Childhood and Totalitarian Dictatorship

[disinfo editor's note: Alice Miller, PhD (12 January 1923, Lwow, Poland – 14 April 2010, Saint-Rémy de Provence, France) was a psychologist and author who is noted for her work on child abuse in its many forms, including physical abuse, emotional abuse and child sexual abuse.]

Alice Miller compares the rules of an abusive family with those of Nazi Germany and comes to some interesting, though not really surprising, conclusions:

The Führer once told his secretary that during one of the regular beatings given him by his father he was able to stop crying, to feel nothing, and even to count the thirty-two blows he received.

In this way, by totally denying his pain, his feelings of powerlessness, and his despair- in other words, by denying the truth – Hitler made himself into a master of violence and of contempt for human beings. The result was a very primitive person, incapable of any empathy for other people. He was mercilessly and constantly driven to new destructive acts by his latent feelings of hatred and revenge. After millions had been forced to die for this reason, those feelings still haunted him in his sleep. Hermann Rauschning reports nocturnal paroxysms of screaming on the Führer’s part, along with “inexplicable counting”, which I trace back to the counting he did during the beatings of his childhood. Hitler did not invent fascism; he found it, like so many of his contemporaries) prefigured in the totalitarian regime of his family. The National Socialist version of fascism, however, does bear unmistakable traces of Hitler’s childhood. But his early experience was by no means an exception. Thus, neither Gerhart Hauptmann nor Martin Heidegger nor many other celebrated intellects of the day were able to see through Hitler’s madness. To do so, they would have had to be able to see through the madness of their own upbringing.

Hitler could make Europe and the world into the battlefield of his childhood because in the Germany of that time there were millions of people who had experienced the same kind of upbringing he had. Although not necessarily conscious of the fact, they took the following principles to be self-evident:

  1. Not life but order and obedience are the highest values.
  2. Only by means of violence can order be created and preserved.
  3. Creativity (embodied in the child) represents a danger for the adult and must be destroyed.
  4. Obeying one’s father absolutely is the highest law.
  5. Disobedience and criticism are unthinkable because they are punished with beatings or the threat of death.
  6. The living, vital child must be turned as early as possible into an obedient robot, a slave.
  7. Undesirable feelings and real needs must therefore be suppressed as vigorously as possible.
  8. Mothers must never protect their children from punishment by the father but after each incidence of torture must preach to them to honor and love their parents.

Fortunately, there were persons now and again with whom a child could find refuge from this totalitarian regime, and perhaps even experience love, respect, and protection. On the basis of these good experiences, even simply on the basis of the comparison they provided, a child could at least pass inward judgment on the cruelty endured and not want to inflict it in turn later on. But when there were no witnesses to come to the rescue, the child had no choice in this bizarre scenario but to stifle every natural reflex such as anger or even laughter, and to practice absolute obedience daily in order to keep the father’s menacing behavior within bearable limits. It was this kind of early character training that Hitler was later able to exploit. In strict accordance with this system of child-rearing he then developed his Nazi ideology, which had the following practical consequences:

  1. The will of the Führer is the highest law.
  2. The Führer will forcibly create order and make Germany into the paradise of the Aryans, the master race.
  3. Those who submit like robots to his orders will be rewarded.
  4. Whoever dares to offer criticism will be sent to a concentration camp.
  5. Jews and gypsies must be annihilated – men, women and children.
  6. The disabled and mentally ill are likewise to be put to death.
  7. Poles and Russians are fit to become useful slaves.
  8. Free art is dangerous and “degenerate”; like every other form of free creativity, It must be persecuted.

Without the numerous documentary films that attest to the frenzied acclaim Hitler received, no one today would believe that a madman with this ideology of contempt for human beings could generate so much enthusiasm. How was it at all possible that Hitler found such an immense number of followers? By promising his people a solution to all their problems and by offering them a scapegoat? Certainly. But that alone would not have been enough. In order to use untold numbers of people as marionettes, he had to make his promises in the style of the domineering, violent father most of his followers knew, feared, and admired.

Read more here.

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  • Chris A Hooymans

    I had that sort of upbringing in Canada with nasty Dutch step-parents – it sucked – I still have trust issues

  • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hooymans Chris A Hooymans

    I had that sort of upbringing in Canada with nasty Dutch step-parents – it sucked – I still have trust issues

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