An earlier blog post discussed Freud's concept of "the borrowed sense of guilt" first elaborated in a footnote in Freud's The Ego and the Id. The footnote has attracted considerable attention from psychoanalytical commentators.
In footnote 10 of Miller v. United States, 320 F.2d 767 (1963), an appeal of a robbery conviction under District of Columbia law, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit discusses Freud's concept of "the borrowed sense of guilt":
"10. Freud, Psychoanalysis and the Ascertaining of Truth in Courts of Law (1906), in Collected Papers (1959), Vol. 2, p. 13. Freud subsequently observed that a "sense of guilt" may derive from "criminal intentions" rather than from an actual past misdeed, and in so-called "normal" as well as neurotic individuals. See, e.g., Freud, Criminality From a Sense of Guilt (1915), in Collected Papers (1959), Vol. 4, p. 342; Freud, The Ego and the Id (1923), in Complete Psychological Works (1961), Vol. XIX, p. 48 ff. Also see, e.g., Zilboorg, The Psychology of the Criminal Act and Punishment (Harcourt Brace 1954): "A severe sense of guilt can exist in the absence of one single overt act of hostility. A sense of guilt means a self-reproaching attitude, a self-accusatory one, a self-attacking one * * *. This is a universal phenomenon common to all of us." Id. at 50.
Freud was, of course, not the first to notice this phenomenon. See, e.g., Dostoevski, Brothers Karamazov (Mod.Lib. 1950) 757-70, wherein the author describes how Ivan — the brother who had desired the death of the father but had not perpetrated the act — manifests all the traditional symptoms of guilt described by Wigmore, whereas the actual murderer reacts in a cool dispassionate way, consistent — according to Wigmore — with innocence. For a similar, more recent and more detailed treatment of this problem, see Reik, The Compulsion to Confess (1959) 32, 39, 41, 149, 266."
The reader will note that the crime of robbery -- the stealing of property from a person by using or threatening to use force -- has a remote psychological relationship to the psychiatrist Michael Friedman's conception of anorexia nervosa, in which the patient suffers from an unconscious sense of guilt centering on his view that the act of eating constitutes the wrongful taking (or "robbery") of food from other family members. See Friedman, M. "Survivor Guilt in the Pathogenesis of Anorexia Nervosa." Psychiatry, 48: 25-39 (February 1985) (Stanley R. Palombo, M.D., editor).
(In Victor Hugo's novel Les Miserables the villain-benefactor Jean Valjean is convicted of the crime of stealing a loaf of bread.)