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Crowley, R.M. (1975). Farewell to Innocence. Contemp. Psychoanal., 11:382-387.

(1975). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 11:382-387

Farewell to Innocence

Review by:
Ralph M. Crowley, M.D.

Rollo May: Power and Innocence: A Search for the Sources of Violence. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1972. 283 pages. $7.95

AN INVASION OF HIS LUNGS by the tubercle bacillus together with an invasion of his person by feelings of powerlessness stimulated Rollo May to realize truths elaborated in this book. During his illness the truth dawned on him that he needed to participate actively in his recovery and not accept his helplessness and hopelessness passively. Being innocent justified his lack of self-assertion. Realizing that he had to "fight, " that is, use the "powers" that he was endowed with, he abandoned worship of innocence, and with it his misplaced passivity. Therein is the germ of the theme of this well thought out and well documented treatise.

May delineates carefully what he means by innocence, and what he means by power. Innocence is of two kinds: authentic innocence—"a quality of imagination, " … "a preservation of childlike attitudes without sacrificing the realism of one's perception of evil"—and what May refers to as "pseudoinnocence." It is with this latter childish, nonconstructive, defensive and power-and evil-denying innocence that May is concerned. It is innocence that invites "its own murder."

Power he defines as ability, mastery, self-affirmation and creation of meaning. Like Sullivan, to whom he gives credit, he equates power with abilities. He explicitly excludes from his use of the term the military power of a general, the economic power of a corporation executive, and the pseudopower of a mad person. If powers are blocked from within and/or from without, people have no outlet for the power essential to their being alive other than violence. Sullivan and Thompson are quoted as voicing opinions consonant with this point of view.


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