Alfred Adler Institute of Northwestern Washngton

Classical Adlerian Quotes: The Yearning for Power

Developed by Henry T. Stein, Ph.D.

The following Classical Adlerian quotations are from the Adlerian Translation Project Archives at the Alfred Adler Institute of Northwestern Washington (AAINW/ATP). Selected works of Alfred Adler, Kurt Adler, Lydia Sicher, Alexander Mueller, Sophia de Vries, Anthony Bruck, Erwin Wexberg, Alexander Neuer, Sophie Lazarsfeld, Ida Loewy, Ferdinand Birnbaum, and other Classical Adlerians have been collected, translated, edited, and converted into electronic text. All of this material is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced without the expressed consent of Dr. Stein at

Introduction by Henry Stein:

The yearning for power over others with its inevitable, destructive abuses, has reached epidemic proportions in several major contemporary arenas: corporations, church, and government. A rash of recent headlines reflects a disease out of control: CEO's, stock analysts, accountants, and bankers seeking excessive financial power over others; exploitive priests, supported by indifferent archbishops, seeking sexual power over others; and our president and his cabinet seeking oppressive military and political power over others. What further disasters will it take to sober us up from a dangerous orgy of power intoxication? Committing these excesses may be criminal, but allowing them to continue may be equivalent to becoming an accessory to these crimes.

Nearly a century ago, Alfred Adler and his associates alerted us to the psychological roots of power intoxication, as well as to the means of preventing it. Mass media headlines glorify exploitation and violence, satruating our culture with corrosive models of personal power. Video and film present crime as entertainment; computer games train children to view theft, domination, torture, and murder as playful pastimes.

Adler's teachings suggest that the most efficient remedies for many of the social, economic, political, and psychological disasters we now face are not simply tighter legislation, tougher enforcement, and harsher punishment, but the vigorous development of the feeling of community in everyone. For many, rehabilitation may be impractical or too late. However, it is never too late to invest in prevention. This would place substantial responsibility for preventing the power-virus in the laps of parents and teachers.

I recently viewed a re-run of the film Nuremberg. Trying to understand what could lead men to commit such atrocities, the American psychologist who spent time interviewing the Nazi war criminals concluded that evil appeared to be simply the absence of empathy. From an Adlerian perspective, all it takes to lead children and adults into a negative direction is indifference. If these assumptions are correct, we have a clear challenge ahead--to develop a genuine feeling of community in all levels of life--home, school, business, government, and the church. If we do not start now to invest all of our resources in the development of empathy, we may pay a shocking price for our present power epidemic.

Alfred Adler:

"The striving for personal power is a disastrous delusion and poisons man's living together. Whoever desires the human community must renounce the striving for power over others."

"To prevail through violence appears to many as an obvious thought. And we admit: the simplest way to attain everything that is good and promises happiness, or even only what is in the line of a continuous evolution seems to be by means of power. But where in the life of men or in the history of mankind has such an attempt ever succeeded? As far as we can see, even the use of mild violence awakens opposition everywhere, even where the welfare of the subjugated is obviously intended."

"It would be a gross deception to admit power intoxication only for the individual psyche. The mass also is guided by this goal and the effect of this is the more devastating as in the mass psyche the feeling of personal responsibility is essentially reduced."

"Modern psychology has shown us that the traits of craving for power, ambition, and striving for power over others, with their numerous ugly concomitants, are not innate and unalterable. Rather they are inoculated into the child at an early age; the child receives them involuntarily from an atmosphere saturated by the titillation of power. In our blood is still the desire for the intoxication with power, and our souls are playthings of the craving for power."

"One thing can save us: the mistrust of any form of predominance. Our strength lies in conviction, in organizing strength, in a world view, not in the violence of armament and not in emergency laws. With such means other strong forces before us have fought in vain for their existence."

"For us the way and tactics emerge from our highest goal: the nursing and strengthening of social feeling."

(From an article "The Psychology of Power," 1928, originally published in Franz Kobler(ed.) "Gewalt und Gewaltlosogkeit: Handbuch des activen Pazifismus," Zurich: Rotapfel-Verlag, in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

Alexander Mueller:

"A modest striving for power can manifest itself in ambition. If the striving for achievement is called ambition then it is not only acceptable, but essential. Ambition that drives forward and challenges is legitimate; it becomes harmful only when it stands in our way and becomes an obstacle. When the desire and the striving for power, possession, ability, and knowledge become an end in themselves, or the measure of one's self-worth, there is no way to contain it. The constant tension that results also diminishes the ability to concentrate. Achievement becomes more difficult and is lessened. One wishes for too much but attains less than could have been gained without tension."

"Among the harmful effects of the striving for power on man's relationship with his fellow man, is its impact on the interaction between courage and social feeling, that is, the destructive effect on man's humanity to man".

"Whatever the most basic reasons for dominance and aggression might be, their most significant consequence is to make the other person into an object and not the subject. Gabriel Marcel as well as Martin Buber and Nicolay Berdyayev in particular have dealt with two forms of behavior toward others: one can experience another as a fellow man, a person, or one can see him as an object. In his book, The I and the World of Objects, Berdyayev tells how difficult it is today for us to see others as living persons, and not to confront them as objects. If they become objects for us, however, then we shall become lifeless ourselves: objects."

"Aggressive dominance makes us not only incapable of experiencing others in their totality as loving and creative beings, but our own 'self' cannot develop without experiencing another. Buber says: 'One's own 'I' is derived from the `you,' and Pestalozzi: 'The best qualities of a person die when he fails to love his brother.' These are consequences that go beyond the psychic and affect the essence in man. It causes man's failure to experience the unity of all that is himself, which is fundamental for genuine religiosity and affinity with the universe."

"The lust for power and the misuse of authority by a few harm partnerships, family life, education in the home, in school, and on the job, the climate in the work place, and relationships between and within groups of every type. The physical law that every force creates a counter-force applies also to psychology. Our modern life can easily become a struggle for some kind of real or imagined dominance. ..... One also should not overlook the many ways that dominance can be masked; repressing and dominating another is almost always 'for his own good.'"

"The close relationship between politics and power has always been recognized. In the world of politics, Lassalles' expression still has currency: 'Constitutional struggles are struggles for power.' ..... Masaryk's expression, 'There will be no peace in the world as long as individual ethics do not also apply to the state,' is as much a criticism of the present as a challenge for the future."

(From "The Principles of Individual Psychology," by Alexander Mueller, an unpublished manuscript om the AAINW/ATP archives.)

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