Since 1933, when a completely drugged and trial-conditioned human
wreck confessed to having started the Reichstag fire in Berlin, Dr. Joost A.
M. Meerloo has studied the methods by which systematic mental pressure
brings people to abject submission, and by which totalitarians imprint their
subjective “truth” on their victims’ minds.

It is Dr. Meerloo’s position that through pressure on the weak points in
men’s makeup, totalitarian methods can turn anyone into a “traitor.” And in
The Rape of the Mind he goes far beyond the direct military implications of
mental torture to describing how our own culture unobtrusively shows
symptoms of pressurizing people’s minds. He presents a systematic analysis
of the methods of brainwashing and mental torture and coercion, and shows
how totalitarian strategy, with its use of mass psychology, leads to
systematized “rape of the mind.” He describes the new age of cold war with
its mental terror, verbocracy, and semantic fog, the use of fear as a tool of
mass submission and the problem of treason and loyalty, so loaded with
dangerous confusion.
As J???????????? D???????????????????????? wrote in The New York Times:



“Dr. Meerloo is a passionate spokesman for the democratic practice of
life as a general human goal, not merely as a device for beating off the
totalitarians … Every thinking American should take some of his ‘self’ time
— his time for self-development — and read this book. Dr. Meerloo shows
in his own person what psychoanalysis can do when it is freely combined
with social science knowledge. He is a remarkably developed individual
man; indeed, he is one of the great spokesmen of the democratic world, and
everyone should know him.”


Dr. Joost Meerloo’s best-known work, The Rape of the Mind is written
for the interested layman, not only for experts and scientists.

The first two and one-half years of World War II, Dr. Meerloo spent under
the pressure of Nazi-occupied Holland, witnessing at firsthand the Nazi
methods of mental torture on more than one occasion. During this time he was
able to use his psychiatric and psychoanalytic knowledge to treat some of the
victims. Then, after personal experiences with enforced interrogation, he
escaped from a Nazi prison and certain death to England, where he was able,
as Chief of the Psychological Department of the Netherlands Forces, to
observe and study coercive methods officially.

In this capacity he had to investigate not only traitors and collaborators,
but also those members of the Resistance who had gone through the utmost of
mental pressure. Later, as High Commissioner for Welfare, he came in closer
contact with those who had gone through physical and mental torture. After
the war, he came to the United States, where his war experiences would not
permit him to concentrate solely on his psychiatric practice, but compelled
him to go beyond purely medical aspects to the social aspects of the problem.
As more and more cases of thought control, brainwashing, and mental
coercion were disclosed — Cardinal Mindszenty, Colonel Schwable, Robert
Vogeler, and others — his interest grew. It was Dr. Meerloo who coined the
word menticide, the killing of the spirit, for this peculiar crime. His
knowledge of these totalitarian procedures has been officially
acknowledged; he served as an expert witness in the case of Colonel
Schwable, the Marine Corps officer who, after months of subjection to
physical and mental torture following his capture in Korea, was made to
confess to having taken part in germ warfare.




The Psychology of Thought Control, Menticide, and Brainwashing
by Joost A. M. Meerloo, MD


Reprint of the original Universal Library Edition by Grosset & Dunlap,



New York, 1956
Published by
First paperback reprinting, July, 2009.
Ebook Edition, Feb. 2015
Ebook ISBN: 1-61577-375-4, EAN/ISBN-13: 978-1-61577-375-6
Paperback ISBN: 1-61577-376-2, EAN/ISBN-13: 978-1-61577-376-3
Library of Congress Catalog Information for the Original Edition:
LC Control No.: 56009252. LC Classification: BF633 .M4.
Dewey Class No.: 131.33.

Title: The rape of the mind; the psychology of thought control, menticide, and brainwashing
Author: Meerloo, Joost Abraham Maurits, 1903-

320 p. 22 cm
Subjects: Brainwashing.



Overview of Contents






Chapter Four WHY DO THEY YIELD? The Psychodynamics of False Confession




Chapter Eight TRIAL BY TRIAL

















Overview of Contents



The Techniques of Individual Submission


The enforced confession. Mental coercion and enemy occupation.
Witchcraft and torture. The refinement of the rack. Menticide in Korea.


The salivating dog. The conditioning of man. Isolation and other factors in
conditioning. Mass conditioning through speech. Political conditioning. The
urge to be conditioned.


Dependency on the drug provider. The search for ecstasy through drugs.
Hypnotism and mental coercion. Needling for the truth. The lie-detector. The
therapist as an instrument of coercion.


The upset philosopher. The barbed-wire disease. The moment of sudden
surrender. The need to collapse. The need for companionship. Blackmailing
through overburdening guilt feelings. The law of survival versus the law of
loyalty. The mysterious masochistic pact. A survey of psychological
processes involved in brainwashing and menticide.


The Techniques of Mass Submission


The public-opinion engineers. Psychological warfare as a weapon of
terror. The indoctrination barrage. The enigma of coexistence.


The robotization of man. Cultural predilection for totalitarianism. The
totalitarian leader. The final surrender of the robot man. The common retreat
from reality. The retreat to automatization. The womb state.


The strategy of terror. The purging rituals. Wild accusation and black
magic. Spy mania. The strategy of criminalization. Verbocracy and semantic
fog— talking the people into submission. Logocide. Labelomania. The
apostatic crime in Totalitaria.

Chapter Eight – TRIAL BY TRIAL

The downfall of justice. The demagogue as prosecutor and hypnotist. The
trial as an instrument of intimidation. The Congressional investigation. The
witness and his subjective testimony. The right to be silent. Mental
blackmail. The judge and the jury. Televised interrogation. The quest for


The fear of living. Our fantasies about danger. Paradoxical fear.
Regression. Camouflage and disguise. Explosive panics. The body takes



Unobtrusive Coercion

totalitarians may develop. The molding nursery. The father cuts the cord.

The affirmation of my own errors. Stages of thinking and delusion. The
loss of verifiable reality. Mass delusion. The danger of mental contagion.
The explanation delusion. The liberation from magic thinking.

The creeping coercion by technology. The paradox of technology.

The administrative mind. The ailments of those in public office. The
conference of unconscious minds. The bureaucratic mind.


The involuntary traitor. The concept of treason. The traitor who
consciously takes option for the other side. Our treacherous intellect. Selfbetrayal.
The development of loyalty. In praise of nonconformity. The loyalty


In Search of Defenses



The U. S. code for resisting brainwashing. Indoctrination against
indoctrination? The psychiatric report about brainwashing and menticide.



The role of education. Discipline and morale. Discipline and
brainwashing. The quality of the group and the influence of the leader.
Enumeration of factors influencing group morale. The breaking point and our
capacity for frustration.

Chapter Seventeen – FROM OLD TO NEW COURAGE


Who resists longer and why? The myth of courage. The morale-boosting
idea. The new courage.



The democratizing action of psychology. The battle on two fronts. The
paradox of freedom. The future age of psychology.






And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul.
—Matthew 10:28


This book attempts to depict the strange transformation of the free human
mind into an automatically responding machine—a transformation which can
be brought about by some of the cultural undercurrents in our present-day
society as well as by deliberate experiments in the service of a political
The rape of the mind and stealthy mental coercion are among the oldest
crimes of mankind. They probably began back in prehistoric days when man
first discovered that he could exploit human qualities of empathy and
understanding in order to exert power over his fellow men. The word “rape”
is derived from the Latin word rapere, to snatch, but also is related to the
words to rave and raven. It means to overwhelm and to enrapture, to invade,
to usurp, to pillage and to steal.
The modern words “brainwashing,” “thought control,” and “menticide”
serve to provide a clearer conception of the actual methods by which man’s
integrity can be violated. When a concept is given its right name, it can be
more easily recognized—and it is with this recognition that the opportunity
for systematic correction begins.
In this book the reader will find a discussion of some of the imminent
dangers which threaten free cultural interplay. It emphasizes the tremendous
cultural implication of the subject of enforced mental intrusion. Not only the
artificial techniques of coercion are important but even more the unobtrusive
intrusion into our feeling and thinking. The danger of destruction of the spirit
may be compared to the threat of total physical destruction through atomic
warfare. Indeed, the two are related and intertwined.
My approach to this subject is based on the belief that it is only by looking
at any problem from several angles that we are able to get at its heart.
According to Bohr’s principle of complementarity, the rather simple
phenomena of physics can be looked at from diverse viewpoints; different
and seemingly contrasting concepts are needed to describe physical
phenomena. For instance, for explanation of the behavior of electrons, both
the concept of particle and the concept of wave are useful. The same is true
for the even more complicated psychological and social interactions. We
cannot look at brainwashing merely from a simple Pavlovian viewpoint. This
book tries to do it also from the clinical descriptive view and from the
Freudian concept of psychology; it tries to look at brainwashing from the
standpoint that general mental coercion may belong to every human
Communication of any sort can almost be compared with trying to knock
down a row of dolls in a throwing game. The more balls we throw, the
greater is the probability that we may hit all the dolls. The more approaches
we make to any problem, the greater chance we have of finding and grasping
its essential core. Such detailed treatment will be impossible without some
repetition in the text.
In this book we shall move from the specific subject of planned and
deliberate mental coercion to the more general question of the influences in
the modern world that tend to robotize and automatize man. The last chapters
are devoted to the problem of inner backbone, as a first step in the direction
of learning to maintain our mental freedom.
One of the great Dutch authors—Multatuli—wrote a letter to his friend
excusing himself because the letter was so long: he had not had time enough
to write a shorter one. In this paradox he expressed part of the problem of all
search for expression and communication. It takes a long time to express an
idea in a precise and communicable way. Yet being short and simple in one’s
descriptions is not always appreciated. Especially modern psychology is
loaded with super-learnedness—with the secret intention of leaving the
reading public awe-stricken. The man who tries to express himself in simple
words, bypassing jargon, risks being called popular and unscientific.
Nevertheless, I am aware of the fact that I have been so much steeped in
psychological terminology that I cannot completely forego psychological
language. The real test of psychological clarity is the way the layman absorbs
and understands the ideas communicated. My aim has been to write for the
general public, not to popularize but to bring some order to the chaos of our
particular epoch.
Every word man speaks is a plagiarism. The task of an author is to
absorb, incorporate, and transform the knowledge and emotional currents of
his own epoch and to present them in his own personal way, enriched by his
own experiences. I am grateful, indeed, to all those whose ideas I have been
able to borrow, and especially to all those who inspired me to write down
my own thoughts on this controversial subject.

J. A. M. M.
January, 1956




Chapter One




A fantastic thing is happening in our world. Today a man is no longer
punished only for the crimes he has in fact committed. Now he may be
compelled to confess to crimes that have been conjured up by his judges,
who use his confession for political purposes. It is not enough for us to damn
as evil those who sit in judgment. We must understand what impels the false
admission of guilt; we must take another look at the human mind in all its
frailty and vulnerability.

The Enforced Confession

During the Korean War, an officer of the United States Marine Corps,
Colonel Frank H. Schwable, was taken prisoner by the Chinese Communists.
After months of intense psychological pressure and physical degradation, he
signed a well-documented “confession” that the United States was carrying
on bacteriological warfare against the enemy. The confession named names,
cited missions, described meetings and strategy conferences. This was a
tremendously valuable propaganda tool for the totalitarians. They cabled the
news all over the world: “The United States of America is fighting the
peace-loving people of China by dropping bombs loaded with diseasespreading
bacteria, in violation of international law.”
After his repatriation, Colonel Schwable issued a sworn statement
repudiating his confession, and describing his long months of imprisonment.
Later, he was brought before a military court of inquiry. He testified in his
own defense before that court: “I was never convinced in my own mind that
we in the First Marine Air Wing had used bug warfare. I knew we hadn’t, but
the rest of it was real to me—the conferences, the planes, and how they
would go about their missions.”
“The words were mine,” the Colonel continued, “but the thoughts were
theirs. That is the hardest thing I have to explain: how a man can sit down
and write something he knows is false, and yet, to sense it, to feel it, to make
it seem real.”
This is the way Dr. Charles W. Mayo, a leading American physician and
government representative, explained brainwashing in an official statement
before the United Nations: “… the tortures used … although they include many
brutal physical injuries, are not like the medieval torture of the rack and the
thumb-screw. They are subtler, more prolonged, and intended to be more
terrible in their effect. They are calculated to disintegrate the mind of an
intelligent victim, to distort his sense of values, to a point where he will not
simply cry out ‘I did it!’ but will become a seemingly willing accomplice to
the complete disintegration of his integrity and the production of an elaborate
The Schwable case is but one example of a defenseless prisoner being
compelled to tell a big lie. If we are to survive as free men, we must face up
to this problem of politically inspired mental coercion, with all its
It is more than twenty years since psychologists first began to suspect that
the human mind can easily fall prey to dictatorial powers. In 1933, the
German Reichstag building was burned to the ground. The Nazis arrested a
Dutchman, Marinus Van der Lubbe, and accused him of the crime. Van der
Lubbe was known by Dutch psychiatrists to be mentally unstable. He had
been a patient in a mental institution in Holland. And his weakness and lack
of mental balance became apparent to the world when he appeared before the
court. Wherever news of the trial reached, men wondered: “Can that foolish
little fellow be a heroic revolutionary, a man who is willing to sacrifice his
life to an ideal?”
During the court sessions Van der Lubbe was evasive, dull, and apathetic.
Yet the reports of the Dutch psychiatrists described him as a gay, alert,
unstable character, a man whose moods changed rapidly, who liked to
vagabond around, and who had all kinds of fantasies about changing the
On the forty-second day of the trial, Van der Lubbe’s behavior changed
dramatically. His apathy disappeared. It became apparent that he had been
quite aware of everything that had gone on during the previous sessions. He
criticized the slow course of the procedure. He demanded punishment—
either by imprisonment or death. He spoke about his “inner voices.” He
insisted that he had his moods in check. Then he fell back into apathy. We
now recognize these symptoms as a combination of behavior forms which we
can call a confession syndrome. In 1933 this type of behavior was unknown
to psychiatrists. Unfortunately, it is very familiar today and is frequently met
in cases of extreme mental coercion.
Van der Lubbe was subsequently convicted and executed. When the trial
was over, the world began to realize that he had merely been a scapegoat.
The Nazis themselves had burned down the Reichstag building and had
staged the crime and the trial so that they could take over Germany. Still later
we realized that Van der Lubbe was the victim of a diabolically clever
misuse of medical knowledge and psychological technique, through which he
had been transformed into a useful, passive, meek automaton, who replied
merely yes or no to his interrogators during most of the court sessions. In a
few moments he threatened to jump out of his enforced role. Even at that time
there were rumors that the man had been drugged into submission, though we
never became sure of that.[1]
Between 1936 and 1938 the world became more conscious of the very
real danger of systematized mental coercion in the field of politics. This was
the period of the well-remembered Moscow purge trials. It was almost
impossible to believe that dedicated old Bolsheviks, who had given their
lives to a revolutionary movement, had suddenly turned into dastardly
traitors. When, one after another, every one of the accused confessed and
beat his breast, the general reaction was that this was a great show of
deception, intended only as a propaganda move for the non-Communist
world. Then it became apparent that a much worse tragedy was being
enacted. The men on trial had once been human beings. Now they were being
systematically changed into puppets. Their puppeteers called the tune,
manipulated their actions. When, from time to time, news came through
showing how hard, rigid revolutionaries could be changed into meek, selfaccusing
sheep, all over the world the last remnants of the belief in the free
community presumably being built in Soviet Russia began to crumble.
In recent years, the spectacle of confession to uncommitted crimes has
become more and more common. The list ranges from Communist through
non-Communist to anti-Communist, and includes men of such different types
as the Czech Bolshevik Rudolf Slansky and the Hungarian cardinal, Joseph


Those of us who lived in the Nazi-occupied countries during the Second
World War learned to understand only too well how people could be forced
into false confessions, and into betrayals of those they loved. I myself was
born in the Netherlands and lived there until the Nazi occupation forced me
to flee. In the early days of the occupation, when we heard the first
eyewitness descriptions of what happened during Nazi interrogations of
captured resistance workers, we were frightened and alarmed.
The first aim of the Gestapo was to force prisoners under torture to betray
their friends and to report new victims for further torture. The Brown Shirts
demanded names and more names, not bothering to ascertain whether or not
they were given falsely under the stress of terror. I remember very clearly
one meeting held by a small group of resisters to discuss the growing fear
and insecurity. Everybody at that meeting could expect to be mentioned and
picked up by the Gestapo at some time. Should we be able to stand the Nazi
treatment, or would we also be forced to become informers? This question
was being asked by anti-Nazis in all the occupied countries.
During the second year of the occupation we realized that it was better not
to be in touch with one another. More than two contacts were unsafe. We
tried to find medical and psychiatric preventives to harden us against the
Nazi torture we expected. As a matter of fact, I myself conducted some
experiments to determine whether or not narcotics would harden us against
pain. However, the results were paradoxical. Narcotics can create pain
insensitivity, but their dulling action at the same time makes people more
vulnerable to mental pressure. Even at that time we knew, as did the Nazis
themselves, that it was not the direct physical pain that broke people, but the
continuous humiliation and mental torture. One of my patients, who was
subjected to such an interrogation, managed to remain silent. He refused to
answer a single question, and finally the Nazis dismissed him. But he never
recovered from this terrifying experience. He hardly spoke even when he
returned home. He simply sat—bitter, full of indignation—and in a few
weeks he died. It was not his physical wounds that had killed him; it was the
combination of fear and wounded pride.
We held many discussions about ways of strengthening our captured
underground workers or preventing them from final self-betrayal. Should
some of our people be given suicide capsules? That could only be a last
resort. Narcotics like morphine give only a temporary anesthesia and relief;
moreover, the enemy would certainly find the capsules and take them away.
We had heard about German attempts to give cocaine and amphetamine to
their air pilots for use in combat exhaustion, but neither medicament was
reliable. These drugs might revive the body by making it less sensitive to
pain, but at the same time they dulled the mind. If captured members of the
underground were to take them, as experiments had shown, their bodies might
not feel the effects of physical torture, but their hazy minds might turn them
into easier dupes of the Nazis.
We also tried systematic exercises in mental relaxation and autohypnosis
(comparable with Yogi exercises) in order to make the body more insensitive
to hunger and pain. If an individual’s attention is fixed on the development of
conscious awareness of automatic body functions, such as breathing, the alert
functioning of the brain cortex can be reduced, and awareness of pain will
diminish. This state of pain insensitivity can sometimes be achieved through
auto-hypnotic exercises. But very few of our people were able to bring
themselves into such anesthesia.
Finally we evolved this simple psychological trick: when you can no
longer outwit the enemy or resist talking, the best thing to do is to talk too
much. This was the idea: keep yourself sullen and act the fool; play the
coward and confess more than there is to confess. Later we were able to
verify that this method was successful in several cases. Scatterbrained
simpletons confused the enemy much more than silent heroes whose stamina
was finally undermined in spite of everything.
I had to flee Holland after a policeman warned me that my name had been
mentioned in an interrogation. I had twice been questioned by the Nazis on
minor matters and without bodily torture. When they later caught up with me
in Belgium, probably as the result of a betrayal, I had to undergo a long
initial examination in which I was beaten, fortunately not too seriously. The
interview had started pleasantly enough. Apparently, the Nazi officer in
charge thought he would be able to get information out of me through friendly
methods. Indeed, we even had a discussion (since I am a psychiatrist) about
the methods used in interrogation. But when he found that the friendly
approach was getting him nowhere, the officer’s mood changed, and he
behaved with all the sadistic characteristics we had come to expect from his
type. Happily, I managed to escape from Belgium that very night before a
more systematic and more torturous investigation could begin.
Arriving at the London headquarters after an adventurous trip through
France and Spain, I became Chief of the Psychological Department of the
Netherlands Forces in England. In this official position I was able to gather
data on what was happening to the millions of victims of Nazi terror and
torture. Later on I questioned and treated several escapees from internment
and concentration camps. These people had become real experts in suffering.
The variety of human reactions under these infernal circumstances taught us
an ugly truth: the spirit of most men can be broken, men can be reduced to the
level of animal behavior. Both torturer and victim finally lose all human
My government gave me the power to investigate a group of traitors and I
also interrogated imprisoned Nazis. When I review all these wartime
experiences, all the confusion about courage and cowardice, treason, morale,
and mental fortitude, I must confess that my eyes were only really opened
after a study of the Nuremberg trials of the Nazi leaders. These trials gave us
the real story of the systematic coercive methods used by the Nazis. At about
the same time we began to learn more about the perverted psychological
strategy Russia and her satellites were using.


The specific techniques used in the modern world to break man’s mind
and will and to extort confessions for political propaganda purposes are
relatively new and highly refined. Yet enforced confession itself is nothing
new. From time immemorial tyrants and dictators have needed these
“voluntary” confessions to justify their own evil deeds. The knowledge that
the human mind can be influenced, tamed, and broken down into servility is
far older than the modern dictatorial concept of enforced indoctrination. The
primitive shaman used awe-inspiring ritual to bring his victim into such a
state of fright hypnosis that he yielded to all suggestions. The native on whom
a spell of doom has been cast by the medicine man may become so
hypnotized by his own fear that he simply sits down, accepts his fate, and
dies (Malinowski).
Throughout history men have had an intuitive understanding that the mind
can be manipulated. Elaborate strategies have been worked out to achieve
this end. Ecstasy rituals, frightening masks, loud noises, eerie chants—all
have been used to compel the crowd to accept the beliefs of their leaders.
Even if an ordinary man at first resists a cruel shaman or medicine man, the
hypnotizing ritual gradually breaks his will.
More painful methods are not new either. When we study the old reports
of the Inquisition, or of the many witch trials, both in Europe and America,
we learn a great deal about these methods. The floating test is one example.
Those accused of witchcraft were thrown into the river, their feet and hands
tied together. If the body did not sink, the victim was immediately pulled out
of the water and burned at the stake. The fact that he did not sink was proof
positive of his guilt. If, on the other hand, the accused obeyed the law of
gravity and sank to the bottom of the river, the drowned body was
ceremoniously removed from the river and proclaimed innocent. Not much
choice was left to the victim!
Man has been tremendously inventive in developing means for inflicting
suffering on his fellow man. With refined passion he has devised techniques
which provoke the most exquisite pain in the most vulnerable parts of the
human body. The rack and the thumbscrew are age-old instruments and have
been used not only by primitive judges but also by so-called civilized
dictators and tyrants.
In order better to understand modern mental torture, we must constantly
keep in mind the fact that from the earliest days bodily anguish and the rack
were never meant merely to inflict pain on the victim. They may not have
expressed their understanding in sophisticated terms, but the medieval judge
and hangman were nevertheless aware that there is a peculiar spiritual
relationship and mental interplay between the victim and the rest of the
community. Much painful torture and hanging had to be done as public
demonstrations. After suffering the most intense pain, the witch would not
only confess to shocking sexual debaucheries with the devil, but would
herself gradually come to believe the stories she had invented and would die
convinced of her guilt. The whole ritual of interrogation and torture finally
compelled her to yield to the fantasies of her judges and accusers. In the end
she even yearned for death. She wanted to be burned at the stake in order to
exorcise the devil and expiate her sins.
These same judges and hangman realized, too, that their witch trials were
intended not only to torture the witches, but even more to torture the
bystanders, who, albeit unconsciously, identified themselves with the
victims. This is, of course, one of the reasons burnings and hangings were
held in public and became the occasion for great pageants. Terror thus
became widespread, and many judges spoke euphemistically of the
preventive action of such torture. Psychologically, we can see this entire
device as a blackmailing of human sympathy and the general tendency to
identify with others.
As far back as 1563 the courageous Dutch physician Johannes Wier
published his masterwork, De Praestigiis Daemonum (On the Delusions
About Demons), in which he states that the collective and voluntary selfaccusation
of older women—through which they exposed themselves to
torture and death by their inquisitors— was in itself an act inspired by the
devil, a trick of demons, whose aim it was to doom not only the innocent
women but also their reckless judges. Wier was the first medical man to
introduce what became the psychiatric concept of delusion and mental
blindness. Wherever his book had influence, the persecution of witches
ceased, in some countries more than one hundred and fifty years before it
was finally brought to an end throughout the civilized world. His work and
his insights became one of the main instruments for fighting the witch
delusion and physical torture (Baschwitz). Wier realized even then that
witches were scapegoats for the inner confusion and desperation of their
judges and of the Zeitgeist in general.


All knowledge can be used either for good or for evil, and psychology is
not immune to this general law. Psychology has delivered up to man new
means of torture and intrusion into the mind. We must be more and more
aware of what these methods and techniques are if we are successfully to
fight them. They can often be more painful and mentally more paralyzing than
the rack. Strong personalities can tolerate physical agony; often it serves to
increase stubborn resistance. No matter what the constitution of the victim,
physical torture finally leads to a protective loss of consciousness. But to
withstand mental torture leading to creeping mental breakdown demands an
even stronger personality.
What we call brainwashing (a word derived from the Chinese Hsi-Nao)
is an elaborate ritual of systematic indoctrination, conversion, and selfaccusation
used to change non-Communists into submissive followers of the
party (Hunter). “Menticide” is a word coined by me and derived from mens,
the mind, and caedere, to kill. [Here I followed the etymology used by the
United Nations to form the word “genocide,” meaning the systematic
destruction of racial groups.] Both words indicate the same perverted
refinement of the rack, putting it on what appears to be a more acceptable
level. But it is a thousand times worse and a thousand times more useful to
the inquisitor.
Menticide is an old crime against the human mind and spirit but
systematized anew. It is an organized system of psychological intervention
and judicial perversion through which a powerful dictator can imprint his
own opportunist thoughts upon the minds of those he plans to use and destroy.
The terrorized victims finally find themselves compelled to express complete
conformity to the tyrant’s wishes. Through court procedures, at which the
victim mechanically reels off an inner record which has been prepared by his
inquisitors during a preceding period, public opinion is lulled and thrown off
guard. “A real traitor has been punished,” people think. “The man has
confessed!” His confession can be used for propaganda, for the cold war, to
instill fear and terror, to accuse the enemy falsely, or to exercise a constant
mental pressure upon others.

One important result of this procedure is the great confusion it creates in
the mind of every observer, friend or foe. In the end no one knows how to
distinguish truth from falsehood. The totalitarian potentate, in order to break
down the mind? of men, first needs widespread mental chaos and verbal
confusion, because both paralyze his opposition and cause the morale of the
enemy to deteriorate—unless his adversaries are aware of the dictator’s real
aim. From then on he can start to build up his system of conformity.
In both the Mindszenty and the Schwable cases, we have documented
reports of the techniques of menticide as it has been used to break the minds
and wills of courageous men.

Let us look first at the case of Cardinal Mindszenty, accused of misleading
the Hungarian people and collaboration with the enemies, the United States.
In his expose on Cardinal Mindszenty’s imprisonment, Stephen K. Swift
graphically describes three typical phases in the psychological “processing”
of political prisoners. The first phase is directed toward extorting
confession. The victim is bombarded with questions day and night. He is
inadequately and irregularly fed. He is allowed almost no rest and remains in
the interrogation chamber for hours on end while his inquisitors take turns
with him. Hungry, exhausted, his eyes blurred and aching under unshaded
lamps, the prisoner becomes little more than a hounded animal.
… when the Cardinal had been standing for sixty-six hours [Swift reports],
he closed his eyes and remained silent. He did not even reply to questions
with denials. The colonel in charge of the shift tapped the Cardinal’s
shoulder and asked why he did not respond. The Cardinal answered: “End it
all. Kill me! I am ready to die!” He was told that no harm would come to
him; that he could end it all simply by answering certain questions.
… By Saturday forenoon he could hardly be recognized. He asked for
another drink and this time it was refused. His feet and legs had swollen to
such proportions that they caused him intense pain; he fell down several

To the horrors the accused victim suffers from without must be added the
horrors from within. He is pursued by the unsteadiness of his own mind,
which cannot always produce the same answer to a repeated question. As a
human being with a conscience he is pursued by possible hidden guilt
feelings, however pious he may have been, that undermine his rational
awareness of innocence. The panic of the “brainwashee” is the total
confusion he suffers about all concepts. His evaluations and norms are
undermined. He cannot believe in anything objective any more except in the
dictated and indoctrinated logic of those who are more powerful than he. The
enemy knows that, far below the surface, human life is built up of inner
contradictions. He uses this knowledge to defeat and confuse the
brainwashee. The continual shift of interrogators makes it ever more
impossible to believe in consecutive thinking. Hardly has the victim adjusted
himself to one inquisitor when he has to change his focus of alertness to
another one.

Yet, this inner clash of norms and concepts, this inner contradiction of
ideologies and beliefs is part of the philosophical sickness of our time!
As a social being the Cardinal is pursued by the need for good human
relationships and companionship. The constantly reiterated suggestion of his
guilt urges him toward confession. As a suffering individual he is
blackmailed by an inner need to be left alone and undisturbed, if only for a
few minutes. From within and without he is inexorably driven toward signing
the confession prepared by his persecutors. Why should he resist any longer?
There are no visible witnesses to his heroism. He cannot prove his moral
courage and rectitude after his death. The core of the strategy of menticide is
the taking away of all hope, all anticipation, all belief in a future. It destroys
the very elements which keep the mind alive. The victim is utterly alone.*
If the prisoner’s mind proves too resistant, narcotics are given to confuse
it: mescaline, marihuana, morphine, barbiturates, alcohol. If his body
collapses before his mind capitulates, he receives stimulants: benzedrine,
caffeine, coramine, all of which help to preserve his consciousness until he
confesses. Many of the narcotics and stimuli which ultimately help to induce
mental dependency and enforced confusion also can create an amnesia, often
a complete forgetting of the torture itself. The torture techniques achieve the
desired effect, but the victim forgets what has actually happened during the
interrogation. The clinicians who do therapeutic work with amphetamine
derivatives, which when injected into the blood stream help patients to
remember long-forgotten experiences, are familiar with the drug’s ability to
bring soothing forgetfulness of the period during which the patient was
drugged and questioned) [This continual attack on human conscience and guilt by
unconscious self-accusations is brilliantly depicted by Franz Kafka in The Trial. In this novel
the victim never knows of what he is accused but his inner guilt leads him to conviction.
Kafka anticipated the age of blackmailing into confession. His novel was written before the
1930’s. The same theme has been treated from a psychological point of view by Theodor
Reik in his Confession Compulsion and the Need for Punishment. [ See Chapter Three.]
Next the victim is trained to accept his own confession, much as an animal
is trained to perform tricks. False admissions are reread, repeated,
hammered into his brain. He is forced to reproduce in his memory again and
again the fancied offenses, fictitious details which ultimately convince him of
his criminality. In the first stage he is forced into mental submissiveness by
others. In the second stage he has entered a state of autohypnosis, convincing
himself of fabricated crimes. According to Swift: “The questions during the
interrogation now dealt with details of the Cardinal’s ‘confession.’ First his
own statements were read to him; then statements of other prisoners accused
of complicity with him; then elaborations of these statements. Sometimes the
Cardinal was morose, sometimes greatly disturbed and excited. But he
answered all questions willingly, repeated all sentences—once, twice, or
even three times when he was told to do so.” (Lassio)
In the third and final phase of interrogation and menticide the accused,
now completely conditioned and accepting his own imposed guilt, is trained
to bear false witness against himself and others. He doesn’t have to convince
himself any more through autohypnosis; he only speaks “his master’s voice.”
He is prepared for trial, softened completely; he becomes remorseful and
willing to be sentenced. He is a baby in the hands of his inquisitors, fed as a
baby and soothed by words as a baby. [A more extended survey of the different
psychological stages in menticide and brainwashing will be given at the end of Chapter Four.]


Now let us take a look at the Schwable case. In its general outline it is
similar to the Mindszenty story; it differs only in details. As an officer of the
United States Marine Corps, fighting with the United Nations in Korea, he is
taken prisoner by the enemy. The colonel expects to be protected by
international law and by the regulations regarding officer prisoners of war,
which have been accepted by all countries. However, it slowly dawns on
him that he is being subjected to a kind of treatment very different from what
he expected. The enemy looks on him not as a prisoner of war, but as a
victim who can be used for propaganda purposes.
He is subjected to slow but constant pressures devised to break him down
mentally. Humiliation, rough, inhuman treatment, degradation, intimidation,
hunger, exposure to extreme cold—all have been used to crumble his will
and to soften him. They need to wangle military secrets out of him and to use
him as a tool in their propaganda machine. He feels completely alone. He is
surrounded by filth and vermin. For hours on end he has to stand up and
answer the questions his interrogators hurl at him. He develops arthritic
backache and diarrhea. He is not allowed to wash or shave. He doesn’t know
what will happen to him next. This treatment goes on for weeks. Then the
hours of systematic and repetitious interrogation and oppression increase. He
no longer dares to trust his own memory. There are new teams of
investigators every day, and each new team points out his increasing errors
and mistakes. He cannot sleep any more. Daily his interrogators tell him they
have plenty of time, and he realizes that in this respect at least they are telling
the truth. He begins to doubt whether he can resist their seductive
propositions. If he will just unburden himself of his guilt, they tell him, he
will be better treated. The inquisitor is treacherously kind and knows exactly
what he wants. He wants the victim captured by the influence of a slowly
induced hypnosis. He wants a well-documented confession that the American
army used bacteriological warfare, that the captive himself took part in such
germ warfare. The inquisitor wants this confession in writing because it will
make a convincing impression and will shock the world. China is plagued by
hunger and epidemics; such a confession will explain the high disease rate
and exculpate the Chinese government, whose popularity is at a low ebb. So
the colonel has to be prepared for a systematic confession, made before an
international group of Communist experts. Mentally and physically he is
weakened, and every day the Communist “truths” are imprinted on his mind.
The colonel has in fact become hypnotized; he is now able to reproduce
for his jailers bits and pieces of the confession they want from him. It is a
well-known scientific fact that the passive memory often remembers facts
learned under hypnosis better than those learned in a state of alert
consciousness. He is even able to write some of it down. Eventually, all the
little pieces fit, like a jigsaw puzzle, into a complete, well-organized whole;
they form part of a document which was in fact prepared beforehand by his
captors. This document is placed in the colonel’s hands, and he is even
allowed to make some minor changes in the phrasing before he signs it.
By now, the colonel has been completely broken. He has given in. All
sense of reality is gone; identification with the enemy is complete. For weeks
after signing the confession he is in a state of
depression. His only wish is the wish to sleep, to have rest from it all.
A man will often try to hold out beyond the limits of his endurance
because he continues to believe that his tormentors have some basic morality,
that they will finally realize the enormity of their crimes and will leave him
alone. This is a delusion. The only way to strengthen one’s defenses against
an organized attack on the mind and will is to understand better what the
enemy is trying to do and to outwit him. Of course, one can vow to hold out
until death, but even the relief of death is in the hands of the inquisitor.
People can be brought to the threshold of death and then be stimulated into
life again so that the torments can be renewed. Attempts at suicide are
foreseen and can be forestalled.
In my opinion hardly anyone can resist such treatment. It all depends on
the ego strength of the person and the exhaustive technique of the inquisitor.
Each man has his own limit of endurance, but that this limit can nearly
always be reached and even surpassed is supported by clinical evidence.
Nobody can predict for himself how he will handle a situation when he is
called to the test. The official United States report on brainwashing[2] admits
that “virtually all American P.O.W.’s collaborated at one time or another in
one degree or another, lost their identity as Americans … thousands lost their
will to live,” and so forth. The British report gives a statistical survey about
the abuse of their P.O.W.’s. According to this report one third of the soldiers
absorbed enough indoctrination to be classified as Communist sympathizers.
The same report describes in a more extended way some of the sadistic
means used by the enemy:
If a prisoner accepted Communist doctrines, his life became easier,
according to the men’s stories. But if a prisoner resisted Communist
doctrines, the Chinese considered him a criminal and reactionary deserving
of any brutalities. The tortures applied to the “reactionaries” included:
Making a prisoner stand at attention or sit with legs outstretched in
complete silence from 4:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. and constantly waking him during
the few hours allowed for sleep.
Keeping prisoners in solitary confinement in boxes about five by three by
two feet. A private of the Gloucester Regiment spent more than six months in
one of these.
Withholding liquids for days “to help self-reflection.”
Binding a prisoner with a rope passed over a beam, one end fixed as a
hangman’s noose round his neck and the other end tied to his ankles. He was
then told that if he slipped or bent his knees he would be committing suicide.
Forcing a prisoner to kneel on jagged rocks and hold a large rock over his
head with arms extended. It took a man who had undergone this treatment
days to recover the ability to walk.
At one camp North Korean jailers pushed a pencil-like piece of wood or
metal through a hole in the cell door and made the prisoner hold the inner end
in his teeth. Without warning a sentry would knock the outer end sidewise,
breaking the man’s teeth or splitting the sides of his mouth. Sometimes the
rod was rammed inward against the back of the mouth or down the throat.
Prisoners were marched barefooted to the frozen Yalu River, water was
poured over their feet and they were kept for hours with their feet frozen to
the ice to “reflect” on their “crimes.”

Time, fear, and continual pressure are known to create a menticidal
hypnosis. The conscious part of the personality no longer takes part in the
automatic confessions. The brainwashee lives in a trance, repeating the
record grooved into his mind by somebody else. Fortunately, this, too, is
known: as soon as the victim returns to normal circumstances, the panicky
and hypnotic spell evaporates, and he again awakens into reality.
This is what happened to Colonel Schwable. True, he confessed to crimes
he did not commit, but he repudiated his confession as soon as he was
returned to a familiar environment.

When, during the military inquiry into the Schwable case, I was called
upon to testify as an expert on menticide, I told the court of my deep
conviction that nearly anybody subjected to the treatment meted out to
Colonel Schwable could be forced to write and sign a similar confession.
“Anyone in this room, for instance?” the colonel’s attorney asked me,
looking in turn at each of the officers sitting in judgment on this new and
difficult case.

And in good conscience I could reply, firmly: “Anyone in this room.”
It is now technically possible to bring the human mind into a condition of
enslavement and submission. The Schwable case and the cases of other
prisoners of war are tragic examples of this, made even more tragic by our
lack of understanding of the limits of heroism. We are just beginning to
understand what these limits are, and how they are used, both politically and
psychologically, by the totalitarians. We have long since come to recognize
the breast-beating confession and the public recantation as propaganda tricks;
now we are beginning to see ever more clearly how the totalitarian* use
menticide: deliberately, openly, unashamedly, as part of their official policy,
as a means of consolidating and maintaining their power, though, of course,
they give a different explanation to the whole procedure—it’s all confession
of real and treacherous crimes*

This brutal totalitarian technique has at least one virtue, however. It is
obvious and unmistakable, and we are learning to be on our guard against it,
but as we shall see later, there are other subtler forms of mental intervention.
They can be just as dangerous as the direct assault, precisely because they
are more subtle and hence more difficult to detect. Often we are not aware of
their action at all. They influence the mind so slowly and indirectly that we
may not even realize what they have done to us.
Like totalitarian menticide, some of these less obvious forms of mental
manipulation are political in purpose. Others are not. Even if they differ in
intent, they can have the same consequences.

These subtle menticidal forces operate both within the mind and outside
it. They have been strengthened in their effect by the growth in complexity of
our civilization. The modern means of mass communication bring the entire
world daily into each man’s home; the techniques of propaganda and
salesmanship have been refined and systematized; there is scarcely any
hiding place from the constant visual and verbal assault on the mind. The
pressures of daily life impel more and more people to seek an easy escape
from responsibility and maturity. Indeed, it is difficult to withstand
these pressures; to many the offer of a political panacea is very tempting,
to others the offer of escape through alcohol, drugs, or other artificial
pleasures is irresistible.

Free men in a free society must learn not only to recognize this stealthy
attack on mental integrity and fight it, but must learn also what there is inside
man’s mind that makes him vulnerable to this attack, what it is that makes
him, in many cases, actually long for a way out of the responsibilities that
democracy and maturity place on him.

Chapter Two

Before asking ourselves what the deeper mental mechanisms are of
brainwashing, false confession, and conversion into a collaborator, let us try
to see things from the standpoint of the totalitarian potentates. What is their
aim? What terms do they use to describe the behavior of their prisoners?
What do they want from the Schwables and the Mindszentys?
The totalitarian jailers don’t speak of hypnosis or suggestion; they even
deny the fact of imposed confession. They think about human behavior and
human government in a much more mechanical way. In order to understand
them we have to give more attention to their adoration of simplified
Pavlovian concepts.
In the latter part of the nineteenth century the Russian Nobel-prize winner
Ivan Petrovich Pavlov conducted his famous experiments with a bell and a
dog. He knew that salivation is associated with eating, and that if a dog was
hungry, its mouth would water each time it saw food. Pavlov took advantage
of this useful inborn reflex, which serves the digestive process, to develop in
his experimental animal the salivating response in answer to a stimulus
which would not ordinarily create it. Each time Pavlov fed the dog, he rang a
bell, and at each feeding the dog’s mouth watered. Then after many
repetitions of the combined food-bell stimulus, Pavlov rang the bell but did
not feed the dog. The animal reacted to the bell alone just as it had
previously reacted to the sight of food—its mouth watered. Thus the scientist
had found out that the dog could be induced to salivate involuntarily in
response to an arbitrary signal. It had been “conditioned” to respond to the
ringing of the bell as if that sound were the smell and taste of food.
From this and other experiments, Pavlov developed his theory of the
conditioned reflex, which explains learning and training as the building up of
a mosaic of conditioned reflexes, each one based on the establishment of an
association between different stimuli. The greater the number of learned
complex responses—also called patterns—the greater the number of
conditioned reflexes developed. Because man, of all the animals, has the
greatest capacity for learning, he is the animal with the greatest capacity for
such complicated conditioning.
Pavlov’s experiments were of great value in the study of animal and
human behavior, and in the study of the development of neurotic symptoms.
However, this knowledge of some of the mechanisms of the human mind can
be used as we have seen already, like any other knowledge, either for good
or for evil. And unfortunately, the totalitarians have used their knowledge of
how the mind works for their own purposes. They have applied some of the
Pavlovian findings, in a subtle and complicated way and sometimes in a
grotesque way, to try to produce the reflex of mental and political
conditioning and of submission in the human guinea pigs under their control.
Even though the Nazis employed these methods before the Second World
War, they can be said to have reached their full flower in Soviet Russia.
Through a continued repetition of indoctrination, bell ringing and feeding, the
Soviet man is expected to become a conditioned reflex machine, reacting
according to a prearranged pattern, as did the laboratory dogs. At least, such
a simplified concept is roaming around in the minds of some of the Soviet
leaders and scientists (Dobrogaev).

In accordance with one of Stalin’s directives, Moscow maintains a
special “Pavlovian Front” (Dobrogaev) and a “Scientific Council on
Problems of Physiological Theory of the Academician I. P. Pavlov”
(London). These institutions, part of the Academy of Science, are dedicated
to the political application of the Pavlovian theory. They are under orders to
emphasize the purely mechanical aspects of Pavlov’s findings. Such a
theoretical view can reduce all human emotions to a simple, mechanistic
system of conditioned reflexes. Both organizations are control agencies
dealing in research problems, and the scientists who work on them explore
the ways in which man can theoretically be conditioned and trained as
animals are. Since Pavlovian theory is proclaimed by the obdurate
totalitarian theoreticians as the gospel of animal and human behavior, we
have to grapple with the facts they adduce to prove their point, and with their
methods and theoretical explanations.

What the Pavlovian council tries to achieve is the result of an
oversimplification of psychology. Their political task is to condition and
mold man’s mind so that its comprehension is confined to a narrow
totalitarian concept of the world. It is the idea that such a limitation of
thinking to Lenin-Marxist theoretical thinking must be possible for two
reasons: first, if one repeats often enough its simplification, and second, if
one withholds any other form of interpretation of reality.

This concept is based on the naive belief that one can permanently
suppress any critical function and verification in human thinking. Yet, through
taming and conditioning of people, during which period errors and
deviations must continually be corrected, unwittingly a critical sense is built
up. True, at the same time the danger of using this critical sense is brought
home to the students. They know the dangers of any dissent, but even this
promotes the development of a secondary and more refined critical sense. In
the end, human rebellion and dissent cannot be suppressed; they await only
one breath of freedom in order to awake once more. The idea that there exist
other ways to truth than those he sees close at hand lives somewhere in
everybody. One can narrow his pathways of research and expression, but a
man’s belief in adventurous new roads elsewhere is ever present in the back
of his mind.

The inquisitive human mind is never satisfied with a simple recital of
facts. As soon as it observes a set of data, it jumps into the area of theory and
offers explanations, but the way a man sees a set of facts, and the way he
juggles them to build them into a theory is largely determined by his own
biases and prejudices. Let me be the first to confess that I am affected by my
own subjectivities. Even the words we use are loaded with implications and
suggestions. The word “reflex,” for example, so important in Pavlovian
theory, is a perfect instance of this. It was first used by the seventeenthcentury
philosopher Descartes, in whose philosophical system a parallel was
made between the actions of the human body and those of a machine. For
example, in the Cartesian view, the automatic reaction of the body to certain
painful stimuli (e.g., withdrawing the hand after it has come into contact with
fire) is compared with the automatic physical reflection of light from a
mirror. The nervous system, according to Descartes, reflects its response just
as the mirror does. Such a simple explanation of behavior, and the very
words used to describe it, immediately denies the whole organism taking part
in that response. Yet man is not only a mirror, but a thinking mirror.
According to the old mechanical view, actions are associated only with the
part of the body which performs them, and they have no relationship
whatsoever to the purposeful behavior of the organism as a whole. But man
is not a machine composed of independently functioning parts. He is a whole.
His mind and body interact; he acts on the outside world and the outside
world acts on him. The innate reflexes, of which this hand withdrawal is one
example, are part of a whole system of adaptive responses which serve to
help the individual, as an entity, to adjust to changed circumstances. They can
be described as the result of an inborn adaptation tendency. The only real
difference between the innate reflexes and the conditioned reflexes is that the
former supposedly have developed in the entire race over the millions of
years of the evolutionary process, while the latter are developed during the
life span of the individual as a result of the gradual automatization of
acquired responses. If you analyze any one of the complicated actions you
may perform during the course of a single day (driving an automobile, for
example), you will see that it occurs outside your conscious management.
And yet, before the process could be automatized, the actions, purposefully
directed toward the satisfaction of some goal, had to be consciously learned
and managed. You were not born with the innate reflex of jamming on the
brake to stop a car quickly in an emergency. You had to learn to do it, and in
the process of learning and driving, this response became automatic. If, after
you have learned to drive, you see a child running across the path of your car,
you put the brake on immediately, by reflex, without thinking.


Pavlov’s research on the machinery of the mind taught us how all the
animals—including man—learn adjustment to existing limitations through
linking the signs and signals of life to body reactions. The mind creates a
relationship between repeated simultaneous occurrences, and the body reacts
to the connections the mind forms. Thus the bell, rung each time the dog was
fed, became a signal to the animal to prepare for digestion, and the animal
began to salivate.

Recent experiments conducted by Dr. Gregory Razran of Queens College
show how men may develop these same kinds of responses. Dr. Razran
treated a group of twenty college students to a series of free luncheons at
which music was played or pictures shown. After the final luncheon, these
twenty students were brought together with another group who had not been
luncheon guests. At this meeting, as at the luncheons, music was played and
pictures shown, and all the students were asked to tell what the music and
pictures made them think of. The music and the pictures generally reminded
the first group of something related to eating, but had no such associations for
the second group. There was obviously a temporary connection in the minds
of the luncheon guests between the music and pictures on the one hand and
eating on the other.

The Chinese did their mass conditioning in an even simpler way. After
having taught the prisoners for days to write down all possible nonsense and
political lies—in an atmosphere of utter confusion and stress—they were
ripe to sign collectively the lie of having taken part in germ warfare

All conditioned reflexes are involuntary temporary adjustments to
pressures which create an apparent connection between stimuli which may
be in fact totally unrelated. For this reason, the conditioned reflex is not
necessarily permanently imprinted on the individual, but can gradually
disappear. If, after the dog’s conditioned reflex to the bell has been
developed, the bell is rung over and over again and no food is presented to
the animal, the salivating reflex disappears. Doubtless Dr. Razran’s students
will not always think of food when they hear music.

We could describe the conditioned reflex another way: it is a selected
response of the mind-body unit to a given stimulus. The ways in which the
stimulus and the response are connected vary considerably—they may have
been associated in time, in place, or by coincidence, or by a common aim—
and thus they may form a special conditioned complex in our mental and
physical attitude. Some of these complex responses, or patterns, are more
autonomous than others, and will act like the innate patterns. Some are
flexible and are continually changing. Analysis of some of the psychosomatic
diseases, for example, shows us how our inner emotional attitudes can
intensify or even change a conditional response. Stomach ulcers is an
example of such a psychosomatic disease. It may arise when the body
manufactures too much hydrochloric acid, which is necessary for the
digestion of food. The stomach ulcer patient is a person who reacts to strong
emotions, especially repressed hostility, with an excessive secretion of
hydrochloric acid. The innate secretion reflex, favorable for the digestion in
case of hunger, grows into an unfavorable conditioned reflex where hunger
and aggression mutually increase the hydrochloric acid secretion. Gradually
more and more of the sour fluid is manufactured until finally the patient finds
himself suffering from ulcers. The stomach consumes, as it were, its own
tissue. This same paradox may be seen in many educational processes. The
mother who puts her child on a too rigid feeding schedule may change the
child’s favorable response to hunger into a stubborn reaction against feeding.
For our purpose we have to be aware that conditioning takes place
throughout all our lives in the most subtle and in the most obvious ways. We
discover that the molding of our personalities may occur in a thousandfold
ways through such matters as these: the meal training given in early
childhood; the harshness or the musical tone of the words spoken to us; the
sense of haste in our surroundings; the steadiness of family habits or the
chaos of neurotic parents; the noises of our machines; the reservedness of our
friends; the discipline of our schools and the competitiveness of our clubs.
We are even conditioned by such things as the frailty of our toys and the
coziness of our houses, the steadiness of traditions or the chaos of a
revolution. The artist and the engineer, the teacher and the friend, the uncle or
aunt and the servant—they all give shape to our behavior.


Pavlov made another significant discovery: the conditioned reflex could
be developed most easily in a quiet laboratory with a minimum of disturbing
stimuli. Every trainer of animals knows this from his own experience;
isolation and the patient repetition of stimuli are required to tame wild
animals. Pavlov formulated his findings into a general rule in which the
speed of learning is positively correlated with quiet and isolation. The
totalitarians have followed this rule. They know that they can condition their
political victims most quickly if they are kept in isolation. In the totalitarian
technique of thought control, the same isolation applied to the individual is
applied also to groups of people. This is the reason the civilian populations
of the totalitarian countries are not permitted to travel freely and are kept
away from mental and political contamination. It is the reason, too, for the
solitary confinement cell and the prison camp.
Another of Pavlov’s findings was that some animals learned more quickly
if they were rewarded (by affection, by food, by stroking) each time they
showed the right response, while others learned more quickly when the
penalty for not learning was a painful stimulus. In human terms, the latter
animals could be described as learning in order to avoid punishment. These
different reactions in animals may perhaps be related to an earlier
conditioning by the parents, and they find their counterparts among human
beings. In some people the strategy of reward and flattery is a stimulus to
learning, while pain evokes all their resistance and rebellion; in others
retribution and punishment for failure can be a means of training them into the
desired pattern. Before he can do his job effectively, the brainwasher has to
find out to which category his victim belongs. There are people more
amenable to brainwashing than others. Part of the response may be innate or
related to earlier conditioning to conformity.
Pavlov also distinguished between the weaker type of involuntary
learning, in which the learned response was lost as soon as some disturbance
occurred, and the stronger type, in which training was retained through all
kinds of changed conditions. As a matter of fact, Pavlov described more
types of learning than this, but for our purposes it is only important to know
that there are some types of people who lose their conditioned learning
easily, while others, the so-called “stronger” types, retain it. This, by the
way, is another example of how our choice of words reflects our bias. The
descriptions “strong” and “weak” depend completely on the aim of the
experimenter. For the totalitarian, the “weak” P.O.W. is the man who
stubbornly refuses to accept the new conditioning. His “weakness” may be,
in fact, a resistance, the result of a previous strong conditioning to loyalty to
anti-totalitarian principles. We never know how strongly conditioning and
initial learning are impressed on the personality. Rigid dogmatic behavior
has its roots in early conditioning—and so may submissiveness based on
ignorance rather than knowledge.
Pavlov showed, too, how internal and external factors interact in the
conditioning process. If, for example, a new laboratory assistant was brought
in to work with the animals, all of their newly acquired patterns could easily
be inhibited because of the animals’ emotional reactions to the newcomer.
Pavlov explained this as a disruptive reaction caused by the animals’
investigatory reflexes, which led them to sniff around the stranger. Current
psychology tends to interpret it as the result of the changed emotional rapport
between the animal and its trainers. We can easily expand the implications of
this more modern view into the field of human relations. It points up the fact
that there are some persons who can create such immediate rapport with
others that the latter will soon give up many old habits and ways of life to
conform with new demands. There are inquisitors and investigators whose
personalities so deeply affect their victims that the victims speedily yield
their secrets and accept entirely new ways of thinking. We can see the same
thing in psychotherapy, where the development of an emotional rapport
between doctor and patient is the most important factor leading to cure. In
some cases rapport can be established immediately, in others rapport cannot
be built up at all, in most cases it develops gradually during the course of the
therapy. It is not difficult for a psychologist to test a man’s “softness” and
willingness to be conditioned, and as a matter of fact the Pavlovians have
developed simple questionnaires through which they can easily determine a
given individual’s instability and adaptability to suggestion and
Pavlov found that all conditioning, no matter how strong it had been,
became inhibited through boredom or through the repetition of too weak
signals. The bell could no longer arouse salivation in the experimental dogs
if it was repeated too often or its tone was too soft. A process of unlearning
took place. The result of such internal inhibition of conditioning and the loss
of conditioned reflex action is sleep. The inhibition spreads over the entire
activity of the brain cortex; the organism falls into a hypnotic state. This
explanation of the process of inhibition was one of the first acceptable
theories of sleep. An interesting psychological question is whether too much
official conditioning causes boredom and inhibition, and whether that is the
reason why the Stakhanovite movement in Russia was necessary to
counteract the loss of productivity of the people.
We can make a comparison with what happened to our prisoners of war in
Korea. Under the daily signal of dulling routine questions—for every word
can act as a Pavlovian signal—their minds went into a state of inhibition and
diminished alertness. This made it possible for them to give up temporarily
their former democratic conditioning and training. When they had unlearned
and suppressed the democratic way, their inquisitors could start teaching
them the totalitarian philosophy. First the old patterns have to be broken
down in order to build up new conditioned reflexes. We can imagine that
boredom and repetition arouse the need to give in and to yield to the
provoking words of the enemy. Later I shall come back to the system of
negative stimuli used in conditioning for brainwashing.


According to official Pavlovian psychology, human speech is also a
conditioned reflex activity. Pavlov distinguished between stimuli of the first
order, which condition men and animals directly, and stimuli of the second
order, with weaker and more complicated conditioning qualities. In this socalled
second signal system, verbal cues replace the original physical sound
stimuli. Pavlov himself did not give much attention to this second signal
system. It was especially after Stalin’s publication in 1950 on the
significance of linguistics for mass indoctrination (as quoted by Dobrogaev)
that the Russian psychologists began to do work in this area. In his letter,
Stalin followed Engel’s theory that language is the characteristic human bit of
adaptive equipment. That tone and sound in speech have a conditioning
quality is something we can verify from our own experience in listening to or
in giving commands, or in dealing with our pets. Even the symbolic and
semantic meaning of words can acquire a conditioning quality. The word
“traitor,” for example, provokes direct feelings and reactions in the minds of
those who hear it spoken, even if this discriminatory label is being applied
Through an elaborate study on speech reflexes written by one of the
leading Russian psychologists, Dobrogaev, we get a fairly good insight into
the ways in which speech patterns and word signals are used in the service
of mass conditioning, by means of propaganda and indoctrination. The basic
problems for the man tamer are rather simple: Can man resist a government
bent on conditioning him? What can the individual do to protect his mental
integrity against the power of a forceful collectivity? Is it possible to do
away with every vestige of inner resistance?
Pavlov had already explained that man’s relation to the external world,
and to his fellow men, is dominated by secondary stimuli, the speech
symbols. Man learns to think in words and in the speech figures given him,
and these gradually condition his entire outlook on life and on the world. As
Dobrogaev says, “Language is the means of man’s adaptation to his
environment.” We could rephrase that statement in this way: man’s need for
communication with his fellow men interferes with his relation to the outside
world, because language and speech itself—the verbal tools we use—are
variable and not objective. Dobrogaev continues: “Speech manifestations
represent conditioned-reflex functions of the human brain.” In a simpler way
we may say: he who dictates and formulates the words and phrases we use,
he who is master of the press and radio, is master of the mind.
In the Pavlovian strategy, terrorizing force can finally be replaced by a
new organization of the means of communication. Ready-made opinions can
be distributed day by day through press, radio, and so on, again and again,
till they reach the nerve cell and implant a fixed pattern of thought in the
brain. Consequently, guided public opinion is the result, according to
Pavlovian theoreticians, of good propaganda technique, and the polls a
verification of the temporary successful action of the Pavlovian machinations
on the mind. Yet, the polls may only count what people pretend to think and
believe, because it is dangerous for them to do otherwise.
Such is the Pavlovian device: repeat mechanically your assumptions and
suggestions, diminish the opportunity of communicating dissent and
opposition. This is the simple formula for political conditioning of the
masses. This is also the actual ideal of some of our public relation machines,
who thus hope to manipulate the public into buying a special soap or voting
for a special party.
The Pavlovian strategy in public relations has people conditioned more
and more to ask themselves, “What do other people think?” As a result, a
common delusion is created: people are incited to think what other people
think, and thus public opinion may mushroom out into a mass prejudice.
Expressed in psychoanalytic terms, through daily propagandistic noise
backed up by forceful verbal cues, people can more and more be forced to
identify with the powerful noisemaker. Big Brother’s voice resounds in all
the little brothers.
News from Red China, as reported by neutral Indian journalists tells us
that the Chinese leaders are using this vocal conditioning of the public to
strengthen their regime. [The New York Times, November 27, 1954.]
Throughout the country, radios and loud-speakers are broadcasting the
official “truths.” The sugary voices take possession of people, the cultural
tyranny traps their ears with loud-speakers, telling them what they may and
not do. This microphone regimentation was foreseen by the French
philosopher La Rochefoucauld, who, in the eighteenth century, said: “A man
is like a rabbit, you catch him by the ears.”
During the Second World War the Nazis showed that they too were very
much aware of this conditioning power of the word. I saw their strategy at
work in Holland. The radio constantly spread political suggestions and
propaganda, and people were obliged to listen because the simple act of
turning off one’s radio was in itself suspicious. I remember one day during
the occupation when I was taking a bicycle trip with some friends. We
stopped off to rest at a cafe that, we later realized, was a true Nazi nest.
When the radio, which had been on ever since we arrived, announced a
speech by Hitler, everyone stood up in awe, and it was a must to take in the
verbal conditioning by the Führer. My friends and I had to stand up too, and
were forced to listen to that raucous voice crackling in our ears and to
summon all our resistance against that long, boring, repetitive attack on our
eardrums and minds.
Throughout the occupation, the Nazis printed tons of propaganda, Big
Lies, and distortions. They even went so far as to paint their slogans on the
stoops of the houses and in the streets. Every week newly fabricated
stereotypes ogled at us as if to convince us of the splendor of the Third
Reich. But the Nazis did not know the correct Pavlovian strategy. By
satisfying their own need to discuss and to vary their arguments in order to
make them seem more logical, they only increased the resistance of the Dutch
people. This resistance was additionally fortified by the London radio, on
which the Dutch could hear the sane voice of their own legal government.
Had the Nazis not argued and justified so much, and had they been able to
prevent all written, printed, or spoken communication, the long period of
boredom would have inhibited our democratic conditioning, and we might
well have been more seduced by the Nazi oversimplifications and slogans.
Political conditioning should not be confused with training or persuasion
or even indoctrination. It is more than that. It is taming. It is taking possession
of both the simplest and the most complicated nervous patterns of man. It is
the battle for the possession of the nerve cells. It is coercion and enforced
conversion. Instead of conditioning man to an unbiased facing of reality, the
seducer conditions him to catchwords, verbal stereotypes, slogans, formulas,
symbols. Pavlovian strategy in the totalitarian sense means imprinting
prescribed reflexes on a mind that has been broken down. The totalitarian
wants first the required response from the nerve cells, then control of the
individual, and finally control of the masses. The system starts with verbal
conditioning and training by combining the required stereotypes with
negative or positive stimuli: pain, or reward. In the P.O.W. camps in Korea
where there was individual and mass brainwashing, the negative and positive
conditioning stimuli were usually hunger and food. The moment the soldier
conformed to the party line his food ration was improved: say yes, and I’ll
give you a piece of candy!
The whole gamut of negative stimuli, as we saw them in the Schwable
case, consists of physical pressure, moral pressure, fatigue, hunger, boring
repetition, confusion by seemingly logical syllogisms. Many victims of
totalitarianism have told me in interviews that the most upsetting experience
they faced in the concentration camps was the feeling of loss of logic, the
state of confusion into which they had been brought—the state in which
nothing had any validity. They had arrived at the Pavlovian state of
inhibition, which psychiatrists call mental disintegration or
depersonalization. It seemed as if they had unlearned all their former
responses and had not yet adopted new ones. But in reality they simply did
not know what was what.
The Pavlovian theory translated into a political method, as a way of
leveling the mind (the Nazis called it Gleichschaltung) is the stock in trade of
totalitarian countries. Some psychiatric points are of interest because we see
that Pavlovian training can be used successfully only when special mental
conditions prevail. In order to tame people into the desired pattern, victims
must be brought to a point where they have lost their alert consciousness and
mental awareness. Freedom of discussion and free intellectual exchange
hinder conditioning. Feelings of terror, feelings of fear and hopelessness, of
being alone, of standing with one’s back to the wall, must be instilled. The
treatment of American prisoners of war in the Korean P.O.W. camps
followed just such a pattern. They were compelled to listen to lectures and
other forms of daily word barrage. The very fact that they did not understand
the lectures and were bored by the long sessions inhibited their democratic
training, and conditioned them to swallow passively the bitter doctrinal diet,
for the prisoners were subjected not only to a political training program, but
also to an involuntary taming program. To some degree the Communist
propaganda lectures were directed toward retraining the prisoners’ minds.
This training our soldiers could reject, but the endless repetitions and the
constant sloganizing, together with the physical hardships and deprivations
the prisoners suffered, caused an unconscious taming and conditioning,
against which only previously built-up inner strength and awareness could
There is still another reason why our soldiers were sometimes trapped by
the Communist conditioning. Experiments with animals and experiences with
human beings have taught us that threat, tension, and anxiety, in general, may
accelerate the establishment of conditioned responses, particularly when
those responses tend to diminish fear and panic (Spence and Farber). The
emergency of prison-camp life and mental torture provide ideal
circumstances for such conditioning. The responses can develop even when
the victim is completely unaware that he is being influenced. Thus, many of
our soldiers developed automatic responses of which they remained
completely unconscious (Segal). But this is only one side of the coin, for
experience has also shown that people who know what to expect under
conditions of mental pressure can develop a so-called perceptual defense,
which protects them from being influenced. This means that the more familiar
people are with the concepts of thought control and menticide, the more they
understand the nature of the propaganda barrage directed against them, the
more inner resistance they can put up, even though inevitably some of the
inquisitor’s suggestions will leak through the barrier of conscious mental
Our understanding of the conditioning process leads us also to an
understanding of some of the paradoxical reactions found among victims of
concentration camps and other prisoners. Often those with a rigid, simple
belief were better able to withstand the continual barrage against their minds
than were the flexible, sophisticated ones, full of doubt and inner conflicts.
The simple man with deep-rooted, freely absorbed religious faith could exert
a much greater inner resistance than could the complex, questioning
intellectualist. The refined intellectual is much more handicapped by the
internal pros and cons.
In the totalitarian countries, where belief in Pavlovian strategy has
assumed grotesque proportions, the self-thinking, subjective man has
disappeared. There is an utter rejection of any attempt at persuasion or
discussion. Individual self-expression is taboo. Private affection is taboo.
Peaceful exchange of thoughts in free conversation will disturb the
conditioned reflexes and is therefore taboo. No longer are there any brains,
only conditioned patterns and educated muscles. In such a taming system
neurotic compulsion is looked upon as a positive asset instead of something
pathological. The mental automaton becomes the ideal of education.
Yet the Soviet theoreticians themselves are often unaware of this, and
many of them do not realize the dire consequences of subjecting man to a
completely mechanistic conditioning. They themselves are often just as
frightened as we are by the picture of the perfectly functioning human robot.
This is what one of their psychologists says: “The entire reactionary nature
of this approach to man is completely clear. Man is an automaton who can be
caused to act as one wills! This is the ideal of capitalism! Behold the dream
of capitalism the world over—a working class without consciousness, which
cannot think for itself, whose actions can be trained according to the whim of
the exploiter! This is the reason why it is in America, the bulwark of presentday
capitalism, that the theory of man as a robot has been so vigorously
developed and so stubbornly held to.” (Bauer)
Western psychology and psychiatry, although acknowledging its debt to
Pavlov as a great pioneer who made important contributions to our
understanding of behavior, takes a much less mechanical view of man than do
the Soviet Pavlovians. It is apparent to us that their simple explanation of
training ignores and rejects the concept of purposeful adaptation and the
question of the goals to which this training is directed. Western experimental
psychologists tend to see the conditioned reflex as developing fully only in
the service of gratifying basic instinctual needs or of avoiding pain, that is,
only when the whole organism is concerned in the activity. In that
complicated process of response to the world, conscious, and especially
unconscious, drives and motivations play a role, as Freud taught us.
All training, of which the conditioned response is only one example, is an
automatization of actions which were originally consciously learned and
thought over. The ideal of Western democratic psychology is to train men into
independence and maturity by enlisting their conscious aid, awareness, and
volition in the learning process. The ideal of the totalitarian psychology, on
the other hand, is to tame men, to make them willing tools in the hands of
their leaders. Like training, taming has the purpose of making actions
automatic; unlike training, it does not require the conscious participation of
the learner. Both training and taming are energy and timesaving devices, and
in both the mystery of the psyche is hidden in the purposefulness of the
responses. The automatization of functions in man saves him expenditure of
energy but can make him weaker when encountering new unexpected
Cultural routinization and habit formation by local rules and myths make
of everybody a partial automaton. National and racial prejudices are acted
out unwittingly. Group hatred often bursts out almost automatically when
triggered by slogans and catchwords. In a totalitarian world, this narrow
disciplinarian conditioning is done more “perfectly” and more ad absurdum.


One suggestion this chapter is not intended to convey is that Pavlovian
conditioning as such is something wrong. This kind of conditioning occurs
everywhere where people are together in common interaction. The speaker
influences the listener, but the listener also the speaker. Through the process
of conditioning people often learn to like and to do what they are allowed to
like and do. The more isolated the group, the stricter the conditioning that
takes place in those belonging to the group. In some groups one finds people
more capable than others of conveying suggestion and bringing about
conditioning. Gradually one can discern the stronger ones, the better-adjusted
ones, the more experienced ones, and those noisier ones, whose ability to
condition others is strongest. Every group, every club, every society has its
leading Pavlovian Bell. This kind of person imprints his inner bell-ringing on
others. He can even develop a system of monolithic bell-ringing: no other
influential bell is allowed to compete with him.
Another subtle question belongs to these problems. Why is there in us so
great an urge to be conditioned, the urge to learn, to imitate, to conform, and
to follow the pattern of family and group ? This urge to be conditioned, to
submit to the communal pattern and the family pattern must be related to
man’s dependency on parents and fellow men. Animals are not so dependent
on one another. In the whole animal kingdom man is one of the most helpless
and naked beings. He remains like a monkey fetus, he never grows into the
mature, hairy, fully covered state. In his persistent fetal state, he remains
dependent on maternal care and paternal teaching and conditioning. But
among the animals man has, relatively, the longest youth and time for
learning. At least this is what Louis Bolk’s fetalization theory tells us about
man’s retarded state and never-ending social dependency.
Puzzlement and doubt, which inevitably arise in the training process, are
the beginnings of mental freedom. Of course, the initial puzzlement and doubt
is not enough. Behind that there has to be faith in our democratic freedoms
and the will to fight for it. I hope to come back to this central problem of faith
in moral freedom as differentiated from conditioned loyalty and servitude in
the last chapter. Puzzlement and doubt are, however, already crimes in the
totalitarian state. The mind that is open for questions is open for dissent. In
the totalitarian regime the doubting, inquisitive, and imaginative mind has to
be suppressed. The totalitarian slave is only allowed to memorize, to
salivate when the bell rings.
It is not my task here to elaborate on the subject of the biased use of
Pavlovian rules by totalitarians, but without doubt part of the interpretation
of any psychology is determined by the ways we think about our fellow
human beings and man’s place in nature. If our ideal is to make conditioned
zombies out of people, the current misuse of Pavlovianism will serve our
purpose. But once we become even vaguely aware that in the totalitarian
picture of man the characteristic human note is missing, and when we see that
in such a scheme man sacrifices his instinctual desires, his pleasures, his
aims, his goals, his creativity, his instinct for freedom, his paradoxicality, we
immediately turn against this political perversion of science. Such use of
Pavlovian technique is aimed only at developing the automaton in man, not
his free alert mind that is aware of moral goals and aims in life.
Even in laboratory animals we have found that affective goal-directedness
can spoil the Pavlovian experiment. When, during a bell-food training
session, the dog’s beloved master entered the room, the animal lost all its
previous conditioning and began to bark excitedly. Here is a simple example
of an age-old truth: love and laughter break through all rigid conditioning.
The rigid automaton cannot exist without spontaneous self-expression.
Apparently, the fact that the dog’s spontaneous affection for his master could
ruin all the mechanical calculations and manipulations never occurred to
Pavlov’s totalitarian students.

Chapter Three

As we have already seen in the preceding chapters, it is not only the
political and Pavlovian pressure that may drag down man’s mind into servile
submissiveness. There are many other human habits and actions which have a
coercive influence.
All kinds of rumors have been circulated telling how brainwashees,
before surrendering to their inquisitor, have been poisoned with mysterious
drugs. This chapter aims to describe what medical techniques—not only
drugs—can do to reach behind man’s inner secrets. Actually the thoughtcontrol
police no longer need drugs, though occasionally they have been
I will touch upon another side to this problem as well, namely, our
dangerous social dependence on various drugs, the problem of addiction,
making it easier for us to slip into the pattern of submissiveness. The
alcoholic has no mental backbone any more when you give him his drink. The
same is true for the chronic user of sedatives or other pills. The use of
alcohol or drugs may result in a chemical dependency, weakening our
stamina under exceptional circumstances.
In the field of practical medicine, magic thinking is still rampant. Though
we flatter ourselves that we are rational and logical in our choice of therapy,
somewhere we know that hidden feelings and unconscious motivations direct
the prescribing hand. In spite of the therapeutic triumphs of the last fifty
years, the era of chemotherapy and antibiotics, let us not forget that the same
means of medical victory can be used to defeat our purposes. No day passes
that the mail does not flood the doctor’s office with suggestions about what to
use in his clinical practice. My desk overflows with gadgets and
multicolored pills telling me that without them mankind cannot be happy. The
propaganda campaign reaching our medical eyes and ears is often so laden
with suggestions that we can be persuaded to distribute sedatives and
stimulants where straight critical thinking would deter us and we would seek
the deeper causes of the difficulties. This is true not only for modern
pharmacotherapy; the same tendencies can also be shown in
psychotherapeutic methods.
This chapter aims to approach the problem of mental coercion with the
question: How compulsive can the use of medical drugs and medical and
psychological methods become? In the former chapters on menticide I was
able to describe political attempts to bring the human mind into submission
and servility. Drugs and their psychological equivalents are also able to
enslave people.


Not long ago I was asked to give advice to a couple who had had marital
difficulties for a long time. Although at the time of their marriage, the
husband and wife were deeply in love, each had brought to his adventure of
happiness the wrong emotional investment. She had expected him to be a
kind of Hollywood hero, an eternal gallant, dedicated completely to her. He
had been touched by her childlike dependency, but secretly he had hoped she
would be mother, nurse, and companion to him. As might have been
predicted, neither partner lived up to the other’s expectations. Both were
bitterly disappointed—and neither realized what was wrong. After a while,
the wife became a whining, complaining nag; there were daily scenes,
arguments, and recriminations. The husband began to seek solace away from
home, with women he had known before his marriage. Soon thereafter, the
wife found herself unable to sleep, and started to take barbiturates to bring
herself the soothing forgetfulness of slumber. She became completely
dependent on them and retreated into all kinds of vague bodily complaints
which could be relieved temporarily by more drugs. When the husband first
discovered this, he was appalled. But gradually he noticed that the drugs
seemed to modify and ease the discord of their relationship. Under almost
constant sedation, his wife was no longer a shrew. Indeed she was no longer
even interested in him. He discovered that he had much more freedom and
could spend his evenings and holidays as he chose, as long as he provided
her with the wherewithal for those magic pills that had restored peace to
their home. But one night the wife took an overdose of barbiturates, and it
looked almost as if she had attempted suicide. This nearly fatal occurrence
aroused all the husband’s guilt feelings, and he sought medical and
psychological help, in an effort to discover what had gone wrong in the
marriage of two people who had felt so much initial love and good will.
This is only one of many cases in which the sleeping pill and drug habit
covers up deep-seated, unspoken unhappiness. The growing dependency on
easy escape into a soft and mild-appearing sedation and oblivion is an evil
we must recognize. The general increase in the use of sleeping drugs is
alarming, and the number of suicides resulting from barbiturates is growing
every year. Nor can we look at such a phenomenon as simply a medical
problem. Dependence on alcohol, barbiturates, drugs, or other soporifics
indicates latent and overt social fear and anxiety, and the need to escape from
reality. Drugs seem to their users to be miracle tablets which provide a
passive and magic solution to all problems, and bring them to a point beyond
the boundaries of the real world. The leader of a gang, who is able to
provide such drugs for his members, is sure of their servility.


Among drug addicts of all sorts we repeatedly encounter the yearning for
a special ecstatic and euphoric mood, a feeling of living beyond everyday
troubles. “Thou hast the keys of Paradise,
O just, subtle, and mighty opium!” Thomas De Quincey says, in his
Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. Although the ecstatic state is
different for each person who experiences it, the addict always tells us that
the drug takes him to the lost paradise he is looking for; it brings him a
feeling of eternal euphoria and free elation that takes him past the restrictions
of life and time.
In the ecstatic state, man rearranges the universe according to his own
desires and, at the same time, seeks communion with the Higher Order of
things. But the ecstatic state has its negative as well as its positive aspects. It
may represent the Yogis mystic feeling of unity with the universe, but it may
also mean the chronic intoxicated state of the drunkard or the passion of some
manic psychotic states. The feeling may express the intensified spiritual
experience of a dedicated study group, but, on the other hand, it may be
encountered in the lynch mob and the riot. There are many kinds of ecstasy—
esthetic ecstasy, mystic ecstasy, and sick, toxic ecstasy.
The search for ecstatic experience is not only an individual search, it
often reaches out to encompass whole groups. When moral controls become
too burdensome, whole civilizations may give themselves up to uncontrolled
orgies such as we saw in the Greek Bacchanalia and the contagious dancefury
of the Middle Ages. In these mass orgies, artificial stimulants are not
necessarily used. The hypnotic influence of being part of the crowd can
induce the same loss of control and sense of union with the outside world that
we associate with drugs. In the mass orgy the individual loses his conscience
and self-control. His sexual inhibitions may disappear; he is temporarily
relieved of his deep frustrations and the burden of unconscious guilt. He
endeavors to re-experience the blissful sensations of infancy, the utter
yielding to his own body needs and desires.
The ecstatic participation in mass elation is the oldest psychodrama in the
world. Taking part in some common action results in a tremendous emotional
relief and catharsis for every individual in the group. This feeling of
participation in the magic omnipotent group, of reunion and communion with
the all-embracing forces in the world brings euphoria to the normal person
and feelings of pseudo-strength to the weak. The demagogue who is able to
provide such ecstatic release in the masses can be sure of their yielding to
his influence and power. Dictators love to organize such mass rituals in the
service of their dictatorial aims.
Ever since man has been a conscious being, he has tried from time to time
to break down the inevitable tension between himself and the outside world.
When mental alertness cannot be relaxed now and then, when the world is
too much and too constantly with him, man may try to lose himself in the deep
waters of oblivion. Ecstasy, drugged sleep, and its fantasies and swoons of
mental exaltation temporarily take him beyond the burdensome effort of
keeping his senses and ego alert and intact. Drugs can bring him to this state,
and any addiction may be explained as a continuing need to escape. The body
cooperates with the mind in this search for an evasion of life, and drugs
gradually become a body need as well as an emotional necessity.

In criminal circles addicting drugs like cocaine or heroin are often given
to members of the gang in order to make them more submissive to the leader
who distributes them. The man who provides the drug becomes almost a god
to the members of the gang. They will go through hell for him in order to
acquire the drug they so desperately need.

In the hands of a powerful tyrant, this medication into dependency can
become extremely dangerous. It is not unthinkable that a diabolical dictator
might want to use addiction as a means of bringing a rebellious people into
submission. In May, 1954, during a discussion in the World Health
Organization, the fact was disclosed that Communist China, while forbidding
the use of opium in her own country, was smuggling and exporting it in great
quantities to her neighbors, who have consequently been compelled to carry
on a constant struggle against opium addiction among their own people and
against the passivity which results from use of the drug. At the same time,
according to officials of Thailand who made the charge and who requested
U.N. aid, Communist China has been sending all kinds of subversive
propagandists into Thailand. Thailand charged that the Chinese were using
every device they know to infect the Siamese people with their ideology:
brain-weakening opium addiction, leaflets, radio, whispering campaigns, and
so on.

The Nazis followed a similar strategy. During the occupation of Western
Europe, they created an artificial shortage of normal medicaments by halting
their usual export of healing drugs to the “inferior” countries. However, they
made an exception in the case of barbiturates. In Holland, for example, these
drugs were made readily available in many drugstores without doctors’
prescriptions, a situation which was against customary Dutch law. Although
the right therapeutic drugs were not made available for medical work, the
drugs which created passivity, dependence, and lethargy were widely

The totalitarian dictator knows that drugs can be his helpers. It was
Hitler’s intention, in his so-called biological warfare, to weaken and subdue
the countries that surrounded the Third Reich, and to break their backbones
for good. Hunger and addiction were among his most valuable strategic

What has all this to do with the growing addiction and alcoholism in our
own country? I have already mentioned the alarming increases in death from
barbiturates. But I would like to emphasize even more the psychological and
political consequences. Democracy and freedom end where slavery and
submission to drugs and alcohol begin. Democracy involves free, self-chosen
activity and understanding; it means mature self-control and independence.
Any man who escapes from reality through the use of alcohol and drugs is no
longer a free agent; he is no longer able to exert any voluntary control over
his mind and his actions. He is no longer a self-responsible individual.
Alcoholism and drug addiction prepare the pattern of mental submission so
beloved by the totalitarian brainwasher.


From time immemorial those who wanted to know the inner workings of
the other fellow’s mind in order to exert pressure on him have used artificial
means to find the hidden pathways to his most private thoughts. Modern
brainwashers, too, have tried all kinds of drugs to arrive at their devious
objectives. The primitive medicine man had several methods of compelling
his victim to lose his self-control and reserve. Alcoholic drinks, toxic
ointments, or permeating holy smoke which had a narcotizing effect, as used
by the Mayas, for example, were used to bring people into such a state of
rapture that they lost their self-awareness and restraint. The victims,
murmuring sacred words, often revealed their self-accusing fantasies or even
their deepest secrets. In the Middle Ages, so-called witch ointments were
used either voluntarily or under pressure. These ointments were supposed to
bring the anointed into touch with the devil. Since they contained opiates and
belladonna in large quantities, which could have been absorbed by the skin,
modern science can explain the ecstatic visions they evoked as the typical
hallucination-provoking effect of these drugs.

One of the first useful techniques medicine delivered into the hands of the
prier-into-souls was the knowledge of hypnosis, that intensified mental
suggestion that makes people give up their own will and brings them into a
strange dependency on the hypnotizer. The Egyptian doctors of three thousand
years ago knew the technique of hypnosis, and ancient records tell us that
they practiced it.

In the hands of an honest therapist, hypnosis can be extremely useful.
Particularly in dealing with psychosomatic diseases and physical pain—that
bastard son of fantasy and reality—hypnosis, is the good Samaritan. But there
are many quacks who practice hypnosis, not to cure their victims but to force
them into submission, using the victim’s unconscious ties and dependency
needs in a criminal, profitable way. There are unconscious sexual roots in
hypnosis, related to the passive yielding to the attacker, which the quack uses
to give vent to his own passions. I once treated a girl after she had gone to
such a “healer.” It was only at the very last moment that she had been able to
get out of her lethargic, submissive state and fight off his assault.
Not long ago I treated some teen-agers who had tried to hypnotize each
other. They wanted to learn the intricacies of the technique in order to
increase their mental power over other people. Inspired by some comic-book
stories, they imagined that through the use of hypnosis they could influence
girls to yield to their sexual advances. They expected to become supermen
who could make other people instruments for the satisfaction of their own
lust and will.

One of the most absorbing aspects of this whole problem of hypnosis is
the question of whether people can be forced to commit crimes, such as
murder or treason, while under a hypnotic spell. Many psychologists would
deny that such a thing could happen and would insist that no person can be
compelled to do under hypnosis what he would refuse to do in a state of alert
consciousness, but actually what a person can be compelled to do depends
on the degree of dependency that hypnosis causes and the frequency of
repetition of the so-called post-hypnotic suggestions. Actual psychoanalysis
teaches that there even exist several other devices to live other people’s
lives. True, no hypnotizer can take away a man’s conscience and inner
resistance immediately, but he can arouse the latent murderous wishes which
may become active in his victim’s unconscious by continual suggestion and
continual playing upon those deeply repressed desires. Actual knowledge of
methods used in brainwashing and menticide proves that all this can be done.
If the hypnotizer persists long enough and cleverly enough, he can be
successful in his aim. There are many antisocial desires lying hidden in all
people. The hypnotic technique, if cleverly enough applied, can bring them to
the surface and cause them to be acted out in life. The mass criminality of the
guards in concentration camps finds part of its explanation in the hypnotizing
influence of the totalitarian state and its criminal dictator. Psychological
study of criminals shows that their first violation of moral and legal codes
often takes place under the strong influence and suggestion of other criminals.
This we may look upon as an initial form of hypnosis, which is a more
intensified form of suggestion.

True, the incitement to crime in a hypnotic state demands specially
favorable conditions, but unfortunately these conditions can be found in the
real and actual world.

Recently there has been much judicial discussion of the problem of the
psychiatrist who uses his special knowledge of suggestion to force a
confession from a defendant. Such a psychiatrist is going beyond the
commonly accepted concepts of the limitations of psychiatry and beyond
psychiatric ethics. He is misusing the patient’s trust in the medical confidant
and therapist in order to provoke a confession, which will then be used
against the patient temporarily in his care. In so doing, the doctor not only
acts against his Hippocratic oath, in which he promised only to work for the
good of his patients and never to disclose his professional secrets, he also
violates the constitutional safeguards accorded a defendant by the Fifth
Amendment to the United States Constitution, which protects a man against

What a defendant will reveal under hypnosis depends on his conscious
and unconscious attitudes toward the entire question of magic influence and
mental intrusion by another person. People are usually less likely to stand on
their legal rights in dealing with a doctor than in dealing with a lawyer or a
policeman. They have a yielding attitude because they expect magic help.
An interesting example of this can be seen in a case that was recently
decided by the Supreme Court. In 1950, Camilio Weston Leyra, a man in his
fifties, was arrested and accused by the police of the brutal hammer murder
of his aged parents in their Brooklyn flat (“People v. Leyra”). At first, under
prolonged questioning by the police, Leyra denied any knowledge of the
crime and stated that he had not even been at his parents’ home on the day of
the murder. Later, after further interrogation by the police, he said he had
been at their home that day, but he remained firm in his denial of the murder.
He was detained in jail, and a psychiatrist was brought in to talk to him.
Their conversation was recorded on tape. The psychiatrist told Leyra that he
was “his doctor,” although in fact he was not. Under slight hypnosis and after
continued suggestion that Leyra would be better off if he admitted to having
committed the murder in a fit of passion, Leyra agreed to confess to the
crime. The police were called back in, and the confession was taken down.
During his trial, Leyra repudiated the confession, insisting that he had
been under hypnosis. He was convicted, but the conviction was set aside on
the grounds that the confession had been wrested from him involuntarily, and
that his constitutional safeguards had been denied him. Later, Leyra was
brought to trial and convicted a second time. Finally his case was appealed
to the Supreme Court, which reversed the conviction in June, 1954, on the
grounds that mental pressure and coercive psychiatric techniques had been
used to induce the confession. The Supreme Court gave its opinion here,
indirectly, of the responsibility of the brainwashed P.O.W.

For us, the question of Leyra’s guilt or innocence is of less importance
than the fact that under mental pressure he was induced to do what he would
ordinarily have resisted doing, and that his confidence in the doctor, which
led him to relax the defenses he would doubtless have put up against other
investigators, was used to break him down.

Suggestion and hypnosis can be a psychological blessing, through which
patients can solve emotional problems that resist conscious will, but they can
also be the beginning of terror. Mass hypnosis, for example, can have a
dangerous influence on the individual. Psychiatrists have found several times
that public demonstrations of mass hypnosis may provoke an increased
hypnotic dependency and submissiveness in many members of the audience
that can last for years. Largely for this reason Great Britain has passed a law
making seances and mass hypnotism illegal. Hypnosis may act as a trigger
mechanism for a repressed infantile dependency need in the victim and turn
him temporarily into a kind of waking sleepwalker and mental slave. The
hypnotic command relieves him of his personal responsibility, and he
surrenders much of his conscience to his hypnotizer. As we mentioned
before, our own times have provided us with far too many examples of how
political hypnosis, mob hypnosis, and even war hypnosis can turn civilized
men into criminals.

Some personalities are more amenable to hypnosis than others. Strong
egos can defend themselves for a long time against mental intrusion, but they
too may have a point of surrender. There are overtly critical persons who are
much less sensitive to suggestion from the outside than to images from within
themselves. We can distinguish between heterosuggestive and autosuggestive
personalities, although quite a variety of reactions to hypnosis and suggestion
could be distinguished. But even these autosuggestive types, if subjected to
enough pressure, will gradually build up internal justifications for giving in
to mental coercion.

Those “charming” characters who are easily able to influence others are
often extremely susceptible to suggestion themselves. Some personalities
with a tremendous gift for empathy and identification provoke in others the
desire to yield up all their secrets; they seem somehow to be the Father
Confessor by the grace of God. Other emphatic types, by reflecting their own
deceitful inner world, can more easily provoke the hidden lies and fantasies
in their victims. Still others make us close up completely. Why one man
should inspire the desire to give in and another the desire to resist is one of
the mysteries of human relationships and contact. Why do certain
personalities complement and reinforce one another while others clash and
destroy one another ? Psychoanalysis has given new insight into those strange
human relations and involvements.


During the Second World War, the technique of the so-called truth serum
(the popular name for narco-analysis) was developed to help soldiers who
had broken down under the strain of battle. Through narco-analysis by means
of injections of sedatives, they could be brought to remember and reveal the
hyper-emotional and traumatic moments of their war experiences that had
driven them into acute anxiety neurosis. Gradually a useful mental first-aid
technique was developed which helped the unconscious to reveal its secrets
while the patient was under the influence of the narcotic.
How does the truth serum work? The principle is simple: after an
injection, the mind in a kind of half-sleep is unable to control its secrets, and
it may let them slip from the hidden reservoirs of frustration and repression
into the half-conscious mind. In certain acute anxiety cases, such enforced
provocation may alleviate the anxieties and pressures that have led to
breakdown. But narco-analysis often does not work. Sometimes the patient’s
mind resents this chemical intrusion and enforced intervention, and such a
situation often obstructs the way for deeper and more useful psychotherapy.
The fear of unexpected mental intrusion and coercion may be pathological
in character. When I first published my concept of menticide and
brainwashing, I received dozens of letters and phone calls from people who
were convinced that some outside person was trying to influence them and
direct their thoughts. This form of mental intrusion delusion may be the early
stage of a serious psychosis in which the victim has already regressed to
primitive magic feelings. In this state the whole outside world is seen and
felt as participating in what is going on in the victim’s mind. There is, as it
were, no real awareness of the frontiers between I, the person, and the
world. Such fear-ridden persons are in constant agony because they feel
themselves the victims of many mysterious influences which they cannot
check or cope with; they feel continually endangered. Psychologically, their
fear of intrusion from the outside can be partially explained as a fear of the
intrusion of their own fantasies from the inside, from the unconscious. They
arc frightened of their own hidden, unconscious thoughts which they can no
longer check.
It would be a vast oversimplification to stick an easy psychiatric label on
all such feelings of mental persecution, for there are many real, outside
mental pressures in our world, and there are many perfectly normal people
who are continually aware of and disturbed by the barrage of stimuli directed
at their minds through propaganda, advertising, radio, television, the movies,
the newspapers— all the gibbering maniacs whose voices never stop. These
people suffer because a cold, mechanical, shouting world is knocking
continually at the doors of their minds and disturbing their feelings of privacy
and personal integrity.
There is the further question of whether or not the drugs used in the truth
serum always produce the desired effect of compelling the patient to tell the
inner truth. Experiments conducted at Yale University in 1951 (J. M.
MacDonald) on nine persons who received intravenous injections of sodium
amytal—the so-called truth serum—showed interesting results, tending to
weaken our faith in this drug. Each of the patients, prior to the injection, had
been suggested a false story related to a historical period about which he
was going to be questioned. The experimenters knew both the true and the
false story. Let me quote from the report: “It is of interest that the three
subjects diagnosed as normal maintained their [suggested] stories. Of the six
subjects diagnosed as neurotic, two promptly revealed the true story; two
made partial admissions, consisting of a complex pattern of fantasy and truth;
one communicated what most likely was a fantasy as truth; and the one
obsessive-compulsive individual maintained his cover story except for one
parapraxia [faulty or blundering action].”
In several cases, American law courts have refused to admit as evidence
the results of truth serum tests, largely on the basis of psychiatric conviction
that the truth serum treatment is misnamed; that, in fact, narco-analysis is no
guarantee of getting at the truth. It may even be used as a coercive threat in
cases where victims are not aware of its limited action.
Still another danger, more closely related to our subject, is that a criminal
investigator can induce and communicate his own thoughts and feelings to his
victim. Thus the truth serum may cause the patient with a weak ego to yield to
the interventionist’s synthetically injected thoughts and interpretations in
exactly the same way the victim of hypnosis may take over the suggestions
implanted by the hypnotist.
Additionally, this method of inquisition by drugs contains some physical
danger. I myself have seen cases of thrombosis develop as a result of
intravenous medication of barbiturates.
Experiments with mescaline, which started thirty years ago, are suddenly
fashionable again. Aldous Huxley in his recent book The Doors of
Perception described the artificial chemical paradise which he experienced
after taking the drug (also known as peyote). It can stimulate all kinds of
pleasant, subjective symptoms, but these are, nevertheless, delusive in
character. I do not want to start a clinical argument with an author I esteem,
yet his own euphoric, ecstatic reactions to mescaline are not necessarily the
same as those other people experience. Twenty-five years ago I myself
experimented with mescaline in order to make a first-hand acquaintance with
genuine pathological thoughts. I nearly collapsed as a result. Only a few
people have had the ecstatic experiences Huxley describes. Mescaline is
dangerous stuff when not used under medical control. And, anyway, why
does Mr. Huxley want to sell artificial heavens ?
There is a very serious social danger in all these methods of chemical
intrusion into the mind. True, they can be used as a careful aid to
psychotherapy, but they can also be frightening instruments of control in the
hands of men with an overwhelming drive to power. In addition, they fortify
more than ever in our aspirin age the fiction that we have to use miracle
drugs in order to become free-acting agents. The propaganda for chemical
elation, for artificial ecstasy and pseudo-nirvanic experience contains an
invitation to men to become chemical dependents, and chemical dependents
are weak people who can be made use of by any tyrannical political
potentate. The actual propaganda carried on among general practitioners
urging treatment of all kinds of anxieties and mental disturbances with new
drugs has the same kind of dangerous implications.


Hypnotism and narco-analysis are only two of the current devices that can
be misused as instruments of enforced intrusion into the mind. The liedetector,
which has already been used as a tool for mental intimidation, is
another. This apparatus, useful for psychobiological experimentation, can
indicate—through writing down meticulously the changes in the
psychogalvanic reflex—that the human guinea pig under investigation reacts
more emotionally to certain questions than to others. True, this overreaction
may be the reaction to having told a lie, but it may also be an innocent
person’s reaction to an emotion-laden situation or even to an increased fear
of unjust accusation. The interpersonal processes between interrogator and
testee have just as much influence on the emotional reactions and the changes
in the galvanic reflex as feelings of inner guilt and confusion. This
experiment only indicates inner turmoil and hidden repressions, with all their
doubts and ambiguities. It is not in fact a lie-detector, although it is used as
such (D. MacDonald). As a matter of fact, the pathological liar and the
psychopathic, conscienceless personality may show less reaction to this
experiment than do normal people. The lie-detector is more likely to become
a tool of coercion in the hands of men who look more for a powerful magic
in every instrument than a means of getting at the truth. As a result, even the
innocent can be fooled into false confession.


Medical therapy and psychotherapy are the subtle sciences of human
guidance in periods of physical and emotional stress. Just as training requires
the alert, well-planned participation of both student and teacher, so
successful psychotherapy requires the alert, well-planned participation of
both patient and doctor. And just as educational training, under special
conditions, can degenerate into coercive taming, so therapy can degenerate
into the imposition of the doctor’s will on his patient. The doctor himself
need not even be conscious that this is happening. This misuse of therapy may
show itself in the patient’s submission to the doctor’s point of view or in the
patient’s development of excessive dependency on his therapist. Such a
dependency, and even increased dependency need, may extend not only far
beyond the usual limits, but may continue even after the therapy has run its
I have seen quacks whose only knowledge was where to buy their
couches. By calling themselves psychoanalysts they were able to gratify their
own need to live other people’s lives. Eventually the law will have to
establish standards which can keep these dangerous intruders from
psychotherapeutic practice. But even the honest, conscientious therapist has a
serious moral problem to face. His profession itself continually encourages
him, indeed obliges him, to make his patients temporarily dependent on him,
and this may appeal to his own need for a sense of importance and power. He
must be continually aware of the impact his statements and deductions have
on his patients who often listen in awe to the doctor who is for them the
omniscient magician. The therapist must not encourage this submissive
attitude in his patients— though in some phases of the treatment it will help
the therapy— for good psychotherapy aims toward educating man for
freedom and maturity not for conforming submission.
The practitioners of psychology and psychiatry are now much more aware
of the responsibility their profession imposes on them than they have ever
been heretofore. The tools of psychology are dangerous in the hands of the
wrong men. Modern educational methods can be applied in therapy to
streamline man’s brain and change his opinions so that his thinking conforms
with certain ideological systems. Medicine and psychiatry may become more
and more involved in political strategy as we have seen in the strategy of
brainwashing, and for this reason psychologists and psychiatrists must
become more aware of the nature of the scientific tools they use.
The emphasis on therapeutic techniques, on students knowing all the facts
and the tricks, the overemphasis on psychotherapeutic diplomas and labels
lead actual therapy toward conformism and rationalization of principles that
are in contrast to the personal sensitivity needed. Our critical and rational
faculty can be a destructive one, destroying or disguising our basic doubts
and ambivalences born out of tragic despair, that creator of human sensitivity.
The danger of modern psychotherapy (and psychology) is the tendency
toward formalizing human intuition and empathy, and toward making an
abstraction of emotion and spontaneity. It is a contradiction to attempt to
mechanize love and beauty. If this were possible, we would find ourselves in
a world where there is no inspiration and ecstasy but only cold
Every human relationship can be used for the wrong or the right aims, and
this is especially true of the relationship of subtle unconscious ties which
exists between psychotherapist and patient. This statement is equally true for
medicine in general; the surgeon, too, thrives on strong ties with his patients
and their willing submission to his surgical techniques. Freud gave us the
first clear explanation of what happens in the mind during prolonged mental
contact with a human being. He showed that in every intensive human
relationship, each participant reacts at least partially in terms of the
expectations and illusions he developed in his own childhood. As a result
prolonged therapy—based on the principle of utter freedom of expression—
provides as much opportunity for transference of private feelings for the
doctor as for the patient. If the doctor is not careful, or if he does not
understand this mutual transfer of hidden emotions, or if, in his compulsive
zest to explain everything, he is too coercive, he may force the patient into
acceptance of his point of view, instead of helping the patient to arrive at his
own. This can become mental intrusion of a dangerous kind. Experiences in
therapy have taught us that faulty technique can give the patient feelings of
being bogged down. Sometimes patients feel as if they have to remain living
in servile submission to the doctor. I have seen whole families and sects
swear by such modern witch doctors.
No wonder that sound psychoanalytic instruction requires the therapist to
submit himself for years to the technique he is about to apply to others, so
that, armed with knowledge of his own unsound unconscious needs, he will
not try to use his profession to mastermind other people’s lives.
Various psychological agencies, with their different psychological
concepts and techniques, such as family counseling, religious guidance,
management counseling, and so forth, can easily be misused as tools of
power. The good will that people invest in their leaders, doctors, and
administrators is tremendous and can be used as a weapon against them.
Even modern brain surgery for healing the mind could be misused by modern
dictators to make zombies out of their competitors. Psychology itself may
tend to standardize the mind, and the tendency among different schools of
psychology to emphasize orthodoxy increases unwittingly the chance for
mental coercion. (“If you don’t talk my magic gobbledygook, I have to
condition you to it.”) It is easier to manipulate the minds of others than to
avoid doing so.
A democratic society gives its citizens the right to act as free agents. At
the same time, it imposes on them the responsibility for maintaining their
freedom, mental as well as political. If, through the use of modern medical,
chemical, and mechanical techniques of mental intrusion, we reduce man’s
capacity to act on his own initiative, we subvert our own beliefs and weaken
our democratic system. Just as there is a deliberate political brainwashing,
so can there be a suggestive intrusion masquerading under the name of justice
or therapy. This may be less obtrusive than the deliberate totalitarian attack,
but it is no less dangerous.
Medication into submission is an existing fact. Man can use his
knowledge of the mind of a fellow being not to help him, but to hurt him and
bog him down. The magician can increase his power by increasing the
anxieties and fears of his victim, by exploiting his dependency needs, and by
provoking his feelings of guilt and inferiority.
Drugs and medical techniques can be used to make man a submissive and
conforming being. This we have to keep in mind in order to be able to make
him really healthy and free.

Chapter Four


The Psychodynamics of False Confession
Is there a bridge from the concept of Pavlovian conditioning to deeper
psychological understanding ? Only in those Pavlovian theoreticians who
deny modern depth psychology does there exist a conflict between concepts.
Pavlov himself acknowledged the presence of deeper, hidden motivations in
man and the limitations of his study of animal behavior.
Our task is to go back to the brainwashee, asking ourselves: How can we
better convey an understanding of what happened to him? What were the
Pavlovian circumstances, and what were the inner motivations to yield to
enforced political manipulation of the mind? Was it cowardice, was it a
prison psychosis, was it the general loss of mental stamina in our world?
In the following observations and experiences I hope to make use of the
clinical insight actually provided by modern depth psychology.


One day in 1672, the lonely philosopher of reason, Spinoza, had to be
forcibly restrained by his friends and neighbors. He wanted to rush out into
the streets and shout his indignation at the mob which had murdered his good
friend Jan De Witt, noble statesman of the Dutch Republic, who had been
falsely accused of treason. But presently he calmed down and retreated to his
room where, as usual, he ground optical lenses according to a daily and
hitherto unbroken routine. As he worked, he thought back to his own
behavior, which had been no more rational or sensible than the behavior of
the rioting crowd which had killed De Witt. It was then that Spinoza realized
the existence of the emotional beast hidden beneath human reason, which,
when aroused, can act in a wanton and destructive fashion, and can conjure
up thousands of justifications and excuses for its behavior.
For, as Spinoza sensed, and as the great psychologist Sigmund Freud later
demonstrated, people are not the rational creatures they think they are. In the
unconscious, that vast storehouse of deeply buried memories, emotions, and
strivings, lie many infantile and irrational yearnings, which constantly
influence the conscious acts. All of us are governed to some degree by this
hidden tyrant, and by the conflict between our reason and our emotions.
To the extent that we are the victims of unchecked unconscious drives, to
that extent we may be vulnerable to mental manipulation. And although there
is a horrifying fascination in the idea that our mental resistance is relatively
weak, that the very quality which distinguishes one man from another—the
individual I—can be profoundly altered by psychological pressures, such
transformations are merely extremes of a process we find operating in
normal life. Through systematized suggestion, subtle propaganda, and more
overt mass hypnosis, the human mind in its expressions is changed daily in
any society. Advertising seduces the democratic citizen into using quackeries
or one special brand of soap instead of another. Our wish to buy things is
continually stimulated. Campaigning politicians seek to influence us by their
glamour as well as by their programs. Fashion experts hypnotize us into
periodic changes of our standards of beauty and good taste.
In cases of menticide, however, this assault on the integrity of the human
mind is more direct and premeditated. By playing on the irrational child lying
hidden in the unconscious and by sharpening the internal conflict between
reason and emotion, the inquisitor can bring his victims to abject surrender.
All of the victims of deliberate menticide—the P.O.W.’s in Korea, the
imprisoned “traitors” to the dictatorial regimes of the Iron Curtain countries,
the victims of the Nazi terror during the Second World War—are people
whose ways of life had been suddenly and dramatically altered. They had
been torn from their homes, their families, their friends, and thrown into a
frightening, abnormal atmosphere. The very strangeness of their surroundings
made them more vulnerable to any attack on their values and attitudes. When
the dictator exploits his victim’s psychological needs in a threatening,
hostile, and unfamiliar world, breakdown is almost sure to follow.




Already during the First World War, peculiar mental reactions, mixtures of
apathy and rage, could be discerned in prisoners of war as a defensive
adjustment against the hardships of prison life, the boredom, the hunger, the
lack of privacy, the continual insecurity. The Korean War added to this
situation the greater cruelty of the enemy, the prolonged fear of death,
malnutrition, diseases, systematic attacks on the prisoner’s mind, the lack of
sanitation, and the lack of all human dignity.
Often improvement could be secured through acceptance of the totalitarian
ideology. The psychological pressure not only led to an involvement with the
enemy but caused mutual suspicion among the prisoners.
As I have already described, the barbed-wire disease begins with the
initial apathy and despair of all prisoners. There is passive surrender to fate.
In fact, people can die out of such despair; it is as if all resistance were gone.
[See Chapter Nine on the action of fear.] Being anything but aloof and
apathetic was even dangerous in a camp where the enemy wanted to debate
and argue with you in order to tear down your mental resistance.
Consequently a vicious circle was built up of apathy, not thinking, letting
things go—a surrender to a complete zombie-like existence of mechanical
dependency on the circumstances. Every sign of anger and alertness could be
brutally punished by the enemy; that is why we did not find those sudden
attacks of rage that were observed in the earlier prisoner-of-war camps
during World Wars I and II. Results of psychological testing of the liberated
soldiers from the Korean P.O.W. camps could indicate that this defensive
apathy and retreat into secluded infantile dependency was likely to be found
in nearly all of them. Yet, after being brought back into normal surroundings,
alertness and activity returned rather soon, even in two or three days. Those
few who remained anxious, apathetic, and zombie-like belong to the long
chapter of war and battle neuroses (Strassman).
What are some of the factors which can turn a man into a traitor to his own
convictions, an informer, a confessor to heinous crimes, or an apparent
collaborator ?



Several victims of the Nazi inquisition have told me that the moment of
surrender occurred suddenly and against their will. For days they had faced
the fury of their interrogators, and then suddenly they fell apart. “All right, all
right, you can have anything you want.”
And then came hours of remorse, of resolution, of a desperate wish to
return to their previous position of firm resistance. They wanted to cry out:
“Don’t ask me anything else. I won’t answer.” And yet something in them,
that conforming, complying being hidden deep in all of us, was on the move.
This sudden surrender often happened after an unexpected accusation, a
shock, a humiliation that particularly hurt, a punishment that burned, a
surprising logic in the inquisitor’s question that could not be counterargued. I
remember an experience of my own that illustrated the effect of such
After my escape from a Nazi prison in occupied Holland, I was able to
reach neutral Switzerland via Vichy France. When I arrived, I was put in a
jail where, at first, I was treated rather kindly. After three days, however, I
was denied an officer’s right to asylum and was told that I would be
deported back to Vichy France. To this information, my jailers sneeringly
added the comment that I should be happy I was not going to be deported
back to the Germans. When I left to be transported to the border, I was asked
to sign a paper stating that all my possessions (which had been taken from me
on my imprisonment) had been returned.
I refused to sign because a few things—unimportant in themselves, but of
great emotional value to me—were not included in the package my jailers
handed me. One of the guards looked at me with contempt, the second tapped
his foot impatiently and repeatedly demanded that I sign the paper, the third
scolded and chattered in a French that was completely unintelligible to me. I
continued firm in my refusal. Suddenly one of the officers started to slap me
around the face and to beat me. Overwhelmed by surprise that they should
display such fury over a bagatelle, I surrendered and signed the paper. (From
the Vichy prison to which I was sent, I was permitted to write a letter of
protest to the Swiss government. I still carry the official apology I received.)
This sudden change from a mood of defiant resistance to one of
submission must be explained by the unconscious action of contrasting
feelings. Consciously we tell ourselves to be strong, but from deep within us
the desire to give in and to comply begins to disturb us and to affect our
behavior. In psychology this is described as the innate ambivalence of all



The vocabulary of psychopathology contains many sophisticated terms for
the wish to succumb to mental pressure, such as “wish to regress,”
“dependency need,” “mental masochism,” “unconscious death wish,” and
many others. For our purposes, however, it is enough to state that every
individual has two opposing needs which operate simultaneously: the need to
be independent, to be oneself; and the need not to be oneself, not to be
anybody at all, not to resist mental pressure. The need to be inconspicuous, to
disappear, and to be swallowed up by society is a common one. In its
simplest form we can see it all around us as a tendency to conform. Under
ordinary circumstances the need for anonymity is balanced by the need for
individuality, and the mentally healthy person is the one who can walk the
fine line between them. But in the frightening, lonely situations in which the
victims of menticidal terror find themselves—situations which have a
nightmare quality, which are crammed with dangers so tremendous they
cannot be grasped or understood because there is nobody to explain or
reassure—the wish to collapse, to let go, to be not there, becomes almost
This experience was reported by many concentration-camp victims. They
had come into camp with one unanswered question burning in their minds:
“Why has all this happened to me?” Their need for a sense of direction, for a
feeling of purpose and meaning was unsatisfied, and hence they could not
maintain their personalities. They let themselves go in what psychopathology
calls a depersonalization syndrome, a general feeling of having lost complete
control of themselves and their own existence. What Pavlovian conditioning
can do in applying artificial confusion, can be done too by one shocking
experience. “For what?” they asked themselves. “What is the meaning of all
this suffering?” And gradually they sank dully into that paralyzed state of
semi-oblivion we call depression: the self-destructive needs take over.
The Nazis were clever and unscrupulous in taking advantage of this need
to collapse. The humiliation of concentration-camp life, the repeated
suggestion that the Allies were as good as beaten— these conspired to
convince the inmates that there would be no end to this pointless suffering, no
victorious conclusion to the war, no future to their lives. The desire to break
down, to give in, becomes almost insurmountable when a man feels that this
horrible marginal existence is something permanent, that he cannot look
toward a more personal goal, that he has to adjust to this dulling, degrading
life forever.
At the moment faith and hope disappear, man breaks down. There are
tragic stories of concentration-camp victims who fixed all their expectations
on the idea that liberation would come on Christmas, 1944, and aimed their
entire existence toward that date. When it passed and they were still
incarcerated, many of them simply collapsed and died.
This tendency to collapse also serves as a protective device against
danger. The victim seems to think, “If my torturer doesn’t notice me, he will
leave me alone.” And yet this very feeling of anonymity, this sense of losing
one’s personality, of being useless, unnoticed and unwanted, also results in
depression and apathy. Man’s need to be an individual can never be
completely killed.


Not enough attention has been given to the psychology of loneliness,
especially to the implications of enforced isolation of prisoners. When the
sensory stimuli of everyday life are removed, man’s entire personality may
change. Social intercourse, our continual contact with our colleagues, our
work, the newspapers, voices, traffic, our loved ones and even those we
don’t like—all are daily nourishment for our senses and minds. We select
what we find interesting, reject what we do not want to absorb. Every day,
every citizen lives in many small worlds of exchange of gratifications, little
hatreds, pleasant experiences, irritations, delights. And he needs these
stimuli to keep him on the alert. Hour by hour, reality, in cooperation with
our memory, integrates the millions of facts in our lives by repeating them
over and over.
As soon as man is alone, closed off from the world and from the news of
what is going on, his mental activity is replaced by quite different processes.
Long-forgotten anxieties come to the surface, long-repressed memories knock
on his mind from inside. His fantasy life begins to develop and assume
gigantic proportions. He cannot evaluate or check his fantasies against the
events of his ordinary days, and very soon they may take possession of him.
I remember very clearly my own fantasies during the time I was in a Nazi
prison. It was almost impossible for me to control my depressive thoughts of
hopelessness. I had to tell myself over and over again: “Think, think. Keep
your senses alert; don’t give in.” I tried to use all my psychiatric knowledge
to keep my mind in a state of relaxed mobilization, and on many days I felt it
was a losing battle.

Some experiments have shown that people who are deprived, for even a
very short time, of all sensory stimuli (no touch, no hearing, no smell, no
sight) quickly fall into a kind of hallucinatory hypnotic state. Isolation from
the multitude of impressions that normally bombard us from the outside
world creates strange and frightening symptoms. According to Heron, who
performed experiments on a group of students at McGill University by
placing each student in his own pitch-black, soundproof room, ventilated
with filtered air, and encasing his hands in heavy leather mittens and his feet
in heavy boots, “little by little their brains go dead or slip out of control.”
Even in twenty-four hours of such extreme sensual isolation, all the horror
phantoms of childhood are awakened, and various pathological symptoms
appear. Our instinct of curiosity demands continual feeding; if it is not
satisfied, the internal hounds of hell are aroused.

The prisoner kept in isolation, although his isolation is by no means as
extreme as in the laboratory test, also undergoes a severe mental change. His
guards and inquisitors become more and more his only source of contact with
reality, with those stimuli he needs even more than bread. No wonder that he
gradually develops a peculiar submissive relationship to them. He is affected
not only by his isolation from social contacts, but by sexual starvation as
well. The latent dependency needs and latent homosexual tendencies that lie
deep in all men make him willing to accept his guard as a substitute father
figure. The inquisitor may be cruel and bestial, but the very fact that he
acknowledges his victim’s existence gives the prisoner a feeling that he has
received some little bit of affection. What a conflict may thus arise between a
man’s traditional loyalties and these new ones! There are only a few
personalities which are so completely self-sufficient that they can resist the
need to yield, to find some human companionship, to overcome the
unbearable loneliness.

During the World Wars, prisoners at first suffered from a peculiar, burning
homesickness already called barbed-wire disease. Memories of mother,
home, and family made the soldiers identify with babyhood again, but as they
became more used to prison-camp life, thoughts of home and family also
created positive values and helped make the prison-camp life less

Even the prisoner who is not kept in isolation can feel lonely in the
unorganized mass of prisoners. His fellow prisoners can become his enemies
as easily as they can become his friends. His hatred of his guards can be
displaced and turned against those imprisoned with him. Instead of
suspecting the enemy, the victim may become suspicious of his companions
in misery.

In the Nazi concentration camps and the Korean P.O.W. camps, a kind of
mass paranoia often developed. Loneliness was increased because the
prisoners cut themselves off from one another through suspicion and hatred.
This distrust was encouraged by the guards. They constantly suggested to
their victims that nobody cared for them and nobody was concerned about
what was happening to them. “You are alone. Your friends on the outside
don’t know whether you’re alive or dead. Your fellow prisoners don’t even
care.” Thus all expectation of a future was killed, and the resulting
uncertainty and hopelessness became unbearable. Then the guards sowed
suspicion and spread terrifying rumors: “You are here because those people
you call your friends betrayed you.” “Your buddies here have squealed on
you.” “Your friends on the outside have deserted you.” Playing on a man’s
old loyalties, making him feel deserted and alone, force him into submission
and collapse.

The times that I myself wavered and entertained thoughts about joining the
opposite forces always occurred after periods of extreme loneliness and
deep-seated yearnings for companionship. At such moments the jailer or enemy may
become a substitute friend.




Deep within all of us lie hidden feelings of guilt, unconscious guilt, which
can be brought to the surface under extreme stress. The strategy of arousing
guilt is the mother’s oldest tool for gaining dominance over her children’s’
souls. Her warning and accusing finger or her threatening eyes give her a
magic power over them and help to create deep-seated guilt feelings which
may continue all through their adult lives. When we are children, we depend
on our parents and resent them for just this reason. We may harbor hidden
destructive wishes against those closest to us, and feelings of guilt about
these wishes. There is no question that most men have a profound loyalty to
their families, but the primitive in him hates those he loves, and this hatred
makes him feel guilty. Buried deep in his unconscious is the knowledge that
in his hostile fantasies he has felt himself capable of committing many
crimes. Theodor Reik has drawn our attention to the unknown primitive
murderer in all of us, whose compulsion to confess and to be punished may
be easily provoked under circumstances of terror and depression. This
concept of concealed infantile hostility and destructiveness is often difficult
for the layman to accept. But consider for a moment the popularity of the
detective story. We may tell ourselves that we enjoy reading these tales
because we identify with the keen and clever sleuth, but, as is clear from
psychoanalytic experience, the repressed criminal in all of us is also at work
and we also identify with the conscienceless killer. As a matter of fact our
repressed hostilities make the reading of hostile acts attractive to us.
The method of systematically exploiting unconscious guilt to create
submission is not too well known, but it may be better understood in the light
of our investigation of the unconscious confession compulsion and the need
for punishment. Guilt may be instilled early in life when the parent urges the
child, too much and too early, to apologize for his disobedience, or uses
other means to burden the child with a sense of guilt when he does not
understand what was unmoral or wrong about a given act. Teaching the child
to see right and wrong does not of necessity imply being conditioned with
submissive and anxious anticipation of punishment to follow. In one of my
cases the patient’s mother cried after every little mistake the child made,
“Look what you have done to me!” It took protracted therapy to relieve the
patient of his hidden murderous impulses against his mother and his
consequent burden of guilt.


In the political sphere, many such early child-rearing methods are
symbolically repeated. Continual purges and confessions, as we encounter
them in the totalitarian countries, arouse deeply hidden guilt feelings. The
lesser sin of rebellion or subversion has to be admitted to cover personal
thoughts of crime which are more deeply imbedded. The personal reactions
of those who are continually interrogated and investigated give us a clue as
to what happens. The very fact of prolonged interrogation can re-arouse the
hidden and unconscious guilt in the victim. At a time of extreme emotion,
after constant accusation and day-long interrogation, when he has been
deprived of sleep and reduced to a state of utter despair, the victim may lose
the capacity to distinguish between the real criminal act of which he is
accused and his own fantasied unconscious guilt. If his upbringing burdened
him with an almost pathological sense of guilt under normal circumstances,
he will now be completely unable to resist the menticidal attack. Even
normal people may be brought to surrender under such miserable conditions,
and not only through the action of the inquisition, but also because of all the
other weakening factors. Lack of sleep, hunger, and illness can create utter
confusion and make any man vulnerable to hypnotic influence. All of us have
experienced the mental fuzziness which comes with being overtired.
Concentration-camp victims know how hunger, especially, induces a loss of
mental control. In the fantastic world of the totalitarian prison or camp, these
effects are heightened and exaggerated. [The conversation in concentration
camps usually revolved around food and memories of glorious gluttony. The
mind could not work: it was fixed on eating and fantasies about food. A word
grew up to express that constant possession by the idea of eating well once
again: stomach masturbation (Magen-onante). This kind of talk often took the
place of all intellectual exchange.]


The Nazis, through clever exploitation of their victims’ unconscious guilt
after poking into the back corners of their minds, were often able to convert
courageous resistance fighters into meek collaborators. That they were not
uniformly successful can be explained by two factors. The first is that most of
the members of the underground were inwardly prepared for the brutality
with which they were treated. The second is that, clever as the Nazi
techniques were, they were not as irresistible as the methodical tricks of the
Communist brain washers are. When victims of Nazi brutality did break
down, it was not torture but often the threat of reprisal against family which
made them give in. Sudden acute confrontation with a long-buried childhood
problem creates confusion and doubt. All of a sudden the enemy puts before
you a clash of loyalties: your father or your friends, your brother or your
fatherland, your wife or your honor. This is a brutal choice to have to make,
and when the inquisitor makes use of your additional inner conflicts, he can
easily force you into surrender. A clash between loyalties makes either
choice a betrayal, and this arouses paralyzing doubt. This calculated but
subtle attack on the weakest spots in man’s mind, on a man’s conscience, and
on the moral system he has learned from the Judaeo-Christian ethics,
paralyzes the reason and leads the victim more easily into betrayal. The
inquisitor subtly tests his victim’s archaic guilt feelings toward paternal
figures, his friends, his children. He cleverly exploits the victim’s early
ambivalent ties with his parents. The sudden outbreak of hidden moral flaws
and guilt can bring a man to tears and complete breakdown. He regresses to
the dependency and submissiveness of the baby.


A very husky former hero of the Dutch resistance, known as King Kong
because of his size and strength, became the treacherous instrument of the
Nazis soon after his brother had been taken with him and the Nazis threatened
to kill the youth. King Kong’s final surrender to the enemy and his becoming
their treacherous tool was psychiatrically recognizable as a defense
mechanism against his deep guilt, arising from hidden feelings of aggression
against his brother (Boeree).


Another example of breakdown is seen in the story of one young
resistance fighter who, after the Nazis had threatened to torture his father,
who was imprisoned with him, finally broke into childish tears and promised
to tell them everything they wanted to know. After that he was taken back to
his cell in order to be softened up again the following day. This was the
routine of his interrogator. The inquisitors understood only too well the
effectiveness of patient pursuit at repeated moments while intruding into a
man’s guilt feelings. Although both prisoners were liberated that night as a
consequence of the Allied sweep through Belgium and the southwest part of
Holland, the boy remained in his depression for a long time, tortured by his
knowledge that he had nearly betrayed his best friends in the underground in
order to save his father in spite of knowing, at the same time, that the
promises of the enemy would not have protected his father. In the subsequent
psychological exploration of the boy’s breakdown and depression, his
dreams gave us a clue to his long-buried aggressive fantasies against his
father, whom he had symbolically killed in his dreams. The sense of guilt
about this unconscious infantile hostility had weighed more heavily on his
conscience than the possibility of being guilty toward his fellow partisans. A
conscious understanding of what his difficulties had been, plus renewed
military activity, did much to help him cope with the conflicts that tortured
him, but other unwilling traitors were less fortunate. When finally they
realized the enormity of their betrayal, several of them became psychotically
depressed, and some even committed suicide.




The prisoners of war in Korea who gradually gave in to the systematic
mental pressure of the enemy and collaborated in the production of materials
that could be used for Communist propaganda—albeit tentatively and for
only as long as they were in the orbit of the enemy—followed a peculiar
psychological law of passive inner defense and inner deceit that when one
cannot fight and defeat the enemy, one must join him (A. Freud). Later, a few
of them were so taken in by totalitarian propaganda that they elected to
remain in China and the totalitarian orbit. Some did it to escape punishment
for having betrayed their comrades.
Man cannot become a turncoat without justifying his actions to himself.
When Holland surrendered to the German army in 1940, I saw this general
mechanism of mental surrender operating in several people who had been
staunch anti-Nazis. “Maybe there is something good in Nazism,” they told
themselves as they saw the tremendous show of German strength. Those who
were the victims of their own initial mental surrender and need to justify
things, who could not stop and say to themselves “Hold on here; think this
out,” became the traitors and collaborators. They were completely taken in
by the enemy’s show of strength. The same process of self-justification and
justifying the enemy started in the P.O.W. camps.

Experiences from the concentration camps give us some indication of how
far this passive submission to the enemy can go. Because of the deep-seated
human need for affection, many prisoners lived only for one thing: a friendly
word from their guards. Each time it came, it fortified the delusion of grace
and acceptance. Once these prisoners, mostly those who had been in the
camps a long time, were accepted by the guards, they easily became the
trusted tools of the Nazis. They started to behave like their cruel jailers and
became torturers of their fellow campers. These collaborating prisoners,
called Kapos, were even more cruel and vengeful than the official overseers.
Because of misunderstood inner needs, the brainwasher and sadistic camp
leader is direly in need of collaborators. They serve not only for the
propaganda machine but also to exonerate their jailers from guilt.
When a man has to choose either hunger, death marches, and torture or a
temporary yielding to the illusions of the enemy, his self-preservation
mechanisms act in many ways like reflexes. They help him to find a thousand
justifications and exculpations for giving in to the psychological pressure.
One of the officers court-martialed for collaborating with the enemy in a
Korean P.O.W. camp justified his conduct by saying that he followed this
course of action in order to keep himself and his men alive. Is that not a
perfectly valid, though not necessarily true, argument? The use of it serves to
point up the fact that self-protective mechanisms are usually much stronger
than ideological loyalty. No one who has not faced this same bitter problem
can have an objective opinion as to what he himself would do under the
circumstances. As a psychiatrist, I suggest that “most” people would yield
and compromise when threat and mental pressure became strong enough.
Among the anti-Nazi undergrounds in the Second World War were
physically strong boys who thought they could resist all pressure and would
never betray their comrades. However, they could not even begin to imagine
the perfidious technique of menticide. Repeated pestering, itself, is more
destructive than physical torture. The pain of physical torture, as we have
said, brings temporary unconsciousness and, consequently, forgetfulness, but
when the victim wakes up, the play of anticipation begins. “Will it happen
again? Can I stand it any more?” Anticipation paralyzes the will. Suicidal
thoughts and identifications with death do not help. The foe doesn’t let you
die but drags you back from the very edge of oblivion. The anticipation of
renewed torture increases internal anxieties. “Who am I to stand all this?”

“Why must I be a hero?” Gradually resistance breaks down.

The surrender of the mind to its new master does not take place
immediately under the impact of duress and exhaustion. The inquisitor knows
that in the period of temporary relaxation of pressure, during which the
victim will rehearse and repeat the torture experience to himself, the final
surrender is prepared. During that tension of rumination and anticipation, the
deeply hidden wish to give in grows. The action of continual repetition of
stupid questions, reiterated for days and days, exhausts the mind till it gives
the answers the inquisitor wants to have. In addition to the weapon of mental
exhaustion, he plays on the physical exhaustion of the senses. He may use
penetrating, excruciating noises or a constant strong flashlight that blinds the
eyes. The need to close the eyes or to get away from the noises confuses the
mental orientation of the victim. He loses his balance and feelings of selfconfidence.
He yearns for sleep and can do nothing else but surrender. The
infantile desire to become part of the threatening giant machine, to become
one with the forces that are so much stronger than the prisoner has won.
It is unequivocal surrender: “Do with me what you want. From now on I
am you.”
That only deprivation from sleep is able to produce various abnormal
reactions of the mind was confirmed by Tyler in an experiment with 350
male volunteers. He deprived them of sleep for 102 hours. Forty-four men
dropped out almost at once because they felt too anxious and irritated. After
forty hours without sleep, 70 per cent of all subjects had already had
illusions, delusions, hallucinations, and similar experiences. Those who had
true hallucinations were dropped from the experiment. After the second night,
sporadic disturbances of thinking were common to all subjects. The
participants were embarrassed when they were informed later of their

The changes in emotional response had been most noticeable— euphoria
followed by depression; dejection and restlessness; indifference to unusual
behavior shown by other suspects. The experiment gave the impression that
prolonged wakefulness causes some toxic substance to affect brain and mind.
Only the few strong, independent, and self-sufficient personalities, who
have conquered their dependency needs, can stand such pressure or are
willing to die under it.

The ritual of self-accusation and breast-beating and unconditional
surrender to the rules of the elders is part of age-old religious rites. It was
based on a more or less unconscious belief in a supreme and omnipotent
power. This power may be the monolithic party state or a mysterious deity. It
follows the old inner device of Credo quia absurdum (“I believe because it
is absurd”), of faithful submission to a super-world stronger than the reality
which confronts our senses.

Why the totalitarian and orthodox dogmatic ideology sticks to such a rigid
attitude, with prohibition of investigation of basic premises, is a complicated
psychological question. Somewhere the reason is related to the fear of
change, the fear of the risk of change of habits, the fear of freedom, which
may be psychologically related to the fear of the finality of death.
The denial of human freedom and equality lifts the authoritarian man
beyond his mortal fellows. His temporary power and omnipotence give him
the illusion of eternity. In his totalitarianism he denies death and ephemeral
existence and borrows power from the future. He has to invent and formulate
a final Truth and protective dogma to justify his battle against mortality and
temporariness. From then on, the new fundamental certainty must be
hammered into the minds of adepts and slaves.

What happens inside the human psyche under severe circumstances of
mental and physical attack is clarified for us by Anna Freud in her book on
the general mental defenses available to man; earlier, I myself tried in
several publications to analyze the various ways people defend themselves
against fear and pressure.

In the last phases of brainwashing and menticide, the self-humiliating
submission of the victims serves as an inner defensive device annihilating the
prosecuting inquisitor in a magic way. The more they accuse themselves, the
less logical reason there is for his existence. Giving in and being even more
cruel toward oneself makes the inquisitor and judge, as it were, impotent and
shows the futility of the accusing regime.
We may say that brainwashing and menticide provoke the same inner
defensive mechanisms that we observe in melancholic patients. Through their
mental self-beatings, they try to get rid of fear and to avoid a more deeply
seated guilt. They punish themselves in advance in order to overcome the
idea of final punishment for some hidden, unknown, and worse crime. The
victim of menticide conquers his tormentor by becoming even more cruel
toward himself than the inquisitor. In this passive way, he annihilates his



In Arthur Koestler’s masterpiece, Darkness At Noon, he describes all the
subtle intricacies, reasonings, and dialectics between the inquisitor and his
victim. The old Bolshevik, Rubashov, preconditioned by his former party
adherence, confesses to plotting against the party and the party line. He is
partly motivated by the wish to render a last service: his confession is a final
sacrifice to the party. I would explain the confession rather as part of that
mysterious masochistic pact between the inquisitor and his victim which we
encounter, too, in other processes of brainwashing. [The term “masochism”
originally referred to sexual gratification received from pain and punishment,
and later became every gratification acquired through pain and abjection.] It
is the last gift and trick the tortured gives to his torturer. It is as if he were to
call out: “Be good to me. I confess. I submit. Be good to me and love me.”
After having suffered all manner of brutality, hypnotism, despair, and panic,
there is a final quest for human companionship, but it is ambivalent, mixed
with deep despising, hatred, and bitterness.

Tortured and torturer gradually form a peculiar community in which the
one influences the other. Just as in therapeutic sessions where the patient
identifies with the psychiatrist, the daily sessions of interrogation and
conversation create an unconscious transfer of feelings in which the prisoner
identifies with his inquisitors, and his inquisitors with him. The prisoner,
encaptured in a strange, harsh, and unfamiliar world, identifies much more
with the enemy than does the enemy with him. Unwittingly he may take over
all the enemy’s norms, evaluations, and attitudes toward life. Such passive
surrender to the enemy’s ideology is determined by unconscious processes.
The danger of communion of this kind is that at the end all moral evaluations
disappear. We saw it happen in Germany. The very victims of Nazism came
to accept the idea of concentration camps.

In menticide we are faced with a ritual like that found in witch hunting
during the Middle Ages, except that today the ritual has taken a more refined
form. Accuser and accused—each affords the other assistance, and both
belong together as collaborating members of a ritual of confession and selfdenigration.
Through their cooperation, they attack the minds of bystanders
who identify with them and who consequently feel guilty, weak, and
submissive. The Moscow purge trials made many Russians feel guilty;
listening to the confessions, they must have said to themselves, “I could have
done the same thing. I could have been in that man’s place.” When their
heroes became traitors, their own hidden treasonable wishes made them feel
weak and frightened.

This explanation may seem overly complicated and involved and perhaps
even self-contradictory, but, in fact, it helps us to understand what happens in
cases of menticide. Both torturer and tortured are the victims of their own
unconscious guilt. The torturer projects his guilt onto some outside scapegoat
and tries to expiate it by attacking his victim. The victim, too, has a sense of
guilt which arises from deeply repressed childhood hostilities. Under normal
circumstances, this sense is kept under control, but in the menticidal
atmosphere of relentless interrogation and inquisition, his repressed
hostilities are aroused and loom up as frightening phantasmagorias from a
forgotten past, which the victim senses but cannot grasp or understand. It is
easier to confess to the accusation of treason and sabotage than to accept the
frightening sense of criminality with which his long-forgotten aggressive
impulses now burden him. The victim’s overt self-accusation serves as a
trick to annihilate the inner accuser and the persecuting inquisitor. The more I
accuse myself, the less reason there is for the inquisitor’s existence. The
victim’s going to the gallows kills, as it were, the inquisitor too, because
there existed a mutual identification: the accuser is made impotent the
moment the victim begins to accuse himself and tomorrow the accuser
himself may be accused and brought to the gallows.

Out of our understanding of this strange masochistic pact between accuser
and accused comes a rather simple answer to the questions, Why do people
want to control the minds of others, and why do the others confess and yield?
It is because there is no essential difference between victim and inquisitor.
They are alike. Neither, under these circumstances, has any control over his
deeply hidden criminal and hostile thoughts and feelings.
It is obviously easier to be the inquisitor than the victim, not only because
the inquisitor may be temporarily safe from mental and physical destruction,
but also because it is simpler to punish others for what we feel as criminal in
ourselves than it is to face up to our own hidden sense of guilt. Committing
menticide is the lesser crime of aggression, which covers up the deeper
crime of unresolved hidden hatred and destruction.



At the end of this chapter describing the various influences that lead to
yielding and surrender to the enemy’s strategy, it is useful to give a short
survey of the psychological processes involved.

Phase I. Artificial Breakdown and Deconditioning

The inquisitor tries to weaken the ego of his prisoner. Though originally
physical torture was used—hunger and cold are still very effective—
physical torture may often increase a person’s stubbornness. Torture is
intended to a much greater extent to act as a threat to the bystanders’ (the
people’s) imagination. Their wild anticipation of torture leads more easily to
their breakdown when the enemy has need of their weakness. (Of course,
occasionally a sadistic enemy may find individual pleasure in torture.)
The many devices the enemy makes use of include: intimidating
suggestion, dramatic persuasion, mass suggestion, humiliation,
embarrassment, loneliness and isolation, continued interrogation,
overburdening the unsteady mind, arousing more and more self-pity. Patience
and time help the inquisitor to soften a stubborn soul.
Just as in many old religions the victims were humbled and humiliated in
order to prepare for the new religion, so, in this case, they are prepared to
accept the totalitarian ideology. In this phase, out of mere intellectual
opportunism, the victim may consciously give in.
Phase II. Submission to and Positive Identification with the Enemy
As has already been mentioned, the moment of surrender may often arrive
suddenly. It is as if the stubborn negative suggestibility changed critically
into a surrender and affirmation. What the inquisitor calls the sudden inner
illumination and conversion is a total reversal of inner strategy in the victim.
From this time on, in psychoanalytic terms, a parasitic superego lives in
man’s conscience, and he will speak his new master’s voice. In my
experience such sudden surrender often occurred together with hysterical
outbursts into crying and laughing, like a baby surrendering after obstinate
temper tantrums. The inquisitor can attain this phase more easily by assuming
a paternal attitude. As a matter of fact, many a P.O.W. was courted by a form
of paternal kindness—gifts, sweets at birthdays, and the promise of more
cheerful things to come.

Moloney compares this sudden yielding with the theophany or kenosis
(internal conversion) as described by some theological rites. For our
understanding, it is important to stress that yielding is an unconscious and
purely emotional process, no longer under the conscious intellectual control
of the brainwashee. We may also call this phase the phase of autohypnosis.

Phase III. The Reconditioning to the New Order

Through both continual training and taming, the new phonograph record
has to be grooved. We may compare this process with an active hypnosis into
conversion. Incidental relapses to the old form of thinking have to be
corrected as in Phase I. The victim is daily helped to rationalize and justify
his new ideology. The inquisitor delivers to him the new arguments and

This systematic indoctrination of those who long avoided intensive
indoctrination constitutes the actual political aspect of brainwashing and
symbolizes the ideological cold war going on at this very moment.

Phase IV. Liberation from the Totalitarian Spell

As soon as the brainwashee returns to a free democratic atmosphere, the
hypnotic spell is broken. Temporary nervous repercussions take place, like
crying spells, feelings of guilt and depression. The expectation of a hostile
homeland, in view of his having yielded to enemy indoctrination, may fortify
this reaction. The period of brainwashing becomes a nightmare. Only those
who were staunch Communists before may stick to it, but here, too, I have
seen the enemy impose its mental pressure too well and convert their former
comrades into eternal haters of the regime.






Chapter Five


Only blind wishful thinking can permit us to believe that our own society
is free from the insidious influences mentioned in Part One. The fact is that
they exist all around us, both on a political and a nonpolitical level and they
become as dangerous to the free way of life as are the aggressive totalitarian
governments themselves.
Every culture institutionalizes certain forms of behavior that communicate
and encourage certain forms of thinking and acting, thus molding the
character of its citizens. To the degree that the individual is made an object
of constant mental manipulation, to the degree that cultural institutions may
tend to weaken intellectual and spiritual strength, to the degree that
knowledge of the mind is used to tame and condition people instead of
educating them, to that degree does the culture itself produce men and women
who are predisposed to accept an authoritarian way of life. The man who has
no mind of his own can easily become the pawn of a would-be dictator.
It is often disturbing to see how even intelligent people do not have
straight-thinking minds of their own. The pattern of the mind, whether toward
conformity and compliance or otherwise, is conditioned rather early in life.
In his important social psychological experiments with students, Asch
found out in simple tests that there was a yielding toward an erring majority
opinion in more than a third of his test persons, and 75 per cent of subjects
experimented upon agreed with the majority in varying degrees. In many
persons the weight of authority is more important than the quality of the
authority. [In Chapter Ten, The Child Is Father to the Man, I will come back
to this inner urge toward conformity.]

If we are to learn to protect our mental integrity on all levels, we must
examine not only those aspects of contemporary culture which have to do
directly with the struggle for power, but also those developments in our
culture which, by dulling the edge of our mental awareness or by taking
advantage of our suggestibility, can lead us into the mental death—or
boredom—of totalitarianism. Continual suggestion and slow hypnosis in the
wake of mechanical mass communication promotes uniformity of the mind
and may lure the public into the “happy era” of adjustment, integration, and
equalization, in which individual opinion is completely stereotyped.
When I get up in the morning, I turn on my radio to hear the news and the
weather forecast. Then comes the pontifical voice telling me to take aspirin
for my headache. I have “headaches” occasionally (so does the world), and
my headaches, like everyone else’s, come from the many conflicts that life
imposes on me. My radio tells me not to think about either the conflicts or the
headaches. It suggests, instead, that I should retreat into that old magic action
of swallowing a pill. Although I laugh as I listen to this long-distance
prescription by a broadcaster who does not know anything about me or my
headaches and though I meditate for a moment on man’s servility to the magic
of chemistry, my hand has already begun to reach out for the aspirin bottle.
After all, I do have a headache.

It is extremely difficult to escape the mechanically repeated suggestions of
everyday life. Even when our critical mind rejects them, they seduce us into
doing what our intellect tells us is stupid.

The mechanization of modern life has already influenced man to become
more passive and to adjust himself to ready-made conformity. No longer
does man think in personal values, following his own conscience and ethical
evaluations; he thinks more and more in the values brought to him by mass
media. Headlines in the morning paper give him his temporary political
outlook, the radio blasts suggestions into his ears, television keeps him in
continual awe and passive fixation. Consciously he may protest against these
anonymous voices, but nevertheless their suggestions ooze into his system.
What is perhaps most shocking about these influences is that many of them
have developed not out of man’s destructiveness, but out of his hope to
improve his world and to make life richer and deeper. The very institutions
man has created to help himself, the very tools he has invented to enhance his
life, the very progress he has made toward mastery of himself and his
environment—all can become weapons of destruction.


The conviction is steadily growing in our country that an elaborate
propaganda campaign for either a political idea or a deepfreeze can be
successful in selling the public any idea or object one wants them to buy, any
political figure one wants them to elect. Recently, some of our election
campaigns have been masterminded by the so-called public-opinion
engineers, who have used all the techniques of modern mass communication
and all the contemporary knowledge of the human mind to persuade
Americans to vote for the candidate who is paying the public-relations men’s
salaries. The danger of such high-pressure advertising is that the man or the
party who can pay the most can become, temporarily at least, the one who
can influence the people to buy or to vote for what may not be in their real
The specialists in the art of persuasion and the molding of public
sentiment may try to knead man’s mental dough with all the tools of
communication available to them: pamphlets, speeches, posters, billboards,
radio programs, and T.V. shows. They may water down the spontaneity and
creativity of thoughts and ideas into sterile and streamlined clichés that direct
our thoughts even although we still have the illusion of being original and

What we call the will of the people, or the will of the masses, we only get
to know after such collective action is put on the move, after the will of the
people has been expressed either at the polls or in fury and rebellion. This
indicates again how important it is who directs the tools and machines of
public opinion.

In the wake of such advertising and engineering of consent, the citizen’s
trust in his leaders may become shaken and the populace may gradually grow
more and more accustomed to official deceit. Finally, when people no longer
have confidence in any program, any position, and when they are unable to
form intelligent judgments any more, they can be more easily influenced by
any demagogue or would-be dictator, whose strength appeals to their
confusion and their growing sense of dissatisfaction. Perhaps the worst
aspect of this slick merchandising of ideas is that too often even those who
buy the experts, and even the opinion experts themselves, are unaware of
what they are doing. They too are swayed by the current catchword
“management of public opinion,” and they cannot judge any more the tools
they have hired.

The end never justifies the means; enough steps on this road can lead us
gradually to Totalitaria.

At this very moment in our country, an elaborate research into motivation
is going on. whose object is to find out why and what the buyer likes to buy.
What makes him tick? The aim is to bypass the resistance barriers of the
buying public. It is part of our paradoxical cultural philosophy to stimulate
human needs and to stimulate the wants of the people. Commercialized
psychological understanding wants to sell to the public, to the potential
buyer, many more products than he really wants to buy. In order to do this,
rather infantile impulses have to be awakened, such as sibling rivalry and
neighbor envy, the need to have more and more sweets, the glamour of
colors, and the need for more and more luxuries. The commercial
psychologist teaches the seller how to avoid unpleasant associations in his
advertising, how to stimulate, unobtrusively, sex associations, how to make
everything look simple and happy and successful and secure! He teaches the
shops how to boost the buyer’s ego, how to flatter the customer. The
marketing engineers have discovered that our public wants the suggestion of
strength and virility in their products. A car must have more horsepower in
order to balance feelings of inner weakness in the owner. A car must
represent one’s social status and reputation, because without such a flag man
feels empty. Advertising agencies dream of universitas advertensis, the
world of glittering sham ideas, the glorification of mundus vult decipi, the
intensification of snob appeal, the expression of vulgar conspicuousness, and
all this in order to push more sales into the greedy mouths of buying babies.
In our world of advertising, artificial needs are invented by sedulous sellers
and buyers. Here lies the threat of building up a sham world that can have a
dangerous influence on our world of ideas.

This situation emphasizes the neurotic greed of the public, the need to
indulge in private fancies at the cost of an awareness of real values. The
public becomes conditioned to meretricious values. Of course, a free public
gradually finds its defenses against slogans, but dishonesty and mistrust slip
through the barriers of our consciousness and leave behind a gnawing feeling
of dissatisfaction. After all, advertising symbolizes the art of making people
dissatisfied with what they have. In the meantime it is evident man sustains a
continual sneak attack on his better judgment.

In our epoch of too many noises and many frustrations, many “free” minds
have given up the struggle for decency and individuality. They surrender to
the Zeitgeist, often without being aware of it. Public opinion molds our
critical thoughts every day. Unknowingly, we may become opinionated
robots. The slow coercion of hypocrisy, of traditions in our culture that have
a leveling effect— these things change us. We crave excitement, hair-raising
stories, sensation. We search for situations that create superficial fear to
cover up inner anxieties. We like to escape into the irrational because we
dislike the challenge of self-study and self-thinking. Our leisure time is
occupied increasingly by automatized activities in which we take no part:
listening to piped-in words and viewing television screens. We hurry along
with cars and go to bed with a sleeping pill. This pattern of living in turn may
open the way for renewed sneak attacks on our mind. Our boredom may
welcome any seductive suggestion.



Every human communication can be either a report of straight facts or an
attempt to suggest things and situations as they do not exist. Such distortion
and perversion of facts strike at the core of human communication. The
verbal battle against man’s concept of truth and against his mind seems to be
ceaseless. For example, if I can instill in eventual future enemies fear and
terror and the suggestion of impending defeat, even before they are willing to
fight, my battle is already half won.

The strategy of man to use a frightening mask and a loud voice to utter lies
in order to manipulate friend and foe is as old as mankind. Primitive people
used terror-provoking masks, magic fascination, or self-deceit as much as we
use loudly spoken words to convince others or ourselves. They use their
magic paints and we our ideologies. Truly, we live in an age of ads,
propaganda, and publicity. But only under dictatorial and totalitarian regimes
have such human habit formations mushroomed into systematic psychological
assault on mankind.

The weapons the dictator uses against his own people, he may use against
the outside world as well. For example, the false confessions that divert the
minds of dictator’s subjects from their own real problems have still another
effect: they are meant (and sometimes they succeed in their aim) to terrorize
the world’s public. By strengthening the myth of the dictator’s omnipotence,
such confessions weaken man’s will to resist him. If a period of peace can be
used to soften up a future enemy, the totalitarian armies may be able in time
of war to win a cheap and easy victory. Totalitarian psychological warfare is
directed largely toward this end. It is an effort to propagandize and hypnotize
the world into submission.

As far back as the early nineteenth century, Napoleon organized his
Bureau de l’Opinion Publique in order to influence the thinking of the French
people. But it fell to the Germans to develop the manipulation of public
opinion into a huge, well-organized machine. Their psychological warfare
became aggressive strategy in peacetime, the so-called war between wars. It
was as a result of the Nazi attack on European morale and the Nazi war of
nerves against their neighbors that the other nations of the world began to
organize their own psychological forces, but it was only in the second half of
the war that they were able to achieve some measure of success. The
Germans had a long head start.

Hitler’s psychological artillery was composed primarily of the weapon of
fear. He had, for example, a network of fifth columnists whose main job was
to sow rumors and suspicions among the citizens of the countries against
which he eventually planned to fight. The people were upset not only by the
spy system itself, but by the very rumor of spies. These fifth columnists
spread slogans of defeat and political confusion: “Why should France die for
England?” Fear began to direct people’s actions. Instead of facing the real
threat of German invasion, instead of preparing for it, all of Europe
shuddered at spy stories, discussed irrelevant problems, argued endlessly
about scapegoats and minorities. Thus Hitler used the rampant, vague fears to
becloud the real issues, and by attacking his enemies’ will to fight, weakened


Not content with this strategic attack on the will to defend oneself, Hitler
tried to paralyze Europe with the threat of terror, not only the threat of
bombing, destruction, and occupation, but also the psychological threat
implicit in his own boast of ruthlessness. The fear of an implacable foe
makes man more willing to submit even before he has begun to fight. Hitler’s
criminal acts at home— the concentration camps, the gas chambers, the mass
murders, the atmosphere of terror throughout Germany—were as useful in the
service of his fear-instilling propaganda machinery as they were a part of his


There is another important weapon the totalitarians use in their campaign
to frighten the world into submission. This is the weapon of psychological
shock. Hitler kept his enemies in a state of constant confusion and diplomatic
upheaval. They never knew what this unpredictable madman was going to do
next. Hitler was never logical, because he knew that that was what he was
expected to be. Logic can be met with logic, while illogic cannot—it
confuses those who think straight. The Big Lie and monotonously repeated
nonsense have more emotional appeal in a cold war than logic and reason.
While the enemy is still searching for a reasonable counterargument to the
first lie, the totalitarians can assault him with another.


Strategical mental shocks were the instruments the Nazis used when they
entered the Rhineland in 1936 and when they concluded their nonaggression
pact with Russia in 1939. Stalin used the same strategy at the time of the
Korean invasion in 1950 (which he directed), as did the Chinese and the
North Koreans when they accused the United States of bacteriological
warfare. By acting in this apparently irrational way, the totalitarians throw
their logic-minded enemies into confusion. The enemy feels compelled to
deny the propagandistic lies or to explain things as they really are, and these
actions immediately put him in the weaker defensive position. For the
galloping lie can never be overtaken, it can only be overthrown.
The technique of psychological shock has still another effect. It may so
confuse the mind of the individual citizen that he ceases to make his own
evaluations and begins to lean passively on the opinions of others. Hitler’s
destruction of Warsaw and Rotterdam —after the armistice in 1940, a
complete violation of international law—immobilized France and shook the
other democratic nations. Being in a paralysis of moral indignation, they
became psychologically ill-equipped to deal with the Nazi horrors.
Just as the technological advances of the modern world have refined and
perfected the weapons of physical warfare, so the advance in man’s
understanding of the manipulation of public opinion have enabled him to
refine and perfect the weapons of psychological warfare.



The continual intrusion into our minds of the hammering noises of
arguments and propaganda can lead to two kinds of reactions. It may lead to
apathy and indifference, the I-don’t-care reaction, or to a more intensified
desire to study and to understand. Unfortunately, the first reaction is the more
popular one. The flight from study and awareness is much too common in a
world that throws too many confusing pictures to the individual. For the sake
of our democracy, based on freedom and individualism, we have to bring
ourselves back to study again and again. Otherwise, we can become easy
victims of a well-planned verbal attack on our minds and consciences.
We cannot be enough aware of the continual coercion of our senses and
minds, the continual suggestive attacks which may pass through the
intellectual barriers of insight. Repetition and Pavlovian conditioning exhaust
the individual and may seduce him ultimately to accept a truth he himself
initially defied and scorned.

The totalitarians are very ingenious in arousing latent guilt in us by
repeating over and over again how criminally the Western world has acted
toward innocent and peaceful people. The totalitarian may attack our
identification with our leaders by ridiculing them, making use of every man’s
latent critical attitude toward all leaders. Sometimes they use the strategy of
boredom to lull the people to sleep. They would like the entire Western
world to fall into a hypnotic sleep under the illusion of peaceful coexistence.
In a more refined strategy, they would like to have us cut all our ties of
loyalty with the past, away from relatives and parents. The more you have
forsaken them and their so-called outmoded concepts, the better you will
cooperate with those who want to take mental possession of you. Every
political strategy that aims toward arousing fear and suspicion tends to
isolate the insecure individual until he surrenders to those forces that seem to
him stronger than his former friends.

And last but not least, let us not forget that in the battle of arguments those
with the best and most forceful verbal strategy tend to win. The totalitarians
organize intensive dialectical training for their subjects lest their doubts get
the better of them. They try to do the same thing to the rest of world in a less
obtrusive way.
We have to learn to encounter the totalitarians’ exhausting barrage of
words with better training and better understanding. If we try to escape from
these problems of mental defense or deny their complications, the cold war
will gradually be lost to the slow encroachment of words—and more words.



Is it possible to coexist with a totalitarian system that never ceases to use
its psychological artillery? Can a free democracy be strong enough to
tolerate the parasitic intrusion of totalitarianism into its rights and freedoms?
History tells us that many opposing and clashing ideologies have been able to
coexist under a common law that assured tolerance and justice. The church
no longer burns its apostates.
Before the opposites of totalitarianism and free democracy can coexist
under the umbrella of supervising law and mutual good will, a great deal
more of mutual understanding and tolerance will have to be built up. The
actual cold war and psychological warfare certainly do not yet help toward
this end.

To the totalitarian, the word “coexistence” has a different meaning than it
has to us. The totalitarian may use it merely as a catchword or an appeaser.
The danger is that the concept of peaceful coexistence may become a
disguise, dulling the awareness of inevitable interactions and so profiting the
psychologically stronger party. Lenin spoke about the strategic breathing
spell (peredyshka) that has to weaken the enemy. Too enthusiastic a peace
movement may mean a superficial appeasement of problems. Such appeal has
to be studied and restudied, lest it result in a dangerous letdown of defenses
which have to remain mobilized to face a ruthless enemy.
Coexistence may mean a suffocating subordination much like that of
prisoners coexisting with their jailers. At its best, it may imitate the intensive
symbiotic or ever-parasitic relationship we can see among animals which
need each other, or as we see it in the infant in its years of dependency upon
its mother.

To those living freely in a democracy, coexistence must imply freedom
and mutuality. The totalitarian concept of un-freedom can not mix with
freedom. There are concepts and ideas that cannot coexist and that do not
tolerate one another.

In order to coexist and to cooperate, one must have notions and
comparable images of integration, of a sameness of ideas, of a belongingtogether,
of an interdependence of the whole human race, in spite of the
existence of racial and cultural differences. Otherwise the ideology backed
by the greater military strength will strangle the weaker one.
Peaceful coexistence presupposes on both sides a high understanding of
the problems and complications of simple coexistence, of mutual agreement
and limitations, of the diversity of personalities, and especially of the
coexistence of contrasting and irreconcilable thoughts and feelings in every
individual, of the innate ambivalence of man. It demands an understanding of
the rights of both the individual and the collectivity. Using coexistence as a
catchword, we may obscure the problems involved, and we may find that we
use the word as a flag that covers gradual surrender to the stronger strategist.
Chapter Six




There actually exists such a thing as a technique of mass brainwashing.
This technique can take root in a country if an inquisitor is strong and shrewd
enough. He can make most of us his victims, albeit temporarily.
What in the structure of society has made man so vulnerable to these mass
manipulations of the mind? This is a problem with tremendous implications,
just as brainwashing is. In recent years we have grown more and more aware
of human interdependence with all its difficulties and complications.
am aware of the fact that investigation of the subject of mental coercion
and thought control becomes less pleasant as time goes on. This is so
because it may become more of a threat to us here and now, and our concern
for China and Korea must yield to the more immediate needs at our own
door. Can totalitarian tendencies take over here, and what social symptoms
may lead to such phenomena? Stern reality confronts us with the universal
mental battle between thought control (and its corollaries) and our standards
of decency, personal strength, personal ideas, and a personal conscience with
autonomy and dignity.

Future social scientists will be better able to describe the causes of the
advent of totalitarian thinking and acting in man. We know that after wars and
revolutions this mental deterioration more easily finds an opportunity to
develop, helped by special psychopathic personalities who only flourish on
man’s misery and confusion. It is also true that the next generation
spontaneously begins to correct the misdeeds of the previous one because the
ruthless system has become too threatening to them.

My task, however, is to describe some symptoms of the totalitarian
process (which implies deterioration of thinking and acting) as I have
observed them in our own epoch, keeping in mind that the system is one of
the most violent distortions of man’s consistent mental growth. No
brainwashing is possible without totalitarian thinking.

The tragic facts of political experiences in our age make it all too clear
that applied psychological technique can brainwash entire nations and reduce
their citizens to a kind of mindless robotism which becomes for them a
normal way of living. Perhaps we can best understand how this frightening
thing comes about by examining a mythical country, which, for the sake of
convenience, we shall call Totalitaria.



First, let me utter a word of caution. We must not make the mistake of
thinking that there is any one particular nation that can be completely
identified with this hypothetical land. The characteristics to be discussed can
come into existence here. Some of Totalitarian characteristics were, of
course, present in Nazi Germany, and they can today be found behind the Iron
Curtain, but they exist to some extent in other parts of the world as well.
Totalitaria is any country in which political ideas degenerate into senseless
formulations made only for propaganda purposes. It is any country in which a
single group—left or right—acquires absolute power and becomes
omniscient and omnipotent, any country in which disagreement and
differences of opinion are crimes, in which utter conformity is the price of
life. Totalitaria—the Leviathan state—is the home of the political system we
call, euphemistically, totalitarianism, of which systematized tyranny is a part.
This system does not derive from any honest political philosophy, either
socialist or capitalist. Totalitarian leaders may mouth ideologies, but these
are in fact mainly catchwords used to justify the regime. If necessary,
totalitarianism can change its slogans and its behavior overnight. For
totalitarianism embodies, to me, the quest for total power, the quest of a
dictator to rule the world. The words and concepts of “socialism” and
“communism” may serve, like “democracy,” as a disguise for the
megalomaniac intention of the tyrant.
Since totalitarianism is essentially the social manifestation of a
psychological phenomenon belonging to every personality, it can best be
understood in terms of the human forces that create, foster, and perpetuate it.
Man has two faces; he wants to grow toward maturity and freedom, and yet
the primitive child in his unconscious yearns for complete protection and
irresponsibility. His mature self learns how to cope with the restrictions and
frustrations of daily life, but at the same time, the child in him longs to hit out
against them, to beat them down, to destroy them—whether they be objects or
people. Totalitarianism appeals to this confused infant in all of us; it seems to
offer a solution to the problems mans double yearning creates. Our mythical
Totalitaria is a monolithic and absolute state in which doubt, confusion, and
conflict are not permitted to be shown, for the dictator purports to solve all
his subjects’ problems for them. In addition, Totalitaria can provide official
sanction for the expression of man’s most antisocial impulses. The
uncivilized child hidden in us may welcome this liberation from ethical
On the other hand, our free, mature, social selves cannot be happy in
Totalitaria; they revolt against the restriction of individual impulses.
The psychological roots of totalitarianism are usually irrational,
destructive, and primitive, though disguised behind some ideology, and for
this reason there is something fantastic, unbelievable, even nightmarish about
the system itself. There is, of course, a difference in the psychic experience
of the elite, who can live out their needs for power, and the masses, who
have to submit; yet the two groups influence each other. When a dictator’s
deep neurotic needs for power also satisfy some profound emotional need in
the population of his country, especially in times of misery or after a
revolution, he is more easily able to assume the power for which he longs. If
a nation has suffered defeat in war, for example, its citizens feel shame and
resentment. Loss of face is not simply a political abstraction, it is a very real
and personal thing to a conquered people; every man, consciously or
unconsciously, identifies with his native land. If a country suffers from
prolonged famine or severe depression, its citizens become bitter, depressed,
and resentful, and will more willingly accept the visions and promises of the
aspiring dictator. If the complexity of a country’s political and economic
apparatus makes the individual citizen feel powerless, confused, and useless,
if he has no sense of participation in the forces that govern his daily life, or if
he feels these forces to be so vast and confusing that he can no longer
understand them, he will grasp at the totalitarian opportunity for belonging,
for participation, for a simple formula that explains and rationalizes what is
beyond his comprehension. And when the dictator has taken over finally, he
transfers his own abnormal fantasies, his rage and anger, easily to his
subjects. Their resentments feed his; his pseudo-strength encourages them. A
mutual fortification of illusions takes place.
Totalitarianism as a social manifestation is a disease of interhuman
relations, and, like any other disease, man can best resist its corroding effects
if, through knowledge and training, he is well immunized against it. If,
however, he is unfortunate enough to catch the totalitarian bug, he has to
muster all the positive forces in his mind to defeat it. The raging internal
struggle between the irresponsible child and the mature adult in him
continues until one or the other is finally destroyed completely. As long as a
single spark of either remains, the battle goes on. And for as long as man is
alive, the quest for maturity keeps on.
In the battle against this dread disease, social factors as well as personal
ones play an important role. We can see this more clearly if we analyze the
ways in which the ideals of a culture as a whole affect its citizens’
vulnerability to totalitarianism. The ethics of our own Western civilization
are our strongest defenses against the disease, for the ideal of these ethics is
to produce a breed of men and women who are strongly individualistic and
who evaluate situations primarily in terms of their own consciences. We aim
to develop in our citizens a sense of self-responsibility, a willingness to
confront the world as it is, and an ability to distinguish between right and
wrong through their own feelings and thoughts. Such men and women are
impelled to action by their personal moral standards rather than by what
some outside group sets up as correct. They are unwilling to accept group
evaluations immediately unless these coincide with their own personal
convictions, or unless they have been able to discuss them in a democratic
way. People like this are responsible to their communities because they are
first responsible to themselves. If they disagree, they will form a loyal
minority, using their rights of convincing other people at appropriate times.
There are other cultures which emphasize attitudes and values that are
different from these. The Eastern ideal of man, as we find it in China and
some of the other Oriental countries, is in the first place that of oneness, of
being one with the family, one with the fatherland, one with the cosmos—
nirvana. The Oriental psyche looks for a direct esthetic contact with reality
through an indefinable empathy and intuition. Eternal truth is behind reality,
behind the veil of Maya. Man is part of the universe; his ideal is passive
servility and non-irritability. His ideal of peace lies in rest and relaxation, in
meditation, in being without manual and mental travail. The happiness of the
Oriental psyche lies in the ecstasy of feeling united with the universal
cosmos. Ascesis, self-redemption, and poverty are better realized ideals in
Oriental culture than in our Western society. The classic Oriental culture
pattern can best be described as a pattern of participation. In it the individual
is looked upon as an integral part of the group, the family, the caste, the
nation. He is not a separate, independent entity. In this culture, greater
conformity to and acceptance of the collective rules are the ideals. An
Oriental child may be trained from infancy into a pattern of submission to
authority and to the rules of the group. Many primitive cultures also display
this pattern. To a person raised in these cultures, the most acceptable
standards, the best conceivable thoughts and actions, are those sanctioned by
the group. The totalitarian world of mass actions and mass thoughts is far
more comprehensible to the members of a participation-patterned and less
individual-minded culture than it is to Western individualists. What is to us
unbearable regimentation and authoritarianism may be to them comforting
order and regularity.
An example of an intensified pattern of participation and thought control
and mutual spying has been given by the anthropologist E. P. Dozier. [The
New York Times, December 11, 1955; Science News Letter, December 3,
1955] The Pueblo Indians of the Rio Grande area believe that wrongdoing or
wrong thinking of one man in the tribe affects all members. He may upset the
cosmic balance by ill feeling toward any one of his fellow men. The moral
code of the village is group-centered. The individual who transgresses this
jeopardizes the wellbeing of all. Epidemics, crop failures, droughts are
interpreted as a result of “deviationism” of one member of the group. Village
members are closely watched and spied on in order to discover the culprit or
“witch.” Gossip and accusations of witchcraft are rampant, and the Pueblo
Indian is constantly searching in his own conscience for harmful thoughts and
attitudes. It is as if we watch the ritual of the purge in the totalitarian state.
[See Chapter 7.]
Such forms of creeping collectivism and participation we may see in
every group formation where tolerance for nonconformism ceases to exist.
Wherever dogmatic partisanship dominates, the mind is coerced. We may
even detect such encroaching tendencies in some scientific circles where
there exists an overemphasis on group research, teamwork, membership
cards, and a disdain for individual opinion.
The culture into which a man is born and his own psychological
constitution interact to produce his personality in much the same way as his
body and mind interact to produce his behavior. Our culture of individual
freedom may offer us a partial immunity to the disease of totalitarianism, but
at the same time our personal immaturities and repressed savageries can
make us vulnerable to it. The participation type of culture may make men
more susceptible in general to totalitarianism, although personal strivings
toward maturity and individuality can offer them, too, some measure of
protection against it.
Because of the interaction between these social and personal forces, no
culture is completely safe from internal attack by totalitarianism and from the
mental destruction it may create. As I said before, our Totalitaria is a
mythical country, but the brutal truth is that any country can be turned into a
The aims of the rulers of our fictitious country are simply formulated:
despotism, the total domination of man and mankind, and the unity of the
entire world under one dictatorial authority. At first glance, this idea of unity
can be most attractive—the idea, oversimplified, of a brotherhood unity of
nations under a central powerful agency. When the world is one, it would
seem, there will be no more war, the tensions that face us will be eliminated,
earth will become a paradise, but the simplified conception of a universal
dictatorship is false and reflects the danger inherent in the totalitarian goal:
all men are different, and it is the difference between them that creates the
greatness, the variety, and the creative inspirations of life, as well as the
tensions of social intercourse. The totalitarian conception of equalization can
be realized only in death, when the chemical and physical laws that govern
all of us take over completely. Death is indeed the great equalizer.
In life, all of us are different. Our bodies and minds interact with one
another and with the outside world in different ways. Each man’s personality
is unique. True, all of us share certain basic human qualities with all the
other members of the human race, but the differences in personality are also
so many and so varied that no two men anywhere in the world or ever in all
of human history can be said to be exactly alike. This uniqueness is as true of
the citizen of Totalitaria as it is of anyone else. As a human being, he is not
only different from us, he is different from his compatriots. However, to
create man in the totalitarian image through leveling and equalization means
to suppress what is essentially personal and human in him, the uniqueness
and the variety, and to create a society of robots, not men. The noted social
scientist, J. S. Brunner, in his introduction to Bauer’s book on Soviet
psychology has expressed this thought in a different way: “Man’s image of
the nature of man is not only a matter for objective inquiry; it is and has
always been a prime instrument of social and political control. He who
molds that image does so with enormous consequences for the society in
which he lives.”
Totalitaria fosters the illusion that everyone is part of the government, a
voter; no one can be a non-voter or anti-voter. His inner pros and cons and
doubts are not private problems of the individual himself any more; his
thoughts belong to the state, the dictator, the ruling circle, the Party. His inner
thoughts have to be controlled. Only those in power know what really lies
behind national policy. The ordinary citizen becomes as dependent and
obedient as a child. In exchange for giving up his individuality, he obtains
some special gratifications: the feeling of belonging and of being protected,
the sense of relief over losing his personal boundaries and responsibilities,
the ecstasy of being taken up and absorbed in wild, uncontrolled collective
feelings, the safety of being anonymous, of being merely a cog in the wheel of
the all-powerful state.
The despotism of modern Totalitaria is very different from the lush, exotic
personal tyrannies of ancient times. It is an ascetic, cold, mechanical force,
aiming at what Hanna Ahrendt calls the “transformation of human nature
itself.” In our theoretical country, man has no individual ego any longer, no
personality, no self. A leveling system is at work, and everything above the
common level is trampled on and beaten down.
The leaders of Totalitaria are the strangest men in the state. These men
are, like all other men, unique in their mental structure, and consequently we
cannot make any blanket psychiatric diagnosis of the mental illness which
motivates their behavior. But we can make some generalizations which will
help us toward some understanding of the totalitarian leader. Obviously, for
example, he suffers from an overwhelming need to control other human
beings and to exert unlimited power, and this in itself is a psychological
aberration, often rooted in deep-seated feelings of anxiety, humiliation, and
inferiority. The ideologies such men propound are only used as tactical and
strategical devices through which they hope to reach their final goal of
complete domination over other men. This domination may help them
compensate for pathological fears and feelings of unworthiness, as we can
conclude from the psychological study of some modern dictators.
Fortunately, we do not have to rely on a purely hypothetical picture of the
psychopathology of the totalitarian dictator. Dr. G. M. Gilbert, who studied
some of the leaders of Nazi Germany during the Nuremberg trials, has given
us a useful insight into their twisted minds, useful especially because it
reveals to us something about the mutual interaction between the totalitarian
leader and those who want to be led by him.
Hitler’s suicide made a clinical investigation of his character structure
impossible, but Dr. Gilbert heard many eyewitness reports of Hitler’s
behavior from his friends and collaborators, and these present a fantastic
picture of Nazism’s prime mover. Hitler was known among his intimates as
the carpet-eater, because he often threw himself on the floor in a kicking and
screaming fit like an epileptic rage. From such reports, Dr. Gilbert was able
to deduce something about the roots of the pathological behavior displayed
by this morbid “genius.” Hitler’s paranoid hostility against the Jew was
partly related to his unresolved parental conflicts; the Jews probably
symbolized for him the hated drunken father who mistreated Hitler and his
mother when the future Fuhrer was still a child. Hitler’s obsessive thinking,
his furious fanaticism, his insistence on maintaining the purity of “Aryan
blood,” and his ultimate mania to destroy himself and the world were
obviously the results of a sick psyche. As early as 1923, nearly ten years
before he seized power, Hitler was convinced that he would one day rule the
world, and he spent time designing monuments of victory, eternalizing his
glory, to be erected all over the European continent when the day of victory
arrived. This delusional preoccupation continued until the end of his life; in
the midst of the war he created, which led him to defeat and death, Hitler
continued revising and improving his architectural plans.
Nazi dictator Number Two, Hermann Goering, who committed suicide to
escape the hangman, had a different psychological structure. His
pathologically aggressive drives were encouraged by the archaic military
tradition of the German Junker class, to which his family belonged. From
early childhood he had been compulsively and overtly aggressive. He was an
autocratic and a corrupt cynic, grasping the Nazi-created opportunity to
achieve purely personal gain. His contempt for the “common people” was
unbounded; this was a man who had literally no sense of moral values.
Quite different again was Rudolf Hess, the man of passive yet fanatical
doglike devotion, living, as it were, by proxy through the mind of his Fuhrer.
His inner mental weakness made it easier for him to live through means of a
proxy than through his own personality, and drove him to become the shadow
of a seemingly strong man, from whom he could borrow strength. The Nazi
ideology gave this frustrated boy the illusion of blood identification with the
glorious German race. After his wild flight to England, Hess showed obvious
psychotic traits; his delusions of persecution, hysterical attacks, and periods
of amnesia are among the well-known clinical symptoms of schizophrenia.
Still another type was Hans Frank, the devil’s advocate, the prototype of
the overambitious latent homosexual, easily seduced into political adventure,
even when this was in conflict with the remnants of his conscience. For
unlike Goering, Frank was capable of distinguishing between right and
Dr. Gilbert also tells us something about General Wilhelm Keitel, Hitler’s
Chief of Staff, who became the submissive, automatic mouthpiece of the
Fuhrer, mixing military honor and personal ambition in the service of his own
Of a different quality is the S. S. Colonel, Hoess, the murderer of millions
in the concentration camp of Auschwitz. A pathological character structure is
obvious in this case. All his life, Hoess had been a lonely, withdrawn,
schizoid personality, without any conscience, wallowing in his own hostile
and destructive fantasies. Alone and bereft of human attachments, he was
intuitively sought out by Himmler for this most savage of all the Nazi jobs.
He was a useful instrument for the committing of the most bestial deeds.
Unfortunately, we have no clear psychiatric picture yet of the Russian
dictator Stalin. There have been several reports that during the last years of
his life he had a tremendous persecution phobia and lived in constant terror
that he would become the victim of his own purges.
Psychological analysis of these men shows clearly that a pathological
culture—a mad world—can be built by certain impressive psychoneurotic
types. The venal political figures need not even comprehend the social and
political consequences of their behavior. They are compelled not by
ideological belief, no matter how much they may rationalize to convince
themselves they are, but by the distortions of their own personalities. They
are not motivated by their advertised urge to serve their country or mankind,
but rather by an overwhelming need and compulsion to satisfy the cravings of
their own pathological character structures. The ideologies they spout are not
real goals; they are the cynical devices by which these sick men hope to
achieve some personal sense of worth and power. Subtle inner lies seduce
them into going from bad to worse. Defensive self-deception, arrested
insight, evasion of emotional identification with others, degradation of
empathy—the mind has many defense mechanisms with which to blind the
conscience. A clear example of this can be seen in the way the Nazi leaders
defended themselves through continuous self-justification and exculpation
when they were brought before the bar at the Nuremberg trials. These
murderers were aggrieved and hurt by the accusations brought against them;
they were the very picture of injured innocence.
Any form of leadership, if unchecked by controls, may gradually turn into
dictatorship. Being a leader, carrying great power and responsibility for
other people’s lives, is a monumental test for the human psyche. The weak
leader is the man who cannot meet it, who simply abdicates his
responsibility. The dictator is the man who replaces the existing standards of
justice and morality by more and more private prestige, by more and more
power, and eventually isolates himself more and more from the rest of
humanity. His suspicion grows, his isolation grows, and the vicious circle
leading to a paranoid attitude begins to develop.
The dictator is not only a sick man, he is also a cruel opportunist. He sees
no value in any other person and feels no gratitude for any help he may have
received. He is suspicious and dishonest and believes that his personal ends
justify any means he may use to achieve them. Peculiarly enough, every tyrant
still searches for some self-justification. Without such a soothing device for
his own conscience, he cannot live. His attitude toward other people is
manipulative; to him, they are merely tools for the advancement of his own
interests. He rejects the conception of doubt, of internal contradictions, of
man’s inborn ambivalence. He denies the psychological fact that man grows
to maturity through groping, through trial and error, through the interplay of
contrasting feelings. Because he will not permit himself to grope, to learn
through trial and error, the dictator can never become a mature person. But
whether he acknowledges them or not, he has internal conflicts, he suffers
somewhere from internal confusion. These inner “weaknesses” he tries to
repress sternly; if they were to come to the surface, they might interfere with
the achievement of his goals. Yet, in the attacks of rage his weakening
strength is evident.
It is because the dictator is afraid, albeit unconsciously, of his own
internal contradictions, that he is afraid of the same internal contradictions of
his fellow men. He must purge and purge, terrorize and terrorize in order to
still his own raging inner drives. He must kill every doubter, destroy every
person who makes a mistake, imprison everyone who cannot be proved to be
utterly single-minded. In Totalitaria, the latent aggression and savagery in
man are cultivated by the dictator to such a degree that they can explode into
the mass criminal actions shown by Hitler’s persecution of minorities.
Ultimately, the country shows a real pathology, an utter dominance of
destructive and self-destructive tendencies.
What happens to the common man in such a culture? How can we describe
the citizen of Totalitaria? Perhaps the simplest answer to this question lies in
the statement that he is reduced to the mechanical precision of an insect-like
state. He cannot develop any warm friendships, loyalties, or allegiances
because they may be too dangerous for him. Today’s friend may be, after all,
tomorrows enemy. Living in an atmosphere of constant suspicion—not only
of strangers, but even of his own family—he is afraid to express himself lest
concentration camp or prison swallow him up. The citizens of Totalitaria do
not really converse with one another. When they speak, they whisper, first
looking furtively over their shoulders for the inevitable spy. Their inner
silence is in sharp contrast to the official verbal bombardment. The citizens
of Totalitaria may make noise, and utter polite banalities, or they may repeat
slogans to one another, but they say nothing. Existing literature reveals that
leading authors, among them H. G. Wells, Huxley, and Orwell, grow more
and more concerned about the ghastly future of the robotized man, trained as
a machine on a standard of conformity. They translate for us the common fear
of a mechanized civilization.
In Totalitaria, the citizen no longer knows the real core of his mind. He no
longer feels himself an I, an ego, a person. He is only the object of official
barrage and mental coercion. Having no personality of his own, he has no
individual conscience, no personal morality, no capacity to think clearly and
honestly. He learns by rote, he learns thousands of indoctrinated facts and
inhales dogma and slogans with every breath he draws. He becomes an
obedient pedant, and pedantry makes people into something resembling pots
filled with information instead of individuals with free, growing
personalities. Becoming wiser and freer implies selective forgetting and
changes of mind. This we accept, this we leave behind. Alert adjustment
requires a change of patterns, the capacity to be deconditioned, to undo and
unlearn in order to become ripe for new patterns. The citizen of Totalitaria
has no chance for such learning through unlearning, for growth through
individual experience. Official oversimplifications induce the captive
audience into acceptance and indoctrination. Mass ecstasy and mass
fanaticism are substituted for quiet individual thought and consideration.
Hitler taught his people to march and to do battle, and at the end they did not
know wherefore they marched and battled. People become herds—
indoctrinated and obsessed herds—intoxicated first with enthusiasm and
happy expectations, then with terror and panic. The individual personality
cannot grow in Totalitaria. The huge mass of citizens is tamed into personal
and political somnambulism.
It may be scientifically questionable to compare experiences gained from
individual pathological states with social phenomena and to analyze the
partial collapse of the ego under totalitarianism by analogy with actual cases
of madness. But there is in fact much that is comparable between the strange
reactions of the citizens of Totalitaria and their culture as a whole on the one
hand and the reactions of the introverted, sick schizophrenic on the other.
Even though the problem of schizophrenic behavior in individuals and groups
is extremely complicated and cannot be fully handled within the scope of this
book, the comparison can be helpful in our search for an understanding of the
nature and effects of totalitarianism.
This excursion into the world of pathology is not a description of a merely
coincidental resemblance between a disease and a political system. It should
serve to point up the fact that totalitarian withdrawal behind official
justifications and individual fantasy is something that can occur either in
social life or inside the individual mind. And many scholars believe in a
relationship between cultural deterioration and schizophrenic withdrawal.
Let us briefly explain the individual schizophrenic’s reaction of complete
inner automatization and mental withdrawal as a personal failure to adjust to
a world experienced as insecure and dangerous. Often rather simple
emotional incidents may lead to such schizophrenic retreat—for instance, the
intrusion of schedules and habits forced on the mind during infancy or a sly
hypersensitivity to our overactive and oververbose culture. Many a child is
forced into schizophrenic withdrawal by an overcompulsive parent.
Sometimes lack of external contact may drive a man into a state of utter
loneliness and isolation, sometimes his own preference for solitude. A
certain tendency to so-called schizophrenic withdrawal has been proved to
be inborn. Yet it can be provoked in everybody. Whatever the cause, the
schizophrenic patient becomes a desocialized being, lost in loneliness.
Conscious and unconscious fantasy life begins to become dominant over alert
confrontation of reality. In the end his weird fantasies become more real for
the schizophrenic than the actual world. He hides more and more behind his
own iron curtain, in the imaginary dreamland and retreat he has built for
himself. This is his nirvana, in which all his dream wishes are fulfilled.
Inertia and fanaticism alternate. The patient regresses to an infantile,
vegetative form of behavior and rejects everything that society has taught
him. In his fantasy, he lives in a world which always obeys his commands.
He is omnipotent. The world turns around according to his divine
inclinations. Reality, requiring as it does, continual and renewed adjustment
and verification, becomes a persecutor, attacking his illusion of divine might.
Every disturbing intrusion into his delusional world is encountered by the
schizophrenic either with tremendous aggression or with the formation of
secondary delusion to protect the first delusion, or with a combination of
both. The schizophrenic displays tremendous hostility toward the real world
and its representatives; reality robs him both of his delusions of omnipotence
and his hallucinatory sense of being utterly protected, as he was in the womb.
Clinical experience has shown that the disease of schizophrenia often
begins with negativism—a defense against the influence of others, a continual
fight against mental intrusion, against what is felt as the rape of the
oversensitive mind. Gradually this defensive attitude toward the world
becomes a hostile attitude toward everything, not only toward influences
from the outside, but also toward thoughts and feelings from the inside.
Finally, the victim becomes paralyzed by his own hostility and negativisms.
He behaves literally as though he were dead. He sits, unmoving, for hours.
He may have to be force-fed, force-dressed. The schizophrenic moves like a
puppet on a string, only when someone compels him to. Clinically, we call
this catatonia—the death attitude.
Introverted schizophrenics prefer the automatic routine life of the asylum
to life in the outside world, on the condition that they be allowed to indulge
their private fantasies. They surrender utterly to self-defeatism. They never
congregate in groups, they seldom talk with one another; even when they do,
they never have any real mutual contact. Each one lives in his own retreat.
In the totalitarian myth—think, for instance, of das Dritte Reich —in the
psychological folklore of our mythical state, the vague fantasy of the
technically perfected womb, the ideal nirvana, plays a tremendous role. In a
world full of insecurities, a world requiring continual alert adjustment and
readjustment, Totalitaria creates the delusion of the omnipotent, miraculous
ideal state—a state where, in its final form, every material need will be
satisfied. Everything will be regulated, just as it was for the fetus in the
womb, the land of bliss and equanimity, just as it is for the schizophrenic in
the mental hospital. There is no social struggle, no mental struggle; the world
moves like clockwork. There is no real interplay between people, no clash
of opinions or beliefs, there is no emotional relationship between these
womb-fellows; each exists as a separate number-bearing entity in the same
filing system. In Totalitaria, there is no faith in fellow men, no caritas, no
love, because real relationships between men do not exist, just as they do not
exist between schizophrenics. There is only faith in and subjection to the
feeding system, and there is in every citizen a tremendous fear of being
expelled from that system, a fear of being totally lost, comparable with the
schizophrenic’s feeling of rejection and fear of reality. In the midst of
spiritual loneliness and isolation, there is the fear of still greater loneliness,
of more painful isolation. Without protective regulations from the outside,
internal hell may break loose. Strong mechanical external order must be used
to cover the internal chaos and approaching breakdown.
We have had experience in postwar years with several refugees from the
totalitarian world who broke down when they had to cope with a world of
freedom where personal initiative was required. The fear of freedom brought
them to a state of panic. They no longer had strong enough egos to build and
maintain their defenses against the competitive demands of free democratic
reality. As in schizophrenia, a maneuverable and individual ego cannot exist
in Totalitaria. In schizophrenia the ego shrinks as a result of withdrawal, in
Totalitaria, as a result of constant merging in mass feelings. If such a
shrunken ego should grow up, with its own critical attitude, its needs for
verification of facts and for understanding, it would then be beaten down as
being treacherous and nonconforming.
Totalitaria requires of its citizens complete subjection to and
identification with the leader. It is this leader-dominance that makes people
nearly ego-less, as they are in schizophrenia. This again may result in loss of
control of hostile and destructive drives. Psychologists have seen this time
and time again in what we can call the concentration-camp psyche. When the
victims first came to the camp—dedicated to their gradual extermination—
most of them displayed a complete loss of self, an utter depersonalization,
combined with apathy and loss of awareness. The same observations have
been made among our P.O.W.’s in Korea. Some concentration-camp victims
got better immediately after their return to a normal society; in others, this
schizophrenic reaction of lost ego remained and, as we mentioned above,
sometimes developed into a real psychosis.
Totalitarianism is man’s escape from the fearful realities of life into the
virtual womb of the leader. The individual’s actions are directed from this
womb—from the inner sanctum. The mystic center is in control of everything;
man need no longer assume responsibility for his own life. The order and
logic of the prenatal world reign. There is peace and silence, the peace of
utter submission. The members of the womb state do not really communicate;
between them there is silence, the silence of possible betrayal, not the mature
silence of reticence and reservedness. Totalitaria increases the gap between
the things one shows and communicates and the things one secretly dreams
and thinks deep within oneself. It develops the artificial split-mindedness of
political silence. Whatever little remains of individual feeling and opinion is
kept carefully enclosed. In the schizophrenic world of Totalitaria, there is no
free mutual exchange, no conversation, no exclamation, no release from
emotional tension. It is a world of silent conspirators. Indeed, the atmosphere
of suspicion is the big attacker of mental freedom because it makes people
cling together, conspiring against mysterious enemies—first from outside,
then among themselves.
In Totalitaria each citizen is continually watched. The mythical state
molds the individual’s conscience. He has hardly any of his own. His
neighbors watch him, his postman, his children, and they all represent the
punishing state, just as he himself must represent the state and watch others.
Not betraying them is a crime.
The need to find conspiracies, to discover persecutors and criminals is
another schizophrenic manifestation. It is psychologically related to an
infantile need for a feeling of omnipotence. Megalomaniac feelings grow
better in an atmosphere of mysterious secrecy.
Secrecy and conspiracy increase the delusion of power. That is why so
many people like to pry into other people’s lives and to play the Spy.
This feeling of conspiracy also lies behind the pathological struggle with
imaginary persecutors, a struggle we find both in mentally ill individuals and
in our mythical Totalitaria. “It is there!” “It is chasing us!” All the inner fears
of losing the nirvanic womb-illusion become rampant. Mysterious ghosts and
vultures chase people out of nirvana and paradise.
In these fantasies, the patriarch, the dictator, the idol, becomes both the
universal danger and the omnipotent savior at the same time. Not even the
citizens of Totalitaria really love this cruel giant. Suspicion against the breast
that feeds and the hand that guides and forbids is often found in the phantasy
of schizophrenic children, who experience the nourisher as the enemy, the
dominating ogre, bribing the growing mind into submission.
The deep hate the sick individual feels toward the parental figure cannot
be expressed directly, and so it is displaced onto the self or onto scapegoats.
Scapegoatism is also part of the totalitarian strategy. As we pointed out
before, the scapegoat temporarily absorbs all the individual’s inner fury and
rage. Kulaks, Negroes, Jews, Communists, capitalists, profiteers and
warmongers—any or all of them can play that role. Perhaps the greatest
dangers, to the totalitarian mind, is the use of intellect and awareness and the
“egghead’s” demand for free, verifying thinking. Aberration and perversion
are chosen by the citizens of Totalitaria, as they are by the inhabitants of
madhouses, over tiring, intellectual control.
In the center of the totalitarian fears and fantasies stands the man-eating
god and idol. He is unconquerable. He uses man’s great gift of adjustment to
bring him to slavery. Every man’s inner core of feelings and thoughts has to
belong to the leader.
Is the citizen of Totalitaria consciously aware of this? Probably not.
Modern psychology has taught us how strongly the mental mechanism of
denial of reality works. The eye bypasses external occurrences when the
mind does not want them to happen. Secondary justifications and fantasies
are formed to support and explain these denials. In Totalitaria we find the
same despising of reality facts as we do in schizophrenia. How else are we
to explain the fact that Hitler was still moving his armies on paper after they
were already defeated?
Totalitarian strategy covers inner chaos and conflict by the strict order of
the police state. So does the compulsive schizophrenic patient, by his inner
routine and schedules. These routines and schedules are a defense against
painful occurrences in external reality. This internal robotization may lead to
denial of internal realities and internal needs as well. The citizen of
Totalitaria, repressing and rejecting his inner need for freedom, may even
experience slavery as liberation. He may go even one step further—yearn for
an escape from life itself, a delusion that he could become omnipotent
through utter destruction. The S. S. soldiers called this the magic action of the
Blutkitt, the tie of bloody crime binding them together and preparing them for
Valhalla. With this magic unification, they could die with courage and
equanimity. Anarchic despair and need for greatness alternated in them as
they do in the psychotic patient. In the same way, the citizens of Totalitaria
search for a “heroic” place in history even though the price be doom and
Many soldiers—tired by the rigidities of normal life—look back at
violent moments of their war experiences, despite the hunger and terror, as
the monumental culminating experiences of their lives. There, in the
Bruderbund of fighters, they felt happy for the first and only times in their
lives (Dicks).
This all sounds like a bitter comedy, but the fantasy of schizophrenics has
taught us how the mind can retreat into delusion when there is a fear of daily
existence. Under these circumstances, fantasy begins to prevail over reality,
and soon assumes a validity which reality never had. The totalitarian mind is
like the schizophrenic mind; it has a contempt for reality. Think for a moment
of Lysenko’s theory and its denial of the influence of heredity. The totalitarian
mind does not observe and verify its impressions of reality; it dictates to
reality how it shall behave, it compels reality to conform to its fantasies.
The comparison between totalitarianism and psychosis is not incidental.
Delusional thinking inevitably creeps into every form of tyranny and
despotism. Unconscious backward forces come into action. Evil powers
from the archaic past return. An automatic compulsion to go on to selfdestruction
develops, to justify one mistake with a new one; to enlarge and
expand the vicious pathological circle becomes the dominating end of life.
The frightened man, burdened by a culture he does not understand, retreats
into the brute’s fantasy of limitless power in order to cover up the vacuum
inside himself. This fantasy starts with the leaders and is later taken over by
the masses they oppress.
What else can man do when he is caught in that tremendous machine
called Totalitaria? Thinking—and the brain itself—has become superfluous,
that is, only reserved for the elite. Man has to renounce his uniqueness, his
individual personality, and must surrender to the equalizing and
homogenizing patterns of so-called integration and standardization. This
arouses in him that great inner emptiness of the savage child, the emptiness of
the robot that unwittingly yearns for the great destruction.
Chapter Seven
In order to investigate the social forces at work undermining the free
individual development of man’s mind, we have to look at manifold aspects
of political life. As a clinician and polypragmatist, I don’t want to bind
myself to one political state or current, but want to describe what can be
experienced in social life everywhere. Where human thinking and human
habits are in the process of being remolded, they are under the influence of
tremendous political upheaval. In one country this may happen overnight, in
others more slowly. The psychologists’ task is to observe and describe the
impact of these processes on the human mind.
When once a nation is under the yoke of totalitarianism, when once its
people have succumbed to the oversimplifications and blandishments of the
would-be dictator, how does the leader maintain his power? What techniques
does he use to make his countrymen docile followers of his bloody regime?
Because man’s mature self resists totalitarianism, the dictator must work
and scheme constantly to keep his subjects in line and to immobilize their
need for individual development, rebellion, and healthy growth. As we
examine his techniques, we will come to a better understanding of
totalitarianism and of the interaction between the dictator’s methods and the
personalities of his subjects. We need this understanding desperately, for we
have to recognize that the forces in Totalitaria that make humorless robots out
of living men can also develop, albeit unwittingly, in the so-called free,
democratic societies.
The weapon of terror has been used by tyrants from time immemorial to
make a meek instrument of man. In Totalitaria, the use of this weapon is
refined to a science which can wipe out all opposition and dissent. The
leaders of Totalitaria rule by intimidation; they prefer loyalty through fear to
loyalty through faith. Fear and terror freeze the mind and will; they may
create a general psychic paralysis. In the panic caused by totalitarian terror,
men feel separated from one another as by an impassable vacuum, and each
man becomes a lonely, frightened soul. Even panicky hovering together could
be suspected of being conspiracy against the state. Separated from any real
emotional contact with his fellow men by his own inner isolation, the citizen
of Totalitaria becomes increasingly unable to fight against its dehumanizing
Totalitaria is constantly on the alert for social sinners, the critics of the
system, and accusation of dissent is equivalent to conviction in the public
eye. Insinuation, calumny, and denunciation are staples of the totalitarian
strategy. The entire nation is dedicated to the proposition that every man is a
potential enemy of the regime. No one is excluded from the terror. Any man
may be subjected to it no matter how high his rank.
The secret police create awe and panic inside the country, while the army
serves to create awe and panic outside. Just the thought of an outbreak of
terror—of even a possible future terror—makes men unwilling to express
their opinions and expose themselves. Both the citizens of Totalitaria and
those of her neighbors are affected by this general fear. A clear example of
how this fear paralysis operates in reality may be seen in the fact that as far
back as 1948 western Europeans, who felt the shadow of anticipated
totalitarian occupation, thought it safer to criticize and attack their American
friends than to find fault with a totalitarian enemy who might sweep in
suddenly and without warning.
In Totalitaria, jails and concentration camps by the score are built in order
to provoke fear and awe among the population. They may be called
“punishment” or “correction” camps, but this is only a cheap justification for
the truth. In these centers of fear, nobody is really corrected; he is, as it were,
expelled from humanity, wasted, killed—but not too quickly, lest the
terrorizing influence be diminished. The truth of the matter is that these jails
are built not for real criminals, but rather for their terrorizing effect on the
bystanders, the citizens of Totalitaria. Jails represent a permanent menace, a
continual threat. They put an almost insupportable strain on the empathy and
imagination of those citizens who are, temporarily at least, on the outside of
the barbed wire. In addition to the fear of undergoing the same cruel
treatment, the fear of abasement, humiliation, and death, the very concept of
the concentration camp rouses every man’s deep-seated fear of being himself
expelled from the community, of being alone, a wanderer in the desert,
unloved and unwanted.
There exist several milder forms of mass terror, for instance, the strategy
of no political rest. In Totalitaria man is always caught by some form of
official planning. He is always conscious of control and surveillance, of
spying, leering powers lying in wait to chase him and to punish him. Even
leisure time and holidays are occupied by some official program, some facts
to be learned, some political meeting, some parade. Quiet and solitude no
longer exist. There is no time for meditation, for pondering, for reminiscing.
The mind is caught in a web of official thinking and planning. Even the
delights of self-chosen silence are forbidden. Every citizen of Totalitaria
must join in the singing and the slogan shouting. And he becomes so caught in
the constant activity that he loses the capacity to realize what is happening to
him. The emphasis on more production by individuals, factories, and
agricultural enterprises also can become a weapon of increased control and
terror. The Stakhanovite movement in Russia, urging a constant increase in
production norms, became a threat for many. The workers had to increase the
pace of their labor and production, or they would be severely punished. The
emphasis on pace and speed makes man more and more a soulless cog in the
totalitarian wheel.
Terror can almost never stop itself; it thrives on compliance and grows in
a vacuum. Terror as a tool means a gradual transfer into terror as a goal—but
terror is actually a self-defeating strategy. Man will ultimately revolt even
under an absolute dictatorship. When men have been reduced to puppethood
by Totalitaria, they will finally have become immune to all threats. The
magic spell of terror will finally lose its force. First the citizens of
Totalitaria will become dulled to the terror and will no longer consider even
death a danger. Then a few will initiate the final revolt, for Totalitarian
government by fear and terror fosters internal rebellion, in the few who
cannot be broken down. Even in gleichgeschaltet Nazi Germany a resistance
movement was active.
Cleaning out the higher echelons of government is an old historic habit.
The struggle between fathers and sons, between the older and the younger
generation, became ritualized far back in prehistoric times. Frazer’s classic,
The Golden Bough, has told us a great deal about this. The ancient priest of
the heathens acquired his high post by killing his predecessor. Later in
history, the newly proclaimed king offered criminals instead as sacrifices to
the gods on the day of his anointment.
In Totalitaria, the killing and purging ritual is part of the mechanism of
government, and it serves not only a symbolic but also a very real function
for the dictator. He must eliminate all those he has bypassed and doublecrossed
in his ruthless climb to power, lest their resentments and frustrated
rage break out, endangering his position or even his life.
The purge reflects another characteristic of life in Totalitaria. It
dramatizes the fiction that the party is always on the alert to keep itself pure
and clean. Psychiatry has demonstrated that the cleanliness compulsion in
neurotic individuals is actually a displaced defense against their own inner
rage and hostility. It plays the same sort of role in communities, and when it
is elevated to the level of an officially sanctioned ritual, it reduces the
citizenry to infancy. It makes the inhabitants of Totalitaria feel like babies—
still struggling to learn their first toilet training habits, still listening to their
parent’s reiterated commands to be clean, be clean, be clean, be good, be
good, be good, be loyal, be loyal, be loyal. The constant repetition of these
commands reinforces each citizen’s sense of guilt, of childishness, and of
The totalitarian purge is always accompanied by an elaborate confession
ceremonial, in which the accused publicly repents his sins, much as did the
witches of the Middle Ages (Lea). This is the general formula: “I confess my
doubts. Thanks to the criticism of the comrades, I have been able to purify my
thinking. I bow in humility to the opinion of my comrades and the Party and
am thankful for the opportunity to correct my errors. You enabled me to
repudiate my deviational questions. I acknowledge my debt to the selfless
leader and the government of the people.”
This strategy of public expression of shame has two effects: it serves, like
the purging rituals themselves, to provoke feelings of childish
submissiveness among the people, and, at the same time, it offers each citizen
a defense against his own deep-seated psychological problems and feelings
of guilt and unworthiness. Somewhere deep inside him, the citizen of
Totalitaria knows that he has abdicated his maturity and his responsibility;
public purgings relieve his sense of shame. “It is the others, who are guilty
and dirty, not I,” he thinks. “It is they who are constantly plotting and
conniving.” But the very things of which he suspects others are also true of
himself. He is afraid others will betray him because he cannot be sure in his
own mind that he will not betray them. Thus his inner tensions increase, and
the purge provides a periodic blood offering to his own fear and to the god of
The very fact that this ritual of coercive confession and purge must be
repeated again and again indicates that man develops an inner mental defense
against it and that the more it is used, the less effective it becomes as a means
of arousing guilt and terror. Just as the citizen of Totalitaria becomes
hardened or dulled to the terror of constant official intrusion into his private
life, so he becomes almost immune to the cries of treason and sabotage.
In the same way, as the purge becomes less effective as a taming tool, the
tyrant uses it more frequently to soothe his own fears. History provides us
with many examples of revolutions which eventually drowned in a bloody
reign of terror and purge. Some of the most devoted heroes and leaders of the
French Revolution met their death on the guillotine of the republic they
helped to create.
Wild accusation and black magic, like all the other taming tools of
Totalitaria, are nothing new, but in primitive civilizations and in prehistoric
times the craft of black magic was rather simple. The shaman had merely to
destroy or mutilate a small statuette of the accused criminal, to point or thrust
a special stick at the man himself, or to curse and berate him with furious
words and gestures in order to bring his victim to collapse and death. In his
blind acceptance of the magic ritual, the victim was possessed by fear, and
often he gave himself up to the spell and just died (Malinowski).
This magic slaying of the foe has plural psychological implications. The
victim of the magic spell was often looked upon as the representative of the
tribal god, the internalized authority and father. He must be killed because his
very existence aroused guilt and remorse among his people. His death may
silence the inner voices in every man which warn against impending
downfall. Sometimes the victim comes from a different tribe than that of his
accusers. In this situation, the stranger is an easier scapegoat, and punishing
him serves to still the clash of ambivalent feelings in the members of the
killing tribe. Hate for an outsider checks and deflects the hate and aggression
each man feels toward his own group and toward himself. The more fear
there is in a society, the more guilt each individual member of the society
feels, the more need there is for internal scapegoats and external enemies.
Internal confusion looks for discharge in outside wars.
In Totalitaria, the air is full of gossip, calumny, and rumor. Any
accusation, even if it is false, has a greater influence on the citizenry than
subsequent vindication. Bills of particulars, made out of whole cloth are
manufactured against innocents, especially against former leaders who have
been able to develop some personal esteem and loyalty among their friends
and followers. Trumped-up charges made against us always revive
unconscious feelings of guilt and induce us to tremble. In our analysis of the
psychological forces that lead prisoners of war and other political victims to
confession and betrayal, we saw how strongly the sense of hidden guilt and
doubt in each man impels him under strain to surrender to the demands and
ideologies of the enemy. This same mechanism is at work constantly among
the citizens of Totalitaria. Accusations against others remind him of his own
inner rebellions and hostilities, which he does not dare to bring out into the
open, and so the accused, even when he is innocent, becomes the scapegoat
for his private sense of guilt. Cowardice makes the other citizens of our
mythical country turn away from the victim lest they be accused themselves.
The very fact that character assassination is possible reveals the frailty
and sensitivity of human sympathy and empathy. Even in free, democratic
societies, political campaigns are often conducted in an atmosphere of
extravagant accusation and even wilder counteraccusation. The moment the
strategy of wild accusation, with all its disagreeable noises of vituperation
and calumny, begins, we forget the strategic intention behind the words and
find ourselves influenced by the shouting and name calling. “Maybe,” we say
to ourselves, “there is something in this story.” This, of course, is just what
the slanderer wants. In the minds of the politicians the illusion still persists
that the end justifies the means. But campaigns of slander produce
paradoxical results because the very fact that an unfounded accusation has
been made weakens the moral sense of both listener and accuser.
In Totalitaria this vicious circle of vituperation reaches its fullest
flowering. Drowned in a reign of suspicion, the citizen of Totalitaria suffers
from a terrible delusion of persecution—“spy-onoia,” the spy mania. He is
continually on the alert, watching his fellow men. His good neighbor may at
any moment become a saboteur or a traitor. The citizen of Totalitaria hardly
ever looks for confusion or flaws in his own soul, but projects them onto
scapegoats—until he himself finally becomes the victim of someone else’s
spyonoia. Every citizen is constantly trying to search out everyone else’s
innermost thoughts. Because one’s own hidden thoughts are projected on
one’s neighbors, thinking in itself becomes the enemy. This great fear of the
inner thoughts of our fellow men is related to a general process of paranoiac
re-evaluation of the world as a result of fear and totalitarian thinking. In the
denial of human loyalty and in the constant delusion of treason and sabotage
are expressed the whole infantile mythology of Totalitaria and its repudiation
of mature human relationships.
Through interrogation, character assassination, humiliation, mental terror,
and demoralization—such as happens in individual and collective
brainwashing—man can be so utterly demoralized that he accepts any
political system. He is nothing any more; why should he oppose matters? In
Totalitaria there is no open policy, no free discussion, no honest difference of
opinion; there is only intrigue and denunciation, with their frightening action
on the masses.
The strategy of wild accusation is used not only against Totalitarian
citizenry, but also against the rest of the world. Totalitaria needs the images
of outside enemies—imaginary cruel monsters who spread plague and
disease—to justify its own internal troubles. The remnants of the individual
citizen’s conscience are calmed and held in check by a paranoiac attack on
the rest of the world. “The enemy is poisoning our food, throwing beetles and
bacteria into our crops.” This myth of an imaginary world conspiracy aims at
bringing the fearful citizens of Totalitaria into a concerted defense against
nonexistent dangers. It conceals, at the same time, internal failures leading to
diminishing crops and lack of food. Projecting blame onto others reinforces
each citizen’s sense of participation in the totalitarian community and stills
the nagging internal voice demanding that he act as a self-responsible
individual. The myth of external plotting also increases the individual
citizen’s feeling of dependence and immaturity. Now only his dictatorial
leader can protect him from the evil world outside—a world which is
described to him as a vast zoo, inhabited by atomic dragons and hydrogen
As we said before, the citizen of Totalitaria may be able to fulfill some of
his irrational, instinctual needs in return for his submission to totalitarian
slavery. Hitler Germany taught us the accepted pattern. The citizen (and party
member) is encouraged to betray his friends and parents, something the angry,
frustrated baby in him has often wanted to do. He may live out in action his
deeply repressed aggressions and desires for revenge. He no longer has to
suppress or reject some of his own primitive impulses. The system assumes
the full burden of his guilt and hands him a ready-made list of thousands of
justifications and exculpations for the release of his sadistic impulses.
Flowery catchwords, such as “historical necessity,” help the individual to
rationalize immorality and evil into morality and good. We see here the great
corruption of civilized standards.
In his strategy of criminalization, the totalitarian dictator destroys the
conscience of his followers, just as he has destroyed his own. Think of the
highly learned and polished Nazi doctors who started their professional life
with the Hippocratic oath, promising to be the helping healer of man, but who
later in cold blood inflicted the most horrible tortures on their concentrationcamp
victims (Mitscherlich). They slaughtered innocents by the thousands in
order to discover the statistical limits of human endurance. They infected
other thousands as guinea pigs because the Fuhrer wanted it so. They had lost
their personal standards and ethics completely and justified all their crimes
through the Führers will. Political catchwords encouraged them to yield their
consciences completely to the dictator. The process of systematic
criminalization requires a deculturation of the people. As one of Hitler’s
gangmen said, “When I hear the word ‘civilization,’ I prepare my gun.” This
is done to consistently arouse the instinct of cruelty. People are told not to
believe in intellect and objective truth, but to listen only to the subjective
dictates of the Moloch State, to Hitler, to Mussolini, to Stalin.
Criminalization is conditioning people to rebellion against civilized
frustrations. Show them blood and bloody scapegoats, and a thousand years
of acculturation fall away from them. This implies imbuing the people with
hysteria, arousing the masses, homogenizing the emotions. All this tends to
awaken the brute Neanderthal psyche in man. Justify crime with the
glamorous doctrine of race superiority, and then you make sure the people
will follow you.
Hitler knew very well what he was doing when he turned the German
concentration camps over to the unleashed lusts of his storm troopers. “Let
them kill and murder,” was the device. “Once they have gone so far with me,
they must go on to the end.” The strategy of criminalization is not only
directed toward crushing the victims of the totalitarian regime, but also
toward giving the elite hangmen—the governing gang—that poisonous feeling
of power that drags them farther and farther away from every human feeling;
their victims become people without human identity, merely speaking masks
and ego-less robots. The strategy of criminalization is the systematic
organization of the lower passions in man, in particular in those the dictator
must trust as his direct helpers.
Under the pressure of totalitarian thinking, nearly every citizen identifies
with the ruling gang, and many must prove their loyalty by murder and killing,
or at least expressing their approval of murder and killing. The boredom of
Totalitaria’s automatic patterns of living leads the deluded citizens to
welcome the adventure of war and crime and self-destruction. Each new act
of torture and crime makes new bonds of fidelity and unscrupulous
obedience, especially within the leading gang. In the end, driven by crime
and guilt, the ruling members have to stick it out together because the
downfall of the system would bring about the downfall of the entire gang,
both leaders and followers. The same thing holds true in the criminal world.
Once a man has taken the first step and rejected the laws of society and
joined the criminal gang, he is at war with the outside world and its moral
evaluations. From that point on, the gang can blackmail him and subdue him.
In Totalitaria, the vicious circle of criminalization of the citizenry, in
which the means become ends in themselves, grows into a cynical conspiracy
covered with the cynical flag of decent idealism. The country’s leaders use
such simple words as “the universal campaign of peace,” and the citizens
rejoice and take pride in these words. Only a few among them know what
deceptive deeds lie behind the flowery phrases.
These perversions are also incorporated into a great nationalistic myth—
the Third Reich, the New Empire, the People’s Republic— and the citizen’s
desire to do something heroic becomes identified with doing something
violent and criminal. Blood becomes a magic fluid, and shedding someone
else’s blood becomes a virtuous and life-giving deed.
Unlimited killing, as it is practiced in totalitarian systems, is related to
deep, unconscious fears. The weak and emotionally sick in any society kill
out of fear, in order to borrow, in a magic way, their dead victims’ strength
and happiness—as well as, of course, their material possessions. The killing
of millions in the Nazi gas ovens was part of this ancient mythology of
murder. Perhaps the members of the master race thought that slaughtering the
Jews would ensure that the Germans would endure pain for as many
centuries as had their victims! It is part of an old primitive myth that through
killing one fortifies and prolongs one’s own life. Let us not forget that forces
of reason and understanding in man are rather weak. It is difficult to control
the fire of explosive drives, once they are lighted.
Totalitarianism must kill, slaughter, make war. Totalitaria preaches hatred,
and the totalitarian mouthpiece is a lonely, deluded, tough “superman,”
calling for hatred and injustice and arousing intensified fanaticism
unhampered by any moral feeling or remorse. His battle cry reinforces the
dictator’s hold on his subjects, because each citizen, in and through his guilty
deeds, learns to hate his victim, whose very suffering arouses even more the
criminal’s deeply buried sense of guilt.
After the First World War, we became more conscious of our attitude
toward words. This attitude was gradually changing. Our trust in official
catchwords and clichés and in idealistic labels had diminished. We became
more and more aware of the fact that the important questions were what
groups and powers stood behind the words, and what their secret intentions
were. But in our easygoing way we often forget to ask this question, and we
are all more or less susceptible to noisy, oft-repeated words.
The formulation of big propagandistic lies and fraudulent catchwords has
a very well-defined purpose in Totalitaria, and words themselves have
acquired a special function in the service of power, which we may call
verbocracy. The Big Lie and the phoney slogan at first confuse and then dull
the hearers, making them willing to accept every suggested myth of
happiness. The task of the totalitarian propagandist is to build special
pictures in the minds of the citizenry so that finally they will no longer see
and hear with their own eyes and ears but will look at the world through the
fog of official catchwords and will develop the automatic responses
appropriate to totalitarian mythology.
The multiform use of words in double talk serves as an attack on our
logic, that is, an attack on our understanding of what monolithic dictatorship
really is. Hear, hear the nonsense: “Peace is war and war is peace!
Democracy is tyranny and freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength! Virtue is
vice and truth is a lie.” So says the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s
grim novel, 1984. And we saw this nightmare fantasy come true when our
soldiers who had spent long years in North Korean prison camps returned
home talking of totalitarian China with the deceiving cliché of “the people’s
democracy.” Pavlovian conditioning to special words forces people into an
automatic thinking that is tied to those words. The words we use influence
our behavior in daily life; they determine the thoughts we have.
In Totalitaria, facts are replaced by fantasy and distortion. People are
taught systematically and intentionally to lie (Winokur). History is
reconstructed, new myths are built up whose purpose is twofold: to
strengthen and flatter the totalitarian leader, and to confuse the luckless
citizens of the country. The whole vocabulary is a dictated set of slowly
hypnotizing slogans. In the semantic fog that permeates the atmosphere,
words lose their direct communicative function. They become merely
commanding signs, triggering off reactions of fear and terror. They are battle
cries and Pavlovian signals, and no longer represent free thinking. The word,
once considered a first token of free human creation, is transformed into a
mechanical tool. In Totalitaria, words may have a seductive action, soothing
or charming their hearers, but they are not allowed to have intrinsic meaning.
They are conditioners, emotional triggers, serving to imprint the desired
reaction patterns on their hearers.
Man’s mental laziness, his resistance to the hard labor of thinking, makes
it relatively easy for Totalitarian dictator to bring his subjects into
acceptance of the Big Lie. At first the citizen may say to himself, “All this is
just nonsense—pure double talk,” but in the very act of trying to shrug it off,
he has become subject to the power of the inherent suggestion. That is the
trick of double talk; once a man neglects to analyze and verify it, he becomes
lost in it and can no longer see the difference between rationale and
rationalization. In the end, he can no longer believe anything, and he retreats
into sullen dullness. Once the citizen of Totalitaria has accepted the “logic”
of his leaders, he is no longer open to discussion or argument. Alas, in our
Western world, we often meet this evasion of semantic clarity. Let us not
forget that the battle for words is part of the ideological cold war in our
Something has crept into our mechanized system of communication that
has made our modes of thinking deteriorate. People too casually acquire
ideas and concepts. They no longer struggle for a clear understanding. The
popularized picture replaces the battle of the pros and cons of concepts.
Instead of aiming at true understanding, people listen to thoughtless
repetition, which gives them the delusion of understanding.
Communication has an even more infantile, magic character for the citizen
of Totalitaria. Words no longer represent intelligible meanings or ideas. They
bind the citizen of Totalitaria to utter dependence on his commander, much as
the infant is bound to the word pictures of his parents.
Byfield points out in his pamphlet on logocide that words are commonly
used as instruments of social revolution. Politicians seeking power must coin
new labels and new words with emotional appeal, “while allowing the same
old practices and institutions to continue as before … The trick is to replace a
disagreeable image though the substance remains the same. The totalitarians
consequently have to fabric a hate language in order to stir up the mass
emotions. We all have experienced how the word peace doesn’t mean peace
any more, it has become a propagandistic device to appease the masses and
to disguise aggression.”
The verbocracy in totalitarian thinking and the official verbosity of
demagogues serve to disturb and suffocate the free minds of citizens. We can
say that verbocracy turns them into what psychology calls symbol agnostics,
people capable only of imitation, incapable of the inquisitive sense of
objectivity and perspective that leads to questioning and understanding and to
the formation of individual ideas and ideals. In other words, the individual
citizen becomes a parrot, repeating ready-made slogans and propaganda
catchwords without understanding what they really mean, or what forces
stand behind them.
This parrotism may give the citizen of Totalitaria a certain infantile
emotional pleasure, however. Heil, heil!—Duce, Duce!— these rhythmic
chants afford him the same kind of sound-enjoyment children achieve through
babbling, shrieking, and yelling.
The abuse of the word and the enshrinement of propaganda are more
obvious in Totalitaria than in any other part of the world. But this evil exists
all over. We can find all too many examples of it in actual conversation.
Many speakers use verbal showing off to cover an emptiness of thought, to
stir up emotions and to create admiration and adoration of what is essentially
empty and valueless. Loudmouthed phoniness threatens to become the ideal
of our time.
The semantic fog in Totalitaria is thickened by the regimentation of
information. The citizens of our mythical country have no access to sources
of facts and opinions. They are not free to verify what they hear or read. They
are the victims of their leader’s “labelomania”—their judgments are
determined by the official labels everything and everybody bears.
The urge to attach too much meaning to the label of an object or institution
and to look only casually at its intrinsic value is characteristic of our times
and seems to be growing. I call this condition labelomania; it is the
exaggerated respect for the scientific-sounding name—the label, the school,
the degree, the diploma —with a surprising disregard for underlying value.
All about us we see people chasing after fixed formulas, credits, marks,
ranks, and labels because they believe that if one is to have prestige or
recognition these distinguishing marks are necessary. In order to obtain
acceptance, people are prepared to undergo most impractical and stylized
training and conditioning—not to mention expense— in special schools and
institutions which promote certain labels, diplomas, and sophisticated
Not long ago a psychiatric colleague worked in a clinic where a different
terminology was used, and the ideas of his former teachers, because they
were expressed in terms other than those of the clinic, were criticized and
even vilified. My colleague was a good practical therapist; yet he came to
need psychotherapy himself, to counteract the utter confusion resulting from
daily contacts with aggressive adepts of a different terminology, just as much
as some of our soldiers released from the Korean prison camps.
There is something essentially unpleasant in the need to express and judge
all opinions and evaluations in accepted clichés and labels. It implies a
devaluation of the work or of the idea involved, and it denies the subtle
human differences between people and the phenomena their words describe.
In Totalitaria, man is so anxiety-ridden, so fearful of any deviation from the
prescribed opinions and ways of thinking that he only allows himself to
express himself in the terms his dictators provide. To the citizen of
Totalitaria, the acknowledged label becomes more important than the eternal
variation that is life.
As words lose their communicative function, they acquire more and more
of a frightening, regulatory, and conditioning function. Official words must be
believed and must be obeyed. Dissension and disagreement become both a
physical and an emotional luxury. Vituperation, and the power that lies
behind it, is the only sanctioned logic. Facts contrary to the official line are
distorted and suppressed; any form of mental compromise is treason. In
Totalitaria, there is no search for truth, only the enforced acceptance of the
totalitarian dogmas and clichés. The most frightening thing of all is that
parallel to the increase in our means of communication, our mutual
understanding has decreased. A Babel-like confusion has taken hold of
political and nonpolitical minds as a result of semantic disorder and too
much verbal noise.
Totalitaria makes the thinking man a criminal, for in our mythical country
the citizen can be punished as much for wrong thinking as for wrongdoing.
Because the watchful eyes of the secret police are everywhere, the critic of
the regime is driven to conspiratorial methods if he wants to have even a safe
conversation with those he wants to trust. What we used to call the “Nazi
gesture” was a careful looking around before starting to talk to a friend.
The criminal in Totalitaria can be an accidental scapegoat used for
release of official hostility, and there is often need for a scapegoat. From one
day to the next, a citizen can become a hero or a villain, depending on
strategic party needs.
Nearly all of the mature ideals of mankind are crimes in Totalitaria.
Freedom and independence, compromise and objectivity— all of these are
treasonable. In Totalitaria there is a new crime, the apostatic crime, which
may be described as the obstinate refusal to admit imputed guilt. On the other
hand, the hero in Totalitaria is the converted sinner, the breast-beating,
recanting traitor, the self-denouncing criminal, the informer, and the stool
The ordinary, law-abiding citizen of Totalitaria, far from being a hero, is
potentially guilty of hundreds of crimes. He is a criminal if he is stubborn in
defense of his own point of view. He is a criminal if he refuses to become
confused. He is a criminal if he does not loudly and vigorously participate in
all official acts; reserve, silence, and ideological withdrawal are
treasonable. He is a criminal if he doesn’t look happy, for then he is guilty of
what the Nazis called physiognomic insubordination. He can be a criminal by
association or disassociation, by scapegoatism or by projection, by intention
or by anticipation. He is a criminal if he refuses to become an informer. He
can be tried and found guilty by every conceivable ism—cosmopolitanism,
provincialism; deviationalism, mechanism; imperialism, nationalism;
pacifism, militarism; objectivism, subjectivism; chauvinism, equalitarianism;
practicalism, idealism. He is guilty every time he is something.
The only safe conduct pass for the citizen of Totalitaria lies in the
complete abdication of his mental integrity.
Chapter Eight
For the Special Marine Corps Court of Inquiry in Washington that had to
judge one of the cases of brainwashing, I was asked, as an expert witness, if I
could explain why some of the American officers yielded rather easily to
mental pressure exerted by the enemy.
It was in the days when Congressional investigations in our country were
in full swing. In all honesty I had to answer that sometimes coercive
suggestions underlying such investigations could exert conforming pressure
on susceptible minds. People are conditioned by numerous psychological
processes in our daily political atmosphere.
Though we have been forewarned of what totalitarian techniques may do
to the mind, there is reason to be alarmed by the possible disruption of
values brought about by some of our own troubles.
The totalitarian dictator succeeded in transforming his apparatus of
“justice” into an instrument of threat and domination. Where once a balanced
feeling of justice had been recognized as the noblest ideal of civilized man,
this ideal was now scoffed at by cynics—like Hitler and Goebbels—and
called a synthetic emotion useful only to impress or appease people. Thus, in
the hands of totalitarian inquisitors and judges justice has become a farce, a
piece of propaganda to soothe the people’s conscience. Investigative power
is misused—to arouse prejudices and animosities in those bystanders who
have become too confused to distinguish between right and wrong.
The totalitarian has taught us that the courts and the judiciary can be used
as tools of thought control. That is why we have to study how our own
institutions, intentionally or unobtrusively, may be used to distort our
concepts of democratic freedom.
To a psychologist, perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Moscow
purge trials between 1936 and 1938 was the deep sense of moral shock felt
by people all over the world, whose trust in the judicial process was shaken
to its foundations by these perversions of justice. Discussions about the trials
always concerned themselves less with the question of guilt or innocence of
the accused than with the horrifying travesty of justice the trials presented.
Somewhere deep in the soul of men lies the conviction that a judge is, by
definition, a righteous, impartial man, that an appeal to the courts is the road
to truth, that the law stands above corruption, degradation, and perversion.
Of course, we recognize that judges are human beings like ourselves, that
they can make mistakes, as the rest of us do, and we are even willing to
accept temporary injustice because we believe that there will be eventual
vindication and that the rule of law and justice will remain triumphant. The
moment the judicial process becomes a farce, a show to intimidate the
people, something in man’s soul is profoundly affected. When justice is no
longer blind, but has her eye on the main chance, we become frightened and
alarmed. To whom shall a man turn if he cannot find justice in the courts?
During the course of psychotherapy, one of my patients was called to jury
duty. The experience disturbed him deeply, for apparently the prosecutor in
this case was more interested in getting a conviction than in finding out the
truth. Although the jury had the last word, and, by its verdict, condemned the
prosecutor’s strategy, our juror was greatly upset. “What happens,” he asked
me, “in other cases? Suppose the jurors cannot see through the lawyer’s
sophisms? Suppose they are taken in by his constant suggestion and
Indeed, any trial can be used as a weapon of intimidation; it can, in a
subtle way, intimidate the jurors, the witnesses, the entire public. In
Totalitaria, some higher courts exist only to carry out this function of
intimidation; their purpose is to prove to their own citizens and to the world
at large that there is a punishing and threatening force controlling the
government and that this force can use the judiciary for its own purposes.
An apparently objective official investigation may become a weapon of
political control simply through the suggestions that inevitably accompany it.
The man who is under investigation is almost automatically stigmatized and
blamed because our suspicions are thrust on him. The very fact that he is
under scrutiny makes him suspect. Thus, even the so-called “democratic
power to investigate” may become the power to destroy. We must beware of
this danger! Already the approving or disapproving way of interrogation
changes man’s thinking about facts.
Any judicial action, whether legal or investigative, which receives
widespread publicity, exerts some mental pressure on the entire public. It is
not only the participants in the action who have a stake in its eventual
outcome, the citizens as a whole may well become emotionally involved in
the proceedings. Any official investigation can be either a mere show of
power or an act of truth. As show of power, by a totalitarian government or
by an unscrupulous demagogue, it can have frightening consequences. The
German Reichstag fire case, the Moscow purge trials, and the court actions
against our P.O.W.’s in China are prime examples of “legal” action which
served to consolidate the political power of ruthless men and had for their
object confusion of a helpless citizenry. An additional intention was to shock
the public opinion of the world.
If we look at legal inquiry from the point of view of each of its
participants, we will see even more clearly the dangers we must guard
Recent happenings in our own country indicate clearly that the methods
used to satisfy a quest for power show a universal pattern. The ancient magic
masks used to frighten the people may have been replaced by an
overconfident show of physical strength by a “hero” artificially shaped as an
object of admiration and identification for infantile minds, but the loud noises
of propaganda are still with us, magnified a thousandfold by the radio and
television, and serving to intimidate and hypnotize our less alert
contemporaries. A world-wide audience, watching and listening to the
demagogue playing all his different roles—the righteous accuser, the
martyred victim, the voice of conscience— is temporarily thrown into a
semi-frightened, trancelike state of exhausted inattentiveness through the
monotonous repetition of threats, accusations, and clichés.
The demagogue, like the totalitarian dictator, knows well how to lay a
mental spell on the people, how to create a kind of mass suggestion and mass
hypnosis. There is no intrinsic difference between individual and mass
hypnosis. In hypnosis—the most intensified form of suggestion—the
individual becomes temporarily automatized, both physically and mentally.
Such a clinical state of utter mental submission can be brought about quite
easily in children and in primitive people, but it can be created in civilized
adults too. Some of the American P.O.W.’s in Korean prison camps were
reduced to precisely this condition.
The more the individual feels himself to be part of the group, the more
easily can he become the victim of mass suggestion. This is why primitive
communities, which have a high degree of social integration and
identification, are so sensitive to suggestions. Sorcerers and magicians can
often keep an entire tribe under their spell.
Most crowds are rather easy to influence and hypnotize because common
longings and yearnings increase the suggestibility of each member of the
group. Each person has a tendency to identify with the rest of the group and
with the leader as well, and this makes it easy for the leader to hold the
people in his grip. As Hitler said in Mein Kampf, the leader can count on
increasing submissiveness from the masses.
Sudden fright, fear, and terror were the old-fashioned methods used to
induce hypnosis, and they are still used by dictators and demagogues.
Threats, unexpected accusations, even long speeches and boredom may
overwhelm the mind and reduce it to a hypnotic state. Another easy technique
is to work with specially suggestive words, repeating them monotonously.
Arouse self-pity! Tell the people that they have been “betrayed” and that their
leaders have deserted them. From time to time, the demagogue has to add a
few jokes. People like to laugh. They also like to be horrified, and the
macabre, especially, attracts them. Tell them gory tales and let them huddle
together in sensational tension. They will probably develop an enormous
awe for the man who frightens them and will be willing to give him the
chance to lead them out of their emotional terror. In the yearning to be freed
from one fear, they may be willing to surrender completely to another.
Radio and television have enhanced the hypnotizing power of sounds,
images, and words. Most Americans remember very clearly that frightening
day in 1938 when Orson Welles’s broadcast of the invasion from Mars sent
hundreds of people scurrying for shelter, running from their homes like
panicky animals trying to escape a forest fire. The Welles broadcast is one of
the clearest examples of the enormous hypnosuggestive power of the various
means of mass communication, and the tremendous impact that authoritatively
broadcast nonsense can have on intelligent, normal people.
It is not only the suggestive power of these media that gives them their
hypnotizing effect. Our technical means of communication make of the people
one huge participating mass. Even when I am alone with my radio, I am
technically united with the huge mass of other listeners. I see them in my
mind, I unconsciously identify with them, and while I am listening I am one
with them. Yet I have no direct emotional contact with them. It is partly for
this reason that radio and television tend to take away active affectionate
relationships between men and to destroy the capacity for personal thought,
evaluation, and reflection. They catch the mind directly, giving people no
time for calm, dialectical conversation with their own minds, with their
friends, or with their books. The voices from the ether don’t permit the
freedom-arousing mutuality of free conversation and discussion, and thus
provoke greater passive acceptance—as in hypnosis.
Many people are hypnophiles, anxious to daydream and day-sleep
throughout their lives; these people easily fall prey to mass suggestion. The
lengthy oration or the boring sermon either weakens the listeners and makes
them more ripe for the mass spell, or makes them more resentful and
rebellious. Long speeches are a staple of totalitarian indoctrination because
finally the boredom breaks through our defenses. We give in. Hitler used this
technique of mass hypnosis through monotony to enormous advantage. He
spoke endlessly and included long, dull recitals of statistics in his speeches.
The din of constant verbal intimidation of the public is a recognized tool
of totalitarian strategy. The demagogue uses this suggestive technique, too, as
well as the more tricky maneuver of attacking opponents who are usually
considered to be beyond suspicion. This maneuver is often combined with a
renewed appeal to self-pity. “Fourteen years of disgrace and shame,” was the
slogan Hitler used to slander the very creative period between the Armistice
in 1918 and the year he seized the helm. “Twenty years of treason,” a slogan
used in our country not too long ago, sounds suspiciously like it, and is all
too familiar to anyone who watched Hitler’s rise and fall.
The stab-in-the-back myth reduces everyone who is taken in by it to the
level of suspicious childhood. This inflammatory oratory aims toward
arousing chaotic and aggressive responses in others. The demagogue doesn’t
mind temporary verbal attacks on himself—even slander can delight him—
because these attacks keep him in the headlines and in the public eye and may
help increase people’s fear of him. Better to be hated and feared than
forgotten! The demagogue grows fat on prolonged and confused discussion of
his behavior; it serves to paralyze the people’s minds and to obscure
completely the real issues behind his red herrings. If this continues long
enough, people become fed up, they give in, they want to sleep, they are
willing to let the big “hero” take over. And the sequel can be totalitarianism.
As a matter of fact, Nazism and Fascism both gambled on the fear of
Communism as a means of seizing power for themselves.
What we have recently experienced in this country, unplanned though it
doubtless is, is frighteningly similar to the first phase of the deliberate
totalitarian attack on the mind by slogans and suspicions. Violent, raucous
noise provokes violent emotional reactions and destroys mental control.
When the demagogue starts to rant and rave, his outbursts tend to be
interpreted by the general public as proof of his sincerity and dedication. But
for the most part such declarations are proof of just the opposite and are
merely part of the demagogue’s power-seeking strategy.
There is in existence a totalitarian “Document on Terror” which discusses
in detail the use of well-planned, repeated successive waves of terror to
bring the people into submission. Each wave of terrorizing cold war creates
its effect more easily—after a breathing spell— than the one that preceded it
because people are still disturbed by their previous experience. Morale
becomes lower and lower, and the psychological effect of each new
propaganda campaign becomes stronger; it reaches a public already softened
up. Every dissenter becomes more and more frightened that he may be found
out. Gradually people are no longer willing to participate in any sort of
political discussion or to express their opinions. Inwardly they have already
surrendered to the terrorizing dictatorial forces.
We must learn to treat the demagogue and aspirant dictator in our midst
just as we should treat our external enemies in a cold war —with the weapon
of ridicule. The demagogue himself is almost incapable of humor of any sort,
and if we treat him with humor, he will begin to collapse. Humor is, after all,
related to a sense of perspective. If we can see how things should be, we can
see how askew they can get, and we can recognize distortion when we are
confronted with it. Put the demagogue’s statements in perspective, and you
will see how utterly distorted they are. How can we possibly take them
seriously or answer them seriously? We have important business to attend to
—matters of life and death both for ourselves as individuals and for our
nation as a whole. The demagogue relies for his effectiveness on the fact that
people will take seriously the fantastic accusations he makes; will discuss
the phony issues he raises as if they had reality, or will be thrown into such a
state of panic by his accusations and charges that they will simply abdicate
their right to think and verify for themselves.
The fact is that the demagogue is not appealing to what is rational and
mature in man; he is appealing to what is most irrational and most immature.
To attempt to answer his ravings with logic is to attempt the impossible. First
of all, by so doing we accept his battling premises, and we find ourselves
trapped in an argument on terms he has chosen. It is always easier to defeat
an enemy on your own ground, and by choosing your own terms. In addition,
the demagogue either is, or pretends to be, incapable of the kind of logic that
makes discussion and clarification possible. He is a master at changing the
subject. It is worse than criminal for us to get ourselves involved in endless,
pointless, and inevitably vituperative arguments with men who are less
concerned with truth, social good, and real problems than they are with
gaining unlimited attention and power for themselves.
In their defense against psychological attacks on their freedom, the people
need humor and good sense first. Consistent approval or silent acceptance of
any terror-provoking strategy will result only in the downfall of our
democratic system. Confusion undermines confidence. In a country like ours,
where it is up to the voting public to discern the truth, a universal knowledge
of the methods used by the demagogue to deceive or to lull the public is
absolutely necessary.
Man’s suggestibility can be a severe liability to him and to his democratic
freedom in still another important respect. Even when there is no deliberate
attempt to manipulate public opinion, the uncontrolled discussion of legal
actions, such as political or criminal trials, in newspaper headlines and in
partisan columns helps to create a collective emotional atmosphere. This
makes it difficult for those directly involved to maintain their much-needed
objectivity and to render a verdict according to facts rather than suggestions
and subjective experiences.
In addition, any judicial process which receives widespread publicity
exerts mental pressure on the public at large. Thus, not only the participants
but the entire citizenry can become emotionally involved in the proceedings.
Any trial can be either an act of power or an act of truth. An apparently
objective examination may become a weapon of control simply by the action
of the suggestions that inevitably accompany it. As an act of power by a
totalitarian government, the trial can have frightening consequences. The
Moscow purge trials and the German Reichstag fire case are prime
We do not, of course, have such horrifying travesties on justice in this
country, but our tendency to turn legal actions into a field day for the
newspapers, the radio, and television weakens our capacity to arrive at
justice and truth. It would be better if we postponed discussion of the merits
of any legal case until after the verdict was in.
As we have already seen, any man can be harassed into a confession. The
cruel process of menticide is not the only way to arrive at this goal; a man
can be held guilty merely by accusation, especially when he is too weak to
oppose the impact of collective ire and public opinion.
In circumstances of abnormal fear and prejudice, men feel the need for a
scapegoat more strongly than at other times. Consequently, people can be
easily duped by false accusations which satisfy their need to have someone
to blame. Victims of lynch mobs in our own country have been thus sacrificed
to mass passion and so have some so-called traitors and collaborators. In
public opinion, the trial itself becomes the verdict of “guilty.”
Let me first state that I firmly believe that the right of the Congress to
investigate and to propose legislation on the basis of such investigation is
one of the most important of our democratic safeguards. But like any other
human institution, the Congressional right to investigate can be abused and
misused. The power to investigate may become the power to destroy—not
only the man under attack, but also the mental integrity of those who, in one
way or another, are witnesses to the investigation. In a subtle way, the current
wave of Congressional investigations may have a coercive effect on our
citizenry. Some dictatorial personalities are obsessed with a morbid need to
investigate, and Congressional investigations are made to order for them.
Everybody who does not agree with them, who does not bow low and
submit, is suspect, and is subjected to a flow of vilification and vituperation.
The tendency on the part of the public is to disbelieve everything that the
demagogue’s opponents say and to swallow uncritically the statements made
by those who either surrender to his browbeating or go along with it because
they believe in the aims he pretends to stand for.
Psychologically, it is important to understand that the simple fact of being
interviewed and investigated has a coercive influence. As soon as a man is
under cross-examination, he may become paralyzed by the procedure and
find himself confessing to deeds he never did. In a country where the urge to
investigate spreads, suspicion and insecurity grow. Everybody becomes
infected with the feelings of the omnipotence of the inquisitor. Wire tapping,
for instance, has the same power; it is grasping the secrets of others.
In psychological circles a good deal of attention is now being given to the
impact of interviews and interrogations on people. The psychological
interviewer himself must be aware of the various interpersonal processes
involved in this kind of communication; if he is not, he will not be able to
find out where the truth lies. Instead he will get answers which are implicit
in his own questions, answers which may have little relation to the real truth.
This does not happen only in cases where both the interviewer and the man
he is interviewing show bad faith. It can happen despite their best intentions.
For everybody brings to an interview the sum total of all his earlier
interpersonal relationships. In the initial verbal “trial and error,” during what
we could call the smelling-out period, each party mobilizes himself to find
out what the other party expects and where his weaknesses are and, at the
same time, tries to hide his own weaknesses and emphasize his own
strengths. The man in the street who is suddenly interviewed tends to give the
answer he thinks his questioner expects.
Every conversation, every verbal relationship repeats, at least to some
degree, the pattern of the early verbal relationships between the child and its
parents. To a man or woman under investigation, the interrogator becomes
the parent, good or bad, an object of suspicion or of submission. Since the
interrogator himself is often unaware of this unconscious process, the result
can be a confusing battle of unconscious or half-conscious tendencies, in
which the spoken words are often merely a cover for suspicion-laden
conversation between deeper layers of both personalities.
All people who are systematically interrogated, whether in a court, during
a Congressional inquiry, or even when applying for a job or having a medical
examination, feel themselves exposed. This very fact in itself provokes
peculiar defensive mental attitudes. These attitudes may be useful and
protective, but at times they may be harmful to the individual. When a man is
looking for a job, for example, he may become overeager, and in his zeal to
“make a good impression” to “put his best foot forward,” he may make a bad
impression and arouse suspicion. For it is not only what we say but the way
we say it that can indicate our honesty and poise. Nervous sounds, gestures,
pauses, moments of silence or stuttering may give us away. Aggressive zeal
may seduce us into saying too much. Inhibition may prevent us from saying
The defendant in a court action or in an inquiry is defensive not only about
the accusations leveled against him or the questions he has to answer, he is
even more defensive about his own unconscious guilt and about his doubts
about his own capabilities. Many of my colleagues in medicine and
psychiatry who have been called as expert witnesses in legal actions have
told me that the very moment they were under cross-examination, they felt
themselves on trial and nearly convicted. Cross-examination seemed to them
often less a way of getting at the truth than a form of emotional coercion,
which did a great disservice to both the facts and the truth. This is the reason
that every kind of investigative power can so easily become a coercive
power. Making witnesses and defendants suffer from acute stage fright can be
a nasty weapon of totalitarianism.
Because psychologists and psychiatrists appreciate these facts, there is
now a strong tendency in these circles to use what we might call a passive
technique in interviewing. When the interviewer’s questions are not directed
toward any specific answer, the man being questioned will be encouraged to
answer on his own initiative, out of his own desire to communicate. The
neutral question “What did you do afterwards?” provokes a freer and more
honest response than the question “Did you go home after that?”
We have seen in recent years a long parade of recanting Communists, who
have testified freely and openly about their pasts. Currently, we have still
another kind of parade: the recanting recanters. How are we to know the truth
from falsehood in all this morass of conflicting testimony? How are we to
prevent ourselves from becoming confused by the contradictory testimony of
men and women whose words can influence the course of our nation’s
actions? How are we to learn to evaluate what they say? Psychologically,
how reliable is their testimony, whether friendly or unfriendly?
In general, we can say that those who are most vituperative in their
statements are usually the least reliable. Many of them are men and women
who in the past adopted a totalitarian ideology out of their own deep sense of
inner insecurity. Later there came the moment when they felt that their chosen
ideology had failed them. Though it had held their minds relentlessly
imprisoned for a long time, at that point they were able to throw off the
system completely. This they did through a process of inner rearrangement of
old observations and convictions. However, what they shed was merely a
particular set of rigid ideological rules. Most of them did not shed, along
with these rules, their hidden hatreds and early insecurity. They may have
given up the political ideology which offered them defenses and
justifications, but they retained their resentments.
It is extremely common to find such people seeking immediate sanctuary
in some other strictly organized institution. Because they now see things in a
different light, old facts and concepts acquire a different significance. Yet, all
the while, the ever-present urge toward self-justification and selfexculpation,
which operates in all men and which in these cases motivated
the former allegiance to Communism, is at work. Now they must prove their
guiltlessness and their loyalty to their newly adopted ideas. Their emotions,
now in new garb, are still directed toward the goal of self-justification.
In the eyes of the convert, the fresh outlook—this new arrangement of
inner demands and of ways of satisfying them—is just as logical and rational
as were his former set of expectations and satisfactions. Now he rediscovers
several experiences long since past. His former friends become his enemies;
some of them are seen as conspirators, whether they were or not. He himself
is unable to distinguish between truth and fantasy, between fact and
subjective demand. Consequently, a complete distortion of perceptions and
memories may take place. He may misquote his own memories, and this
process is for the most part one of which the convert himself is not aware. I
remember vividly one example of such behavior during the Second World
War. A former Nazi became a courageous member of the anti-Nazi
underground. He sought to rectify his past behavior not only by fighting the
Nazis, but also by spreading all kinds of anxiety-provoking rumors about his
former friends. By making them appear more cruel, he thought he could show
himself more loyal.
Similarly, the denials and misstatements that may be made by the convert
before the courts or the Congressional committees are often not so much
conscious falsehoods as they are products of the new inner arrangements.
Every accusation about the convert’s past may be twisted by him into a new
tool for use in the process of self-justification. Only a few such men have the
moral courage to admit that they have made real mistakes in the past. The
distance between a white lie and selective forgetting and repressing is often
very short. I discovered this for myself while carrying on investigations of
resistance members who had been in Nazi hands. I found that it was almost
impossible to obtain objective information from them about what they had
revealed to the enemy after torture. Reporting upon their enforced betrayal,
they immediately colored their stories by white lies and secondary
distortions. Depending on their guilt feelings, they either accused themselves
too much or found no flaw at all in their behavior.
Out of the action of Congressional investigating committees has recently
come a serious legal attack on the right to be silent when the giving of
information clashes with the conscience of the one on the stand. This attack
can become a serious invasion of human privacy and reserve. Undermining
the value of the personality and of private conscience is as dangerous to the
preservation of democracy as is the threat of totalitarian aggression.
We have to realize that it is often difficult for witnesses to make a choice
between contempt of Congress and contempt of human qualities.
Administrators may conceivably discover a few alleged “traitors” by
compelling witnesses to betray their former friends, but at the same time they
compel people to betray friendships. Friendship is one of our most precious
human possessions. Any government or agency that, under the guise of
“contempt of Congress,” can force confessions and information can also
force the betrayal of former loyalties. Is this not comparable with what the
coercive totalitarians do? And at what cost? We obtain a pseudopurge
resulting from weakness of character and anxiety in the victim. In addition
we violate one of democracy’s basic tenets— respect for the strength of
man’s character. We have always believed that it is better to let ten guilty
men go free than to hang one innocent—in direct opposition to the totalitarian
concept that it is better to hang ten innocent men than to let one guilty man go
free. We may punish the guilty with this strategy of compelling a man to speak
when his conscience urges him to be silent, but just as surely we break down
the innocent by destroying their conscience. Supreme Court Justices Douglas
and Black in their dissenting opinion about the constitutionality of the
Immunity Act of 1954 [The New York Times, March 27, 1956. See Chapter Fourteen]
emphasize the right to be silent as a Constitutional right given by the Fifth
Amendment—a safeguard of personal conscience and personal dignity and
freedom of expression as well. It is beyond the power of Congress to compel
anyone to confess his crimes even when immunity is assured.
The individual’s need not to betray his former allegiances—even when he
has made a mistake in political judgment at an age of less understanding—is
morally just as important as the need to help the state locate subversives. Let
us not forget that betrayal of the community is rooted in self-betrayal By
forcing a man to betray his inner feelings and himself, we actually make it
easier for him to betray the larger community at some future date. If the law
forces people to betray their inner moral feelings of friendship, even if these
feelings are based on juvenile loyalties, then that very law undermines the
integrity of the person, and coercion and menticide begin. The conscience of
the individual plays an enormous role in the choice between loyal opposition
and passive conformity. The law has to protect the individual also against the
violation of his personal moral standards; otherwise, human conscience will
lose in the battle between individual conscience and legal power. Moral
evaluation starts with the individual and not with the state.
The concept of brainwashing has already led to some legal implications,
and these have led to new facets of imagined crime. Because the reports
about Communist brainwashing of the prisoners of war in Korea and China
were published widely in newspapers, they aroused anxieties among lay
people. As mentioned in Chapter Three, several schizophrenics and
borderline patients seized upon this rather new concept of brainwashing,
using it as an explanation for a peculiar kind of delusion that beset them—the
delusion of being influenced. Some of these persons had, as it were, the
feeling that their minds had been laid open, as if from the outside, through
radio waves or some other mystic communication, thoughts were being
During recent years, I received several letters from such patients
complaining about their feelings of continual brainwashing. The new concept
of political mental coercion fitted into their system of delusions. Several
lawyers consulted me for information about clients who wanted to sue their
imaginary brainwashers.
The same concept, used above to account for pathological suspicions,
could be used maliciously to accuse and sue anybody who professionally
gave advice to people or tried to influence them. At this very moment (fall,
1955) several court procedures are going on wherein the defendants are
being sued for the crime of brainwashing by a third party. They are accused
of having advised, in their professional capacity, somebody to do something
against the plaintiff’s interests. The shyster lawyer is now able to attack
subtle human relationships and turn them into a corrupt matter. This is the
age-old evil of using empathy not for sympathy but for antipathy and attack. In
so doing, the accuser may misuse a man’s hesitation to bring these human
relationships into the open; the accuser also makes use of the strange
situation in the United States that even the innocent winner of a court
procedure has to pay the cost of his legal help. Practically, this means that in
a difficult judicial question, he has to pay at least thirty thousand dollars
before he can reach the Supreme Court—if it is a Supreme Court case —and
appeal to the highest form of justice in our country.
Because of this new angle, which has developed during the past few
years, of the brainwashing situation, the psychiatric profession has been
made more vulnerable to unreasonable attack. In one case, a third party felt
hurt by a psychological treatment that made the patient more independent in
an unpleasant commercial situation in which he had formerly been rather
submissive. In another case, the doctor was sued because he was able to free
his patient from a submissive love affair and an ambiguous promise of
marriage. In a third case, the patient during treatment changed from a
commercial agency that had treated him badly. In all those cases, the
disappointed party could bring suit on the basis of so-called brainwashing,
and malicious influence. In several cases of this form of blackmail, an
expensive settlement was made out of court because the court procedure
would have become far more costly.
The practicing psychiatrist who is attacked in this way experiences not
only financial pressure imposed on him by the dissatisfied party and a
malicious lawyer, but in several states the court does not even recognize his
professional oath of secrecy. The Hippocratic oath says:
Whatever, in connection with my professional practice, or not in
connection with it, I may see or hear in the lives of men which ought not to be
spoken abroad, I will not divulge, as reckoning that all such should be kept
Some courts hold that only physical investigation and treatment are valid
as medical treatment not to be divulged; personal conversation—the
quintessence of psychiatric treatment—is not looked upon as a medical
action. Hiding behind professional secrecy is regarded as contempt of court.
An additional difficulty is that this accusation of malpractice by a third party
—not by the patient himself—is not covered by the usual malpractice
The importance of such perfidious attack on psychological relationships
—however rare the number of cases may be at this moment —is that it opens
the road for many other forms of mental blackmail. It means that subtle
personal relationships can be attacked and prosecuted in court, merely
because a third party feels excluded or neglected or financially damaged. I
cannot sue my broker because he gave me wrong financial advice, but I can
sue a psychological counselor for malpractice because he “brainwashed” my
What new possibilities for mental blackmail and sly accusation are open!
Gradually we can make punishable wrong intention and anticipation,
nonconformist advice and guidance, and, in the end, simple honest human
influence and originality—things that are already considered criminal in
totalitarian countries.
The word “blackmail” was originally used in the border warfare between
England and Scotland. Blackmail was the agreement made by freebooters not
to plunder or molest the farmer—in exchange for money or cattle. The word
comes from the Middle English maille meaning speech or rent or tax.
The French equivalent chantage brings us even nearer to the concept of
mental coercion. It means forcing the other fellow “to sing,” to confess things
against his will by means of threatening physical punishment or threatening to
reveal a secret. It is, in the last analysis, mental coercion.
We may call mental blackmail the growing tendency to overstep human
reserve and dignity. It is the tendency to misuse the intimate knowledge of
what is going on in the crevices of the soul, to injure and embarrass one’s
fellow man. Mental blackmail starts wherever the presumption of guilt takes
the place of the presumption of innocence. The hunting up of dirt and
sensation in order to embarrass a victim we see very often carried on by the
yellow press. It is not only playing up indecency, but at the same time it
undermines human judgment and opinion. And by its sensationalism it
precludes and prejudices justice in the courts.
What the weak baby accomplishes with its tears and pouting can be done
by the whining, querulous accuser with his fantasies about malicious
influence and brainwashing. The suicidal patient may exert the same kind of
I am convinced that in the future the Supreme Court has to make rules
which will control these new forms of indictment; yet the core of the problem
is the growing suspicion within man in our era of transition. We blackmail
men’s minds with too many security measures, with secret files; we
blackmail with gossip, with subtle pressures within political pressure
groups, with lobbies within lobbies, and even by withholding our friendship.
What about the people who are called upon to sift truth from falsehood, to
arrive at just and impartial verdicts? The judge and the jury are themselves
influenced and affected by the external facets and inner needs that lie behind
the behavior of the other principals in the case. Yet they are supposed to rise
above their background, their personal needs and desires and to render a
verdict strictly on the evidence, unswayed by any prejudice or subjective
desires. And let us bear in mind that it is not only those officially connected
with a case who make a decision about it, it is everyone who knows about it.
You and I, the public, are judge and jury too.
Judge and jury face the difficult task of finding and asking on the basis of
the facts alone, and yet even in them, under the influence of strong group
emotions, an emotional rearrangement of remembered facts may take place.
Judges and jurors are affected by the collective emotional atmosphere
surrounding controversial issues, and it is difficult for them to maintain their
much-needed objectivity. The average juror already submits to the popular
emotional demand before the trial is started, as several trials about racial
persecution proved.
Lately two authorities on law attacked the system of trial by jury, one
because of its delaying action on the process of justice (Peck) and the other
because he considered it an outmoded means of administering justice
(Newman). Trial by jury is a relic of the thirteenth century intended to
replace the magic trial by ordeal— the gods and coincidence decided the
guilt—and to replace the trial by battle—physical skill and power decided
which of two parties was guilty. The trial by a jury of peers, by all those who
knew the accused and the circumstances of the alleged crime, served its
purpose in rather simple organized communities for a long time. But in our
complicated society, where people know less about each other and where a
thousandfold communications intrude the mind, things have changed. “The
average juror is swayed by the emotion and prejudice of his heredity and
background training.” (Newman) Our juries are not always able to follow the
intricacies of pros and cons, of interpretation of facts. In addition, many a
trial lawyer knows how to fascinate a jury, how to catch their minds and
influence their judgment. Beyond this, the selection of jurors delays more and
more the process of justice.
As a simple example of how individual, personal, and social conditioning
can affect a juror’s current reactions, let us look at the inner confusion
usually caused by the word “traitor.” Here we have an emotionally loaded
trigger-word. If somebody is accused of being a traitor or a subversive, on
the basis of undeniable facts, any attempt at a scientific, psychological
explanation of this person’s behavior is already considered a treacherous
intellectualism. The consensus is that the traitor should be punished; he
belongs to the scum of society, better let him die. Even the lawyer who
defends him before the court may be accused of collaboration in treason.
All of us know many other trigger words which immediately provoke
confusion in our objective perception and judgment because they touch
unsolved, unconscious feelings. Words like “Communist” and “homosexual,”
for instance, can become confusing trigger words which bring a reservoir of
dark feelings into action. Demagogues like to use such words in order to stir
up mass feelings, which they cannot control but which they believe are very
suitable for the strategy of the moment. This can become, however, like
playing with dynamite. Any one of us may be swayed by allusive clichés
such as “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire” or “Once a thief, always a thief.”
I once saw this most interestingly in a hot debate where someone had once
been scolded for being a “dirty monogamist.” As soon as the accusation was
made, public opinion turned against him.
Even a judge can be swayed by his own emotional difficulties, especially
by slanted testimony of witnesses who may be attempting to mislead. In Great
Britain the courts are more aware of the effect of a prejudicial attitude on the
part of jurors. There the trial process is extensively protected, mostly through
prevention of pretrial discussion and deliberation, regardless of the
unpopularity of the accused.
An open official interrogation affects those who watch it— and the fact
that they are affected may influence its outcome. Various crime hearings in
this country, for instance, were brought before the people by means of
television. Citizens sitting comfortably at home far from the scene could see
how defense lawyers maneuvered facts or instructed their clients (among
whom were well-known crime bosses) so that they would appear in a
favorable light. Even though their actions may have been transparent tricks
with the appearance of a fixed wrestling match, the result was that some of
the not-so-jovial-looking victims of the criminals were made ridiculous,
while the criminals, calm, assured, self-possessed, seemed more admirable.
The victims often couldn’t stand being in the limelight; it made them feel ill
at ease and embarrassed. The criminals, on the other hand, either denied
every accusation in tones of righteous indignation or made confessions which
degenerated into hysterical quests for pity. The magic effect of all the
anonymous onlookers—because the witness or defendant imagined their
approval or disapproval—influenced the outcome of the hearings. All of us
who watched them brought our own subjective expectations to bear on these
Television makes a mass trial of such a hearing, and unwittingly not
justice but the variable feelings of the public become part of the courtroom
atmosphere. Every piece of evidence in such a hearing is colored by rumor
and emotion, and the shocked onlookers are left with feelings of suspicion
and deep misgivings that the hearing has not really gotten down to the
condemning facts.
Man’s feeling for justice has very subtle implications. As soon as Justitia
flirts with powerful friends or becomes completely submissive, people feel
insecure and their anxiety increases. But man’s feeling for justice needs more
than mere security for its satisfaction and gratification. The sense of justice is
an inner attitude aiming at the realization of ideal rules of law that can
inspire the community and raise it to a higher moral level. It requires not
merely that minimum of decent behavior that is enforced by law, but more
than that a maximum of personal initiative and mutual fair play. It asks for
personal and social justice, for mutual limitation of demands in the service of
the mutuality of relations between men, and between men and their
government. Any ideal feeling of justice requires sacrifice and implies selflimitation.
Emotionalism is its enemy. This ideal of justice is not only valid
for individuals but should also rule communities and countries. Only in such
an atmosphere of free mutual sacrifice of power on behalf of growing justice
can democracy grow.
Can people learn to see objectively and in a manner detached from their
personal feelings? Yes, they can. Preconceived ways of seeing and
witnessing can be changed. Many people realize the damage men do to
themselves and others when they submit to collective passion and prejudice.
These people then learn through astute investigation and observation how to
be less prejudiced, how to see events with constant readaptation of mind and
eye and with a search for reality.
Prisoners in concentration camps or P.O.W. camps are so constantly
bombarded with rumors and suggestions, their observations are so distorted
by their necessary self-defenses, that they are hardly able to give an
objective report regarding the actions of their fellows. The mass attitude of
the day directs their opinions. The fellow who has become a scapegoat,
whose function it is to alleviate for his fellow prisoners their common anger,
will never be able to neutralize all later reports about him, simply because
the number of so-called objective witnesses is against him. It is very difficult
to separate the rumors from the facts and to neutralize ingrown mental
toenails. There is in man an instinctual need to take sides with the majority,
to conform to the opinion of the strong. This need is rooted in a biological
urge for safety. That is why a strong feeling of participation grew among
soldiers in a P.O.W. camp. The result was complete unconscious falsification
of what happened. The individual observation got lost in the strong impact of
mass opinion.
In the future age of psychology, when insight into man’s behavior is more
generally understood and applied, we will be more aware of the importance
of dependable witnesses. Every report and every piece of testimony pro or
con will be examined and weighed in the light of its psychological and
historical background. The citizen of the future will laugh as he looks back at
the time once lost during trials because obvious facts on one side were not
brought out to challenge equally obvious facts on the opposing side. These
future citizens will understand that we only revealed our mutual hostilities
and feelings of fear and insecurity by our behavior, feelings which moved us
compulsively and subtly to make subjective rearrangements of our memories
and impressions. He will point out that objective thinking was in its infancy
in those days.
Chapter Nine
In our era the fear aroused by human relationships is so strong that inertia
and mental death often seem more attractive than mental alertness and life.
Classical psychology often spoke of the fear of death and the great unknown
as the cause of many anxieties, but modern psychological studies have shown
us that the fear of living is a much greater, deeper, and more frightening one.
Living often seems beyond our power. Stepping out of a relatively safe
childish dependence into freedom and responsibility is both hazardous and
dangerous. Living demands activity and spontaneity, trial and error, sleeping
and reawakening, competition and cooperation, adaptation and reorientation.
Living involves manifold relationships, each of which has thousands of
implications and complications. Living takes us away from the dream of
being protected and demands that we expose our weaknesses and strengths
daily to our fellow men, with all their hostilities as well as their affections. It
requires us to build up useful defenses and then to replace them with others
because we have to change our goals and our relationships. It expects us to
be lonely in order to cooperate in freedom. It asks us to submit and to
conquer, to adjust and to rebel. It robs us of our childhood slumber of
satisfaction, and of the magic, omnipotent fantasies of our infancy. Living
requires mutuality of giving and taking. Above all, to live is to love. And
many people are afraid to take the responsibility of loving, of having an
emotional investment in their fellow beings. They want only to be loved and
to be protected; they are afraid of being hurt and rejected.
We can see this clearly in the fact that so many people embrace so
fervently all the limitations and frustrations of life that are offered them—the
neurotic limitations of the usual prejudices or the totalitarian limitations
imposed by power politics. In his book Escape from Freedom, Erich Fromm
describes clearly how the pressures of freedom, when they are not balanced
by responsibility and understanding, can drive men into the totalitarian frame
of mind and into surrender of their hard-won liberties. Such surrender is
nothing less than a slow mental death.
Totalitarian leaders, whether of the right or of the left, know better than
anyone else how to make use of this fear of living. They thrive on chaos and
bewilderment. During unrest in international politics, they are most at ease.
The strategy of fear is one of their most valuable tactics. The growing
complications of our civilization and its administration make the impact of
power politics felt more than ever before. When the totalitarians add to their
tactics all the clever tricks that we have already discussed— Pavlovian
conditioning, repeated suggestion, deconditioning through boredom and
physical degradation—they can win their battle for the control of man’s
In the earlier chapters of this book we described in some detail the
techniques by which man could be turned into a robot in the service of
totalitarianism and some of the tendencies that operate, even in the free
countries, to rob man of his mental integrity. It is important for us to realize
that emphasis on conformity and the fear of spontaneous living can have an
effect almost as devastating as the totalitarian’s deliberate assault on the
mind. Conformity and the fear of living rob the free way of life of its greatest
asset in the struggle against totalitarianism.
Our human strength lies in our diversity and independence of thought, in
our acceptance of nonconformity, in our willingness to discuss and to
evaluate various conflicting points of view. In denying the diversities of life
and the complexity and individuality of the human mind, in preaching rigid
dogmas and self-righteousness, we begin gradually to adopt the totalitarian
attitude we deplore. Delusion has never been the exclusive property of any
one country, class, or group, and the totalitarian delusion, which in itself
promotes menticide, can invade us from many fronts, from the right as well
as the left, from the rich or from the underprivileged, from the conservatives
and from the rebels.
Fear and intimidation have not only been the result but also the tools of
mental coercion. Although there is as yet no unified theory of fear and
anxiety, and we therefore do not know precisely why and how the
development of these feelings leads to such dire consequences, it is
important for us to understand what useful tools fear and panic are, and to
see, through description, what these overwhelming emotions are able to do to
Most people think of fear reactions as hysterical expressions of
desperation. But, as this chapter should make clear, fear and panic also have
their paradoxical expressions in indifference and apathy, reactions which,
just because they are less commonly recognized as fear-created, can be much
more dangerous to the individual than a good hysterical cry. It is the hidden,
silent fears that have such an impact on our social and political behavior.
Fear and panic are reactions not only to overt danger and threat, they are
also reactions to the slow, seeping intrusion of disquieting propaganda and
the constant wave of suggestion to which we are all exposed. Fear is at work
all around us, and often it throws its shadows where we least expect to find
them. We may be acting out of fear without even knowing it; we may consider
that our behavior is perfectly normal and rational when, in fact, psychology
tells us that creeping fear may already have begun to work on us.
Fear and catastrophe fortify the need to identify with a strong leader. They
lead to herding together of people, who shy away from wanting to be
individual cells any longer; they prefer to be part of a huge mystic social
organization that protects against threat and distress, in oneness with the
leader. This protection-seeking instinctual reaction is also directed against
dissent and individualism, against the individual ego. We see in this a
regression toward a more primitive state of mass participation. True, this
process of ego-shrinking is the negative side of the back-to-mass reaction.
Yet it stimulates a recognition of greater need for cooperation and mutual
help. During the last war and the generally experienced emergencies many
people became for the first time aware of the affective ties they had with
their neighbors. At the same time, anxiety can inspire suspicion and the need
for seeking scapegoats. It is the paradox of fear that it propagates warm
feelings of immature ties and cold suspicion at the same time.
Although there is throughout the world a conscious trend toward
overcoming fear and feelings of insecurity, there is also a less conscious
countercurrent provoking new fears and anxieties and insecurities. Whether
he is aware of it or not, modern man lives in an atmosphere of fear—fear of
war, fear of the H-bomb, fear of totalitarianism, fear of nonconformism, fear
of dissent. Fear has already begun to influence our behavior by the time we
are aware of it. Once fear has penetrated the mind and stimulated fantasy, it
begins to direct our actions, whether we want it to or not. We cannot
eliminate all the thousands of stresses and fear-provoking situations in the
modern world, but we can learn to recognize and understand some of the
most common forms of fear reactions. In this way we can find a partial
release from the tensions they create and can learn how to cope with them
more effectively.
I remember vividly one sunny afternoon during the Second World War
while I was still in Holland. I was playing tennis with some friends. We
were all enjoying the satisfying exertion of our sport, but our enjoyment was
somewhat marred by the players on the next court. They spoke the language
of the hated occupier, and although attired in the same white sports clothes as
we, they were obviously Nazi officers who were temporarily forgetting their
delusion of conquering the world and were trying to relax like normal human
beings. Suddenly we all heard the drone of planes and the sound of
antiaircraft off in the distance. Then a group of low-flying Spitfires, our
friends from England, came zooming by. My friends and I stopped playing,
waved our rackets in greeting, and watched the planes maneuvering. Our
neighbors reacted quite differently. They became panicky; one of them flung
his racket from him and ran off, the others threw themselves, face down, into
a ditch bordering the court. Objectively, we were all faced with the same
danger of strafing from the English planes, but for the Germans these were
enemy planes, while for us they were friends.
I’m sure it isn’t necessary for me to add that after this occurrence my
fellow Dutch citizens were forbidden to play tennis on that court.
When, a year later, I had arrived by good chance in London, I found that
every time German planes came over during the night, I had that same
suspicious feeling the German officers on the tennis court must have had. It
seemed as though every bullet and every bomb was meant for me. So great is
the role of fantasy in fear that an enemy bomb may have a different meaning
for us than a friendly bomb.
Fear may be defined very simply as an inner reaction to danger. This
definition is deceptively simple, for as soon as we offer it, we are faced with
a new problem: What shall we define as danger? Bombs, fires, earthquakes,
and epidemics are easily recognizable as dangers. So are physical torture,
direct totalitarian attack, and sudden economic collapse. But there are many
subtle emotional dangers, too, arousing fearful fantasies and anticipations
often combined with inner visions of doom and disaster. As our examples
will show, these dangers are faced differently by different people. It is our
personal attitude toward life and toward mankind that determines whether we
consider a situation a welcome challenge or an unconquerable danger. Some
people enjoy strict control and mechanical conditioning of their lives. For
them, totalitarianism and thought control are not danger; they bring a kind of
eternal day-sleep without responsibility. To these people, freedom is a
danger, while dependence is a pleasurable safety. Others loathe any intrusion
into their personal freedom and integrity and are continually on the alert to
defend themselves against any external pressure—real or fancied.
Even when people are well-prepared and trained to meet an anticipated
disaster, such as imprisonment and brainwashing, the actual impact of the
danger may provoke all kinds of defensive behavior. Overtraining may even
weaken the person because the long anticipation allows all kinds of hidden
fantasies to run rampant. In a minority of persons this may be expressed in
such pathological fear reactions as complete nervous breakdown or utter
paralysis. Every person shows a different mental threshold of resistance to
danger, and this threshold may change day by day, depending on our physical
and mental fortitude. As a rule, inexperienced troops do not immediately
show pathological fear in combat; such behavior takes some time to develop.
Paradoxically enough, fear reactions and moments of weakness often develop
after the real danger has passed. When the tension of battle or the daily stress
of life in the prison camp is over, and there is no longer any need to hide
one’s fears and to control one’s behavior, many people let go completely and
give free vent to all their anxieties.
In Dover, England, in 1944, the population suffered a kind of collective
nervous breakdown when after the tension of four years of continual shelling
by the Germans they heard only silence. The shelling suddenly stopped
completely after the Allied troops swept victoriously across the Belgian
coast. At that moment, many of the people of Dover broke down. It was as if
the unexpected silence had brought them into a state of shock.
This paradoxical fear reaction after danger has passed is important for us
to understand. The totalitarian strategists know that during a period of
temporary quiet and relaxation of tension, people lose their alertness and thus
can be more easily caught in the totalitarian mental grip. In their strategy of
terror they consciously make use of the psychological action of the breathing
spell. As soon as we let go and drop the defenses we have built up against
danger, we can be brought to swallow any strong suggestions. The
totalitarians also in their “Document on Terror,” call the technique of taking
advantage of such relief the “strategy of fractionalized fear.” In a quiet period
between acute tensions, they can easily condition their victims’ minds. Hitler
used the Munich period of appeasement in precisely this way. During this
time, his propaganda barrage was doubly effective.
Whether the reaction to fear and danger is immediate or delayed, most
people show, under stress, behavior that can be said to fall into one of the
following patterns:
1. Regression—loss of learned behavior.
2. Camouflage and disguise—the so-called “feign or faint” reactions.
3. The explosive panic—defense through “fight or flight.”
4. Our psychosomatic conditioning—the body takes over.
Although most people are more or less acquainted with the concept of
regression, of setting the cultural clock back, they are surprised,
nevertheless, to see staid men and women lose their acquired habits of
civilization in times of catastrophe and panic.
I once treated an engineer who had been the victim of an earthquake in a
foreign country. After the earthquake, he behaved completely like a baby. All
kinds of treatments were tried, but none were successful; we were never able
to change his childish behavior. He never found his way back to normal,
adequate behavior. From that fateful day, he remained barricaded in his cave
of escape. It was as if with one blow he had forgotten everything he had ever
learned. He was no longer a grown man, a professional scientist. He was an
infant. He babbled like an infant, he had to be fed like an infant. Another
earthquake victim of whom I know, a professor of mathematics, was found in
his garden after the quake was over, half-naked and playing with his child’s
toys. He completely rejected any recognition of the real emergency situation
in which he found himself and regressed to a period of infantile
Such regressive behavior as a form of defense is encountered everywhere
in the animal kingdom. When an organism is in danger, it drops its
complexity and retreats to a simpler form of existence. When circumstances
of living become too dangerous, some easily exposed multicellular
organisms turn into well-protected, simple monocellular beings. This
regressive process, called encystication may, for instance, take place when
the organism is exposed to abnormal temperatures or abnormal dryness.
Man is subject to the same biological rule of defense. When life is too
complex for him, he often turns the clock of civilization back and becomes
primitive again. A sudden disintegration and breakdown of functions may
occur. This form of regressive behavior is common in children. When they
are frightened, they often revert to baby talk or to bed-wetting. In the bombed
areas during the Second World War, many girls in their late teens started to
play with their dolls again. Even seemingly mature, hypersophisticated men
and women may display thousands of symptoms of this return to infantilism
when fear attacks them. Their symptoms are not always as dramatic as the
examples above; nevertheless, they are symptoms of fear. When grown
people begin to stutter and to lose their daily decorum, when they take to
carrying around special protective charms, when they invent stories about
their magic invulnerability, when they boast more, eat more cake and candy,
whistle more, talk more, cry more, and lose their formal stiff and staid
behavior, they are acting out of fear.
During the Second World War, in the prison camps and the air-raid
shelters, people really got to know each other, as do children in the playpen
who have the simple intuitive gift of knowing whom they can trust. In our age
of anxiety, we feel possessed by the same frightening shadows that once
haunted the Stone-Age man, and we may react to them by acting more like our
simpler ancestors.
A different pattern is that of camouflage and disguise— playing hide-andseek
with fate. This useful protective trickery is often seen in lower animals
who temporarily acquire the form or color of their environment. It is just like
military camouflage. Everybody is acquainted with the color changes of the
chameleon, and there are many other animals which are able to change their
skin or body form in times of danger. Yet many people are not aware that
human skin, too, shows rudimentary attempts at camouflage. The phenomenon
of goose flesh resembles the reaction of a frightened, bristling cat; sudden
graying of the hair or discoloration of the skin, which is known technically as
fear melanosis, changes our outer color.
During the Second World War, I went with a first-aid team to Rotterdam
after the city had been heavily bombed. As we looked at the people, our first
impression was that they were all wearing masks. Their skin was wrinkled
and showed a typical camouflage reaction. They were all still badly
frightened. It was as if they were in hiding from the tremendous hell of fire
that had been thrown down on them.
There is a psychological parallel to these physical reactions; it is called
the “feign or faint” pattern. Actual psychology looks at both reactions,
feigning and fainting, as a passive retreat from reality. This reaction is
comparable to shell-shock or battle neurosis, the study of which is one of the
most absorbing chapters of medicine. Soldier and civilian alike can go into a
state of mental paralysis. In such a state the victim becomes apathetic; he is
unable to talk or to move. No dangerous reality exists for him anymore. He
looks dead; only his frightened, burning eyes seem alive. This death attitude
or cataleptic reaction often has a completely terrifying effect on bystanders.
There is nothing so contagious as fainting in any crowded place.
It is of the utmost importance to realize how passive, paralyzed,
indifferent, and submissive people can become under circumstances which
should demand the utmost activity. The totalitarians are making use of man’s
passive reaction to terror when they put their prisoners into huge
concentration camps with only a few guards; they are gambling that the
reaction of passivity will keep the victim from rebelling or trying to escape.
Like the bird which stands stock-still when the snake approaches, man may
surrender passively to what he dreads and fears in order to get rid of the
tension of anticipation. The thief who surrenders to the police because he
cannot stand the tension and insecurity of not knowing when he will be found
out is an obvious example.
A psychological camouflage reaction lies behind emotional shock and
silent panic—the mental paralysis that overcomes some people when they
can no longer cope with the circumstances in which they find themselves.
Passive surrender to what he fears is one of man’s most common reactions to
sudden danger; it is not limited to pathological personalities. It occurs much
more frequently than wild and overt panic, and displays itself in numerous
subtle behavior mechanisms. People may escape into complaints about
physical disease. They may take refuge in “very important” pseudo-tasks and
hobbies. They may deny real danger in a seemingly self-securing
complacency. They become obstinate and disobedient; nothing can activate
them. They are not interested in politics, they say. Some will try to sell to
themselves and others the paralyzing theory of hopelessness and the
inevitability of doom. But don’t talk about the nuclear bomb! Others will
throw themselves into the oblivion of excessive drinking or hide themselves
in long, pointless conferences.
Every man has his own psychological Maginot line—a mental fortress that
he believes inviolable. We used to call this the ostrich policy—and the
ostrich policy is one of the most dangerous strategies in the world. Beware
the totalitarian who preaches peace; his intention may be to push the world
into passive surrender to that which it fears.
The cult of passivity and so-called relaxation is one of the most dangerous
developments of our times. Essentially, it too may represent a camouflage
pattern, the double wish not to see the dangers and challenges of life and not
to be seen. We cannot escape all the tensions that surround us; they are part of
life, and we have to learn to cope with them adequately and to use our leisure
time for more creative and gratifying activities. Silent, lonely relaxation—
with alcohol, sweets, the television screen, or a murder mystery— may
soothe the mind into a passivity that may gradually make it vulnerable to the
seductive ideology of some feared enemy. Denying the danger of
totalitarianism through passivity, may gradually surrender to its
blandishments those who were initially afraid of it.
Most people are far more familiar with the explosive motor reactions we
call panic and stampede than they are with the other fear reactions. This is
what we call mass hysteria, the chacun pour soi reaction. The baby has its temper
tantrums, and older people have their uncontrolled fury and “fight or flight”
reactions. Although we usually think of the word “panic” as describing such
phenomena as the hysterical stampede out of a burning theater or the flight of
whole populations in terror, there are many subtle steps that lead from the
first symptoms of unrest we all feel when something is threatening, to the
great outbursts of crying and running and fighting we see in severe panics.
Man shows many forms of panicky, frenzied behavior—epileptic fits (as in
trench or war epilepsy), fury, rage, self-destruction, criminal aggression,
running amok, deserting from the army, rioting, uncontrolled impulsiveness,
breakneck speed in driving. A soldier in a state of panic may behave like an
angry child. He may attack his friends or shoot at the members of his own
troop. In panic, civilians may begin to cry, shout, walk aimlessly about
wringing their hands. Or they may shout and scold or cry for help. The
panicky person spreads panic; every time he shouts, he incites others to run.
Panic is never a question of crude strength or failing energy, but rather of
lack of inner structure, of a failing capacity to organize. The panicky leader
hesitates to use the powers entrusted to him.
The child with temper tantrums lies deep within all of us. The more
mysterious and unaccountable the danger, the more primitive our reactions
may be.
Riots, furious mass movement, and outbreaks of criminality serve to
increase fear and panic, and thus can be used to deepen man’s sense of
insecurity and further his passive surrender to the totalitarian environment.
Any terroristic regime compels its victims to repress their reactions of
rebellion and anger. The more these reactions are repressed, the more the
victims develop tremendous inner rage, which must bide its time and wait
until it is permitted some socially sanctioned form of explosion. War is often
such a universal panic, a mass discharge of accumulated internal rage. Here,
too, the inner fears of mankind are discharged in mass destruction.
The great group of psychosomatic reactions, although they are no mystery,
are more difficult to explain. Let us look at an example which may make this
phenomenon more clear. In my home town in Holland, after a few
bombardments during the Second World War, an epidemic of bladder disease
broke out—at least that was the first explanation. People suffered from the
need to urinate so often that their sleep was disturbed; almost no one had a
full night’s rest. For a short time, there was a boom in the practice of
urologists. Then psychiatrists were able to explain that this urge to urinate
was one of the first reactions to fear. The victims had only to think back to
their childhood and to recall their bodily reactions before taking
examinations at school to see what was happening. Increased urination may
be described as one of the tension-reducing devices of the body.
The body may react to danger and panic with a variety of physical
symptoms. Perspiration, frequent urination, heart palpitations, diarrhea, high
blood pressure are only a few. We know that many of these reactions are
related to the body’s mobilization of specific defenses against threatening
dangers. The specific ways in which bodily diseases related to fear and
anxiety develop are conditioned largely by the individual’s personal life
history, especially his development during childhood. The infant whose early
tensions and yearnings were drowned in milk and pablum will grow up into
an adult who tries to fill his mouth again as soon as something threatening
occurs. Overeating has become for him a fear-allaying device. In the process
of rearing the child, the parent unwittingly train certain of the child’s organs
to react to the tensions of life.
Because man has many bodily organs, he can show a tremendous variety
in his physical and emotional responses to threats, both from without and
within. Psychosomatic medicine distinguishes between different character
types in terms of the different organs which respond to outside stress or
danger. There is the ulcer type, the asthma type, the colitis type, the heart
failure type. Each of these types shows a different reaction to the same battle
—the battle against fear. Feelings of social tension may be expressed in
various organic diseases. In acute fright, however, certain organs of the body
more commonly react than others. As we saw in our earlier example, the
need for frequent urination is a nearly universal reaction to fright. The “upset
stomach” is another almost universal fear reaction.
During the Second World War, a medical team looked in vain for the bug
causing an unknown intestinal disease among American soldiers who were
preparing to land on one of the enemy islands in the Pacific. The doctors and
biologists searched and searched; they found nothing. The mysterious disease
vanished, as suddenly as it had appeared, after the invasion began and the
soldiers were able to discharge in action the tension of waiting for the
invasion. These men were not strange or abnormal in any way. Even when
one consciously accepts the challenge of danger and is prepared to face it,
counterforces in the body may defeat the mental effort. The mind wants to be
brave, but the body escapes into disease. Consistency of child-rearing,
emotional security at home, and lifelong conditioning to acceptance of the
various challenges of life—all these are the factors that determine how we
will react when we are put to the test.
In their treatment of panicky soldiers during the last war, psychiatrists
gave some of their time to an explanation of these various danger reactions.
As the victims began to understand their reactions and saw how common they
were, they took the first and most important step toward cure. No longer
were they so afraid of their fears; no longer were they in such dread of
cowardice. It was important for them to know that what had reduced them to
the level of helpless childhood was part of a universal pattern of defensive
behavior. As they understood this, they became less afraid and ashamed of
their own private fears. They knew that their bodies were reacting like many
others, and they became able once more to accept their duties quietly and
with better control. Stamina and resourcefulness depend as much on selfknowledge
as they do on the help and support we get from others.
In times of stress and calamity, people begin to probe for the vulnerable
spots and weaknesses in both their friends and their enemies. This testing
goes on constantly during a hot war, but it happens during a cold war as well.
The cold war exerts a continual pressure on human imagination and mental
fortitude and is the cause of many peculiar escape reactions or bodily
Whenever fear and danger confront him, man has to make a choice: Shall
he indulge in unchecked fury? Shall he concentrate upon self-protection ? Or
shall he accept his responsibilities? The fear reactions we have described
show how the primordial impulse to self-protection (misguided though it may
be) can break through all our civilized defenses. Only training and conscious
preparation for danger, both inner and outer, can give a man strength to hold
these reactions in check. This training starts within the nucleus of the family
and is supported by the example of a peaceful, free community. These are the
first teachers in the constant battle between inner fear and outer danger.
Those who are in danger of being brainwashed can be helped simply by
making them familiar with the facts. Foreknowledge has a partial protective
function, and this belongs to the best security we can give to them. It takes
away the weakening influence of anxious and mysterious anticipation. With
this aid, their mental vulnerability is then furthered by innate inner strength,
by the example of good rearing, and by the challenge and opportunity their
society gives to them.
Chapter Ten
The time has come to ask ourselves if it is possible that there is something
in our own growth and development that may make us more vulnerable to
mental intrusion and ultimate brainwashing. Are there, for instance, special
coercive needs in us? What is communicated and taught to the child that may
keep him a spiritual prisoner of his environment?
These are important questions and would require a thorough philosophic
and pedagogic investigation. Nevertheless, for practical purposes, we may
limit our attention to two different spheres of development: the influence of
parents and the influence of certain social habits. The latter has already been
investigated in the second part of this book. Indeed, I must repeat that in my
experience all those who are educated under rules of too strict obedience and
conformity break down more easily under pressure. During World War II
when the so-called tough S.S. officers were interrogated after they had
become prisoners, they readily surrendered their military secrets. Having
lived for years under totalitarian command, they were just as obedient to the
new commanding voices. Sometimes we only had to imitate the shouting
voices of their masters and they would exchange their former boss for the
new one. For them every command had become the automatic trigger for new
conforming obedience.
In dealing with members of the Communist Party in this country, we had a
comparable experience: the members were politically submissive and
changed their obstructive party-strategy to an opposite set of tactics the
moment Moscow ordered them to do so.
Increasing attention has been given to the various psychological
motivations leading to political extremism and a totalitarian mentality in men
and women who have been brought up in a democratic atmosphere, but who
have voluntarily chosen to associate themselves with some totalitarian
ideology. Psychologists who have come into contact with the totalitarian
attitude and have studied those who are easily influenced by it agree, by and
large, that in the free, democratic countries the option for totalitarianism is
nearly always determined by an inner personality factor—frustration, if you
will. It is usually neither poverty nor social idealism that makes a man a
totalitarian, but mostly internal factors such as extreme submissiveness and
masochism on the one hand or a lust for power on the other. Unsolved sibling
rivalry plays a role too; I have treated several Nazi collaborators whose
political behavior was motivated to some extent by the fact that they were
older sons and could not stand the competition with their younger brothers.
All these factors help to explain why the totalitarians everywhere can use
their propaganda of violence to exploit resentment, hatred, racialism, and
political fury. They know that they have only to play on these immature
feelings of deprivation and dissatisfaction to bring people under a spell.
In my own experience, I have been amazed to see how unrealistic are the
bases for political option in general. Only rarely have I found a person who
has chosen any particular political party— democratic or totalitarian—
through study and comparison of principles. Too often man’s choice of his
political affiliations is determined by apathy, by family tradition, by hope for
financial gain, or by other irrelevant factors. It is this lack of rational
motivation chat can make men more susceptible to totalitarian blandishments,
even in a democratic community. I remember very clearly, for example, a
Dutch physician with whom I went to medical school. He fell in love with
the daughter of a Communist and eventually married her. At first he was
disturbed by the conflict between his principles and his adoration, but
gradually his principles gave in and he started to justify the party line. Later
on I met him from time to time. He was an excellent doctor and a jovial
fellow, and he took our half-serious quips about his politics in good part. But
the moment we began a really serious discussion, he crouched in his official
defensive corner and became a different man—sour, mechanical, handing out
ready-made arguments. During the war I met him frequently in the course of
our common underground work. He had been completely dazed by Stalin’s
pact with the Nazis, but the moment Russia was invaded and became an ally,
he started his aggressive robotism again. Not only was he a staunch fighter
against the Nazis, but he insisted that his was the only way to fight. He lost
his life on a dangerous mission for the underground, and I always had the
feeling that it was in a way welcome to his latent suicidal feelings.
In other Nazis and Communists, both, I have seen dramatic examples of
how personal resentments, outside the suffering of real injustice, can lead a
man to the side of the rebels. Some of these people were the type who simply
submitted passively to a movement stronger than themselves—men and
women whose ideology was a reflection of whichever side had caught them
first; others were motivated by the need to vent their own personal anger and
resentment in some direction and used political action to satisfy this need.
But if we are to come to any real understanding of the internal factors that
lead a man to adopt a totalitarian ideology, we must dig a little deeper than
this and must give our attention to some basic roots of this problem.
One of the important things we have learned from modern psychology is
that the roots of many of our adult attitudes and problems lie far back in the
seeming quiet of the nursery and childhood years. The infant’s life may
appear to be placid and uneventful, but from the moment he is born he hears
thousands of rumblings both from inside his own mind and from the world
outside. In his mother’s womb he knew neither warmth nor cold; now his
skin transmits these sensations to him. As he lay protected in his mother’s
body, he did not have to breathe, eat, or excrete; now he must do all these
things himself. He needs help in doing them, he needs protection, and for this
protection and help he must rely on those grown-up giants, Mother and
Father. He is utterly and completely dependent, unable by himself to find
adequate responses to his needs. There he is, with his pitifully limited means
of adaptation, with his minimum of innate patterns of action. Warmth, food,
and love, things which he needs to sustain his life, come to him when he does
the “right” thing—and the right thing is the learned, civilized thing, not the
instinctual, primitive thing. The giants, his parents, make demands on him—
they begin to mold him according to their own habits, and the infant must
submit to all these external demands in order to get what he wants and needs.
He must follow the hundreds of subtle, incomprehensible educational rules in
order to be paid back with the affection and protection on which he is so
dependent. All of this transforms him into a more or less conforming being.
His parents’ morality is, as it were, sucked in and becomes an ever-present
force inside him. He is imprinted with all kinds of habits which serve to
condition him into the particular form of adaptation his parents and his
society think good for him. The forms his adult behavior will take are
foreshadowed by the forms his parents’ behavior take. The patient mother
imprints patience on her child; the anxious, compulsive mother imprints
tensions on hers.
The child who is brought up in a loving environment will develop inner
pictures of love and affection and will be better able to accept all the
restrictions his parents impose on his freedom, all the rules they lay down.
He will accept timetables, toilet training, parental confusion, without too
much inner protest even when his needs run contrary to these social demands.
He may want to be fed at a time when, according to his schedule, he should
not be hungry. He may want to sleep when his parents want him to be awake.
Society demands of him that he learn to postpone his own gratifications, and
he will react to this demand in a manner contingent on his own sense of
security in his parents’ affection. Having to wait for food, not being allowed
to suck any more, having to control his need to excrete—all of these require
the child to make new and difficult adaptations. His urge for immediate and
unconditional satisfaction of his needs has to be transformed into something
much more complicated—a whole pattern of learned responses.
It is not important for us to describe here the different ways in which these
early cultural obligations are met by the child. But it is important to
understand that the cradle and the nursery change and recondition the innate
natural responses of the unsocial, primitive child to mold him into an adult,
who may be left from his childhood a legacy of frustrations stemming from
this molding process. Individual problems are caused by individual patterns
of child-rearing; these very patterns are themselves to some degree the
product of the cultural traditions in which they are rooted and the mores of
the community into which the child is born. To the degree that our society
imposes on children frustrations and restrictions for which they are neither
biologically nor emotionally ready, to that degree our culture paves the way
for adult behavior problems and for neurotic attitudes of submission or
aggression, which may find expression in allegiance to some totalitarian
Conditioning a child into a servile and submissive attitude, for example,
may start when parents rigidly imprint automatic rules of conduct on the
infant. They may make a time maniac out of him or a cleaning automaton.
They may compel him to speak too early or to be silent when his voice itches
to burst out of his throat or to sleep when his body is throbbing with the
energy of wakefulness. Such parents impose on their child a constant feeling
of guilt—he feels disturbed and unhappy every time he does not comply with
their demands. And at the same time they force him to love them even when
they are disagreeable. They may compel him to apologize for behavior which
seems to him to be perfectly acceptable; they may demand that he confess to
crimes which do not exist as crimes for him at his age. Some techniques of
brainwashing can be seen at the cradle; the parents may cross-examine him,
tie him to their apron strings, or keep him constantly under their eyes. With
their solicitous attention they never leave him alone to enjoy feeling of being
secure with himself. The helpless child in such an environment becomes
emotionally insecure; in exchange for more borrowed security, he becomes
more conforming and submissive, although this conforming behavior covers
up tremendous inner protest and hostility.
When parents do not permit a child to express his instinctual needs openly
and directly, they force him to look for other ways to express them. If during
his early training—which may start on the day of his birth—the infant
encounters endless restrictions to the direct expression of his needs, he will
try to communicate these needs in indirect ways—through tension,
restlessness, and crying. Instead of being able to use natural outlets for his
instinctual drives, the child is permitted and conditioned to act only through
suppression and control of the drive. In his struggle to bring the drive under
control in order to please his parents, the child’s natural means of expression
may become inverted. Instead of expression, he acquires repression. This is
where the roots of such adult behavior as abject submissiveness and the urge
for conformity lie. The groundwork for this masochistic pattern of giving in
is formed in infancy. Submission and confession are the only strategies
possible for the child in a world that is too overpowering for him to handle.
Inner rebellion, hostility, and hatred must be expressed in a paradoxical way.
The child’s rigid silence is proof that he wants to cry and yell. He may
reproach and attack the hostile world indirectly, through magic gestures,
clownish behavior, or even epileptic fits. Compelled to suppress his
instinctual needs and his means of achieving their gratification, he may
conceal their existence even from himself. Surface conformity becomes his
only means of communication, and when this happens words and gestures
acquire a concealing function. He never says what he means, and gradually
he doesn’t even know what he means.
The carry-overs into adult life of this kind of child-rearing are obvious.
Trained into conformity, the child may well grow up into an adult who
welcomes with relief the authoritarian demands of a totalitarian leader. It is
the welcome repetition of an old pattern that can be followed without
investment of new emotional energy. Trained previously to divert his
aggression to scapegoats, he may now displace his hidden resentments
against his parents’ rules and regulations toward society as a whole. Or he
may find release for them in the wild explosion of pent-up aggression which
is exemplified by the lynch mob or by Hitler’s storm troopers.
Other forms of parental behavior also have their effect on the child. If the
child is trained precociously in habits that would otherwise develop
spontaneously at a later age, he may show all kinds of distortions in his
natural behavior. The example of the effect of precocious toilet training is
common, but there are many other parental commands that can have the same
effect on the child. The way the child is clothed or the parents’ constant
demand that he always be quiet, asleep, and motionless are equally valid
examples. When any command is too strictly applied before the child is able
to cope with it, it exerts an enormous frustrating influence. What was
enforced on the child by some outside power becomes an inner, automatic
rule, a compulsion. Let us return to the toilet training example for a moment,
though it is only one single part of the whole pattern of training. The child
who is trained to control his need to excrete at too early an age learns to keep
himself clean and constipated under all circumstances. His body learns how
to control itself automatically, but somewhere inside him the child feels
contempt for those who have forced him into this behavior. He may grow up
to be a chronically hostile adult, ripe for the appeal of some hostile ideology.
In less severe cases, the conflict between outside prohibitions and the inner
need to let go may create a continuing pattern of inner insecurity. Or it may
lead to constant querulous resentment, which can be easily utilized by any
would-be dictator.
What we have to emphasize is this: the earliest web of communication
between parents and child takes place on what psychology calls a pre-verbal
and unconscious level. There is contact without words. The mother transfers
her moods directly to the child; he senses and catches her feelings. The child
also transfers his moods to her; she feels his pains and joys almost as soon as
he does. This sensitivity of the infant makes him react with great intensity—
he is profoundly aware of his parents’ feelings. Such negative parental
factors as anxiety, insecurity, infantilism, mutual disharmony, neurotic love,
poverty, the struggle for existence, and compulsive tyranny have an enormous
effect on the child. Not long ago I treated an infant who refused any offer of
handling or feeding by its mother. The infant “knew” that the mother had a
deep-seated hostility against it; it felt her aversion and rejection. But the
infant accepted food and affection from everyone else. The interplay between
parental attitudes and child development starts at birth.
Perhaps one of the clearest examples of a distorted growing-up may be
seen in one case I treated during the Second World War when I was asked to
do a psychological study of an alleged collaborator with the Nazis. This man,
who was in England when I saw him, said that he had left Holland, which
was then occupied, because he no longer agreed with the German
conquerors. When he arrived in England he was, as a matter of careful
routine, put in a home for people under investigation as suspected spies.
From here, he was very soon taken to a mental institution because of his
strange behavior. He was not actually psychotic, but he did have great
difficulty in relating to other people. When I went to interview him, it
became apparent to me that he was completely confused. He babbled so
much that it was almost impossible to understand him. I asked him about his
childhood. It was not easy for him to speak about it, but he finally told me
something of his background. He was an only child. His mother had been the
dominant member of the family, actively working in scientific research. His
father, a weak, nebulous figure, had seldom been at home; in his job as the
manager of a large firm, he had traveled a great deal. On the rare occasions
when the father was at home, the patient remembered long silences between
his parents, his father only occasionally protesting against his mother’s
constant stream of directives. Sometimes the boy joined with his mother in
criticizing his father’s detachment and lack of interest, sometimes he turned
to his father for love and help against his mother’s smothering behavior. But
he was mostly lost and alone at home. In his late teens, the boy developed
some homosexual attachments, in which he played the passive, submissive
role. But he only came alive mentally after one of his friends made him attend
a fascist rally. The show of strength and aggression excited the boy
enormously and even aroused sexual sensations in him. He joined the fascist
group, to the great dismay of his parents, but he was never very active in
party work because the party did not provide him with the guidance and love
for which he yearned.
After the Nazi invasion and occupation, the party demanded that he be
more active as a collaborator with the Germans. Now his conscience
bothered him, and he became ill and developed all kinds of stomach ailments
which were, to a psychiatrist, obviously emotional in origin. He was not,
however, strong enough to withdraw from the party completely. He felt
caught between two opposing dangers—the party and treason. The childhood
struggle began all over again; he felt himself unsafe with either father or
mother. So he decided to flee the country because he had a vague feeling that
this would help him get away from his conflicts.
Once in England, in the asylum, he felt completely contented. He simply
did not understand the serious nature of the accusations that had been made
against him. When I spoke to him about world affairs and his political
activity, he fell into silence. He did not remember any of the details of his
political behavior. It was as if he had lived in a dream since the moment he
ran away from Holland. It is entirely possible that the enemy had used him as
a tool, but at the time I saw him he was only a near-psychotic, fear-ridden
young man. He remained in the institution for the duration of the war.
One thing stands out clearly in this case (aside from its complexity as a
pathological phenomenon) and that is the young man’s continual search for
male authority. This search for spiritual backbone is very common among
people who develop totalitarian attachments.
Psychological studies have shown us over and over again that the child’s
attitude toward the parental authority, with all its subtle internal
complications, plays a primary role in determining how he will handle his
hostilities—whether he will learn to cope with them or whether he will
direct them toward destructive aims. As we said earlier, parents and family
form almost the whole environment of the child during the first years of its
life. They condition the foundations of his future character. And in the family
it is the influence of the father that determines whether the child will stick to
its strong natural ties with its mother, to its dependency needs and its needs
for protection, or will step out of this maternal realm and will form new ties
with new people. The father is the first one who cuts into the essentially
biological relation between mother and child. He is what the psychoanalyst
calls the first transference figure, the first new prototype to whom the child
can transfer its expectations of gratification, its feelings of relatedness, of
satisfaction, of fear. This first new trial relationship with the father giant may
become the conditioning prototype for every subsequent social relationship.
The child’s initial relationship with its mother is purely biological and
symbiotic. The womb is replaced by the crib. The mother is the know-all and
do-all. Psychoanalysis describes the child’s relationship with its mother as
one of oral dependency because the helpless infant is completely dependent
on the food, care, and warmth the mother provides. The little human being’s
dependency need lasts longer than that of the other animals. It is this fact that
makes man gregarious, dependent on cooperation with others.
The father brings a third person, who has no part in this relationship of
biological dependency, into the life of the child. When he cuts into the child’s
relationship with its mother, he is cutting the psychological umbilical cord
just as the doctor cuts the physical one when the infant is delivered. First, he
gives the child the opportunity to transfer feelings and expectations to him;
later, he brings the child more actively outside the maternal realm and
teaches him more and more about social relationships. The specific role of
the father as a transference prototype is not so simple as it seems to many
fathers. Father is not merely a toy with whom the child can occasionally play.
The child needs to identify with this giant who lives with him and with
Mother; he wants to become familiar with the giant, he wants the giant to
become part of his world. The child wants more than this—he wants to be
gratified by Father so that he can love Father as much as he does Mother. But
the child will transfer some of its love and emotional investment to Father
only if it sees something of Mother in him. Father can do the same things
Mother does—he can feed the child, can solace him, can take care of him—
and thus the child can maintain a feeling of gratitude and affection toward this
third person. This transference of feelings can only take place, however,
when the relationship between the parents themselves is tranquil. How can
the child identify with and love his parents when they are in constant conflict
with each other?
This picture is, of course, something of an oversimplification. There are
mothers who behave like cold, distant fathers, and fathers who behave like
warm, cuddling mothers. There are grandparents or adoptive parents who
can take over. There are many mother or father substitutes. But this is not my
point. My point is that in every situation there must be some individual who
can become the conditioning prototype for the child’s relationships with new
beings. This first person is most likely to be the father, and it is he who
changes the child’s biological dependency into a psychological relationship.
When there is no father figure, or if the father is too weak or too busy or is
denying and tyrannical toward the child, the result is that the child’s
relationship with and dependence on the mother remains strong and lasts too
long. Consequently, the child’s need for social participation and for
gregarious ties with others may become to him a consuming need. As an adult
he may be willing to join with any social group which promises him support
and reassurance. Or his unconscious resentment against the father who did
not help him to grow up and become independent may be diverted into a
resentment against other symbols of authority, such as society itself. Either
way the child may be headed for maladjustment and for difficulties. Either
way the child may grow up into an immature adult.
In a study on living by proxy, I described the arrested emotional
development that results when the father does not play his proper role or is
not present. A child brought up in such an emotionally defective atmosphere
searches continually for strong figures who may serve as a proxy for the
normal relationships the child would otherwise have had in life. I have
treated several cases of homosexuality and other forms of arrested
development, both in men and women, which were almost directly
attributable to the too strongly tied, symbiotic life with the mother which
results from such an environment.
In the building up of man’s awareness of an independent self and the
establishment of his ability to have easy, relaxed relationships with his
fellow men, the father, as the natural chief and protector of the family, plays
an important role. He cuts the cord. He may condition the later pattern of
dependence and independence. His potential psychological dominance can
become a blessing or a curse, for the child’s emotional attitude toward its
father becomes the prototype for its attitudes toward future leaders and
toward society itself.
We saw this clearly in the case of our “spy” who had never had a strong
male guide in his life. Many of the people I investigated, who had chosen to
identify themselves with aggressive totalitarian groups, had this problem. For
such people, the totalitarian party became both the good father who accepted
them and the proxy which gave expression to all their hidden and frustrated
hate. The party solves, as it were, their inner problems.
Parental conflict in early childhood, inconsistency, and a threatening,
unloving attitude toward the child pave the way for rebellion and submission,
and a repetition of this pattern later in life. The wish to break away from the
family pattern may lead to rebellion, but the particular form the rebellion
takes depends on what political movements can modify and channelize the
person’s resentment.
This does not mean, of course, that there is not a hard core of totalitarianminded
people, nourished in the cradle by the dogmas of their totalitarian
parents, who give themselves to their party tasks because they have never
known a different world. According to Almond, these types are found
particularly in our Western world among high-echelon extremists. They take
in the totalitarian form of socialism with their mother’s milk; they are
members of an increasing group of hereditary totalitarian conformists. Here,
no father rebellion is needed to become an extreme revolutionary.
But the bulk of the totalitarian-minded in the democratic societies are men
and women who are attracted to this destructive way of life for inner
emotional reasons unknown to themselves. My own experiences with both
Communists and Nazis during the Second World War has shown me this truth
over and over again. In Holland, as in the other Nazi-occupied countries, the
Communists and their sympathizers fought bravely with us in the underground
as our temporary companions. Even during that time of national crisis and
terror, they were never free from bitter reproach and resentment toward us.
They insisted that their ideology was the only correct one and showed,
sometimes openly, sometimes covertly, that when the Nazis were defeated,
they would renew their struggle against the social order. Let me give just one
example to illustrate this point. One of the Communists was a very brave
physician (not the same man about whom I spoke earlier). He had killed a
Nazi leader, and later he himself died a horrible death. Here was a grown
man who had never been able to overcome a certain adolescent selfrighteousness
and aggressiveness. On the very night when, in deadly peril, he
sought refuge in my home, he felt compelled to engage me in a long
theoretical political discussion with him, full of bitterness. He disdainfully
reproached the other resistance groups because they did not share his
political views. His views and ideals, I must say in all justice to him,
seemed sincere to me, but he was filled with so much unresolved hostility
toward the government of his fatherland that he was ready at all times to
overthrow it. The core of his fallacious reasoning I found was the confusion
about ends and means in the struggle for social justice. For him, tactics and
strategy had become more important than the final aim of peaceful
coexistence between men on earth. His violent death—after murdering an
S.S. officer—was partly the result of the fact that he pursued tactics beyond
the strategic needs of the moment. True, in the end he gave his life for his
ideals and for his native land, but up to the end he carried a bitter grudge
against all those who were not in complete agreement with everything he
thought and felt. It was that personal grudge and hostility which led him to
bad planning and his ultimate fate.



Most of us are not clearly and completely aware that alongside our wish
to be good, adjusted citizens, we also have hidden wishes to violate our
allegiances to the social formation of which we are members. These wishes
are not based on reason and intelligence; they are purely emotional. They are
founded by the ways we have been brought up, by our relationships with our
parents, by our educational system, by our attitudes toward ourselves and
toward authority. But all men who adhere rigidly to any set of political
convictions, and especially those who have embraced some totalitarian
ideology, believe that their attitudes emerge from rational conviction and are
the result of normal intellectual development. They insist that those who do
not agree with them are committed to a stuffy, outmoded way of thinking.
They cannot see their own vengeful and disloyal attitudes as something
asocial and abnormal.


To the psychologist, it is eminently clear that these attitudes have their
roots not in intellectual conviction but in some deep-seated emotional need. I
have often seen cases where this blind, rigid allegiance to a totalitarian
ideology was actually a defiant rebellion against a compelling inner need to
grow and to change and to become mature. In these people, the selection of a
special political party was only a substitute for their need for dependency.
Ideologic stubbornness is often tragic because it may cover up basic neurotic
reactions that may lead to self-destruction. One of my patients was a young
woman whose ultra-left beliefs were a defense against her hidden incestuous
feelings toward a reactionary father. It took protracted therapy to bring her to
an understanding of the real nature of her difficulty and to get her to see that
there was nothing shameful or disgusting about the infantile love and
resentment she was trying to conceal through her political behavior.
The need for authority, when it is not understood, and the confused
resistance to authority are the roots from which the totalitarian attitude may
grow. Whenever the father-leader fails, he sets up a pattern of future trouble
with authority. Instead of a mature relationship with his fellow men, the child
becomes an adult who is forced to choose the tyrannical totalitarian tie to
keep his inner tensions in check.

Whenever there is parental conflict, the child grows into an adult
burdened with conflicts who may be eager to accept the simple solutions
totalitarianism offers. Whenever there is parental compulsion, which gives
the child no chance to develop its own attitudes and evaluations, the child
grows up into a conforming adult, whose entire life may be spent in a search
for outside authority, for someone to tell him what to do.
Chapter Eleven



During disturbed times such as these, the thoughts of everyone follow the
diplomatic play going on at the various political conferences. It would be
worth while to investigate whether it is possible for leaders of nations to
arrive at a common understanding as a result of mutual exchange of words,
ideas, and the negotiating of treaties. Yet, the various cultures in the world
and the different ideologies not only speak different languages, but even their
ways of thinking are different. Unobtrusively, our personal past and our
cultural environment creep into our thinking habits. Our feelings and thoughts
are conditioned and coerced by various social influences.

It is already possible to bring to the surface some of the illusions and
prejudices people have about one another. We may say that the special
environments in which people develop and the habits they build up foster
subtle illusions and delusions in persons, of which they are, for the most part,
unaware. Through research in the field, anthropology and psychology have
been able to compare different ideologies in people by observing the growth
of the wholesome and the unwholesome—in the child, in groups, in tribes,
and, lastly, in nations. The findings call to our attention the difficult art of
argument in situations where there is scarcely any common ground of
communication and understanding. In a study on mental coercion we have to
trace some of these mass psychological influences which condition our
attitude in life.


The lie I tell ten times gradually becomes a half truth to me. And as I
continue to tell my half-truth to others, it becomes my cherished delusion.
We rediscover this phenomenon every day in that huge laboratory of
human relations we call psychological counseling and psychotherapy. Let us
look at just one simple example, the case of a perfectly healthy child who
decides one day that she doesn’t want to go to school because schoolwork
seems so very difficult. So she tells her mother that she has a headache, and
mother agrees to let her stay at home. Thus the girl avoids the schoolwork
she dreads and gets the additional gratification of her mother’s solicitous and
tender nursing.

The next time our little girl wants to stay home it is easier to pretend she
has a headache—and the third time it is easier still. Gradually the girl herself
begins to believe in her recurrent illness. Her conscience bothered her the
first time she lied, but by now her initial lie has become an ingenuous truth to
her. By the time our heroine becomes a grown woman she will have to
consult with a doctor about her constantly recurring headaches. Doctor and
patient will have to spend many hours untangling the web of half-lies,
innuendos, and self-pitying complaints until the patient rediscovers that her
headaches all began on that one day she didn’t want to go to school.
Delusional headaches afflict the world itself. Political demagoguery is, to
some extent, a problem in our country. The particular form this demagoguery
takes is only a passing phase, and when our current dragons and inner
phantoms have been laid to rest, the eternal demagogue may arise anew. He
will accuse others of conspiracy in order to prove his own importance. He
will try to intimidate those who are neither so iron-fisted nor so hotheaded as
he, and temporarily he will drag some people into the web of his delusions.
Perhaps he will wear a mantle of martyrdom to arouse the tears of the weakhearted.
With his emotionalism and suspicion, he will shatter the trust of
citizens in one another. His delusions of grandeur will infect those insecure
souls who hope that some of his dictatorial glamour will rub off on them.
Unfortunately the problem of delusion has been studied almost exclusively
in terms of its pathological manifestations. The psychiatrist who has
encountered delusions of grandeur in his patients has in the past lacked the
philosophical and sociological background necessary to enable him to form
comparisons between his patients’ delusional systems and mass delusion in
the world. In dealing with patients suffering from megalomania or
persecution mania, he has tended to rely too much on hypotheses which
explain pathological delusions as the product of anatomical changes in the
individual brain; he has not given enough attention to the question of whether
or not these phenomena are in any way related to an abnormal way of
thinking in a physically normal person.


Since the growth of anthropology and the social sciences in the last
decades, new light has been thrown on the subject of mass feelings and mass
delusion. Obviously these are not phenomena which a pathologist can
examine under a microscope. They demand a knowledge of history and
social psychology and of all the studies which concern interhuman relations
and man’s collective thinking.

To arrive at a clinical stage of study of this subject, it is necessary to
divest oneself of various fixed philosophical ideas which have dominated
scientific thought since Aristotle. There is, for example, the doctrine of the
identity of all thinking processes and the possible universality of human
understanding. This is essentially founded on the belief that all human beings
think in the same way. But against this hypothesis is the observable truth that
philosophers themselves have the utmost difficulty in reaching mutual
understanding. This may be largely due to the fact that different men have
different methods and standards of thinking. For centuries, science has
adopted the Aristotelian dictum that most thought is carried on according to
the established rules of logic, which apply in the same way as the laws of
nature. It was the philosopher Francis Bacon who first pointed out, in his
theory of idols, that although the laws of logic and clear thinking certainly
exist, men may or may not make use of them; depending on the emotional
circumstances, “thoughts are often the theatrical curtains to conceal personal
passions and reactions.” In this statement the philosopher who lived during
Shakespeare’s time might almost be attacking the seeming logic of modern
demagoguery. Since the Renaissance, therefore, it has been acknowledged
that human feelings and personal inclinations mold and direct thought, and
this point of view rather early found its most moving expression in the works
of Spinoza and Pascal.

When we come into contact with the phenomena of collective passion and
mass delusion, it is impossible to keep modern psychology out of the picture
whether we look at it philosophically or politically. For, when examining this
problem, we are immediately confronted with the question, Do these
disquieting phenomena in group life, which lead to so much mutual
misunderstanding, arise from the fact that the group is in a particular,
immature, and adolescent phase of psychological and political development?
It will be illuminating and may help us answer the question if we study
briefly the history of the growth of consciousness and awareness in the
individual mind as it passes through successive stages from infancy to
maturity, since we can, in fact, find a parallel between such stages of growth
in the individual and the human group.


[Here I follow in part the classification of S. Ferenczi and that of my own
book on delusion.]


The psyche is constantly confronted with and communicating with the
outside world, and at every phase of an individual’s development that world
and its events are experienced differently. Although different scientists have
drawn different conclusions about the various phases and their implications,
the very recognition of change and growth of personal outlook is one of the
most important scientific findings in psychology and is agreed on by all
psychologists. Let me briefly explain here the developmental approach to
human psychology. It is not the only one, but it will serve to illustrate the
tremendous impact of immature and delusional thinking on our final opinions.
Developmental psychology—as studied in children and primitives—
posits at the origin of thinking, in both the individual and the race, a
hallucinatory stage of the mind, in which there is no experience of difference
between the inside and the outside world; the mental separation and
distantiation between the self and the world has not yet taken place. The
psyche is felt to be omnipotent —all that is experienced inside the self is
attributed to the universe as well and is imagined to be part of that universe.
According to developmental psychology, the infant experiences the world in
this way, and in certain types of insanity the adult will revert to this
hallucinatory stage. Yet, even mature man does not succeed completely in
separating internal fantasy from outside reality, and often he thinks that his
private and subjective moods are caused by some external actuality.
In the next stage, that of animistic thinking, there is still a partial sense of
oneness between the ego and the world. The individual’s inner experience,
his fears, his feelings, are projected onto seeming causative agents in the
outside world. The outside world is a continual demonic threat to him. The
child who bumps against the table projects onto that table a hostile living
power, and hits back. The primitive tribesman, hunted by beasts of prey,
attributes to the animal he feared a divine power, that of a hostile god. The
entire outside world may in fact be peopled with the fears of men. In times of
panic and fear, we all may populate our neighborhood with nonexistent
traitors or fifth columnists. Our animistic thinking is continually busy
accusing others of what actually occurs inside our own minds. Nowadays
there are no devils and ghosts in trees and in wild animals; they have made
their homes in the various scapegoats created by dictators and demagogues.
The third stage is that of magical thinking in which there is still a sense of
intimate connection between man and his outside world. However, man
places himself more in opposition to the world than in union with it. He
wants to negotiate with the mysterious powers around him. Magic is in fact
the simplest strategy of man. He has discovered that he can manipulate the
world with signs and gestures or sometimes with real actions or changes. He
erects totem poles and sacrificial blocks; he makes talismans and strange
medicines. He uses words as powerful signs to change the world. He
develops a ritual to satisfy his need for coming to terms with the outside

Which of us has not felt a sudden desire to count cobblestones or is not the
jealous possessor of an amulet or some other secret token whose power
would be lost if its existence were known to others?

Immature as they are, these tokens serve to build up happiness and a good
life. We all still live in the world of magic and are caught in the delusion of
happy manipulation of nature. The modern tribe drives around in mechanized
cars and becomes a megalomaniac sorcerer of the wheel. Millions of victims
are brought to the altar of the god Speed because of our hidden delusion that
frenzied rapidity prolongs life. The engine and the gadget have replaced the
more mysterious amulet of earlier days. Knowledge is still in the service of
power instead of in the service of understanding.

In the last phase of mental development, man makes a complete separation
between himself and the outside world. He not only lives with things and
tries to manipulate them, but he also lives in opposition to them. In this phase
of mature reality confrontation, man becomes an observer of his own life. He
recognizes the abyss of his own being. He sees his body and mind as
separate from the world. With hands, ears, eyes, and his controlling mind, he
confronts reality. He steps back from the world and observes it. He is, in
fact, the only animal that walks erect, straightforwardly facing the world. He
is the only animal that uses his hands and his senses as verifying instruments.
Gradually his own mind-body becomes an instrument whose drives he may
accept or reject. Only man is able to see his drives and instincts as either
dangerous or useful. Man not only knows an externally imposed fear, but he
knows an inner fear, fear of losing the inner controls he has acquired at so
high a price. With arms and hands man reaches out— not only toward the
outside which he once hoped to conquer with magic gestures as a baby does,
but also he knowingly reaches out toward an inside world. Mature man lives
between an inner and an outer world.

There is something tragic about this laborious process of becoming
conscious of a separate inner and outer reality. In becoming mature, man
awakens from a sweet primitive dream in which he was part of an individual
whole, part of a nirvanic world of equanimity. The sense of lost unity with
the universe lingers on, and in moments of mass tension, or in times of crisis,
he reaches toward that ancient experience of impersonal, irresponsible bliss.
Utter passivity or self-destruction, artificial ecstasy obtained by means of
drugs, the suicidal wish for eternal sleep—all are devices by which man
hopes to fulfill that eternal yearning.

At what stage in connection with these developments of human experience
may we speak of delusion? When the member of a primitive tribe placates
the mysterious and hostile world by prayer to his totem animal, we do not
call this delusion; but if a man who has attained to a more advanced stage of
thinking relapses into such a primitive habit of thought, then it is possible to
call this falling back (retrogression) a delusion.


Delusion we may thus tentatively define as the loss of an independent,
verifiable reality, with a consequent relapse into a more primitive stage of
awareness. Just as the young woman we spoke about earlier began to believe
in and suffer from her headaches, so the man who sells his private fantasy
first as a rumor and then as a factual truth gradually loses his awareness that
his initial statements were in fact deceits, and his delusion becomes a kind of
permanent petrification of his original primitive wishful thinking.
There are several factors which promote deluded thinking. Retrogression
and primitivization may occur as a result of physical disease, particularly
diseases of the brain, and it is with this type of delusions that psychiatrists
deal. Many brain diseases put out of operation the brain cortex, the organ
which developed last in the evolutionary process and which makes us aware
and controls our thinking. When this disturbance of function happens,
genetically older types of brain functioning have to take over.

Most of the causes of delusions are not purely organic, however. The
same effect of regression may be produced by hypnosis and mass hypnosis,
which, by dislocating the higher forms of alert consciousness, reduce the
subject to the primitive stage of collective participation and of oneness

If awareness and reality confrontation become rigid and automatic, if man
does not look for alert and repeated verifications of what he finds in the
world, he may develop delusions—ideas not adapted to the reality situation.
Apparently the human being requires constant confrontation and verification
with various aspects of reality if he is to remain alive and alert. When
experience is petrified into dogma, the dogma itself stands in the way of new
verification and of new truth. The delusion of a nation that calls itself the
“chosen” country makes it harder for that nation to collaborate with other

How deeply involved the process of thought control is with the general
formation of ideas in our time can be shown by the following experience.
After the First World War, I made the acquaintance of a German philosopher
dedicated to the idealistic philosophy of his country. Germany went through a
creative phase, new ideas arose of fraternity and world peace. Germany, the
defeated country, would show its spiritual power. During our vacations we
walked together through the sunny mountains of Ticino and devoted our
philosophical conversation to the eternal yearnings of mankind for harmony
and friendship. We became friends and wrote to each other about our mutual
work, till the shadow of totalitarianism came over his country. At first he
was skeptical and even critical about Nazism. Our correspondence
diminished, and when he gradually became gleichgeschaltet and a member of
the party, the final mental cleavage followed. I never heard about him any

So many philosophers surrender their theoretical thinking under the impact
of powerful mass emotions. The reason lies not only in anxiety and
submissiveness. It is a much deeper emotional process. People want to speak
the language of their country and fatherland. In order to breathe, they have to
identify with the ideological clichés of their surroundings. Spiritually they
cannot stand alone. Stefan Zweig wrote during the First World War that this
inner process of speaking along with the chauvinistic voices around him was
experienced by him as a deep inner conflict. “Ich hatte den Willen nicht mehr
gerecht zu sein (I did not have the will any more to be just to the others).”




It is interesting to note that the phenomenon of institutionalized mass
delusion has so far received little scientific treatment, although the term is
bandied about wherever the problems of political propaganda are discussed.
But science has shied away from scrutinizing the collective mental aberration
we call mass delusion when it is connected with present-day affairs; it is the
historical examples, such as witchcraft and certain forms of mass hysteria,
that have been examined in great detail.

In our era of warring ideologies, in a time of battle for man’s mind, this
question demands attention. What is mass delusion? How does it arise? What
can we do to combat it?

The fact that I have made an analogy between the totalitarian frame of
mind and the disease of mental withdrawal known as schizophrenia indicates
that I consider the totalitarian ideology delusional and the totalitarian frame
of mind a pathological distortion that may occur in anyone. When we
tentatively define delusion as the loss of an independent, verifiable reality,
with a consequent relapse into a more primitive state of awareness, we can
see how the phenomenon of totalitarianism itself can be considered

For it is delusional (unadapted to reality) to think of man as an obedient
machine. It is delusional to deny his dynamic nature and to try to arrest all his
thinking and acting at the infantile stage of submission to authority. It is
delusional to believe that there is any one simple answer to the many
problems with which life confronts us, and it is delusional to believe that
man is so rigid, so unyielding in his structure that he has no ambivalences, no
doubts, no conflicts, no warring drives within him.

Where thinking is isolated without free exchange with other minds and can
no longer expand, delusion may follow. Whenever ideas are
compartmentalized, behind and between curtains, the process of continual
alert confrontation of facts and reality is hampered. The system freezes,
becomes rigid, and dies of delusion.

Examples of this can be found in very small communities cut off from the
world. On fishing vessels which have been at sea a long time, contagious
religious mania coupled with ritual murder has been known to break out. In
small village communities there are instances of collective delusion, often
under the influence of one obsessed person. The same thing happens in the
more gigantic totalitarian communities, cut off from contact with the rest of
the world. Is this not what happened in Hider Germany, where free
verification and self-correction were forbidden? Indeed, we can show that
historically this is the case with every secluded civilization. If there is not
interchange with other people, the civilization degenerates, becomes the
victim of its own delusions, and dies.

We can phrase the concept of delusion in a different way. It is a more
primitive, distorted form of thinking found in groups or individuals, looked at
only from their limited viewpoint. Delusional thinking doesn’t know the
concept of delusional thinking. The fakir lying on his bed of nails would be
called a deluded man if he exhibited his devotion on Fifth Avenue, but among
his own people his behavior is considered saintly and eminently sane. A
member of a primitive tribe will not see in the ceremony of devil exorcism
or a revival meeting an instance of mass delusion. But a man who has passed
through this stage of mental development to a level of greater perspective and
awareness will recognize that delusional notions lie behind such ceremonies.
Whether or not we are able to detect delusion when it appears depends
entirely on circumstances, upon the state of civilization in which we live,
upon the groups and the social class to which we belong. For delusion and
retrogression are terms which imply a special social and intellectual level of
awareness. That is why it is so difficult to detect the delusions and primitive
rituals in our own midst. Our present-day civilization is full of mass
delusions, prejudices, and collective errors which can be recognized easily
if viewed from above, but which cannot be detected if they are seen from
within. While the delusion of witchcraft has been banished, we have never
freed ourselves from the delusion of cultural or racial inferiority and
superiority. Medieval mass obsessions such as tarantism and St. Vitus’s
dance are little known now among Western nations; in their place we have
mass meetings with shouting crowds expressing in delusional ecstasy their
affiliation to some political delusion. Instead of the dance fury, we have the
raving frenzy of the motor, or the passive peeping contagion of the television

As we saw in the chapter on Totalitaria, mass delusion can be induced. It
is simply a question of organizing and manipulating collective feelings in the
proper way. If one can isolate the mass, allow no free thinking, no free
exchange, no outside corrective, and can hypnotize the group daily with
noises, with press and radio and television, with fear and pseudoenthusiasms,
any delusion can be instilled. People will begin to accept the
most primitive and inappropriate acts. Outside occurrences are usually the
triggers that unleash hidden hysterical and delusional complexes in people.
Collective madness justifies the repressed personal madness in each
individual. That is why it is so easy to sloganize people into the mass
hysteria of war. The outside enemy who is attacked by vituperative slogans is
merely the scapegoat and substitute for all the anger and anxiety that lives
inside the harassed people.

Delusions, carefully implanted, are difficult to correct. Reasoning no
longer has value; for the lower, more animal type of thinking becomes deaf to
any thought on a higher level. If one reasons with a totalitarian who has been
impregnated with official clichés, he will sooner or later withdraw into his
fortress of collective totalitarian thinking. The mass delusion that gives him
his feelings of belonging, of greatness, of omnipotence, is dearer to him than
his personal awareness and understanding.

The lonely prisoner in a totalitarian prison camp is the more easily
compelled to surrender gradually to the collective thinking of his guardians
when part of his own infantile thinking has been conditioned to give in to
strong suggestive power. He has to communicate with his guardians lest he
be delivered to his own private delusions. Only a few remain their true
selves in that heroic battle.

The situation of our prisoners of war in Korea, who lived there for months
and years, cannot be studied without taking into account the atmosphere of
mass delusion. In a sphere filled with rumors without an opportunity to verify
the facts, the mind is ever on the alert, but its observations are distorted. The
process of mass brainwashing, with continual propaganda, made it very
difficult for the individual to observe his comrades objectively. In such
surroundings, it is easy to make an innocent scapegoat for all the suffering of
the group—and facts can easily be hallucinated in such an atmosphere of
mass contagion.

In one of the prison camps, I had to make a report about a man who was
exorcized and even attacked by the others because of his brute homosexual
behavior. During the investigation, no fact, no victim, could be reported.
Rumors there were plenty, expressing hatred toward a lonely, sarcastic,
unsocial being, who had aroused the latent homosexual feelings of the other
campers, thereby attacking their manliness.

No P.O.W. accused of collaboration with the enemy should be convicted
without a study having been made of the rumors rampant in his camp.
In totalitarian surroundings, hardly anyone keeps his thinking free of
contagion, and nearly everyone becomes, albeit temporarily, the victim of


Indeed, there is a continual danger of mental contagion. People are in
constant psychic exchange with one another. As a country, we have to ask
what dangerous mental pollution may come to us from the other side of the

Let me make it crystal clear that I am far from insensitive to the danger of
totalitarian subversion and aggression with which we are now faced. My
own experiences with the Nazis made it painfully obvious to me that these
dangers must not be minimized. As a psychologist, too, I am deeply aware of
the contagious nature of totalitarian propaganda and of the fact that free
citizens in a free country must be on their guard to protect themselves. But we
must learn to fight these dangers in democratic ways; and I am afraid that too
often in our fight against them we may take a leaf from the totalitarian book.
Let me cite but one example of this.

The Feinberg Law in New York State, enacted in order to protect children
against the dissemination of dangerous political propaganda, is partly based
on this concept of mental contagion. It aims to protect the schools against the
subtle infiltration of subversive ideas. It seems at first sight like a simple
solution: you just stop subversion before it can affect the impressionable
minds of our children.

But the fact remains that it presents all kinds of psychological difficulties.
In our fear of being polluted, we create norms and schemes against which we
measure the acceptability of unorthodox ideas, and we forget that the
presence of minority ideas, acceptable or not, is one of the ways in which we
protect ourselves against the creeping growth of conformist majority thinking
in us. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, in his dissenting opinion on
the Feinberg Law made this point:


This is another of those rapidly multiplying legislative enactments which
make it dangerous … to think or say anything except what a transient majority
happens to approve at the moment.

Basically these laws rest on the belief that Government should supervise
and limit the flow of ideas into the minds of men. The tendency of such
governmental policy is to mould people into a common intellectual pattern.
Quite a different governmental policy rests on the belief that Government
should leave the mind and spirit of man absolutely free.

Such a governmental policy encourages varied intellectual outlooks in the
belief that the best views will prevail. This policy of freedom is in my
judgment embodied in the First Amendment and made applicable to the states
by the Fourteenth.

Because of this policy, public officials cannot be constitutionally vested
with powers to select the ideas people can think about, censor the public
views they can express, or choose the persons or groups people can
associate with. Public officials with such powers are not public servants;
they are public masters.

We cannot prevent one mental contagion through enforcing another. The
only way we can give man the strength to withstand mental infection is
through giving him the utmost freedom in the exchange of ideas. People have
to learn to ask questions without demanding that they be answered
immediately. The free man is the man who learns to live with problems in the
hope that they will be solved sometime—either in his own generation or the
next. Man’s curiosity and inquisitiveness have to be stimulated. We have to
fight man’s growing fear of thinking for himself, of being original, and of
being willing to fight for what he believes in. On the other hand, we also
have to learn to resist ideas. Governments may be overthrown not only by
physical violence, but also by mental violence, by suggestive and menticidal
penetration of young minds, by rigid conditioning, regimentation, and
prohibition of dissent. [The New York Times, March 4, 1952.]







One of the most coercive delusions is the explanation delusion, the need to explain
and interpret everything because the person has a simple ideology in his
pocket. Unwittingly the victim of this delusion wraps the magic cloak of
omniscience around himself, and this provokes awe and submission in those
men who have a strong need for rational explanation of phenomena they do
not understand. The quack, for instance, with his gesture of omniscience
pushes his victim into a kind of nothingness so that he feels himself become
smaller and smaller in relation to the great mysteries of the world. It is this
compulsive need to be the wise guy and the magician who knows all the
answers that we so often find in the totalitarian world, and nobody, your
author included, is completely free from seizing on these premature answers.
It is among the intelligentsia, and especially among those who like to play
with thoughts and concepts without really taking part in the cultural
endeavors of their epoch, that we often find the glib compulsion to explain
everything and to understand nothing. Their retreat into intellectual isolation
and ivory-tower philosophy is a source of much hostility and suspicion from
those who receive the stones of intellectualism instead of the bread of
understanding. The intelligentsia has a special role in our democratic world
as teachers of ideas, but every teaching is an emotional relation, a matter of
loving your students. It is a moving among them and taking part in their
doubts in order to share together the adventure of common exploration of the

Paradoxically, we may say that we need the experience with the
totalitarians if only to discover a reflection of their rigidities in our own
democratic system.



In our Western civilization, the growth of the mass media of
communication has increased the influence of collective pressure on both our
prejudices and our unbiased thinking. We live in a world of constant noise
which captures our minds even when we axe not aware of it.
Already we have in our society the problem of the lonely, unheard voices.
I am convinced that there are many wise men among us whose voices and
learning would help us to correct that part of our thinking which is
delusional. But their wise words are shouted down by an excess of noise
from elsewhere. In our society a man can not simply communicate his
wisdom and insight any more; in order to be heard, he has to advertise and
fortify it with megacyclic power and official labels. An organization must
stand behind him and must make sure that he will be rightly timed so that
there will be listeners to receive his message.

He must have an acknowledged label and official diploma; otherwise his voice is lost.

To correct mass delusion is one of the most difficult tasks of democracy.
Democracy pleads for freedom of thought, and this means that it demands the
right of all men to test all forms of collective emotion and collective thinking.
This testing is possible only if constant personal and collective self-criticism
is encouraged. Democracy must face this task of preserving mobility of
thought in order to free itself from blind fears and magic. The clash and
mutual impact of a variety of opinions which are characteristic of democracy
may not directly produce truth, but they prepare the way.
At this very moment the whole world dances around a delusion, around
the magic idea that the material and military power behind an argument will
bring us nearer to the truth, and nearer to safety. Yet, one push of the button
and the atomic missiles may lead us all to mutual suicide.
In a world of warring and contrasting thoughts and delusions, the solution
lies in the delineation of frontiers, of awareness of mutual limits. This
agreement on what it is we disagree about is the first step to understanding.

Chapter Twelve


It is rather difficult to describe the onslaught on our minds made by the
intrusion of technical thinking. This is so because technology has such
contrasting influences. The influence can be a blessing, making us more
independent of threatening forces of nature; but at the same time the tool and
the machine can dominate us. This inner antinomy of technization we must
master—will we not otherwise be dragged down into the maelstrom of everincreasing
technical development to final atomic catastrophe! The peculiar
paradox of technology lies in this: gradually the well-being of the machine
(autocar, factory) assumes greater importance and value than the well-being
of man and mankind.

The growth of technology, of the manifold mechanical instruments in the
services of our fantasies, has thrown mankind back to an infantile dream of
unlimited power. There he sits, the little man, in his room with various
gadgets around him. Just pushing a button changes the world for him. What
might! And what still further power he envisions! Yet what mental danger.
The growth of technology may confuse man’s struggle for mental maturity.
The practical application of science and tools originally were meant to give
man more security against outside physical forces. It safeguarded his inner
world; it freed time and energy for meditation, concentration, play, and
creative thinking. Gradually the very tools man made took possession of him
and pushed him back into serfdom instead of toward liberation. Man became
drunk with technical skill; he became a technology addict. Technology calls
forth from people, unknown to themselves, an infantile, servile attitude. We
have nearly all become slaves of our cars. Technical security paradoxically
may increase cowardice. There is almost no challenge any more to face the
forces of nature outside us and the forces of instinct within us. Because the
very technical world has become for us that magical challenge which nature
originally afforded.

It is the very subservience to technology that constitutes an attack on
thinking. The child that is confronted from early youth with all modern
devices and gadgets of technology—the radio, the motor, the television set,
the film—is unwittingly conditioned to millions of associations, sounds,
pictures, movements, in which he takes no part. He has no need to think about
them. They are too directly connected with his senses. Modern technology
teaches man to take for granted the world he is looking at; he takes no time to
retreat and reflect. Technology lures him on, dropping him into its wheels
and movements. No rest, no meditation, no reflection, no conversation—the
senses are continually overloaded with stimuli. The child doesn’t learn to
question his world any more; the screen offers him answers—ready-made.
Even his books offer him no human encounter—nobody reads to him; the
screen people tell him their story in their way. Technical knowledge forced
upon him in this way makes no demand that he think about what he sees and
hears. Conversation is becoming a lost art. The machine age rushes on,
leaving no time for quiet reading and encounter with the creative arts. We do
see a countercurrent, however, in the do-it-yourself movement. Here we
probably see a resurgence of the creative spirit and a challenge to the
engineer who creates the robot.

In an over technical world, body and mind no longer exist. Life becomes
only a part of a greater technical and chemical thought process. Mathematical
equations intrude into human relations. We learn, for example, through the
doctrine of guilt by association, the simple equation that the enemies of our
enemies have to be our friends and that the friends of our enemies have to be
our enemies—as if only simple addition of positive and negative signs exist
by which to evaluate human beings.



Radio and television catch the mind directly, leaving children no time for
calm, dialectic conversation with their books. The view from the screen
doesn’t allow for the freedom-arousing mutuality of communication and
discussion. Conversation is the lost art. These inventions steal time and steal
self-awareness. What technology gives with one hand—easiness and
physical security—it takes away with the other. It has taken away affectionate
relationships between men. The depersonalized Christmas card with its
printed signature, the form letter, the very typewriter are examples of
mechanical proxies. Technical intrusion usurps human relationships, as if
people no longer had to give one another attention and love any more. The
bottle replaces Mother’s breast, the nickel in the automat replaces Mother’s
preparation of sandwiches. The impersonal machine replaces human gesture
and mutuality. Children educated in this way prefer to be alone, with
fantasies to escape into and gadgets to play with. Mechanization pushes them
into mental withdrawal.

Technology suggests and creates the feeling of man’s omnipotence on the
one hand, but on the other, the smallness of man, his weakness and inferiority
compared with the might of machinery. The power of man’s creative mind is
disguised behind dreams of social machines and world mechanics.
Mechanics in political maneuverings are overestimated and go beyond
reason. We use intelligence and counterintelligence, trickery and political
machines, forgetting the “emotional reasons” which underlie human
brilliance and stupidity. There exists a relationship between naive belief in
technology only and a naive belief in human intelligence, logic, and
innocence that was part of the optimistic liberalist feeling prevalent in the
nineteenth century. We see in both beliefs the denial of the irrational depths
of the mind.

What is the ultimate result of technical progress? Does it drive people
more and more to the fear and despair brought on by a love-empty pushbutton
world? Does it create a megalomaniac happiness won by remote
control of other people? Does it deliver people to the unsatisfying emptiness
of leisure hours filled with boredom? Is the ultimate result living by proxy,
experiencing the world only from the movie or television screen, instead of
living and laboring and creating one’s own?

In cases of television addiction, I observed the following points:
The television fascination is a real addiction; that is to say, television can
become habit-forming, the influence of which cannot be stopped without
active therapeutic interference.

It arouses precociously sexual and emotional turmoil, seducing children to
peep again and again, though at the same time they are confused about what
they see.

It continuously provides satisfaction for aggressive fantasies (western
scenes, crime scenes) with subsequent guilt feelings— since the child
unconsciously tends to identify with the criminal, despite all the heroic

It is a stealer of time.

Preoccupation with television prevents active inner creativity— children
and adults merely sit and watch the pseudo-world of the screen instead of
confronting their own difficulties. If there is a conflict with parents who have
no time for their youngsters, the children surrender all the more willingly to
the screen. The screen talks to them, plays with them, takes them into a world
of magic fantasies. For them, television takes the place of a grownup and is
forever patient. This the child translates into love.

As in all mass media, we have to be aware of the hypnotizing, seductive
action of any all-penetrating form of communication. People become
fascinated even when they do not want to look on. We must keep in mind that
every step in personal growth needs isolation, needs inner conversation and
deliberation and a reviewing with the self. Television hampers this process
and prepares the mind more easily for collectivization and cliché thinking. It
persuades onlookers to think in terms of mass values. It intrudes into family
life and cuts off the more subtle interfamilial communication.

The world of tomorrow will witness a tremendous battle between
technology and psychology. It will be a fight of technology versus nature, of
systematic conditioning versus creative spontaneity. The veneration of the
machine implies the turning of mechanical knowledge into power, into pushbutton
power. Mechanical instruments of destruction such as the H-bomb
have translated the primitive human urge for destruction into large-scale
scientific killing. Now, this destructive potential may become an easy tool
for any potentate crazy for power. Driven by technology, our own world has
become more interdependent, and through our dependence on technical
knowledge and devices, we ourselves are in danger of delivering our people
to the more brutal totalitarians. This is the actual dilemma of our civilization.
The machine that became a tool of human organization and made possible the
conquest of nature, has acquired a dictatorial position. It has forced people
into automatic responses, into rigid patterns and destructive habits.
The machine has aroused an ever-increasing yearning for speed, for
frenzied accomplishments. There exists a psychological relationship between
speedomania (frenzied swiftness) and ruthlessness. Behind the wheel in a fast
car, a driver becomes drunk with power. Here again we see the denial of the
concept of natural, steady growth. Ideas and methods need time to mature.
The machine forces results prematurely: evolution is turned into revolution of
wheels. The machine is the denial that progress has to grow within us before
it can be realized outside ourselves. Mechanization takes away the belief in
mental struggle, the belief that problem solving needs time and repeated
attempts. Without such beliefs, the platitude will take over, the digest and the
hasty memorandum. A mechanized world believes only in condensation of
problems and not in a continuous dialectic struggle between man and the
questions he construes.

One of the fallacies of modern technique is its direction toward greater
efficiency. With less energy, more has to be produced. This principle may be
right for the machine, but is not true for the human organism. In order to
become strong and to remain strong, man has to learn to overcome
resistances, to face challenges, and to test himself again and again. Luxury
causes mental and physical atrophy.

The devaluation of the individual human brain, replacing it by mechanical
computers, also suggests the totalitarian system for which its citizens are
compelled to become more and more the servile tools. The inhuman “system”
becomes the aim, a system that is the product of technocracy and
dehumanization and which may result in organized brutality and the crushing
of any personal morality. In a mechanical society a set of values are forcibly
imprinted on the unconscious mind, the way Pavlov conditioned his dogs.
Our brains then no longer need to serve us or develop the thinking process;
machines will do this for us. In technocracy, emphasis is on behavior free of
emotions and creativity. We speak of “electric brains,” forgetting that
actually creative minds are behind these brains and their frailties. For some
engineers, minds have become no more than electric lamps in a totalitarian
laboratory. Between man and his fellow man there has been interposed a
tremendous, cold, paper force, a nameless bureaucracy of rules and tools.
Mechanization has brought into being the mysterious “pimp” in human
relations, the man in between, the mechanical bureaucrat, who is powerful
but impersonal. He has become a new source of magic fear.
In a technocratic world every moral problem gets repressed and is
displaced by a technical or statistical evaluation. The problems of sound and
speedy mathematics serve to overthrow ethics. If, for instance, one
investigates the inner life of the guards of the concentration camps and their
inner troubles and tribulations, one understands why those jailers gave so
much thought to the technical problem of how to get the murdered corpses of
their victims out of the gas chambers as soon as possible. The words “clean”
and “practical” and “pure” acquired for them a different dimension than our
usual one. They thought in chemical and statistical terms —and stuck to them
—in order not to be aware of their deeper moral guilt.

The mind regarded as a computing machine is the result of compulsive
rationalization and generalization of the world. This has been so since the
time of early Greek thinkers. This concept implies denial or minimization of
emotional life and of the value of marginal experiences. In such a philosophy,
spontaneity is never understood—nor creativity and historical coincidence,
nor the miracles of human communication as revealed by telepathy.
Technology based on this concept is cold and without moral standards of
living, without faith and “feeling at home” in our own world. It continually
stimulates new dissatisfaction and the production of new luxury without
knowing why. It stimulates greediness and laziness without emphasizing
restraint and the art of living. Indeed, technology as a goal instead of a means
gives us the fiction of simple equality instead of the continual pursuit of
freedom, diversity, and human dignity. Technology disregards the fact that our
scientific view of the world is only a gradual correction of our mythical and
prescientific view. Technology, once a product of courageous fantasy and
vision, threatens to kill that same vision, without which no human progress is
possible. The idol, technology, must become a tool again and not the
omnipotent magician per se, who drags us into the abyss.

The industrial development in our Western culture created a new problem,
that of making man more distant from the rhythm of nature. First industrial
man was tied to factory and engine, and then technological progress
increased leisure time, bringing a new question: leisure for what?

The increased growth of time, and time space, and of the sizes of towns,
and the reduction of distance through the increased means of transport
affected deeply the roots of our feelings of belonging and security. The family
—the atom of society—often became disrupted, and sometimes even
deteriorated. The raving frenzy of the family car on Sunday replaced the quiet
being together of family groups in mutual exchanges of affection and wisdom.
Only when man learns to be mentally independent of technology —that
means when he learns to do without—will he also learn not to be
overwhelmed and swept away by it. People have to become lonely Robinson
Crusoes first, before they can really use and appreciate the advantages of

Our education has to learn to present simple, natural challenges and needs
to the child in order to immunize him against the paralyzing and lazy-making
tendencies of our technicized epoch.


Paradoxically enough, technical security may increase cowardice. The
technical world we ourselves have created has replaced the very real
challenge which nature originally afforded man’s imagination, and man is no
longer compelled to face the forces of nature outside himself and the forces
of instinct within him. Our luxurious habits and complicated civilization have
a tendency to appeal more to our mental passivity than to our spiritual
alertness. Mentally passive people, without basic morals and philosophy, are
easily lured into political adventures which are in conflict with the ethics of
a free, democratic society.

The assembly line alienates man from his work, from the product of his
own labor. No longer does man produce the things man needs; the machine
produces for him. Engineers and scientists tell us that in the near future
automation—running factories without human help—will become a reality,
and human labor and the human being himself will become almost completely
superfluous. How can man have self-esteem when he becomes the most
expendable part of his world? The ethical and moral values which are the
foundation of the democratic society are based on the view that human life
and human welfare are the earth’s greatest good. But in a society in which the
machine takes over completely, all our traditional values can be destroyed. In
venerating the machine, we denigrate ourselves; we begin to believe that
might makes right, that the human being has no intrinsic worth, and that life
itself is only a part of a greater technical and chemical thought process.
Man’s progressive retreat toward a mechanized, push-button world is best illustrated
by his love for automobiles and other machines. The moment he can retreat to
his car seat and direct the world by remote control, he dreams an old, longforgotten
childhood dream of tremendous omnipotence. Man’s servility to his
automobile and other machines takes something away from his individuality.
We are hypnotized by the idea of remote control. The wheels and the pushbuttons
give us a false sense of freedom. Yet, at the same time, the creative
part of man resists the machine’s cold, mechanical intrusion into his inner

As I drive, every time I pass something beautiful along the road, be it an
exhilarating view, a museum, a river, a tall tree, at that very moment a kind of
tense conflict is aroused in me. Shall I stop the car and drink in the beauty
around me or shall I give in to my machine and keep racing along?
For the psychologist and biologist such behavior raises important
questions. How will it end? Will man’s tendency to become more and more
an immobile technological embryo finally get the better of him and his
civilization? The Dutch anatomist Bolk—one of my teachers—long ago
described the regressive retardation in growth characteristic of human beings
as compared to the rapid development of the higher primates. As a result of
the fetalization and anatomical retardation of man, he acquired his erect
posture, the use of his grasping and verifying hands, the possibility of speech.
This long youth made it possible for him to learn, and to build up his own
thought world.

Since the Renaissance and the advent of modern science, the scientist
himself has been forced to retreat more and more to his technological womb
—his laboratory, his study, his armchair. He has done this for the sake of
greater intellectual concentration, but as a result he gradually became more
isolated from living people—unobtrusively. Only in the last decades has the
scientist begun to come in contact with social problems more and more,
partly forced to do so by the growth of social science.

From his magic corner, the scientist has learned how to control the world
with his inventions and mental dictates. Increasingly the population has been
seduced by the idea of remote control. The arsenal of buttons and gadgets
leads us into the magic dream world of omnipotent power. Our technical
civilization gives us greater ease, but it is challenge and uneasiness that make
for character and strength.

The repeated outlet in work, through which we not only sublimate our
aggressions but also refine and recondition our instinctual aims, is grossly
endangered by technical automatization. There exists an intimate relation
between the rhythm of work and the rhythm of creation. In a world of mere
leisure and no work discipline, our unleashed instincts would gain again. It is
the alternating rhythm of work and leisure time that refines our enjoyment of

A conference in New Haven sponsored by the Society for Applied
Anthropology on the effects of automation on the workers was told that the
chief complaint of the workers was that increasing mental tension supplanted
muscular fatigue. [The New York Times, December 29, 1955] The strain of watching
and controlling machines makes man jumpy, he develops gradually the
feeling that the machine controls him instead of he the machine. Several of
my patients looked at machines as something alive, dangerously alive
because machines had no love or other feelings for the man who used them.
The dangerous paradox in the boost of living standards is that in
promoting ease, it promotes idleness, and laziness. If the mind is not
prepared to fill leisure time with new challenges and new endeavors, new
initiative and new activities, the mind falls asleep and becomes an
automaton. The god Automation devours its own children. It can make highly
specialized primitives out of us.

Just as we are gradually replacing human labor by machines, so we are
gradually replacing the human brain by mechanical computers, and thus
increasing man’s sense of unworthiness. We begin to picture the mind itself
as a computing machine, as a set of electrochemical impulses and actions.
The brain is an organ of the body; its structure and its actions can be studied
and examined. But the mind is a very different thing. It is not merely the sum
of the physiological processes in the brain; it is the unique, creative aspect of
the human personality.

Unless we watch ourselves, unless we become more aware of the serious
problems our technology has brought us, our entire society could turn into a
kind of superautomatized state. Any breakdown of moral awareness and of
the individual’s sense of his own worth makes all of us more vulnerable to
mental coercion. Nazi Germany gave us the frightful example of the complete
breakdown of all moral evaluations. In the S. S. society, racial persecution
and murder became a kind of moral rule.

All this may sound extreme. But the fact remains that any influence—overt
or concealed, well- or ill-intentioned—which reduces our alertness, our
capacity to face reality, our desire to live as active, acting individuals, to
assume responsibility and to face up to danger, takes from us some part of
our essential humanness, the quality in us which strives toward freedom and
democratic maturity. The enforced mental intervention practiced by the
totalitarians is deliberate and politically inspired, but mental intervention is
a serious danger even when its purpose is nonpolitical. Any influence which
tends to rob man of his free mind can reduce him to robotism. Any influence
which destroys the individual can destroy the whole society.
Chapter Thirteen


Since social life has become more and more complicated, a new group of
mediators between man and his goals has developed. It is no longer the
ancient priest who mediates between man and his gods, between man and the
powers beyond him, but a group of administrators have, in part, taken over
the job of intervening between man and his government. There are today
mediators between man and his bosses, between artist and public, between
farmer and market, mediators between everything. The administrative mind is
born, often dominating man’s social behavior and man’s manifold contacts,
leading him into complicated actions and compulsions far beyond
spontaneous behavior.

All these ties, the rigid bureaucratic ones and the useful administrative
ones, have their influence on human behavior and often may befog man’s free
thinking. I have a special reason for developing this theme in a book on the
rape of the mind because this problem of mediation between man and his
actions and thoughts exists in our form of democracy as well as in the
totalitarian countries. Both halves of the world are grappling with the
involved problem of how to administer themselves. The mere technique of
governing ourselves and our world can become a threat to free human
development—and this may be independent of the ideology the
administration adheres to. We have not the same freedom to choose the
official men who govern us that we have to select our favorite shop or our
doctor. As long as the official man is in charge, we are in his bureaucratic


Administrators today cannot handle their jobs adequately within the limits
of the simple knowledge of people and nations that served governments in
former years. If our leaders can not take into account the irrational forces in
themselves and in other men and nations, they may easily be swept off into
the maelstrom of mass emotions. If they cannot learn to recognize that their
private or official conduct often reflects their prejudices and irrationalities,
they will not be able to cope with the often unexpected prejudices of others.
If they are, for instance, not sensitive to the paradoxical strategy hidden
behind the misleading Aesopian language of totalitarian, they will not be able
to counter the cold war. Psychological knowledge has become a must in our
era of confused human relations.

Do our people in office, for instance, understand fully the provocative
totalitarian strategy of slandering and wild accusation, and are they able to
handle it adequately? Do they realize that the mere official denial never has
as strong an appeal and impact as the initial accusation, and, in fact, usually
fits into the accuser’s strategy? Apparently they do not, for many still use
simple official denial as a defense against the totalitarian strategy of
accusation, when, in fact, only repeated exposure and ridicule of the very
root of this technique can defeat it.

Do they realize the implications of the strategy of raising sham problems?
The totalitarian and the demagogue often use this confusing technique. By
launching emotional inquiries and investigations and asking for attention for
quasi problems, they seek to divert attention from their real aims.
Do they understand, for instance, what lies behind the technique of
exploiting the chivalry and generosity of the public and blackmailing the pity
of the world? The strategy of complaining and calling for justice is a wellknown
mental defense used by neurotic individuals to arouse guilt feelings in
others and to cover up their own hidden aggressiveness. The exploitation of
pity and the overt declaration of one’s own purity and honest innocence is a
familiar trick when it is used by individuals, but we are less likely to
recognize it when it is used in international politics.

Do our administrators realize that even the romantic ideals of brotherly
love and world peace can be used to cover up aggressive designs? After the
First World War, we heard many inspiring idealistic catchwords from the
defeated central European countries. Their press and their leaders described
in great detail, for all the world to know, the “inner purification through
suffering” of the defeated peoples. Thus these countries appealed to the
conscience and compassion of the whole world. But it was a questionable
conversion. Every therapist knows that those who talk a great deal about
their inner change and recovery have for the most part not changed at all. The
fine phrases are so often contradicted by actions. Politicians must recognize
that this can be as true for nations as it is for individuals. Let us not forget
that nations don’t talk. Official words are made up by representatives with
unofficial and mostly unknown inner motivations.

Administrators, diplomats, and politicians form the nerve centers and
paths of communication between peoples and nations. The tensions in the
diplomatic regions represent the political tensions in the world. But they
represent other things, too. The political profession is subject to special
kinds of nervous tensions. The moment the administrator arrives at a top
level, an inner change may take place. From then on, he can identify with
those who formerly led him. The very fact of being in office and being a
leader may change a man’s mind in many ways. Often he removes himself
more and more from human problems and from the people he represents and
thinks only in terms of national strategy, official ideology, and the aims of
power politics. Or childhood ambitions, long frustrated, are aroused. He may
become the victim of his inflated personal ambitions and his individual
notion of responsibility, and, as a consequence, lose control of his own

Leading statesmen, burdened by responsibilities, have to become more
careful; indeed, they often have to express themselves in noncommittal
language. Yet, they are not aware that such language gradually may reform
their way of thinking. Finally, they may think they possess a priority on
double talk.

Another difficulty is related to a rather general fear of success. Once a
high ambition is reached, a long-hidden fear from childhood may awake, a
fear related to an early competition with the father and with the siblings.
From this time on, the envy and hostility of those bypassed may start to injure
the statesman’s life.

The danger of assuming any leadership—even of any form of selfassertion—
is that it provokes resistance and hostility, retaliation and
punishment. The administrator knows himself to be in the public eye; he feels
exposed to criticism and political attack. If he didn’t have it before, from
now on he has to develop a defensive facade in order to court the public and
the voters. The result may be that the former meek democrat, the believer in
government by the people, suddenly takes on the stature of an authoritarian
personality. He is guided by his frustrated infantile fantasy of leadership.
The administrative “brain trusters,” with all their inner problems,
nevertheless make history for us. Our minds are deeply affected by their
minds. At the same time, we—the great public—influence them, and our
civilized impulses may direct them to find the good road, just as our
primitive drives and influences may urge them on to push us all into
catastrophe. The intrusion of the administrative mind becomes even more
precarious when the authorities in power follow patterns of procedure not
controlled by court and the law. In such cases, prejudice and arbitrariness
can easily develop as we have experienced with many of our security
regulations. Official secrecy is a token of magic power; the more hush-hush
there is in the world, the less democratic control and the greater the fear of

It should be, technically, quite simple to administer any group or nation—
or even the whole world. Mankind certainly knows enough to do this job. We
know a great deal about history, sociology, and the science of human
relations and government, at least enough not to repeat the mistakes from
history. We live in a world of technical and economic abundance. But we
have not yet learned to apply what we know or to organize the resources of
the world. Somewhere something has gone wrong, and things have gotten out
of hand. The will of nations and people to understand one another seems to
be paralyzed and mutual fear and suspicion have been built up by the
fantasies of mythical ideologies warring against one another. And tomorrow
only the tails of the fighting dogs may remain.

During the Second World War, I was sent as an official representative of
the Netherlands government to an international meeting on welfare and war
relief. Here I became even more aware of the extent to which private
passions can mold the way we handle public problems. All of us at the
conference had cold, expressionless faces which implied a sharp, unbiased
form of thinking, but our unconscious minds were touched by other problems.
Welfare is often much more a subject of hate than of love and sympathy.
One’s pride and prestige can play a much greater role than pity for the poor
victim. The displaced persons and the people of the devastated and
underdeveloped countries are very much aware of this fact. They do not like
the role in which fate has cast them; they have to play the double role of the
eternal victim who is not only the victim of politics and war, but also of the
often arrogant provider of charity. As a matter of fact, the representative at
the receiving end of the deal resented any offer made to his country.
Everybody wants to be himself the generous “uncle from America.”


In the future, as our psychological understanding grows, leading
politicians will have to be better educated in the principles of modern
psychology. Just as a soldier must know how to handle his physical weapons,
so the politician must know how to face and handle the mental strategy of
human relationships and diplomacy. He will have to become aware of the
pitfalls in all human communication and the frailties of his own mind.
Bodily disease and neurotic development can have all kinds of effects on
those in office. Under their influence, some men are drawn into a life of
continuous resentment, as if, in their political and official activities, they
were fighting out their infantile struggles against devils, anxieties, and inner
guilt. Others are purified by their sufferings and become wiser and more
humane than they were.

The modern science of psychosomatic medicine makes it clear that
constant worrying, continual competition, repressed aggressions, the will to
dominate and to govern others, the fear of responsibility, the burden of one’s
chosen profession are among the many factors that influence body and mind
to form a pattern of bodily reactions. These reactions may actually hamper
our ability to solve our problems by incapacitating us physically. Becoming a
chosen statesman in our era of increased human competition and increased
dependence on the masses of voters builds up in officeholders qualities that
are nearly psychopathic, that can cripple the body or the mind or both at a
time when we need the healthiest and soundest leaders. The role the latent
psychosis or character disorder plays in many a leading personality cannot
be emphasized enough. Not long ago I treated the leader of a huge
humanitarian association, who was accorded much esteem by his fellow
citizens, but who was a sick, psychopathic tyrant in his own family circle.
His children trembled at the sight of him and developed—of course—a
cynical attitude about all idealism and humanitarianism.

I suspect that many times this pathology is influenced by the way we select
our leaders. Public preference is often directed toward strong, defensive,
overcompensated qualities of character which show up well at public
functions. The outer facade is too much seen; we are not able to judge the
inner core.

In 1949, Burnett Hershey wrote an article which posed the question, Is our
fate in the hands of sick men? The article was written after the tragic death of
James Forrestal, the American Secretary of Defense, who committed suicide
under the influence of despair and delusions of persecution. It describes in
some detail the psychosomatic afflictions of various statesmen. Hershey
quotes General George C. Marshall’s words to the Overseas Press Club:

“Stomach ulcers have a strange effect on the history of our times. In
Washington I had to contend with, among other things, the ulcers of Bedell
Smith in Moscow and the ulcers of Bob Lovett and Dean Acheson in

The author goes on to point out that Stalin, Sir Stafford Cripps,
Warren Austin, and Vishinsky also suffered from psychosomatic ailments, as
does Clement Attlee. All of us have heard of the repeated fainting spells of
the Iranian ex-Premier, Mossadegh, the man who might, in a spell of
semiconsciousness, have changed the balance of power in the Middle East.
The much-debated and headlined Senator McCarthy is another case in point.
At the height of his struggle for headlines, he had a stomach condition that
required an exploratory operation, bursitis, frequent sinus headaches and
signs of exhaustion—and all of these are known as psychosomatic
involvements resulting from extreme tension. [Newsweek, April 12, 1954.]

We have, too, many cheering examples of how physical disability and
neurotic development can mature and strengthen the personality.


Perhaps thebrightest example of the relationship between body and profession is the late
Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose political career was inconspicuous until he
was stricken by poliomyelitis. His years of physical suffering became years
of mental ripening. His conquest of pain and disease changed his attitude
toward his own problems and also toward the problems of the world. His
growth of empathy and humility, his increase in strategic intuition, and his
superior knowledge of the balance of forces in his country must be partly
attributed to his inner mental growth during his disease.
Roosevelt will always be a guiding example of how the mind is able to
overcome the physical limitations of the body, how the mind grows out
beyond it when a man is willing to look inside and fight out the conflicts
within himself.


Let me return for a moment to the wartime conference on welfare I
mentioned earlier and tell you something more about it.
The conference chairman did not feel well; every decision was as painful
for him as his ulcer. He hemmed and hawed and refused to accept the
responsibility the position placed on him. The representative of one of the
eastern European countries was an attractive woman but a misanthrope.
Every word she spoke was colored by suspicion, and when a representative
from one of the Latin countries attempted a mild flirtation with her, she
showed her confusion by arguing furiously against every one of his
constructive proposals.

We also had a hesitant, old-school, professional politician in our midst.
Though he couched his speech in gentle, polite words, he spoke only to
destroy every proposal that was not initiated by his faction. When he had to
listen—and this he did not like to do at all—he busied himself constantly
with his tie or his eyeglasses, always polishing himself.

In a crowded corner sat an enthusiastic young man who longed to do
something important. He wanted to act, he wanted to see something
accomplished, and his excitement was regarded by the others with
sophisticated disdain. He did not know the rules of conference play.
The sessions were boring. The delegates spoke endlessly and pointlessly.
But one day the entire conference was gripped by a kind of uncontrollable
fury. Every delegate tried to destroy all his colleagues. Someone had
unexpectedly used the word “traitor” to designate a certain guerilla group
fighting in Europe, and the smooth discussion was suddenly transformed into
a collision of the insurgent passions that had long smoldered behind suave

What agitation was aroused! What rage, what anger! But it was only
temporary. It died down; our sophisticated conference spirit reasserted itself,
and we settled down to do no work. The chairman made a polite
summarizing speech, and we disbanded. The charitable work we planned so
carefully is still undone, and many years have passed.
With dogged optimism, political leaders still convene to construct a new
peace for the world. We know that many of them will suffer again from ulcers
of the stomach, but what do we know of their deeper hidden wishes and

Although I am afraid that the time is still far away when we shall subject
our official representatives and administrators to psychological education
and selection, we must become more aware of the many unconscious factors
which influence them and us.

Do political leaders try to understand one another and the groups they
represent, or are they only measuring the power of their political machines,
their words, and their votes? Are they guided by private resentments and
ambitions or by the honest wish to serve the community and its ideals?
Are our administrators mentally well equipped to do their tasks? If not,
how could psychological insight gradually improve their equipment?
How many of them are conscious of the extent of their private frustrations
? Are their destructive impulses rationalized away under the guise of
political allegiance? How do illness, disease, and neurosis collide in their
deliberations ? Watch how, in any debate, polite speeches are interrupted by
sudden diatribes.

To what degree do childhood rearing, fixed ideas, or pathological
ambitions of administrators influence the destiny of a town or nation?
We recognize that idealistic platitudes may cover inadequate proposals,
and we tend to accept this as the well-worn play of political strategy and
diplomacy. But far worse than this overt policy of evasion is the hidden
political conference and discussion between the unconscious minds and
passions of politicians.

How many politicians and their followers are aware of this lurking
undercurrent which often wields a stronger influence than overt action? How
does the personal element between our administrators obstruct our own
mental freedom, and what is the role of the psychopathic element in some of
our leaders?

It is important for us to ask these questions. For the development of
science has taught us that, even when it is impossible to find immediate
satisfactory solutions, posing the right question helps to bring clarity to the
future. It prepares the way for a solution.



In a state where terror is used to keep the people in line, the
administrative machine may become the exclusive property and tool of the
dictator. The development of a kind of bureaucratic absolutism is not limited,
however, to totalitarian countries. A mild form of professional absolutism is
evident in every country in the mediating class of civil servants who bridge
the gap between man and his rulers. Such a bureaucracy may be used to help
or to harm the citizens it should serve.

It is important to realize that a peculiar, silent form of battle goes on in all
of the countries of the world—under every form of government—a battle
between the common man and the government apparatus he himself has
created. In many places we can see that this governing tool, which was
originally meant to serve and assist man, has gradually obtained more power
than it was intended to have.

Is Saint Bureaucratus a devil who takes possession of a man as soon as he
is given governmental responsibility? Are administrators infected with a
desire to create a sham order, to manipulate others from behind their green
steel desks? Governmental techniques are no different from any other
psychological strategy; the deadening hold of regimentation can take mental
possession of those dedicated to it, if they are not alert. And this is the
intrinsic danger of the various agencies that mediate between the common
man and his government. It is a tragic aspect of life that man has to place
another fallible man between himself and the attainment of his highest ideals.
Which human failings will manifest themselves most readily in the
administrative machine ? Lust for power, automatism, and mental rigidity—
all these breed suspicion and intrigue. Being a high civil servant subjects
man to a dangerous temptation, simply because he is a part of the ruling
apparatus. He finds himself caught in the strategy complex. The magic of
becoming an executive and a strategist provokes long-repressed feelings of
omnipotence. A strategist feels like a chess player. He wants to manipulate
the world by remote control. Now he can keep others waiting, as he was
forced to wait himself in his salad days, and thus he can feel himself
superior. He can entrench himself behind his official regulations and
responsibilities. At the same time he must continually convince others of his
indispensability because he is loath to vacate his seat. As a defense against
his relative unimportance, he has to expand his staff, increasing his
bureaucratic apparatus. In order to become a V.I.P. one needs a big office.
Each new staff member requests new secretaries and new typewriters.
Everything begins to get out of hand, but everything must be controlled; new
and better files must be installed, new conferences called, and new
committees set up. The staff-interaction committee talks for days on end.
New supervisors are created to supervise the old supervisors and to keep the
whole group in a state of infantile servility. And what was formerly done by
one man is now done by an entire staff. Finally, the bureaucratic tension
becomes too great and the managerial despotic urge looks for rest in a
nervous breakdown.

This creeping totalitarianism of the desk and file goes on nearly
everywhere in the world. As soon as civil servants can no longer talk
humanely and genially but write down everything in black and white and
keep long minutes in overflowing files, the battle for administrative power
has begun. Compulsive order, red tape, and regulation become more
important than freedom and justice, and in the meantime suspicion between
management, employees, and subjects increases.

Written and printed documents and reports have become dangerous
objects in the world. After a conversation, even when there are harsh words,
inanities are soon forgotten. But on paper these words are perpetuated and
can become part of a system of growing suspicion.

Many people become administrators in public affairs out of idealistic
feelings of service and avocation. Others try to escape the adventure of life
by becoming part of the civil service corps. Such service assures them a
settled income, regular promotion, and a sense of job security. It is very
alluring, this feeling of security. The smooth automatism and polished rigidity
of the red-tape world is very attractive to certain types of men, but it may
devitalize others who still believe in challenge and spontaneity.
The burning psychological question is whether man will eventually master
his institutions so that these will serve him and not rule him. In totalitarian
countries one is not permitted to see the humor of one’s own shortcomings.
The system, the red tape, and the manifold files become more important than
the poor being lost in his chair behind a huge desk, looking much too
important for his mental bearings.

The art of being a leading administrator, of being a genuine representative
of the people is a difficult one, requiring multiple empathy and identification
with other people and their motivations.

Diplomats and politicians still believe in verbal persuasion and
argumentative tactics. It is a very old and alluring game, this strategy of
political maneuvering with official slogans and catchwords— the subtlety of
bypassing the truth in the service of partisanship, of giving faulty emphasis,
the skill of dancing around selected arguments to arrive at personal
propagandistic aims or party aims. Sooner or later nearly all politicians
become infected with the bug. Under the burden of their responsibilities, they
give in to the desire to play the game of diplomacy. They start to compromise
in their thinking, to bend backwards and to be circumspect, lest their remarks
be criticized by the higher echelons. Or they fall back into infantile feelings
of magic omnipotence. They want to have their fingers in every pie—to the
left and to the right.

All these are dangerous mental streaks of every human being which can
develop more easily in politicians and administrators because of the growing
impact of modern governmental techniques and their threat to free
expression. When a man gets entangled in strategical and political talk,
something changes in his attitude. He is no longer straightforward; he doesn’t
express and communicate what he thinks, but he worries about what others
are thinking about him behind their façades. He becomes too prudent and
starts to build all kinds of mental defenses and justifications around himself.
In short, he learns to assume the strategic attitude. Forget spontaneity, deny
enthusiasm; don’t demand inner honesty of yourself or others, never reveal
yourself, never expose yourself, play the strategist. Be careful and use more
buts and howevers. Never commit yourself.

I remember a leader of the opposition who became completely confused
and nearly collapsed when, after a long time out of office, his party won an
election and he had to assume governmental responsibility. From an
aggressive, outspoken critic, he became a hesitating, insinuating neurotic,
playing the tactful strategist, having no real initiative.

Some politicians are puppets, spokesmen of their bosses. Some are the
cavalier jugglers of words, who transfer human aggressions into slogans.
There are also the loudmouthed trumpeters of doom, who resort to the
argument of panic. Modern politics is carried out with obsolete rules of
conversation, communication, and discussion; and too few politicians are
aware of the semantic pitfalls and emotional dishonesties of the word tools
they must use to convince others.

Yet mutual understanding can become a basis of political strategy. It is not
power politics with verbal deceit and catchwords that is needed but mental
probing to find ways in which proposals and suggestions may cut through the
resistance of those with different opinions and motivations.
Politicians too often forget that their fight for administrative power may
become a form of psychological warfare against the integrity of the minds of
those who are compelled to listen. The repetitious mutual calumny, so often
used during elections, gradually undermines the democratic system and leads
to the urge for authoritarian control. The strategic rumors and suspicions the
politicians sow are an attack on human integrity.

When the citizenry no longer has confidence in its leaders, it looks for the
man with brute power to be its leader. Where is the politician who is willing
to admit that his opponent is at least as capable as he, and perhaps even more
capable than he is? In the free admission of equality of ability and of the
wisdom of his opponent lies the politician’s chance for cooperation. For true
cooperation can only be brought about by mutual empathy and sympathy and
the understanding of human faults.

In April, 1951, a group of psychologists, psychoanalysts, and social
scientists affiliated with the United Nations, the World Federation of Mental
Health, UNESCO, and the World Health Organization were guests of the
Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation in New York. This was a meeting at which these
problems of government, and the impact of governmental systems, were
explored and discussed and published later in a report. These experts have
become more and more aware of the need for psychological education and
selection of government administrators.

Should our administrators be psychoanalyzed? This nearly utopian
question does not predicate an immediate rush for psychological training for
politicians and administrators, but it does point toward a future period when
practical intelligence and sound psychological knowledge will guide man in
the various aspects of his life. Education will be more fully permeated with
dependable psychological knowledge. Psychology and psychoanalysis are
still young sciences, but many of our present-day politicians could already
profit by them. Through gain in self-insight, they would become more secure
in the strategy of world guidance. They would assume more responsibility—
not only for their successes, but also for their failures. And they would take
more responsibility, with fewer inner qualms, for the good and welfare of

At this very moment our failure to solve the problems of governmental
inefficiency and bureaucratic intrusion into human actions may hamper the
citizen’s mind in its development. Man’s need to conform is in constant battle
with man’s need to go out on his own. The tie-up of our spontaneous
freethinking with the unadventurous administrative mind has to be studied
and the problem it presents solved by the psychology of the future.
Chapter Fourteen



As soon as “treason” is mentioned, something in man’s soul is stirred.
Anger and scorn, suspicion and anxiety are aroused, and people want to
avoid the subject. The social reaction toward a traitor—even before we are
certain that the accusation is deserved— is very spectacular. Former friends
of a man accused as a “traitor” retreat and withdraw from this token of evil.
In every trial of traitors we feel inwardly, personally accused and guilty.
This is one of the reasons that treason trials make such deep impressions
and provoke the most confusing discussions. Dictators can use such trials to
cast a spell on the public. In a book on mental coercion and the rape of the
mind, an investigation of the problem of treason and loyalty is needed.


Self-betrayal comes out of all human pores.
Sigmund Freud
In my home town in Holland there was a little barbershop quite near the
government buildings. It was owned by a small man with a gray French
beard. Through the years he had served many of the country’s most important
men. Diplomats and cabinet ministers, proud generals and aggressive leaders
of the opposition— they all wanted his service. The little barber was always
very courteous and agreeable, eager to please his clients. He danced with
prim, servile gestures around them while curling their hair and looking after
their mustaches. As he worked, he would ask his distinguished clients polite
questions: “What is His Excellency So-and-So going to say about this bill?”
“How does the Minister of State feel about that one?” He was not really
interested in politics at all, but the little barber knew that his clients were
flattered by such questions.
And then one day a puffy, beribboned German general walked in and
settled himself in the barber’s chair—the Netherlands had been invaded and
occupied by the Nazi hordes. Of course, our barber knew this, and he had
even managed to hate the invaders for a few days. But he was innately a
genteel soul, and he lathered the general’s face himself and took care not to
soil his uniform. On succeeding days, others of these strangely uniformed
men appeared in the shop, and the little barber served them all well. The
military men were followed by the Brown Shirts and then the Green Shirts of
the Gestapo. The leather of the barber’s chair was scuffed by the huge black
boots. But the little barber did not complain, and soon the occupiers
considered his haircut the most fashionable and best that could be obtained in
the entire city.
Our barber was not too conscious of his increasing official importance.
He danced attendance on his new clients with as much courtesy as he had
showed the diplomats of the old days. He was sorry that his old
acquaintances had gradually disappeared. But in the past his work had been
seasonal; when parliament was not in session, his shop had been empty. Now
his business flourished all the time. The Germans and the collaborators liked
the little barbershop, the perfume, the barber’s skill. Indeed, our amiable
friend was well liked by the uniformed oppressors. They were, after all,
thoroughly unused to friendly treatment; the barber’s behavior was a
welcome change from the contempt with which most of the Dutch people—
those stupid, stubborn resisters—regarded them.
One day the barber was invited to buy a membership card in a newly
formed organization of collaborators. Our friend responded to this request as
he would have to any other appeal for charity. He did not like to give, but he
thought of welfare as a special tax on business, and so he resigned himself to
paying as a petty, necessary annoyance. Some of his old acquaintances
warned him of the consequences; he would be accused of collaboration and
treason. But he pacified them by saying, “I am a barber, and I live as a
barber. I have absolutely no interest in politics. I only want to serve my

When, after the bitter years of struggle and oppression, liberation came,
our friend became officially known as a traitor and a collaborator. When the
black-booted, uniformed supermen were thrown out, their collaborating
friends were imprisoned, the barber among them. After he had served a part
of his sentence, a wise and forgiving judge sent our barber back to his little
shop. The first excitement of liberation had passed, and people were
becoming more willing to forgive those who had been collaborators because
they had been weak-hearted.

Our story is by no means finished. The barber came back from prison a
beaten man. He had been in jail for three months; he still could not
understand what had happened to him. He brooded constantly over his
shameful days in jail. An injustice had been done him. He had served his
fellow men as a well-behaved, virtuous citizen should, and he had been
treated like a criminal. He felt self-righteous, abused, insulted, maltreated
and misunderstood. After all, he had only wanted to be kind and helpful. He
was a barber—nothing more.

The barber could not rid himself of his bitterness and resentment. None of
his former friends came to cheer him up or to sympathize with him. His old
clients did not return. His sadness and depression increased daily and in a
few months he took his own life. And so ended the adventures of a little
barber who had been completely unaware of his collaboration and his

I knew this man. I do not despise him—not at all. I am sure there were
many such pitiful collaborators. I wonder, though, why the little barber was
so unaware. Was it stupidity? Had his apparent kindness always covered up
a resentment against his fellow men? Was he misled by an insidious wave of
suggestion stronger than his mental capacity to resist? We will never know.
This tragedy, caused perhaps by unawareness, perhaps by the inability to
choose between conflicting loyalties, stimulated me to investigate the
problem of the traitor. I had ample opportunity to study this question, both
through my experiences with the Dutch underground during the Nazi
occupation, and when I was imprisoned in a Vichy detention camp. My first
official analysis was made in 1943, when the Dutch government asked me to
prepare a psychological report on disloyal Dutch soldiers and citizens being
held in detention on the Isle of Man.

I arrived at the prison after a hazardous, stormy journey in a small
airplane. The prisoners were a sorry lot. I had anticipated hostility, but I had
not expected to find so many weaklings, consumed by bitterness and anger.
Some of them were typical of the passive, egotistic, psychopathic
personality, whose motto seems to be: “Let the world go to hell! I will never
conform.” Others seemed to be the victims of an unbearable inner struggle—
a conflict between their desire to belong to the stronger group and their
resistance to this desire, a resistance which only increased their bitterness
and antagonism.

This was a situation which proved to me again that there are certain times
when logic and discussion are no help at all. We tried over and over again to
convince the semi-collaborators that they should join with us in the fight
against the Nazis, but they only retreated further behind their private grudges.
They even refused the cigarettes I offered them.

Bad as the trip to the prison had been, the trip back was even worse. The
little plane was pushed off course by strong winds. I was depressed and
disgusted by my experiences, and when we finally arrived in England, both
the pilot and I were sick.

I had many opportunities thereafter to study spies, traitors, and
subversives. My last official wartime investigation took me to a prison camp
in Surinam, Dutch Guinea, where I made a collective report on all the
inhabitants of the prison camp. In many of them, I could discern neurotic and
even psychotic traits.

But I have found that perhaps the best understanding of the problem of
treason has come to me from my psychiatric work with neurotic patients who
have to face a daily struggle with the little betrayals of everyday life, with
their own self-betrayal, and with their ambivalent feelings toward those they
should love.


Before looking into the subject further, let us make an enquiry into the
meaning of the word “treason.” It is, after all, used in a confusing variety of
senses. The word “treason” has many social and political implications, and
the customs, habits, and mores of the group in which it is used affect and
color its meaning.
The word itself is derived from the Latin tradere or transdare, to deliver
wrongfully, to betray, to give something across, to give loyalty and secrets
away. But from this root, the word has acquired a variety of meanings.
In the first place, it has a purely emotional, individual meaning related to
feelings of deprivation and injustice. The infant often experiences all that
compels him out of his state of bliss and dependency—which means the very
act of growing up—as a betrayal, and sees treason in what he considers
rejection by his parents. The person who retains these infantile feelings in his
adult life may react to every fancied slight or rejection as to an act of treason
or betrayal.

Lack of solidarity with the family or clan—with the in-group— not
conforming to its rituals and taboos has often been interpreted by the group as
treason, treason through dissent. In this sense, the word implies a primitive
moral evaluation; disgust and contempt are associated with it. Treason
indicates something deeply emotional, something taboo, something different
or strange, like allegiance to an alien ideology, a breach of traditions, or the
simple fact of being a foreigner. Rejection of the norms and rules of the
community, being one’s own judge of morality and ethics, is often considered

Utter rejection of the traditions of one’s fatherland is an extreme. Often
simple nonconformity may be considered treasonable, too. Indeed, in
Totalitaria nonconformity and dissent are the most serious crimes against the
system, and totalitarian minds have a tendency to look upon even honest
mistakes or differences of opinion as deliberate treachery.

Because of its deep emotional content, the very word itself can be used as
a political tool with which to manipulate people. In Totalitaria it becomes
merely a Pavlovian sign, triggering off reactions of distrust and hatred. After
a military defeat or a diplomatic disappointment, or whenever feelings of
humiliation and inadequacy run high among the people, it is useful strategy to
get them to project their sense of inferiority onto others. The “traitor” is in
such a case an easy scapegoat who satisfies the collective need to project
blame and to relieve unconscious anxiety. In a totalitarian society every
citizen is compelled to become a traitor, according to our own Western sense
of decency, because it is his duty to betray to the regime every expression of
dissension or rebellion. The child has to report his father, the father his child;
they are even called traitors in the totalitarian sense as soon as they fail to

In the common political interpretation, treason is an act of rebellion,
sedition, schism, heresy, conspiracy, or subversion. Its technical-juridical
meaning is well known to everybody. Treason is adhering to enemies and
giving aid and comfort to them; it is also, in a more modern, modified sense,
taking part in an international ideological conspiracy against the fatherland.
To me, as a psychiatrist, its relation to the general problem of selfbetrayal
is the key to an understanding of the word. The germ of treason
arises first in the individual’s compromises with his own principles and
beliefs. After these initial compromises have been made, it becomes easier
to go on and on, to make more and more compromises, until finally the
compromiser may become the man who is willing to sell himself and his
services to the highest bidder. During the Nazi occupation, we saw this
among those who were seduced to do little services for the enemy. The first
step led to the second and then to final collaboration. It is because all of us
do doubt ourselves from time to time, because we are unsure of what we
would do if we were put to the test, and because we may see in ourselves a
potential traitor, that the word “treason” has such highly emotional appeal.
But self-doubt is a far cry from actual treason, and the real traitor, in the
morbid sense of the word, is not merely a self-doubter. He is a man who
believes only in his ultrapersonal rights and who scorns the rights and wishes
of the community. He is disloyal even to his own gang. Hitler, for example,
was a traitor not only to his own ideas, handling them as changeable tools to
help him gain and maintain power, he was repeatedly a traitor to his closest
friends and collaborators, many of whom he betrayed and murdered in 1934,
during what has been called the night of the long knives. The real traitor is a
person with egocentric delusions and the conscious conviction that he alone
is right. He is a very different type from an involuntary, pathetic, unaware
traitor like our little barber.


In my study of political traitors and collaborators, I found that most of
them shared two common characteristics: they were easily influenced by
minds stronger than their own, and none of them would admit his disloyalty
as an act of treason. The traitors I interviewed always volunteered
innumerable justifications of their behavior, always surrounded their
treachery with a complicated web of sophisms and rationalizations. Actually,
they could not tolerate an objective picture of their actions. If they did, they
would condemn themselves out of their own mouths. Unconsciously, most of
them realized the nature of their crimes and were tormented by guilt feelings.
These guilt feelings would have been unbearable if they admitted, even to
themselves, the enormity of their deeds.

During the Nazi occupation of the Low Countries, I saw these qualities
demonstrated again and again. Many of our native traitors were spineless
people, ready to accept almost any new idea or elaborate theory. Their
suggestibility was their greatest liability. Most of these would-be Nazis had
never possessed strong personalities of their own. They had failed in their
ambitions and had been disappointed in life, and they readily transferred
their frustrated personal longings to political will-o’-the-wisps. After the
German invasion and occupation, these people confronted their defeated
countrymen with triumphant I-told-you-so’s. They boasted proudly of their
wisdom in having bet on the right horse. They gained a tremendous feeling of
self-importance, and their newly acquired, blown-up self-assurance, backed
by the enemy’s armed force, made them hard and contemptuous of their

In an effort to justify their own behavior and their greed for power, they
tried to convert others to their new way of life. They were possessed by a
compulsion to become propagandists for the invader. Turncoats always try to
soothe their own bad consciences by persuading others to share their crime.
Of course, they had some real grievances. Everybody does. But these
traitors were influenced less by them than by fancied injustices. Through acts
of treason, they avenged themselves on society for the private wrongs they
had suffered because of their personal failures. Their resentments could be
felt in everything they said.

The Nazi strategists were experts in exploiting this sense of
dissatisfaction. They seemed to know intuitively whether or not an individual
could be ensnared by Nazi propaganda. One case I knew of in Holland
concerned the ex-director of a large concern who had been ousted from his
position on ethical grounds. Early in the occupation, this man received an
invitation to join the Nazi ranks, and in a surprisingly short time he became
the leader of an important Nazi business. The Nazis gave him the feeling of
having been vindicated.

Among the recruits for the Nazi police force in the occupied territories
were turncoats of all sorts and even the inmates of asylums for the criminally
insane. The pathological grudge these people had against society was the foil
by which the Nazis turned them into traitors. The Germans themselves
despised these men, but they were cunning enough to put them to the best
possible use.

The Nazis also played a strange game with some authors and artists who
had not received enough appreciation. The enemy flattered these men by
buying and praising their work. The artists were first told that they could
write and create as they pleased, without fear of interference. Gradually,
little political services were asked of them, tiny little concessions like a
favorable report of a meeting or a favorable reference to a philosophy with
which they did not agree.

It is the impact of that first little concession that starts the inner avalanche
of self-justification that finally leads to self-betrayal. Following the first
compromise and self-justification comes the second; and this one is met with
shrewder self-exculpations. After all, the compromiser has had experience in
rationalization by now. The repeated concessions turn into submission and
voluntary cooperation. As I said before, once a man is seduced into a small
ideological concession, it is very difficult for him to stop. From now on his
imagination produces enough justifications which help him maintain his selfrespect.
The inwardly insecure traitor always feels the urge to identify with the
enemy—the hostile invader. He has never “belonged,” never had a feeling of
identification with his own group, has never felt the rewards of such
cohesion, nor has he won the love, sympathy, and respect of his fellows.
Therefore he wants to join the “others.” He may even go so far as to call his
former friends traitors. Lord Haw-Haw (William Joyce), the British traitor
who was executed by his government, considered himself a real “Aryan
German,” and in this way justified his fight against England.
In the hectic days immediately following the Nazi invasion of Holland, I
myself felt an occasional inner temptation to go over to the enemy, to the
stronger party, with its powerful organizations, all ready to support one, to
back one up. I even had a dream about visiting Hitler and convincing him in a
childish and friendly way of the righteousness of our cause. I did not
succumb to this dream temptation, but there were a few who fell for such
infantile pictures and were unable to withstand their need to submit. The
need to conform, to be accepted, to be safe and respectable, is deeply
embedded in man. In our analysis of the inner forces that lead men to
surrender their mental integrity under the pressure of prison and
concentration-camp life, we saw how important a role this mechanism plays.
Living in a country occupied by the enemy is by no means as horrifying as
living in a P.O.W. or concentration camp, but it is, nevertheless, frightening,
and in this frightening situation, the need to conform may show itself in
surrender to the enemy ideology. Those who resisted this need, even though
they felt it, usually became even more fervently anti-Nazi as a consequence
of their guilt feelings about this impulse to treachery.

This war experience taught us another truth: traitors can be made by
overwhelming collective suggestions. In the ambiguous chaos of shouting
ideologies and changing values, the mind becomes sullen and stubborn, and
where there is immaturity and lack of inner control, it may become confused
in its loyalties and simply surrender to the most powerful group.
The Nazis, with their perverted political methods, tried to supply the
weak, the ambitious, the disgruntled, and the frustrated with a ready-made set
of bogus ideals to justify surrender to their side. In Mein Kampf, Hitler says
that when the disappointed are given a sense of importance, they will
swallow every suggestion with the utmost docility. He knew that human
weakness—even kindness— can be used as a starting point for a
systematically nurtured conversion. Hitler knew, too, that unlimited political
terror could make a traitor of almost anyone.

Spread fear, terror, and hunger,
inflict penetrating pain, and finally, as a result of mental coercion and
growing confusion, many will succumb and even betray their own families.

In many of the concentration camps, the victims themselves were in charge of
the gas chamber killings and kept their gruesome jobs until their own turns
came. Fear and terror had made will-less slaves out of them.

There is still another human characteristic that can lead to treason and
betrayal. There are some people who simply do not know where their
loyalties belong. The case of Klaus Fuchs, the man who betrayed atomic
secrets to Russia, is a dramatic example of this. Here was a highly intelligent
person, an expert on the most difficult theoretical problems, lost in a sea of
conflicting loyalties. Because of the Nazi persecution of his Quaker family,
he adopted a new fatherland, England. In the meantime, he carried a dream of
a mystical universal world which he thought to find in the totalitarian
ideology. In the midst of his confusion about world problems, he simply did
not know where his loyalty should be.

This was not a case of schizophrenia or a Jekyll-and-Hyde situation, as
the newspapers reported, but a case of confusion of loyalties in a
hyperintellectual mind. Fuchs did not know emotionally where he belonged.
In other cases people were literally pushed into treason and collaboration
because nobody in their environment trusted them. This happened, for
instance, in Flanders with the collaborators of the First World War. Several
of them were compelled to become collaborators again.

This analysis of the factors that lead men to treason certainly does not
imply that every man must remain loyal to the group from which he has
originally received his morals and ideals. Better insight and higher ethics
may override our childhood loyalties. It is the fate and the need of human
beings to go beyond their teachers and to correct, if possible, the traditional
rules of their schools. The great philosopher Socrates was accused of being a
“traitor” because he “corrupted the minds of the youth of Athens.” And yet
today we know that Socrates was far from being a corrupter.


Perhaps the most tragic form of unobtrusive treason and self-betrayal is
caused by the inertia of the human intellect. We are often betrayed by our
own minds. We forget completely what we want to forget. We deny the
existence of real problems in order to retreat into wishful thinking. As soon
as we do not understand and feel the implications of a problem or an
argument, we tend to submit passively to the most powerful side, just as did
the overfriendly barber. The ease with which human beings can be corrupted
is still one of our most serious psychological and moral problems. Inner
confusion can make us submissive to almost any strong suggestion from the
outside, no matter how foolish or false.

Our doubts are traitors,
And make us lose the good we oft might win
By fearing to attempt.

There are other more complicated tricks of the intellect which lead to
self-betrayal. The feeling of inferiority often arouses in ignorant people a
great desire to grasp extremely difficult ideas. Such people like to identify
themselves with a quasi-profound system of thought. Hitler and his abstruse
writings made temporary pseudophilosophers and magicians out of the
majority of German people. All dictatorial totalitarians buy the services of
scholars who can make them such a set of pseudo-philosophic justifications.
Unfortunately, some scholars are easy to buy. In Holland, for example,
there was a not too intelligent philosopher who became converted to Nazism
after it had shown its overpowering strength. Thereafter he felt free to write
on the most abstruse philosophical subjects and to expound the most
complicated theories, all for the glorification of his powerful friends from
the Third Reich and their myth of conquering the whole world. At the same
time, he built a system of inscrutable words around his own deep feelings of
guilt; he isolated himself from the world more and more because no words
were convincing enough to justify his treason to himself. In the end he lost all
contact with reality. Then, of course, the Nazis had no use for him either.



As we have seen, there are various inner motivations which may lead to
the crime of disloyalty or treason. Sometimes these motivations operate very
subtly, in ways unknown to the subject; sometimes treason is merely a crude
selling out to those who pay best. Let us try to arrange and classify some of
these motivations, starting with the unconscious ones and ranging toward
deliberate treason.

In the first place, an act of self-betrayal may begin as a defense against the
feeling of being lost and rejected. In order to win acceptance in a group, the
individual may hide and not defend his private beliefs and convictions when
attacked. In psychology this may be called—if such passive behavior
becomes an unconscious habit—the passive submission to and identification
with the stronger person. If you cannot beat the enemy, join him! (A. Freud)
Although the concept of the inner traitor in us is not so easy to accept, by
studying the contrasting inner drives that lead man, one becomes more
convinced of that possibility. The clinical concept of man’s inner
ambivalence is based on numerous psychological experiences. In studying
the deeper motivations of many a traitor, we often see that his treacherous act
happened after an inner turmoil threatened to break him down, to make an
uncontrolled nervous wreck out of him. It is as if the future mental patient
preferred to surrender to an outward enemy rather than to the inward enemies
of disease and nervous breakdown. Hess was on the verge of a schizophrenic
breakdown when he broke Hitler’s rules and flew to England.


Let us consider the British foreign office spies, Donald Maclean and Guy
Burgess. Both showed several symptoms of imminent mental breakdown. It
may be known to the reader that both these men left England in May, 1951, in
order to go via France to Russia. Both deliberately fled the country. Both had
Communist leanings during their student days at Cambridge but later
renounced their adolescent affiliations. Both showed abnormal symptoms
during their service.


Maclean had a breakdown in May, 1950, due to
overwork and excessive drinking; Burgess was reprimanded for reckless
driving while in service and for neglect of his work. Reading through the
report, one is surprised by the amount of mental instability which was
tolerated at such a sensitive spot of the government. Both the men had
homosexual leanings that can be related to a suppressed hostility for their
mothers (and mother country). [Text of Britain’s “Report on Inquiry,” The
New York Times, September 24, 1955; Time, October 3, 1955.]


Sometimes treason means a one-sided appeal to justice. This is found in
the man who demands some sort of private protective justice and who
refuses to acknowledge the subtle relationship between rights and duties.
Such persons always feel continually deprived and betrayed. They are what
Bergler calls the “injustice collectors.” In their acts of disloyalty they are
seeking to play the role of their own private judges. Many querulous and
even paranoiac persons have this kind of character structure.


Then there is the disappointed pseudo-idealist who gradually turns into a
cynic, covering his emptiness by many self-justifications and exculpations.
Such people betray their intellectual disappointment in all their debunking

Conflicts between parents may give rise in the child to the need to betray
one or both parents, and this need may be transferred in later life to a need to
betray the fatherland. I have often found that the unsolved ties of hate and
love toward the parents play an important role in forming the turncoat
personality. As we saw, this problem often lies at the root of the totalitarian
character structure. Although the totalitarian-minded are not by definition
overt traitors, some of these people can easily become traitors to free,
democratic ideals—either out of compulsive allegiance to a foreign ideology
or out of repetitive nonconformism.

In describing special characteristics of a political group, one has to keep
in mind that basic inner contrasts are inherent in all people. The quasirational
Marxistic interpretation of the world, which satisfies the need for
logical clarification and reasonable organization of social life, covers
anxiety created by the irrational inner forces so easily detected in the
totalitarian-minded. The cult of the “masses” often serves as a defense
against loneliness. The belief in progress may be born out of vague despair
and insecurity. The fear of deviationism is the fear that the unity of the group
will be broken. Suspicion and self-criticism serve to keep, above all, the ingroup


There are several forms of inner conceit that can turn man into a traitor.
The Dutch philosopher of whom I spoke earlier is an example of this, as are
any of the verbose ideological apologists for totalitarianism.
Lack of confidence or lack of belief in the guiding traditions and aims of
one’s own society can also lead to hostility, then to treason. Without such
traditional beliefs, suggestibility and receptivity for competing ideologies
are increased. The Klaus Fuchs case, which was mentioned earlier, is an
example of this.


The personal need to be a pioneer or a martyr, often instilled by the
unconscious need to suffer, may lead to a private messianic delusion and
cause an attack on the traditional values of the group. Many groups consider
such extremism as treacherous behavior.

Another form of self-betrayal may be caused by the inability to grasp the
complexity of the real world. Many people have been seduced into unstable
behavior and even disloyalty through lack of comprehension of these
complexities and through the need to find a single, all-embracing, easy
answer to the problems of human life. Who gives them the simple myth to
believe in? The Nazis seduced nearly all of Germany into a form of
ideological treason in this way!


Treason may also be a paradoxical reaction to a deep-seated neurotic
sense of guilt. The neurotic strategy of accumulating more guilt coupled with
the consequent development of an inner need for punishment are often the
basic causes of criminal action. The treacherous deed is done precisely in
order to provoke punishment (Reik).

Treason may also be paid adventure as we find it in international
espionage. This kind of life fascinates the immature mind which lives in the
world of mystery stories and fairy tales. Bribes with women or money make
such treason even more attractive. The enemy gratifies economic and sexual
needs, and the traitor is willing to sell his integrity to the highest bidder.
Overt fear and panic can also cause treason. The whole psychology of
totalitarian interview and interrogation is based on this principle. People can
be frightened and brainwashed into treason.



From all this we can see that what we call treason takes place more in the
emotional than in the intellectual sphere of functioning. In the course of
human growth, everybody passes through periods of inner conflict in which
he has to turn his love and allegiance from one person to another—from
mother to father, from parents to the entire family, from the family to the state,
and from the state to mankind. The core of the problem of treason and selfbetrayal
is found in the difficulties which arise in the repression of former
loyalties, as each loyalty is in turn superseded by the next.

Many people experience deep confusion in adolescence when, for the first
time, they must leave the safe emotional protection of their homes and create
new loyalties and new moral standards for themselves. It is in this period
that the critical faculties are developed. In doubting the traditional truths
passed on by his parents, each adolescent might be called a traitor; yet he is
actually being true to the self he is shaping. During the crisis of adolescence,
with its increased feelings of yearning for some unknown happiness, many
young people want to “betray” their parental home and their parents’
standards. At the same time, they do not want to give up the protection the
home offers.

Psychologically, we know, however, that temporary disloyalty is part of
normal mental growth. In the process of individual human development, there
are stages of progress which lead from initial submission to open rebellion
and nonconformity. Every step toward mental maturity and independence
involves the growing out of ties with the past. This growth can be effected in
different ways, with more or less overt hostility and forsaking of the past,
with self-betrayal and passive submission, with renewed submission to pay
off feelings of guilt, with sworn conservativism or open rebellion. In this
phase of adolescence he is especially vulnerable to totalitarian propaganda.
The youth may retain from the conflict of inner growth a sense of
loneliness and guilt. If he puts it to productive use, he may become what we
might call a creative revolutionary. The trail blazer, whose own inner forces
drive him on to break with tradition, is such a man. Indeed, many of
mankind’s great moral and spiritual leaders have been of this type. They have
been leaders precisely because they broke either with rigid remnants of the
past or with the ossified or immoral elements of the present. In my own
experience, I have known one such man, a German psychiatrist, whose
idealism and moral sense made it impossible for him to go along with the
Nazi desecration of human values and who was hanged as a traitor for his
part in the abortive German rebellion against Hitler in 1944.




What can be done in general to combat treason, disloyalty, and selfbetrayal?
In the first place, the child’s normal defensive attitude toward
authority and his need to break away from it should be watched with
favorable vigilance at all times on the part of parents and educators. It is all
too easy to force a child into denial of the self. Many times, later disloyalty
is a reaction to faulty handling of the problems of childhood. Most traitors
are made, not born. Unfortunately, this truth is often forgotten by educators
who may, as a result of their own frustrated aggressions, break down by
force the feeling of great loyalty toward their own age group that we find
among youngsters.

Is it possible to decide whether or not a person is dependable? Only when
we have some insight into his hidden motives and drives and into the
workings of his unconscious. For complete insight, psychoanalysis is
necessary, but the way the unconscious expresses itself in character traits and
character defenses can give us some very important indications. A person
with excessive dependency needs or a weak ego, a person who is easily
suggestible can usually be seduced into disloyalty. So can the boastful,
inconsistent man, full of pride and vanity. Material egotism, desire for
power, and continual hostility also lead to denial of moral values, among
them loyalty.

As is often true in psychology, it is easier to say what character traits the
dependable person must not have than to give a positive picture of what he
should be like. In general, we can say that the person who is honest with
himself and shows a minimum of self-deceit, the man who exhibits a stable
structure of character, the person with genuine maturity, is most true to
himself, and, as a result, most loyal to others.

Nevertheless, the seeds of treason lie in each of us and may be fortified by
environmental influences. In a totalitarian world, for example, everybody is
educated in self-denial and self-betrayal; when a person becomes a
nonconformist, the label “traitor” will be attached to him. In a world stifled
by dogma and tradition, every form of original thinking may be called
sedition and treason. In such cases the environmental, social, and political
factors, and not the confusing inner processes, determine what is treason. In
this chapter, however, I have emphasized the personal factors in producing
treason—the influence of family and group prejudices, and the inner
instability resulting from complications in the immediate environment. There
are so many subtle fantasies of self-betrayal and secret aggression in
everyone, and there is so much desire to revenge secret resentments, that any
government may make use of these unhealthy neurotic feelings to stir up the


Recently Americans have been looking more critically at the concepts of
loyalty and subversion. Deeply conscious of the cynical and ruthless nature
of the totalitarian attack through subversion, we have begun to let our fear of
subversion from within paralyze our democratic freedoms.

We have become so concerned over the specter of a treacherous fifth
column in our own land that we have grown both overcautious and over
suspicious.[3] We require constant reassurance that the intentions of our
neighbors and fellow citizens are acceptable and loyal. The danger in this
frantic search for security operates both on the political and psychological
levels. Politically, in trying to erect invulnerable barriers against the spread
of totalitarian ideas, we may find that we have given up those very qualities
that distinguish democracy from totalitarianism: freedom and diversity.
Psychologically, we may find ourselves the victims of pathological
suspicions (which can be clinically termed paranoia), and this
suspiciousness may lead us to reject utterly the most valuable qualities we
can have as human beings: tolerance and respect for our fellow men.
The political dangers in this situation have been pointed out time and time
again by responsible leaders of the American community. As a psychiatrist, I
should like to devote my attention to the psychological aspect of this problem
and to the dangers to the free mind that are inherent in the current situation.
For, as we have already seen, all political behavior is essentially an
extension of individual behavior and is rooted in the psychology of the
individuals who make up the political group.

Much of our collective suspicion can be attributed to a gigantic
multiplication of personal feelings of insecurity. In times of fear and calamity
arises the myth of a treacherous aggressor, the myth the totalitarians know so
well how to exploit. Our own inner insecurity is displaced and projected
onto our neighbors and our environment. We begin to doubt and distrust
everyone. We accuse others because we are afraid of ourselves. We feel
weak and cover our weakness by growing suspicion and by being continually
on the lookout for possible traitors and dissenters.

As we have seen earlier, the whole question of loyalty is a complicated
one. In our zeal to create guarantees of trustworthiness, we tend to
oversimplify the problem, and thus we may overshoot the mark and become
like our totalitarian antagonists, for whom oversimplification is a stock-intrade.
Asking people for a loyalty oath— asking them to perform that magic
ritual through which they forswear all past and future political sin—may
have a paradoxical effect. Merely taking an oath does not make a man loyal,
although it may later enable a judge to prosecute him for perjury. Our
insistence on official expressions of allegiance actually discredits and
devalues the basic personal sense of voluntary and self-chosen identification
with the community which is the essence of loyalty; it certainly does not
either create or insure loyalty. The loyalty oath too easily degenerates into an
empty formula, and the man who takes it may forget completely the meaning it
is supposed to have. To many it has become simply red tape, another one of
those endless, troublesome forms that must be filled out.

The oath compulsion can easily grow into a childish magic strategy, a
form of mental blackmail. There are some oriental religions in which
devotions are performed through the use of a prayer wheel. When the wheel
is set in motion by a flip of the hand, the worshipper has done his job. He
need not recite any prayers; he need not think any devout thoughts. The
practitioners of these religions no longer have any awareness of the content
of their prayers. They are blind subscribers to a ritual whose meaning they
have long since forgotten. Signing a loyalty oath can become as empty a
gesture as turning the prayer wheel.

True loyalty is not a static thing; as we have already seen, it grows and
develops with the personality. It has to be rediscovered and re-experienced
every day, since it is, essentially, as a result of an inner battle of contending
values that man finds his own particular values and loyalties. When a man is
compelled to swear to his loyalty, even though he feels it already deeply
within him, the compulsion from outside means that he must lay aside his
personal right to weigh values and take counsel with his honest principles. It
does not matter whether or not the oath is an expression of his true feelings,
the element of enforcement that lies behind it has a psychologically
weakening effect on the man who takes it. This may seem strange at first
glance, but a simple analogy will make it clear. The man who truly loves his
wife, for example, does not need repeatedly to swear to his love; he shows it
in his actions. But if she insists on his swearing, her very insistence, implying
as it does that she doubts him, may bring questions to her husband’s mind—
and he begins to grow confused as to what he really thinks.
Both in demanding an oath and in taking it, we perpetuate the ridiculous
illusion that enemies can be kept out through this prayer-wheel system. The
fact is that deliberate traitors and subversives are the very ones who are not
afraid to disguise their motivations and hide their intentions behind
prescribed formulations. Nor are they afraid of perjury charges. They feel no
hesitation in signing an oath if it is opportune for them to do so. For them,
words and oaths are only tools which have no binding moral value. More
important than the demand for loyalty should be the demand for integrity, for
steadiness of character, for maturity of aims and motivations.


Free man needs loyalty to the self first of all, and this implies the right to
be himself. The man who feels that he is nothing, who feels that everyone,
himself included, doubts him, who is inwardly weak, may become an easy
prey to all kinds of totalitarian political influences. Loyalty hunts and loyalty
oaths may provoke disloyalty to one’s personal integrity and to personal
freedom, since they create suspicion in ourselves and in others. Freedom is
kept upright by the very presence of opposition—even at the risk of
nonconformism and scattered subversion.


Loyalty comes about as a result of mutual confidence; it cannot be created
through compulsion. Any compulsion is, by its very nature, one-sided.
Loyalty has to be deserved and won daily through mutual interaction, and
through contact between leaders and citizens. Because it is based on
confidence, loyalty is given spontaneously and of free will. True loyalty
cannot be bought or demanded.


In investigating the case of the young American soldiers in Korea who
were brainwashed and forgot too easily where their loyalty lay, we usually
find in their backgrounds how disloyally one of their parents had behaved
toward them. In nearly all the so-called pro-Communist cases we find a
disturbed youth. It is important that the community investigate its initial
loyalty toward these young men.

In a democratic state we should be prepared to adduce convincing facts in
support of our own way of life or to develop new approaches which will
reveal the weaknesses of any subversive system.
Prosecution of dissenting ideas, insistence on loyalty according to some
prescribed formula—these make it impossible for us to do this and may be
the beginning of an unwillingness to argue and persuade. They may even lead
to a new form of betrayal, the subtle treason of intellectual detachment, the
unwillingness to take responsibility, the treason of doubting relativism which
leads to inaction. It may degenerate into a dangerous form of mental laziness
which can easily be turned into a life of no commitments or into totalitarian
submission. The approaches to truth are multifarious, and it is only where
there is a clash of opinion that these approaches can be discovered and the
right road to truth be found.

The danger in the loyalty compulsion is, then, that we may conceal mental
apathy behind a rigid formula and thus lose sight of the constant need for
psychological alertness and the real meaning of loyalty and a free way of
life. The mechanical formula of a loyalty oath, because it checks moral
alertness and a search for ethical clarification, may be the beginning of the
thought control we all fear. True loyalty is a living, dynamic quality.
In the subtle choice between loyalty to people and loyalty to principles
(usually a much vaguer feeling) the lawmaker has to leave the individual as
free as possible, because the latter type of loyalty is based on the first.
Without personal loyalty there is no national loyalty!


There is still another aspect to this problem. We must learn to distinguish
between disloyalty in actions and disloyalty in feelings and thought.
Subversion of opinion is never a crime. The right to dissent is the keystone of
democracy. In a free state we must be willing to correct subversion by our
better arguments. Persecuting dissenting ideas is a form of mental laziness.
Psychologically speaking, a government cannot concern itself with conscious
motivations (and the unconscious motivations which cannot be separated
from them) of people because inwardly everybody has contrasting
motivations. The quandary that such a government would provide itself is
illustrated by the following quotation from the Oppenheimer hearing by the
Gray board published in 1954.


We believe that it has been demonstrated that the Government can search
its own soul and the soul of an individual whose relationship to his
government is in question with full protection of the rights and interests of
both. We believe that loyalty and security can be examined within the
framework of the traditional and inviolable principles of American justice.
In these beautiful phrases lie hidden all the ominous beginnings of
totalitarian thought control. The government that searches the soul of any
thinking individual can always find a case against him, because doubt,
ambivalence, and groping are traits common to all men. We cannot measure
anybody’s dependability on the basis of his thoughts and feelings as they
appear to us. In the first place, we can never know what lies behind a
seemingly loyal facade. In the second place, the man whose search for truth
leads him to explore many heretical points of view can be the most loyal in
his actions. His very exploration may well lead him to the considered
judgment that underlies true loyalty. What counts in any man is the
consistency and integrity of his behavior, and his courage in taking a stand,
not his conformity to official dogma.


And to state that the government can search its own soul is to state
absolutely nothing. A government is, after all, merely a collection of
individuals. Under the pressure of the loyalty compulsion, of the growing
suspicion, these individuals themselves may not search their souls as
honestly as they would in less hectic times or if they were acting as private
individuals rather than as official representatives of the government. The man
caught in official security rules is the prisoner of the anxiety and insecurity
rampant in those who want to establish the delusion of certainty and security
—a transgression of values!


As soon as the government starts to search the souls of its citizens, it
begins to intrude on their rights and interests. It attacks democracy at home
and weakens its position abroad. We cannot find the road to peace and
fellowship with the rest of the world if we adopt dogmatic, intransigent
positions and try to impose our orthodoxy on others. The hallmark of the
totalitarian is his insistence that his is the only right way. If we are to
maintain our position as the leader of the free world, we must always keep
our minds open. Only in that way will we find new ways to peace.
We have seen now that the problem of treachery has to deal with the
failure to understand our inner mental processes. Every betrayal is in the first
place a self-betrayal, a disloyalty toward one’s own standards. When people
silence their conscience and compromise for the sake of convenience, at that
moment they begin to be disloyal to themselves. Passivity—assumed when
our conscience should have forced us to act—is the most common form of
self-betrayal. Inwardly a man may be furious because of some injustice he
has witnessed, but outwardly he may do nothing about it—this behavior he
feels inwardly is treason to the self and is often what makes him so touchy
toward other people’s flaws. When the pattern of passivity is repeated, the
individual continuously piles up more feelings of injustice and grows more
and more resentful against society. Evasiveness and skillful dodging of issues
of principle—these are among the most dangerous forms of self-betrayal in
our time. They are dangerous because they lead unwittingly to the hypocrisy
that puts power beyond ethical value.


It is dangerous to let personal grudges and discontent solidify into a
permanent resentment against the whole of society. Parents and educators can
forestall such difficulties through psychological insight by allowing each
individual the freedom to criticize and attack—in a civilized, nondestructive
way—the community to which he belongs. By helping to develop in the child
the sense that he is responsible for his own views, subversive though they
may temporarily appear, parents provide him with the opportunity to
overcome his feelings of loneliness and ambivalence and his wish to do
violence to those who influence him. Again, loyalty is a relationship—
loyalty to family, friends, or country has to be deserved.

Loyalty is possible only when mutual mental aggression and hostility are
allowed and tolerated within the limits of the law. This verbalized,
sublimated, and civilized form of aggression presupposes fairness and good
sportsmanship. It is the synthesis and conquest of rebellion and subversion.
However paradoxical it may sound, democracy is founded on the mutual
loyalty of politically opposed groups! You cannot doubt the good motives
and intentions of your opponent without undermining the basis for
cooperation and successful government. It is most undemocratic to impute
disloyalty to the opposition party. History shows that only where there is
opportunity to confront and integrate opposing ideas can man eradicate that
form of psychological imbalance which gradually turns into a disloyalty to
oneself and to the community. Fear of subversion and opposition is often fear
of ideas, fear of being identified with certain unacceptable ideas, the fear of
betrayal of the hidden part of oneself. Fear of treason will exist as long as
loyal opposition is a crime.

Democracy is nonconformity; it is mutual loyalty, even when we have to attack one another’s ideas—ideas, which, because they are always human,are always incomplete.






Chapter Fifteen



By executive order of President Eisenhower on August 17, 1955, a new
code of chivalry was made up governing conduct of American fighting men in
combat and captivity. Six precepts of conduct for combatants were

I am an American fighting man. I serve in the forces which guard my
country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.
I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command, I will never
surrender my men while they still have the means to resist.
If I am captured, I will continue to resist by all means available. I will
make every effort to escape and aid others to escape. I will accept neither
parole nor special favors from the enemy.

If I become a prisoner of war, I will keep faith with my fellow prisoners. I
will give no information or take part in any action which might be harmful to
my comrades. If I am senior, I will take command. If not, I will obey the
lawful orders of those appointed over me, and will back them up in every
way. When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, I am bound to give
only name, rank, service number, and date of birth. I will evade answering
further questions to the utmost of my ability. I will make no oral or written
statement disloyal to my country and its allies, or harmful to their cause.
I will never forget that I am an American fighting man, responsible for my
actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will
trust in my God and in the United States of America. [Full report in The New
Times, August 18, 1955.]


In the additional report about the recommendations by the Secretary of
Defense, it is acknowledged that modern warfare has brought the challenge to
the doorstep of every citizen, and that the final front of the cold-war line is in
every citizen’s mind.

At the same time, a clearly defined code is given telling U.S. prisoners of
war how to behave after capture. Although there was a lack of such a code
previously, the report states that “American troops have demonstrated
through all wars that they do not surrender easily, they have never
surrendered in large bodies, and they have in general performed admirably in
their country’s cause as prisoners of war.”


After describing physical attacks on prisoners—death marches, hunger,
squalor, cold, torture, disease, and total degradation—the report gives
extended attention to all the forms of mental coercion intended to extract
false confessions or military information from the soldiers, and to infect them
with totalitarian thinking. First, the enemy aimed at the breakdown of the
leaders, at confusion of the officers, who so easily influence their soldiers.
Then gradually everybody had to undergo the ordeal by indoctrination. The
enemy propaganda barrage started full speed. This suggestive attack reached
minds not used to highly specialized discussion, minds not informed and
rather confused about Communism and its tactics. Inner discrepancies in the
reasoning of the man could easily be attacked and reduce him to docile

The report pleads for more extended, skillful training of the soldier (and
the citizen) in our basic beliefs and responsibilities, a mental mobilization
for the future clash of “ideas” and “wills.” There was a considerable conflict
of opinion in the advisory committee to the Secretary of Defense that drafted
the code between the hard Spartan view and the more lenient let-them-talk
view. The first group maintained that every soldier has to resist to the end;
the latter believed that in the end anybody could be brought into submission.
Nevertheless, all soldiers have to be trained especially to resist and not to
be made disloyal to their country, their services, and their comrades. That
was the principal reason why this final code of high standards was made up,
even though it is recognized that coercion is possible beyond the ability to
resist. Yet the psychologist here adds the additional question, Who will judge
what is beyond the ability to resist?

The report ends by underlining the fact that the total war for the minds of
men is continually going on. The home front is just an extension of the
fighting front!

An important point made by the code is that it asks that attention be given
to a far more extensive mental battle front. By making it known that the
coercive methods of the Communists are well understood by us, the impact
and meaning of their cold-war strategy are partly taken away. Finally nobody
in the outside world believes them, even though their totalitarian methods
may be of use to them for internal propaganda in their own countries.
However, we cannot fight indoctrination with mere counter-indoctrination.
Letting soldiers sign a declaration that they will never yield to
brainwashing has the advantage of at least informing them of what to expect.
Yet this knowledge does not protect them against the subtle conditioning by
an inquisitor who knows how to circumvent mental obstacles. Time and
subtle suggestive penetration can break men’s resistance.
Psychologically, a loyalty oath compulsion and a signed declaration do
not mean anything in themselves. Only a profound education in mental
freedom and democratic awareness can help as a countertoxic. The
authorities who ask for signed declarations of loyalty are not enough aware
of how much propaganda and persuasive brainwashing and other forms of
mental seduction are going on right here in our own society; they are
substituting the social and national responsibility for an individual one. It is
the moral and political atmosphere behind the man in the hinterland that
supplies his mental stamina. The nation is responsible for the mental
backbone it trains and transfers to its soldiers in a cold war! Several
P.O.W.’s felt misled by their own government. They had been badly informed
about the enemy, in too simple terms of black and white. By showing his
good side, the captor could easily arouse suspicion about the honesty of the
prisoner’s leaders.
From a psychiatric standpoint, it needs to be said again that everybody
can be brought to a breaking point regardless of how well-informed and
counter-indoctrinated he may be. When the enemy wants to persist in his
demoralizing methods, he has the means. Alas, the report did not emphasize
enough the difficult dialectic dilemma into which many a simple soldier is
thrown. For years he has been trained in a society or military group where
obedience to the law and conformity to community habits were imprinted on
him. Suddenly he has to select and test his own individuality and critical
defenses. A cold war asks for a high level of political awareness.

This brings the problem back again to the problem of individual mental
vulnerability of persons and to the general problem of morale. Mental
courage cannot be cultivated by physical training only. It requires training in
mental stamina, in understanding of basic beliefs, and even in
nonconformistic thinking. We have to believe deeply in the cause for which
we are fighting in order to resist the standpoint of the enemy. It is the strength
of conviction that gives moral power!



An educational concept exists to the effect that conditioning to physical
torture will help soldiers to be more immune to brainwashing. In one of the
air force bases, airmen had to go through a “school of torture,”
euphemistically called the School of Survival, in which some of the
barbarous and cruel Communist methods of handling prisoners were initiated
in order to harden the men against future brutality.* [Time, September 19,
1955.] The trainees could stand the ghoulish exercises rather well. However,
such a training can condition men to take over, unwittingly, the methods of
totalitarianism. It may give a semiofficial green light to enemy tactics by
implying that we can do the same. Moreover, such methods may stimulate
hidden sadistic tendencies in both trainer and trainee. Under the disguise of
an earnest training need, American youth may be educated in the same
sadistic view as their enemies.

The important psychological implication of every form of harsh
compulsive training and indoctrination is that it fits into the totalitarian
pattern. Moreover, the totalitarian inquisitors don’t need to use physical
torture in order to uncover the secrets of man’s mind, although they may use
these methods for their private pleasure. On the contrary, the enemy counted
just as much on friendly gestures and special privileges to seduce the hungry,
weakened P.O.W.’s into confession. What the inquisitors especially require
in order to succeed is that the enemy have a weak personality, that he be a
dumbbell with a soldier’s need to conform, that he be ridden with anxiety
and lacking in patience. The brainwashing inquisitor doesn’t need torture.
Physical torture will often strengthen resistance against the inquisitor, while
isolation alone can accomplish his objectives. The school that teaches only
torture and evasion techniques can even arouse latent anxieties and thus,
paradoxically, make it easier for the soldier—weakened by his fantastic
anticipations—to surrender to brainwashing. The hero at school can become
a weakling as soon as he is faced with the real challenge.

It is not so important what the trainee accomplishes during his physical
training but what he stands for mentally and spiritually. Does he have a
mental backbone? Only this will stand him in good stead during the challenge
of prisonership.


In every report on brainwashing of prisoners of war, several factors that
may lead to the accusation of “collaboration with the enemy” have to be
taken into account to determine the psychological responsibility of the

Did he surrender mentally under a kind of hypnosis? Can he be made
responsible at all; was there a conscious and voluntary collaboration that
turned the man into a traitor? Was there cowardice or only spiritual
Because these questions are so new in our history and often so subtle in
relation to the circumstances, it is well to enumerate the fields of interest to
be analyzed:

The Accusation. The psychologist has to study the incriminating facts. We
often can see, for instance, in the phrasing of the signed confessions,
evidence that the signature was enforced. Some cliché phrases of the enemy
can be looked at as gradually wangled out of the head of the victim. For one
of the courts I was able to make an analysis of a written confession that was
composed of such heterogeneous elements that the process of mental
wrestling and gradual giving in of the prisoner could easily be discerned in
the papers.

Rumor and mass psychology. Not all the accusations against a prisoner of
war made by fellow prisoners—even when the majority constantly repeat
them—may be taken at face value. Under the impact of terror and fear,
rumors about special persons are easily communicated. There are
personalities who, on the basis of their special character structure, easily
become the focal point of rumors. The withdrawn intellectual, for instance, is
often accused of consorting with the enemy. When he speaks the enemy’s
language and can communicate with them, accusations against him can
become like a huge mass hallucination.

The investigator has to make a survey of group relations in the P.O.W.
camp. The brainwashing enemy tries first to attack the leaders, in order to
attack the morale of the remainder of the P.O.W.’s; then he tries to select
specially vulnerable personalities for his strategy of mental pressure and
ideological conversion.

The personality structure of the accused. Certain persons, on the basis of
their weak ego or their underlying neurotic anxieties, are predestined to give
in earlier to mental pressures. To obtain a fair estimate of the individual,
intelligence tests and the Rorschach test have to be given, the family
background and the religious and ideological foundations of the person have
to be studied.

Was the brainwashee well trained to stand the treatment? What kind of
information had been given to the prisoner of war during his training? Did he
know enough about the ideological war and the word barrage he might be
exposed to? Was he only prepared for discipline and submission, or also for
freedom and nonconforming discussions? Was he only physically trained or
also mentally?

The facts of torture. How long did it take before the prisoner gave in? Did
he get drugs? How much isolation? How many hours of interrogation? Were
there symptoms of pain and physical illness? Can these facts be verified?
This is only a short survey of viewpoints to be taken into account. They
serve to show that with the phenomenon of systematic brainwashing and
thought control something is brought before the court that is judicially new.
The traditional attitudes toward personal competence, responsibility, and
accountability cannot be applied.

The state (the totalitarian system of the enemy) has, in the case of
successful brainwashing, taken over, even taken possession of, all
psychological responsibility for the obedient acts of persons. Our criminal
courts and military courts will have to find new rules of judging those who
fell into the hands of such a criminalizing system.

Chapter Sixteen




The child’s formative years are spent under the guidance of first parents
and then teachers; jointly they influence his future behavior. The educational
system can either reinforce or correct parental errors and attitudes, either
strengthen the child’s desire to grow toward freedom and maturity or stifle
his need to develop and twist it into the need to resign himself to permanent
childishness and dependence.

Since the Renaissance, the ideal of universal scholastic training has made
steady gains. But today we unwittingly tend to mold minds into a
prefabricated pattern and to give our students the illusion that they know or
have to know all the answers. The fallacy of such half-education is that the
so-called alphabetics—in contrast to those who cannot read—may become
better followers and worse thinkers. The totalitarians, for example, are not
against schools; on the contrary, for the more you overburden the mind with
facts, the more passive it may become. Intellectual erudition and book
learning alone do not make strong personalities, and in our passion for
factual education and the quiz type of examination there lies hidden a form of
mental pressure. The awe with which we regard the accumulation of school
facts may inhibit the mind so that it cannot think for itself. We must become
more aware of the involuntary pressures an educational system can impose
on us, and their possibly dangerous effects on the future of our democratic
society. The actual strategy of keeping people as permanent students under
prolonged supervision is a help to totalitarian indoctrination. For instance,
somewhere along the line in some administrative minds, there sprang up the
idea that repeated, comparative examinations would increase the quality of
the corps of administrators. Instead, infantile anxieties developed related to
the fear of this infantile tool of measurement and evaluation: the examination.
There is now hardly any administrator who dares to look at reality as the best
test of human capacity and human endurance.

The form of education which sets a premium on dependency, which overcontrols
the child, which makes a moral appeal through punishment and
provoking a sense of guilt, which overrates mechanical skills and automatic
learning, this form of education kneads the brain into a pattern of conformity
which can easily be turned into totalitarian channels. This is even more the
case in regard to the disciplinary training of soldiers. Such rigid education
glorifies good behavior far too much; imitation and conformity are approved
at the expense of spontaneous creativity, thinking for oneself, and the free
expression and discussion of dissenting ideas. Our examination mania forces
students into mental pathways of automatic thinking. Our intellectual and socalled
objective education overrates rationalism and technical know-how
under the delusion that this will keep emotional errors under control. What it
does instead, of course, is to train children into automatic patterns of thinking
and acting, which are closer to the pattern of conditioned reflexes, of which
Pavlovian students are so fond, than they are to the free, exploratory, creative
pattern toward which democratic education should be oriented.
Totalitarianism is well aware that youth has a sensitive period during
which Pavlovian conditioning may be established without difficulty. Early
teachings form nearly indestructible patterns in the child’s mind and
eventually replace innate instinctual precision. This early Pavlovian
automatization of life may itself develop almost the force of an innate
instinct. Indeed this is precisely what happens in Totalitaria. Dictators
especially organize youth and press them to join disciplinary youth


The paradox of universal literacy is that it may create a race of men and
women who have become (just because of this new intellectual approach to
life) much more receptive to the indoctrination of their teachers or leaders.
Do we need conditioned adepts or free-thinking students? Beyond this, our
technical means of communication have caught up with our literacy. The eye
that can read is immediately caught by advertising and propaganda. This is
the tremendous dilemma of our epoch.


In many of our primary schools students are taught in an atmosphere of
compulsive regimentation and are imprinted with a sense of dependency and
awe of authority which lasts throughout their lives. They never really learn to
think for themselves. The scholastic fact-factories, the schools, keep many
pupils too busy to think; they may instead educate them into progressive
immaturity. As long as people can quote one another and the available
“expert” opinion, they are considered well-informed and intellectual. Many
schools emphasize what we could call a quotation mania, making the ability
to quote the epitome of all wisdom. Yet anyone with an apparently
unanswerable logic, anyone who can back up his position with authoritative
statements and quotations, can have a strong impact on such a mind, for it can
readily be caught and conditioned by emotionally attractive pseudointellectual
currents. As a matter of fact, in the process of brainwashing the
inquisitor makes use of the feeling of confusion his victim gets when he is
shown that his facts don’t fit and that there are flaws in his concepts. The man
who doesn’t know the tricks of argument will break down sooner.
I like to distinguish among the intellectuals quantellectuals and
quintellectuals. The former aim for quantity of knowledge and easily yield to
any kind of new conditioning. To the quintellectuals, on the other hand,
intellect is a quality of personal integrity. Facts are not consumed passively
but are weighed and verified. This kind of intellect has a potentiality
independent of school education and often school can spoil it.


One of the most amazing cases I ever treated was a typical quantillectual,
a doctor of psychology who had just completed his university education with
a dissertation on a psychotechnical subject. He came to me because he was a
complete failure in all his relationships with girls. He wanted this
“impotence” to be treated medically, and at first he rejected any kind of
psychotherapy because he “knew all that stuff.” In the course of our
conversation it became apparent that his entire scholastic education had
bypassed him. He had gotten As at school, but the very essence of what he
had studied had eluded him. He had grasped literally nothing about
psychology. He had memorized everything and had understood nothing. He
could quote from every page of the book but explain none. Every time he had
to work out a test or give practical advice, he went into a panic. It took years
of treatment to break through his rigid, compulsive habits, and to bring him to
a point where he was able to think and feel as a human being rather than as a
machine. At the end of his treatment he started to learn all over again, reading
with greed and fervor what had before been empty facts.

But he was not the only walking fact-collection I have met. Another one of
my patients was a young man who was obsessed with the desire to
accumulate all the learned degrees his university could deliver. At the time I
met him he was a member of a Nazi organization. (Here is an example of the
fact that many a pedant has an affinity with an authoritarian political system.)
Even in this group he provoked hostility because of his search for facts and
more facts, facts only for the sake of facts. His compulsions became too much
for even his totalitarian fellows. He had delusions of grandeur and had
absolutely no emotional relationships at all; both signs that a psychotic
process was going on. But his intellectual capacity was intact. The son of a
scholar, he had lived in constant competition with his father; early in youth he
started to read the encyclopedia, and later, in grade school and high school,
he was cheered because of his phenomenal “knowledge.” Indeed, he did
know the facts, but he knew nothing else. He knew neither how to get along
with himself nor with anyone else.

These two cases serve to demonstrate how a mechanized educational
system, failing to detect even an urgent need for emotional relationships and
a sense of belonging, and placing its emphasis on learning instead of living,
can produce adults who are totally unequipped to meet the problems of life,
who are themselves only half alive and completely incapable of meeting the
challenges of reality. Such men and women do not make good democratic

One of the most essential tasks of education for mental freedom is to
prepare the child for mature adulthood by teaching him to see the essentials
and by teaching him to think for himself. There are several fields of interest
through which the capacity to think for oneself may be developed—for
instance, the field of communication and the science of abstraction. A child’s
awareness of his own language, of the words he himself uses, as an
expressive tool rather than as a set of grammatical rules can lead him to
inquisitiveness about other languages and other ways of thinking, and thus
may lead him to the ability to think abstractly and to understand relationships.
The child’s period of greatest sensitivity to foreign languages is when he is
about ten—much younger than the age at which we normally teach foreign
languages. At this age, too, the child begins to have an active personal
interest in words and self-expression. This interest can be used to make
language an exciting adventurous exploration instead of a cut-and-dried
process of memorization.

Our schools must stimulate inventiveness and self-activity too, through
such subjects as carpentry and designing. Creative play with concrete objects
also develops the child’s capacity to abstract and to generalize, making it
easier for him to absorb the abstractions which underlie all mathematics. If,
instead of throwing the child into the sea of abstractions he finds in the daily
arithmetic drill, we brought him to an understanding of the process of
abstraction by carefully graded steps, he would absorb and assimilate what
he learned, not merely parrot what he was told. We tend, for instance, to
teach mathematical abstractions at too early an age, just as we wait too long
to teach language and verbal expression.

History is a subject which is not learned by memorizing facts and dates
but through mutual discussion. It has to start with the concept of personal
lifetimes and personal history. It is better to give a child a printed report of
the history of yesterday and ask for his comments and opinions on it, or better
to promote individual thought by letting him search for background
information in a library or museum, than to ask him to memorize facts. In this
way the learning of history can become an adventure.

We can also revise the system that risks so easily rearing mediocre people
who fit into a pattern of mediocrity. Different children must be trained and
educated differently. Each one has his own internal timetable; each one will
have his own life adjustments. Why should we compulsively do to our
children what we would never do to the flowers in our gardens? Every plant
is allowed to attain its own natural size. Our current scholastic practice
stimulates ambition in a few children, but stifles it in others. Instead of
promoting cheating by our rigid examination rules, why do we not allow
children to help one another in the solution of common problems? Very often
children can teach each other what the teacher cannot.
Think for a moment of the child especially sensitive to the boredom of
some of our contemporary schools. He becomes either a conformist—full of
good marks and no original thoughts—or a rebel—ripe for the childguidance
clinic of today and possibly for the totalitarian state of tomorrow.


While good morale implies inner strength and self-discipline, it may not
necessarily imply a set group discipline in a political or military sense.
Good personal morale and backbone were two of the needed qualifications
for taking part successfully in the underground during the last war. The
partisans, working secretly—now here, now there—relied, in their lonely
combat, on their individual initiative and morale as much as, if not more than,
on distant leadership and discipline. This is just the opposite of a kind of
stand-by morale impelled by blind fear and maintained from a distance, the
kind which is obtained in jails or concentration camps, or in a tribe with
extreme emphasis on common participation. In the first groups, there was
morale without discipline; in the second, discipline without morale. In the
same way, there are some officers who can only develop discipline without

Nevertheless, there is usually an inner relation between discipline and
morale. Only when a certain amount of initial disciplinary training is given to
youngsters or soldiers are they well conditioned for that personal inner
strength which is based on self-confidence and trust in the group as a whole,
together with confidence in the authorities. Emergency discipline is resorted
to during times of stress when there is usually lack of time, with the result
that there is not a sufficient period for self-control and adjustment to the
group. Only a self-chosen discipline which develops gradually can lay the
basis for inner freedom and morale. This rule has been forgotten by many
educators. Only this basis of initial, conditioned patterns gives us the
confidence to stand on our own.

We all start by introjecting and taking over our morale from others—our
parents and educators. The basis of our personal morale is what we
internalized from them. The subtle mutual relation between discipline and
freedom starts in the cradle under the care of loving and interested and
consistent parents. The parents are the first to build morale. The conflict
between discipline and morale in a group usually arises when the members
are held together by compulsion or necessity. Here the inner coherence will
be completely different from that of a situation in which there is a
spontaneous loyalty to the group. The aim of all discipline is to develop a
better adjustment to the group. In turn, success in identifying with the group
develops a stronger ego. From this point on, freedom begins.
A further understanding of these morale-building principles is important
for an evaluation of the inner strength or vulnerability of the various cultural
groups. We may expect, according to our experiences in psychotherapy, that
where too much discipline, or even slavery, prevails, the inner cohesion of
the group will be very different from that of a group respecting and holding
the individual in high esteem. Yet we have found men even in the armies of
totalitarian systems who exemplify high morale. I call to mind those Japanese
soldiers who—without any tie with the mother country—stuck to their lonely
posts for years after the war, as though the emperor and his generals were
still looking at them. This tells us something about the consistent love,
security, and dedication they received in the first six years of life.




When we want to train a soldier to resist brainwashing, we have to give
him antidotes against mass suggestion. We have to teach him to make up his
own answers and to criticize his teachers. We must train him in negative
suggestibility and emphasize the courage to reject emotionally pleasant
reasoning when it does not seem truthful. Above all, we have to repeat such
lessons many times to make a self-confident individual out of a recruit.
Against the daily barrage of suggestions, we have to provoke individual
criticism. All this has to be done in addition to making the soldier familiar
with the concept and implications of brainwashing. In so doing, he will learn,
unconsciously, to judge what propaganda is or what it is not—as we all
partially do when listening to advertising over the radio. Psychological
experience tells us that part of propagandistic suggestions can leak through
even alert mental defenses and penetrate our opinions. Anti-brainwashing
training has to be done thoroughly and repeatedly. It may appear to be in
conflict with rigid discipline; when the teacher and officer knows enough
about the subject, however, the student’s self-respect is enhanced through
identification with the leading officer. True, we see here a change of
disciplinary relations, but it offers the real test of discipline in a free,
democratic community. A man who has been taught self-esteem and
knowledge will stand to the end when the hour of challenge comes.
The change of the war of weapons into a mental cold war requires a
change of discipline. The soldier has to know not only his rifle, but even
more the sense of his mission and the nonsense of the enemy.




In every group situation, morale refers to the degree of cohesive strength
of the members and to the amount of loyalty toward the group and its goals.
Morale may, or may not, imply an understanding of the goals. In Western
culture with its subtle pros and cons, a much deeper need for awareness,
understanding, and consideration of goals is implied than is called for in a
totalitarian state.

In the totalitarian state with its veneration for the strong leader,, the
threatening loss of coherence—when the dictator or leading group fails—
would have a much more disintegrating effect thaf1 such failure in a
democratic society, whose members usually have reached a higher degree of
self-determination and governmental skill. A democracy always finds new
leaders ready to take responsibility.

Morale includes the question of how much people can endure physically
and mentally, and for how long. Under different kinds of regimentation the
limit of endurance will be different. Stand-by morale, based on fear as in
prisons, may disintegrate at the least sign of weakness in leader or guard, or
when the individuals have not as yet been sufficiently disciplined.
The kamikazes, the pilots educated for suicide, were thoroughly
indoctrinated with the self-offering ideology; and their morale, as shown in
the war with Japan, might be said to have been high— in an Oriental sense.
Here discipline and allegiance had become so automatic that life was of no
importance either to the individual or to the group. The only thought was to
keep going and beat the enemy. This kind of morale is often dependent on
obtaining a frenzied desperation—a kind of collective suicidal rage—in
pursuit of the national goal.

We are becoming more and more aware of how important leadership is in
boosting morale. The leader is the embodiment of the valued human
relationships for which we are willing to offer our energy and even, when
needed, our lives. Through identification with him we borrow his fortitude. It
is not always the official leader who has charge of lifting the morale.
Sometimes a sergeant or a soldier may take over this function.
The official leader himself is in a more difficult position. He must be
many things that may seem to contradict one another. He must represent
paternal authority as well as our ego, our conscience, and our ideals. He
must relieve us of our sense of guilt and anxiety, and he must be able to
absorb our needs for strength, affection, and dedication—our transference
needs, as expressed in psychological terms. He must be able to create group
action and motivation and at the same time increase the individual’s selfesteem.
His doubts may become our doubts; his loss of confidence makes us
lose our self-confidence. At times we may want him to be a tyrant so that we
can be relieved of our personal resentments and responsibilities. Sometimes
we want to compete with him as we competed with our fathers. At other
times we want affection from him. The leader must be both a scapegoat and a
giant. Our own inner strength will grow, depending on the leader’s inspiring
and guiding personality. While we may never love him completely, we will
use him to grow or decline in our morale.

Yet the individual not only borrows strength from the group and its leader,
he also brings his own spirit to it. Even when he is used as a scapegoat to
release group hostility, the individual—when he takes it with humor and
philosophy—may unwittingly boost the morale of the group. He
communicates, as it were, his personal tolerance to others. The black sheep
in a platoon is often as much accepted as the beloved sports hero.
In the same way, the group communicates all kinds of feelings to the
individual; the process of morale contagion is continually going on. Its
quality depends on mutual acceptance, friendships, the amount of contagious
fear in the group, the quality of interpersonal processes, resistance-provoking
qualities in the few, and so on.

Let us not forget that the best morale booster for ourselves is to help to lift
the morale of others. When interhuman contact is not allowed, morale is soon
lacking. For instance, we heard from several escaped people from behind the
iron curtain that their most prominent complaint in the totalitarian system was
the feeling of mental isolation. The individual feels alone and continually on
the alert. There is only mutual suspicion. The new gospel for those escapees
was the ready humane acceptance and contact they experienced in the
democratic group, because here was spontaneous enthusiasm and mutual
acceptance—even when there was disagreement.


The following factors resulting mostly from military experience may endanger morale:

Wrong anticipation of danger; myths and rumors about the enemy.
Severe stress; battle fatigue.
Poor physical and mental health (flu!).
Lack of food, lack of sleep; cold and dirt.
Bad leadership.
Poor training; lack of skill; overtraining.
Poor communication and poor information.
Destruction of basic values, lack of faith.
Confusion of activities, strife in politics, wrong selection of government.
Authoritarian and undemocratic behavior; humiliation.
Tyranny; too rigid discipline, also lack of discipline.
Homesickness and feelings of estrangement.
Internal hostilities, prejudices, persecution of minorities.
Thought control and menticide; no right to be an individual, no justice, no
right to appeal.
No function in the social setting, no duties.
Alcohol and sedatives.
The following factors may boost morale:
Sound democratic leadership.
Well-planned organization with the freedom of improvisation; minimum of red tape.
Democratic self-discipline. Do we have faith in our own institutions ?
Information and unhampered communication.
Freedom of religion; moral integrity.
Mutual loyalty and mature responsibility; team spirit.
Mental alertness; the important psychology of awareness of the problems
of our own epoch.
A sense of belonging and being accepted.
A sense of justice, freedom, and privacy.
Confidence in experts ready to give first aid (mental hygiene experts,
clergy, Red Cross, Civil Defense, medical first aid).




What is the straw that breaks the camel’s back?


This is a key question in the problem of personal morale. During the Second World War, I treated a
fighter pilot who was unafraid of his dangerous work but who felt unhappy
about his personal relationships. Suddenly during an air-raid alert in London,
where he was on furlough, he was struck by utter panic. In normal life he had
been a rather shy and withdrawn young man. Unexpectedly he found himself
in a shelter with a frightened group about him, and he became contaminated
by the fear of other people. The strange situation found him unprepared and
so he broke down. I mention this point to show again how contagious the
atmosphere in a P.O.W. camp can be.


No one can really tell how he will behave in times of great danger until it
comes to actually facing the test. The true test of reality is solved in different
ways. Many accept the challenge. Some over-defensive, compulsive
individuals even welcome the danger. Still others—who were already
unstable—misuse the new situation as an excuse to break down and let their
emotions go. Segal calls the last group frustrated big-dealers, seclusives,
dupes, scared kids, praise-starved egotists—all having egos that could easily
be boosted by a flattering inquisitor.


In psychology we are aware of the fact that there are two sets of
determinants which bring on mental breakdown: one set consisting of longterm
considerations which cause a gradual breakdown of inner defenses, the
other consisting of short-term factors, the triggers or provoking factors
causing a sudden collapse of the mental and physical integration. To the first
set of factors may belong chronic disease or the many chronic irritations of
life. The second operates by means of a sudden symbolic impact on hidden
sensitivities. A mouse appearing in a girls’ class doesn’t arouse panic
because of its objective danger. Modern psychopathology has studied the
manifold sensitizing occurrences, experienced in early life, which make
people subject to unknown trigger reactions.


Yet, trauma and frustration are emphasized too much as weakeners of the
personality during its development. As a matter of fact, the opposite is true.
Challenge and resistance to unfavorable influences make the personality. In
order to develop greater inner strength and better ego defenses, the
individual has to expose and traumatize himself. What else is “fair” sport and
“fair” competition but repeated training in morale? Physical training doesn’t
have to be “soft.” The self-traumatization by trial and error, to which we
unconsciously expose ourselves in encounters during sports, is part of a
spontaneous effort toward self-discipline. When the person cannot find
strength within himself, he must borrow it from his neighbor and look for
strength by proxy. Too great emphasis on dependence or leadership increases
this proxy mechanism. Leadership is not exclusively the secret of morale.
Identification with the leader may sometimes fortify the person’s inner
strength, but it may also frustrate his capacity to grapple with his own
problems. A frustrating leader may decrease our capacity to tolerate


Living under too soft circumstances is probably a weakening factor; a
recent publication (Richter) on experiences with men under combat stress,
and later with rats in the laboratory, have proven that luxury in general
influences negatively man’s capacity to endure.

Somewhere along the line, good morale means no longer being afraid to
die; it means solving that mythological anxiety about death being something
dark and obscure; and it means the willingness to accept fate. Accepting fate
and duty and responsibility is living in a different way: it is living with the
moral courage to stand for moral principles that you have gathered in your
life and without which life is not worth living.
The anticipation of bad occurrences can have a paralyzing effect. If one
expects people to break down, they may either give in more easily to these
false prophets, or, out of hostility, feel boosted in their morale. The press, the
radio, television have to be aware of their subtle responsibility as moraleinfluencing

It is important to realize that mental prophets expect more panic in others
when they themselves feel jittery and insecure. In the last war, there were
many sensational forecasts of panic that, happily enough, did not materialize,
such as Dunkerque. Man is often mentally much stronger than we expect him
to be. Of all the animals, he can suffer most and take danger best—provided
he does not weaken himself by his belief in supernatural terror stories nor
become unnerved in a cold war.

Chapter Seventeen


What then can give a man strength to resist a menticidal assault? What
made it possible for so many thousands to survive mentally and physically
the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps and the Communist P.O.W.

The answer is essentially simple. Men yield primarily because at some
point they are overwhelmed by their unconscious conflicts. These conflicts,
kept under control in normal circumstances, come to the surface under the
strain of menticidal pressure. The stronger the inner conflicts and the greater
the pressure, the greater the tendency to yield. Men withstand pressure when
these conflicts cannot be so easily aroused or have been inwardly overcome.
This simple answer itself contains a clinical paradox. One of the
characteristics of severe neurosis, and of some cases of pathological
character structure, is that unconscious conflicts are so severe that they are
either repressed so deeply that the sufferer is not even vaguely aware of their
existence or they are transformed into a set of overt attitudes which are more
acceptable to the individual, and therefore easier to handle. If the severe
neurotic permitted himself to feel his real conflicts, they would dominate his
life completely; consequently he exerts tremendous force to hold down this
explosive material. The man who is always rebellious, never growing from
healthy rebellion into healthy maturity, may have transformed some basic and
profound conflict in his own personality into a chronic resistance against any
kind of social demand. Psychiatric examination of returned P.O.W.’s from
Korea showed that many of the men who resisted enemy propaganda most
strongly were those with a history of lifelong rebellion against all authority
—from parents through teachers to army superiors. They were troublemakers
wherever they were, among their friends as well as among their enemies


This negative side of the coin is only part of the picture. A man with deep
self-knowledge, aware of his own inner conflicts and aware, too, of what the
enemy is trying to do to him is prepared to meet and resist the attack. I
interrogated many people who went through the tortures of Nazi prison and
concentration camps. Some were ordinary folk with no political affiliations,
some were members of the resistance, a few were psychologists and
psychoanalysts. Those who understood themselves, who were willing to
accept danger and challenge, and who realized, even faintly, how bestial man
can be, were able to stand the harrowing concentration-camp experience.
They were not defeated by their own innocent perplexity and lack of insight
into themselves and others, but were protected by their knowledge and
inquisitive alertness.


There are other factors which play an important role too. My
investigations have made it abundantly clear to me that those who can resist,
who can maintain their strength under marginal circumstances, never feel that
they are alone. As long as they can think of their loved ones at home, as long
as they can look forward to seeing them again, as long as they know their
families are faithfully waiting for them, they can maintain their strength and
keep the unconscious drive to give in from taking over their lives. The love
and affection we get and gather in our hearts is the greatest stimulus to
endurance. Not only does it provide a goal toward which we can direct our
lives, it also gives us an inner assurance and a sense of worth that make it
possible for us to keep in check the self-destroying conflicts.
This knowledge of loving and being loved is not limited to love of family
or friends. People in whom a religious faith or a political conviction is a
deeply rooted, living thing have this same sense of belonging, of being
needed, of being loved. Their allegiance is to a whole group or to a set of
ideals rather than to individuals. To such people, beliefs are real and
concrete, as real and concrete as people or objects. They provide a bulwark
against loneliness, terror, fantasies conjured up by the unconscious, and the
unleashing of deep-seated conflicts, a bulwark that is as strong as the
memory of love. Yet, such mentally strong people form a minority in our
conflict-ridden society.

Experience has shown that robust athletes cannot withstand the
concentration-camp or the P.O.W. camp experiences any better than can their
physically weaker brothers. Nor is intellect alone any real help in fending off
the daily assaults on the will. On the contrary, it can provide useful
rationalization for surrender. Mental backbone and moral courage go deeper
than the intellect. Fortitude is not a physical or intellectual quality; it is
something we get from the cradle, from the consistency of our parents’
behavior, and from their beliefs and faith. It has become increasingly rare in
a world of changing values and little faith.




There is something in the glorious myth of strength and courage that
confuses all of us. Physical strength is too frequently confused with spiritual
strength. Bravery and heroism are, indeed, needed qualities in battle. Yet
analysis of soldiers in combat shows that each one of them has to conduct a
constant battle against his own fears. The brave are the ones who can check
their fears, who can cope with the paralyzing fantasies that fear creates, and
who can control the desire to regress into childish escapism. A man cannot
be forced to become a hero, and it is ridiculous to punish him if he is not. It
is as pointless as punishing him for bleeding or fainting.

The hero, the man who offers himself up to death for the sake of others, is
found more in mythology than in reality. Psychology and anthropology have
shown that the hero myth is related to eternal dream images. The hero
symbolizes the rebellious new generation, the strong son becoming stronger
than the father. He symbolizes, too, our wish to be mature and to take
responsibility into our own hands.

We need the myth for the inspiration it offers us. We commemorate with
posthumous glorification the heroic feats of the few who have, throughout
history, offered themselves up as sacrifices to their comrades or to society.
Yet what do we know of their real motives?

During the Second World War, I gave psychiatric treatment to many
soldiers. As I spoke and worked with them, I became increasingly conscious
of how dangerous it is to stick the simple label “hero” or “coward” on any
man. One of my patients, for example, was a boy who had received a high
military decoration because he had stuck to a lonely place with his machine
gun, firing automatically until the enemy was forced to withdraw. In the
course of his treatment, the boy confessed that his apparent heroism was
really the result of a paralyzing fear, which had made it impossible for him to
follow his commander’s order to retreat.

No one can really tell how he will behave in times of danger. Each person
will solve the frightening test that reality confronts him with in his own way.
Several will accept the challenge and stand up to it. Some over-defensive,
compulsive individuals may even welcome this burden as a test of their
strength. Still others— whose instability has deep roots in the past—will
unconsciously take advantage of a perilous situation to break down
completely and let their tears and emotions go.

Freud has directed our attention to the peculiar interplay between external
and internal dangers, between frightening reality and equally frightening
fantasy. Objective, recognizable dangers often stimulate the mind to alertness
and encourage it to set up its inner defenses. But there are subjective paniccreators
too—frustration, feeling of guilt, infantile horror fantasies—and
these can often be so terrorizing in their effects that all our cultural defenses
collapse. Many men who face the test of reality with stalwart courage can be
brought to collapse by apparent trivia which somehow touch them in a
vulnerable spot.

Another of my wartime patients mentioned previously showed such a
pattern. The young fighter pilot, who had flown forty combat missions
without any sign of fear or panic, suddenly broke down completely in an airraid
shelter in London. In the course of treatment, it became apparent that this
young man was bitterly unhappy about his personal relationships. He did not
get along with his commanding officer; he had had a serious quarrel with his
girl friend the night before his breakdown. A shy and withdrawn person,
when he suddenly found himself in the shelter with a frightened group about
him, he became contaminated by the fear in the atmosphere. Weakened by
recent unhappiness, he found himself completely unable to put up the inner
defenses that had served him so well under the frightening experiences of
active war.

Are we to say that he was less of a hero than the much-decorated
machine-gunner ?


There still lives in all of us an admiration for bravado, for the theatrical
display of courage, for the devil-may-care invitation to destruction. We are
beginning to recognize now that real courage is different; it is at one and the
same time an expression of faith in life and a resignation to death. Courage is
not something that can be forced on a man from the outside. It has to come
from inside him.

In the reality of modern war—the impersonal Moloch—a man can be
easily reduced to a feeling of helplessness and dependency. Personal courage
can turn the tide of battle in a hand-to-hand encounter, but personal courage is
no defense against bombs and machine guns. Today, reckless courage, as we
have glorified it, is less important than personal morale, faith, conviction,
knowledge, and adequate preparation.

A boy of seventeen years of age is drafted into the army. He has spent his
entire life in a small town in Texas. He receives training in the routine of
army life and the use of his weapons. Soon thereafter he is sent to Korea, and
almost immediately he is taken prisoner. Now this child has to defend
himself against the propaganda barrage which well-trained Communist
theoreticians daily hurl at him. His education is limited, his background
narrow, his political training inadequate. He even tries to escape from his
prison camp but is caught. As a result, the enemy’s mental hold on him
increases. His great disappointment makes him feel trapped. Finally he
surrenders and collaborates. How can a military court hold him responsible,
and even punishable, for the fact that he finally gave in to enemy propaganda?
This is part of the story of Corporal Claude Batchelor, recently sentenced
to twenty years imprisonment for collaboration with the enemy. I would
venture to guess that it could have been the story of nearly any American boy
of similar background.

After the Second World War, several European countries had to face the
difficult problem of how to treat those members of the underground who,
after torture by the Nazis, had confessed and betrayed their compatriots. In
Holland a Court of Honor was established to judge these special cases. This
court reached the following conclusions:

No man can possibly vouch for it that under no circumstances will he
‘confess,’ ‘cooperate,’ or ‘betray’ his country. No man who has not himself
gone through the hell which Communists and Nazis have been so able to
organize has any right to judge the conduct of a man who did.
Psychological torture is more effective in many cases than physical
torture. This is all the more true of the victim who has above average
intellectual background. It seems that intelligence makes physical torture
more easily bearable but at the same time exposes one more to the impact of
mental torture. Anyone who ‘submitted’ under such circumstances to the
enemy after having given proof of his loyalty, patriotism and courage will
suffer terribly because his condemnation of himself will always be more
severe than that of any judge.

There is, however, not the slightest reason for shame, nor for considering
such a person incapacitated for giving leadership. On the contrary, more than
outsiders he will know what superhuman strength is required to resist the
subtle methods of mental torture, and more than outsiders he can be helpful to
others to prepare themselves for the ordeal as far as that is at all possible.

[From a letter written by G. Van Heuven Goedhart, U.N. High Commissioner
for Refugees, President of the Dutch Court of Honor, which appeared in The
New York Times, March 15, 1954.]


When we look at the varieties of human behavior under extreme and
pressing circumstances, we see how easily man can be subdued, and at the
same time we see that certain factors seem to have a positive effect on his
morale, keeping him from despair and collapse. When these factors are
operative, the spirit revives and people are enabled to live with integrity in
spite of dangerous circumstances. There are many such morale boosters—
religious faith or a political ideology are among them. Perhaps the most
effective is the sense of having some mission and inner goal. This ideal with
which a man identifies can be love of the native land, love of freedom or
justice, or even the thought of hate and revenge. Whatever it is, at the moment
of calamity a guiding idea is as much needed as mere physical strength and
endurance. In every case where the individual has learned to withstand
danger and to maintain at least some of his normal esprit under circumstances
of deprivation, want, and brutality, one or more of the morale-boosting
factors must have been present.

I do not believe that the inner search for the morale-boosting regenerative
idea is a conscious function of the mind. Such psychological regeneration is
comparable with the physical regenerative processes we see in the body. The
body hardly ever gives up its regenerative capacities. Even when a man is
dying of cancer, his surgical wounds still heal, the local regenerating forces
are still there. The same thing seems to operate on a mental level; in times of
confusion, pressure, and exhaustion, man’s psychological healing and
regenerating forces are still in action. This applies as much to large groups of
people as it does to the individual, though in the former, restraining forces
remain in action because of intricate interpersonal relationships.

My experiences with people living in the utmost dangerous circumstances
showed that very soon after an initial bewilderment the individuals develop
an inner need for what we might call mental budgeting. They all display
observable clinical symptoms indicating that this process of regaining their
self-assertive resistance is going on. When they first come to the prison
camps, for instance, they show complete passivity, surrender, and
depersonalization, but soon a guiding idea begins to grow out of their need to
understand fate, their need for protective intercommunication and adherence
to some common faith, for building something for the self. We can detect this
favorable change in mood by the way every prisoner makes his own corner a
place of security, even when it is only a dirty wooden bunk. He begins to
rearrange the few things he has; he builds his own nest, and from it he begins
to look out into his miserable marginal world.

When the prison-camp inmate finds friends whose faith and strength of
character are greater than his, his life becomes more bearable to him.
Through mere association with others he can better face the horrors without.
Mutual love and common hate, both may be equally stimulating. Renewed
human contact changes his inherent fear into confidence in at least one other
person. When this grows into some identity with an active, working team, the
temporary loss of inner strength is gone. When he does not find such a group
or personality to identify with, the prison guard and his foreign ideology may
take over.

It must be said that the stimulating morale-boosting idea is nearly always
a moral idea, an ethical evaluation—faith in goodness, justice, freedom,
peace, and future harmony. Even the most cynical dictator needs the help of
moral ideas to raise the morale of those submissive to his regime. If he
cannot give them at least the illusion of peace and freedom in addition to
prospects for future wealth, he reduces them to dull apathetic followers. At
the entrance of the Nazi concentration camps were large signs bearing the
cynical slogan: Arbeit macht frei (“Work makes man free”). This may not
have fooled the inmates, but it gave the German people outside the camps a
way of justifying their inhuman behavior. The need for moral justification,
which is felt by even the most ruthless tyrants, proves how deeply alive these
ideas of morality are in man. The more a man lives in marginal and torturous
situations, the greater is his need for supportive moral values and their
stimulating action.

In general we may say that there are three influences under which the
unbearable becomes bearable. Again, in the first place, one must have faith;
this can be simple faith in religious or ethical values, or faith in humanity, or
faith in the stability of one’s own society, or faith in one’s own goals. In the
second place, the victim must feel that in spite of the disaster which has
overtaken him and turned him into an outcast, he is wanted and needed
somewhere on this earth. In the third place, there must be understanding, not
sophisticated book knowledge but simple, even intuitive, psychological
understanding of the motivations of the enemy and his deluded drives. Those
who cannot understand and are too perplexed break down first.
Anti-brainwashing training has to be done very thoroughly. It is true that
inner defenses can be built against thought control and against the daily
barrage of suggestions. With the help of good and repeated instruction,
people can be made familiar with the concepts. Perceptual defenses are then
built up; we learn to detect the false propaganda and we do not listen to it.
Even though part of the propagandists suggestions leak through these
perceptual defenses and creep unobtrusively into our opinions (all
advertising is based on this leakage), it cannot be stressed enough that full
knowledge of the enemy’s methods gives us more strength to resist.
Several psychologists have told me how, under the frightful circumstances
of life in the Nazi concentration camps, they felt sustained by their science. It
gave them perspective and made it possible for them to see their own
suffering from a greater distance. It was the philosophical attitude of the
inquisitive mind that fortified their inner strength.

Still, there are only a few stories of those who could not be broken down
by the process of Communist brainwashing. Such a hard-boiled revolutionary
as the Spaniard El Campesino, for one, was able to stand it (Gonzales and
Gorkin). He knew the tricks of the totalitarians. It is also possible that they
might not have thought him important enough to waste too much time and
effort on him; after all, he could always be sent to a concentration camp to
waste away.

It must be repeated that any kind of illicit group formation in the camps—
no matter how dangerous—immediately gave the individual a sense of being
protected. Most of those who resisted cooperation and group membership
and worked on their own succumbed to despair and defeat. Those who
betrayed their comrades usually did so after they had gone through a long
period of isolation, not necessarily enforced, but often caused by their own
peculiar character structure.

Human contact with a trusted source is needed more than bread to keep
the spirit of freedom and belonging alive. During the Second World War the
anti-Nazi underground lived on the daily radio news from free England. Even
now there are people in enslavement and distress who live on the few
communications we are able to transmit to them. The Voice of America and
Radio Free Europe have a tremendous morale-boosting function in countries
where the totalitarian air leads to despair.

In our present-day fight against brainwashing, intelligent preparation for
what the prisoner has to expect and simple understanding of the enemy’s
tactics are the greatest aid. In the first place, this will undermine the enemy’s
political strategy; nobody will believe his deceitful accusations. In the
second place, victims of brainwashing will no longer suffer from the
paralyzing bewilderment of those who are suddenly caught by an unfamiliar
situation. Perhaps, too, we should advise our soldiers under duress to
confess too much, to confuse the inquisitor and to take over the enemy’s
strategy of confusion, lying, and deceit to bring him to frustration. This
suggestion was also made by Rear Admiral D. V. Gallery of the United States
Navy. [The Saturday Evening Post, January 22, 1955.] In cases where
victims of menticide have done this, the inquisitors have often begged their
victims to become rational again; the torturer himself was disturbed and
upset by the feigned craziness of his victim. Of the greatest importance is the
victim’s awareness that other people know and understand what is
happening, that there is a home front that is acquainted with his lonely
struggle and torture.

If he does succumb, he should know that others understand that he cannot
be held completely responsible for his behavior. His brain wanted to resist,
his mind wanted to say no, but in the end everything in his body acted against
him. It is an eerie and strange experience—awareness of the fact that against
one’s will, one has lost the freedom of mental action. It is an experience
which enough pressure can make familiar to most men.

Are the effects of brainwashing only temporary? There is a difference
between young people whose thoughts are still likely to be molded into
permanent patterns of thinking and adults whose patterns are already formed
by a free education. In mature people, brainwashing is an artificial nightmare
they can often shed the moment they return to free territory. In some, it may
leave long-lasting scars of depression and humiliation, but gradually the
spell subsides in an atmosphere where freedom reigns.

During and directly after the Second World War, those members of the
resistance who had lost their bearings under the influence of the Nazi terror
made it necessary for psychiatrists to face a new problem, that of a
temporarily changed personality. Obviously the terror in prisons and
concentration camps had not only made meek collaborators of a certain few,
but they came out of their ordeal as lost souls, full of guilt and remorse and
unable to face themselves as valid citizens. Even the honorable official
exoneration of responsibility granted to them by a special court was not
always able to repair their self-esteem. Before accepting themselves they had
to go through a slow and difficult psychological process of undoing the
nightmarish mental confusion into which they were thrown. During
psychotherapy several of them had to recall and experience once more the
terror they had suffered: their initial struggle to resist the mental dinning of
their inquisitors, the gradual paralysis of will, their final surrender. It was a
subtle inner battle between their feelings of guilt and the wish to reassert
themselves. Emotional outbursts were followed by thoughts of suicide as a
final flight from their shame. After they had vented their pent-up emotions,
the therapist was able to convince them that everybody has his physical and
psychological limits of endurance. From this point on, they could express
themselves freely as independent human beings with a mixture of both
negative and positive qualities.

In one case of a young man who had spent years in a concentration camp
after a thorough brainwashing by the Nazis, the process of rehabilitation
lasted nearly two years. The victim emerged from it without mental scars,
and was even strengthened by his bitter experience.

I am convinced that in the case of prisoners who were for years in a
totalitarian prison and were consequently politically conditioned, a cathartic,
psychotherapeutic approach will help them to find their old inner selves once
more. Threats and aggressive discussions would only be a continuation of the
same coercive brainwashing process their jailors used. The best therapy for
them is the daily contact and exchange with the free, democratic world, as
we have seen proven in so many cases of ex-prisoners of the totalitarian
machine. Free air is for them the best therapy!

For the millions of children who from the cradle are pressed into the
framework of mental automatization, no such option for freedom exists. For
them there is no other world, there are no other beliefs; there is only the allconsuming
totalitarian Moloch, in whose service every means and every
deed is justified.


Brainwashers are very naive in thinking that the enforced reformation of
the mind—the transformation of capitalist prisoners into Communist
propagandists—will be permanent. For the first few weeks after their return
to a normal environment, the ex-prisoner will speak the language he has been
“taught.” He will recite his piece, but then, and often suddenly and
surprisingly, his old self comes back. If the victim has a chance to investigate
and examine the Communist propaganda and accusations, the whole artificial
nightmare will fall away. For this reason, the jailers are careful not to
dismiss all their converts at once. A few must stay behind as hostages to
assure that those who are released will not expose the whole plot and thus
endanger their friends in jail. Those who do tell the truth on their return home
feel guilty because their revelations may expose the hostages to even greater


I have been fascinated by a peculiar character trait that makes for courage
and endurance. I called it in my study on the problem of time the sense of
continuity, the awareness that our experiences now are not only chained to
our experiences from the past, but also to our image and fantasy of a future.
We live in a world where we accept too much of the actual occurrences,
without asking why and for what all this happens. Those who think of
planning for the future are sneeringly called utopianists, as if the idea of
Utopia had not always sprung from human yearning. Our ancestors believed
in the future, the coming of Christ, the coming of the messiahs, the Kingdom
of God. They anticipated and worked for a better epoch. The people in the
concentration camps who believed in a future, who believed in a plan, who
could see their actual calamity as a small chain between past and future,
could endure better their temporary suffering.

I had the privilege of knowing people who belonged to the few kernels of
strength and who were able to do more than exist passively and borrow
strength from others. They were able to live courageously under the extreme
stress of the Nazi concentration camp. They accepted the camp and the
persecution as a challenge to their minds. Physical pain did not touch them.
The abnormal circumstances stimulated their spirit; they lived beyond the
circumstances. The morale of these people inspired others; they lived by
fortifying and helping others. They accepted the Spinozistic amor fati, the
love and acceptance of fate. They are a living proof that the mind can be
stronger than the body.





Philosophy and psychology have made us aware of new challenges and
new courage. Socrates, over two thousand years ago, considered bravery a
spiritual courage which goes far beyond the courage of physical battle. A
soldier can be aggressive and have contempt for death without being brave.
His rashness can be a suicidal foolhardiness inspired by a collective élan.
This may be the panicky courage of the unaware primitive infant in us.
There is also a spiritual bravery, a mental courage that goes beyond the
self. It serves an idea. It asks not only what the price of life is, but also for
what that price is being asked. It asks for a hyperconsciousness of the self as
a thinking spiritual being.


It is only comparatively recently that spiritual courage has been esteemed.
Socrates’ notion has taken a long time to seep into our thinking. It was only
after the Reformation that the heroic struggle of the lonely battling personality
gained value. To defend your own dissenting opinion courageously, even
against the pressure of a majority opinion, acquired a heroic color—
especially where nonconformism and heresy were forbidden. Gandhi’s quiet
and stubborn campaign of passive resistance is today considered more
courageous than the bravery of the soldier who throws himself into the
ecstasy of battle. Spiritual bravery is not found among the conformists or
among those who preach uniformity or among those who plead for smooth
social adjustment. It requires continual mental alertness and spiritual strength
to resist the dragging current of conformist thought. Man has to be stronger
than the mere will for self-protection and self-assertion; he has to be able to
go beyond himself in the service of an idea and has to be able to
acknowledge loyally that he has been wrong when higher values are found.
Indeed, there is a spiritual courage that goes beyond all automatic reflex
action. Man is not only a mass, a piece of kneaded dough; he is also a
personality. He dares to confront the human masses as he confronts the entire
world—as a thinking human being. Consciousness, alert awareness are
themselves a form of courage, a lonely exploration and a confrontation of
values. Such courage dares to break through old traditions, taboos,
prejudices and dares to doubt dogma. The heroes of the mind do not know the
fanfare, the pathetic show, the pseudo-courage of exaltation and glory; these
brave heroes fight their inner battle against rigidity, cowardice, and the wish
to surrender conviction for the sake of ease. This courage is like remaining
awake when others want to soothe themselves with sleep and oblivion.
Totalitarian ideology is able to blackmail man through his inner cowardice. It
threatens him into surrendering his innermost convictions in exchange for
glamour and acceptance, for hero worship, for honor and acknowledgment.
Yet the true hero is true to his ideals.


Only when people have learned to accept individual responsibility can the
world be helped by the combined efforts of many individuals. Don’t imitate
the master, don’t merely identify with the leader, but if you do conform,
accept his lead with the full recognition of your own responsibility. Such
heroism of the spirit is only possible if you are the master of your emotions
and in full control of your aggressions.

The new hero will not be recognized because of his muscles or aggressive
power, but because of his character, his wisdom, and his mental proportions.
Intimate knowledge of bravery dethrones most of the popular notions
about it as an exalted fascination. Psychological knowledge fosters new
forms of courage, demanding exhausting labor, the labor of thought rather
than the easy work of recklessness.

I cannot take any other option than for this enduring courage of life,
courage that no longer embodies the magic attraction of suicide and decline.
Courage should be the vivid faith in, and the alert awareness and the sound
consideration of, all that moves life.

Such courage accepts the great fear behind all the mysteries of life and
dares to live with it.

The Nazis were very much aware of the existence of unbendable heroes
among their victims, whose faces could not be changed, whose minds could
not be coerced. They called their calmness and stubborn will physiognomic
insubordination, and they tried to kill these heroes as soon as they were
discovered. Happily, the jailers had many blind spots when it came to
detecting spiritual greatness.

When the war was over, most of these heroes disappeared modestly into
the crowd after their mission was fulfilled, leaving leadership to the more
sophisticated politicians.
Chapter Eighteen



The totalitarian state is continually driving out man’s private opinions and
convictions. For the police state, thinking is already acting. The inner
preparation for action as expressed in trial action —thought—is not
accepted. Innate doubt and the trials and tribulations of thought adaptation are
denied. Inbreeding destructive thought is one way to undermine the
community. Not trusting the liberty of thought and free expression of opinion
is even more dangerous; the natural destructive desires are repressed to that
uncontrollable realm of the mind that may explode more easily into action.
The verbal expression of a destructive thought however often partly conquers
that thought, and renders it less potent. Here lies the actual paradox!
Condemning antisocial thought—thought not yet put into action—provokes a
short circuit of explosive action!


Every piece of logic may have its dangerous implications: inquisitional
murder took place in the service of high ideals. If we cannot gamble with the
innate good sense of man, a free and peaceful society are impossible, a
democracy is impossible. Moral culture begins and ends with the individual.
Only the cult of individual freedom, individual possession, and individual
creativity makes man willing to curb instinctual desires and to repress
destructivity. Man is not only a social being. Somewhere away from the
crowd and the noise, he has to come to grips with himself and confront his
God and nature. In order to grow, he needs reserve and isolation and silence.
In addition to his mechanical devices and machines, he needs to get back to
nature, to camp out-of-doors by himself. Somewhere along the line, he has to
be the maker of some of his own tools, as a shoemaker or a healer or a
teacher. Without being thrown on his own and knowing loneliness, man is
dwarfed, he is lost among the waves of overpowering human influence and a
sea of coercive probabilities.


The deepest conviction of the power of psychological understanding came
to me in my protracted mental struggles with a man who held membership in
a totalitarian organization. He came to me for psychological advice during
the Nazi occupation of Holland, and I knew that I had to be careful to avoid
discussing politics with him; in those days free expression of opinion could
be severely punished, and my patient would have reported me if I had said
anything “suspicious.”


However, as my therapy of passive listening liberated him from his
personal tensions, the patient became more humane. He developed an
increasing respect for the individual personality as such, and sometimes
grew very critical of the Nazis’ callous treatment of human life and human
dignity. As time passed, he dissociated himself more and more from his
totalitarian political friends. This was indeed courageous, for, especially at
that time, the turn from collaboration toward nonconformism was usually
interpreted as high treason. In his last visits before we agreed that he was
cured, we spoke of our mutual faith in the dignity of the individual and our
confidence in the decisions of the mature adult as to the path of his own

Does psychology really exert a democratizing influence on the
authoritarian and totalitarian spirit? The case I have just cited would seem to
indicate that it does. On the other hand, we know that Goebbels’s propaganda
machine applied psychological principles to hypnotize the German people
into submission. Hitler, too, laid down his psychological artillery barrage to
spread panic throughout Europe.

In Nazi Germany, all psychoanalytic treatment was controlled by
psychology’s own Führer, Goering’s brother. Certainly the science of
suggestion, hypnosis, and Pavlovian training can be used to enlist cowardly,
submissive followers for a program of despotism. These uses of
psychological knowledge are perversions of both the principles and the
purposes of psychology. Intrinsic in the psychological approach, and above
all in psychoanalytic treatment, is an important element that fosters an attitude
diametrically opposite to the totalitarian one.

The true purpose of psychology, and especially of its mental health
branch, is to free man from his internal tensions by helping him to understand
what causes them. Psychology seeks to liberate the human spirit from its
dependency on immature thinking so that each man can realize his own
potentialities. It seeks to help man to face reality with its many problems, and
to recognize his own limitations as well as his possibilities for growth. It is
dedicated to the development of mature individuals who are capable of
living in freedom and of voluntarily restricting their freedom, when it is
indicated, for the larger good. It is based on the premise that when man
understands himself, he can begin to be the master of his own life, rather than
merely the puppet either of his own unconscious drives or of a tyrant with a
perverted lust for power.

As we have said earlier, every man passes through a stage in his own
development of greater susceptibility to totalitarianism. This usually occurs
during adolescence when the pubescent becomes aware of his own
personality—the authority within himself. In not accepting this responsibility,
he may look for a strong leader outside the home. At an earlier age—in
infancy—the more unconscious patterns of compulsion and automatic
obedience are laid. With the advent of his new sense of selfhood, the youth
begins to oppose the adult authorities who previously directed his life.
Becoming conscious of the entity we call ego or self or I is a painful
mental process. It is not a matter of chance that the feeling of endless longing,
of Weltschmerz, is traditionally connected with adolescence. The process of
becoming an autonomous and self-growing individual involves separation
from the security of the family. To achieve internal democracy, the adolescent
must separate himself from his protective environment. In so doing he is not
merely intoxicated with his sense of growth and emancipation, he is also
filled with a sense of fear and loneliness. He is entering a new world in
which he must henceforth assume mature responsibility for his actions. At
that time he may become an easy prey for totalitarian propaganda. A personal
grudge against growing up may lead him to forsake the struggle for personal


This problem is particularly acute in Western society not only because of
the real ideological-political battle we have to face, but also because our
ways of raising children may emphasize this problem. Whereas primitive
groups impose some measure of social responsibility upon the child early in
life and increase it gradually, our middle-class culture segregates him
completely in the world of childhood, nursery, and schoolroom, and then
plunges him precipitously into adulthood to sink or swim. At this turning
point, many young people shrink from such a test. Many do not want a
freedom that carries with it so many burdens, so much loneliness. They are
willing to hand back their freedom in return for continued parental
protection, or to surrender it to political or economic ideologies which are in
fact displaced parental images.

Alas, the youth’s surrender of individuality is no guarantee against fear
and loneliness. The real outside world is in no way altered by his inner
choice. Therefore the youth who relinquishes his freedom to new parent
figures develops a curious, dual feeling of love and hate toward all authority.
Docility and rebellion, submission and hate live side by side within him.
Sometimes he bows completely to authority or tyranny; at other times, often
unpredictably, everything in him revolts against his chosen leader. This
duality is an endless one, for one side of his nature continually seeks to
overstep the limits which his other, submissive side has imposed. The man
who fails to achieve freedom knows only two extremes: unquestioning
submission and impulsive rebellion.

Conversely, the individual who is strong enough to embrace mature
adulthood enters into a new kind of freedom. True, this freedom is an
ambiguous concept since it involves the responsibility of making new
decisions and confronting new uncertainties. The frontiers of freedom are
anarchy and caprice on the one side and regimentation and suffocation by
rules on the other.

If only we could find an easy formula for the mature attitude toward life!
Even if we call it the democratic spirit, we can still explain more easily what
democracy is not, than what it is. We can say that our individualizing
democracy is the enemy of blind authority. If we wish a more detailed,
psychological explanation, we must contrast it with totalitarianism. Our
democracy is against the total regimentation and equalization of its
individuals. It does not ask for homogeneous integration and smooth social
adjustment. Democracy, in comparison with these aims, implies a confidence
in spontaneity and individual growth. It is able to postulate progress and the
correction of evil. It guards the community against human error without
resorting to intimidation. Democracy provides redress for its own errors;
totalitarianism considers itself infallible. Whereas totalitarianism controls by
whim and manipulated public opinion, democracy undertakes to regulate
society by law, to respect human nature, and to guard its citizens against the
tyranny of a single individual on the one hand and a power-crazy majority on
the other. Democracy always fights a dual battle. On the one hand, it must
limit the resurgence of asocial inner impulses in the individual; on the other,
it must guard the individual against external forces and ideologies hostile to
the democratic way of life.



The inner harmony between social adaptation and self-assertion has to be
re-formed in every new environment. Each individual has to fight over and
over again the same subtle battle that started during infancy and babyhood.
The ego, the self, forms itself through confrontation with reality. Compliance
battles with originality, dependence with independence, outer discipline with
inner morale. No culture can escape this inner human battle, though there is a
difference in emphasis in every culture and society and in every family.
The combination of internal and external struggle, of a mental conflict on
two fronts, renders the Western ideal of an individualized democracy highly
vulnerable, particularly when its adherents are unaware of this inherent
contradiction. Democracy, by its very nature will always have to fight against
dictatorship from without and destructiveness from within. Democratic
freedom has to battle against both the individual’s inner will to power and
his urge to submit to other people. It also has to battle against the contagious
drive for power intruding from over the frontiers and so often backed up by

The freedom toward which democracy strives is not the romantic freedom
of adolescent dreams; it is one of mature stature. Democracy insists on
sacrifices which are necessary to maintain freedom. It tries to combat the
fears that attack men when they are faced with democracy’s apparently
unlimited freedom. Such lack of limitations can be misused to satisfy mere
instinctual drives. However, because democracy does not exploit man by
myth, primitive magic, mass hypnotism, or other psychological means of
seduction, it is less fascinating to the immature individual than is dictatorial
control. Democracy, when it is not involved in a dramatic struggle for
survival, may appear quite drab and uninspiring. It simply demands that men
shall think and judge for themselves; that each individual shall exercise his
full conscious ability in adapting to a changing world; and that genuine public
opinion shall mold the laws that govern the community. Essentially,
democracy means the right to develop yourself and not to be developed by
others. Yet this right like every other, has to be balanced by a duty. The right
to develop yourself is impossible without the duty of giving your energy and
attention to the development of others. Democracy is rooted not only in the
personal rights of the common man, but even more in the personal interests
and responsibilities of the common man. When he loses this interest in
politics and government, he helps to pave the road to power politics.
Democracy demands mental activity of a rather high level from the common
man. What the general public digests and assimilates in its mind is, in our new
era of mass communication, just as important as the dictates of the experts. If
the latter formulate and communicate ideas beyond the common grasp, they
will talk into a vacuum. Thus they may permit a more simple and even an
untrue ideology to slip in. It is not enough that an idea is only formulated and
printed; we have to take care that the public can participate in the new

The mystery of freedom is the existence of that great love of freedom!
Those who have tasted it will not waver. Man revolts against unfair pressure.
While the pressure accumulates he revolts silently, but at some critical
moment it bursts into open revolt. For those who have lived through such an
outburst, freedom is life itself. We have learned this especially in the days of
persecution and occupation, in the underground, in the camps, and under the
threat of demagoguery. We can even discover it in the totalitarian countries
where nonetheless the terror, the resistance goes on.

Freedom and respect for the individual are rooted in the Old Testament,
which convinced man that he makes his own history, that he is responsible
for his history. Such freedom implies that a man throws off his inertia, that he
does not cling arbitrarily to tradition, that he strives for knowledge and
accepts moral responsibility. The fear of freedom is the fear of assuming

Freedom can never be completely safeguarded by rules and laws. It is as
much dependent on the courage, integrity, and responsibility of each of us as
it is on these qualities in those who govern. Every trait in us and our leaders
which points to passive submission to mere power betrays democratic
freedom. In our American system of democratic government, three different
powerful branches serve to check each other, the executive, the legislative,
and the judiciary. Yet when there is no will to prevent encroachment of the
power of one by any of the others, this system of checks, too, can degenerate.
Like adolescents who try to hide behind the aprons of parental authority
rather than face mature adulthood, the individual members of a democratic
state may shrink from the mental activity it imposes. They long to take flight
into a condition of thoughtless security. Often they would prefer the
government, or some individual personification of the state, to solve their
problems for them. It is this desire that makes totalitarians and conformists.
Like an infant the conformist can sleep quietly and transfer all his worries to
Father State. When the intellectuals lose their self-control and courage and
are possessed only by their fears and emotions, the power of those with
prejudice and stupidity gains.

Since within each of us lie the seeds of both democracy and
totalitarianism, the struggle between the democratic and the totalitarian
attitude is fought repeatedly by each individual during his lifetime. His
particular view of himself and of his fellow men will determine his political
creed. Coexisting with man’s wish for liberty and maturity are
destructiveness, hate, the desire for power, resistance to independence, and
the wish to retreat into irresponsible childhood. Democracy appeals only to
the adult side of man; fascism and totalitarianism tempt his infantile desires.
Totalitarianism is based on a mechanized narrow view of mankind. It
denies the complexity of the individual, and the struggle between his
conscious and unconscious motivations. It denies doubt, ambivalence, and
contradiction of feelings. It simplifies man, making him into a machine that
can be put to work by governmental oil.

In every psychoanalytic treatment there comes the moment when the
patient has to decide whether or not he will grow up. The knowledge and
insight he has gained have to be translated into action. By this time he knows
more about himself; his life has become an open book to him. Although he
understands himself better, he finds it difficult to leave the dreamland of
childhood, with its fantasies, hero-worship, and happy endings. But, fortified
with a deeper understanding of his inner motivation, he steps over into the
world of self-chosen responsibility and limited freedom. Because his image
of the world is no longer distorted by immature longings, he is now able to
function in it as a mature adult.

Systematic education toward freedom is possible. Freedom grows as the
control over destructive inner drives become internalized and no longer
depend on control from the outside, on control by parents and authorities.
It is the building up of our personality and our conscience—ego and
superego—that is important. Nor can this development be brought about in an
enforced and compulsive way as tyrants and dictators try to do. We must
develop it through free acceptance or rejection of existing moral values until
the inner moral person in us is so strong that he is able to go beyond existing
values and can stand on his own moral grounds. The choice in favor of
freedom lies between self-chosen limitation—the liberation from chaos—
and the pseudo-freedom of unconscious chaos. To many people freedom is an
emotional concept of letting themselves go, which really means a
dictatorship by dark, instinctual drives. There is also an intellectual concept
of freedom, meaning a limiting of bondage and unfreedom.

In order to become free, certain outside conditions must be prevented
from hampering this moral development of self-control. We have to become
increasingly aware of the internal dangers of democracy: laxity, laziness, and
unawareness. People have to be aware of the tendency of technology to
automatize their minds. They have to become aware of the fact that mass
media and modern communication are able to imprint all kinds of suggestions
on our brains. They have to know that education can turn us either into weak
fact-factories or strong personalities. A free democracy has to fight against
mediocrity in order not to be smothered by mere numbers of automatic votes.
Democratic freedom requires a highly intelligent appraisal and understanding
of the democratic system itself. This very fact makes it difficult for us to
advertise or “promote” it. Furthermore, inculcating democracy is just as
dangerous as inculcating totalitarianism. It is the essence of democracy that it
must be self-chosen, it cannot be imposed.



Freedom and planning present no essential contrasts. In order to let
freedom grow, we have to plan our controls over the forces that limit
freedom. Beyond this, we must have the passion and the inner freedom to
prosecute those who abuse freedom. We must have the vitality to attack those
who commit mental suicide and psychic murder through abuse of liberties,
dragging down other persons in their wake. Suicidal submission is a kind of
subversion from within; it is passive surrender to a mechanized world
without personalities; it is the denial of personality. We must have the fervor
to stand firmly for freedom of the individual, for mutual tolerance and
dignity, and we must learn not to tolerate the destruction of these values. We
must not tolerate those who make use of worthy ideas and values only to
destroy them as soon as they are in power. We must be intolerant of these
abuses as long as the battle for mental life or death goes on.

It cannot be emphasized too strongly that liberty is only possible with a
strong set of beliefs and moral standards. This means that man has to adhere
to self-restrictive rules—moral rules—in order to keep his freedom. When
there is lack of such internal checks, owing to lack of education or to
stereotyped education, then external pressure or even tyranny becomes
necessary to check unsocial drives. Then freedom becomes the victim of
man’s inability to live in freedom and self-control.

Mankind should be guaranteed the right not to hear and not to conform and
the right to defense against psychological attack and against intervention in
the form of perverted mass propaganda, totalitarian pressure, and mental
torture. No compromise or appeasement is possible in dealing with such
attitudes. We have to watch carefully lest our own mistakes in attacking
personal freedom become grist for the totalitarian’s mill. Even our
denunciation may have a paradoxical effect. Fear and hysteria further
totalitarianism. What we need is careful analysis and understanding of such
phenomena. Democracy is the regime of the dignity of man and his right to
think for himself, the right to have his own opinion— more than that, the right
to assert his own opinion and to protect himself against mental invasion and

When the United Nations has devised rules curtailing menticide and
psychological intrusion, it will have insured a human right as precious as
physical existence, the right of the nonconforming free individual—the right
to dissent, the right to be oneself. Tolerance of criticism and heresy is one of
the conditions of freedom.

Here we touch on another crucial point related to the technique of
governing people. There is a relationship between overcentralization of
government, mass participation, and totalitarianism.

Mass participation in government, without the decentralization that
emphasizes the value of variation and individuality and without the
possibility of sound selection of leaders, facilitates the creation of the
dictatorial leader. The masses then transfer their desire for power to him.
The slave participates in a magic way in the glory of the master.

Democratic self-government is determined by restraint and selflimitations,
by sportsmanship and fairness, by voluntary observance of the
rules of society and by cooperation. These qualities come through training. In
a democratic government those who have been elected to responsible
positions request controls and limitations against themselves, knowing that
no one is without fault. Democracy is not a fight for independence but a
mutually regulated interdependence. Democracy means checking man’s
tendency to gather unlimited power unto himself. It means checking the faults
in each of us. It minimizes the consequences of man’s limitations.




Let me repeat what I said at the very beginning of this book. The modern
techniques of brainwashing and menticide—those perversions of psychology
—can bring almost any man into submission and surrender. Many of the
victims of thought control, brainwashing, and menticide that we have talked
about were strong men whose minds and wills were broken and degraded.
But although the totalitarians use their knowledge of the mind for vicious and
unscrupulous purposes, our democratic society can and must use its
knowledge to help man to grow, to guard his freedom, and to understand


Psychological knowledge and psychological treatment may in themselves
generate the democratic attitude; for psychology is essentially the science of
the juste milieu, of free choice within the framework of man’s personal and
social limitations. Compared with the million-year span of human existence
and evolution, civilization is still in its infancy. Despite historical reversals,
man continues to grow, and psychology—no matter how imperfect now—
will become one of man’s most powerful tools in his struggle for freedom
and maturity.






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Air-raid shelters, 170
Alcoholism, 55-71, 172
Alertness, 74-75, 78, 163, 217
Ambition, 221, 226, 271
Ambivalence of feelings, 76, 83, 116, 236, 243, 253
Amphetamine, 23, 30
Animistic thinking, 197
Anonymity, feeling of, 77
Apathy, 74, 75, 77, 165, 180
Artists, 239
Assembly line, 215
Athletes, 281
Auschwitz concentration camp, 114
Author(s), 239
Authority, 96, 109-10, 192, 247
Autohypnosis, 23-24, 31, 91
Automobiles, 209, 212, 213, 215
Automatization, 51-52, 54, 119-21, 216- 17, 228
Autosuggestive personality, 64
Barbed-wire disease, 74-75, 79
Barbiturates, 56-57, 59-60, 67
Batchelor, Claude, 283-84
Battle neurosis, 171
Battle tension, 168
adult, 181-87, 192
conditioning, see Conditioning dogmatic, 44
See also Education Belief, 50-51, 281
Biases and prejudices, 40
Bibliography, 305-12
Big Lie, 136-37
Bitterness, 235
Black, Hugo, 205
Black magic, 130-31
Blackmail, 80-84, 155-58
Bolk, Louis, 53, 216
Booklearning, 266
Boredom, 27, 45, 48, 96, 99, 103,144,146
Brain surgery, 71
Brain trusters, 221
Brainwashee, 29, 34, 55, 72, 91, 264
Brainwashing, 11-12, 27, 87
adaptability to, 45
discipline and, 272-73
Mayo explanation, 20
negative stimuli, 45
parents, 183
prisoners, see Prisoners psychological processes, 90-92
U.S. code of resisting, 259-62
Bravery, 292
Breaking point,
276-78 Brunner, J. S., 11-12
Bureaucracy, 218-19, 226-31
Burgess, Guy, 244
Camouflage, 170-72
Capitalism, 51
Catchwords, 106, 135, 138, 228
Character assassination, 131, 132
automatization, 289-90
dominance over, 80
education, 266
loyalties, 242
rearing, 174-76, 179-92, 297
technology, 209-10
television, 211
Chinese Communists, 19, 32, 41, 47-48, 136
Civil servants, 226-28
Civilization, secluded, 202
Cleanliness compulsion, 128-29
Clichés, 135, 139, 144, 203
Cocaine, 23, 59
Coercion, 178, 210-14
Coexistence, 103-04
Cold War, 95-104, 147, 175, 219, 261-62, 273
Collaborators, 37, 75, 82, 84-85, 180, 186-87, 234, 237, 238, 242, 283
Collapse, need to, 76-77, 80
Collectivism, creeping, 110
Communication, 135-37, 145, 270
Communists, recanting, 152
Communism, 33, 50, 82, 84, 92, 146, 179-80, 190-91, 290. See also Chinese Communists
Companionship, need for, 78-80
Compulsion, 51, 251, 252, 269
Computers, 212-13, 217
Concentration camps, 49, 50, 62, 77, 82, 84, 88, 120-21, 126, 133, 134, 161- 62, 171, 240-41, 279,
281, 286- 89, 290
Concession, 239-40
Conditioned reflex, 38-53
Conditioning, 41-43, 46-54
Confession, enforced, 19-22, 25, 28, 37, 72-91, 100, 129, 183-84
Confession syndrome, 21
Conflict, 246, 279
Confinement, solitary, 43
Conformity, 76, 95-96,106,109,117,155, 164, 179, 184, 192, 205, 240, 267, 271
Congress, “contempt of,” 154
Congressional investigations, 149-51
Conscience, 82, 96,117, 132, i53~55, 187, 194
Continuity, sense of, 290
Controversial issues, 158
Conversation, 209, 210
Courage, 279-93
Cowardice, 214, 282
Criminal (s), 160
Criminalization, strategy of, 132-35
Critical sense, 39
Cross-examination, 151
Cultural prediction for totalitarianism, 108-12
Danger, 166-69, 277
Decency, struggle for, 99
Degrees and diplomas, 138-39, 207
Delusion, 165, 196-99, 206-07
Democracy (ies):
adult side of man, 301
advertising, 73
alcohol and drugs, 60
coexistence, peaceful, 104
definition, 255
destructiveness from within, 298
dictatorship, 298
discipline, 273
dissent, 251
duty, 299
free agents, 71
freedom, 298-300
government, 303-04
human life and welfare, 215
imposition of, 302
intelligentsia, 206
internal, 296-97
investigation, 149
leadership, 274
mass delusion, 207
mediation, 219
mediocrity, 302
mental activity, 300
nonconformity, 255
opinions, 303
political campaigns, 131
power, 304
propaganda, reactions to, 102
psychology, 295-98
responsibilities, 60, 71, 108-09, 299
rights, 299
sacrifices, 299
spirit of, 298
subversive systems, 251
thought mobility, 207
totalitarian ideology, 180-81
totalitarian intrusions, 103-04
(the) totalitarian-minded in, 190
Demagogues, 143-48, 159, 194-95, 219
Dependency, 69, 71, 75, 79
Depersonalization, 49, 77, 120
Depression, 77, 78, 81, 83-84
Detachment, quest for, 161-62
Dictators, 58, 74, 98, 100, 107-08, 111- 16, 122, 125, 128, 133, 134, 136-37, 141, 144, 147, 232, 268,
286 Diplomacy, 193, 220, 222, 226, 228
Discipline, education for, 266-78
Displaced persons, 223
Double talk, 136-37, 220
Draftees, 283
Dreams, 83, 121
Drugs, 23, 55-71
Ecstatic experience, 57-58
Education, 266-78
Ego, 64, 67, 90, 98, 112, 117, 120-21, 197, 238, 298
Ego-shrinking, 165
Eisenhower, Dwight David, 259
Election campaigns, 97
Emotions, 39, 70, 81, 91, 101, 192, 246
Empathy, 64, 70, 109, 131, 156
Encystication, 169
Enemy occupation, 22-25, 48, 59-60
Engines, 198, 202
Errors, affirmation of, 194-96
Espionage, international, 246
Ethics, 108, 133, 213 Euphoria, 57-58
Everyday life, 78-79, 236
Examination mania, 266-67
Faith, 53, 286
Family pattern, 53
Fantasy, 78, 80, 108, 118-19, 122-23, 136, 166-67, 197, 199, 210, 211
Fascism, 146, 186
Fate, 74
Father figure, 188-90, 192
Fear, 50, 65-66, 71, 87, 99-101, 103, 120, 122, 126-27, 129, 130, 132, 136, 144-45, 149, 167, 170, 197,
241, 277
Feinberg Law, 204-05
Fetalization theory, 53
Fifth Amendment, 62
Fifth columnists, 100-01, 249
Forrestal, James, 223
Fortitude, 281
Frank, Hans, 114
Freedom, 120, 294-304
French Revolution, 129-30
Freud, Anna, 84, 87, 243
Freud, Sigmund, 70, 73, 232, 282
Friendships, 154-55
Fromm, Erich, 164
Frustrations, 58, 65, 180, 183, 276-78
Fuchs, Klaus, 241, 245
Gadgets, love of, 198, 208-09, 216
Gallery, D. V., 288
Germany, spiritual power, 200
Gestapo, 22
Gilbert, G. M., 113, 114
Goebbels, J. P., 141, 295
Goering, Hermann, 113-14
Goose flesh, 170
Government, 252-53
Group evaluations, 109
Group morale, 273-76
Guilt, 57, 58, 71, 80-84, 89, 129-31, 133, 183, 211, 213, 238, 247
false admission of, 19-22
strategy of arousing, 80
by association, 209
Hatred, 52, 79, 80, 90, 122, 130, 135, J37, 152
Headlines, 146, 148
Hero(es), 140, 144, 282, 292-93
Heroin, 59
Heroism, limits of, 35
Hershey, Burnett, 223
Hess, Rudolf, 114, 244
Heterosuggestive personality, 64
Hippocratic oath, 156
“Historical necessity,” 133
History, learning of, 270-71
Hitler, Adolf, 101, 141, 144-46, 168, 241, 242, 247, 295
Hobbies, 171
Homesickness. See Barbed-wire disease
Homosexual tendencies, 79,114,186,189, 203-04, 244
Hostility, 80-83, 89, 187, 191
Human interdependence, 105
Human relationships, 70
Humiliation, 112
Humor, 147-48
Hunger, 82, 241
Hush-hush, 221
Huxley, Aldous, 67, 117
Hypnosis, 32, 34, 58, 60-65, 91, 143-48
Hypocrisy, 99
Identification, 91, 108, 243
Immunity Act of 1954, 154
Individuality, 76-77, 99, 108, 112, 297
Indoctrination, enforced, 25, 46, 91-92, 102-03, 117, 146
dependency, 181-87
sensitivity, 185-86
tension, 174
treason, 236
Infantilism, 169-70
Inferiority, 71, 112, 242
Inhibition, 45, 151
Inquisition, 25
Insecurity, 152, 249
Instability, 45
Intellect, 242-43
Intelligentsia, 206
Interrogation, 143, 150-51
Interviews, 150-51
Intimidation, 141-42, 148-49
Intuition, 70
Investigative power, 141, 143, 149-51
Iron Curtain, 106
Isms, 140
Isolation, 43-45, 78-80, 115, n8, 120
Jails, 126-27
Jews, 113, 122, 135
Joyce, William, 240
Judges, 142, 158-60
Jury(ies), 158-60
Jury of peers, 159
Justice, 141-43, 161
Kafka, Franz, 30n.
Kamikazes, 274
Kapos (prisoners), 84
Keitel, Wilhelm, 114
Kenosis, 91 Killing (s), 134-35
Killing rituals, 128
King Kong, 83
Koesder, Arthur, 88
Korean War, 31-36, 49, 50, 73~75, 79- 80, 84-85, 101, 105, 121, 136, 144, 155, 203, 251
Labels, 138-39, 207
Language knowledge, 270
Leadership, 112-16, 165, 221, 273-75, 278, 292
Learning, involuntary, 44
Leisure time, 172
Lenin-Marxist thinking, 39
Leyra, Camilio Weston, 63
Liberty, 302
Lie(s), 136, 194-96
Lie-detector, 68
Linguistics, 46-47, 135-37
Literacy, universal, 268
Living, fear of, 166-67 by proxy, 210-11
Logic, 101, 147-48
Logocide, 137-38
Loneliness, 78-80, 118, 120, 245, 247
Love, 54, 70, 120, 163-64, 182, 185, 186, 189, 210, 246, 250-51, 280-81, 286
Loyalty, 53, 80, 82-88, 232-55
Loyalty oath, 250-51, 261
Luxury, 212, 213-15, 217, 278 Lynch mobs, 149
McCarthy, Senator Joseph R., 223-24
Machine, veneration for, 211-13, 215-217
MacLean, Donald, 244
Male authority, search for, 187
Marine Corps Court of Inquiry, 141
Masochism, 88-90, 180
brainwashing, 105-24
communication, 35, 96, 97-99
control of, 49
cult of, 245
delusion, 193-207
ecstasy, 117
emotion, 137, 200
fanaticism, 117
hypnosis, 64, 73, 144
meetings, 202
paranoia, 79
psychology, 264
submission techniques, 94-104
suggestion, 144-45
Mayo, Charles W., 20
Mechanization of life, 96, 212
Medical therapy, 68-71
Mediocrity, 271
Meditation, 209
Megalomania, 121, 195
Memories, 78, 79
blackmail, 155-58
coercion, 22-25, 60-65, 68-71
contagion, 193-207
disintegration, 49
intrusion delusion, 65
manipulation, 35, 95
persecution, 66
pressure, wish to succumb to, 76-77
shocks, 101-02
torture, 27-31
Menticide, 21, 27-28, 30-36, 87-89, 90- 92
Mescaline, 67
Messianic delusion, 245
Mind, assault on, 35-36
Mindszenty, Joseph, Cardinal, 22, 28-31, 37
Moral evaluation, 155
Morale, higher, education for, 266-78
Morale-boosting, 284-91
Morality, 213
Morphine, 23, 30
Moscow purge trials, 21-22, 89, 142-43, 149
Motivation research, 98
Movies, 66, 209, 277
Murders, 134-35
Narco-analysis, 65-67
Narcotics, 23, 30
Nazis, 20-21, 22-25, 38, 48-49, 59-60, 74, 77, 78, 79, 82, 84, 88, 100-02,113, 114, 115, 128, 132-35,
146, 180-81, 186-87, 190-91, 200, 217, 235, 237, 238-39, 240, 241, 243, 245, 269, 279, 284, 286, 287, 289,
290, 292, 295, 296
Negroes, 122
Netherlands, occupation of, 22-23, 48, 59-60, 75, 84, 238-39, 240, 243, 295
Netherlands Forces in England, 24-25
Newspapers, 47, 66, 96, 149, 157, 203, 220
Noise, 86, 146, 203, 207
Noisemakers, 47, 53
Nonconformity, 236, 247-48
Nuremberg trials, 113, 115
Oath compulsions, 250-51
Obedience, 179
Official thinking, 127
Opinion differences, 106
Opium, 57, 59
Oppenheimer hearing, 252-53
Organization support, 207
Orgy(ies), 58
Oriental culture patterns, 109, 274
Orwell, George, 117, 136
Ostrich policy, 172
Overeating, 174
Pain, 26, 43, 61, 85, 135, 241 insensitivity to, 23
Panic, 50, 117, 120, 126, 147, 165, 166, 172-75, 197, 229, 277
Paradoxical fear, 167-69
Parapraxia, 66
Parent (s):
authority, 181-92
conflicts between, 244
consistency, 281
education, 266
influence of, 179-92
cult of, 171-72, 251
inner defeat and deceit (law), 84
submission, 84, 243
Pavlovian concepts, 37-54, 72, 136
“Peace,” 137
Perceptual defense, 50
Pedantry, 117, 269
Perjury, 250-51
Persecution mania, 195
Personal convictions, 109
Personality, 109, 111, 112, 115, 117, 124, 223, 266
Pestering, 85
Peyote, 67
“Physiognomic insubordination,” 140
action, 181
atmosphere, 141
campaigns, 131
conditioning, 38, 39, 43, 47, 48, 50
experiences, 106
extremism, 180
leaders, 225-26
life, 125
machines, 210
option, 180-81
silence, 121
somnambulism, 117
sphere, 81
strategy, 103
talk, 229
Politicians, 220, 222, 228-29, 230
Power, 96, 107, 112, 180, 304
Power politics, 220
Prejudices, 47, 52
Pressure, 87
Prison camps, 43, 49, 50, 79, 170, 203
Prisoners, 33, 44, 49, 50, 73~74, 74~75, 78-80, 84-85, 90, 121, 143, 144, 161-62, 171, 179, 203, 240,
251, 264, 277, 279, 280, 281
Propaganda, 35, 46-48, 50, 56, 67, 73, 84, 85, 97, 100-02, 106, 135, 138, 141, 144, 147, 165, 168, 180,
201, 239, 260, 280, 290
Prosecutors, 143-48
Pseudo-tasks, 171
Psychiatric ethics, 62
Psychiatric profession, 156-57
Psychoanalysis, 61-62, 64
Psychoanalysts, 69
Psychodynamics, 72-91
Psychological shock, 101
Psychological warfare, 99-102, 104
Psychologists, 98
Psychology, 69-71, 122, 196-97, 295-98, 304
Psychosomatic reactions, 42, 61, i73~76, 222-24
Psychotherapy, 45, 67, 68-71
Public opinion, 47, 100
Public-opinion engineers, 97-99
Public relations machines, 47
Publicity, 100, 143
Pueblo Indians, 110
Punishment, 43
Purges, 81, 114, 116, 128-30
Quacks, 69, 206
Quantellectuals, 268
Quintellectuals, 268
Quotation mania, 268
Race superiority, 133
Radio, 47-48, 66, 96, 97, 144-45, 149, 203, 209, 210
Radio Free Europe, 288
Rage, 74, 108, 116, 173
Rapport, 44-45
Razran, Gregory, 41-42
“Reactionaries,” 33-34
Reality, 118-19, 199-200, 267
Red tape, 228
Regression, 165, 169-70
Reichstag building, burning, 20-21, 143, 149
Reik, Theodore, 30, 80
Relaxation, 172
Religious faith, 50-51, 286
Repression, 65, 78
Resistance, 279-84
Responsibility, 60, 71, 108-09, 299
Retrogression, 199, 202
Reward and flattery strategy, 43
Right and wrong. 109
Robotization of man, 106-08, 116-18
Roosevelt, Franklin D., 224
Rotterdam, 170-71
Rumor, 199, 203-04, 264
Ruthlessness, 212
Salesmanship, techniques of, 35
Scapegoatism, 122, 130, 133, 140, 149, 161-62, 184, 197, 203, 237
Schizophrenia, 114, 117-23, 155, 201, 244
Schwable, Frank H., 19-20, 28, 31-35, 37, 49
Scientific circles, 110
Scientists, 216
Scholastic fact-factories, 268
Secret police, 126
Security, 209, 214, 228
Sedatives, 55-56, 65Self-accusation, 86-87
Self-betrayal, 154-55, 232, 237, 242, 243- 47, 254
Self-destruction, 192
Self-justification, 152-53
Self-preservation mechanisms, 85
Self-protection, 175
Self-responsibility, 109
Sensationalism, 157
Sibling rivalry, 180
Silent, right to be, 153-55
Slander, 131, 219
Sleep, 81, 82, 86
Sleeping drugs, 57, 99
Slogans, 48-50, 52, 99, 138, 146, 203, 228, 229
Social adaptation, 298
Social habits, influences of, 179-92
Sodium amytal, 66
Soldiers, 123, 174-75, 259-62, 267, 272- 73
Soviet Russia, 38, 51, 127, 181
Speedomania, 198, 212
Sports, 278
Spy mania, 131-32
Stakhanovite movement, 45, 127
Stalin, 101, 114, 181
Statesmen, 220, 223
Stomach masturbation, 82
Stomach ulcers, 42, 223-24
Strategic attitude, 229
Submission, 18-92, 94-104, 135-37
Submissiveness, 180, 200
Subversion, 204-05, 248
Suffering, experts on, 24
Suggestion, 45, 63, 144, 238
Suicides, 33, 57, 84, 85, 223
Superego, parasitic, 91
“Supermen,” 135
Supreme Court, 156, 158, 205
Surinam, 235
Survival, law of, 84-88
Suspicion, 80, 103, 232, 249
Swift, Stephen K., 28-30
Symbol agnostics, 138
Technology, 208-17
Televised interrogation, 160-61
Television, 66, 96, 97, 99, 144-45, 149, 172, 202, 203, 209, 210, 211
Temper tantrums, 172, 173
Tension, 50, 129, 172, 174, 227
Terror, 80, 99, 117, 126-28, 136, 144, 145, 241
Testimony, 152-53
Thinking stages, 196-99
Thought control, 105, 142, 167, 200
Torture, 25-27, 33-34, 85, 90, 262-63
Totalitaria (machine), 105-24
Totalitarian leader, 112-16
Totalitarianism, 28, 35, 37-39, 43-45. 49, 51, 52, 53, 60, 62, 71, 74, 81, 82, 84, 87, 90, 95, 96, 98, 100,
101, 103, 106-08, 112-16, 125-40, 141-42, 143, 146, 148, 152, 154, 164, 165, 167, 171, 172, 180-81, 201,
204, 227-28
Trail blazers, 247
Traitors, 84, 159
Transference, 188-89
Treason, 236-38
Treaties, 193
Trial(s), 141-62, 232
Trial by jury, 158-59
Troops, inexperienced, 168
Truth serum, 65-67
Turncoats, 232-55
Unconscious, 73
Understanding, 206
United Nations, 303
Urination, 173-74
Value, awareness of, 99, 141
Van der Lubbe, Marmus, 20-21
Verbocracy, 135-37
Vituperation, 139
Voice of America, 288
Voting, 148
War, 173
Welfare conference, 222, 224-25
Welles broadcast, 145
Wells, H. G., 117
Wier, Johannes, 26-27
Will of the people, 97
Wisdom, 207
Wishful thinking, 242
Witch doctors, 70
Witchcraft, 25-27, 202
Witness(es), 152-53, 162
Wire tapping, 150
Womb state, 121-24
Words, 135-37, 219
Work as an outlet, 216
World Health Organization, 59
Wrongdoing or thinking, 109
Yale University, 66
Youth movements, 268
Zweig, Stefan, 200







was born in 1903 at The Hague, Netherlands, where he received his early
education. His M.D. was earned at Leyden University (1927) and his Ph.D.
at the University of Utrecht (1932). Between 1928 and 1934 Dr. Meerloo
served as teacher and staff psychiatrist in several hospitals; in the latter year
he entered private practice in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis at The
Hague, serving also as psychiatric consultant to the Royal Court and to
governmental agencies. Under the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, Dr.
Meerloo was able to observe at firsthand the methods of mental torture and
forced interrogation described in this book.


In 1942 he narrowly missed death at the hands of the German occupation
forces in the Netherlands and escaped to England, where he served as a
colonel, chief of the Psychological Department of the Netherlands Army. For
two years before he came to the United States in 1946 he was High
Commissioner for Welfare for the Netherlands Government, acting also as
adviser to SHAEF and UNRRA. Dr. Meerloo was decorated with the
Distinguished Service Cross in 1943. Since settling in New York, he has
taught in several schools and conducted the private practice of psychotherapy
and psychoanalysis; he became a citizen of the United States in 1950. He is
an honorary member and fellow of several professional societies.


His writings include thirteen books, among them Total War and the
Human Mind, Patterns of Panic, and The Two Faces of Man, and more than
two hundred articles in both learned and popular journals. He is also
distinguished as an editor and is a well-known book reviewer. The Rape of
the Mind, his fourteenth book, draws upon his experiences and intimate
knowledge of what extreme mental pressure can do to the human mind.


Joost A. M. Meerloo, M.D. 1903-1976


Dr. Meerloo was a man of outstanding accomplishments. Author of 43
books and monographs and over 1,000 essays, he won worldwide renown as
an authority on psychological warfare, especially on the techniques of
brainwashing explored in his representative work, The Rape of the Mind
(1956). From the early Thirties, his wide ranging interests blazed a trail in
writings on the psychology of drug addiction, correlatives between cancer
and emotional illness, the phenomenology of time, problems of death and
aging, art and dance symbolism, interpersonal communication,
parapsychology and a host of other topics. All bear the stamp of broad
erudition, but their author remained first and foremost a scientist.

— M. C. Nelson, The Psychoanalytic Review, 1977


[1] The psychiatric report about the case of Van der Lubbe is published by Bonhoeffer and Zutt.
Though they were unfamiliar with the “menticide syndrome,” and not briefed by their political fuehrers,
they give a good description about the pathologic, apathetic behavior, and his tremendous change of
moods* They deny the use of drugs.

[2] The New York Times, August 18,1955. The New York Times, February 27,1955.

[3] In his well-documented study on The German Fifth Column, the Dutch historian Dr. Louis de Jong could prove that Hitler’s dreaded network of treason and betrayal was for the greatest part an imaginary ogre created by the panic and fear of the people.





Cover Total War and the Human Mind

  • Total War and the Human Mind: A Psychologist’s Experience in Occupied Holland (1944, vanuit Londen uitgebracht voor Bureau Inlichtingen (“The Netherlands Government Information Bureau”) door George Allen & Unwin Ltd.)
  • Delusion and Mass-Delusion (1949, NMD Monographs)
  • Conversation and Communication (1952, International Universities Press, Inc.)
  • The Two Faces of Man (1954, International Universities Press, Inc)
  • The Rape of the Mind: The Psychology of Thought Control, Menticide, and Brainwashing (1956, World Publishing Company) (online te lezen)
  • Guidance in an Age of Technology (1961)
  • Suicide and Mass Suicide (1962, Grune & Stratton, Inc.)
  • Hidden Communion (1964, Garrett Publications/Helix Press)
  • A Psycho-Analytic Study of Culture and Character (1965, John Wiley)
  • Along the Fourth Dimension: Man’s Sense of Time and History (1970, The John Day Company)
  • Een mond vol spijkers: Een psycholoog op het oorlogspad (autobiografie; Wassenaar, 1975)
  • Homo Militans: De psychologie van oorlog en vrede in de mens (Servire – Den Haag, 1964)

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