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Ross, N. (1949). The Battle of the Conscience. A Psychiatric Study of the Inner Working of the Conscience: By Edmund Bergler, M.D. Washington: Washington Institute of Medicine, 1948. 296 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 18:368-370.
(1949). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 18:368-370
The Battle of the Conscience. A Psychiatric Study of the Inner Working of the Conscience: By Edmund Bergler, M.D. Washington: Washington Institute of Medicine, 1948. 296 pp.
Review by: Nathaniel Ross
It is difficult to believe that Dr. Bergler meant to address this book to the general public, yet there is much evidence throughout that this was his intention. To understand the clinical complexities and elaborate metapsychological concepts of which he writes requires the background of an advanced analyst. This is a technical book, technically worded despite the admirable literary allusions. It is strong meat, hardly digestible by the most intelligent layman.
Dr. Bergler's powers of observation are acute, and not a little overwhelming. He is an indefatigable collector of variations on a clinical theme. Thus, and I quote, 'having been interested in the problem of hypocrisy for a long time, I collected a great variety of types, fifty-one to be exact'. Other lists abound, but somehow they all get reduced to the same formula, the author's well-known 'three-layer structure of every neuroticsymptom'. These layers are, '1, wish to be mistreated, counteracted by a superego reproach; 2, first defense mechanism of pseudo aggression; 3, rejection of the defense'.
For the last few years, papers have appeared by Bergler describing a large variety of psychological phenomena, from habitual smoking to homosexuality, as characterized by this three-layer structure. I cannot help being suspicious of a hypothesis which professes to explain so much. No psychological theory can be valid which makes all personalities look alike. Adler fell afoul of this vast monotony, and despite Bergler's undeniable powers of observation and imagination, one cannot but feel a little uneasy at his eager insistence upon forcing so many complexities into his particular Procrustean bed.
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