Soul murder is as old as human history. Whenever individual human identity first appeared, so did the potentiality for its annihilation by psychological as well as physical means. Whenever soul murder has become an institutionalized social phenomena, it tends to be taken for granted within a society; if it is pointed out by the accusations of an enemy, it is denied (as with Nazism or Stalinism). It is essential to soul murder that it not be acknowledged. The basis for soul murder in individual psychology evokes the deepest resistance—parental destructiveness is so hard to admit; the child desperately needs a good parent. The child-victim must deal with what has happened by not knowing, not acknowledging, not remembering. The child identifies with the parent, and the ‘badness’ is often projected upon others. The facts stay hidden. Kaspar Hauser’s story is a rare instance of great attention paid to the crime of soul murder. Von Feuerbach (of whom, it will not surprise the reader to hear, I have become very fond) has something characteristically wise to say about how hard it is to establish, and how easy it is to hide, the crime of individual soul murder:

… here an instance is given of a most extraordinary… case in which the matter of fact that is to prove the existence of a crime, lies almost entirely concealed within a human soul; where it can be investigated and established only by means of inquiries purely psychological, and founded upon observations indicating certain states of the thinking and sentient mind of the person injured (p. 59).

Von Feuerbach is saying that the discovery of soul murder is the task of the psychologist. Social scientists, political thinkers and the possessors of political power need the insight of the artists and psychoanalysts; economic determinism is not enough to identify and to understand the de-humanization and de-individualization that threaten our culture.

Mitscherlich (1950, 1963) does not try to analyse Kaspar but makes use of his story to epitomize the effects of the social, political and economic changes of the mid 20th century on the development of the minds and souls of children: ‘Kaspar Hauser, whatever his prehistory may have been, is the prototype of the individual who has suffered from birth from impoverished relations with his cultural environment’ (1963, p. 159). Mitscherlich (1963) supports his ideas about our times by citing Orwell’s prophetic 1984 (p. 159). Both men see in current history the institutionalization of the capacity to warp the individual soul—the nightmare of a totalitarian control that can devastate the family nucleus of our civilization. Without the caring provided the child by mother and father and family, how can that child develop the sense of dearness that one human being can feel for another? Totalitarian power, supported by a de-humanized science and technology, has brought about destruction of culture, concentration camps and brainwashing. Even the best-intentioned have found no solutions to the problems of poverty and war that also create the conditions for more Kaspar Hausers.

Mitscherlich, a Freudian analyst, is not intending to contradict Freud’s theories when he states that the oedipus complex (which presupposes considerable development and a constant parental relationship during the first years of childhood in the setting of an ordered society) is no longer characteristic of the neurosis of our times. Instead, he says, we see increasingly what he calls ‘the Kaspar Hauser complex’—his term for the consequences in the individual of the breakdown of family ties in the culturally disorganized and yet technological society of the mid 20th century. Mitscherlich (1963) speaks of ‘the total unreliability, alienness, and dangerous nature of man and things. This attitude to life, the sense of being utterly at its mere, the lack of any basic experience of love and comfort, might well be described as the Kaspar Hauser Complex’ (p. 160).

We must strive against poverty and war and chaos. But external forces have to be understood in relation to the primal instinctual sources of our nature. Murder and soul murder arise both from within and without the mind. The economic and political conditions of early 19th century Germany did not cause the tragedy of Kaspar Hauser, except in the most important sense that general conditions do contribute to the destructiveness in human beings who have power over a helpless child. no restructuring of society could eliminate soul murder; that would require a miraculous change in our instinctual nature. But social structure can be set up to try to prevent it. Freud (1917) felt that most people would not be able to be helped by psychoanalytic therapy but would require first of all the therapeutic power of Emperor Joseph (p. 432): the money and the power to combat poverty and social evils. Today we can hope for such power to be guided by psychoanalytic understanding, as well as by sociologic, economic and technologic knowledge. (See Wallerstein, 1973, for a comprehensive contemporary appraisal of the relation of therapy to ‘external’ reality.) To hope for the triumph of Intellect and Heart is of little comfort in the face of the possibility of the society of 1984, based on the practice of soul murder and discharging its rage in wars. Emperor Joseph is long gone, but we now see the prospect of the ‘therapeutic power of Mao-Tze-Tung’ which can evoke the soulless and heartless world of Kaspar Hauser’s last years: a world of bureaucrats and automatons.

Anna Freud (1976; see also Shengold & McLaughlin, 1976) in a recent speech talked of the increasing number of people who come for psychoanalytic help, or who need it, and yet are not able to respond to it. Their conflicts are not based on what they have done to themselves but on what others have done (or what Fate has done) to them. They are the insulted and injured, whose ego and instinctual development have been crushed by parents and environment, by trauma and catastrophe; or who have come into the world with some inherent deficiency. (Not all of these are victims of soul murder.) It may be that, however hard we try, psychological healers will not have much to offer people whose conflicts are not primarily internal. We can study them and perhaps lighten their burden. We can be guided by our understanding of what deprived children need and what they still need as adults. We can avoid that ‘slothfulness of the heart’ that destroyed Kaspar for a second time. Miss Freud reminds us that the psychoanalyst’s knowledge of human development can be used to plan changes in the lives and care of children as well as to guide the treatment of those who are abandoned and ill-used—there is hope of prophylaxis. As therapists, we must continue to try. As individuals, we must struggle in our private lives and in the world to attain the awareness and the power that can assuage and help revent, to quote von Feuerbach for the last time, ‘the criminal invasion of man’s most sacred and peculiar property—the freedom and destiny of his soul’ (p. 55).

I want to thank Professor J. M. Masson (a psychoanalyst and, like von Feuerbach, a scholar of Indian languages) for directing me to the reference to soul murder in von Feuerbach’s memoir of Kaspar; and to thank Dr Kurt Eissler for telling me about the project of a paper on Kaspar by Dr Siegfried Bernfeld. It was apparently not completed at the time of his death and has not been found. (I am indebted to Dr Bernfeld’s daughter-in-law, Mrs. Isabel Paret, for this information.)