The Hartmann Era (Book Review)

Author:  Bergmann, Martin S.
Publisher: New York, NY: Other Press, 2000
Reviewed By: Martin Schulman, Summer 2002, pp. 59-63

One might assume that psychologist/psychoanalysts would enthusiastically gravitate towards a system whose goal was similar to that of our own: creating psychoanalysis as a general psychology. As Hartmann stated: (1964) “The consistent study of the ego and its functions promises to bring analysis closer to the aim Freud has set for it long ago—to become a general psychology in the broadest sense of the word” (p. x) and (1959). “The etiology of neurosis was studied before the etiology of health, though psychoanalysis always aimed at a comprehensive general psychology” (p.342), as well as (1947) “In an implicit way from its beginnings, and quite explicitly in the last two or three decades, psychoanalysis has set out to lay the groundwork for a general psychology, including normal as well as pathological behavior” (p.37). However, as we know from our clinical work: “Never assume!” Hartmann’s influence on contemporary analysis seems at an all time low, and when cited, it is rarely for contributions, but as representative of all that was wrong with American psychoanalysis during its halcyon days--the 40s, 50s and 60s.

This superb volume, edited by Martin Bergmann, consists of the transcripts of a weekend conference sponsored by the Psychoanalytic Research and Development Fund, with the participation of major psychoanalytic luminaries including Drs. Andre Green, Otto Kernberg, Anton Kris, Harold Blum, Jacob Arlow, William Grossman, Albert Solniit, Clifford Yorke, Peter Neubauer, Mortimer Ostow, Sidney Furst, Henry Nunberg, and Professor Bergmann. If one can, although this is a major deficiency of this volume, disregard the absence of women on the panel, the level of discourse, both in the prepared papers as well as the round table discussion was of the highest quality. The book is neither a bashing nor a hagiography of the era but fulfills Professor Bergmann’s aim “.... I realize now that I wished to erect a monument to that era, not written by a true believer, but by one who recognizes their shortcomings as well as their creative spirit” (p.68).

I was trained in the immediate post-Hartmann era in New York, when ego psychology and psychoanalysis were identical. Klein, Lacan, Ferenczi, Balint, Sullivan were not part of the curriculum, and Kohut and Kernberg were just beginning to be discussed. This, mind you, was at one of the most open and liberal of training institutes. I mention the geographical locale not from parochial investiture but since the Hartmann grouping was based in New York Psychoanalytic, and since this Society was the power with the American, which in turn was the power within the International, one assumed that Hartmann held the same universal status that he did in New York. This book shatters that myth rather forcefully. While Blum states that “Hartmann was president of the International Psychoanalytical Association from 1951-1957 and had worldwide respect and analytic influence” (p.89), the other panelists, particularly those from outside the United States strongly disagree. Green observes that “Without even mentioning its total absence in Latin America, in Europe its influence was limited to the agreement of Anna Freud and her group” (p.106). And Yorke, a member of that group says “As a student, I was surprised that Hartmann was rarely mentioned by my teachers, and almost everything I knew about his work came from my own reading. As for the main body of the Society, it would stretch credulity to claim that the principal propositions of so-called ego psychology were widely, let alone universally, known” (p.186).

Jacob Arlow, who for my generation of analysts was the spokesperson for ego psychology, has the following to say, and mind you, this is from within the citadel of New York Psychoanalytic: “I think that the phenomena was basically a local situation, primarily in New York, with some connections to New Haven and London” (p.85), and “while the literature of the time contained many references to Hartmann, the actual influence of Hartmann’s ideas on individual analysts in their practice and in other work was rather limited” (pp.85-86). If this is the case, from both sides of the Atlantic, and one must remember, the South Americans took more to Klein than Freud to begin with, then, was there a Hartmann era? Yes! As Arlow points out, while localized, Hartmann’s adherents did control the editorial policy of the Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, and the Psychoanalytic Study of the Child. Not noted for a desire for open discourse, the editorial policies of three of the major journals almost exclusively reflected the thinking of the Hartmann “group.” Much of contemporary theorizing in psychoanalysis has its genesis in a reaction to Hartmann’s thought: all too often attained from reading the journals of that day rather than Hartmann himself. Self psychology, the rejection of metapsychology by a group of his as well as Rapaport’s followers, the attack on so-called “one person psychology,” the neutrality and non-responsiveness of the analyst and the narrow view of countertransference, are all more reflective of the Hartmann group than of orthodox analysts.

The book is divided into three sections: Bergmann’s presentation, prepared papers by Drs. Arlow, Blum, Green, Grossman, Kernberg, Kris, Neubauer, Solnit and Yorke; and the interchange between participants. The Bergmann chapter, subdivided into three sections is the most lucid, critical evaluation of the Hartmann era that I have read. Summarizing Hartmann’s positions into twenty-one points, the system, which when reading Hartmann can be dense and turgid, comes alive, breathes and makes one realize how much of what contemporary psychoanalysis takes for granted, is grounded in Hartmann’s work. Certainly not an apologia for the era, Bergman’s paper shows both the continuities with Freud as well as the sharp revisions and breaks with classical analysis. The Hartman system revolves around what Bergmann sees as “...a reaction against Freud’s pessimism about the role of the ego in the process of cure” (p.5). With this optimism comes a shift in focus from the unknowable; the Id, and concurrently sexual and aggressive drives and an emphasis on the ego—on rationality and on the enlargement of the “conflict-free” sphere, adaptation, neutralization of energic force, and the environment. As Bergmann says “In this view conflict is not ubiquitous, and, even where the ego is involved in conflict with the Id, secondary autonomy can develop so that what was once in conflict can become conflict-free once more” (p.25). This is the frame from which the Hartmann system should be viewed and for some including this reviewer it leads to a sharp break with not only Freud’s system but with any dynamic psychology, which by definition must be replete with contradiction, irrationality and power.

The psychoanalysis that emerges from Bergmann’s reading of the Hartmann “group” seems, from today’s perspective, to be overly sanitized; a psychoanalysis that, rather than representing “the plague,” is marketable to the American intelligentsia and academic community. As Bergmann observes, “Hartmann and his group visualized a psychoanalysis so modified that it would appeal to other sciences, resulting in an interdisciplinary approach where psychoanalysis would influence other disciplines and continuously profit by observations made in other fields” (p.22). For those not familiar with Hartmann’s writings or those wanting a quick refresher course, the Bergmann summary is eminently readable (which has never, to the best of my knowledge, been said about Hartmann), accurate, and a fair appraisal.

The second section of Bergmann’s chapter deals with the “group,” those analysts” associated” with the Hartmann era, with its theoretical formulations, and provides a thumbnail sketch of their contributions. Interestingly enough, the group has had a more lasting influence in the literature than Hartmann has. This may be due to the fact that their association was more due to a similar geographical and historical overlap with Hartmann than an obeisance to his system. Included in the “group” are Spitz, Jacobson, Mahler, Anna Freud, Kris, and Eissler. Omitted, and I can only assume that this is because Bergmann seems to display some ambivalence towards him, is Rapaport; the great synthesizer of his analytic generation.

The third and most speculative section deals with the passing of the Hartmann era. Bergmann attributes several factors, both within psychoanalysis and the general culture for the demise of the Hartmann system, at least as the dominant system within the United States: Loewald’s now classic paper (1960) On the therapeutic action of psychoanalysis, posited that rather than conflict resolution, the continuation of growth was the aim of a successful analysis, and that the “mirror” function of the analyst became secondary to the interactive, interpersonal i.e., two-person psychology dynamic; Brenner’s advocacy of compromise formation and thus the acceptance of the ubiquity of conflict and hence the denial of the conflict-free sphere, the attempt to narrow psychoanalysis to Oedipal-based neurotic analysands, while the general therapeutic population was manifesting more “primitive” dynamics.

Bergmann observes, “The Hartmann group discovered much that is valuable and exciting, but because it did not harness these findings into a therapy beyond neurosis, it lost its appeal. Limiting the practice to physicians whose earnings had to be on par with other physicians, demanding that the analysand come four to five times a week and be neurotic rather than borderline, the population available for psychoanalysis of necessity became restricted to a double aristocracy--an aristocracy of mental health as well as a financial one” (p.66-67). This, I believe, reflects one of the historic disputes within psychoanalysis: is it a general therapy with a “widening scope” or a specific form of treatment with limited applicability, to a limited population? Is it gold or an alloy? If we accept this dichotomy, then while the Hartmann group might be seen as orthodox or as purists, they cannot be seen as elitists. They are simply defining the scope of practice more restrictedly than others.

Anton Kris points out, later in the proceedings, “I believe that regression and psychosis were relatively intolerable to his group. So instead of using the fine ego psychology to explore it more, they used it to limit analytic dialogue” (p.262). In even stronger terms, Kernberg summarizes the demise of Hartmann’s system, stating that it “...superficialized the technique, ignored the theory, the drives, and made timidity the technical approach to patients. While we saw sicker and sicker patients with the most primitive sadomasochistic, aggressive things going on, the optimism of Hartmann regarding drives and adaptation ignored that clinical reality” (p.231). That optimism is an additional factor that Bergmann views as contributory to the supercedence of Hartmann ego psychology in that its desire to be accepted by other social and biological sciences simply never occurred. Its theoretical constructs, which catered to a wider acceptance, proved futile in attaining that goal. As he says “ did not live up to its promise to create a psychology beyond the realm of conflict. As a result it had less to offer the social sciences than it believed” (p.63).

Within the general culture, the passivity of the 1950s had given way to what Bergmann refers to as “...the crisis of identity deepened and cultural narcissism increasingly became the norm “(p.63), and I’d call the counterculture and the striving for liberation. Ego psychology was seen as a conservative voice of the past and of conformity. As Kramer (1996) states: “In modern psychoanalysis, adaptation is the criterion of health. Theoretically, the mentally healthiest individual is no longer the most sexually gratified one, but the one who is best adapted to the world in which he lives--the individual who, in theory, has reached an equilibrium between the gratification of his instinctual needs, his moral needs, and the demands of reality” (cited in Bergmann p.59). Considering the climate of the times, object relations, which on the surface appears more social, or at least dyadic, would be a natural alternative to the individualistic ego psychology. Perhaps the best way to understand the multidetermined nature of the passing of Hartmann’s system and influence is to quote Anton Kris:

“In the aims of Hartmann and his colleagues I see the last gasp of nineteenth century idealism, a commitment to technocracy, and quintessential adherence to positivism. They believed in Science, and they believed in Progress. Systematization and positivism go hand in hand in their work, and I do not believe that members of the Hartmann group appreciated sufficiently the hidden advantage in Freud’s inconsistency (pp.157-58).”

In essence he sees Hartmann’s brand of psychoanalysis as the quintessential modernist doctrine,

The second major section of the book, consists of papers presented to the conference, responses to Bergmann, and establishes the basis for the overall discussion that followed. While all the papers were intellectually stimulating, germane to the topic (not always the case at psychoanalytic forums) and added to the Bergmann presentation, several are worth noting.

Grossman presents a well thought out exposition of the cultural and intellectual climate within both psychoanalysis and the social science/philosophy arena in which Hartmann’s writing appeared. As he states “Hartmann’s work, therefore, was in part an effort to develop a framework that would permit a systematic utilization of observations and concepts from outside and within the psychoanalytic setting” (p.227). Since Hartmann’s writings while based on clinical experience, as Grossman points out, is presented on a more abstract level of theory, without clinical substantiation, for many analysts this led to a discounting of Hartmann and an attitude, of “It’s only theory” and therefore inapplicable to one’s daily practice. But from all accounts, his method of presentation was consonant with who he was: formal, aristocratic, and cerebral. I think Grossman scores a slam-dunk when he states, in accounting for the minimal lasting influence of Hartmann, “Since Hartmann did not have a gift for simple and elegant presentation of complex thinking, I think the neglect of his work has as much if not more to do with the difficulty of his writing style and exposition as with the content of his ideas” (p.139). Analysts seem, like the rest of humanity, to at times gravitate towards the simple or formulaic, rather than struggle with theory and complexity. As Yorke notes in regard to the contemporary psychoanalytic climate, “Any idea or notion that seems to make the clinician’s task easier will be seized on as something important or worthwhile. Its relationship to a consistent, coherent, and comprehensive theory of mind may not come into question” (p.272).

Anton Kris, while not part of that era, certainly knew most of the key players through both his maternal and paternal lineages. He points out, but doesn’t dwell on the fact, that to a degree there was a strong political agenda underlying the work of the Hartmann group. It was in strong opposition, on the one hand, to the Kleinians, while on the other opposed the post-Freudians, i.e., Fromm, Sullivan, Horney etc. The results led to a narrow definition of countertransference (albeit one that Freud posited) and a de-emphasis on pre-oedipal dynamics. This “agenda” contributed to a climate in America that became more and more out of step with the international psychoanalytic movement. This also led, or at least contributed, to a sectarianism and authoritarianism that, while not unique to the Hartmann group (indeed it is still an element in many of the competing theoretical forces within analysis), resulted in a reification of concepts and a “party line” that had to be followed, to graduate or be published. As Kris says “...the astonishing number of causalities in our field, among our own colleagues, at the hands of their teachers and their Institutes (or the Institutes that would not have them, or would have them only under demeaning conditions) has been a powerful influence on my development as an analyst and teacher” (p.161). Or as Kernberg says, “The authoritarian quality of Hartman and his group was enormous...” (p.228-229).

Mort Ostow who was a student during that era, reports “...the authoritarianism was really quite devastating” (232); and “But we were trained to be completely orthodox, completely compliant. If any student asked any question whatever, he was put down and told that he was resistant.... It was really a religious orthodoxy complete with a scripture and with ideas of heresy. It would tolerate no other religion” (p233). Andre Green, the staunchest critic of American psychoanalysis in general and ego psychology in particular states: “Could it be that during the period of the Hartmann era one had to make a tragic choice? Either to oppose openly Hartmann’s ideas at the risk of falling into oblivion.... or, in order to have a chance to be heard, to adopt, willy-nilly, the official language of the mainstream of American psychoanalysis during that period” (p.107)? I’ve always felt, and this I know is open to dispute, that the classic example of what Green hypothesized can be found in the writings of Jacobson, so obviously object-relational and yet so strained and difficult to read in order to fit the ego psychological frame. To be fair one must add that according to those in the conference that worked with Hartmann, the rigidity and authoritarianism was not a personal quality of his, indeed he was of the more “liberal” wing of American psychoanalysis, although I see little evidence that he moved to oppose it.

As one might expect, Andre Green’s contribution is brilliant, provocative, and polemical to the nth degree. The title of his piece, Illusion And Disillusionment In The Attempt To Present A More Reasonable Theory Of The Mind, tells one, from the start, that he sees Hartmann’s work as not a continuation of Freud’s but an attempt to develop an alternative theory of mental functioning. Ego psychology from his perspective (and what comes across clearly in the discussion, is that if one does not see psychoanalysis and particularly Freud the way he does, then one does not understand psychoanalysis), is not grounded in Freud, nor is it a contribution to the analytic canon. He states: “It seems that an argument to get away with it is to declare that Freud was the inventor of ego psychology! For sure, an invention about the inventor” (p108). And as a coup de grace, “Is there anything in Freud that can support the ideas expressed by Hartmann and labeled as ego psychology, or is there a real gap between Freud and Hartmann? My opinion is that there is a real gap....” (p.221).

In both his prepared presentation as well as his contribution to the general proceedings, it is clear that he knows his Freud line by line, and while one might at times disagree with his interpretations of those lines, his voice is always to be taken seriously. He goes after the heart of the Hartmann system: neutral energy; the importance and focus on the ego, ” place them ‘on a par without diminishing psychoanalysis as a depth psychology’ is an internal contradiction” (p.110), and “ As far as I am concerned, it is not possible to defend the idea of an ego that would be, in the beginning, in a position to have its own existence aside from the id” (p.111). “To say that we can put the ego on a par with the id is inconsistent because it is a major hypothesis of Freud that the id dominates the ego…The whole construction of the psychic apparatus is built on the foundation of the id, If you disagree with this principle, then you disagree with the whole description of Freud’s psychic apparatus” ( 248-249); the autonomy of ego functions, the independent origins of the ego from the id; the attempt for psychoanalysis to become a theory of the total personality; the inability of Hartmann to distinguish ‘psychological ‘from ‘psychical’; the failure to see the radical discontinuity between conscious and unconscious; the importance of infant research; the optimism of adaptability; and the ignoring of the pre-genital (not the pre-oedipal since the French, Lacanian or otherwise, see the oedipal as occurring rather early). Is there anything in Hartmann’s system worthwhile? Simply stated: NO! “My main objection to Hartmann was that he thought he could provide a sounder image of the mind if he turned his back to the viewpoint of the overpowerful influence of the id”(p.251); and finally, “...Hartmann’s failure was the result of an illusion--and now we have the disillusionment--in the attempt to present a more reasonable theory of the mind. Freud’s theory is not a reasonable one because it emphasizes the influence of nonrational factors in psychic activity. It strongly emphasizes the role of passion in man, which drive him mad. But this madness is not limited to the patients. One can meet it as well in colleagues and so-called normal people” (p.258). Need more be said!

The third section, the Conference proceedings is a general give and take dominated by Green, with everyone else contributing to the tone he set by supporting, or in the case of his argument regarding the absence of representation in the Id, by disagreeing, or not understanding. What comes across above and beyond the stimulating interchanges is the humanization of the participants. They become arrogant, piqued, humorous, argumentative, and angry as demonstrated by Kris in response to an exegesis by Green: “I curiously hear in Andre’s presentation the voice of my teachers. It’s very striking to me; if one doesn’t agree with your view, one is not an analyst. This continues to be a serious problem among analysts; we know what is true, the others don’t” (p.262). While this section at times is repetitive, it does periodically open new issues and concerns that while generated in the Hartmannn era, are still operational today. How does one summarize the era, particularly in light of the multimodal openness of present-day psychoanalysis? Kris says it best when he states: “It would be very good if the best ideas of the Hartmann era could be reintegrated into the future because I think we are in some danger of having a disorderly and undisciplined era in psychoanalysis. This is serious concern” (p.243). Amen!


Hartmann, H. (1947). On rational and irrational action. In Essays on ego psychology. New York: International Universities Press, pp.37-68
Hartmann, H. (1959). Psychoanalysis as a scientific theory. In Essays on ego psychology. New York: International Universities Press, pp.318-350.
Hartmann, H. (1964). Essays on ego psychology. New York: International Universities Press.



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