary to resort to such forceful measures; this can hardly be avoided, however, if one takes children in to be reared after they have already developed a will of their own. But sometimes, especially when they are of a proud nature, one can, even in the case of serious transgressions, dispense with beatings if one makes them, for example,go barefoot and hungry and serve at table or otherwise inflicts pain upon them where it hurts. [Gedanken von der Erziehung der Kinder (Some Thoughts on the Education of Children), 1752, quoted in Rutschky]

Here, everything is still stated openly; in modern books on child-rearing the authors carefully mask their emphasis on the importance of gaining control over the child. Over the years a sophisticated repertory of arguments was developed to prove the necessity of corporal punishment for the child's own good. In the eighteenth century, however, one still spoke freely of "usurping authority," of "faithful subjects," etc., and this language reveals the sad truth, which unfortunately still holds today. For parents' motives are the same today as they were then: in beating their children, they are struggling to regain the power they once lost to their own parents. For the first time, they see the vulnerability of their own earliest years, which they are unable to recall, reflected in their children (cf. Sulzer). Only now, when someone weaker than they is involved, do they finally fight back, often quite fiercely. There are countless rationalizations, still used today, to justify their behavior. Although parents always mistreat their children for psychological reasons, i.e., because of their own needs, there is a basic assumption in our society that this treatment is good for children. Last but not least, the pains that are taken to defend this line of reasoning betray its dubious nature. The arguments used contradict every psychological insight we have gained, yet they are passed on from generation to generation.

There must be an explanation for this that has deep emotional roots in all of us. It is unlikely that someone could proclaim "truths" that are counter to physical laws for very long (for example, that it is healthy for children to run around in bathing suits in winter and in fur coats in summer) without appearing ridiculous. But it is perfectly normal to speak of the necessity of striking and humiliating children and robbing them of their autonomy, at the same time using such high-sounding words as chastising, upbringing, and guiding onto the right path. The excerpts from Schwarze Pädagogik whichfollow indicate how much a parent's hidden, unrecognized needs stand to profit from such an ideology. This also explains the great resistance to accepting and integrating the indisputable body of knowledge about psychological principles that has been built up in recent decades.


There are many good books available describing the harmful and cruel aspects of traditional methods of child-rearing (by Ekkehard von Braunmühl, Lloyd de Mause, Katharina Rutschky, Morton Schatzman, and Katharina Zimmer, to mention a few). Why has all this information brought about so little change in the attitudes of the public at large? I used to try to address the numerous individual reasons for problems resulting from child-rearing, but I now believe that there is a universal psychological phenomenon involved here that must be brought to light: namely, the way the adult exercises power over the child, a use of power that can go undetected and unpunished like no other. Seen superficially, it is not in the best interest of any of us to expose this universal mechanism, for who is willing to relinquish either the opportunity to discharge pent-up affect or the rationalizations that enable us to keep a clear conscience? Nevertheless, making these undercurrents of our behavior known is crucial for the sake of future generations. The easier it becomes by means of technology to destroy human life with the touch of a button, the more important it is for the public to understand how it can be possible for someone to want to extinguish the lives of millions of human beings. Beatings, which are only one form of mistreatment, are always degrading, because the child not only is unable to defend him- or herself but is also supposed to show gratitude and respect to the parents in return. And along with corporal punishment there is a whole gamut of ingenious measures applied "for the child's own good" which are difficult for a child to comprehend and which for that very reason often have devastating effects in later life. What is our reaction, for example, when we, as adults, try to empathize with the child raised according to the methods recommended by Villaume:

If a child is caught in the act, then it isn't difficult to coax a confession from him. It would be very easy to say to him, so-and-so saw you do this or that. I prefer to take a detour, however, and there are a variety of them.

You have questioned the child about his peaked appearance. You have even gotten him to confess to certain aches and pains that you describe to him. I would then continue:

"You see, my child, that I am aware of your present ailments; I have even enumerated them. You see, then, that I know about your condition. I know even more: I know how you are going to suffer in the future, and I'll tell you about it. Listen. Your face will shrivel, your hair will turn brown; your hands will tremble, your face will be covered with pustules; your eyes will grow dim, your memory weak, your brain dull. You will lose all your good spirits, you won't be able to sleep, and you'll lose your appetite, etc."

It is hard to find a child who will not be dismayed by this. To continue:

"Now I am going to tell you something else. Pay attention! Do you know what the cause of all your suffering is? You may not know, but I do. You have brought it on yourself!—I am going to tell you what it is you do in secret ... ."

A child would have to be extremely obdurate if he did not make a tearful confession.

Here is another path to the truth! I am taking this passage from the Pedagogical Discourses:

I called Heinrich to me. "Listen, Heinrich, I am quite concerned about the seizure you had" (H. had had several epileptic seizures). "I have been searching in my mind for a likely cause but can come up with nothing. Think about it: do you know of anything?"

H.: "No, I know of nothing." (He could hardly know of anything, for a child in this condition does not know what he is doing. In any case, the question was only meant to lead up to what follows.)

"It certainly is strange! Did you perhaps get overheated and then drink something too quickly?"

H.: "No. You know I haven't been out for a long time unless you have taken me with you."

"I can't understand it—I do know a very sad story about a lad of around twelve" (that was Heinrich's age); "he finally died."

(The author now gives a description of Heinrich himself, but with a different name, and frightens the lad.—V.)

"He also had spells without warning, the way you do, and he said it was as though someone were tickling him violently."

H.: "Oh, dear! I'm not going to die? That's the way I feel too."

"And sometimes the tickling seemed as if it would take his breath away."

H.: "Mine too. Didn't you notice that?" (From this, one can see that the poor child really didn't know what the cause of his misery was.)

"Then he began to laugh very hard."

H.: "No, I become so frightened I don't know what to do."

(The author has invented the laughter, perhaps to hide his intention. I think it would have been better to adhere to the truth.—V.)

"This all lasted for a while until he was finally overcome by such hearty, violent, and uncontrollable laughter that he smothered and died."

(I related all this with the greatest equanimity, paying no attention to his responses. I tried to make my facial expressions and my gestures lend what I was saying the appearance of friendly conversation.)

H.: "He died of laughter? Can someone die of laughter?"

"Yes, indeed; that's what I'm telling you. Haven't you ever laughed very hard? Your chest becomes constricted, and the tears come to your eyes."

H. : "Yes, I've had that happen."

"Well, then, just imagine if that had lasted for a very long time; would you have been able to stand it? You were able to stop because the cause of your laughter stopped having an effect on you or because it didn't seem so funny any more. But in the case of our poor lad there weren't any external circumstances that made him laugh; what caused it was the tickle of his nerves, which he couldn't stop by an act of will, and as long as that lasted, his laughter lasted too and in the end caused his death."

H. : "The poor lad!—What was his name?"

"His name was Heinrich."

H.: "Heinrich—!" (He looked at me aghast.)

(Nonchalantly) "Yes! He was a merchant's son in Leipzig."

H. : "Oh! But what made it happen?"

(I had been waiting for this question. Until now I had been walking about the room; now I stopped and looked him straight in the eye in order to observe him closely.)

"What do you think, Heinrich?"

H.: "I don't know."

"I'll tell you what caused it." (I said what follows in a slow and emphatic voice.) "The boy had seen someone doing harm to the most delicate nerves of his body, at the same time making strange motions. Our lad, without knowing that it would harm him, imitated what he had seen. He liked it so well that by this act he caused an unwonted agitation of the nerves of his body, thus weakening them and bringing about his death." (Heinrich blushed violently and was visibly embarrassed.) "What's wrong, Heinrich?"

H.: "Oh, nothing!"

"Do you think you are about to have a seizure again?"

H.: "Oh, no! Will you permit me to leave?"

"Why, Heinrich? Don't you like being here with me?"

H.: "Oh, yes! But—"


H. : "Oh, nothing!"

"Listen, Heinrich, I'm your friend, isn't that true? Be honest. Why did you blush and become so upset upon hearing the tale of the poor lad who came to such an unfortunate and untimely end?"

H.: "Blushed? Oh, I don't know—I felt sorry for him."

"Is that all?—No, Heinrich, there must be another reason; your face betrays it. You are becoming more upset. Be honest, Heinrich; by being honest, you make yourself pleasing in the sight of God, our Heavenly Father, and all men."

H.: "Oh, dear—" (He began to cry loudly and was so pitiable that tears came to my own eyes—he perceived this, grasped my hand, and kissed it passionately.)

"Well, Heinrich, why are you crying?"

H.: "Oh, dear."

"Shall I spare you your confession? Is it not true that you have done what that unfortunate lad did?"

H.: "Oh, dear! Yes."

This second method is perhaps preferable to the first if one is dealing with children of a gentle, sensitive character. Thereis something severe about the first one in the way it almost assaults the child. [1787, quoted in Rutschky]

Feelings of resentment and rage over this devious form of manipulation cannot surface in the child here because he does not see through the subterfuge. At the most, he will experience feelings of anxiety, shame, insecurity, and helplessness, which may soon be forgotten, especially when the child finds a victim of his own. Villaume, like other pedagogues, takes pains that his methods remain undetected:

One must observe the child closely but in such a way that he does not notice, otherwise he will be secretive and suspicious, and there will be no way of reaching him. Since a sense of shame will always impel the child to try to conceal this sin, we are not dealing with an easy matter here.

If we constantly spy upon a child, especially in secret places, it can happen that we catch him in the act.

Send the children to bed early. When they have just fallen asleep, gently pull aside the blanket to see where their hands are or whether you can detect any other signs. Again in the morning before they are fully awake.

Children, especially if they have a feeling or suspicion that their secret behavior is wicked, are timid and evasive with adults. For this reason I would assign the task of observing the child to one of his friends, and in the case of a girl to a girl friend or faithful maidservant. It goes without saying that these observers must already be familiar with the secret or must be of such age and character as to render its disclosure innocuous. These persons would now perform their observations under the guise of friendship (and it would indeed be a great act of friendship). I would advise, if you are quite sure of them and if it is necessary to their task, that these observers sleep in the same bed with the little ones. In bed, shame and suspicion are easily cast off. In any case, it will not be long before the little ones betray themselves by word or deed.

The conscious use of humiliation (whose function is to satisfy the parents' needs) destroys the child's self-confidence, making him or her insecure and inhibited; nevertheless, this approach is considered beneficial:

It goes without saying that pedagogues themselves not infrequently awaken and help to swell a child's conceit by foolishly emphasizing his merits, since they are often merely large children themselves and are filled with the same conceit ... . It is then important to eliminate this conceit. Undisputedly, it is a fault that, if not combatted in time, becomes ingrained and, combining with other egocentric traits, can be extremely dangerous for the moral life, quite apart from the fact that conceit which rises to the level of excessive pride is offensive or ridiculous to others. Moreover, conceit frequently hinders a pedagogue's effectiveness; the conceited pupil believes he already possesses the good qualities the pedagogue teaches and expects of him or at least considers them easily attainable. Warnings he deems signs of exaggerated apprehensiveness; words of censure, signs of a peevish severity. Only humiliation can be of help here. But how should this be applied? Above all, not with many words. Words are surely not the way to establish and develop moral behavior or to eradicate and remove immoral behavior. They are effective only when part of a more thoroughgoing procedure. Detailed and direct instructions and long homilies, acerbic satire, and biting mockery are the least efficient paths to our goal; the former produce boredom and indifference, the latter bitterness and low spirits. Life itself is always the most convincing teacher. The conceited pupil should be led into situations where he is made aware of his imperfections without the pedagogue having to say a word. Someone who is unduly proud of his accomplishments should be assigned tasks far beyond his abilities and should not be dissuaded if he attempts to take on more than he can handle; halfhearted measures and superficiality should not be tolerated in these attempts. If someone who boasts of his diligence slackens in class, this should be sternly but briefly pointed out to him, and his attention should even be called to a missing or incorrect word in his written assignment; just be sure that the pupil does not suspect any special intent here. It will be no less effective if the pedagogue often brings his charge into the presence of what is great and noble. Hold up to a talented lad the examples of living or historical figures who possess far more splendid talent than his and who have used their talent to accomplish admirable deeds; or hold up as examples those lacking in any especially brilliant mental powers who have nevertheless achieved far more by means of a sustainediron discipline than has a frivolous talent-here too, of course, without explicit reference to your charge, who will of his own accord make the comparison privately. Finally, it will be useful to call to mind the dubious and transitory nature of merely material things by occasionally pointing out appropriate illustrations of this: the sight of a youthful corpse or the report of the collapse of a commercial house has a more humbling effect than often repeated warnings and censure. [K. G. Hergang, ed., Pädagogische Realenzyklopädie (Encyclopedia of Pedagogy), 1851, quoted in Rutschky]

Feigning friendliness helps even more to conceal this type of cruel treatment:

When I once asked a schoolmaster how he had been able to bring it about that the children obeyed him without being whipped, he replied: I attempt to persuade my pupils by my entire demeanor that I mean well by them, and I demonstrate to them through example and illustration that it is to their disadvantage if they do not obey me. Further, I reward the one who is the most amenable, the most obedient, the most diligent in his lessons by preferring him over the others; I call on him the most, I permit him to read his composition before the class, I let him do the necessary writing on the blackboard. This way I awaken the children's zeal so that each wishes to excel, to be preferred. When one of them then upon occasion does something that deserves punishment, I reduce his status in the class, I don't call on him, I don't let him read aloud, I act as though he were not there. This distresses the children so much that those who are punished weep copious tears. If there is upon occasion someone who cannot be educated by such gentle means, then, to be sure, I must whip him; however, for the execution thereof I first make such lengthy preparations that he is more affected by them than by the lashes themselves. I do not whip him at that moment when he earns the punishment but postpone it until the following day or the day thereafter. This provides me with two advantages: first, my blood cools down in the meantime, and I have leisure to consider how best to go about the matter; later, the little delinquent will feel the punishment tenfold more sharply because he has had to devote constant thought to it.

When the day of reckoning arrives, directly after the morning prayer I make a pathetic address to all the children and tell them this is a very sad day for me since the disobedience of one of my dear pupils has imposed on me the necessity of whipping him. The tears begin to flow, not only his who is to be chastised but also those of his fellow pupils. After this lecture is over, I bid the children be seated and I begin the lesson. Not until school is over do I have the little sinner step forward; I then pronounce my verdict and ask him if he knows what he has done to deserve it. After he has given a proper answer, I administer the lashes in the presence of all the children, turn then to the spectators and tell them it is my heartfelt desire that this may be the last time I am constrained to whip a child. [C. G. Salzman (1796), quoted in Rutschky]

For purposes of self-protection, it is only the adult's friendly manner that remains in the child's memory, accompanied by a predictable submissiveness on the part of "the little transgressor" and the loss of his capacity for spontaneous feeling.

Fortunate are those parents and teachers who have educated their children so wisely that their counsel is as forceful as a command, that they seldom have cause to mete out an actual punishment, and that even in these few cases such methods as withdrawing certain pleasant but dispensable things, banishing the children from one's presence, recounting their disobedience to persons whose approbation they desire, etc., are feared as the harshest punishment. Yet few parents are so fortunate. Most of them must occasionally resort to more severe measures. But if they want to instill genuine obedience in their children by so doing, both their miens and words during the chastisement must be serious but not cruel or hostile.

One should be composed and serious, announce the punishment, carry it out, and say nothing more until the act is completed and the little transgressor is once again ready to accept counsel and commands ... .

If after the chastisement the pain lasts for a time, it is unnatural to forbid weeping and groaning at once. But if the chastised use these annoying sounds as a means of revenge, then the first step is to distract them by assigning little tasks or activities.If this does not help, it is permissible to forbid the weeping and to punish them if it persists, until it finally ceases after the new chastisement. [J. B. Basedow, Methodenbuch für Väter und Mütter der Familien und Völker (Handbook for Fathers and Mothers of Families and Nations), 1773, quoted in Rutschky]

Crying as a natural reaction to pain is suppressed here by means of renewed beating. To suppress feelings, various techniques may be used:

Now let us see how exercises can aid in the complete suppression of affect. Those who know the strength of a deep-seated habit also know that self-control and perseverance are required in order to break it. Affects can be regarded in the same category as deep-rooted habits. The more persevering and patient one's disposition in general, the more efficient it is in specific cases in overcoming an inclination or bad habit. Thus, all exercises that teach children self-control, that make them patient and persevering, aid in the suppression of inclinations. For this reason, all exercises of this sort deserve special attention in the education of children and are to be regarded as one of its most important elements even though they are almost universally ignored.

There are many such exercises and they can be presented in such a way that children gladly submit to them; you need only know the correct manner of approaching the children and choose a time when they are in a good humor. An example of such an exercise is keeping silent. Ask a child: Do you think you could remain silent for a few hours sometime, without saying a word? Make it pleasurable for him to make the attempt, until he eventually passes the test. Afterwards spare nothing in persuading him that it is an accomplishment to practice such self-control. Repeat the exercise, making it more difficult each time, partly by lengthening the period of silence, partly by giving him cause to speak or by depriving him of something. Continue these exercises until you see that the child has attained a degree of skill therein. Then entrust him with secrets and see if he can be silent even then. If he reaches the point of being able to restrain his tongue, then he is also capable of other things, and the honor attained thereby will encourage him to undertake other tests. One such test is to go without certainthings one loves. Children especially love the pleasures of the senses. One must occasionally test whether they can control themselves in this regard. Give them fine fruits and when they reach for them, put them to the test. Could you bring yourself to save this fruit until tomorrow? Could you make someone a present of it? Proceed as I have just instructed in connection with keeping silent. Children love movement. They do not like to keep still. Train them here as well to learn self-control. Also put their bodies to the test insofar as their health permits: let them go hungry and thirsty, bear heat and cold, perform difficult labors, but see that this occurs with their acquiescence; force must not be applied or these exercises will lose their efficacy. I promise you that they will give children brave, persevering, and patient dispositions that will later be all the more efficient in suppressing evil inclinations. Let us take the case of a child who prattles, very often talking for no reason at all. This habit can be broken by the following exercise. After you have thoroughly explained his misbehavior to the child, say: "Now let us test whether you can stop prattling. I shall see how many times you speak today without thinking first." Then one pays careful heed to everything he says, and when he prattles, one makes clear that he is in error and makes note of how many times this has happened in one day. The following day, say to him: "Yesterday you prattled so and so many times. Now let us see how many times you will be in error today." And one continues in this manner. If the child still has any sense of honor and good instincts, he will be sure to forsake his error little by little in this way.

Along with these general exercises, one must also undertake special ones that are directly aimed at restraining affect, but these must not be tried until the above mentioned methods have first been used. A single example can stand for all the rest, because I must pull in my sails a little in order not to go on at too great length. Let us assume a child is vindictive and your methods have brought him to the point of being inclined to suppress this passion. After he has promised to do so, put him to the test in the following manner: tell him you intend to put his perserverance in controlling this passion to the test; admonish him to be on his guard and to be watchful for the first attacks of the enemy. Then secretly order someone to give the child an undeserved reproof when he is not expecting it so that you cansee how he will behave. If he succeeds in self-control then you must praise his accomplishment and cause him to perceive as much as possible the satisfaction proceeding from self-control. Later, one must repeat the same test. If he cannot pass it, one must punish him lovingly and admonish him to behave better another time. One need not be severe with him. Where there are many children, one must hold up as examples to the others those who have done well in the test.

One must help. the children as much as possible with these tests. One must teach them how to be on their guard. One must make them take as much pleasure as possible in the process so that they are not intimidated by the difficulties. For it should be mentioned that if the children do not take pleasure in these tests, all will be in vain. So much for the exercises. [Sulzer, quoted in Rutschky]

The results of this struggle against strong emotions are so disastrous because the suppression begins in infancy, i.e., before the child's self has had a chance to develop.

Another rule with very important consequences: Even the child's permissible desires should always be satisfied only if the child is in an amiable or at least calm mood but never while he is crying or behaving in an unruly fashion. First he must have regained his composure even if his previous behavior has been caused, for example, by his legitimate and periodic need to be fed—only then, after a brief pause, should one grant the child's wish. This interval is necessary because the child must not be given even the slightest impression that anything can be won by crying or by unruly behavior. On the contrary, the child perceives very quickly that he will reach his goal only by means of the opposite sort of behavior, by self-control (albeit still unconscious). A good, sound habit can be formed with incredible swiftness (as, on the other hand, can its contrary). Much will have been gained by this, for a good foundation has an infinite number of far-reaching consequences for the future. Here again, however, it is clear how infeasible are these and all similar principles—which must be regarded as of the utmost importance —if, as is usually the case, children of this age are entrusted almost exclusively to domestics, who rarely have the requisite understanding, at least in these matters.

The training just described will give the child a substantial head start in the art of waiting and will prepare him for another, more important one: the art of self-denial. After what has been said, it can be taken almost for granted that every impermissible desire, be it to the child's own disadvantage or not, must be met with an unfailingly consistent and absolute refusal. Refusal alone, however, is not enough. One must at the same time see to it that the child accepts the refusal calmly; one must take care that this calm acceptance becomes a sound habit, if need be by making use of a harsh word, a threatening gesture, and the like. Be sure not to make any exceptions!—then this too will take place much more easily and quickly than one thinks possible. Every exception of course invalidates the rule, both prolonging the training and making it more difficult.—On the other hand, accede to the child's every permissible desire lovingly and gladly.

Only in this way can one aid the child in the salutary and indispensable process of learning to subordinate and control his will, to distinguish for himself the difference between what is permissible and what is not. This cannot be done by anxiously removing everything that arouses impermissible desires. The foundation for the requisite spiritual strength must be laid at an early age, and it—like every other kind of strength—can be increased only through practice. If one waits until later to begin, then success will be much more difficult to attain, and the child, who has had no preparation for this, will become bitter in his disposition.

A very good exercise in the art of self-denial, appropriate for this age, is to give the child frequent opportunity to learn to watch other people in his immediate vicinity eating and drinking without desiring the same for himself. [D. G. M. Schreber (1858), quoted in Rutschky]

Thus, the child is supposed to learn "self-renunciation" from the very beginning, to destroy as early as possible everything in himself that is not "pleasing to God":

True love flows from the heart of God, the source and image of all fatherhood (Ephesians 3:15), is revealed and prefigured in the love of the Redeemer, and is engendered, nourished, and preserved in man by the Spirit of Christ. This love emanatingfrom above purifies, sanctifies, transfigures, and strengthens natural parental love. This hallowed love has as its primary goal the growth of the child's interior self, his spiritual life, his liberation from the power of the flesh, his elevation above the demands of the merely natural life of the senses, his inner independence from the world threatening to engulf him. Therefore, this love is concerned that the child learn at an early age to renounce, control, and master himself, that he not blindly follow the promptings of the flesh and the senses but rather the higher will and the promptings of the spirit. This hallowed love can thus be severe even as it can be mild, can deny even as it can bestow, each according to its time; it also knows how to bring good by causing hurt, it can impose harsh renunciation like a physician who prescribes bitter medicine, like a surgeon who knows very well that the cut of his knife will cause pain and yet cuts in order to save a life. "Thou shalt beat him [the child] with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell" (Proverbs 23:14). With these words, Solomon reveals to us that true love can also be severe. This is not the kind of stoic or narrowly legalistic severity that is full of self-satisfaction and would rather sacrifice its charge than ever deviate from its principles; no, however severe, it always lets its tender concern shine through, like the sun through the clouds, in a spirit of friendliness, compassion, and patient hope. For all its steadfastness, it is yet yielding and always knows what it does and why. [K. A. Schmid, ed., Enzyklopädie des gesamten Erziehungs- und Unterrichtswesens (A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Education and Instruction), 1887, quoted in Rutschky]

It is a foregone conclusion exactly which feelings are good and valuable for the child (or the adult) and which are not; exuberance, actually a sign of strength, is assigned to the latter category and consequently attacked:

One of the traits in children that border on abnormality is exuberance, which can take many forms but usually begins with exceptionally agitated activity of the voluntary muscles, followed to a greater or lesser degree by other manifestations, should an aroused desire not be immediately satisfied. Children who are just beginning to learn to talk and whose dexterity is still limited to reaching for nearby objects need only be unableto grasp an object or not be allowed to keep it; if they have a tendency toward an excitable disposition, they will then start to scream and make unrestrained movements. Malice develops quite naturally in this child, for whom feelings are no longer subject to the general laws of pleasure and pain but have degenerated from their natural state to such an extent that the child not only loses all capacity for sympathy but evinces pleasure in the discomfort and pain of others. A child's ever-growing discomfort at the loss of the pleasure he would have had if his wishes had been granted eventually finds satisfaction only in revenge, i.e., in the comforting knowledge that his peers have been subjected to the same feeling of discomfort or pain. The more often the child experiences the comforting feeling of revenge, the more this becomes a need, which seeks satisfaction at every idle moment. In this stage, the child uses unruly behavior to inflict every possible unpleasantness, every conceivable annoyance, on others, only for the sake of alleviating the pain he feels because his wishes are not being fulfilled. This fault leads with logical consistency to the next; his fear of punishment awakens the need to tell lies, to be devious and deceitful, to use these stratagems that require only some practice in order to be successful. The irresistible desire to be malicious gradually develops in the same way, as does the penchant for stealing, kleptomania. Willfulness also appears as a secondary but no less serious consequence of the original fault.

... Mothers, who are ordinarily entrusted with their children's education, very rarely know how to deal with unruly behavior successfully.

... As in the case of all illnesses that are difficult to cure, so too, in the case of the psychic fault of exuberance, the greatest care must be devoted to prophylaxis, to prevention of the disorder. The best way for an education to reach this goal is by adhering unswervingly to the principle of shielding the child as much as possible from all influences that might stimulate feelings, be they pleasant or painful. [S. Landmann, Über den Kinderfehler der Heftigkeit (On the Character Fault of Exuberance in Children), 1896, quoted in Rutschky]

Significantly, cause and effect are confused here and what is attacked as a cause is something that the pedagogues have themselves brought about. This is the case not only inpedagogy but in psychiatry and criminology as well. Once "wickedness" has been produced in a child by suppressing vitality, any measure taken to stamp it out is justified:

... In school, discipline precedes the actual teaching. There is no sounder pedagogical axiom than the one that children must first be trained before they can be taught. There can be discipline without instruction, as we have seen above, but no instruction without discipline.

We insist therefore that learning in and of itself is not discipline, is not a moral endeavor, but discipline is an essential part of learning.

This must be kept in mind when administering discipline. Discipline is, as stated above, not primarily words but deeds; if presented in words, it is not instruction but commands.

... It proceeds from this that discipline, as the Old Testament word indicates, is basically chastisement (musar). The perverse will, which to its own and others' detriment is not in command of itself, must be broken. Discipline is, as Schleiermacher puts it, life-inhibiting, is at the very least curtailment of vital activity insofar as the latter cannot develop as it wishes but is confined within specific limits and subjected to specific rules. Depending on the circumstances, however, it can also mean restraint; in other words, partial suppression of enjoyment, of the joy of living. This can be true even on a spiritual level: for example, the member of a church congregation can be deprived temporarily of the highest possible enjoyment, the enjoyment of Holy Communion, until he has regained his religious resolve. A consideration of the idea of punishment reveals that, in the task of education, healthy discipline must always include corporal punishment. Its early and firm but sparing application is the very basis of all genuine discipline because it is the power of the flesh that needs most to be broken ... .

Where human authorities are no longer capable of maintaining discipline, divine authority steps in forcibly and bows down both individuals and nations under the insufferable yoke of their own wickedness. [Enzyklopädie ... quoted in Rutschky]

Schleiermacher's "inhibition of life" is openly avowed here and extolled as a virtue. But, like many moralists, the author overlooks the fact that warm and genuine feelings areunable to grow without the vital soil of "exuberance." Theologians and pedagogues who take a moral viewpoint must be especially inventive if they are not to resort to the rod, for charitable feelings do not grow easily in soil that has been dried out by early disciplining. Still, the possibility remains of "charitable feelings" based on duty and obedience, in other words: another case of hypocrisy.


In her book Der Mann auf der Kanzel (The Man in the Pulpit) (1979), Ruth Rehmann, herself a minister's daughter, describes the atmosphere in which ministers' children have sometimes had to grow up:

They are told that their values, by virtue of their nonmaterial nature, are superior to all tangible values. The possession of hidden values encourages conceit and self-righteousness, which quickly and imperceptibly blend in with the required humility. No one can undo this, not even they themselves. No matter what they do, they have to deal not only with their physical parents but with the omnipresent super-Father, whom they cannot offend without paying for it with a guilty conscience. It is less painful to give in, to "be a dear." One does not say "love" in these families, but rather "like" and "be a dear." By avoiding use of the verb "love," they take the sting away from Eros' arrow, bending it into a wedding ring and family ties. Warmth is prevented from becoming dangerous by being relegated to the home fire. Those who have warmed themselves by it will be cold ever after wherever they may be.

After telling her father's story from a daughter's perspective, Rehmann sums up her feelings with these words:

This is what makes me uneasy about the story: this particular kind of loneliness, which doesn't look like loneliness at all because it is surrounded by well-meaning people; it's only that the one who is lonely has no way of approaching them except from above by bending down as St. Martin bent down from his lofty steed to the poor beggar. This can be given a variety of names: to do good, to help, to give, to counsel, to comfort, to instruct, even to serve; this does not change the fact that above remains above and below below and that the one who is above cannothave others do good to him, counsel, comfort, or instruct him no matter how much he may be in need of this, for in this fixed constellation no reciprocity is possible—no matter how much love there is, there is not a spark of what we call solidarity. No misery is miserable enough to make such a person come down from the lofty steed of his humble conceit.

This may well be the particular kind of loneliness of a person who, in spite of his meticulous daily observance of God's word and commandments, could incur guilt without being aware of any guilt because the recognition of certain sins presupposes a knowledge based on seeing, hearing, and understanding, not on dialogues with one's own soul. Camillo Torres had to study sociology in addition to theology in order to understand the sufferings of his people and to act accordingly. The Church did not look with favor on this. The sins associated with wanting to know have always seemed more sinful to it than those of not wanting to know, and it has always considered those people more pleasing to God who have sought what is essential in the invisible and have ignored the visible as non-essential.

The pedagogue must also put a very early stop to the desire to know, so that the child does not become aware too early of what is being done to him.

Boy: Where do children come from, dear tutor?

Tutor: They grow in their mother's body. When they have gotten so large that there is no more room for them, the mother must push them out, something like what we do when we have eaten a lot and then go to the privy. But it hurts the mother very much.

Boy: And then the baby is born?

Tutor: Yes.

Boy: But how does the baby get into the mother's body?

Tutor: That we don't know; we only know that it grows there.

Boy: That's very strange.

Tutor: No, not at all.—Look at that whole forest that has grown over there. No one is surprised by this because everyone knows that trees grow out of the earth. In the same way, no reasonable person is surprised that a baby grows in its mother's body. For this has been so as long as people have been on earth.

Boy: And do midwives have to be there when a baby is born?

Tutor: Yes, because the mothers are in such pain that they can't take care of themselves all alone. Since not all women are so hardhearted and fearless that they can be around people who must undergo so much pain, there are women in every town who are paid to stay with the mothers until the pain has passed. They are like the women who prepare dead bodies for burial; washing the dead or undressing and dressing them are also tasks not to everyone's liking, which people therefore perform for money.

Boy: I would like to be there sometime when a baby is born.

Tutor: If you want an idea of the pain and distress mothers experience, you don't need to go and see a baby being born; one doesn't have that chance because mothers do not know themselves at what moment the pains will begin. Instead, I will take you to Dr. R. when he is about to amputate a patient's leg or remove a stone from someone's body. Those people wail and scream just like mothers giving birth ... .

Boy: My mother told me not long ago that the midwife can tell right away whether the baby is a boy or a girl. How does the midwife know?

Tutor: I will tell you. Boys are much more broad-shouldered and large-boned than girls; but primarily, boys' hands and feet are always broader and coarser than girls' hands and feet. For example, you need only look at the hand of your sister, who is nearly a year and a half older than you; your hand is much broader than hers, and your fingers are thicker and fleshier. That makes them look shorter too, although they are not. [J. Heusinger (1801), quoted in Rutschky]

Once the child's intelligence has been stultified by answers such as these, then he can easily be manipulated:

It is rarely useful and often harmful for you to give them [children] reasons why you are not granting their wishes. Even when you are willing to do what they desire, accustom them now and again to postponement, to being satisfied with just part of what they want, and to accepting gratefully a boon other than the one they requested. Divert a desire you must oppose, either through some activity or by satisfying a different one. In the midst of eating, drinking, or playing, tell them from time totime with friendly gravity to interrupt their enjoyment for a few minutes and undertake something different. Fulfill no request you have once denied. Seek to satisfy children with a frequent "perhaps." You should grant this "perhaps," however, only occasionally and not always, but when they repeat a request, having been forbidden to, you should never grant it.—If they have a distaste for certain foods, determine whether these foods are of common or rare variety. If the latter is the case, you need not take great pains to combat their aversion; in the former case, see if they would rather go hungry and thirsty for a time than eat that to which they have an aversion. When, after abstaining for a time, they do partake of nourishment again, mix the despised food with others without their knowledge; if it tastes good and agrees with them, use this fact to persuade them they have been in error. If vomiting or other harmful bodily symptoms result, say nothing, but see if secretly adding the food in question will help their bodies gradually become accustomed to it. If this is not possible, then your attempts to coerce them will be in vain. If you have discovered, however, that the reason for their aversion is a figment of their imagination, attempt to remedy this by making them go hungry for a considerable period or by other methods of coercion. This will be more difficult to accomplish if children see that their parents or those who take care of them show aversion to this and that food ... .

If parents or caretakers are unable to take medicine without grimacing or making woeful complaints, they must never let the children see this but rather must frequently pretend they are making use of these vile-tasting medicines that the children may have to take someday. These and other difficulties will usually be overcome if children become accustomed to perfect obedience. The greatest problems are presented by surgical operations. If only one is necessary, say not a word about it to young children ahead of time, but conceal all preparations, perform the operation in silence, and then say, My child, now you are cured; the pain will soon be gone. If more than one operation is required, then I have no general counsel to give as to whether an explanation should be given in advance or not, because the former may be advisable for some, the latter for others.—If children are afraid of the dark, then we have only ourselves to blame. In their first weeks of life, especially when they are being fed during the night, we must occasionally extinguish the light.Once they have been spoiled, this condition must be cured little by little. The light is snuffed out; after a time it is reintroduced, then again after a longer time, finally after more than an hour. Meanwhile, there is cheerful conversation and the children are given something they like to eat. Now there is no light at all any more; now they are led by the hand through pitch-dark rooms; now they are sent into these same rooms to fetch something agreeable to them. But if parents and caretakers are frightened of the dark themselves, then I have no counsel for them except to use deception. [Basedow (1773), quoted in Rutschky]

Deception seems to be a universal method of control, even in pedagogy. Here too, as in the political sphere, ultimate victory is presented as "the successful resolution" of the conflict.

Similarly, self-control must be demanded from one's charge, and in order to learn it he must be made to practice it. Along with this, as Stoy explains very nicely in his encyclopedia, goes teaching him to observe himself, but without spending time before the looking glass, so he will recognize those faults he must devote his energy to subduing. Then, too, certain accomplishments are expected of him. The boy must learn to go without, must learn to deny himself things, and must learn to be silent when he is rebuked, to be patient when something disagreeable happens; he must learn to keep a secret, to break off in the midst of something pleasant ... .

Moreover, in the case of practicing self-control, fortitude is required only in the beginning. "Success breeds success" is a favorite adage of educators. With each victory, the power of the will increases and weakness of will wanes until it is vanquished entirely. We have known boys to become so angry that they were beside themselves with rage, as the saying goes, and just a few years later have seen them become the amazed spectators of outbursts of rage in others, and we have heard them express their gratitude to those who trained them. (Enzyklopädie ... quoted in Rutschky]

If this feeling of gratitude is to emerge, conditioning must begin at a very early age:

It is hard to go wrong if one bends a sapling in the direction in which it should grow, something that cannot be done in the case of an old oak ... .

The infant is fond of something he is playing with that amuses him. Look at him kindly, then smilingly and very calmly take it from him, with a light air; replace it immediately, without making him wait long, with another toy and pastime. He will then forget the first object and eagerly accept the second. Frequent and early repetition of this procedure ... will prove that the child is not so intractable as he is accused of being and as he would have been had he not been sensibly trained. He is not so likely to turn out to be headstrong with a familiar person who has won his confidence by means of love, play, and tender supervision. Initially, a child does not become agitated and refractory because something has been taken away from him or because his will has been thwarted but because he does not want to give up his amusement and endure boredom. The new diversion he is offered induces him to relinquish the one he had so strongly desired before. If he should show displeasure when an object he covets is withdrawn, should also cry and scream, then pay no heed nor seek to pacify the child by caressing him or by returning the object. Rather, continue your efforts to divert his attention to a new pastime. [F. S. Bock, Lehrbuch der Erziehungskunst zum Gebrauch für christliche Eltern und künftige Junglehrer (A Manual of the Art of Pedagogy for the Use of Christian Parents and Future Teachers of the Young), 1789, quoted in Rutschky]

This advice reminds me of one of my patients, who was successfully conditioned at a very early age not to heed his hunger pangs; his attention was diverted from his hunger "solely by demonstrations of affection." A complicated set of compulsive symptoms concealing his deep feelings of insecurity later resulted from this early training. Naturally, this attempt to divert his attention was only one of many ways used to stifle his vitality; facial expressions and tone of voice are very popular and often unconsciously used methods too:

A very fine and worthy position is assumed by silent punishment or silent reproof, which expresses itself by a look or an appropriate gesture. Silence often has more force than many words andthe eye more force than the mouth. It has been correctly pointed out that man uses his gaze to tame wild beasts; should it not therefore be easy for him to restrain all the bad and perverse instincts and impulses of a young mind? If we have nurtured and properly trained our children's sensitivity from the beginning, then a single glance will have more effect than a cane or switch on those children whose senses have not been dulled to gentler influences. "The eye discerns, the heart burns," should be our preferred motto in punishing. Let us assume that one of our children has told a lie but we are unable to prove it. When the family is together at the table or elsewhere, we happen to bring up the subject of people who tell lies, and with a sharp glance at the wrongdoer refer to the shameful, cowardly, and pernicious nature of lying. If he is still otherwise uncorrupted, he will sit there as if on hot coals and will lose his taste for untruthfulness. The silent, pedagogical rapport between us and him will grow stronger.—The right gestures are also among the silent servants of child-rearing. A slight movement of the hand, shaking of the head, or shrugging of the shoulders can have a greater influence than many words.—In addition to silent reproof, we can also use verbal reproof. Here, too, there is not always a need for many high-flown words. C'est le ton qui fait la musique, and this applies to pedagogy as well. Anyone fortunate enough to possess a voice whose tone can convey the most diverse moods and emotions has received from Mother Nature a fortuitous means of meting out punishment. This can be observed even in very small children. Their faces light up when Mother or Father speaks to them in a kindly tone, their wailing mouths close when Father's grave and resonant voice enjoins them to be quiet. And when a certain tone of reproof is used to order an infant to drink, it will often obediently take the bottle it had pushed away but a short time ago ... . The child does not yet understand enough, cannot yet read our feelings clearly enough to perceive that we are compelled to administer the pain of punishment only because we want what is best for him, only because of our good will. Our protestations of love would only strike him as hypocritical or contradictory. Even we adults do not always understand the biblical words, "For whom the Lord loveth, he correcteth." Only long years of experience and observation along with the belief that the salvation of the immortal soul takes precedence over all earthly values can give us aglimpse of the profound truth and wisdom of this verse.—Losing control of ourselves should not be a part of moral censure, which can still be emphatic and forceful without it; losing control only lessens respect and never shows us from our best side. However, one should not shy away from anger, from noble anger that arises from the depths of injured and outraged moral feelings. The less accustomed a child is to see lack of control in the adult and the less the adult's anger is accompanied by lack of control, the stronger will be the impact if there is finally thunder and lightning to clear the air. [A. Matthias, Wie erziehen wir unseren Sohn Benjamin? (How Shall We Rear our Son Benjamin?), 1902, quoted in Rutschky]

Can it ever occur to a small child that the need for thunder and lightning arises from the unconscious depths of the adult psyche and has nothing to do with his or her own psyche? The biblical quotation, "For whom the Lord loveth, he correcteth," implies that the adult shares in the divine omnipotence, and just as the truly devout person is not to question God's motives (see the Book of Genesis), so too the child is supposed to defer to the adult without asking for explanations:

One of the vile products of a misguided philanthropy is the idea that, in order to obey gladly, the child has to understand the reasons why an order is given and that blind obedience offends human dignity. Whoever presumes to spread these views in home or school forgets that our faith requires us adults to bow to the higher wisdom of Divine Providence and that human reason must never lose sight of this faith. He forgets that all of us here on earth live by faith alone, not by cogitation. Just as we must act with humble faith in the higher wisdom and unfathomable love of God, so the child should let his actions be guided by faith in the wisdom of his parents and teachers and should regard this as schooling in obedience toward the Heavenly Father. Anyone who alters these circumstances is flagrantly replacing faith with presumptuous doubt and at the same time overlooking the nature of the child and his need for faith.—I do not know how we can continue to speak of obedience once reasons are given. These are meant to convince the child, and, once convinced, he is not obeying us but merely the reasons we havegiven him. Respect for a higher intelligence is then replaced by a self-satisfied allegiance to his own cleverness. The adult who gives reasons for his orders opens up the field to argument and thus alters the relationship to his charge. The latter starts to negotiate, thereby placing himself on the same level as the adult; this equality is incompatible with the respect required for successful education. Anyone who believes he can win love only if he is obeyed as a result of explanations is sorely mistaken, for he fails to recognize the nature of the child and his need to submit to someone stronger than himself. If there is obedience in our hearts, a poet tells us, then love will not be far away. In the family it is usually weak mothers who follow the philanthropic principle, whereas the father demands unconditional obedience without wasting words. In return, it is the mother who is most often tyrannized by her offspring and the father who enjoys their respect; for this reason, he is the head of the whole household and determines its atmosphere. [L. Kellner (1852), quoted in Rutschky]

Obedience appears to be the undisputed supreme principle of religious education as well. The word appears again and again in the Psalms and always in connection with the danger of loss of love if the sin of disobedience should be committed. Whoever finds this surprising "fails to recognize the nature of the child and his need to submit to someone stronger than himself."

The Bible is also cited to discourage the expression of natural maternal feelings, which are described as doting:

Is it not doting when the baby is coddled and pampered in every way from infancy? Instead of accustoming the baby from the very first day of his life on earth to discipline and regularity in his intake of nourishment and thereby laying the groundwork for moderation, patience, and human happiness, doting lets itself be guided by the infant's crying ... .

A doting love cannot be severe, cannot refuse anything, cannot say no for the child's own good; it can only say yes, to the child's detriment. It allows itself to be dominated by a blind desire to be kind, as if this were a natural instinct; it permits when it should forbid, is lenient when it should punish, is indulgentwhen it should be strict. A doting love lacks any clear idea of the goal of education; it is shortsighted. It wants to do right by the child but chooses the wrong methods. It is led astray by the emotions of the moment instead of being guided by composure and reflection. It allows itself to be misled by the child instead of leading him. It does not have any calm and genuine power of resistance and allows itself to be tyrannized by the child's contradictions, by his willfulness and defiance, or even by the pleas, flattery, and tears of the young tyrant. It is the opposite of true love, which does not shrink from punishment. The Bible says, "He who loves his son chastises him often with the rod, that he may be his joy when he grows up" (Sirach 30: 1), and, "Pamper your child and he will be a terror for you, indulge him and he will bring you grief" (Sirach 30 : 9) ... . Sometimes children raised dotingly are guilty of gross misbehavior toward their parents. [Matthias, quoted in Rutschky]

Parents fear this "misbehavior" so much that on occasion they feel thoroughly justified in using any means to prevent it. And for this purpose they have a rich palette of possibilities to choose from; prominent among them is the method of withdrawing love, which can take many forms. This is something no child can risk.

The infant must perceive order and discipline before he becomes conscious of them, so that he will proceed to the stage of awakening consciousness with good habits already formed and his imperious physical egoism under control ... .

Thus, the adult must instill obedience by the exercise of his power; this is done with a severe glance, a firm word, possibly by means of physical force (which curbs bad behavior although it is unable to produce good behavior) and by means of punishment. Punishment, however, need not primarily cause physical pain but can utilize withdrawal of kindness and of expressions of love, depending on the type or frequency of the disobedience. For example, for a more sensitive child who is being quarrelsome, this can mean removing him from his mother's lap, refusal of his father's hand or of the bedtime kiss, etc. Since the child's affection can be gained by expressions of love, this same affection can be made use of to make him more amenable to discipline.

... We have defined obedience as submission of the will to the legitimate will of another person ... .

The will of the adult must be a fortress, inaccessible to duplicity or defiance and granting admittance only when obedience knocks at the gates. [Enzyklopädie ... quoted in Rutschky]

When still in diapers, the child learns to knock at the gates of love with "obedience," and unfortunately often does not unlearn this ever after:

... Turning now to the second major point, how to instill obedience, we begin by showing how this can be done at a very early age. Pedagogy correctly points out that even a baby in diapers has a will of his own and is to be treated accordingly. [Enzyklopädie ...]

If treatment of this sort is carried through consistently enough and early enough, then all the requirements will have been met to enable a citizen to live in a dictatorship without minding it; he or she will even be able to feel a euphoric identification with it, as happened in the Hitler period:

... for the health and vitality of a political commonwealth owe just as much to the flourishing of obedience to law and authority as to the prudent use of energy of its leaders. Likewise in the family, in all matters of child-rearing, the will that gives orders and the one that carries them out must not be regarded as antagonistic; they are both the organic expression of what is actually a single will. [Enzyklopädie ... ]

Just as in the symbiosis of the "diaper stage," there is no separation here of subject and object. If the child learns to view corporal punishment as "a necessary measure" against "wrongdoers," then as an adult he will attempt to protect himself from punishment by being obedient and will not hesitate to cooperate with the penal system. In a totalitarian state, which is a mirror of his upbringing, this citizen can also carry out any form of torture or persecution without having a guilty conscience. His "will" is completely identical with that of the government.

Now that we have seen how easy it is for intellectuals in a dictatorship to be corrupted, it would be a vestige of artistocratic snobbery to think that only "the uneducated masses" are susceptible to propaganda. Both Hitler and Stalin had a surprisingly large number of enthusiastic followers among intellectuals. Our capacity to resist has nothing to do with our intelligence but with the degree of access to our true self. Indeed, intelligence is capable of innumerable rationalizations when it comes to the matter of adaptation. Educators have always known this and have exploited it for their own purposes, as the following proverb suggests: "The clever person gives in, the stupid one balks." For example, we read in a work on child raising by Grünewald (1899): "I have never yet found willfulness in an intellectually advanced or exceptionally gifted child" (quoted in Rutschky). Such a child can, in later life, exhibit extraordinary acuity in criticizing the ideologies of his opponents—and in puberty even the views by his own parents—because in these cases his intellectual powers can function without impairment. Only within a group —such as one consisting of adherents of an ideology or a theoretical school—that represents the early family situation will this person on occasion still display a naive submissiveness and uncritical attitude that completely belie his brilliance in other situations. Here, tragically, his early dependence upon tyrannical parents is preserved, a dependence that—in keeping with the program of "poisonous pedagogy"—goes undetected. This explains why Martin Heidegger, for example, who had no trouble in breaking with traditional philosophy and leaving behind the teachers of his adolescence, was not able to see the contradictions in Hitler's ideology that should have been obvious to someone of his intelligence. He responded to this ideology with an infantile fascination and devotion that brooked no criticism.

In the tradition we are dealing with, it was considered obstinacy and was therefore frowned upon to have a will and mind of one's own. It is easy to understand that an intelligent child would want to escape the punishments devised for thosepossessing these traits and that he or she could do so without any difficulty. What the child didn't realize was that escape came at a high price.


The father receives his powers from God (and from his own father). The teacher finds the soil already prepared for obedience, and the political leader has only to harvest what has been sown:

With the most forceful form of punishment, corporal chastisement, we come to the ultimate in punishment. Just as the rod serves as the symbol of paternal discipline in the home, the stick is the primary emblem of school discipline. There was a time when the stick was the cure-all for any mischief in school as the rod was in the home. It is an age-old "indirect way of speaking from the soul," common to all nations. What can be more obvious than the rule, "He who won't hear must be made to feel"? Pedagogical blows provide a forceful accompaniment to words and intensify their effect. The most direct and natural way of administering them is by that box on the ears, preceded by a strong pulling on the ear, which we still remember from our own youth. This is an unmistakable reminder of the existence of an organ of hearing and of its intended use. It obviously has symbolic significance, as does a slap on the mouth, which is a reminder that there is an organ of speech and a warning to put it to better use ... . The tried and true blow to the head and hair-pulling still convey a certain symbolism, too ... .

Even truly Christian pedagogy, which takes a person as he is, not as he should be, cannot in principle renounce every form of corporal chastisement, for it is exactly the proper punishment for certain kinds of delinquency: it humiliates and upsets the child, affirms the necessity of bowing to a higher order and at the same time reveals paternal love in all its vigor ... . We would be in complete sympathy if a conscientious teacher declared: I would rather not be a teacher at all than have to relinquish my prerogative of reaching for the ultima ratio of the stick when necessary.

... "The father strikes his child and himself feels the smart,/ Severity is a merit if you have a gentle heart," writes the poet Rückert. If the teacher is a true representative of the father, then he also knows how to display—with the stick when necessary—alove that is often purer and deeper than that of many a natural father. And although we call the child's heart a sinful one, we believe we may still say: The childish heart as a rule understands this love, even if not always at the moment. [Enzyklopädie ... quoted in Rutschky]

As an adult, this child will often allow himself to be manipulated by various forms of propaganda since he is already used to having his "inclinations" manipulated and has never known anything else:

First and foremost, the educator must take care that those inclinations hostile and adverse to the higher will, instead of being awakened and nourished by early education (as so commonly occurs), be prevented by every possible means from developing or at least be eradicated as soon as possible ... .

Whereas the child should be as little acquainted as possible with those inclinations unfavorable to his higher development, he should, on the other hand, be zealously and frequently introduced to all the rest or at least to their first buddings.

Therefore, let the educator instill in the child at an early age abundant and enduring inclinations of the better sort. Let him rouse him often and in divers ways to merriment, joyfulness, delight, hope, etc., but occasionally, although less frequently and more briefly, let him also encourage fear, sadness, and the like. He will have opportunity enough for this by virtue of the fact that, in the normal course of events, some of the child's manifold needs, not only of the body but also and primarily of the soul, are satisfied; that others are not; and that there are various combinations of both conditions. He must arrange everything so that it be nature's doing and not his own, or at least so that this appear to be the case. The unpleasant occurrences in particular must not betray their origin if he is the one responsible for them. [K. Weiller, Versuch eines Lehrgebäudes der Erziehungskunde (Toward a Theory of the Art of Education), 1805, quoted in Rutschky]

The person actually benefiting from this manipulation must not be detected. The child can be manipulated in another way: by frightening him in a manner that destroys or perverts his natural curiosity:

It is also well known how curious children are in this regard, especially when they are somewhat older, and what strange paths and means they often elect to acquaint themselves with the physical differences between the sexes. One can be sure that every discovery they make will feed their already heated imagination and thus endanger their innocence. For this reason alone, it would be advisable to anticipate this, and the instruction referred to earlier makes it necessary in any case. It would of course offend all modesty if one sex were permitted to disrobe freely in front of the other. And yet a boy should know how the female body is fashioned, and a girl should know how the male body is fashioned; otherwise, they will not receive correct impressions and their curiosity will know no bounds. Both sexes should learn about this in a solemn manner. Illustrations might give satisfaction in this matter, but do they present the matter clearly? Do they not inflame the imagination? Do they not awaken a wish for a comparison with nature? All these worries disappear if one makes use of a lifeless human body for this purpose. The sight of a corpse evokes solemnity and reflection, and this is the most appropriate mood for a child under such circumstances. By a natural association of ideas, his memory of the scene will also produce a solemn frame of mind in the future. The image imprinted in his soul will not have the seductive attractiveness of images freely engendered by the imagination or of those elicited by less solemn objects. If all young people could receive their instruction about human reproduction from an anatomical lecture, matters would be much simpler. But since there is so little opportunity for this, every teacher can also impart the necessary instruction in the manner described above. There is often opportunity to see a corpse. [J. Oest (1787), quoted in Rutschky]

Viewing corpses is here considered a legitimate means of combating the sex drive, of preserving "innocence"; at the same time, however, the groundwork is thus being laid for the development of future perversions. Systematically induced disgust with one's own body also fulfills this function:

Instilling modesty is not nearly so effective as teaching children to regard disrobing and all that goes with it as improper and as offensive to others, just as offensive as it would be, for example,to expect someone to carry out a chamber pot who is not paid to perform the task. For this reason I would suggest that children be cleansed from head to foot every two to four weeks by an old, dirty, and ugly woman, without anyone else being present; still, parents or those in charge should make sure that even this old woman doesn't linger unnecessarily over any part of the body. This task should be depicted to the children as disgusting, and they should be told that the old woman must be paid to undertake a task that, although necessary for purposes of health and cleanliness, is yet so disgusting that no other person can bring himself to do it. This would serve to prevent a shock to their sense of modesty. [Oest, quoted in Rutschky]

Causing a child to feel shame can also be a stratagem in the struggle against willfulness:

As already outlined above, willfulness must be broken "at an early age by making the child feel the adult's unquestionable superiority." Later on, shaming the child has a more lasting effect, especially on vigorous natures, for whom willfulness is often allied with boldness and energy. Toward the end of his education, either a veiled or an open reference to the ugly and immoral character of this fault must succeed in enlisting the child's thoughts and all his willpower against the last vestiges of willfulness. It has been our experience that a private conversation proves efficacious in this last stage. In view of the prevalence of willfulness in children, it is very surprising that the appearance, nature, and cure of this antisocial psychic phenomenon has received so little attention and elucidation in child psychology and pathology. [Grünewald, Über den Kinderfehler des Eigensinns (On the Character Fault of Willfulness in Children), quoted in Rutschky]

It is always important to employ all these methods as early as possible:

If we frequently do not achieve our purpose, even in this manner, let this be a reminder for wise parents to make their child docile, malleable, and obedient at a very early age and to accustom him to conquer his own will. This is a major aspect of moral education and to neglect it is the worst mistake we can make. The correct observance of this duty without jeopardizing theother duty that obligates us to see that the child is kept in a happy frame of mind is the most important skill required in early training. [Bock (1780), quoted in Rutschky]

In the three scenes that follow, we see vivid examples of how the principles described above can be put into practice. I quote these passages at such length in order to give the reader an idea of the atmosphere these children (i.e., if not we ourselves, then at least our parents) breathed in daily. This material helps us to understand how neuroses develop. They are not caused by an external event but by repression of the innumerable psychological factors making up the child's daily life that the child is never capable of describing because he or she doesn't know that things can be any other way:

Until the time he was four, I taught little Konrad four essentials: to pay attention, to obey, to behave himself, and to be moderate in his desires.

The first I accomplished by continually showing him all kinds of animals, flowers, and other wonders of nature and by explaining pictures to him; the second by constantly making him, whenever he was in my presence, do things at my bidding; the third by inviting children to come play with him from time to time when I was present, and whenever a quarrel arose, I carefully determined who had started it and removed the culprit from the game for a time; the fourth I taught him by often denying him something he asked for with great agitation. Once, for example, I cut up a honeycomb and brought a large dishful into the room. "Honey ! Honey!" he cried joyfully, "Father, give me some honey," pulled his chair to the table, sat down, and waited for me to spread a few rolls with honey for him. I didn't do it but set the honey before him and said: "I'm not going to give you any honey yet; first we will plant some peas in the garden; then, when that is done, we will enjoy a roll with honey together." He looked first at me, then at the honey, whereupon he went to the garden with me. Also, when serving food, I always arranged it so that he was the last one served. For example, my parents and little Christel were eating with us once, and we had rice pudding, which he especially liked. "Pudding!" he cried joyfully, embracing his mother. "Yes," I said, "it's rice pudding. Little Konrad shall have some, too. First the big people shallhave some, and afterwards the little people. Here, Grandmother, is some pudding for you. Here, Grandfather, is some for you, too! Here, Mother, is some for you. This is for Father, this for Christel, and this? Whom do you think this is for?" "'Onrad," he responded joyfully. He did not find this arrangement unjust, and I saved myself all the vexation parents have who give their children the first portion of whatever is brought to the table. [Salzmann (1796), quoted in Rutschky]

The "little people" sit quietly at the table and wait. This need not be demeaning. It all depends on the adult's intention —and here the adult in question shows unabashedly how much he enjoys his power and his bigness at the expense of the little ones.

Something similar occurs in the next story, in which telling a lie is the only possible way for the child to read in privacy:

A lie is something dishonorable. It is recognized as such even by those who tell one, and there probably isn't a single liar who has any self-respect. But someone who doesn't respect himself doesn't respect others either, and the liar thus finds himself excluded from human society to a certain extent.

It follows from this that a young liar needs to be treated very discreetly so that, in the process of being cured of his fault, his self-respect, which has already suffered as it is from knowing he has lied, will not be even more seriously damaged, and this is no doubt a rule that admits of no exception: a child who lies must never be publicly censured or punished for this fault or, except under the most extreme circumstances, even publicly reminded of it.—The adult will do well to appear to be more surprised and even astonished that the child has been untruthful than to appear outraged that he has told a lie, and the adult should pretend as long as possible that he takes a (deliberate) lie for an (unintentional) untruth. This is the key to the behavior assumed by Mr. Willich when he discovered traces of this vice even in his own little family group.

Katie was guilty of being untruthful on occasion ... . She once had the opportunity to benefit from this, and she succumbed to the temptation. One evening she had done her knitting with such diligence that the portion she completedcould pass for the work of two evenings. In addition, her mother happened to forget to have the girls show her what they had accomplished that evening.

On the following evening Katie secretly stole away from the rest of the family, took up a book that had come into her hands that day, and spent the whole evening reading it. She was cunning enough to conceal from her sisters, who were sent from time to time to see where she was and what she was doing, the fact that she was reading; they found her either with her knitting in her hand or at some other task.

This time her mother inspected the girls' work. Katie held up her stocking. It had indeed grown considerably in size, but her observant mother thought she noticed a certain evasiveness in the girl. She looked at the knitting, said nothing, but decided to make some inquiries. The next day, by asking some questions, she determined that Katie couldn't have done her knitting the previous evening. But, instead of indiscreetly accusing her of being untruthful, at a fitting moment she engaged the girl in conversation with the intention of setting a trap for her.

They spoke of woman's work. The mother remarked that at the present time it was usually very badly paid and added that she didn't believe a girl of Katie's age and skill could earn what she needed to live when food, clothing, and shelter were taken into account. Katie, however, believed the opposite and said she, for example, could accomplish twice as much with her knitting in a few hours as the mother had reckoned. The mother disagreed heartily. This in turn caused the girl to become very agitated; she forgot herself and exclaimed that two days ago she had knit twice as big a portion as usual.

"What am I to think of that?" the mother responded. "You told me yesterday that the evening before you had knit half the amount of what has been added to your stocking."—Katie turned red. She didn't know where to look and cast her eyes about uncontrollably. "Katie," her mother said to her in a grave but sympathetic tone of voice, "has the white ribbon in your hair been of no help?—I must sadly take my leave of you." She quickly rose from her chair and left the room, with a grave manner and without looking at the dismayed Katie, who wanted to run after her but instead remained behind, upset and in tears.

One will note that this was not the first time since Katie had been living with her foster parents that she had been guilty ofthis fault. Her mother had remonstrated with her about it and had finally told her that in the future she must wear a white ribbon in her hair. "White," she added, "is often considered the color of innocence and purity. You will do well, whenever you look in the mirror, to be reminded by your headband of purity and truthfulness, which should reign in your thoughts and words. Untruthfulness, on the other hand, is filth that stains your soul."—These measures had helped for a considerable time. But now, with this new lapse, all hope was gone that Katie's fault could remain a secret between her and her mother. For the latter had assured her at the time that if Katie proved guilty of this fault one more time, she, the mother, would feel obligated to call upon the father for assistance and thus reveal the matter to him.

Now things had reached this point, and it happened as the mother had promised. For she was not one to threaten to do something without carrying out her threat immediately if the need arose.

Mr. Willich appeared very displeased, ill-humored, and pensive all day long. All the children noticed it, but only for Katie were his stern looks like arrows in her heart. Her fear of what was coming tormented the girl all afternoon.

In the evening Katie's father called her to his room. She found him still with the same mien.

"Katie," he said to her, "I have been confronted with something exceedingly unpleasant today: I have found a liar among my children."

Katie started to cry and could not say a word.

Mr. Willich: "I was shocked when your mother told me you have demeaned yourself with this vice several times before. Tell me, for heaven's sake, child, how does it come about that you can go so far astray?" (After a pause) "Now dry your tears. Crying will not make it better. Tell me instead about yesterday's incident so that we can determine how to help prevent this wickedness in the future. Explain what happened yesterday evening. Where were you? What did you do or not do?"

Hereupon Katie related the episode as it had happened and as we already know it. She concealed nothing, not even the cunning she had employed to deceive her sisters about what she was doing. "Katie," responded Mr. Willich in a tone that inspired confidence, "you have told me things about yourself that youyourself cannot possibly welcome. When your mother examined your knitting yesterday evening, you told her you had been working hard on it. Knitting is undeniably something good; you told Mother something good about yourself. Now tell me, when did you feel lighter of heart—just now when you were telling something bad that is the truth, or yesterday when you were telling something good that was not the truth?"

Katie admitted she was relieved that she had confessed and that it was an ugly vice to tell lies ... .

Katie: "It's true, I was very foolish. But forgive me, dear Father."

Willich: "It's not a question of forgiveness. You have offended me very little. Yourself, however, and your mother as well you have offended very severely. I shall proceed accordingly, and if you were to lie ten times more, you would not deceive me. If what you say is not obviously true, then in the future I shall treat your words like money one thinks is counterfeit. I shall test and question and examine. For me, you will be like a walking stick one cannot rely on; I shall always look at you with a measure of distrust."

Katie: "Ah, dear Father, as bad as all that ..."

Willich: "Do not think, poor child, that I am exaggerating or joking. If I cannot rely on your truthfulness, then who will guarantee me that I shall not come to harm if I believe what you say?—I see, dear child, that you have two enemies to conquer if you wish to eradicate your inclination to tell lies. Do you want to know what they are, Katie?"

Katie (ingratiatingly, appearing a little too amiable and light-hearted): "Oh yes, dear Father."

Willich: "But are you sufficiently composed and prepared in your mind? I don't want to say it if it doesn't stay with you and is forgotten again by tomorrow."

Katie (more earnestly): "No, I will be sure to remember it."

Willich: "Poor girl, if you should take this lightly!" (After a pause) "Your first enemy is frivolity and thoughtlessness.

—When you put the book in your pocket and stole away to read it in secret, you should have given some thought to what you were doing. How could you find it in your heart to do even the slightest thing you wanted to keep from us? Whatever put the idea into your head? If you regarded reading the book as permissible—good, then you needed only to say, 'I should like to readthis book today, and I ask that my diligence in knitting yesterday be counted toward today'—do you really think it would have been denied you? Didn't you regard it as permissible?—Would you have wanted to do something impermissible without our knowledge? Certainly not. You are not that wicked ... . Your second enemy, dear daughter, is false modesty. You are ashamed to confess it if you have done something wrong. Do away with this fear. This enemy can be vanquished straightaway. Don't permit yourself any more excuses or reticence, not even in the case of the smallest mistake you make. Let us, let your sisters know your heart even as you know it yourself. You are not yet so depraved that you must be ashamed to confess what you have done. Only hide nothing from yourself, and no longer tell anything differently from the way you know it to be. Even in the most trivial matters, even when joking, do not permit yourself to report anything other than the way it really is.

"Your mother has, as I see, taken the white ribbon from your hair. You have forfeited it, that is true. You have besmirched your soul with a lie. But you have also made amends. You have confessed your faults to me so faithfully that I cannot believe you have concealed or misrepresented anything. This in turn proves to me your sincerity and truthfulness. Here is another ribbon for your hair. It is not as nice as the other one, but it is not a question of how fine the ribbon is but of the worth of the one who wears it. If she increases in worth, then I will not be averse someday to showing my appreciation with an expensive hair ribbon worked with silver." With this, he dismissed the girl, not without concern that recurrences of this fault would occur because of her lively temperament, but also not without hope that her keen intelligence and a skillful handling of the situation would soon help the girl to become more steadfast in her ways and thereby block off the wellspring of this ugly vice.

After a time, there was indeed a recurrence ... . It was evening, and the children had just been asked what their tasks had been and how they had performed them. Their accounts were exceptionally good; even Katie could cite some things she had done beyond the usual course of her duties. But she suddenly remembered one thing she had neglected to do; she not only kept it from her mother but, upon being questioned, professed that she had done it. There were some holes in her stockings that she was supposed to have darned and had forgotten about.When she thought of it just as she was giving her accounting, she also remembered that for the past few days she had been rising earlier in the morning than the others. She hoped that this would be the case again the next morning and she would then quickly take care of it.

Things did not turn out at all as Katie had expected, however. Out of carelessness she had left her stockings where she wasn't supposed to, and her mother had already taken them away, whereas the girl believed they were still where she had put them. It was on the tip of the mother's tongue to ask Katie about the stockings again, while giving her a searching look. But she remembered just in time that her husband had forbidden her ever to accuse the girl of her fault in front of others, and she restrained herself. But it hurt her to the quick that the girl could utter a flagrant untruth with such ease.

The mother was also up early the next morning, for she had an idea of what Katie had in mind. She found her daughter already dressed, searching for something and more than a little worried. The girl was about to offer her mother her hand to bid her good morning and was attempting to assume her usual amiable manner. The mother took this to be the right moment. "Don't force yourself," she said, "to lie with your mien as well; your mouth already did so yesterday. Your stockings have been there in the closet since yesterday noon, and you didn't remember to darn them. How could you tell me yesterday evening that they were darned?"

Katie: "Oh, Mother, I could die."

"Here are your stockings," the mother said in a very cold and distant voice. "I want nothing more to do with you today. Come to your lessons or not, it's all the same to me. You are a wretched girl."

With this, the mother left the room, and Katie sat down, crying and sobbing, to do hurriedly what she had omitted to do the day before. Hardly had she begun, however, when Mr. Willich entered the room with a grave and mournful expression and silently paced up and down.

Willich: "You are crying, Katie. What has happened to you?"

Katie: "Oh, dear Father, you already know what it is."

Willich: "I want to know from you, Katie, what has happened."

Katie (hiding her face in her handkerchief): "I told another lie."

Willich: "Unhappy child. Is it really impossible for you to master your frivolous ways?"

Katie's tears and heavy heart prevented her from answering. Willich: "I shall not besiege you with much talk, dear daughter. You already know well enough that a lie is a disgraceful thing, and I have also noted that at times, when you do not collect your thoughts, a lie pops out. What is to be done? You must take action, and I will lend you support as a friend.

"Let the present day be set to mourn over the mistake you made yesterday. The ribbons you put on today must be black. Go and do it before your sisters get up." When Katie returned, having done as she had been ordered, Mr. Willich continued: "Be comforted, you shall have in me a faithful source of support in your sorrow. So that you become more mindful of yourself, you are to come to my room every evening before you go to bed and enter into a notebook that I am going to prepare for this purpose either 'Today I told a lie' or 'Today I did not tell a lie.'

You need not fear a reprimand from me, even if you have to enter something unpleasant. I hope that just the reminder of a lie you have told will protect you from this vice for many days at a time. So that I, too, may do something to help you throughout the day to have something good in the evening to enter in the book rather than something bad, I forbid you from this evening on, when you take the black ribbon out of your hair, to wear any ribbons in your hair. I forbid this for an indefinite period until the record you keep convinces me that your earnest behavior and your truthfulness have become so ingrained that in my judgment a recurrence is no longer to be feared. If you reach that point, as I hope you will—then you will be able to choose for yourself which color hair ribbon you will wear." [Heusinger, Die Familie Wertheim (The Wertheim Family), 1800, quoted in Rutschky]

Katie is without a doubt convinced that only she, the wicked creature, could harbor such a vice. In order to realize that her wonderful and kind father himself has difficulties with the truth and for this reason torments her so, the child would have to have some experience with psychoanalysis. Asit is, she considers herself very bad compared to her exemplary parents.

And little Konrad's father? Can we perhaps see in him the problem of numerous fathers of our day?

I had made a firm resolve to raise him without ever striking him, but it didn't turn out as I had hoped. An occasion soon arose when I was compelled to use the rod.

It happened like this. Christel came to visit and brought a doll along. No sooner had Konrad seen it than he wanted to have it. I asked Christel to give it to him, and she did. After Konrad had held it for a while, Christel wanted it back, and Konrad didn't want to give it to her. What was I to do now? If I had brought him his picture book and then had said he should give the doll to Christel, perhaps he would have done it without objecting. But I didn't think of it, and even if I had, I don't know whether I would have done it. I thought it was high time for the child to accustom himself to obeying his father unquestioningly. I therefore said, "Konrad, don't you want to give Christel's doll back to her?"

"No!" he said with considerable vehemence.

"But poor Christel has no doll!"

"No!" he answered again, started to cry, clutched the doll, and turned his back to me.

Then I said to him in a severe tone of voice, "Konrad, you must return the doll to Christel at once; I insist."

And what did Konrad do? He threw the doll at Christel's feet.

Heavens, how upset I was by this. If my best cow had died, I don't think I would have been as shocked. Christel was about to pick up the doll, but I stopped her. "Konrad," I said, "pick the doll up at once and hand it to Christel."

"No! No!" cried Konrad.

Then I fetched a switch, showed it to him, and said, "Pick up the doll or I will have to give you a whipping." But the child remained obstinate and cried, "No! No!"

Then I raised the switch and was about to strike him when a new element was added to the scene. His mother cried, "Dear husband, I beg you, for heaven's sake—"

Now I was faced with a dilemma. I made a quick resolve, however, took the doll and the switch, picked up Konrad, ran out of the room and into another, locked the door behind me sohis mother could not follow, threw the doll on the ground and said, "Pick up the doll or I will give you a whipping!" My Konrad persisted in saying no.

Then I lashed him, one! two! three! "Don't you want to pick up the doll now?" I asked.

"No!" was his reply.

Then I whipped him much harder and said: "Pick up the doll at once!"

Then he finally picked it up; I took him by the hand, led him back into the other room, and said: "Give the doll to Christel!"

He gave it to her.

Then he ran crying to his mother and wanted to put his head in her lap. But she had enough sense to push him away and said, "Go away, you're not my good Konrad."

To be sure, the tears were rolling down her cheeks as she said it. When I noticed this, I asked her please to leave the room. After she had gone, Konrad cried for perhaps another quarter hour; then he stopped.

I can certainly say that my heart was sore throughout this scene, partly because I felt pity for the child, partly because I was distressed by his stubbornness.

At mealtime I couldn't eat; I got up from the table and went to see our pastor and poured my heart out to him. I was comforted by what he said. "You did the right thing, dear Mr. Kiefer," he said. "When the nettles are still young, they can be pulled out easily; but if they are left for a long time, the roots will grow, and then if one attempts to pull them out, the roots will be deeply imbedded. It is the same way with misbehavior in children. The longer one overlooks it, the more difficult it is to eliminate. It was also a good thing for you to give the stubborn little fellow a thorough whipping. He won't forget it for a long time to come.

"If you had used the rod sparingly, not only would it have done no good on this occasion, but you would always have to whip him in the future, and the boy would become so accustomed to it that in the end he would think nothing of it. That is why children usually don't take it seriously when their mothers spank them, because mothers don't have the courage to strike them hard. This is also the reason why there are children who are so intractable that nothing can be accomplished any more by even the most severe thrashing ... .

"Now while the lashes are still fresh in your Konrad's mind, I advise you to take advantage of it. When you come home, see that you order him about a good deal. Have him fetch you your boots, your shoes, your pipe, and take them away again; have him carry the stones in the yard from one place to another. He will do it all and will become accustomed to obeying." [Salzmann (1796), quoted in Rutschky]

Do the pastor's comforting words sound that outdated? Wasn't it reported in 1979 that two-thirds of the German population are in favor of corporal punishment? In England, flogging has not yet been prohibited in the schools and is accepted as routine in the boarding schools there. Who will bear the brunt of this humiliating treatment later when the colonies are no longer there to perform this function? Not every former pupil can become a teacher and attain revenge in this way ...


I have selected the foregoing passages in order to characterize an attitude that reveals itself more or less openly, not only in Fascism but in other ideologies as well. The scorn and abuse directed at the helpless child as well as the suppression of vitality, creativity, and feeling in the child and in oneself permeate so many areas of our life that we hardly notice it anymore. Almost everywhere we find the effort, marked by varying degrees of intensity and by the use of various coercive measures, to rid ourselves as quickly as possible of the child within us—i.e., the weak, helpless, dependent creature—in order to become an independent, competent adult deserving of respect. When we reencounter this creature in our children, we persecute it with the same measures once used on ourselves. And this is what we are accustomed to call "child-rearing."

In the following pages I shall apply the term "poisonous pedagogy" to this very complex endeavor. It will be clear fromthe context in question which of its many facets I am emphasizing at the moment. The specific facets can be derived directly from the preceding quotations from child-rearing manuals. These passages teach us that:

1. Adults are the masters (not the servants!) of the dependent child.

2. They determine in godlike fashion what is right and what is wrong.

3. The child is held responsible for their anger.

4. The parents must always be shielded.

5. The child's life-affirming feelings pose a threat to the autocratic adult.

6. The child's will must be "broken" as soon as possible.

7. All this must happen at a very early age, so the child "won't notice" and will therefore not be able to expose the adults.

The methods that can be used to suppress vital spontaneity in the child are: laying traps, lying, duplicity, subterfuge, manipulation, "scare" tactics, withdrawal of love, isolation, distrust, humiliating and disgracing the child, scorn, ridicule, and coercion even to the point of torture.

It is also a part of "poisonous pedagogy" to impart to the child from the beginning false information and beliefs that have been passed on from generation to generation and dutifully accepted by the young even though they are not only unproven but are demonstrably false. Examples of such beliefs are:

1. A feeling of duty produces love.

2. Hatred can be done away with by forbidding it.

3. Parents deserve respect simply because they are parents.

4. Children are undeserving of respect simply because they are children.

5. Obedience makes a child strong.

6. A high degree of self-esteem is harmful.

7. A low degree of self-esteem makes a person altruistic.

8. Tenderness (doting) is harmful.

9. Responding to a child's needs is wrong.

10. Severity and coldness are a good preparation for life.

11. A pretense of gratitude is better than honest ingratitude.

12. The way you behave is more important than the way you really are.

13. Neither parents nor God would survive being offended.

14. The body is something dirty and disgusting.

15. Strong feelings are harmful.

16. Parents are creatures free of drives and guilt.

17. Parents are always right.

When we consider the major role intimidation plays in this ideology, which was still at the peak of its popularity at the turn of the century, it is not surprising that Sigmund Freud had to conceal his surprising discovery of adults' sexual abuse of their children, a discovery he was led to by the testimony of his patients. He disguised his insight with the aid of a theory that nullified this inadmissible knowledge. Children of his day were not allowed, under the severest of threats, to be aware of what adults were doing to them, and if Freud had persisted in his seduction theory, he not only would have had his introjected parents to fear but would no doubt have been discredited, and probably ostracized, by middle-class society. In order to protect himself, he had to devise a theory that would preserve appearances by attributing all "evil," guilt, and wrongdoing to the child's fantasies, in which the parents served only as the objects of projection. We can understand why this theory omitted the fact that it is the parents who not only project their sexual and aggressive fantasies onto the child but also are able to act out these fantasies because they wield the power. It is probably thanks to this omission that many professionals in the psychiatric field, themselves the products of "poisonous pedagogy," have been able to accept the Freudian theory of drives, because it did not force them to question their idealized image of their parents. With the aid of Freud's drive and structural theories, they have been able to continue obeying the commandment they internalizedin early childhood: "Thou shalt not be aware of what your parents are doing to you."4

I consider the impact of "poisonous pedagogy" on the theory and practice of psychoanalysis so crucial that I intend to treat this theme much more extensively in another book (cf. page xvi). For now I must limit myself to stressing how important it is that we all be aware of the effect of the commandment to refrain from placing blame on our parents. This commandment, deeply imprinted in us by our upbringing, skillfully performs the function of hiding essential truths from us, or even making them appear as their exact opposites. The price many of us must pay for this is severe neurosis.

What becomes of all those people who are the successful products of a strict upbringing?

It is inconceivable that they were able to express and develop their true feelings as children, for anger and helpless rage, which they were forbidden to display, would have been among these feelings—particularly if these children were beaten, humiliated, lied to, and deceived. What becomes of this forbidden and therefore unexpressed anger? Unfortunately, it does not disappear, but is transformed with time into a more or less conscious hatred directed against either the self or substitute persons, a hatred that will seek to discharge itself in various ways permissible and suitable for an adult.

The little Katies and Konrads of all time have always been in agreement as adults that their childhood was the happiestperiod of their life. Only with today's younger generation are we seeing a change taking place in this regard. Lloyd de Mause is probably the first scholar who has made a thorough study of the history of childhood without glossing over the facts and without invalidating the results of his research with an idealizing commentary. Because this psychohistorian has the ability to empathize, he has no need to repress the truth. The truth laid bare in his book, The History of Childhood, is sad and depressing, but it holds hope for the future: those who read this book and realize that the children described here later turned into adults will no longer find the atrocities in human history hard to understand. They will locate the places where the seeds of cruelty have been sown and by virtue of their discovery will conclude that the human race need not remain the victim of such cruelty forever. For, by uncovering the unconscious rules of the power game and the methods by which it attains legitimacy, we are certainly in a position to bring about basic changes. The rules of the game cannot be fully comprehended, however, unless we develop an understanding of the hazards of early childhood, that time when the ideology of child-rearing is passed on to the next generation.

Without a doubt, the conscious ideals of young parents of the present generation have changed. Obedience, coercion, severity, and lack of feeling are no longer recognized as absolute values. But the road to the realization of the new ideals is frequently blocked by the need to repress the sufferings of one's childhood, and this leads to a lack of empathy. It is precisely the little Katies and Konrads who as adults close their ears to the subject of child abuse (or else minimize its harmfulness), because they themselves claim to have had a "happy childhood." Yet their very lack of empathy reveals the opposite: they had to keep a stiff upper lip at a very early age. Those who actually had the privilege of growing up in an empathic environment (which is extremely rare, for until recently it was not generally known how much a child can suffer), or who later create an inner empathic object, are morelikely to be open to the suffering of others, or at least will not deny its existence. This is a necessary precondition if old wounds are to heal instead of merely being covered up with the help of the next generation.

The "Sacred" Values of Child-Rearing

It also gives us a very special, secret pleasure to see how unaware the people around us are of what is really happening to them.


People who have grown up within the value system of "poisonous pedagogy" and have remained untouched by psychoanalytic considerations will probably respond to my antipedagogic position with either conscious anxiety or intellectual rejection. They will reproach me for being indifferent to "sacred" values or will say that I am displaying a naive optimism and have no idea just how bad children can be. Such reproaches would come as no surprise, for the reasons behind them are all too familiar to me. Nevertheless, I would like to comment on the question of indifference to values.

Every pedagogue accepts as a foregone conclusion that it is wrong to tell a lie, to hurt or offend another human being, and to respond in kind to parental cruelty instead of showing understanding for the good intentions involved, etc. On the other hand, it is considered admirable and right for a child to tell the truth, to be grateful for the parents' intentions and overlook the cruelty of their actions, to accept the parents' ideas but still be able to express his or her own ideas independently, and above all not to be difficult when it comes to what is expected of him or her. In order to teach the child these almost universal values, which are rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition, among others, adults believe they mustsometimes resort to lying, deception, cruelty, mistreatment, and to subjecting the child to humiliation. In the case of adults, however, it is not a matter of "negative values," because they already have their upbringing behind them and use these means solely to achieve a sacred end: to save the child from telling lies in the future, from being deceitful, malicious, cruel, and egotistic.

It is clear from the foregoing that a relativity of traditional moral values is an intrinsic part of this system: in the last analysis, our status and degree of power determine whether our actions are judged to be good or bad. This same principle prevails throughout the whole world. The strong person dictates the verdict, and the victor in a war will sooner or later be applauded, regardless of the crimes that have been committed on the road to victory.

To these well-known examples of the relativity of values based upon one's position of power, I should like to add another, stemming from a psychotherapeutic perspective. In our zeal to dictate to our children the rules of behavior referred to above, we forget that it is not always possible to tell the truth without hurting someone at the same time, to show gratitude one does not feel without lying, or to overlook parents' cruelty and still become an autonomous human being who can exercise independent critical judgment. These considerations arise of necessity as soon as we turn from the abstract ethical systems of religion or philosophy to concrete psychic reality. People unfamiliar with this concrete manner of thinking may find the way I relativize traditional pedagogical values and question the value of pedagogy per se to be shocking, nihilistic, threatening, or even naive. This will depend on their own personal history. For my part, I can only say that there certainly are values I do not have to relativize. Our chances of survival probably depend, in the long run, on the practice of these values, among which are respect for those weaker than ourselves—including, of course, the child—and respect for life and its laws, without which all creativity would be stifled. Every brand of Fascism lacks this respect, causing psychic death and castrating the soul with the aid of its ideology.Among all the leading figures of the Third Reich, I have not been able to find a single one who did not have a strict and rigid upbringing. Shouldn't that give us a great deal of food for thought?


Those who were permitted to react appropriately throughout their childhood—i.e., with anger—to the pain, wrongs, and denial inflicted upon them either consciously or unconsciously will retain this ability to react appropriately in later life too. When someone wounds them as adults, they will be able to recognize and express this verbally. But they will not feel the need to lash out in response. This need arises only for people who must always be on their guard to keep the dam that restrains their feelings from breaking. For if this dam breaks, everything becomes unpredictable. Thus, it is understandable that some of these people, fearing unpredictable consequences, will shrink from any spontaneous reaction; the others will experience occasional outbursts of inexplicable rage directed against substitute objects or will resort repeatedly to violent behavior such as murder or acts of terrorism. A person who can understand and integrate his anger as part of himself will not become violent. He has the need to strike out at others only if he is thoroughly unable to understand his rage, if he was not permitted to become familiar with this feeling as a small child, was never able to experience it as a part of himself because such a thing was totally unthinkable in his surroundings.


With these dynamics in mind, we will not be surprised to learn from the statistics that 60 percent of German terrorists in recent years have been the children of Protestant ministers. The tragedy of this situation lies in the fact that the parents undoubtedly had the best of intentions; from the very beginning, they wanted their children to be good, responsive, well-behaved, agreeable, undemanding, considerate, unselfish, self-controlled, grateful, neither willful nor headstrong nor defiant, and above all meek. They wanted to inculcate these values in their children by whatever means, and if there wasno other way, they were even ready to use force to obtain these admirable pedagogical ends. If the children then showed signs of violent behavior in adolescence, they were expressing both the unlived side of their own childhood as well as the unlived, suppressed, and hidden side of their parents' psyche, perceived only by the children themselves.

When terrorists take innocent women and children hostage in the service of a grand and idealistic cause, are they really doing anything different from what was once done to them? When they were little children full of vitality, their parents had offered them up as sacrifices to a grand pedagogic purpose, to lofty religious values, with the feeling of performing a great and good deed. Since these young people never were allowed to trust their own feelings, they continue to suppress them for ideological reasons. These intelligent and often very sensitive people, who had once been sacrificed to a "higher" morality, sacrifice themselves as adults to another—often opposite—ideology, in whose service they allow their inmost selves to be completely dominated, as had been the case in their childhood.

This is an example of the unrelenting, tragic nature of the unconscious compulsion to repeat. Its positive function must not be overlooked, however. Would it not be much worse if the parents' pedagogical aims were fully realized and it were possible successfully and irreversibly to murder the child's soul without this ever coming to public attention? When a terrorist commits violent actions against helpless people in the name of his ideals, thus putting himself at the mercy of the leaders who are manipulating him as well as of the police forces of the system he is fighting, he is unconsciously telling the story, in the form of his repetition compulsion, of what once happened to him in the name of the high ideals of his upbringing. The story he tells can be understood by the public as a warning signal or it can be completely misunderstood; if taken as a warning, it calls attention to a life that can still be saved.

But what happens when not a trace of vital spontaneity remains because the child's upbringing was a total and perfect success, as was the case with people such as Adolf Eichmann and Rudolf Höss? They were trained to be obedient so successfully and at such an early age that the training never lost its effectiveness; the structure never displayed any fissures, water never penetrated it at any point, nor did feelings of any kind ever jar it. To the end of their lives, these people carried out the orders they were given without ever questioning the content. They carried them out, just as "poisonous pedagogy" recommends (cf. page 39)—not out of any sense of their inherent rightness, but simply because they were orders.

This explains why Eichmann was able to listen to the most moving testimony of the witnesses at his trial without the slightest display of emotion, yet when he forgot to stand up at the reading of the verdict, he blushed with embarrassment when this was called to his attention.

The strong emphasis on obedience in Rudolf Höss's early upbringing left its indelible mark on him, too. Certainly his father did not intend to raise him to be a commandant at Auschwitz: on the contrary, as a strict Catholic, he had a missionary career in mind for his son. But he had instilled in him at an early age the principle that the authorities must always be obeyed, no matter what their demands. Höss writes:

Our guests were mostly priests of every sort. As the years passed, my father's religious fervor increased. Whenever time permitted, he would take me on pilgrimages to all the holy places in our own country, as well as to Einsiedeln in Switzerland and to Lourdes in France. He prayed passionately that the grace of God might be bestowed on me, so that I might one day become a priest blessed by God. I, too, was as deeply religious as was possible for a boy of my age, and I took my religious duties very seriously. I prayed with true, childlike gravity and performed my duties as acolyte with great earnestness. I had been brought up by my parents to be respectful and obedient toward all adults, and especially the elderly, regardless of their social status. I was taught that my highest duty was to help those inneed. It was constantly impressed upon me in forceful terms that I must obey promptly the wishes and commands of my parents, teachers, and priests, and indeed of all adults, including servants, and that nothing must distract me from this duty. Whatever they said was always right.

These basic principles by which I was brought up became second nature to me.

When the authorities later required Höss to run the machinery of death in Auschwitz, how could he have refused? And later, after his arrest, when he was given the assignment of writing an account of his life, he not only performed this task faithfully and conscientiously but politely expressed gratitude for the fact that the time in prison passed more quickly because of "this interesting occupation." His account has provided the world with deep insight into the background of a multitude of otherwise incomprehensible crimes.

Rudolf Höss's first memories of his childhood are of washing compulsively, which was probably an attempt to free himself of everything his parents found impure or dirty in him. Since his parents showed him no affection, he sought this in animals, all the more since they were not beaten by his father, as he was, and thus enjoyed a higher status than children.


Similar attitudes were shared by Heinrich Himmler, who said, for example:

How can you find pleasure, Herr Kersten, in shooting from behind cover at poor creatures grazing on the edge of a wood, innocent, defenseless, and unsuspecting? It's really pure murder. Nature is so marvelously beautiful and every animal has a right to live. [Quoted by Joaquim Fest, The Face of the Third Reich]

Yet, it was also Himmler who said:

One principle must be absolute for the SS man: we must be honest, decent, loyal, and comradely to those of our own blood and to no one else. What happens to the Russians, what happens to the Czechs, is a matter of utter indifference to me. Good bloodlike ours that we find among other nationalities we shall acquire for ourselves, if necessary by taking away the children and bringing them up among us. Whether the other nationalities live in comfort or perish of hunger interests me only insofar as we need them as slaves for our society; apart from that, it does not interest me. Whether or not 10,000 Russian women collapse from exhaustion while digging a tank ditch interests me only insofar as it affects the completion of the tank ditch for Germany. We shall never be cruel or heartless when it is not necessary; that is clear. We Germans, who are the only people in the world who have a decent attitude toward animals, will also adopt a decent attitude toward these human animals, but it is a crime against our own blood to worry about them or to fill them with ideals. [Quoted by Fest]

Himmler, like Höss, was a nearly perfect product of the training given him by his father, who was first a tutor at the Bavarian court and then a headmaster by profession. Heinrich Himmler also dreamed of educating people and nations. Fest writes:

The doctor Felix Kersten, who treated him continuously from 1939 onwards and enjoyed his confidence, has asserted that Himmler himself would rather have educated foreign peoples than exterminate them. During the war he spoke enthusiastically —looking ahead to peace—of establishing military units who were "educated and trained, once education and training can be practiced again."

In contrast to Höss, who had been trained with total success to be blindly obedient, Himmler apparently was not entirely able to live up to the requirement of being hardhearted. Fest, who convincingly interprets Himmler's atrocities as the constant attempt to prove his harshness to himself and the world, says:

In the hopeless confusion of all criteria under the influence of a totalitarian ethic, harshness toward the victims was held justified by the harshness practiced toward oneself. "To be harsh toward ourselves and others, to give death and to take it," was one of the mottoes of the SS repeatedly emphasized by Himmler. Because murder was difficult, it was good, and justified. By thesame reasoning, he was always able to point proudly, as though to a Roll of Honor, to the fact that the Order had suffered "no inner damage" from its murderous activity and had remained "decent."

Do we not see reflected in these words the principles of "poisonous pedagogy," with its violation of the impulses of the child's psyche?


These are only three examples of the endless number of people whose life took a similar course and who no doubt had received what is considered a good, strict upbringing. The results of the child's total subordination to the adults' will were not seen solely in his future political submissiveness (for example, to the totalitarian system of the Third Reich) but were already visible in his inner readiness for a new form of subordination as soon as he left home. For how could someone whose inner development had been limited to learning to obey the commands of others be expected to live on his own without experiencing a sudden sense of inner emptiness? Military service provided the best opportunity for him to continue the established pattern of taking orders. When someone like Adolf Hitler came along and claimed, just like Father, to know exactly what was good, right, and necessary for everyone it is not surprising that so many people who were longing for someone to tell them what to do welcomed him with open arms and helped him in his rise to power. Young people had finally found a father substitute, without which they were incapable of functioning. In The Face of the Third Reich, Fest documents the servile, uncritical, and almost infantile naïveté with which the men who were to enter the annals of infamy spoke of Hitler's omniscience, infallibility, and divinity. That is the way a little child sees his father. And these men never advanced beyond that stage. I shall quote several passages here because, without them, it might be hard for today's generation to believe that these men who later went down in history could have been so lacking in inner substance. Fest here quotes Hermann Goering:

If the Catholic Christian is convinced that the Pope is infallible in all religious and ethical matters, so we National Socialists declare with the same ardent conviction that for us, too, the Führer is absolutely infallible in all political and other matters having to do with the national and social interests of the people ... . It is a blessing for Germany that in Hitler the rare union has taken place between the most acute logical thinker and truly profound philosopher and the iron man of action, tenacious to the limit.

And again:

Anyone who has any idea of how things stand with us ... knows that we each possess just so much power as the Fuhrer wishes to give. And only with the Führer and standing behind him is one really powerful, only then does one hold the strong powers of the state in one's hands; but against his will, or even just without his wish, one would instantly become totally powerless. A word from the Führer and anyone whom he wishes to be rid of falls. His prestige, his authority are boundless.

What is actually being described here is the way a little child feels toward his authoritarian father. Goering openly admitted:

It is not I who live, but the Fuhrer who lives in me ... . Every time I am in his presence, my heart stands still ... . Often I couldn't eat anything again until midnight, because before then I should have vomited in my agitation. When I returned to Karinhall at about nine o'clock, I actually had to sit in a chair for some hours in order to calm down. This relationship turned into downright mental prostitution for me.

In his speech of June 30, 1934, Rudolf Hess, another top Nazi official, also admits openly to this attitude, without being hampered by any feelings of shame or discomfort—a situation we can hardly imagine today, half a century later. He says in this speech:

We note with pride that one man remains beyond all criticism, and that is the Führer. This is because everyone senses and knows: he is always right, and he will always be right. TheNational Socialism of all of us is anchored in uncritical loyalty, in a surrender to the Fuhrer that does not ask about the why in individual cases, in the silent execution of his orders. We believe that the Führer is obeying a higher call to shape German history. There can be no criticism of this belief.

Fest comments:

In his unbalanced approach to authority Hess resembles surprisingly many leading National Socialists who, like him, had "strict" parents. There is a good deal of evidence that Hitler profited considerably from the damage wrought by an educational system that took its models from the barracks and brought up its sons to be as tough as army cadets. The fixation on the military world, the determining feature of their early development, shows not only in the peculiar mixture of aggressiveness and doglike cringing so typical of the "Old Fighter" but also in the lack of inner independence and the need to receive orders. Whatever hidden rebellious feelings the young Rudolf Hess may have had against his father, who emphatically demonstrated his power one last time when he refused to let his son go to a university but forced him, against his wishes and the pleas of his teachers, to go into business with a view to taking over his own firm in Alexandria—the son, whose will had been broken over and over again, henceforth sought father and father substitute wherever he could find them. One must want leaders!

When non-Germans watched Adolf Hitler's appearances in newsreels, they were never able to understand the adulation he was given or the number of votes he received in 1933. It was easy for them to see through his human weaknesses, his artificial pose of self-assurance, his specious arguments; for them, it was not as though he were their father. For the Germans, however, it was much more difficult. A child cannot acknowledge the negative sides of his or her father, and yet these are stored up somewhere in the child's psyche, for the adult will then be attracted by precisely these negative, disavowed sides in the father substitutes he or she encounters. An outsider has trouble understanding this.

We often ask how a marriage can last, how, for example, a woman can go on living with a certain man, or vice versa.It may be that the woman endures extreme torment in this relationship, continuing it only at the cost of her vitality. But she is mortally afraid at the thought of her husband leaving her. Actually, such a separation would probably be the great opportunity of her life, yet she is totally unable to see this as long as she is forced to repeat in her marriage the early torment, now relegated to her unconscious, inflicted on her by her father. For when she thinks about being abandoned by her husband, she is not reacting to her present situation but is reexperiencing her childhood fears of abandonment and the time when she was in fact dependent on her father. I am thinking here specifically of a woman whose father, a musician, took the mother's place when she died but who often disappeared suddenly when he went on tour. My patient was much too little at the time to bear these sudden separations without a feeling of panic. In her analysis we had been aware of this for a long time, but her fear of being abandoned by her husband did not subside until her dreams revealed to her what had hitherto been unconscious: the other—brutal and cruel—side of her father, whom she had until then remembered only as loving and tender. As a result of confronting this knowledge, she experienced an inner liberation and was now able to begin the process of becoming autonomous.


I mention this example because it demonstrates mechanisms that may have played a role in the election of 1933. The adulation accorded Hitler is understandable not only because of the promises he made (who doesn't make promises before an election?) but because of the way in which they were presented. It was precisely his theatrical gestures, ridiculous to a foreigner's eyes, that were so familiar to the masses and therefore held such a great power of suggestion for them. Small children are subject to this same sort of suggestion when their big father, whom they admire and love, talks to them. What he says is not important, it is the way he speaks that counts. The more he builds himself up, the more he will be admired, especially by a child raised according to the principles of "poisonous pedagogy." When a strict, inaccessible, and distantfather condescends to speak with his child, this is certainly a festive occasion, and to earn this honor no sacrifice of self is too great. 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 ofwhat 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 this "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 an 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 and the belief that 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 the 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 whotakes 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 ourselves 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 suppressed "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 isolated 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 anything 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 mumblingof 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 train ... is 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 interestyou 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.



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.


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.


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 ofthem 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 longerI 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 or 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 expectations. 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: "Thereare 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 bearersof 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 und 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 children 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 ironclad 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 drowning 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 accompanied 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 regarded 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 isbased 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 ideal 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 any Weltanschauung.

Copyright © 1980 by Suhrkamp VerlagTranslation copyright © 1983, 1984, 1990, 2002 by Alice Miller Preface copyright © 2002 by Alice Miller

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2003


    Considering that corporal punishment has not been banned by Britain, America, Australia etc, this book seems still very relevant after 20 years. Miller brilliantly shows that abusing children serves the interests of the adult, not the child... its an amazing book, it is logical, clever, accessible, and important. A must read

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2014

    Good Book

    Good book for someone who is interested in a one's perspective of raising children.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2009

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