Feet of Clay by Anthony Storr 2nd edition (London:Routledge 1991)

Library loans are rather magical. To get an out-of-print book, all you do is tell your local librarian the title and, zip-zip, several weeks later the book is on your doorstep.

Storr’s take on human evil is well worth reading. He has no hesitation in focusing on issues of early childhood as the reason for later rage, sadism, masochism and other like phenomena that lead to pogroms, murder, incest, and the full range of human misery.

His major focus is on the lack of bonding between mother and infant. Jumping ahead to his conclusion, he turns to the Eskimo mother whose intent is to provide a post-birth external protective “womb” for the nine months after a child leaves the first womb. In other words, the mother nestles her child in such a way that the outside world simulates the inside water world. The result is a peaceful people who do not have the same drivenness to do evil.

With that solution in mind, we turn back to the problems that can lead to rage and smoldering internal hatred. For whatever reasons (and here the goal is to not immediately blame a given mother), a child goes uncured for. The lack of care ranges from poor feeding, to poor shelter, to poor body care, to actual beating and other horrors including sexual mistreatment and hunger. That, according to Storr, festers in the unconscious mind until an object out here provides the occasion for the rage to come forth. Sometimes, a given state will give permission for pogroms, a General for raping soldiers, or a government for ethnic cleansing. Then, bursting forth from the basement of the personality, comes forth sadistic, power-mad mistreatment of the weak.

The author considers our evolutionary heritage of being animals with aggressive and sexual instincts that lead to a need to dominate others, a re-capitulation of the argument of Freud. Storr thinks this too simplistic and thus concentrates elsewhere in his analysis.

Storr adds another element. He says that humans leave childhood with an obedient mind-set and are, thus, capable of being mindless fodder for tyrants. They follow along doing what the authoritarian parent says and do not question orders. So said the Nazis on trial at Nuremberg and so say, in our day, the soldiers in Croatia. This automatic sense of obedience leftover from childhood thus creates an all too sheep-led group psychology that has its own contribution to human evil.

Liberation Psychotherapy joins with Storr on his primary assessment of human evil. This means that great concentration needs to be done in regard to original child care and to corrective adult care through therapy. Somehow, through psychotherapy, ways must be found that are the equivalent of a mother’s bonding.. In addition, we must figure out ways for humans to separate from childhood itself and its automatic given to obedience, and become free individuals capable of making responsible decisions. The latter one is also difficult for it means the willingness to stand alone.

Frank Morris