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Alfred Adler – Power and Social Feeling

In Being a World Citizen, Human Development, Human Rights, Social Rights, Solidarity on February 7, 2016 at 3:01 PM


By René Wadlow

Alfred Adler, whose birth anniversary we mark on February 7, believed that there were two decisive forces at work in world history and in the life of each individual: a striving for power and a social feeling. Both forces stemmed from man’s upward striving from inferiority to perfection.

Alfred Adler (1870-1937), a Vienna psychotherapist and medical doctor, was part of the early circle of Sigmund Freud. However, the two men disagreed on what each felt to be fundamental positions. In 1911, Adler left the Freud circle and founded his own approach which he called “individual psychology”.

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For Adler, there are similarities between the evolution of man within history and the evolution of each individual. In history, man, a physical dwarf in comparison with the animals around him and the forces of Nature, must compensate for this weakness by developing a pattern of cooperation with other humans around him. Likewise, each child is born, a dwarf in comparison to the adults around him. Thus each child must develop a sense of self-esteem. If this development is hindered in some way, as the result of brutal parents or a hostile milieu, the search for self-esteem can become neurotic. There can be over-compensation as well as a closing in on oneself.

Over-compensation can result in a quest for power. Striving for self-esteem and power is a natural process, but with over-compensation, the search for power can become the dominant aspect of the personality. Adler had read and been influenced by the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche who glorified the will-to-power. For Adler, an over-development of the will-to-power can become a deep seated neurosis. Only a health balance between the forces of cooperation and the individual will -to-power can make for a harmonious individual and a harmonious society.

In 1897, he married Raissa Epstein, a Russian who was also a student at the University of Vienna. She was part of Russian Marxist circles living in Austria and a friend of Leon Trotsky and his milieu. Through her, Adler joined socialist circles and became convinced that society helped to create the personality of the individual. Therefore, for a health personality, there needs to be a healthy society, free from domination. Adler also saw the need for a society based on equality between men and women, so that the personality of both men and women could develop fully. He was an early feminist and champion of the equality of women and men.

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His work as a psychotherapist and writer was halted by the start of the 1914-1918 World War. As a medical doctor, he was incorporated into the Austro-Hungarian Army where he was able to contemplate man’s neurotic striving for power. At the end of the war, both by his observations and the Marxist analysis of his wife, he felt that the will-to-power dominated the sense of social-feeling and cooperation. In fact, power-hungry leaders and groups debased mass social feeling by using it as a thirst for dominance. The social feeling of soldiers during the war was used for battlefield goals with efforts to exclude any social feeling for the enemy. He wrote that when violence is to be committed, it is frequently done by “appealing to justice, custom, freedom, the welfare of the oppressed and in the name of culture.” Power-seekers transform social feeling “from an end into a means, and it is pressed into the service of nationalism and imperialism.”

The only way to counter this neurotic sense of power-seeking is to develop preventive methods by developing social feeling and cooperation. During the 1920s, Adler stressed the need for the development of social feeling by developing new, cooperative forms of childhood education within the family and schools. Adler stressed the profound experience of togetherness, an intense connection extending across the largest reaches of history and societies.

However, by 1934, he saw that the sense of togetherness in Germany and Austria was going to be used again to create togetherness among a small circle and subverting the use of social feeling by making it a facade for nationalism, racism and imperialism. Adler was considered a Jew by the Nazis because his parents were Hungarian Jews although Judaism as a religion played little role in his intellectual life. He left to teach in New York City and died in 1937 on a lecture tour in Scotland. He did not see the events of the Second World War, but there would have been little to make him alter his views on how the power principle can be utilized by antisocial leaders.

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For an overview of Adler’s views of psychology see: Henry L. Ansbacher and Rowena R. Amsbacher (eds), The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler (New York: Harper and Row, 1964)

For the late views of Adler on the need for a society based on social feeling see his book published shortly after his death: Alfred Adler, Social Interest: A Challenge to Mankind (London, Faber and Faber, 1938)


Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

World Interfaith Harmony Week: Steps Toward A Harmony Renaissance

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Cultural Bridges, Human Rights, Religious Freedom, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on February 1, 2016 at 10:44 PM


By René Wadlow


February 1, 2016


The Association of World Citizens, a nongovernmental organization in consultative status with the United Nations (UN), cooperates fully with the World Interfaith Harmony Week, which takes place February 1-7. The UN General Assembly designates the first week of every February as a time for cooperation for a common purpose among all religions, faiths and beliefs.

The General Assembly, building on its efforts for a culture of peace and non-violence in which World Citizens have played an active part, wishes to highlight the importance of mutual understanding and inter-religious dialogue in developing a creative culture of peace and non-violence. The General Assembly recognizes “the imperative need for dialogue among different faiths and religions in enhancing mutual understanding, harmony and cooperation among people.” The week has a potential to promote the healing of religion-based tensions in the world.

As Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrote,

At a time when the world is faced with many simultaneous problems—security, environmental, humanitarian, and economic—enhanced tolerance and understanding are fundamental for a resilient and vibrant international society. There is an imperative need, therefore, to further reaffirm and develop harmonious cooperation between the world’s different faiths and religions.


Global citizens have stressed that peace comes from cooperation beyond the boundaries of ethnicity, religion and nationality, and have called for a cultural renaissance based on the concept of harmony. Rather than concentrating primarily on conflicts, struggles, and suffering, they have suggested focusing on cooperation, coexistence, and visions of a better future. Harmony includes tolerance, acceptance, equality, and forgiveness of past pains and conflicts. Harmony leads to gentleness, patience, kindness, and thus to inner peace and outward relations based on respect.

World Citizens maintain that harmony is a universal common value. In harmony, we can find true values that transcend all cultures and religions. The meaning of life is to seek harmony within our inner self. Humans are born with a spiritual soul that develops to seek self-fulfillment. Our soul has a conscience that elevates us. As our soul grows to maturity, we achieve our own harmony.

However, harmony is not only a personal goal of inner peace, but a guideline for political, social and world affairs. Citizens of the World believe that our actions should enhance peace, reduce conflict, and activate a culture of harmony. The 21st century is the beginning of a Harmony Renaissance. Our world mission is to be ready for humanity’s next creative wave to lead us to a higher level of common accomplishment. The World Harmony Renaissance will bring the whole world into action for this new millennium of peace and prosperity with unfettered collective energy.

“Religion without joy – It is no religion.”

Theodore Parker.

World Citizens have underlined the strong contribution that Chinese culture could play in the creation of this harmonious culture. In an earlier period of Chinese thought during the Song Dynasty, there was an important conscious effort to create a Harmony Renaissance.  This was a period of interest in science — “the extension of knowledge through the investigation of things.” It was a time when there was a conscious effort to bring together into a harmonious framework what often existed as separate and sometimes hostile schools of thought: Confucianism, Buddhism, philosophical Daoism and religious Daoism. These efforts were called Tao hsuch, the Study of the Tao, an effort Western scholars later termed “Neo-Confucianism.”

Zhou Dunyi, often better known as the Master of Lien-his, was a leading figure in this effort. He developed a philosophy based on the alternation of the Yin and Yang, each becoming the source of the other.

Today, after decades of conflict when the emphasis of nations both in policy and practice was upon competition, conflict, and individual enrichment, we need to emphasize harmony, cooperation, mutual respect, and working for the welfare of the community with a respect for nature.  When one aspect, either Yin or Yang, becomes too dominant, equilibrium needs to be restored.

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Zhou Dunyi

Obviously it takes time to put into place a harmonious society at home and a harmonious world abroad. The cultivation of harmony must become the operational goal for many. As Mencius, a follower of Confucius said,

A trail through the mountains, if used, becomes a path in a short time, but, if unused, becomes blocked by grass in an equally short time.



The World Interfaith Harmony Week is an opportunity to open new paths. As global citizens, we must find a new guiding image for our culture, one that unifies the aspirations of humanity with the needs of the planet and the individual. We hold that peace can be achieved through opening our hearts and minds to a broader perspective. We are one human race, and we inhabit one world. Therefore, we must see the world with global eyes, understand the world with a global mind, and love the world with a global heart.

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

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