The Corner

Go Ask Alice

The psychoanalyst Alice Miller has died. Her obituary in the NYT doesn’t so say, but she was at the center of one of the more unusual anecdotes about Al Gore. It involved her book, The Drama of the Gifted Child. The NYT describes it this way:

Originally titled “Prisoners of Childhood,” it set forth, in three essays, a simple but harrowing proposition. All children, she wrote, suffer trauma and permanent psychic scarring at the hands of parents, who enforce codes of conduct through psychological pressure or corporal punishment: slaps, spankings or, in extreme cases, sustained physical abuse and even torture.

Unable to admit the rage they feel toward their tormenters, Dr. Miller contended, these damaged children limp along through life, weighed down by depression and insecurity, and pass the abuse along to the next generation, in an unending cycle. Some, in a pathetic effort to please their parents and serve their needs, distinguish themselves in the arts or professions. The Stalins and the Hitlers, Dr. Miller later wrote, inflict their childhood traumas on millions.

Gore loved this book. He praised it, passed out copies to friends, and asked job applicants whether they had read it (as Katherine Boo first reported in the Washington Post in 1993). Make of that what you will.

John J. Miller, the national correspondent for National Review and host of its Great Books podcast, is the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. He is the author of A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America.

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