Alice Miller on Hitler

Hans Ehrbar ehrbar at
Mon Aug 1 04:22:16 MDT 1994

When I brought up the issue of ecological disaster on July 24, it was
at first ignored, until Samuel pointedly asked whether this was really
that much out of the question not to deserve any discussion.  Then
some discussion arose, but many of you seem satisfied with the idea
that the danger of ecological disaster is just good old Malthus and
therefore refuted long ago.  These difficulties discussing some of the
most urgent issues are, in my view, due to the fact that they are too
threatening, hence my plea in a later posting that we must get more in
touch with our own feelings.

Why did I bring up Alice Miller?  In a nutshell, she argues that
sensitive children, even if they are exposed to nothing but nowadays
generally accepted educational practices, may be severely traumatized.
In order to be able to survive, they are forced to shut off their
feelings -- which is often an irreversible process.  Much of what
happens today could not happen at all, or could not happen as
smoothly, had those who are carrying it out not shut off their
feelings.  Hitler's holocaust and the enthusiasm with which a good
part of Germany's population helped it along is a case in point.  Even
many of the victims had shut out their feelings, not only towards
others but most importantly towards themselves, in that they often
fatally underestimated the danger in which they were.  If I am
correctly informed, Hilferding was one of those.  (I was born in
Germany in 1944).

I see strict parallels between, say, a German Jew who could not
believe that his life was in danger in the land of Mozart and
Beethoven in 1938, and our inability to intelligently speak about
ecological disaster, or the lack of public indignation in the USA
about the fate of 9/10ths of the world's population today.  Even mild
and lucid Eric Fromm attributes this to the innate evilness of man (or
at least of SOME people); he calls Hitler a ``necrophilic beast'' and
``monster.''  Miller criticizes Fromm for this.  Her insight that this
numbness of feeling is not inborn and also not the magic secretion of
class society -- a possibility which Miller of course never considers
but which might come to mind to some of you reading this posting --
but the result of petty and cruel educational practices, and that
behind every crime lies a human tragedy, holds out the hope that
socialism without a GULAG is possible.

What I wrote on Miller never implied that I consider psychological
mechanisms to have explanatory primacy in modern society.  If you
think this follows, then you misunderstand the connection between
individual and society and you should read Bhaskar, Possibility of
Naturalism, chapter 2, or Reclaiming Reality, chapter 5, for the
best treatment I know of this question.

Hans G. Ehrbar                                    ehrbar at
Economics Department, 308 BuC                     (801) 581 7797
University of Utah                                (801) 581 7481
Salt Lake City    UT 84112-1107                   (801) 585 5649 (FAX)


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