The Scope of Psychoanalysis, 1921-1961: Selected Papers

By Franz Alexander | Go to book overview

The Don Quixote of America
◀ 1937 ▶

Intensive study of criminal personalities with the modern technique of dynamic psychology has revealed that apart from rational motives such as the desire for economic gain there are other more powerful emotional factors which drive individuals into criminal careers. An excessive thirst for prestige, the wish to appear a daring, independent, "tough man," has been found frequently as such an emotional factor, contributing to criminality among young delinquents. The deeper study of such delinquents has revealed the rather unexpected fact that such an extensive craving to appear aggressive and tough is common among people who deep down in the unconscious layers of their personality have an intense longing for dependence, who crave to be loved by others, to receive help and support. Often these "tough guys" in the core of their personality are emotionally immature and insecure. The external shell of bravado is often only a thin cover, a mask by which they try to hide this soft core from others as well as from themselves.

This "soft on the inside, tough on the outside" type of delinquent seems to be more common in the American scene than elsewhere. The reason for this is probably found in the cultural history of this country. The ideal of the successful, resourceful, brave, self-made man who owes everything to himself and nothing to anybody else is the traditional ideal of the pioneer and frontier days. It is obvious that these virtues, the universal value of which is by no means questioned, were extremely important in the frontier days and overshadowed any other human assets in the conquest of a vast continent and the rapid development of a new center of civilization.

In an almost miraculously short period however the conditions of the frontier have vanished. With the help of a highly developed machine civilization the country has progressed to the status of an organ

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