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Slochower, H. (1966). Replacing Oedipus by Cain: Alexander Mitscherlich: Auf dem Weg zur vaterlosen Gesellschaft. Ideen zur Sozialpsychologie (On the Road to a Fatherless Society. Ideas on Social Psychology). München: R. Piper & Co. Verlag, 1963, 499 pp.. Am. Imago, 23(1):84-86.

(1966). American Imago, 23(1):84-86

Replacing Oedipus by Cain: Alexander Mitscherlich: Auf dem Weg zur vaterlosen Gesellschaft. Ideen zur Sozialpsychologie (On the Road to a Fatherless Society. Ideas on Social Psychology). München: R. Piper & Co. Verlag, 1963, 499 pp.

Review by:
Harry Slochower

Alexander Mitscherlich, a psychiatrist and director of the psychosomatic clinic at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, has written a superior and highly stimulating book bearing on a psychic and social dilemma central in our day: Loss of the Father Image. Mitscherlich's argument is richly documented by data from many areas (sociology, education, psychoanalytic theory etc.), as well as from clinical material resulting from his psychoanalytic practice.

The author locates the main “devil” of our time not so much in class struggles, in new forms of imperialism (even as he is aware of their import) as in the uniqueness of contemporary automation, with its mass production and mass management. He argues that these pressures are bringing about the disintegration of the father role and corresponding authority images. Man today attempts to gain individual autonomy while he must subordinate himself to the super-organization of a choking bureaucracy. This situation produces tensions in the relation between the individual and society providing the basis for neurotic modes, manifested in apathy and/or anxiety, aggression and destructiveness. The dissolution of traditional life-styles is producing the “other-directedness” (Riessman's term) of a “classless mass-man,” who is estranged from his “father-land” in the multiple meanings of the word.

Contributing to this “emptying” of the personal authority figure is the fragmentation of the labor process and the “migratory” nature of life and work. This is especially true for the United States. Except among isolated tradition-bound communities, such as The Pennsylvania Dutch, the problem here is not that of the oedipal development as sketched in Freud's Totem and Taboo. For here, the father is not one who is feared, but one who is despised, ignored, cast aside. Here, “father never knows best.”

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