Please choose an interview to read from the list below. To return to this list, simply click on “Go Back to Interview Index” at the end of each interview. Please note: Some of these are partial interviews. For a complete listing of the interviews and the full text of each, search the back issues of Clio’s Psyche.
- Andrew Brink
- Andrew Rolle
- Betty Glad
- Charles B. Strozier
- David Beisel
- Henry W. Lawton
- Herbert Barry III
- J. Donald Hughes
- Jay Gonen and Mary Coleman
- Lloyd DeMause
- Lynn Hunt
- Mel Kalfus
- Paul H. Elovitz
- Peter Gay
- Ralph Colp
- Robert J. Lifton
- Rudolph Binion
- Sudhir Kakar
- Vamik Volkan
- Trailer of Molly Castelloe’s “Vamik’s Room”
The Creativity, Introspection, and Pacifism of Andrew Brink
Paul H. Elovitz, Ramapo College and the Psychohistory Forum
Brink is the author of Loss and Symbolic Repair: A Study of Some English Poets (l977), Creativity as Repair: Bipolarity and Its Closure (l982) — a study using Fairbairn’s account of the split and repressed ego as starting point for consideration of what creativity may be about, Bertrand Russell: The Psychobiography of a Moralist (l989), and Obsession and Culture: A Study of Sexual Obsessions in the Modern Novel. (l996). His first edited book was The Life of Reverend Mr. George Trosse, Written by Himself (l714) (l974) — a spiritual autobiography of a non-conformist minister who recovered from alcoholism and delusions, an important English historic example of diagnosing and treating mental illness, and he co-edited The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell, Vol. I (1983) and Vol. XII (1985).
PHE: Please tell us about your early childhood.
AWB: I was born by Caesarean section. The important fact is that my mother almost died in giving birth and was debilitated for the first year of my life. Nursing was sporadic and mostly unsuccessful, despite her wish to give the best maternal care. Fortunately she regained full health and entered mothering with dedication, but the risk had been frightening, as she later told me. It is evident why, when I later discovered John Bowlby’s attachment theory of anxious attachment, my reaction was “Aha! This is it!”
PHE: Tell me about your illustrious ancestry and its impact on your interest in history. What impact did your Dutch and British ancestors have on your development?
AWB: Family history and genealogy have always fascinated me. My father made certain that I knew all my Canadian relations and remained connected to them, as did my mother. My mother’s Scottish forebears, who began settling in Ontario in the 1830s, were well documented and I was introduced to them early. My mother was one of three daughters in the third generation of a Woodstock industrial family. Her grandfather, Robert White-law from Roxboroughshire, Scotland, learned the foundry trade near Hamilton and in l856 established the Whitelaw Foundry at Beachville. Upon moving it to Woodstock in l870, he became the city’s leading manufacturer of heavy machinery — steam engines, turbines, and, eventually, roller mills for wheat in western Canada. My grandfather carried on the business, but as his daughters did not take up careers as industrial managers, after my grandfather’s death, my father sold the Whitelaw Foundry. As the only male descendant, and named for the family, I was nonetheless not destined to inherit the business.
My father was descended from late 18th-century Upper Canadian (Ontario) pioneers from New Jersey and New York; he was born and brought up on a farm near Woodstock (west of Toronto). I was slower to realize my father’s colonial New York heritage, although it, too, was well documented. Pursuing New Netherland family history has become a passion, and I assisted Laurel Shanafelt Powell compile A Brink Book … Some Descendants of Lambert Huyberts and Hendrikje Cornelisse… (539 pages + charts, privately published, 1996). Lambert Huyberts Brink and his family left Wageningen, Gelderland in 1660 and settled to farm in the mid-Hudson Esopus territory, now Hurley, New York. From 1666 he was ex-Director Peter Stuyvesant’s designated farmer on some of the most productive lands in the colony. The presence of Dutch settlers, however essential to food production, was a disaster for the indigenous people. My family were involved in one of the worst genocidal wars, the Second Esopus War of l663.
Historical studies, such as Ronald Wright, Stolen Continents: The “New World” Through Indian Eyes (l993), force a new realism about such episodes in the European settlement in North America. Using psychohistorical precepts, I am trying to go beyond conventional history to discover the motives of certain ancestors whose lives were formative in the colony. The first of these is my “The Ambition of Roeloff Swartwout, Schout of Esopus,” (de Halve Maen: Magazine of the Dutch Colonial Period in America, Vol. LXVII, No. 3, Fall, l994).
A second historical reconstruction, “The Van Schoonhovens: Enterprising Immigrants,” will appear in the Spring, 1999 issue of de Halve Maen. From 1651-1654 my ancestor Claes Hendricks Van Schoonhoven from Utrecht was one of the first developers in the Wall Street area of Manhattan, and he continued in Fort Orange (Albany, New York). Briefly successful, Claes’s self-aggrandizing drive took him beyond his financial means and eventually beyond ability to manage his multiple holdings in Albany. Over-extended and in debt, he died at 32. This is really a psychohistorical reconstruction but without any theoretical trappings.
These forebearers excite and unsettle me because of their assumed right of conquest and displacement. They exhibit a state of mind which has gone on to dominate and despoil nature at a rate which should have been predictable. The family connections appearing in A Brink Book are but a small sample of New Netherland, but they are fully enough documented to allow some conclusions about states of mind leading to rampant development in North America.
PHE: Some Psychohistory Forum researchers have been struggling with the issue of identification with a particular parent and achievement. In your experience and life, are high achievers more identified with their fathers, or mothers?
AWB: Both parents broke ties with Protestant (mainly Calvinist) upbringings, angering some members of their families by becoming “freethinking” agnostics. They left rural and small-city Ontario, Canada, for the U.S.A. to join a progressive elite then forming in the biological sciences at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. They were attracted to progressive ideas but not to religion, so I was brought up to be sceptical of revealed religion. As a child, I was given Darwin, Huxley, and H.G. Wells to read on evolutionary theory. When I began thinking for myself about religion, I was attracted to the Society of Friends (Quakers) mainly because of their “peace testimony.” I still have strong sympathy with the “universalist” sort of Quakers, although my practice is Buddhist Vepassena meditation.
My parents remained together in a long but unbalanced marriage. My father far outpaced my mother who suffered neglect and ill health, and predeceased him by many years (I was age 30 at the death of my mother and 52 at the death of my father). My mother loyally helped my father socially and raised his children, but she did not share his science. Starved for affection she turned to me, and later to my sister, adopted when I was six, for companionship. She had good women friends, clubs, and social causes, but her real needs and hopes were not met. She loved her house and garden; she read widely, valued historic architecture, and surrounded herself with antiques, mainly from her family. She created an exquisite little realm of house and garden, but it was emotionally empty except for associations to the past and to her children. My father had his farm to which he was devoted, and he ran it as a business through a manager. My mother was little interested in the farm, preferring her rock garden and wood lands at the Madison (Nakoma), Wisconsin, house. She often turned to me in her emotional neediness; gentle and bright, she was good company. But the need for emotional closeness became too much, and I felt impinged upon, especially as her health worsened. My own two serious childhood illnesses are, in part, attributable to having internalized tensions between my parents; in both sicknesses, my recovery depended on my mother’s intensive care.
We were all devastated by her breast cancer when I was about 15. She had a massive mastectomy and survived, but recovery was exceedingly difficult. My father was deeply frightened but, always reliable, he saw us through the crisis. I was shocked by what had happened, and was not as willingly available to my mother as was my sister. I had powerful empathy but also withdrew as never before. My mother’s need for me to “witness” her scarred chest was not unwelcome, but it was emotionally laden and still reverberates through my imaginative life in ways needing exploration. A long developing ambivalence became a feature of my inner life and has remained so. There was enough residual awareness from my childhood analytic treatment for me to realize that I was over-stimulated, and I began reading psychoanalysis at about this time. But the reading was sporadic (centered on Neurotica, a magazine from New York), and I knew that my imagination was activated in worrying ways. I began looking for correlatives in the fine arts and literature. This pursuit has been of long duration, and I was finally able to make a statement about the obsessive male imagination and literary creativity in Obsession and Culture: A Study of Sexual Obsession in the Modern Novel, with studies of H.G. Wells, Hermann Hesse, Vladimir Nabokov, John Fowles and John Updike. I have not forsaken my mother — all that she valued is what I value — but she is “anxiously” internalized in ways that are still motivational and need to be better understood.
The urge to study creativity is thus attributable to anxious attachment to my mother, but the will to do so intellectually is from my father. He was always interested in his own creativity in science, having been one of Anne Roe’s subjects in “A Psychologist Examines 64 Eminent Scientists” (Scientific American, Vol. 187, l952: 21-25). He knew from Roe’s findings that early loss of mother was an important variable in the lives of men who distinguished themselves as biological scientists. He had been unprepared for the death of his mother when he was 11, and it seems that he never fully mourned her loss or forgave her for abandoning him and the other children still at home. He neglected to mention her in his autobiography for the National Academy of Sciences, and only with the greatest difficulty was he persuaded to have one of her accomplished landscape drawings framed for hanging in his house.
Early photographs of my father show an isolated, melancholic young man whose intentions cannot be read. Over the years he relaxed and mellowed, but his intellect was always formidable, driven by great energy. He read widely and had liberal democratic sympathies. Scepticism about received opinions and dogmas was encouraged, as was critical inquiry into anything interesting. Books of all kinds abounded in the household, and there was good music along with access to theater, films, concerts, lectures, and an endless succession of extraordinarily gifted people visiting or staying with us. But he was a puritan agnostic with razor critical abilities. As editor of Genetics, he could loudly condemn the ineptness of a submission, then see its merits and spend hours re-writing its highly technical language. His graduate students revered him, but they were a chosen elite (he taught only graduate students). He would go to any lengths for them if he thought they were capable of good experimental science. He had no time for the second-rate in any part of life, and growing up with such a father could be daunting. Unclear statements or, worse, evasions, were not allowed to slip by, and whatever I thought I knew, he knew more. Often I felt slighted and inadequate as I wasn’t really interested in the abstractions of genetics, or even in plant breeding to which he devoted much effort. But I spent a lot of time with my father, pollinating corn and alfalfa, and working alongside him at his farm — on his own terms, to be sure, but I enjoyed it more than I let on. I couldn’t agree with his second marriage, yet it did not seriously interfere with our relationship which went on improving until the end of his life.
I realize now that my father’s quirky somatic symptoms and moods were a function of depressiveness never worked through. He knew he needed treatment of some sort but never quite got around to it, realizing perhaps that in part it would be psychological. But he was always keen to know more theory of creativity, even while resisting its implications. I am deeply grateful to have had such a father and still miss him with an almost physical ache. My Loss and Symbolic Repair (on poets John Donne, Thomas Traherne, William Cowper, John Keats and Sylvia Plath) was a groping attempt to understand the sort of emotional predicament from which my father suffered and which had consequences for our family life.
PHE: Tell us about your forthcoming book, The Creative Matrix.
AWB: The book is subtitled Anxiety and the Origin of Creativity, and is projected to be published by Peter Lang later in 1999. This study shows how Freudian and Kleinian theories of creativity are giving way to an attachment model, owing to the research of John Bowlby and others into how anxiety arises in human development. We are entering an era of rapprochement between psychoanalysis, neurobiology and attachment theory, with important implications for how the creative arts are best understood. They are seen as attempted self-healing and ego repair in circumstances of developmental and relational impairments. The book offers a theory of creativity as adaptational for the avoidant-controlling personality organization typically found in our culture.
It has implications for how group fantasies are formed and how they may be modified. The book’s historical section reviews the main object-relations theories of creativity to find common pathways and to show how attachment theory enhances and sharpens their insights. Readers of my article, “Creativity Without Dual Training” [Clio’s Psyche, Vol. 4, 2, l997:54-56], will appreciate the reasons why I continue to pursue the question of artistic creativity, and how it helps me to work with the internalizations of my mother and father.
PHE: You have devoted much of your scholarly life to the study of creativity. Do you think your interest in artistic creativity is deepened by your strong sense, as reflected in that excellent article, on missing out on an adult psychoanalysis? Do you think this may have heightened your fascination with analysts and seeking them out in research and at universities?
AWB: Probably I’m looking for what I know I need, or at least would benefit from, and have been “taking rides” on analytic insights not experienced myself. I am very aware of this lack of direct transferential experience of myself in certain areas of obsessiveness. I have not decided whether my further work depends on doing something about this.
PHE: How do you see psychohistory developing in the next decade? What can we as psychohistorians and psychobiographers do to strengthen our impact in academia?
AWB: It is unrealistic to look to universities to support psychohistory and psychobiography. The study of motivation in history and individual actions is discouraged. The “why” of history is still looked for in economic, political, and religious causality, not in personal motivation and group fantasy arising from modes of childrearing.
My pessimism arises from mismanagement of a crisis in the Bertrand Russell Editorial Project at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, many years ago. I might have known that my interest in Russell’s depression and Don Juanism would lead to conflict with other editors and the university, but I was unprepared for the explosion over the Introduction to Vol. XII of The Collected Papers. My section contained some of Russell’s most confessional essays written early in the century, grouped around his famous “Mysticism and Logic,” a cry of pain at an indifferent cosmos. I spoke of his “existential anxiety” and “divided self” — indicating that there were psychobiographical questions but not offering to answer them in the Introduction. This departure from portraying Russell as “the Lord of Reason” brought a near psychotic reaction from my historian co-editor which wrecked our working relationship. While I was away, he persuaded the ambitious post-doctoral assistant to rewrite my Introduction and they tried to pass it off on the advisory editors. The rewriting was done in secret and strings were pulled to give it official status. The ruse was discovered and a modicum of justice was done, with the post-doctoral assistant fired and my original version mainly reinstated.
But I knew that the administration’s sympathy, and that of some on the advisory editorial board, was really with censorship. The censorship had been so blatant that it was easily exposed, but what it represented was the will of the working editorial group and the university with its huge financial investment in the project. Nothing suggesting that Russell had been a conflicted and, in some ways, destructive personality, could be tolerated. I was told that if I must I could publish my opinions — as I did in Bertrand Russell: A Psychobiography of a Moralist — but they would not be welcome in The Collected Papers. Thus, intimidation and muzzling made continued work impossible. My resignation from the editorial project was accepted. I was warned in a legal letter from the university president not to mention personalities. To this day I don’t think it safe to speak in detail of the actual psychopathology underlying this eruption.
How is that for encouraging academic freedom? This is only a small vignette of the academic world, but I regard it as symptomatic of the terror of emotion and over-control of intropunitive tendencies, which limit what can be attempted in a university. Editing Russell opened my eyes to what is wrong with universities and why psychohistory and psychobiography are unlikely to find much reception in them.
PHE: How effective, compared to other academic education, was the training you coordinated at the Psychoanalytic Thought Program of the University of Toronto from 1988-1993?
AWB: The Humanities and Psychoanalytic Thought Program which I coordinated at Trinity College, University of Toronto, is a partial exception to the ban on study of emotion in the Humanities. It has done better than any other initiative of which I know to break the taboo on inquiry into the genesis and operation of emotion in the study of history, religion, and literature. It upholds psychobiographical inquiry and psychoanalytic understanding of all of human activity. But it is still an undergraduate program centered on thought, sponsoring thinking about impulse and action via the categories of psychoanalytic theory. Contending psychoanalytic theories is its most active area. Applied psychoanalysis need not bring in the question of who is doing the applying and why. The program lacks an experiential component, other than the personal analyses a few of its students pursue and bring into their work. Various attempts to make the program more experiential have met with resistance from other professors, at least in my time. The program is chronically underfunded and cannot appoint its own faculty, other than the coordinator. It draws upon courses throughout the university related to psychoanalysis and has very little control over them. It runs on the enthusiasm and good will of a few committed professors, but the academic departments take little notice of its alternative way of seeing their phenomena and research techniques. The program is a brave little sideshow with “business as usual” all around it. I was exceptionally lucky to be part of this pioneering venture — it showed me that courage to explore the inner world is not entirely lacking in academia, but not to expect big changes soon. I did all I could to advance psychohistory with prepared students and heard some good seminar papers. Such undergraduate programs are the best possible way to advance the claims of psychohistory, and should be identified for visits by speakers and other approaches.
PHE: Your academic life and residency in Canada was shaped in part by your unwillingness to be subject to the U.S. draft during the Korean War. How did you develop that stance, and what are your thoughts and feelings on war and peace today?
AWB: A leading feature of my growing up during World War II was its pervasiveness in all areas of life. My parents were eager that the war be won against Hitler, having observed the situation in Berlin where my father did post-doctoral work in genetics. They were apprehensive at what they saw of pre-fascist politics and were deeply upset by the persecution of Jews. (Later my father helped Jewish scientists to relocate in U.S. universities.) They had also lived in Britain and were distressed when London was blitzed.
As young Canadians during World War I, my parents had witnessed the terrible deaths and mutilations of their contemporaries, including family members. My mother, in particular, believed that war is seldom, if ever, justifiable. So I was brought up to see war as evil. As a leading geneticist, my father was close to the nerve center of American science, and he knew a number of the physicists who built the A- and H-bombs. He did not vilify them, but neither did he agree with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He was acutely aware of the long-term somatic and genetic damage done by nuclear weapons testing and usage. He called the H-bomb an “obscenity” and, although never high-profile, he backed U.S. scientists’ resistance to the arms race with Soviet Russia. It is little wonder that from an early age I should have become involved in the peace movement.
I believe that there is no advance towards an understanding of what promotes a more peaceful world other than by psychohistory and psychobiography. Human destructiveness in political strife and wars, and attacks on the environment, cannot be understood in the current categories of political science, economics, and history. The study of motivation, the “why” of history, is essential. The style and force of motivations depend upon dominant childrearing practices in the society under consideration. The concept of how modes of childrearing produce characteristic “psychoclasses” is powerful, but more discriminating use by psychohistorians must be made of developmental theory beyond Freud. Attachment theory is redefining understanding of mother-infant anxious attachments that lead to adult maladaptive and destructive motivations. The developmental distortions of potentially “good” human nature must be understood in studies of how anxious attachments aggregate as fantasies, social institutions, and political movements. The work of Erik Erikson, Alice Miller and Lloyd deMause is foundational, and deMause is just now in his most creative period of synthesis.
I would hope to see integration with experimentally attested psycho-biology and revised psychoanalytic theory in order to stop the drift of psychohistory away from main lines of inquiry. It will take attachment theorists too long to come to social applications unless psychobiographers and psychohistorians force the issue. I am myself more a psycho-cultural investigator and would urge attention to works of the creative imagination as indications of how members of psychoclasses express themselves. They do so in ways that reveal dominant developmental maladaptations, resulting from abusive and anxious parental attachments, and calling out for correctives. Obsessive-compulsive psychopathologies are especially prominent in Western art and literature and their developmental background needs fuller study.
PHE: Have you had any special mentors?
AWB: Special mentors in thinking about these questions have been the psychoanalyst Anthony Storr and the literary critic David Holbrook in the United Kingdom. The life-stories of analysts such as Ronald Fairbairn, Harry Guntrip, and Donald Winnicott show that childhood trauma is modifiable with analytic work, and that forces of healing and repair are present to mobilize. John Bowlby exemplified the courage of pressing ahead with insights despite the disapproval of one’s profession. The book that best captures the importance of Bowlby’s attachment theory for psychobiographers and psychohistorians is Felicity de Zulueta, From Pain to Violence: The Traumatic Roots of Destructiveness (1993).
PHE: How do you see the human condition?
AWB: The human situation is grim but not hopeless if pathbreaking lives such as those mentioned above are taken as guides by therapists, scholars, and educators. Liberal humanism needs a tough new program of psychobiographical and psychohistorical studies, but I’m not sure just where they will come from if not the training institutes and universities. I was fortunate to have the support of several members of McMaster University’s Department of Psychiatry (where for 10 years I was Associate Member) during battles in other sectors of the university. I know that there are people of ability and integrity in the mental health profession who should be engaged in psychohistory to meet their wider social concerns — but how is this going to happen?
Teaching and Writing Psychohistory: Andrew Rolle
Geoffrey Cocks, Albion College
GC: Please tell us about your family background.
AR: My parents came to America in 1922. They were what we call Swiss-Italians in the sense that there’s a little town called Rolle on Lake Geneva between Geneva and Lausanne, but my parents actually were born in Northern Italy. They lived in Rhode Island for the first few years. Then my mother became tubercular and we moved to California to save her health when I was six years old. I’ve been a Californian for all these many years.
My father was an engineer, my mother was a housewife, but they were both interested in learning and in books. I would say that my father was an intellectual. I had a brother who was an avian-ecologist, an expert on the transmigration of birds from Africa to the Americas. He was a professor at the University of Puerto Rico and he committed suicide when he was about 30 years old.
GC: Did your brother’s suicide have a significant impact on your career?
AR: No, but what did have an impact was the difference between the experience of immigrants on the East Coast versus those on the West Coast. I wrote three books about Italians in America. The one called Troubled Roots is really psychoanalytic, even more so than the Frémont book. It goes into what it means to live in a family that has come from abroad. It’s heavily involved with the mechanisms of defense developed within an ethnic constellation, long before ethnicity became popular. As a person who had grown up in an ethnic family I could not extricate myself. I couldn’t just say “Well, let’s examine this clinically.” I was part of the picture, whereas with Frémont I was not.
GC: You and Bruce Mazlish were two of the first to teach and practice psychohistory back in the sixties?
AR: My career is rather different than Bruce Mazlish’s. It’s more like Peter Loewenberg’s. We’re both people who entered analysis on a personal level. I had a pretty big crisis in my life when I was about 40 years old and I’ve had two analyses which are really rather complete. Peter was lucky because his brother-in-law was Sam Eisenstein — a powerful figure in the Southern California Psychoanalytic Institute [SCPI]. My analyst, Warren Jones, MD, was a less influential figure. But at the end of the first analysis he said, “Look, we’re opening the Institute to a certain number of non-MDs and I’d like you to apply.” I did apply and was accepted. So, Peter was the first person to be trained in a course that lasted four years and I was the second.
GC: Did your experience regarding Ezra Pound after World War II have an influence on your interest in this field?
AR: I was the American Consul in Genoa, Italy, for three-and-a-half years and Ezra Pound lived in my consular district. So I had something to do with bringing him back to the United States. Of course, he was pronounced insane and placed in St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. Though I never actually met Ezra Pound I was moved at what had happened to him during the Fascist era.
GC: You could see the connection between creativity, activity, and madness?
GC: Did what you saw going on or not going on in the field of history also inspire you?
AR: It was a real shock of recognition. If all these things could happen to me in my lifetime, what about other people? What about FDR? What about Gandhi? What about so many other leaders? Napoleon and, of course, John C. Frémont (1813-1890), whose biography I wrote. There was a natural fit between history, biography, and psychoanalysis that seemed to me to be completely troweled over by historians. Indeed, I’ve been deeply disappointed at the lack of assimilation of this important dimension. In my Frémont book there is a note about the non-acceptance of psychoanalysis and dynamic psychiatry by historians. Progress has truly been almost glacial in its impact.
GC: What made Frémont a particularly good psychohistorical subject for you?
AR: It had to do with exploration. I end the book with a trenchant quote from T.S. Eliot in which he says that we continue to explore — and he meant internal exploration as well as external. Frémont seemed to me a person who repeatedly shot himself in the foot. Every time he was at a point in his career when he might have moved forward in a creative way, he would somehow sabotage himself. I contrasted the five exploratory expeditions that he made to the American West with his own lack of internal exploration. Frémont was in complete denial, as people of his generation tended to be. He would never speak about his father and never wrote one line about his father — who either disappeared or died when Frémont was five years old. He also never acknowledged his illegitimate origins and just seemed to be tailor-made for analytic probing.
GC: I’ve noticed that your work tends to have a very light touch with theory. Nevertheless, when I looked at the bibliography in your Frémont biography I found a wide range of sources: the Freuds, Mahler, Bowlby, Kohut, and Kernberg. You’re obviously extremely well-read in the field, yet you don’t let the theory intrude very much on the narrative.
AR: I am much more cautious than most “psychohistorians.” I’m much less courageous in my deductions about a person like Frémont than Peter Loewenberg would be. I’m extremely careful about the use of generalizations concerning psychiatry and psychoanalysis.
I remain more of a historian. I think Peter has become more of a psychoanalyst. I went back to my history roots. But, I’ve been a little too careful about what my colleagues would say. I wish now that I’d been bolder, because what difference does it make when you’re 75 years old what the hell they say? Besides, it’s so sad that the major critics of psychohistory often have experienced not even one hour of either analytic training or analysis. So the judgments they make are often invalid. It’s pathetic to see books reviewed in the American Historical Review by people who don’t know anything about the field.
One of the reasons I’ve remained cautious was the people who launched the History of Childhood Quarterly [now The Journal of Psychohistory]. So much junk was done in the name of psychohistory in the early days that I was determined that I would not allow myself to be accused of some of the vapid and shallow generalizations that detracted from psychohistory being more accepted.
GC: Are you eclectic in your use of psychoanalytic and psychological theory? Or do you hew to one particular direction more than another?
AR: I’m a Freudian — a neo-Freudian. Freud was a very great man, a very great mind, one of the epic figures of history. I don’t participate in all of this Freud-bashing that goes on publicly. Because, after I finished my four years at the Southern California Psychoanalytic Institute, I had three more years as a virtual resident-observer at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. I was in those wards day after day, week after week, and I saw what young psychiatrists had to put up with. I am deeply offended by people like Ken Kesey who wrote the book One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. He simply doesn’t understand the depth of the problems that psychiatrists face.
I’ve also been very much influenced by Harold Lasswell. I have an article in his last book. That essay is the closest I’ve ever come to straight psychoanalytic theory as applied psychoanalysis without the idea of dealing with only one person like Frémont. Lasswell’s whole concept of what a leader does and what the needs of the leader are is highly relevant in American history as applied to Clinton or Nixon or Lyndon Johnson or FDR. Lasswell believed that the leader has an extreme craving for deference, an absolute passion for a following that will be deferential and awestruck — almost reverential to him. That idea was most appealing and I applied it to Frémont. This was natural material for my teaching and writing, and I entitled my last seminar “Studies in Personal Leadership.”
GC: What are you working on now?
AR: As Occidental did not pay very well, I’ve earned an added livelihood in the field of California history. I’m doing a fifth edition now of my standard text, California: A History. There is also a cut-down version called The Golden State which is used throughout the high schools. I’m editing a diary of a young woman who came around Cape Horn during the Gold Rush. And I do lots of encyclopedia sketches. These projects keep me very busy.
GC: Do you bring any psychoanalytic insights into those works?
AR: I do, almost unconsciously, but I have this feeling that most historians consider what we psychohistorians do as cluttering up the narrative.
GC: Well, it’s very difficult to achieve the sort of balance between theory and material.
AR: If you really want a readership you’ve got to tread a fine line between professional psychoanalytic theory and what the audience will accept. That was true last night when I gave a talk to a Civil War Roundtable. You can’t turn them off right off the bat by giving them jargon.
GC: What training should a person who wants to be a psychohistorian enter?
AR: In an article in the Occidental magazine some years ago, I pointed out that if you had a model world and it was well-funded, a young person like yourself, who had taken my psychohistory course, would then go on to a proseminar on leadership and the psychoanalysis of leaders. After this and following the doctorate, you would be nominated and admitted to a psychoanalytic institute for four years of training, just as I was. Then, after you came out, you would be beautifully equipped with both an academic PhD and a psychoanalytic PhD. (Although I resent that immensely because in four years their equivalency of a PhD is nowhere near what we require to get our standard academic PhD.) I don’t agree with Mazlish whose interview [Clio’s Psyche, December, 1996] suggests that this dual training would be too skewed in the direction of psychoanalytic theory.
GC: What is happening to psychohistory and what is its future?
AR: That’s a really crucial question. I think what has happened to it is really sad, and I believe that my reply will be pretty original: all this attention to gender, race, and class, which we’re subjected to constantly. Historians today want to do the California Gold Rush in terms of gender, race, and class. They also want to do the fur trade in terms of race and class. This approach has sidetracked a lot of interest in psychohistory, which was quite exciting after William Langer gave his moving talk in 1958. Now, I don’t mean that a person who is interested in gender, race, and class shouldn’t use psychohistory. The ideal graduate with two degrees would be better equipped to work on these subjects. Today, a lot of the generalizations that are being made about gender, race, and class are not informed by psychoanalysis or by dynamic psychiatry — they’re a mishmash of sociological theories (many deconstructionist in tone). Our little pip-squeak attempt to stay alive in academia has been hurt by all this overemphasis on only three aspects of human history.
Here in California, if you have a young Chicano historian who is out to change the history of California and rewrite it along ideological lines, then this defeats what we’re trying to do. If you’re out to prove that Cesar Chavez was more important than any other figure in California history including Father Junípero Serra, you’ve got a bias. I know this literature very well. An objective person like Mauricio Mazón [USC] is a rare exception. Or, if you’re out to prove that Carrie Jacobs Bond was a greater composer than Beethoven because she was a woman, then this approach damages the objectivity we’re both trying to achieve. We’re seeking to look at phenomena reasonably and to get some balance going in a field that is often accused of imbalance. So, academics who have gender, race, and class foremost in their intellectual armamentarium are not genuinely our allies — they’re fighting in another direction.
GC: So you’re not optimistic in terms of university departments of history furthering psychohistory and of psychoanalytic institutes also furthering some sort of combination of the fields?
AR: Not for the immediate future. Look at Occidental. The minute I left, the study of psychohistory vanished. They put up with that course only because I had some seniority and was a pretty forceful guy. Otherwise, if I’d been some assistant professor who had gone to a psychoanalytic institute and then tried to introduce a new course to the curriculum committee, it would have been voted down. They tolerated it but they didn’t really like the fact that it was a pretty popular course with good enrollments.
The same thing happened to the study of the history of California. For 36 years I taught the course on California and I had pretty big enrollments. Well, the minute I retired Occidental didn’t have a course on California anymore. The History Department simply eliminated the field. Now you can find out all about medieval lesbian nuns there, but you can’t find out about the history of California. Because the department is a woman’s department — there are five women and three men, and the men are rather weak. Talk about the feminization of the profession!
But, I don’t think psychohistory can be permanently ignored. Maybe it’ll take a generation or two for it to re-emerge, but I don’t see how provable truths in this field can be permanently deleted from the story of mankind. How can you ignore human motivation? And yet, my generation and your generation will continue to face a kind of obdurate, dull, middle-class inability to embrace what could be a highly informative, unique explanation of why human beings often act irrationally.
GC: How can psychohistorians have more influence in academia?
AR: You and I would have fitted in better if we had been in a major university like UCLA or Berkeley and not in a small liberal arts college — it would have advanced the field much more.
GC: But there is great value and great joys in educating undergraduates.
AR: That doesn’t help this field.
GC: No, it doesn’t, because very few go on from undergraduate. They have to be caught at the graduate level.
AR: That’s right.
GC: Did you have any particular mentors in psychohistory?
AR: I would have to say no. Peter Loewenberg would be the closest, although I saw him more as a colleague than a mentor. It was by my vicarious reading and study mostly, because I was quite alone in this field.
GC: Would you list the five or so people — in order — that you think have been most influential in psychohistory?
AR: You have to start with Erikson. Then I put Lasswell pretty close to Erikson. Then Kohut, although Kohut is even more of a theoretician. Don’t forget Anna Freud and Margaret Mahler and those people who studied childhood behavior. And then the more modern practitioners like Rudolph Binion, John Demos, Peter Loewenberg, and Bruce Mazlish — these are not insignificant people. They’ve done good work, very good work. The field has attracted some awfully talented people like Charles Strozier. It’s very sad that Binion and Mazlish had no psychoanalytic training — they both should have been afforded four years of training. In the case of Bruce Mazlish, I don’t know why — he had really far more powerful connections, being a member of the MIT faculty and in that Boston academic constellation. He’s a remarkably talented man, but he does lack that dimension.
GC: Maybe it was a choice, too, because they could have gotten training.
AR: I would think so, but maybe it was not offered. Such matters are awfully dicey because members of the psychoanalytic institutes sometimes get into terrific fights among themselves over candidates. They’re not models of ethical behavior, they’re rife with politics.
GC: The last few questions have to do with some particular interests of the Psychohistory Forum. Are high achievers more identified with their fathers?
AR: That would be very hard to prove, yet I think of Mazlish’s study of John Stuart Mill and his father [James and John Stuart Mill (1975)]. Mazlish could answer that better than.
GC: Are psychohistorians more father-identified than others?
AR: I think I identify with my father much more than with my mother. My mother was a tubercular who temporarily disappeared when I was about two years old. I was raised by an aunt for a number of years until my mother came back from a sanitarium. I think it’s likely, yes, but I wouldn’t generalize too broadly.
GC: That’s the true historian’s answer, of course! What is the impact of parental loss on level of achievement?
AR: An enormous subject, and, of course, my Frémont book is all about that: the missing father. Frémont had no male modeling, so he spent the rest of his life lashing out at older authority figures — even President Lincoln and Generals like Sherman and Grant. The absence of the father is an enormously rich subject that I think we all ought to be working on. Frémont’s illegitimate origins brings a comparison with Alexander Hamilton to mind. They both married into prominent families almost as compensation for the deprivation they felt for not having the father, because being illegitimate in the 18th and 19th centuries was a true scourge — nothing like these Hollywood marriages where illegitimate children are seen as almost normal.
GC: In following Kohut, and the whole tradition of object relations, of course, there’d be a like emphasis on the role of the mother of the child. Any other things you wanted to say?
AR: Academia is such a polyglot field. I wish I could be more sanguine about the future of this marvelous discipline, psychohistory, but I’m afraid that it gets lumped in with dozens of other demands. If you’re a dean or a president of a college, you have so many pressures on you from all sides that something like psychohistory gets lost. Unless some young genius comes along and somehow has the ability to popularize it in a way that hasn’t been done yet, ours will be merely another specialty subject. One would have to be a kind of Space Age Lindbergh, who combines all of the qualities of Peter Loewenberg, Kohut, and Freud, and somehow cohesively draws massive attention to this field in an engaging and entertaining way. If Langer had lived longer — he came to psychoanalysis very late in life. But Langer and his brother, who did that study of Hitler for FDR during World War II, were wonderfully predictive. Both men had the capacity to take a field and move it up “center.” Until that’s done, we’re going to be at the margins, we’re going to be at the edges.
When I go to the Huntington Library, I don’t ever bring up psychohistory or talk about my training.
Conversations merely feature names, dates, facts, election statistics, and battles, or prosaic, surface-level, seemingly objective explanations of political and economic life. That’s what most academics talk about. The literary scholars are a little more friendly, but philosophers are absolutely in the Stone Age. They even make historians look pretty good. They just do not want to hear about motivation, only ideas. My wife, Myra Moss, a philosopher, is doing a book on Giovanni Gentile, called Philosopher of Fascism. Gentile, a true intellectual, was Mussolini’s Minister of Education; he actually wrote the Encyclopedia Britannica article on Fascism which Mussolini signed. I keep telling her to make that first chapter a biographical one and get into what he was like when he was a child and what the influences on him were. She’s reluctant to do this. Most philosophers would plunge right into the philosophical ideas of Gentile without biographical detail. So, you see, some fields are even more marginalized than ours.
I just wish I could live long enough to see psychohistory move forward more quickly. The trouble is, you get to be 75 years old and you meet an alumnus and he says, “I don’t remember just what course I took from you. I think it might have been California. Or did you teach something called ‘psychohistory’?” That doesn’t make you feel like Mr. Chips!
Political Psychologist and Presidential Scholar:
Betty Glad, Paul H. Elovitz (Ramapo College and the Psychohistory Forum) and Bob Lentz
Clio’s Psyche [CP]: Please tell us about your family background.
Betty Glad [BG]: I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah. My father was a tailor; my mother, a musician. We were of the lower middle class. I am two years older than my brother. Our family was Mormon, or Latter-Day Saint, going back to Danish grandparents on the paternal side of the family and to paternal Norwegian great grandparents on the maternal line.
CP: Regarding family influences in your experience and life, are high achievers more identified with their fathers?
BG: Not for me. I was more identified with my mother — a talented musician who had little opportunity to develop and find success with her particular skills.
CP: Following up on an issue raised by Freud, what is the impact of parental loss on your level of achievement and those of subjects you have studied?
BG: My parents both died when they were quite old — my father at 74 and my mother at 85. The death of my mother affected me more than the death of my father. I had been closer to her, felt more guilt towards her, and I was an “orphan” after her death.
CP: What are your feelings and thoughts about the Mormon, or Latter-Day Saint, religion?
BG: I admire the Mormon religion in many ways, but I have distanced myself from the Church. I first began to have doubts about the Church over the women’s issue. I did not believe, even at age 12, that “a woman should obey her husband as he is the head of the household just as Jesus Christ is of the Church.” I looked at my many aunts and uncles and saw no moral edge in the masculine corner. Actually, it was quite the opposite in my extended family.
CP: What is your psychological/psychotherapeutic experience and training?
BG: I first developed my interest in psychology at the time of my marriage to a young academic psychology professor at the University of Chicago. (Because Chicago did not fund female graduate students at the time, I worked full time as a stewardess with United Airlines for three years.) The marriage, in my fourth year at Chicago, changed my life. I read my husband’s library and learned a lot about academic psychology from him. Then, at the time I was going through a divorce, I saw a Rogerian counselor at the University. Later, I spent approximately three years in psychoanalytical therapy. Both therapies provided me with insights into myself that were very emancipating. Through this process I discovered that I had an unconscious, that it was richer than my everyday life had been, and that answers to some of my basic dilemmas came through symbolic insight dreams. Most important, I learned that I was governed too much by “oughts” and not enough by an appreciation of what I really “wanted” from life.
CP: You mention “insights” and “emancipating.” Please elaborate.
BG: My therapy changed my orientation to the world in some major ways. First, I began asking myself want I really wanted from life, rather than what I “ought” to want. Next I realized that I had less rational control over some of my major decisions than I had thought earlier in my career. Then I realized that reason and emotions should be integrated in my life. Lewis Mumford’s “The Revolt of the Demons” in The New Yorker in l964 was an important eye opener for me along these lines. I also was able to relax and see myself as a woman in process rather than a finished product. That was very emancipating. Most importantly for my academic career, I think that my “peripheral” vision as to what people are doing and what they want was considerably heightened.
CP: Who was important to your development as a student of psychosocial phenomena? Which books? Did Erik Erikson have an impact on you?
BG: Eric Erikson had no real impact on me. Karen Horney’s Neurosis and Human Growth was the book that converted me to psychology. Heinz Kohut’s The Analysis of the Self was another important book in my development. Kohut’s lecture at an Organization of American Historians (OAH) meeting in Chicago some time ago sparked my interest in narcissistic wounds and how they create rivalries between major figures in history. Moreover, I much admired the perspective he aired there — that we should forget disciplinary rivalries and realize that we are all involved in the common enterprise of understanding human beings and how they interact with each other. I would add to the list of books Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams. I particularly like his discussions of wit and puns in dreams. My own experience, however, has convinced me that dreams are not only wish-fulfilling, but problem-solving, the source of creative resolutions to personal and human dilemmas. Jung, in short, has resonance with my own history.
CP: Please list the five people who you think have made the greatest contribution to psychohistory in order of their contribution.
BG: In an order somewhat arbitrary, I would list Harold Lasswell, Alex and Juliette George, Arnold Rogow, Robert Waite, and Robert Tucker.
CP: What special training was most helpful in your doing political psychological work?
BG: I learned by the long and hard process of writing in-depth biographies. The works of Karen Horney, Heinz Kohut, and Otto Kernberg have been particularly helpful in my psychological interpretations, as well as my own experiences in therapy.
CP: What training should a person entering the psychosocial field today pursue?
BG: Graduate courses in psychology and history or political science. My graduate students today, who mainly use aspects of academic psychology, have taken courses in the University of South Carolina psychology department and have taken summer courses at the ISPP Summer Institute at Ohio State University. They have all found the Institute experience most useful to them.
CP: Please tell us more about it.
BG: Approximately 55 graduate students and junior faculty members from a variety of disciplines meet daily for lectures, workshops, discussions, and various social activities. Each year a group of nationally renowned scholars from diverse fields lecture as guest specialists. This summer Pamela Johnston Conover, M. Kent Jennings, Jack Levy, Paul Sniderman, and other distinguished persons will attend. The result is that the young scholars come to know the big names in the field, to find that there are others in their own age group that are crossing the disciplinary lines. This reinforces them in their interdisciplinary interests, by assuring them they are not as isolated as their experience in some home institutions may suggest, and by making friendships with young colleagues who share their interests and with whom they may collaborate on some projects. For information on this program, I urge your readers to write Thomas E Nelson, Department of Political Science, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio 43210.
CP: Of which of your works are you most proud?
BG: My biographies of Charles Evans Hughes, Jimmy Carter, and Key Pittman. Each one is different, and I cannot choose any one as the most pleasing to me.
CP: Are all of your works psychologically informed?
BG: Most of my works are psychologically informed. The most explicit usage of a wide variety of psychological theories, however, is manifest in the chapters I contributed to the volumes I edited in The Psychological Dimensions of War and The Russian Transformation (coming out this summer). My views on Gorbachev and Yeltsin, for example, are explained in detail in the latter work. The biographical studies I have done of Hughes, Carter, and Pittman, on the other hand, use the original papers of these men to delineate the wide variety of childhood and socialization forces that contributed to their behavior in political office. My proofs reside in the ability of certain psychological theories to tie together otherwise disparate material in a framework that accords with the broader field of the social sciences. Charles Darwin called this kind of proof, which he employed for his evolution theory, “consilience.”
CP: What is the importance of childhood to political psychology and psychohistory?
BG: Childhood is very important. But we often do not know enough about it to make judgements that are persuasive to people outside the particular school of thought we have embraced.
CP: How do you read Jimmy Carter as President and ex-President?
BG: My biography of Jimmy Carter was primarily an in-depth look at how he matured and how he operated politically, with the psychological analysis coming in the final chapters. I see him as a person with benign motives, but as a bit grandiose and self-referent in his approach to politics. These qualities created a distance between him and many of the Democratic pros in Washington who wanted to work with him. As President, moreover, he had a struggle between his desire to be “tough as nails” and his Wilsonian visionary side. As an ex-President he is much more successful, because he can act primarily on the Wilsonian side of his personality. Yet he still finds it difficult to be a team player, and he made sure that CNN got the first scoops on his saving Bill Clinton from possible disasters in North Korea and Haiti.
CP: Why a biography of Key Pittman?
BG: My study of Key Pittman (1872-1940), Senator from Nevada, was intended to be a relatively short vignette in a larger volume, The Chairmen of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1924-1964: Personality and Role Performance. The Pittman chapters expanded into a book when I saw the kinds of materials available in his papers. A brilliant man, who spoke of the balance of power in the mid-thirties and saw the need to check Japan in Asia, he was also an alcoholic who wrote long and revealing letters to an often absent wife explaining how he felt about things. For some reason she destroyed neither his letters to her, nor other revealing information including an unopened folder going back to 1910, stating that it should only be opened in case of his death. In these materials, Pittman explicitly records feeling states that exemplify Kohut’s theories of the horizontal and vertical splits in narcissistic personalities. The book’s subtitle, The Tragedy of a Senate Insider, is an indication of the compassion I felt for a brilliant and sensitive man, whose uncontrolled drinking in his last few years as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee led others to not listen to him as they should have.
CP: What are you working on now?
BG: I have just finished an edited volume, The Russian Transformation, to be published by St. Martin’s Press this summer. The co-editor is Eric Shiraev, a young social-psychologist of Russian origin. My contributions to this volume were the introduction to the volume, plus three co-authored chapters (two on Gorbachev) and one sole-authored chapter on Yeltsin. I am also working on a book on how Jimmy Carter made his foreign policy decisions. I look at the level of his involvement in the issue, the time at which he got involved, and his relationship to others on the decision-making team. To discuss these relationships, I use a framework developed earlier in my study on Nixon. I distinguish between aides who perform instrumental services for their leader, those who provide affective support (bolstering, compensating, and acting as a proxy), and those who provide mixed supports. My hypothesis on the relationship issue is that for matters in which the President is deeply involved, aides who retain their influence are likely to provide affective as well as instrumental support.
CP: What is your evaluation of Gorbachev? Of Yeltsin? What do you foresee for Russia?
BG: Only a man like Gorbachev — an idealist who believed deeply in the ideals of Communism — would have been able to go through the Communist system without being corrupted and yet maintain the commitment to it once in power. Yeltsin, on the other hand, is impulsive, self destructive, and a power seeker who can change his hat to do what is politically opportune to place or maintain himself in power. Because he told Western capitalists what they wanted to hear, we mistakenly thought of him as a true reformer. His recent firing of Primakov is a disaster and will probably worsen the already desperate situation in Russia. I see two major possibilities at the present time: a continuation of a near anarchic situation or a strong man coming to the fore. But, as Andre Melville, the Russian political scientist, states in the last chapter in The Russian Transformation, the future is open. There is no way we can predict the particular path that Russia will take in the years ahead.
CP: As a U.S. Presidential scholar, which President do you feel is the most interesting to explore psychologically?
BG: Winston Churchill once said that if he were to choose one virtue, it would be courage — because it is the precondition for every other virtue. I suspect that all the Presidents we call great — FDR, Lincoln, Jefferson, Washington — had courage. To delineate the sources and development of the strengths these men displayed in their adult lives is of great interest to me. But, alas, my in-depth studies of recent U.S. Presidents — Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George Bush — have led me to highlight their vulnerabilities. Karen Horney once noted that we can hardly use psychological concepts without seeming to denigrate our subjects. I think there is much truth to her statement. But each of these men, from my perspective, had vulnerabilities that seriously weakened their Presidencies.
In a desire to be more positive, I have recently turned to foreign leaders who are noted for their creativity and their integrity. To me, Nelson Mandela breaks the mold. Somehow, during his 29 years in prison, he developed the political sagacity and the human qualities that were to enable him to lead a peaceful revolution. Gorbachev, too, is a marvel. I began my study of his political career with the deep puzzle of how a man could come through the Communist system and maintain the authenticity that we saw in his early efforts at perestroika, glasnost, and the new thinking in foreign policy.
In studying these two men, I also came to realize that their relationships to other political leaders were crucial to the outcomes of their efforts. Mandela was aided in the transition process in South Africa by the statesmanship of F. Willem de Klerk. Both men worked together to hold back the extremes in the political sectors they represented. Gorbachev was not so lucky. Moving slowly, he was able to keep the more orthodox Communists with whom he shared power from moving against him in the early phases of his reforms. But with a reckless Boris Yeltsin to his left, he lost his base in any reform movement and had to deal, almost alone, with the leaders of the old order as they became increasingly concerned over the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Communist system to which they had been dedicated.
CP: What do you think psychologically of President Clinton’s character?
BG: I hesitate to analyze Bill Clinton without having more information on his early life and socialization process. Clearly he is a person of uneven development, as I have argued in the 1998 fall issue of Presidential Studies Quarterly. A close look at his public record shows that he has some compassion for the underdog, that he waves and weaves no more than most politicians, that he can take risks (as in Haiti and Kosovo), and that internationalism is one of his important values. Clearly, he was flirting with danger in his affair with Monica Lewinsky and did not deal honestly with the issue when it first surfaced.
But I want to avoid generalizations that suggest the man is flawed in every major respect. It is particularly important, if psychohistory is to have any credibility, that we avoid the easy and negative generalizations made by psychologists such as Jerome Levin in his simply awful book, The Clinton Syndrome (1998). This author takes almost as a given the things that Clinton’s female accusers have said about him, without looking into their possible motives for distorting the truth. Maybe he should have read Gennifer Flower’s Passion and Betrayal (1995) and looked at some of the published materials on the possible motives of Kathleen Willey (as a reporter has done in a recent issue of the Nation). Levin also makes attributions about Clinton’s feelings for his mother and stepfather, without any sourcing.
CP: What is your assessment of the status of psychohistorical research and writing in political psychology journals?
BG: Psychoanalytically oriented psychology is not popular in mainline political science journals. Political Psychology is the main journal in which such “soft” approaches might be published. Occasionally, Presidential Studies Quarterly will also publish a piece using psychoanalytic psychology. Partly the problem is due to the prevailing notions of “science” in the political science field. The assumptions are that hypotheses must be simple and the proofs quantifiable. Psychoanalytic psychology is questioned in particular because it was developed, to a great extent, outside the university setting and is based on “special experience” which other people do not share. To restore the scientific footing for such psychology we should do more work testing our assumptions. How can we prove the existence of the unconscious in a scientific setting? Are the symbols most persons employ in their dreams universal? What do we do with the fact that different languages often assign different genders to the same objects?
CP: What do we as psychohistorians need to do to strengthen our work?
BG: Focus more on ego strength and defenses, less on early traumas that might have caused these developments. When the work is speculative, make it clear that one is only guessing. Say more about the kinds of proofs one employs.
CP: How do you see political psychology and psychohistory developing in the next decade?
BG: I hope we can be a bit less speculative in our psychological interpretations. The search for the origins of specific personality traits is bound to be much more “iffy” than the presentation of an adult personality structure which is manifest in the political activities of the individual being studied.
CP: How can psychologically oriented scholars have more impact in academia and on society in general?
BG: For the community as a whole, I only regret that progressive forces did not do some time ago what the Christian right has done. Maybe we can still produce radio shows and Internet news that is responsible. We should develop more liberal think tanks that employ psychological ideas and more summer institutes of the sort now ongoing at Ohio State University.
CP: How do you explain the growth and psychology of fundamentalism?
BG: The world is a difficult place to navigate and fundamentalism provides us with clear answers to some of life’s questions. The problem is that these clear answers also strait-jacket the person in their grip and impede the kind of growth that comes from being open to experience and trusting one’s own judgements.
But at a broader level, social controls may be exercised in many different ways. I would like to refer you to Donald McIntosh’s brilliant piece in the American Political Science Review several years ago in which he talked about the kinds of social controls. Social control, he argues, is the greatest when the members of a community all agree on basic values. Somewhat less so, but nevertheless significant, when they all agree on which authorities are legitimate; they then listen to those authorities. There is less control from the center, however, when the authorities have to rely on rewards or punishments. The least control is exercised, paradoxically, when one must use violence to bring about conformity within the community. For that means that power is limited to those matters over which the authorities are paying attention and spending resources — against the resistance of the objects of their attempts at control. With this conceptual framework, we can see that a variety of social controls may be exercised over all of us, not just those caught up in fundamentalist movements.
CP: What are your thoughts about probable reactions to the coming of the third millennium?
BG: I think the theme is very much overworked. What I am concerned about, however, are the products of this century. The hydrogen bomb, as Stanley Kubrick’s film Dr. Strangelove suggested, sent us into a crazy period where we thought it might even be rational to use it. Have any of you noticed in the very last scene in that film that the Russian ambassador pulled the pin on his watch? My supposition here is that Kubrick may have been telling us that there was no automatic doomsday machine, as the Russians were claiming. Rather, that the Russian ambassador, after hearing the Americans blithely talk about going underground for l00 years, may have decided the situation was hopeless and set off the explosion himself.
In another sphere of operation, the Internet today provides us with information that is often polarizing and factually inaccurate. Moreover, I am concerned about the kind of “education” that goes on in the privatizing of the early education movement. In the past, newspapers with editorial board control over the accuracy of comments and public schools have provided us with relatively accurate information upon which we can base our actions as well as certain common public-regarding values. The atomization that we now see in our polity concerns me to a great extent.
CP: What do you think of the current state of American national political leadership?
BG: We seem to have little inspired leadership at the national level today. There are few strong, moderate leaders in the Republican party, and the Democratic leadership has been careless in its fundraising activities. I suspect that this dearth of inspired leadership is probably due to the ways our campaigns are run today, and the voracious appetite of the media for scandal. Maybe only very driven people will go through the long primary season, the constant solicitation of funds, and the invasion of what they might have thought in the past were their private lives.
CP: How can we recruit new people to the psychosocial field?
BG: Do what you are doing. Make psychohistory journals available to young people. Create sub-groups specializing in political psychology in the major disciplines. Form young scholars committees to put on social events that help the new entrees to the profession to feel wanted and at home.
CP: I am saddened that many psychohistorians, along with many political psychologists, do not know about each other’s activities and organizations despite some overlapping membership. Even more sadly, they sometimes simply denigrate each other’s groups. Information about various organizations needs to be more widely disseminated. With this in mind, please tell us about your organizational experience with the ISPP.
BG: I was a founding member of the ISPP and have been active in that organization ever since. It was a great experience to meet people like Richard Christie, Gabrial Almond, M. Brewster Smith, and other great and older political psychologists. Since then, I have met persons with whom I can collaborate such as Eric Shiraev, as mentioned earlier. I am also working on a book chapter on political leadership with Helen Shestopol of Moscow State University, another person I met through the ISPP. I have a great time at our meetings, visiting historic sites and meeting locals in places such as Jerusalem and Krakow. As president of that organization, one of my initiatives included the Young Professionals Committee — an idea that has been picked up this last year by the International Studies Association. I quite admire the way the ISPP has been able to bring a large number of scholars from a variety of disciplines into its organization. It meets around the world on a regular basis and has had an effective leadership with competition for the top positions. All this bodes well for its future.
CP: Our Editor, founder of the Psychohistory Forum and a founding member and past president of the International Psychohistorical Association (IPA), is especially impressed with the organizational success of the ISPP. He briefly attended that first meeting of the ISPP which was held about a week after the first IPA convention. Looking back, what were some of the reasons for the ISPP’s success.
BG: I’ll never forget the letter I received in the early 1970s from Jeanne Knutson, a recent PhD in political science and psychology, who is the founder of the ISPP. We had no national societies dealing with political psychology, but here was this young woman asking me to join several hundred distinguished “Founders” in her proposed new International Society for Political Psychology. The first meeting we attended was piggybacked on an American Political Science Association (APSA) meeting in New York City. There were only a few of us in attendance, but several were names of people I had read with some awe but had never met. So there was this opportunity to get to know top people in the field, personally.
It also was clear that we were traveling first class from the very beginning. As a result, we looked professional and successful from day one. The ISPP meeting signs were professionally done and our meetings took place in a fine hotel. We talked over seven-dollars-per-glass drinks in the hotel bar and were happy to do so. The second meeting I attended was in Mannheim, West Germany. Jeanne put all of us on the executive committee in a luxury hotel but the tab was a little high for some of us, so we quickly shifted to less expensive accommodations. Jeanne’s energy and taste — even her grandiosity — were what got the ISPP enterprise off the ground. Later, in a meeting at Ann Arbor, we had to bear down and establish a budget we could live with for the long haul! Phil Converse presided expertly over that transition. So we had entrepreneurial leadership when we needed it and a more sober, management type of leadership when it came to consolidating what we had done. We were lucky.
CP: Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us. It has been good to have you as a colleague through the years and it is nice to have you join in the activities of the Psychohistory Forum and our publication.
A Conversation with Charles B. Strozier
Paul H. Elovitz, Ramapo College
PHE: How do you define our field of psychohistory?
CS: I define psychohistory as the exploration of history from the psychological point of view. It remains history but is systematically psychological in the kinds of questions it asks. However, those questions have to get answered within a historical frame, following the criteria of historical methodology and abiding by the rigor of historical methodology. It is an interdiscipline — the point on the bridge where the two approaches meet. By defining it this way, you distinguish it sharply from psychological questioning per se or from historical questioning per se. It combines the psychological quest for the universal with the historian’s appreciation for the unique and is intrinsically interesting.
PHE: What is your primary identification as a professional?
CS: What am I? Who am I? These are the eternal questions. My answers have changed as they change, as they evolve, for each person over a life cycle. I never thought of myself as anything but a historian. Even from four years of age I was interested in history and thought about things historically. In my earliest schooling I was interested in the stories of the past and biographies. We didn’t do a lot of visiting of historic sites when I was a kid, but we did a lot of talking about wars. I come from an academic family: my father was a college professor who would always talk about things in the past — the stories of Europe and France. I was born in the South and he was from the South, so there were stories of the Civil War. I’m a Georgia boy — born in Athens, Georgia. Then we moved to Chicago where my father was a professor. During my adolescence, I went to high school in Tallahassee, Florida, where he was president of Florida State University. He died when I was sixteen. Then I went away to school and was no longer in the South from that point. Nevertheless, although I’m basically northern, I have deep roots in southern history. Stroziers go back in Georgia for a couple hundred years — way back to plantation life. There is a Strozier plantation down there in Georgia. It’s an astonishing past. On the side, I’m writing an autobiography. My most complete chapter is the one on my father, so I’ve explored some of the father issues more systematically in terms of my own experience.
PHE: I wonder if concern for the father isn’t a commonality among many psychohis-torians. How did you come to psychohistory?
CS: I first got interested in psychohistory when I was a senior at Harvard in European History and took Erik Erikson’s course, “The Human Life Cycle.” I thought, “This is really intriguing stuff.” I read Young Man Luther and got very excited about it. Then I read Freud, to understand Erikson. In graduate school at the University of Chicago in the late 1960s, I began to approach psychohistory more systematically — reading more widely and doing a dissertation which combined the two fields. I had a generous grant to study Polish history and I did a psychoanalytic study of the 19th century Polish Revolution. I spent a year-and-a-half in Warsaw and Krakow. I had relatively more money than I have ever had in my life. This was during the Cold War: phones were tapped and there were men in dark suits talking into their wrist watches and following me whenever I went to the library. It was an extraordinary experience. The PhD was in history even though I had two first readers: one psychoanalyst and one historian — George Pollack and William McNeill. It was a reaching out from within the history profession to try to understand history from a psychological point of view.
In 1972 I was hired at Sangamon State in Springfield, Illinois, [now the University of Illinois at Springfield] as a psychohistorian, not a European or East European historian. It was the only job that was or has ever been formally named as such. Sangamon was a new school, setting up a new history department, and a student had read Gandhi’s Truth and said, “How can you possibly create a department of history without a psychohistorian?” — not realizing how utterly revolutionary his idea was. That helped consolidate my own thinking about my relation to the field of psychohistory: I was there in psychohistory, I developed a program in psychohistory, and then I started editing my own journal [The Psychohistory Review] within a year. It was a deeper exploration of what I thought it meant to be a psychohistorian, but not essentially different from where I had started.
When I first started teaching at Sangamon, I also started psychoanalytic training at the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis. First, I was analyzed. As a research candidate, I wasn’t doing clinical work. At that point in my life I was probably too poor, too crazy, and had too many children to do clinical work. It seemed that if I wanted to teach and keep my head above water and also write books, I couldn’t throw clinical work into the mix. I always thought that clinical work would appeal to me, but I thought it was dangerous because I thought I would like it too much. So I had to keep it away from my life — but that was also part of my identity as a historian. Though it was very good that I did my psychoanalytic study of Lincoln [Lincoln’s Quest for Union] (it was an extension of my identity as a psychohistorian), I was really moving onto that bridge, into that interdiscipline from the point of view of history.
PHE: How did your analysis affect your work as a psychohistorian?
CS: My analysis was central to my development as a psychohistorian, though I think I might broaden that a bit to say my ongoing encounter with the therapeutic is crucial to being a psychohistorian. I was not entirely pleased with it, partly because it was my didactic analysis and carried the burden of being part of my training. I also thought my analyst was a bit of a jerk, and I came to feel the couch is vastly over-rated. In my own practice I never use the couch. Why deliberately foster regression and fragmentation when the goal is healing and self-cohesion? Anyway, after analysis I have had several shorter and more fruitful experiences with therapy. I can’t imagine keeping alive to the psychological in history without those continuing encounters.
One further thought, which has been quite surprising for me, is the way I have been changed by actually being a psychoanalytic psychotherapist. I would not have thought it would make that much difference in my life. But my wife says, and I think I believe her, that I am softer, less driven, more generous, and a happier person since I began my practice five years ago. It may be good for your soul to try and heal others.
PHE: What led you, trained in Polish history, to the study of Lincoln?
CS: I think I was drawn into a study of Lincoln for reasons that were both sublime and ridiculous. When I arrived in Springfield in 1972, I was looking for a big project, especially one that would take me out of the East European rut I felt stuck in. I was in the world’s most boring town in a new university literally surrounded by corn fields. Lincoln seemed the only interesting thing available. And, yes, it mattered hugely that Lincoln was in the air in Springfield and that the Illinois State Historical Library there is the richest trove of Lincolniana in the world. Once I began to really read Lincoln, however, I discovered why he is so endlessly interesting, and I was hooked. What I then focused on about Lincoln drew intensely out of my own experience. My first insights were about young Lincoln’s struggles with identity when he was almost exactly my age then [about thirty]. Over the course of the next seven or eight years I moved more into his troubled marriage, which was the main theme in my life then as well. In a sense, my book became reflections on his “House Divided” speech. And I always tried to keep Mary [Todd Lincoln] in focus as I studied Lincoln. One reviewer, in a left-handed compliment, said it was the best thing ever written about Mary — and the only thing worthwhile in the book. Needless to say, I preferred the New York Times review, which called the book “surpassingly eloquent.”
PHE: Will you tell us about your coming East?
CS: I came to New York about ten years ago, in 1986. First, working with Robert [Jay Lifton], I began to change somewhat — I was in a totally different environment. Aside from working at the Center and all the work here [at John Jay College], I got associated with the Self Psychology Institute, TRISP (Training and Research Institute in Self Psychology). They were just setting it up and I helped them. As I started teaching at the Institute, I was getting closer and closer to clinical psychology, even though I still wasn’t seeing patients. At one point in the late eighties I thought, “Maybe I should do this,” but as I looked into it I found there were some incredible hurdles and road blocks and such nonsense — so I just put it away. But then about five years ago I got grandfathered in as a psychoanalyst and I suddenly could do clinical work. It was a wonderful opportunity! Doing clinical work has actually changed my whole thinking about myself.
Who am I? Now, I genuinely think of myself as much as a psychoanalyst as I do as a historian. I’m writing a biography now on Heinz Kohut and I’m seeing patients. It’s a real change of identity. But, of course, it’s not a change at all. It’s moving a little further over the bridge: taking a few steps over the other way, without losing anything that I was before. I find that my fears were groundless; rather than being a distraction and taking me away from my creative impulses and my writing, psychoanalysis and seeing patients has deepened them and I think it has made for more interesting psychohistorical work. Although I’ve been reading and teaching psychoanalysis for all these years, by not seeing patients there had been something missing in my understanding of the field. So, that’s where I am in my early fifties. I’m fifty-two and I see this mix of teaching and seeing patients as absolutely wonderful — it gives me a much deeper appreciation for our enterprise.
PHE: How do you respond to the fears of Bruce Mazlish, our December interviewee, that historians will go over the line and cease being historians if they’re seeing patients?
CS: I think it’s a real issue. If you’re not committed to your scholarly work, then you’ll probably be drawn away from it. If you have a kid in college you may try to pay the tuition bill by seeing an extra five or ten patients. If you’ve already got too many hours, then it’s going to be a real distraction. But, if you are committed to scholarship and you feel it has integrity in terms of the course of your life, psychoanalysis will deepen your commitment rather than soften it. I don’t think the mere fact of having psychoanalytic training is per se going to draw you away. I think there are also some very practical considerations. For example, Jack Fitzpatrick who worked on The Psychohistory Review couldn’t get a job teaching history, so he started seeing patients and became a psychoanalyst. That was his only option.
In my own experience, I wanted to wait [to do clinical work]. I didn’t want to start too early. I knew that I was a historian. That’s what I’ve always been, but it could have been eroded. If you’re in your twenties or early thirties and you’re training and getting into clinical work, then that can become a crucial part of your identity in ways that can compromise your commitment to historical research. So, I share some of Mazlish’s concerns. Clinical work is wonderful work and very seductive — but not more seductive than teaching.
Historians, because most of them are not dealing with psychological questions and haven’t been in treatment, don’t think psychologically about people and emotions. They can be very smart and write about the history of emotions, or people’s motivations in doing things, or motivations in great events like wars and social movements, but they don’t think about their connection to those events. They write historical narration and they’re separated from those events. We psychohistorians, however, are so damn systematic about those issues of motivation and where we stand as authors in relationship to our subjects and our own feelings about our subjects. This really bothers historians and they think it borders on bullshit. Psychologists and psycho-analysts, however, say, “Of course if you’re going to read about the Civil War you are going to want to know in advance why Lincoln would act the way he did. Why would anybody be so stupid as to not want to ask that question?”
I have found that whenever I speak to shrinks or medical schools, I begin with their being receptive to what I am up to [as a psychohistorian]. They don’t question the project, although they may not like what I say. (Whereas, when you talk to historians, you have to justify your existence.) You have to speak with caution. You have to know how not to push the wrong buttons. Then you bring them in and make them think that they like it [the psychohistorical material] more than they actually do. This is, and has always been, a dilemma for those of us who move in both areas.
PHE: But the world out there is very open. The average people on the street might not know exactly what psychohistory is, but they know it makes sense. And they want to talk about themselves which psychohistory gives them more opportunity to do. So, I think we’ve won the battle for the basic approaches inherent in psychohistory, but we’ve lost the war for academia.
CS: I don’t think we lost the war; we never got a chance to fight it! In the sixties, the field had the prospect of being structurally grounded But it started just as the bottom dropped out of academic hiring between 1971 and 1972. That’s exactly when The Journal [of Psychohistory] started (1971) and when I started The Psychohistory Review (1972), and when everyone was getting their first jobs — or they had them for a few years before then. The established people like Erikson and Lifton were doing nothing to institutionalize psychohistory — in terms of creating an institutional framework where you bring students in, train them, they get PhDs, and then they have jobs. Then, fifteen or twenty years later you have the next generation of people moving into the field. This is what happened in economic history, women’s history, and American colonial history. Keep in mind, those men were not in history — Erikson was in Social Relations at Harvard and Robert was in Psychiatry at Yale. But, they were not trying to become major professors and create psychohistorical centers. Nobody was! We were trying to do it at the junior level which was impossible to do because of the hiring crisis.
PHE: Another problem was that a lot of what passed for psychohistory was throwing labels around very nervously and defensively like second-year medical students who are so nervous that they have all those diseases and then, in turn, see those diseases in their friends and family.
CS: That’s partly generational. Erikson wasn’t doing that in the fifties and sixties. The people who were doing that were younger people doing their first works. So, the lesson had to be learned all over again. The early Freudians did it, as reflected in the minutes of the meetings every Wednesday at Freud’s house. Now, however, most of the seventies’ younger people have grown up and gone beyond that.
My friend Larry Friedman feels that, as a field, psychohistory is dead. But I think he exaggerates the difficulty that graduate students face in getting jobs. I think the field is not dead at all; I think it’s very intellectually alive. However, it’s not structurally grounded in the life of academia, and it probably won’t be — and that’s a problem. Institutionally, it is always going to work at the margins. At the same time, biography, in the last thirty years, has been changed — transformed!
PHE: You’re working on a biography of Kohut now?
CS: Yes, my main project right now is my biography of Heinz Kohut. I began it in 1983 and worked on it for three years but then I had to abandon it because I couldn’t get access to [vital manuscript] papers. But now I’ve come back to Kohut in a big way. He’s such an interesting and wonderful figure who created a new set of original ideas — he’s so complex and contradictory. And self psychology is so important to the history of psychoanalysis. It’s very exciting for me to be back again writing another psychobiography, which is really what I love to do.
If you really understand Kohut’s life history, you can see how his ideas are the natural extension of his self and his issues into the theoretical realm. He didn’t just project his own issues and universalize his conflicts and confusions and create a theory out of them. He was able to speak from within his own confusions and contradictions and wrestle with them in a way that forced him to reinterpret and remake psychoanalytic theory. One can see Kohut in all of his theories: narcissism, idealization, mirroring the psychological meaning of drivenness, and, perhaps most importantly, his reinterpretation of sexuality — that is, sexuality as opposed to sexual drive, the instinct. All of this reconceptualization can only make sense in terms of understanding what his own life history is all about.
PHE: I’m curious about applied psychohistory — what you do here.
CS: Once I came to the Center on Violence and Human Survival, I went through a ten-year project working on the “Ultimate Threat,” under the influence of Robert [Jay Lifton]. My coming to New York happened to coincide with finishing my Lincoln work, and I wasn’t quite sure where I was going and what my next project would be. By coming here, I came to understand the significance of ultimate threats. I found that enormously exciting. I realized in retrospect that I didn’t “get it” before. Psychologically, I didn’t understand what the ultimate threat really means.
We got a $400,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation in the late eighties to do a big study on what Americans think about nuclear war. I handled that and did tons of interviewing. We interviewed [Christian] fundamentalists, black poor, civic leaders, and peace activists. The interview method was Robert’s method that he had been working on ever since the thought reform book [Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism] in the late 1950s. It is psychological interviewing — it isn’t therapy when you’re doing a research interview, but it’s psychological.
I think it is of just such enormous significance to understand ultimate threats that we live with because we live in a time of extremes. Even when you have superficial calm, such as with Generation X and self-absorbed people doing their own thing, it’s a false confidence, a false withdrawal into self. What is below the surface is agitation, turmoil, and deep anxiety because nobody can really trust a human future. The Christian fundamentalists, while they wait for Jesus to come back, become the extreme edge of that agitation. It affects everybody else in the culture; the way it connects with very widespread and diverse, protean forms of anxiety about the future and about social dislocation, mass death, AIDS, disease, suffering, and all the kinds of uncertainties that are very much a part of our cultural and social existence now. It gets connected to the year 2000 in very peculiar kinds of ways so that there’s an “age of millennialism.” The year 2000 focuses those concerns. You can’t go to a movie or read a book without seeing something that has an apocalyptic theme. It is everywhere! In fact, Christian millennialism has stirred Jewish millennialism — if that’s not an irony!
It changes everything if you can’t be certain of your own future. In the wake of the end of the Cold War, there was this response for a few years where people said, “Well, we don’t need to worry about the nuclear threat anymore.” It wasn’t just that [nuclear] proliferation had made the threat even worse if you thought about it for five minutes, but it was a response — albeit an irrational response — that revealed how panic-stricken people had been about the threat itself, that there could be this kind of totalistic retreat from the threat into the fantasy that now it was over. When we were doing this study between 1988 and 1991, we documented in our interviews the expansion of the fears from nuclear [war] to environmental [catastrophes], for example, ozone holes. That’s a change in consciousness of great proportions, although it’s not a conceptual change. It’s like T.S. Elliot’s poem: You go with a bang or a whimper. Ultimately, you go. What the fear is and what the knowledge of the possibility of going is, is that it could end. Not that it will end, but it could end.
If you have such a profound shift in the last half of the century in consciousness, your sense of self changes, religion changes, culture changes, art changes, aesthetics change, values change, and all institutions change. It effects banking systems and computers. Computer makers forgot to program the turn of the millennium. Psychologically, when people forget something rather significant like that, there’s more going on than just accidental forgetfulness. It could cost anywhere between 300 and 600 billion dollars worldwide to correct — and that’s a conservative estimate! It is just so fundamental to who we are.
Historically we’ve always had millennial fears; they’ve been around since the beginning of culture. However, they’ve been assigned to deeply religious people (mystics) and artists who can extend their own individual death to encompass universal human endings, and to psychotics. Those three groups were assigned the task of thinking about collective death — until the nuclear age. Now, what the nuclear age introduces is that you can no longer leave the task of imagining ultimate issues to the margins and to these three assigned groups. Now you have to numb yourself to not think about them. Before, you could live a life having never questioned that there would be your children’s children and that there would be, as Robert says, some kind of immortality of the self. [This allowed you] to lead a rich, vital life. Now, you cannot lead a rich, vital life and not, at some point — if not continuously — imagine human endings. That is such a profound transformation. We’re just beginning to understand it.
We’re still going nowhere with the American nuclear age. You see the incredible confusions that Paul S. Boyer [see When Time Shall Be No More (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992)] has documented and all this madness. Think about Herman Kahn [Thinking About the Unthinkable] in the sixties talking about having limited nuclear war where only 100 million people will die and therefore it’s imaginable and therefore we can have it. That kind of utter craziness and evil — I mean, it’s ethically evil to think in those terms. We’re just beginning to be able to think in terms that make some sense about all that.
[As I said,] one of the groups that I interviewed was the Christian fundamentalists. I started hanging out in the churches. It was so interesting I stayed with it and did a separate book based on that research [Apocalypse: On the Psychology of Fundamentalism in America]. Although I finished that book in 1994, I then got sucked into doing a book on the year 2000 with Mike Flynn [The Year 2000: Essays on the End] — it’s a collection of essays, three of which are mine. Mike and I just turned it in [to the publisher] the day before yesterday. So, that’s the end of millennialism, ultimate issues, fundamentalism, Christianity — well, it’s not totally the end because I’m sure I’ll write some more, but right now I’m really focused on my Kohut biography.
PHE: How do you feel about there being two major journals in the field?
CS: We need two journals in the field. Each serves a purpose. The Journal of Psychohistory is much more psychologically oriented. It’s approaching that bridge from the point of view of psychology and psychoanalysis, rather than from the point of view of history. It is also an important alternative to the perspective of The Psychohistory Review, which is to look at psychohistory from [a particular] point of view: that the answers that one has to those psychological questions have to be historical and have to follow historical methodology and have the rigor of history. The essential difference is the difference between an approach to psychohistory from within psychology and psychoanalysis as opposed to one coming from history.
PHE: Yes, I think that is a very real distinction.
CS: That is why when you go to meetings of the IPA [International Psychohistorical Association] there are a lot of people who are psychoanalysts. Whereas [at an] upcoming meeting of GUPH [the Group for the Use of Psychology in History] there will be all historians in attendance. There will be people like me who are historians and analysts — or [Robert Jay] Lifton who is going to give a talk — but there won’t be any [who are only] psychoanalysts.
PHE: Which is unfortunate because a few more [besides you and Lifton] would probably be good. You disagree with Lloyd deMause’s belief in laws in history, but what about patterns?
CS: I do not accept the idea that there are laws of history at all, but certainly there are patterns. It is one of the prime tasks of historians to uncover and describe those patterns. But it is foolish to attempt anything more than that.
PHE: One thing that strikes me is how, despite different approaches and disagreements, you, Lloyd deMause, Robert Jay Lifton, Peter Loewenberg, Larry Shiner, and various presidents of the IPA have all done the right thing as far as cooperating with each other at crucial junctures and not burning bridges.
PSYCHOHISTORIAN DAVID BEISEL
CP: Professor Beisel, your book will be published next year?
DB: Yes. The title is The Suicidal Embrace: Hitler, the Allies, and the Origins of World War II. I’ve immersed myself in the documents – the diplomatic documents, the media coverage of the time, diaries, letters, quotes of the major participants – and looked for fantasy language, for patterns in the fantasy language. What I’ve discovered is an under-lying pattern of unconscious fantasy that is being acted out in the pathological family system – the family of nations notion, but for real. They’re encouraging Hitler, as the out-of-control raging child, and vicariously experiencing their own aggression through him. That’s one of the reasons that they don’t restrain through military action, or build the grand coalition that Churchill calls for.
CP: How do you recall your term as editor of the Journal of Psychohistory from 1978-1987?
DB: It was one of the most difficult and rewarding parts of my life. It was a very tough job to do because you can’t help but, in the name of helping people’s scholarship and the field, ruffle feathers. I’m sorry to say that I lost friendships. I learned that you cannot push people too far to gain insight – it’s counterproductive. Some people will stay at the level of cognitive psychology and not want to go into deeper, unconscious analyses, more regressive kinds of things. Some good papers never found their way into print because they were withdrawn. People got turned off from psychohistory because of that. That was something I learned that was a negative. But, overall, I’m proud of what I accomplished as editor.
CP: Any forthcoming articles in the Journal?
DB: I’m working on a lead article for the Summer 1994 issue right now: “In Search of Enemies, 1990-1994”. It’s theme is “peace has broken out all over and we’re going crazy”. The world – each national group – is looking for a place to put its aggression – desperately trying to find an enemy. And we express that in many ways, including rhetoric. Trying to establish a Fourth Reich somewhere – in the Soviet Union or in contemporary united Germany. Trying to return to a World War II fantasy like the Axis (Germany-Japan) enemy or Bosnia being genocide and war crimes.
CP: In the Journal, Summer 1978, you wrote the landmark article “From History to Psychohistory: A Personal Journey.” Where has your path brought you in the sixteen years since?
DB: I’d write a different article today. It was, I think, something that every psychohistorian has to do, convincing him or herself that the enterprise is worthwhile, and do-able. For the last ten years I have felt much more comfortable, much less defensive, about what we do. I think we should just try to do our work and not be pugnacious, argumentative or defensive in our writings. Simply put forward our findings on the basis of the best logic and the best psychology.
CP: You also discussed the “academic group-fantasy.” What do you think of academia today.
DB: Well, I think that part of the way we’re trying to find enemies is to divide up into those who oppose “political correctness” and those who favor multiculturalism. I would refer to David Rieff’s article [‘Multiculturalism’s Silent Partner”] in the August, 1993, Harper’s, that’s where we are at the moment.
CP: You also mentioned “the split” in psychohistory between the Group for the Use of Psychohistory (GUPH) and its publication, The Psychohistory Review, and the IPA and the Journal. How do you see “the split” today?
DB: I don’t think there is a split. That was a desperate time of identity – we were trying to credential ourselves, and validate ourselves. I’m friendly with the leaders of the “other group”. I respect the work of Robert Jay Lifton, Peter Gay, Charles Strozier and Larry Friedman. I think we’re all just engaged in the work of trying to push psychological under-standing forward.
CP: How do you assess the field of teaching psychohistory today?
DB: It’s hard to make a general assessment because people at various universities give courses in psychohistory and they don’t always call them that. The courses that are transfer-red from here at Rockland College to where students have gone – Yale, Harvard, wherever – there’s never been a problem with transferring credit. I think psychohistory is fairly well-established.
CP: We hear that Psychohistory I is a very popular course.
DB: I have about 100 students in Psychohistory I every semester. The first part is introductory, looking at some of the ways the mind works, mainly in defense of the ego, and seeing defenses at work in history – examples of denial, regression and repression from individuals and groups. For example, Germany in 1918: the rationalization that they didn’t lose the war, they were stabbed in the back. The second part is in-depth history of childhood, from ancient times to the present. The third part is psychobiography examples. There’s a little bit on Young Man Luther, as a breakthrough work by Erikson in the Fifties. But mainly psychobiographies of Nixon, Carter, Reagan and now Clinton. The fourth part is group psychohistory. We look at small group, [W.R.] Bion, group think, and then large groups in fantasy theory. The fifth and last part tries to tie the second, third and fourth parts together through a two-to-three week look at Hitler’s psychobiography, the history of childhood in Germany, and German fantasies to explain Nazism, World War II and the Holocaust.
CP: How do you see psychohistory developing over the next ten years?
DB: I’d like to see a lot of history of childhood work. We had hoped in the early days that there’d be much more. But it’s proven to be extremely difficult for people to do – with their resistances, with so little reward in academic advancement for it.
The second thing I’d like to see is us publish in more mainstream places, such as the New York Review of Books Howard Stein, for example, had a piece on the op-ed page in the New York Times several years ago. I think a reason for Howard’s success, besides his being brilliant and a genius, is that he didn’t use the word “psychohistory”. If we simply stay away from “psychology” and “psychohistory” and simply provide our analyses, I think we’ll have a much better chance to publish in mainstream places.
And I’d like to see us do some documentary films to reach larger audiences. Public Television recently did a special on the U.S.’s reaction, or lack of reaction, to the Holocaust based on David S. Wyman’s book, The Abandonment of the Jews which was published in the mid-Eighties . People won’t read the book, unless they’re professional scholars who are interested in the Holocaust, but they will be watching PBS.
CP: Finally, what advice would you give to a newcomer to psychohistory today?
DB: My advice would be to read every back issue of the Journal and immerse oneself in the sources and let the documents tell us what they have to say. If it contradicts what Freud said in 1899, so be it. We’re really all historians trying to enlarge human under-standing rather than dogmatic psychologists trying to advance a pseudoscience.
Henry W. Lawton: Independent Scholar and Psychohistorian of Repressed Violence
For 25 years he has been active as an independent scholar in psychohistory. Lawton has served psychohistory in various administrative capacities, including Secretary since 1984 and President since 2000 of the International Psychohistorical Association (IPA), and Founder and Director, Group for the Psychohistorical Study of Film since 1989. He is author of The Psychohistorian’s Handbook (1988); “Milhous Rising,” Journal of Psychohistory, 6#4 (Spring 1979), pp. 519-542; and “The Myth of Altruism: A Psychohistory of Public Agency Social Work,” Journal of Psychohistory, 9#3 (Winter 1982), pp. 265-308; and editor of the Special Film Issue, Journal of Psychohistory, 20#1 (Summer 1992).
[On his special interest in film that lead to his creating the Group for the Psychohistorical Study of Film and having that special glow on his face when he discusses horror films:] Horror [films have] long had a special place in my heart. Wondering why this was so had a lot to do with my starting to think about film psychohistorically. Horror is certainly not light entertainment, so why did I have such a fascination with what it seemed to communicate? Certainly it can be a great way to vicariously express rage and anger, of which I have both: for much of my youth my mother was essentially a functional alcoholic, and my father also had issues with drinking as well as with being a compulsive philanderer.
I always liked the intensity of horror and its in-your-face quality. I realized very early on that much horror is also implicitly sexual. In early horror films, for example, the original Dracula (1931), it was there but largely implied; in modern horror films, for example, Halloween (1978), it is much more explicit. I tend to prefer explicitness but find pornography to ultimately be boring.
The underlying content of many horror films tends to be quite sick emotionally. Horror films often deal with violent feelings and magnify sexual feelings, out of all proportion. Yet they offer a theater for many to vicariously work through powerful feelings that might be otherwise forbidden to express in normal society. In watching these films there has certainly been an element of guilty pleasure for me in the sense that one should not have too much interest in such issues. They were also reassuring, in that most of them reflected the same basic formula: the monster threatens normality, the monster is overcome/killed, the status quo is restored, and the world is again a safe place. I liked the sameness, because then, maybe, despite appearances to the contrary, the world was not quite so out of control and dysfunction could be dealt with after all. This all changed with John Carpenter’s Halloween. It was the first film where the monster was not conclusively killed off at the end. As such, it was very unsettling. Yes, there were sequels to Frankenstein (1931) and Dracula, but it was not the same because in each film there was always the impression the monsters were killed off. When Halloween broke the mold, it was more unsettling that the world was out of control and dysfunction could not be dealt with.
Since I have been in analysis for a number of years, I find that I do not like horror as much as I used to. Maybe I am getting better emotionally. I still enjoy films as something to submerge myself into for a while, and I am increasingly fascinated with trying to understand what they actually attempt to communicate to the audience.
Presidential Historian and Research Psychologist: Herbert Barry, III
Paul H. Elovitz and Bob Lentz , Clio’s Psyche
Herbert Barry, III, was born in New York City in 1930 and grew up in Cambridge and then Brookline, Mass. After receiving a BA in social relations from Harvard College, he was awarded MS (1953) and PhD (1957) degrees in psychology by Yale University. He continued in psychology at Yale as a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow 1957-1959 and research faculty member 1959-1961. He was an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Connecticut at Storrs in 1961-1963 and a Research Associate Professor in the Department of Pharmacology, University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy 1963-1970. In 1970 he was promoted to full professor.
Clio’s Psyche (CP): Let’s begin with some questions on Presidential candidates and Presidents. What are your impressions of Al Gore and George W. Bush?
Herbert Barry, III (HB): Al Gore has many attributes in common with Jimmy Carter. Gore will be an energetic, effective campaigner for President. If elected, he will probably continue the centrist Democratic policies of the Clinton administration. George W. Bush is similar to Reagan. George W. will inspire affection and trust from many voters as the Republican nominee. If elected, he will probably reproduce Reagan’s policies of tax cuts, federal government deficits, and cautious assertiveness in foreign policy.
CP: Of their running mates?
HB: The Vice Presidential nominee needs to differ conspicuously from the Presidential nominee in a way that will attract additional votes. The “observant” rather than “Orthodox” Jewish faith of Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Joseph I. Lieberman will attract populists, members of minority groups, and politically correct liberals. The main benefit might be to take votes away from Ralph Nader, Presidential nominee of the Green party. Because of Lieberman’s centrist ideology, Gore’s campaign will probably concentrate on the core Democratic constituency of liberals, labor union members, and poor people.
Dick Cheney, Republican Vice Presidential candidate, will help to maintain the allegiance of conservatives because of his ideology and links with former Presidents Ford, Reagan, and Bush. George W. Bush will probably continue to emphasize that he is a “compassionate” conservative who desires to “leave no child behind.”
CP: Writing a year ago in Clio’s Psyche you predicted that Gore will be elected. Do you stand by that forecast?
HB: I continue to predict a victory by Gore. George W. Bush has great social skills and will be a strong opponent. Gore has strong competitive drive and a habit of winning. I believe the polls underestimate Gore’s support and will overestimate the support for the Green party nominee, Nader, who would draw most of his votes from Gore.
CP: Earlier in Bill Clinton’s Presidency you wrote very positively of his promise, of his style of consensus, conciliation, and compromise. How do you evaluate him and his Presidency now?
HB: I expect that in the future Clinton will increasingly be evaluated on the basis of his performance as President. He has broadened the support of the Democratic Party and helped to strengthen the United States as a global economic leader and peacemaker. His personal sexual misconduct was greatly exceeded by some predecessors, notably Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. The principal difference is that the sexual misconduct of the prior Presidents was not publicized.
CP: Again, writing a year ago in Clio’s Psyche, you speculated on an impending drastic change in American national life, based on an observed approximate 72-year cycle connecting the government’s inception, the Civil War, Roosevelt’s New Deal, and the year 2005. What should we look for in our future Presidents?
HB: Major changes are impending in the United States political scene, in the world, and in the environment. Examples include political realignments in the United States, global warming, the threatened use of nuclear bombs, and the spread of AIDS and other infectious diseases. Another problem is a severe, chronic, and worldwide defect in taxation policy. Governments obtain most revenue from taxing products of human enterprise and labor. These taxes detract from productive activity. Governments should obtain more revenue from user fees and taxation on unimproved land. In 1861-1865, Lincoln successfully combated the threat to the Union. In 1933-1945, Franklin D. Roosevelt led national responses to an economic crisis and foreign military invasion. The next President is likely to face major new crises. I believe that Gore is more likely than George W. Bush to provide the needed leadership. It is possible that the necessary economic and political changes can only be advocated and accomplished by a subsequent President.
CP: Why and when did you first get interested in the psychobiography of Presidents?
HB: In 1976 I bought a paperback book, Facts About the Presidents (1976) by Joseph Nathan Kane. I felt thrilled because the facts on each President included the name and dates of birth and death of each of his siblings. I was preparing a brief article, “Birth Positions of Alcoholics,” for a special issue of an Adlerian journal, Journal of Individual Psychology. I was able to tabulate rapidly the birth orders of the Presidents and also submitted a report on that study. The paper was rejected because the editor had previously received and accepted a paper on the same topic.
I then found evidence that Presidents who were the father’s namesake and the first son were more likely to be politically allied with than opposed to the preceding President. Among eight Presidents who had the same first name as their father and were the first son, all except Carter were members of the same political party as the preceding President. In contrast, eight out of nine Presidents who were later sons with a brother named after the father replaced a President of the opposing party. The exception was William Howard Taft. I presented a paper, “Birth Order and Paternal Namesake As Predictors of Affiliation With Predecessor By Presidents of The United States,” at the initial meeting of the International Society of Political Psychology in 1978. The finding was published in an article in the second issue of the ISPP’s journal, Political Psychology, 1979, vol. 1, pp. 61-67.
CP: What is the impact of psychohistory on Presidential studies?
HB: I have repeatedly noticed that most of the Presidents have highly complex characters. The Presidents therefore are suitable subjects for psychobiographies, which study origins of seemingly contradictory traits. There are excellent psychobiographies of some Presidents, notably Jefferson, Wilson, and Nixon. For example, Fawn M. Brodie, Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History (1974). The author documented and argued persuasively that Jefferson was the father of the children of his slave, Sally Hemmings. Most historians have respected Alexander L. and Juliette L. George, Woodrow Wilson and Colonel House: A Personality Study (1956). There are several good psychobiographies of Nixon. I recommend especially David Abrahamsen, Nixon vs. Nixon: An Emotional Tragedy (1976). Insightful comments on the relationship of Reagan with his older brother are in a book by historian Garry Wills, Reagan’s America: Innocents at Home (1987). I believe that psychobiographies have induced recent conventional biographers to pay more attention to the complex, contradictory characteristics of the Presidents.
CP: Which Presidents do you find most interesting?
HB: Lincoln, Jefferson, and FDR. Abraham Lincoln succeeded in preserving the Union under circumstances that would have defeated almost anyone else. His intellect and social skills are generally underestimated. Jefferson is interesting because of his contradictory role as an eloquent spokesman for individual freedom, while still being a slave owner. Franklin D. Roosevelt combined lofty idealism with political deceptiveness. Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox was an accurate metaphor as the title of a book by James MacGregor Burns (1956).
CP: Historians frequently rate or rank the Presidents. Often the bases are issues of leadership during a crisis period, war or peace, economic expansion or contraction, territorial expansion, etc. How do you rate and rank a top five and a bottom three Presidents psychologically?
HB: In a newspaper column (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 13, 1987, p. 19) I listed my opinion of the 10 psychologically most mature Presidents. Following is my present opinion of the top five, starting with the psychologically most mature.
- William McKinley. He was stable, rational, kind, and a more active and intelligent President than is recognized.
- Gerald Ford. He was highly genial and conscientious. He effectively helped to heal the nation after Nixon.
- James Monroe. He combined extraordinary achievements with a very sociable, conciliatory personality.
- Martin Van Buren. He was serene and generally contented in spite of a highly political career.
- Harry Truman. He was devoted to his family and a diligent, wise leader in spite of great difficulties and his own limitations.
- Following are the bottom three, starting with the psychologically least mature.
- Theodore Roosevelt. He displayed the temperament and often the actions of an egotistical, impulsive young boy in spite of his brilliant intellect.
- Lyndon B. Johnson. He was a domineering, conniving bully in spite of his great political accomplishments.
- Richard Nixon. He suffered from intense, disabling anger and feelings of insecurity in spite of his extraordinary self-control and achievements.
CP: Are there any childhoods of Presidents that you find illustrative/exemplary of the importance of childhood to psychohistory/psychobiogra-phy?
HB: Presidential leadership may have been developed as a result of unusual relationships with the father. When Franklin D. Roosevelt was born, his father was 53 years old. The father was an amiable companion rather than authoritarian figure. The son developed responsible, protective behavior as a teenager due to his father’s failing health. Washington and Jefferson were both less than 15 years old when their fathers died. Each of these Presidents were the oldest son of their widowed mother. Their responses to this status contributed to their subsequent leadership skills. Three Presidents were born after the death of their father: Jackson, Hayes, and Clinton. I believe they have in common an often successful effort to emulate an idealized father combined with difficulty of self control because they lacked a satisfactory paternal figure.
CP: Are there any birth orders of Presidents that you find illustrative/exemplary of the importance of birth order to psychohistory/psychobiography?
HB: Twelve Presidents were in the first half of large families of six or more children. They are Washington, the first of six; Jefferson, third of 10; Madison, first of 12; Polk, first of 10; Taylor, third of nine; Fillmore, second of nine; Buchanan, second of 11; Grant, first of six; Benjamin Harrison, second of 10; Harding, first of eight; Eisenhower, third of seven boys; and Kennedy, second of nine children. Only five Presidents from families of six or more children were not in the first half. They are William H. Harrison, last of seven; Pierce, sixth of seven; Arthur, fifth of nine; Cleveland, fifth of nine; and McKinley, seventh of nine.
CP: What psychodynamics are there to Presidential candidates’ selections of running mates?
HB: Most Vice Presidents have been chosen to broaden public support by representing a faction of the party that differs from the Presidential nominee. The election of Kennedy was probably made possible by the Southern electoral votes won because of Vice Presidential nominee Lyndon B. Johnson. This policy sometimes produced problems. William Henry Harrison, a Northern Whig, died and was replaced by Tyler, a Southern Democrat. Taylor, a Southern Whig slave owner, died and was replaced by Fillmore, a Northern Whig opponent of slavery. Lincoln, a Northern Republican, was replaced by Andrew Johnson, a Southern Democrat. A contrast to this policy was Clinton’s choice of Gore. Both were young centrist Democrats from adjacent Southern states.
CP: What is your assessment of third parties?
HB: Third parties have succeeded by replacing one of the prior two major parties, rather than by differing from both major parties. The Whig Party replaced the Federalist Party in 1832. The Republican Party replaced the Whig Party in 1856. The Democratic Party has survived because it adopted some proposals of its minor party rivals, such as the Greenback and Socialist parties. The Progressive “Bull Moose” Party in 1912 and the Reform Party in 1992 and 1996 were mainly the agents for an individual who sought to compete against both major parties instead of replace one of them. In the future, the Green or Libertarian or Reform party might replace the Democratic Party. An America First or Constitutional or Christian party might replace the Republican Party.
CP: Are there any psychological studies of the Presidency?
HB: Good information on each President prior to Clinton is by William A. DeGregorio, The Complete Book of U. S. Presidents (1991). It is primarily a reference book but contains good, brief information on personality and early experiences. I do not know of psychohistorical studies of the Presidency as a unique role or status. I speculate that the extraordinarily high degree of achieved status has a psychologically beneficial effect on most Presidents. Some Presidents have been characterized as growing into the job, such as Polk and Truman. Sometimes the status inspires them to outstanding performance after their Presidencies, such as John Quincy Adams and Carter.
Clio’s Psyche (CP): Please tell us about your family background.
Herbert Barry, III (HB): During my early childhood, my father was an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Tufts College. He then enrolled in Tufts Medical School and received the M.D. degree when I was 11 years old. He became a psychiatrist, affiliated with the Massachusetts General Hospital, and was an active psychotherapist until he retired in 1985 at age 86. Group therapy became his specialty. He was founder and first president of the New England Society for Group Psychotherapy. My mother never had a paid job, although she had some training as an artist and a thoroughly artistic temperament. Income from a trust fund, established by her grandfather, exceeded my father’s salary at Tufts College and made his medical education possible.
One of my memorable educational experiences as an undergraduate was learning that according to the classification of W. Lloyd Warner, my parents were lower level upper class. In childhood, a repeated experience was hearing my mother sometimes declare approvingly that the United States is a classless society, and at other times scornfully deride an action or custom as “so middle class.”
My ethnic background is English, Irish, Dutch, and French. At some point in the future I might investigate and I hope to verify a family legend that I may also have American Indian ancestry. My religious affiliation was originally Episcopalian. In 2000 I joined the Unitarian Universalist church.
I was the first child, born nine months and two days after the wedding of my parents. My siblings include two sisters and a brother. For several days each year I am the same age in years as my “Irish twin” sister, born May 27, 1931. My other sister was born when I was three-and-a-half years old. My brother, born when I was 13 years old, is severely autistic. He has never talked, and since the age of 10 years has lived with a foster family.
My father died in 1986 at the age of 87 years. He was an important influence beginning early in my childhood. I had many discussions with him on a wide variety of topics. My mother died early this year at the age of 94 years. A significant experience for my sisters and me was when I was 21 and a senior at college. My father told my mother on Christmas Eve that he was in love with another woman and wanted a divorce. Seven years later, my mother finally agreed to an uncontested divorce. My father immediately married his secretary, with whom he lived happily for the rest of his life. My mother did not remarry but had an active social life. Her many trips to various foreign lands provided most of the subject matter for her paintings.
CP: What is your psychoanalytic/psycho-therapeutic experience and its influence on you?
HB: I had Freudian psychoanalysis for four years, beginning shortly after I started graduate school. It was a therapeutic rather than didactic psychoanalysis. My psychotherapy was not precipitated by a crisis, and I cannot identify specific benefits, but I believe that it greatly increased my self-knowledge. I became consciously aware of the vast complexity of human thoughts and emotions. My father paid 80% of the fees but was very ambivalent about my psychoanalysis. He told me that he had declined the opportunity for Freudian psychoanalysis because he did not want to find out that much about himself.
CP: How do you define psychohistory?
HB: Psychohistory is when the behavior of individuals is analyzed with the aid of information about their early life and social environment. The unit of analysis may be a nation or other aggregation of people, as in studies of group fantasy. Inferences are made about persistent effects of early experiences on reactions to social situations.
CP: What is the importance of childhood to psychohistory?
HB: Childhood experiences are sources of irrational group and individual behavior. Inferences from childhood experiences distinguish a psychobiography from a conventional biography.
CP: How are psychohistory and political psychology similar and different?
HB: Psychohistory focuses on the irrational emotions that influence overt behavior of individuals or groups. Political psychology is more interested in the governmental structures and processes than in the psychological motivations. For example, popular topics in political psychology are techniques for negotiating peace agreements and analysis of political communication.
CP: What brought you to psychohistory?
HB: In my first two years as an undergraduate, I majored in history. At that time, I became aware of the book A Study of History by Arnold J. Toynbee. I liked his identification and interpretation of general trends in the development and decline of civilizations. I changed my major to social relations in my junior year because it seemed consistent with my search for general principles of behavior. Many years later, I read an announcement of and attended the first meeting of the International Psychohistorical Association (IPA) in 1978. I felt especially interested in the paper by Jacques Szaluta, “Apotheosis to Ignominy: The Martyrdom of Marshal Pétain,” published in the Journal of Psychohistory, 1980, vol. 7, pp. 415-453. Several years later, in response to a letter from Paul Elovitz, I began attending the IPA meetings regularly.
CP: What special training was most helpful in your doing psychohistorical work?
HB: I believe that the most useful experiences were my psychoanalysis and readings about psychoanalytic theory. Experiments in which I controlled the independent variables contributed to an appreciation of the limitations of observational studies, and thereby cautious inferences from the observations. The use of laboratory animals in most of my experiments encouraged an objective view of behavior and its antecedents. My extensive training and experience in statistical analysis revealed that the credibility of psychohistorical inferences depends on the number of independent individuals or events, and on the consistency of the findings.
CP: Please tell us about your education at Yale and Harvard.
HB: I believe that my most educational experience at Harvard was my senior honors thesis. My advisor, John W. M. Whiting, was an anthropologist. I made ratings on styles of pictorial art in 30 diverse, mostly preliterate societies. I found that art styles were more complex in societies where independent ratings indicated more severe child training. I had a difficult decision between the PhD program in social relations at Harvard and in psychology at Yale. I chose Yale because it emphasized scientific experiments on laboratory animals and it was a psychology rather than a social relations department. Although my major was experimental psychology, soon after my arrival Professor Irvin L. Child hired me, 25 percent of the time as a research assistant for a study of a world sample of more than 100 societies. Child was co-author with John W. M. Whiting of a book published in 1953, Child Training and Personality, which reported a cross-cultural study. Dr. Margaret K. Bacon and I made quantitative ratings on child training in dependence and related behaviors as well as on a wide variety of measures of adult culture. Our purpose was to explain variations in adult culture on the basis of differences in child training.
CP: During your attendance at them, how receptive were these Ivy League institutions to psychoanalysis and psychohistory?
HB: I do not remember any interest in psychohistory at Harvard or Yale, but at that time I had very little knowledge about the topic. The leading professors in the Social Relations Department at Harvard, such as Gordon W. Allport and Henry A. Murray, were ambivalent toward Freudian psychoanalysis. At Yale, the Psychology and Psychiatry Departments were receptive to Freudian psychoanalysis. Many graduate students were psychoanalyzed. My psychoanalyst was affiliated with the Psychiatry Department.
CP: Do you think Yale and Harvard left their mark on Bill Clinton, Albert Gore, and George W. Bush? How?
HB: I believe that the social contacts and prestige were more important than the academic advantages of Harvard Business School for Bush, Yale Law School for Clinton, and Harvard College for Gore. Yale was George W. Bush’s father’s college, and the son was elected to his father’s elite Skull & Bones.
CP: Are there any mentors who come to mind?
HB: In my last two years at boarding school, I took a course on Public Affairs. The highly intellectual and articulate teacher, Mr. Charles C. Buell, contributed to my interest in national and world events. It was during an interesting time, from shortly before the Republicans won the majority in Congress in 1946, until shortly before President Truman was nominated for his generally predicted unsuccessful candidacy in 1948. In my last two years as an undergraduate, I had many thoughtful discussions with a graduate student teaching fellow, Norman Birnbaum. He became a Sociology Professor at Amherst College. In graduate school, Professor Irvin L. Child was my principal mentor on psychosocial topics. He taught a course on personality. He encouraged and helped me to prepare my undergraduate senior honors thesis for publication, in 1957, in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, vol. 54, pp. 380-383.
CP: Please list the five people who you think have made the greatest contribution to psychohistory, in order of their contribution.
HB: Sigmund Freud. He originated the framework for most psychohistory and contributed psychobiographies of Moses, Leonardo da Vinci, and Woodrow Wilson. Erik Erikson. He wrote insightful psychobiographies of Martin Luther and Mahatma Gandhi. He was a mentor and inspiration for several psychohistorians.
Lloyd deMause. He has published prolifically; he founded and guides the International Psychohistorical Association; and he founded and edits the Journal of Psychohistory. Frank J. Sulloway. He does not regard himself as a psychohistorian but one of the most important contributions to the field is his book Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives (1996). He reported convincing evidence from a large number of people that birth order is an effective predictor of opinions on various scientific and political controversies. The analysis includes other childhood conditions, such as conflict with a parent and the father’s ideology. Paul H. Elovitz. He has done psychobiographies of several Presidents of the United States and psychohistorical studies of group responses, such as of refugees from the World War II Holocaust. He has also founded and directs the Psychohistory Forum, and has founded and edits the periodical Clio’s Psyche.
CP: What impact did Erik Erikson have on you?
HB: I read his book, Childhood and Society, while an undergraduate. It contained some anthropological information relevant to my cross-cultural interests. I especially admired the chapter on Adolf Hitler. Erikson vividly explained that the beginning of Mein Kampf was a fairy tale rather than an accurate autobiographical account.
CP: What books were important to your development?
HB: While an undergraduate, I read Freud’s New Introductory Lectures in Psychoanalysis. In my senior year, there was The Psychopathology of Everyday Life by Sigmund Freud. This book described many examples of how repression and denial affect normal behavior by emotionally healthy people, in addition to psychiatric patients.
My cross-cultural research was influenced by Ruth Benedict’s book, Patterns of Culture, classifying societies as Apollonian or Dionysian, and by Margaret Mead’s vivid accounts of different cultural customs. Books and articles by George P. Murdock, whom I met when we were both at Yale, reported many interesting variations in social customs in several hundred societies. His work was an important basis for my cross-cultural research with Irvin L. Child and Margaret K. Bacon. When Murdock and I were both at the University of Pittsburgh, I directed the production of new ratings on infancy and childhood, published in Ethnology, a journal founded and edited by Murdock. The research was supported by a grant to Murdock from the National Science Foundation. A subsequent consequence was a project with Alice Schlegel on adolescence, resulting in a book Adolescence: An Anthropological Inquiry (1991).
An important influence on my study of birth order was a book The Promised Seed (1964) by Irving D. Harris. In a study of famous men in various occupations, first sons were predominantly conformists and theorists, later sons were predominantly revolutionaries and empiricists. The sample of men included several Presidents of the United States.
CP: What brought you to the study of birth order?
HB: I was very conscious of my status as the oldest and only male child when growing up with my two sisters. It was not an entirely privileged status because I felt that my mother favored my sisters, especially my younger sister, Lucy, who was her namesake. I believe that my interest in birth order as a psychological variable began after my PhD degree, when my father and I began to tabulate data on birth position of several hundred psychiatric patients at Greystone Hospital, in New Jersey. He had obtained this information in a study of the effects of early childhood bereavement.
CP: Of which of your psychohistorical ideas and works are you most proud?
HB: I became aware that beginning with Thomas Woodrow Wilson, most Presidents of the United States who were not given their father’s first name had a middle name that reproduced their mother’s maiden name. I found biographical evidence that they displayed strong early childhood identification with the mother, resulting in feminine characteristics combined with exaggerated adult assertiveness. I reported this finding in a paper presented at an IPA meeting. The paper was included as pages 26-40 in Paul H. Elovitz, ed., Historical and Psychological Inquiry (1990).
CP: More than that of most professors, your life is organized around scholarship and attending scholarly conventions. Do you have any thoughts on this you would like to share with our readers?
HB: From 1963 until 1977, my salary was entirely paid first by a research grant and then by a Research Scientist Development Award. My teaching duties since then have continued to be slight. I have been able to devote most of my time to data analysis and writing. I have thereby been able to divide my research among the topics of psychopharmacology, cross-cultural studies, and names, in addition to psychohistory.
CP: What are you working on now?
HB: I have prepared a proposal for a book, Personal Perspectives of the Presidents. The subtitle will be Washington to Gore or George W. Bush, whichever is elected.” I plan to complete the book in time for it to be published in 2003, during the next President’s four-year term.
CP: What training should a person entering the field of psychohistory pursue?
HB: The most important training is in psychology. Psychohistory requires appreciation of the complexity of human nature, including reactions to irrational and unrecognized emotions and the effects of conflicting desires. It is less important to know history, which is a chronicle rather than a set of general principles. People who are capable of contributing to psychohistory are also capable of obtaining the needed historical information.
CP: What do we as psychohistorians need to do to strengthen our work?
HB: We need to obtain more detailed information to support our inferences. Future studies should be applied to a larger number of individuals and should obtain more psychobiographical information on each individual.
CP: How can psychohistory have more influence in academia and on society in general?
HB: Psychohistory should become a recognized specialty both in psychology and in history. An urgent need is a book that will be widely accepted as a text for a general course on psychohistory. Courses on psychohistory will lead to books written for the general public. The field may divide into two main branches, psychobiography (the study of individuals) and psychohistory (the study of shared sentiments, such as group fantasy or public consensus). Academic courses and academic respectability are the most important inducements for psychohistory as a career choice.
CP: As a frequent presenter at the IPA and the International Society for Political Psychology (ISPP), how are these organizations similar and dissimilar?
HB: Both are small, specialized, multidisciplinary societies in the social sciences. I believe that both were founded in 1978. The IPA is more focused, with a dominant leader and an emphasis on severely pathological experiences in early childhood as causes of maladaptive adult behavior. The ISPP includes a broader range of leaders and participants. The annual meeting is in a different city each year, often outside the United States. More people are members and attend the meetings of the ISPP.
CP: As a member of Mensa perhaps you could tell us something about that organization.
HB: The criterion for membership is the top 2 percent on standard intellectual tests. This is not a highly restrictive requirement for academic achievers. I believe that the majority of IPA members are eligible for Mensa membership. The 50,000 Mensa members in the United States are less than 2 percent of the eligible population. Several social gatherings each month constitute the principal activities of the local Mensa groups. The conversations at Mensa gatherings are primarily social and situational, rather than introspective or theoretical. The members who attend are extremely diverse. Some are highly achieving academically or vocationally, but a larger number are underachievers. Some people join Mensa briefly to prove that they are highly intelligent.
CP: How do you explain the growth and psychology of fundamentalism?
HB: I regard psychohistory and fundamentalism as opposite responses to the uncertainties of existence and the complexity of human motives. Psychohistory recognizes these stressful conditions and tries to understand them. Fundamentalism denies these stressful conditions and claims certainty based on religious faith. In the movie, Inherit the Wind, on the Scopes trial in Tennessee in 1925, the fundamentalist prosecuting attorney declares “I am more interested in the rock of ages than in the age of rocks.” I doubt that anyone could be both a psychohistorian and a fundamentalist.
I question the premise that fundamentalism is growing. The increasing publicity about fundamentalists reminds me of the increasing publicity several decades ago about youths who got stoned on psychedelic drugs and rejected academic aspirations. They were a noisy minority. Some commentators incorrectly perceived them as manifesting the prevalent behavior of the new generation of youths. I regard terrorism as an extreme expression of fundamentalism. Denial of the stressful uncertainties of life can induce a psychopathological compulsion to destroy one’s enemies as brutally and indiscriminately as possible. Another incentive for terrorism is based on paranoid grandiosity, to be the agent for a notoriously infamous event.
CP: What are your thoughts on the psychodynamics of violence in our world?
HB: Violence is an expression of anger, which is a prominent component of human nature. Lynchings and “ethnic cleansing” express anger displaced onto an outgroup. Violence is controlled by a combination of love for other humans and social prohibitions against expression of anger. Punitive child training expresses strong social prohibition but weakens love and tolerance. More permissive child training in recent years has generally strengthened love but also weakened social controls. Love and tolerance prevail over hate and bigotry for most people who have experienced permissive child training. I believe that violent behavior in recent years might appear to be more frequent and extreme only because more of the incidents are reported.
Environmental Psychohistorian J. Donald Hughes
[My] article, “The Dreams of Alexander the Great” is a historical paper about dreams that are recorded for Alexander. It required my finding all the dreams ascribed to him — a great number, and winnowing out the ones he might actually have had, that come from reliable sources. I ended up with six dreams for which I thought one could make a good case. They’re recorded in the same way as his other actions, often in more than one source, and they use images and symbols that we could expect in ancient dreams. I tried to see what those images and symbols would have meant to someone growing up in his time and community. [I believe that we here in the 20th century can be empathic with people who lived millennia ago because] I don’t think that human nature has changed all that much. I judge that because, being an ancient historian, I read a lot of ancient literature, and find the authors reflecting the same emotions, talking about many of the same issues, as we still do today.
There certainly is [a psychological component to environmental history] — our attitudes and values and behavior toward nature. Is there a relationship between the way people regard nature — or at least the way they say they regard it — and what they actually do? I have found less correlation between the two than I would like to have thought. Major religions, for instance, have rather strong views about how we ought to treat nature. Yet, when you look at the way their followers treat the environment, you see they cause a lot of damage.
Our ability to see ourselves in relation to nature has not kept up with our technological advancement. It’s in the balancing of technology with nature, and in the ecological process. We are so terribly out of balance. We may need something other than just ethical or religious teachings to get us on the right track — something from the field of psychology.
Interview by Bob Lentz. [Excerpted from March 1996.]
An Intellectual Partnership: Jay Gonen and Mary Coleman
Paul H. Elovitz, Ramapo College and the Psychohistory Forum
Paul H. Elovitz (PHE): Your marriage on May 12, 1990, was the first psychohistorical wedding I ever attended. It was delightful to see two colleagues join together in matrimony and various intellectual endeavors. I should note that you two are a study in contrast and similarity. One was born in the U.S. to an old WASP family and the other was born in Israel and connected to an European intellectual tradition. Each of you is committed to the life of the mind and scholarship. Each of you has two children. Both trained in the helping professions, neurology for Mary and clinical psychology for Jay. Both of you have taught at various points in your careers and more recently retired to devote the rest of your lives to scholarship.
Mary Coleman (MC): In preparation for this interview, I thought about my family history and realized that my grandmother and grandfather were an intellectual couple, they both had PhDs. I am a fourth generation intellectual, my great grandfather was an intellectual.
PHE: Jay, what brought you to psychohistory?
Jay Gonen (JG): In 1967 I got my PhD in psychology in Cincinnati. The Six Day War broke out that year, but I didn’t go back to Israel to defend the country. This brought up the question: In what sense was I still an Israeli? I reached the conclusion that I was not and would stay in the U.S. for the rest of my life. So I applied for American citizenship. However, coming from Israel I was quite naturally interested in issues of Jewish history. The Six Day War was portrayed as presenting the danger of a second Holocaust. My PhD in psychology gave me a new set of glasses with which to look at history and current events. With a diploma I was so much smarter than I had been before; after all, I had a document to prove it! I wanted to analyze Jewish history in new ways. The result was A Psychohistory of Zionism. Because I was not in contact with colleagues, the book was all self-generated, stemming from a combination of life events, war, and a changing self-concept prompted by graduation issues. The book was a consequence of my dialogue with myself, in the course of which I became a psychohistorian. I was happy with the results.
PHE: I was quite impressed by A Psychohistory of Zionism. The very idea that you can apply psychohistory to groups as well as individuals inspired me. I also enjoyed learning more about Zionism. Mary, what brought you to psychohistory and when did you come to it?
MC: At the end of World War II, as an adolescent horrified at the killing — the full extent of which was first coming to the light of day — not even my wise father, a history professor, could answer my questions about what caused war and why civilians and Jewish people were being exterminated. No one seemed to know any answers. I decided then to find out what causes group hatred and war. In college, I took political science and found no answers there. Then I took a master’s in economics and found no answers there, either. I studied other fields with equal frustration. I was about to give up when I heard about psychohistory. At my first International Psychohistorical Association (IPA) convention, about 1980, I immediately realized that there was a new set of glasses that might provide some understanding of these basic questions. I have been working on these issues ever since. At the moment, I am in the process of writing my conclusions to my book on war about how shame and guilt are related to group hatred and war.
PHE: How did psychohistory help you understand war in a way your father, political science, and economics couldn’t?
MC: The basic answer to that is that war is a human endeavor which is crazy and you have to have a discipline to study the craziness to understand it. Psychohistory, a discipline capable of understanding craziness, helps us understand war.
PHE: Obviously, you are not someone who enjoyed war. I think of Ferris Kirkland, who unfortunately died in February, 2000. As a soldier he enjoyed war and the triumph of a successful battle he helped win in Vietnam. It strikes me that people can use psychohistory for different purposes in analyzing war: to work to eliminate war or to solve the problem of war and why America failed in Vietnam.
MC: I would say in Ferris’ defense that he had considerable nuance in style and understanding. He invited me to lecture to a group of soldiers who were all quite troubled by the fact that we had to go to war. Ferris was ambivalent about war. I would not say that he enjoyed or glorified it.
PHE: Certainly, Ferris was ambivalent about war. My reference to his enjoyment was based upon my recollection of one of the two lectures he gave to students here at Ramapo College. In presenting to serious students in my War, Peace, and Conflict Resolution course, his tone was hesitant, measured, and even painful at times. In contrast, when Ferris spoke to a History Club audience about military tactics used in a successful battle in which he participated in Vietnam, his tone was one of excitement and enjoyment. As a psychohistorian, I always note the emotional connections that people have to their subjects. Nevertheless, I would agree that he was ambivalent about war and deserves credit for being one of a small number of scholars struggling to use psychohistory to lessen war.
MC: I just had a conversation with a psychohistorian friend, who said World War II was a “good war” — a common saying in the community. “If there has to be war, at least World War II was a good war.” I find that horrifying. If you count the Japanese excursion into China as part of World War II, a hundred million human beings were killed. How under any circumstances the word “good” could be applied to that much suffering is troubling.
PHE: In the mind of old soldiers who want to return to the simplistic times of their youth and those wanting a world in black and white, it was “a good war.” Yet, I’m always suspicious of nostalgia. When, a decade after my Army service (which I hated), I suddenly felt warm feelings towards my ill-fitting Army uniform, I said, “Oh, my God, this is how people join the Veterans of Foreign Wars and drink themselves into oblivion exchanging nostalgic stories.”
MC: I have a chapter in my book on the attitude of warriors who feel it was the “highlight of their life.”
PHE: I look forward to reading the chapter and the book. Studying the craziness associated with the glorification of war is an important part of overcoming war. Jay, you have observed warfare and perhaps been part of some of its craziness. What are your thoughts about it and are they influenced by military service?
JG: I have some comments about war in my recent book, The Roots of Nazi Psychology. War is a mixture of things. People jump into the fray with the elation of omnipotence and an enormous oral greed. They think that they are going to devour the loot of this world. For them, war is a great border settler. They are going to demarcate who gets disaster and who gets utopia. The loser is supposed to get disaster, but the winner doesn’t always get utopia. There is no question about war being a mixture of a lot of crazy stuff.
You asked me why I am interested in crazy things. That is the whole topic of my book. National Socialism was a crazy thing if ever there was one. Yet, the biggest mistake one can commit is simply to dismiss it as something crazy without going into the era and movement, and examining their internal logic — as crazy as it might be. There is always a logic in the madness and a system in the craziness. Yes, I am interested in describing crazy phenomena in a systematized yet emotional and highly colorful way. I try to be vividly immersed in such phenomena without losing my bearings and getting lost. These are my personal predilections — probably the kind of personality characteristics contributing to push me towards psychohistory.
PHE: Did you have personal experiences with war?
JG: My involvement was minimal. My only war experience was in the 1956 Sinai Campaign when, as part of the Israeli Army, I went to Rafah and El Arish. Prior to that experience, during military exercises in the reserves I was what you might call the “Good Soldier Schweik.” I was the last person to embody the new type of Jewish, Israeli warrior. My military behavior included bending the rules — it could easily be the subject of a humorous movie.
I wasn’t “Mr. Fixed Bayonet” in the war — I was in communications. We came right after the tanks when everything on the battlefield was still smoldering. There were charred bodies and skulls chopped in half. It was the type of sight that would turn your stomach, but mine was not upset. It was war. You see such things, but then you happen to run into a friend and go hunt for some Egyptian halvah. Your appetite is not spoiled, you share a meal, because in the war situation your adrenaline level is so high that you have shifted to a different gear. I remember that I felt manly and strong at my newly discovered ability not to be upset at the sight of blood and gore. I knew that these were unforgettable experiences and I felt an increased sense of competence because of my ability to absorb the sights without being shaken up.
On the other hand, years later, I watched an autopsy in a veterans hospital for the first time in my life. My appetite was killed for 24 hours. Though the sight was nothing to compare with what I had seen in the Sinai Campaign, I wasn’t in the highly mobilized state of warfare, allowing me to brush things like that off. Nowadays, I prefer thinking about how I was a joke of a soldier in the Israeli army who got away with a few shenanigans.
PHE: My own recollection of Army service includes putting a pebble in my boot so that I would be limping on a long march and wouldn’t have to be in the middle of a line of soldiers, but could straggle along at the end. When I was assigned to Tank Company B and drove a tank, I felt like I was in a moving tomb filled with explosives and gasoline. As I sucked in dirt in the driver’s seat, I realized that you die quickly in the tank corps. By the next day I had talked my way out of that job.
JG: Maybe Michael Dukakis got a high out of riding in a tank, but you did not.
PHE: In the famous 1988 Presidential campaign picture of him driving a tank, Dukakis seemed like a little boy which did not help him get elected Commander in Chief. How did your experience in war affect what you have done as a psychohistorian?
JG: My limited war experience did not change my basic attitudes towards war. From day one, I was mad at the Israelis and Palestinians for not settling their differences diplomatically in a civilized fashion with decent compromises. I always regarded war as a stupidity and defeat. My brief brush with war didn’t change my basic attitude.
PHE: Mary, would you elaborate on your approach to war, starting with why you consider war to be so crazy?
MC: The main occupation of many women is raising children. They raise sons, devoting an enormous amount of effort, and then send them off either to murder other people or to be murdered during a war. The main occupation of men is building or creating things. I see a situation where many men only feel control over life by killing — by ending life. Men have instituted this program of war because they cannot create life the way women experience the creation of life by giving birth. Women are so life-oriented, yet the fact is that women go along with war. Remember that women are half of every population and most populations get excited and are interested in war. In the chapter, “Women and War,” I describe how women get sucked into the destruction of their own work in raising sons. They are as responsible for war as are men. No country can run a war if more than half the population (most women plus enlightened men) oppose the war. I see war as a triumph of the macho world of men over the nurturing world of women. In war there are always arguments as to whether you should save cathedrals or people. Is it more important to save works of art than human beings?
PHE: As a historian, my impulse has been, however ambivalently, to save historical treasures. Psychohistory has been curing me of going with some of these impulses.
PHE: What did you learn from medicine that affected your work in psychohistory and which is going into your book on war?
MC: On a superficial level, my experience in medicine is a contradiction to my work on psychohistory. My main role in medicine has been to rescue some of the psychiatric illnesses that were being blamed on women based upon psychoanalytic theories. I showed that they are, in fact, neurological-genetic, infectious, and toxic diseases rather than the result of child rearing. Because my main work in medicine rejects psychoanalytic explanations, it is somewhat surprising I would come to use psychoanalytic tools to understand war.
PHE: In psychoanalytic training, I was taught about schizophrenogenic mothers unconsciously creating terrible mental illnesses in their children.
MC: At least in the United States, these ideas are now pretty much thrown out of the window. I have been a factor in the rejection of these explanations.
PHE: From your tone, I would say very proudly a factor.
MC: I am very proud of this contribution. It started in medical school when the psychiatrist lecturing said that autism was caused by bad mothering. A student asked, “If the mother was responsible, how come the child had the symptoms of autism at birth?” The lecturer announced that the autism was caused by the first woman nurse who slapped the baby. I burst out laughing and then said to myself, “Someday!” Just this month, the third edition of my medical textbook on autism will be published.
PHE: I know that the traditional treatments for autism based upon the psychoanalytic model haven’t been very effective. How effective are treatments based on the biological model?
MC: Previous treatments, which forced parents to be psychoanalyzed, made the children and their parents worse. The best treatment available today for all autistic children is the behavior conditioning educational mode. But the main contribution which I, along with many others, have made in the field is that autism is not one disease. It is a long series of diseases and each disease has to be specifically diagnosed and specifically treated. Some of the diseases that present with autism are now medically treatable by diet, medicines, or in a couple of cases neurosurgery, but the majority of diseases that cause autism do not yet have medical therapies.
PHE: Jay, please tell our readers something about the basic ideas of A Psychohistory of Zionism?
JG: I focused on the timeless love for Zion by the sons of Israel with its oedipal components and its mystical attachment to the motherland of Zion (Israel). I touched on the rebuilding of the land as part and parcel of the Zionist revolution. Zionism rejected the traditional course of Jewish history, along with traditional Judaism, as only succeeding in keeping the Jews in exile and out of playing any active role in history. I dealt with the suicidal Samson and Masada complexes.
I also examined the enormous narcissistic knockout punch delivered to Jews and Israelis by the Holocaust. In terms of their psyche, it branded them with passivity as a fatal flaw — with some kind of congenital nebbish attitude exposing them to the worst vagaries of life. It reinforced the notion that it was high time to reverse the course of Judaism. The bookprobed the psychological issues of Zionism, especially the grab for omnipotence. That particular theme came to a head after I published the article, “The Israeli Illusion of Omnipotence Following the Six Day War.” (Journal of Psychohistory 1978 Vol. 6, No. 2, pp. 241-272) These were the issues I was dealing with then.
Currently, I am coming back to some of these same issues, as well as dealing with some new ones. I am contemplating writing another book, The Duality of Jewish Psychohistory, on Jewish history focused on an analysis of the basic tenets of Judaism from a psychological point of view. It will take some time.
At the moment, I am living and breathing Maimonides, A Guide of The Perplexed. I was Professor Shlomo Pines’ star pupil in 1960 when we just flew away with Maimonides. I am rereading Maimonides and his commentators as well as reading recent scholarly assessments of him. I am doing all of this because Maimonides treats issues touching upon central themes and problems in Judaism both before and after his time. To encompass all I have in mind, I will have to deal with philosophical, mystical, political, psychological, Biblical, and Talmudic approaches. It is no easy matter to analyze a mosaic like this, with dominant themes stretching across centuries. I am interested in the psychological baggage that accompanies each dominant theme and the historical developments catapulting each theme into the forefront of the zeitgeist. That for me is group psychohistory.
PHE: Tell us more about group psychohistory.
JG: Group psychohistory is an analysis of the dominant, prototypical themes in a group’s life (or lore) across generations, as well as an analysis of the different factors which contribute to bringing each of these themes into prominence and action at a particular time. There are different themes at different times, depending on the connection of historical, political, and cultural developments sometimes referred to as the spirit of the times. All of these must be taken into account. Group psychology is like plunging into a multidimensional grid.
PHE: Mary, in trying to understand war, have you focused primarily on individual or group motivation?
MC: War is a group behavior and, like all group behaviors, it has a beginning, middle, and end. There are ways of predicting when something is going to happen in a group. However, I have focused to a small extent on violence, which is an individual action, and its neurological/biochemical basis in an effort to understand how people can be violent. The psychological and social science tools turn out to be much more useful than the physiological tools in understanding individual violence, even though it is often limited to people with biological brain illnesses.
PHE: Because you have helped me to understand genetic elements in human behavior, I want to explicitly ask: Are you saying that war has biological and chemical components determining we should go to war?
MC: No, I don’t think that war has a biological component that is determinative in any sense.
PHE: So, you are saying it is there but not determinative?
MC: Aggression/killing is a phenomenon that is documented as starting literally millions of years ago between two different kinds of dinosaurs. Killing for food is a different matter. The amount of war is related not to how violent the particular, individual participants are, but to population density, cultural phenomena, identity, values, and sometimes economic factors. In other words, it seems to me that determining the causes of war is in the realm of the social sciences rather than biology.
PHE: What are the specific tools you found in psychohistory to help with your struggle to understand war?
MC: As far as psychohistory goes, it was the understanding of shame and guilt as applied to group phenomena. Shame, which is always negative, leads to violence in these group phenomena. Guilt is a very fascinating human concept which has both positive and negative sides. Nonviolence is based on using guilt to change politics without violence. One of the things I have explored in great detail is how groups use both shame and guilt to determine whether they are going to become warlike or not.
PHE: Please give us an example of how shame and guilt can determine the outcome of warlike situations.
MC: Gandhi’s life is a dramatic example of how you can use guilt to prevent massive violence and civil war. In the course of his nonviolent struggle for Indian independence from the British Empire, at Amritsar in 1919, the British killed 379 and wounded 1,137 people at a peaceful, political, gathering. Gandhi used his satyagraha technique, called the demonstrations off, guilt-tripping the British for years over these 379 dead people. Basically, after many years, the British couldn’t stand to hear about it one more time, so they gave up control of India, the richest province in their empire, without being militarily driven out. Of course, there were a lot of other historical factors at work, but guilt-tripping was the vital ingredient.
PHE: Are you saying that guilt is stronger than bullets and in fact controls bullets?
MC: I’m saying it is very complex and very interesting. A similar example of the use of guilt and shame occurred with the use of nonviolence under Hitler. In 1943, during the height of the war when the Nazis were attempting to cleanse Germany of all Jews, remaining Jewish men in Berlin married to non-Jewish women were jailed in a separate facility from other Jews. More than one thousand non-Jewish wives circled the Rosenstrasse detention center loudly calling for the release of their husbands, despite being ordered away by SS troops. Goebbels decided to release 1200 Jews, mostly men, but also a few Jewish women. So, even in the extreme situation of Hitler’s capital in wartime, nonviolent action made a difference on one occasion.
PHE: Mary, what is your source for this extraordinary incident?
MC: The incident is included in Gene Sharp’s three-volume book, The Politics of Nonviolent Action (1973). This is the bible of nonviolence. I also recommend Eric A. Johnson, Nazi Terror: The Gestapo, Jews, and Ordinary Germans (1999).
PHE: Jay, because we’re speaking about the Nazis, I’d like you to tell me about your recently published book, The Roots of Nazi Psychology: Hitler’s Utopian Barbarism, reviewed by George Victor in our September issue.
JG: Included in my A Psychohistory of Zionism was a chapter on the Holocaust written from the perspective of Jews and their reactions to it. It is a gruesome chapter which was hard to swallow, causing me to have the psycho-physiological reaction of nausea. Nevertheless, my curiosity was evoked by the issue of how on earth this could have occurred. I wanted to know from the point of view of the perpetrators rather than from the viewpoint of the victims.
Why, in the name of self-defense or whatever, would you want to do something so horrible as the Holocaust to other people? What kind of psychology could have motivated you? So, I was interested in the psychology of Nazis. I also developed an interest in examining psychologically another issue that I had become aware of in writing my first book: the fear of Jewish fascism present in the Jewish settlement in Palestine. I wondered: What was there in fascism that looked alluring but dangerous to Jews? Could it possibly relate to some older issues in the Jewish tradition? I thought that I had found the answer to that in notions of leadership, mostly of the Italian fascists, which could have inspired some of the Jews in Palestine. It did relate to older issues in Judaism: fascination with the idea of having kings as strong leaders yet being warned by the prophets not to take that route. They took it nevertheless. I thought that what proved alluring and dangerous in biblical times could explain the contemporary Jewish fears of the dangers of the Jewish attraction to fascism.
After delving into fascism I soon realized that German Nazism was altogether a different kettle of fish: a category by itself, more mysterious, much more barbaric and horrible than Italian fascism ever was. So, since 1970, I developed an interest in the entire phenomenon. I have been thinking about it on and off, reading books about it, and Hitler’s writings and speeches. Mulling it over in my mind, I developed a kind of group psychohistorical grid, as a detailed framework into which I plugged the different components to get a sense of what it was all about. Needless to say, this endeavor required understanding not only of the various underlying psychological components of Hitler’s ideology, but also their connection to German history. The Hitlerian notions did not come out of the blue. They took hold because there were old roots.
PHE: Returning to the issue of your similarities as a psychohistorical couple, what are some of the values you hold in common?
JG: Neither of us is into nationalism or religion. We are secularists devoted to the human race at large. I could be called, in the words of Isaac Deutscher, “a non-Jewish Jew.” Some might even call me “a rootless cosmopolitan.” Mary and I feel more like members of the human race than members of any particular group. We do share this common human identity though some people think this may be a pipe dream.
Turning to a very different area, we both love 20th-century classical music with a passion and we live in the right metropolitan area [New York] for it. This July we had the pleasure of attending three concerts devoted to the work of Olivier Messiaen, that were a great treat for us. People who exalt in 20th century classical music don’t grow on trees and may be hard to find. But we found each other.
MC: I would add something else we share. We both suffer from grandiosity, having a tremendous interest in solving huge problems. In Jay’s case, Nazism and the whole of Jewish religious history. In my case, the causes of war. These topics are gigantic, but we both share the point of view that anything can be understood in the end if you work hard enough.
PHE: These are certainly big topics that you help make understandable by many small actions. Let me give an example. The Psychohistory Forum’s Research Group on War, Peace, and Conflict Resolution used to have a working luncheon at the annual June IPA meetings. Though you always insisted you did not do much, Mary, you were such a key participant that when the IPA ceased to be a part of your and Jay’s yearly ritual, these luncheons ceased. Without your inspiration and energy, one could easily just shrug and, like Candide at the end of Voltaire’s story, prefer to tend one’s garden because there one can make a difference. You seem to have organized much of your life around the issue of preventing war. Would you tell our readers how you have applied this to the raising of your children?
MC: I would be glad to discuss it, but I don’t think I have organized my life around that issue at all.
PHE: Please explain.
MC: I am not a war buff at all — the type that reads books about the battles of World War II or re-enacts Civil War battles. I abhor war. My life has been centered around having loads of fun as well as around my children, my patients, my medical research, and liberal politics. My reluctant interest in war came from the realization, at the end of World War II, that wars at that point of history appeared to happen once every generation. This means that later in my life, when I hopefully would become a mother, I might be asked to send a son to the army to deliberately be shot at or, equally bad, be trained to murder complete strangers from another country. This possible horror in an otherwise great future was not acceptable to me as a young adult. Because this is a psychohistorical interview, I will discuss what I have done about that war question but in terms of time spent and thought given, war was and is a necessary but minor theme in my life.
I have three hobbies, only one of which is the psychohistory of war. My second hobby is classical music. I compose songs in the style of 20th-century classical music. The song cycle I am working on now is called “Songs of Synesthesia.” My third hobby, which Jay and I share, is studying ancient Middle Eastern languages. I am fascinated by the Sumerian people. Theirs was the most creative culture in human history. In all three cases, we came to these hobbies independently before we met each other. Psychohistory is Jay’s major theme. I was studying Akkadian when I met him, and he was planning to start the study of Aramaic, which is a related language. Instead, he joined me in studying Akkadian and Sumerian. Together, right now in fact, we are working on a book on the oldest medical texts in the world, which were written in a combination of the Akkadian and Sumerian languages.
PHE: That sounds wonderful. I’m looking forward to your sharing some of your knowledge of the ancient Mesopotamian world on January 30, 2001, at the Psychohistory Forum meeting on the psychological origins of law. Mary, let us turn to how your ideas affected the raising of your children, which took place prior to your marriage to Jay.
MC: My two grown sons’ fathers are Jewish by ethnic identification, but not religion. I am Christian by ethnic identification, but not religion. In our families, when the children were 13 years of age, on my side there were confirmations and on the fathers’ sides bat mitzvahs and bar mitzvahs. Instead of the usual religious preparation, I devised a course for each of my sons, who were six years apart in age, which they nicknamed “the Sunday Night Candle.” I taught it on Sunday night and each child got an individual course on the ethical questions religion usually addresses. They learned exactly what I thought about it to answer the legitimate question all children have of where they come from. I started with hominids, and then went through the whole history of evolution and of humans, lingering a little extra on the history of Jews because my children are half-Jewish. At these Sunday night sessions, I always read one anti-war poem and talked about nonviolence. It was crucial that I explain to them how important nonviolence is to me. To reinforce this, I created a family holiday on Gandhi’s birthday (October 2). In our home this was one of the biggest holidays of the year. We celebrated the fact that you can change politics, even in non-democratic societies, without killing people. The Sunday Night Candle course started at the age of six with graduation at age 13, when their cousins on both sides of the family had different kinds of celebrations. Their friends attended the graduation. The only adults present were the graduate’s father and myself. It was a big party where they got to drink champagne and liquor for the first time and I made it into a very big deal, so they would have something comparable to what their cousins experienced.
PHE: Please tell me some more about your family’s unusual course.
MC: I explained to my sons that most people in most families are mystical in a religious way, but that our family is not, and that the effect of the candle I always lit during the hour of the course is an example of mysticism. I described what I knew of mysticism, including that mysticism is a normal part of any human brain. I told them how I use mysticism in music, sex, and all kinds of wonderful things, but that I don’t use it in group identification and religion because I don’t believe in those things. The course answered questions such as why you don’t cheat in school and all the ethical issues a child is entitled to know about. It laid out my point of view and my values, explaining that we are all human beings and social animals rather than solitary mammals and that helping others gives us deep satisfaction. As extremely social animals, the opinion of our friends and our community is important to us so we always want to work to improve the society in which we live. I am thrilled about how my children have developed. Instead of rebelling, they both work for the homeless and have done many other admirable things. They are good human beings.
PHE: This is good to hear. As the mother of two sons, as a mother who passionately doesn’t want there to be war, how did you deal with the fact that they might be drafted? Depending on their ages, this was the reality they faced, even if it was only the required registration should a draft be reinstated.
MC: Though I dealt with it effectively, I am not willing to answer that question.
PHE: Regarding your opposition to war, the Quakers certainly come to mind. What are your thoughts about their special role as pioneers in relinquishing certain traditional behaviors, including war? I also think of their struggles against slavery and the subjugation of women. They were way ahead of the curve of Western societal development.
MC: As far as war goes, the Quakers are the only group in the world I know of who actively tried to prevent World War II. The Society of Friends (Quakers) in England were opposed to the harsh reparations provisions of the Treaty of Versailles which were imposed on Germans at the conclusion of World War I. They traveled to Germany, fed the starving people, and personally did everything they could to lessen German suffering. If there had been enough Quakers, they might have made a huge difference in the atmosphere in Germany at the time.
I have tremendous admiration for the Quakers and find the difference between European and United States pacifist religious groups quite interesting. The Quakers, Amish, and Mennonites all came from Europe to the British Colonies of North America between 1680 and 1740. There were so few pacifist religious groups left in Europe that the left wing in continental Europe was almost completely Marxist/socialist in the 19th and 20th centuries. By contrast, in the United States, there have been two major groups of people involved in the left-wing protests against war: those coming from a Marxist, socialist point of view and the pacifists who are generally Quakers and Mennonites. When I used to picket for hours against the Vietnam War in front of the White House, I would break up the boredom by trying to visually differentiate Marxists/socialists from the pacifists. Eventually, I got pretty expert in making the distinction based upon clothing. (I myself was picketing as an individual, not as a member of a group.)
A fascinating thing is that the Amish, the most pacifistic people, were created and nurtured in a different century very near the same region (Munich) where Hitler created his Nazi movement. Thus, the same general area of Germany produced extremes of the Left and the Right.
PHE: I am reminded that the political extremes sometimes come together: the Left and the Right often share rigidity and hatred of democratic government based upon compromise. However, in America, right- and left-wing groups have been much more for democratic government than in Europe, although how much is rhetoric and how much is reality is always a difficult question to answer.
MC: The Amish are very hierarchical and patriarchal, making no apologies for their system. When they first came to the United States, they actually allowed the Indians to kill them rather than resort to violence. It is documented that on at least one occasion, they knew the Indians were coming to kill and scalp their families, yet they would not violate their religion’s prohibition on violence even though they had guns which they used to kill animals for food. I have great admiration and amazement for their devotion to pacifism.
PHE: One of my friends, with whom I taught history at Temple University, was a convert to Quakerism as was his twin brother. He insisted that the true Quaker pacifists were the converts and that those born as members of the Society of Friends tended to abandon their pacifism when it counted. He cited Richard Nixon and the Pennsylvania Quaker farmers in the Civil War who fought for their farms against the invading Southern army. Do you have any thoughts on this subject?
MC: The Quakers in the United States are divided into two different groups. Nixon’s mother was part of a hierarchical Quaker group, very similar to other Protestants. Most Quakers run a non-hierarchical meeting and are quite liberal. I would say that the Quakers are the least fanatical about their pacifism among the pacifist religious groups. What is most important is that they are a wonderful influence on our society. On Capitol Hill, this tiny group helps hold down the military budget, generation after generation.
PHE: You are talking as someone who knows Washington quite well. I am reminded that, while you presently live in Upper Grandview (part of Nyack) in New York State, where you have a glorious view of the Hudson River and the Tappan Zee bridge, you lived in different places most of your lives. Jay, you were in the Chicago area for 19 years where you worked as a psychologist at the Veterans Hospital. Mary, you lived and practiced in Washington, DC, for all of your 25-year medical career. I saw your beautiful home when you hosted a party for the IPA and when I gave a seminar on historical dream work to the psychohistory group you organized. I remember chatting at the party with former Senator Fulbright, who had only been a name in the news to me before that occasion. I was informed by your observations about how Washington politics works, especially the role of endless social events in the political process. Do you have any thoughts about Washington you would like to talk about?
MC: It was quite dismaying to a person of my values to live in Washington, watching the influence of special interests on the legislative process. The labor unions and Ralph Nader’s group were two small voices working for the people’s best interest against the phalanxes of special interest lobbyists on the wrong side of the issues over and over and over again. In the liberal circles in Washington in which I used to socialize, I would be embarrassed to admit that I was a physician because the American Medical Association was the group that had originally developed those lobbying techniques. They had a very bad reputation among my liberal friends.
PHE: Jay, what was it like in Chicago in terms of the intellectual and cultural communities?
JG: Chicago for me was not a place where I lobbied the government. It has its universities and intellectual community, but in terms of my psychohistorical interest, I did not feel connected and was pursuing my own interests alone — as I have most of my life. Chicago was a good place to live, with its theaters, orchestras, operas, museums, and varied culinary culture. In many ways I enjoyed living there, though with only two years exposure to Manhattan, I find it is true that there is nothing like it. I enjoyed Chicago. I enjoy New York more.
PHE: What are your thoughts about the future of psychohistory?
MC: I see psychohistory and psychobiography as the long-term remnants of the religion of Freud. In many respects, Freudianism is already in the process of being dismantled, especially where it applies to real medical illnesses — though it still exists in France. French parents of autistic children are still psychoanalyzed which is a disgrace. But I see Freudian concepts remaining because they are so powerful and interesting relative to so-called normal human behaviors such as groups who go to war, normal individuals who are creative, and people who have real life problems that need solving.
PHE: Mary, do you consider personal psychoanalysis to be part of the medical uses of Freud?
MC: The answer is No. I think his ideas are a mixture of brilliant insights and idiotic theories jumbled together. When Freud asks, “What do women want?”, my answer is, “Not to be demonized as mothers.” The majority of mothers do a wonderful job of raising their children. He is one proof of it himself. In medicine, most of Freud’s theories were more negative than positive. They held back the understanding of mental illness as a biochemical phenomenon.
PHE: Jay, do you agree with Mary on the issues of the value of medical psychoanalysis and Freudianism or do you have other light to shine on them?
JG: Well, I agree with her that Freudian psychology is losing some of its appeal — certainly in clinical practice. I think more of it will be preserved in application to the arts, literature, and history. As an American pragmatist, I accept any model that works. I say fine to anyone starting with whatever model, even if it is not my type of psychodynamic approach, who arrives at useful, thought provoking conclusions.
Regarding my thoughts about psychohistory, I see it divided into the two major branches of psychobiography and group psychohistory. It is a mistake to pit one against the other because they are not in opposition. Not infrequently psychobiography, as it deals with the life of one subject, crosses over into the protagonist’s milieu (the group’s life), shedding light onto more generalized issues that relate to group psychohistory. Group psychohistory is a questionable field to many academics and clinicians who are not sure just what it is. People understand psychobiography as delving in depth into all sorts of life details of a single subject, including interpersonal relations. However, when you say group psychohistory, people frequently don’t get it. The only thing they might buy is the notion of national character which is not quite group psychohistory.
PHE: Why do you consider national character to be “not quite group psychohistory?”
JG: Studies of national character usually are focused on tests and measurements of personality traits so as to determine the modal personality within each culture. Such studies tend to neglect the dynamic interplay of art, politics, religion, and ideologies in the group’s history.
I would like to see more works done in the realm of group psychohistory, because I think that on many life or death issues (not the least of which is war and peace) it is group psychohistory which exposes the arena in which all of these forces actually interact. Certainly, I would definitely be happy to see all forms of psychohistory flourish.
PHE: We certainly need more group psychohistory, although I am sometimes troubled by people jumping, in its name, to broad and often erroneous generalizations about groups. But this is a discussion for another time. In the meantime, we have our Group Psychohistory Symposium in Clio’s Psyche. (December, 2000, Vol. 7, No. 3, pp. 102, 141-155) I want to thank the two of you for a most interesting afternoon.
Lloyd deMause, Editor The Journal of Psychohistory
Bob Lentz, Psychohistory Forum
BL: How do you define psychohistory?
LdM: Psychohistory is the study of historical motivations. If psychology is the study of individual motivation, psychohistory is the study of large groups of people, particularly of those that are important to history. There are three kinds of psychohistory: the history (or evolution) of childhood, the study of large groups (or group-fantasies), and psychobiography, which connects the first two. Psychohistory started out being mainly psychobiography with Freud and Erikson — their studies of da Vinci and Gandhi and Luther. Both Freud and Erikson essentially skipped the history of childhood portion of it. Erikson never mentioned that Luther was swaddled or similar to everybody else in his time. So, because there was so much work done on psychobiography in the past hundred years I have tended to mainly stress the history of childhood and group psychology or group-fantasies. Psychobiography is still important, though. I have some in my Reagan book and other places.
BL: Of which of your many psychohistorical works — books, publications, organizations — are you most proud?
LdM: It’s fun to do organization work like the International Psychohistorical Association (IPA). I’m very pleased that there are branches of the Institute for Psychohistory abroad that study my work. But for the most part, I’m really at heart just a scholar and a metatheorist of social theory. I’m a careful researcher. If anything, I over-footnote and over-reference most of my material. I’d rather not be president or any other officer of the IPA and I just turned down an invitation to a European trip next year. I really want to spend the next 20 years sitting right here doing nothing but putting all of my research into first The Journal and then book form because I have so much to say that I haven’t even begun to write.
I suppose that Foundations of Psychohistory is more important than Reagan’s America because it has the most childhood material. But the book I’m writing now, The Emotional Lives of Nations, will probably be the most important because it will sum up what I know about group-fantasies. The next book, The Psychohistory of the West, will be the second most important because it will take the evolution of childhood period by period and show what kind of family life, sexual life, personality, and institutions came out of it.
If you want me to say what I’m most proud of, I wouldn’t even mention something psychohistorical unless bringing up children is psychohistorical. I have a son 29 (from my former marriage), a girl 13, and a boy 8 — I’m really an equal parenting partner with my wife — and that’s probably what I’ve spent more time on in my life than psychohistory, and what I’m most proud of. They’re terrific kids.
BL: Some see your helping mode of parent-child relationships as overly optimistic. Do you still feel as strongly positive toward it as you did 25 years ago?
LdM: Yes, I really do. My older son and his friends are good examples of the results of the helping mode of parenting. They would no more think of going to war than the man in the moon, unless they’re being invaded. And most of the social craziness just simply isn’t there. They’re simply missing the traumatic basis for social re-enactment. And it doesn’t take all that much to be a good parent. But there are still so few parents who bring up their children without hitting them and without manipulating them for their own emotional satisfaction. I don’t demand that children be perfect. I used the word “helping” because that was the most innocuous, simple, little, and pleasant word I could find for “We’ll help you grow up.” That’s not such a big deal, is it?
BL: No, it’s not. Is The Emotional Lives of Nations close to being published?
LdM: No, I’m going to do it in The Journal of Psychohistory bit by bit, as I always do, because if you put a book out you don’t sell very many. If I put it in The Journal it can attract attention chapter by chapter, and people can comment on it and use it in class. And eventually it will get to be a book.
BL: I’ve seen reference to your new work on the neurobiology of psychohistory.
LdM: That’ll be part of Chapter 3 of The Emotional Lives of Nations. There have been some recent advances in neurobiology that give a sense of what’s happening in the brain as nations trot off to wars, or have revolutions or depressions. Essentially, psychological events looked at a different way, from the other side of the coin, are also physiological events. There’s no reason why you can’t move back and forth between those two as a psychiatrically-oriented clinician might do with individuals. In America we are currently suffering from severe serotonin depletion, and neural transmitter imbalances of the catecholamines. You can measure this and get some sense of the rise and fall of suicide rates, admissions to hospitals, and certain kinds of diseases.
My theories are based on the notion that history, like individual life, contains emotional problems that are created by re-enactment of early traumas. I think that’s new in the sense of the discovery of the evolution of childhood and its connection with the evolution of history and institutions — history as a re-enactment of early traumas because we all have them in common, even perinatal trauma. They’re so early that I always study group-fantasies with pre-verbal material because the traumas are pre-verbal. I don’t think anybody else has studied the sequence of group-fantasies in terms of the phases of group-fantasies as you pass through leadership phases — long phases of innovation, of depressions, of mania, and then war. Why, every time you go to war, do you say you’re going to be “reborn” by it? Why do you always say you’re “reborn” in history? And the phases are quite lawful — they follow certain patterns. Much of my work on phases hasn’t even been published.
What we psychohistorians are doing, I think, is examining a separate part of the brain that is devoted to social activities. I call it the social alter. It stores all of our traumas in a dissociated neural network. It doesn’t invade our regular daily life. We stuff things into it to just continue functioning and we then act them out on the social stage together. Groups are very useful for that. We sort of switch in and out of these social alter personalities. I even think I can watch people do it as they talk politic-ese. Newt Gingrich will start talking about how children cannot be dependent anymore so we’ve got to take all of their welfare away from them, and how we ought to give every ghetto child a laptop computer so he can get onto the Internet. This man was a different personality when he voiced the first idea than when he said the second. I think he was in his alter personality in the first instance, tapping into his own childhood as the unwanted child of a teenage mother, and then he snapped out of it and switched to his “I’m just plain Newt” and remembered that the previous day he had been surfing the Internet and wished everybody could do that, too. In the first, he’s talking about himself, about his own stored emotions, but he doesn’t know it. That’s how you can write big, thick books as people do constantly about war and never mention the words “anger” or “fear.” The emotions somehow get dissociated.
It’s this dissociated part of the brain that I think psychohistorians examine and no one else does — not psychoanalysts, not therapists in general. When you’re on the couch, your analyst stays away from your political and religious opinions, knowing that it is the deepest, earliest, most fearsome fantasies, and feelings, and traumas that are buried. Why should a good therapist duck religious and political opinions? If you’re most vociferous and most irrational about those, then that’s what he ought to get into. Well, psychohistorians are the ones who tend to get into those and that’s why people back away from us. Of the five to ten thousand people I pull in every year through my publicity efforts and speeches and radio programs, only a few hundred join the IPA? That’s unbelievable, yet it’s true. Well, I watch them come and go. I get to know them personally. And I find that they’re just scared. Scared. Clinicians don’t want to go past the couch. They could be thrown out of their professions. Academics could lose their jobs. Graduate students could be thrown out of the graduate program and flunk their orals. Now, obviously, that has more profound meaning than just, oh gosh, saying we’re scary because we talk about awful things.
BL: Why did you start The Journal?
LdM: No one else would publish my writing! I wanted to tell people what I’d found. I was excited! And I couldn’t tell just my neighbor and my wife. I had something new in looking at old problems in different ways. I’m in the business of affecting other people’s view of society. I appeal to those people out there who are social theorists. Unfortunately, as with most new paradigms, it’s only the young people — the students in those courses who are given my books — who love it. For the most part I can’t get past the academics. As Thomas Kuhn says, the only solution to that is to let them [the older generation of academics] die out. I’ll appeal to the next generation.
BL: Is there certain material that you prefer for The Journal?
LdM: I’ll be pleased to get almost anything. I really don’t do psychoanalytic studies of literature because American Imago, The Psychoanalytic Review, and various other international journals do a lot of it. I don’t take yet one more “Hamlet had an Oedipus complex” and “Somebody else had an Oedipus complex.” If it’s a literary character with some reality basis that shows how much in Chaucer they’re jumping in and out of the beds of the little girls, that’s fine. So, too, I tend only to do psychobiography if it’s very rich in childhood. Just “Here are Abraham Lincoln’s adult traits and I think that they mean he was a depressive.” tends not to get too far with me, unless it’s embedded in childhood.
We’re very catholic. There is no “line” from the editor. I just wrote a review of Rudy Binion’s books. I consider Rudy to be one of the greatest psychohistorians. Yet he disagrees totally with my whole childhood focus. But he’s a superb archivist — his work is worth gold.
BL: Does The Journal have a referee system? Do you send submissions to referees?
LdM: Sometimes, where there are qualified experts who have some knowledge that qualifies them to judge the submission. But most articles for The Journal are submissions by people who are uniquely qualified in their areas, who have no peers. Just as articles for early psychoanalytic journals by Freud, Abraham, Ferenczi and others weren’t sent to a bunch of traditional psychiatrists, who knew nothing about the new field of psychodynamics, so, too, I wouldn’t dream of sending an article by Alenka Puhar on child abuse and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, or David Beisel on the psychological causes of WWII, or Jean Goodman on multiple personalities in 16th-century possession cases, to a list of traditional academics who usually are unqualified to judge their work. I myself as editor check out each article at the library for accuracy of references, simply because I learn so much doing so. But when you are establishing new paradigms, as Kuhn says, rather than doing “usual science” that simply extends previous paradigms, the usual referee system is more damaging than productive.
BL: Will you share with us about your early career?
LdM: I started out as the son of a General Motors executive, going to a General Motors Institute in Flint, Michigan, and starting to work for Cadillac Motor Car Division as an accountant. But I then decided to join the army to get the GI Bill to come to Columbia in New York City to re-do my undergraduate career. After I came back from Korea I was very much interested in why those little Korean kids were living underneath those bridges, and starving to death at the end of the war that I had joined over there. So, I was going to be a career diplomat and majored in political science. Then I started psychoanalytic treatment and training, and decided to try and apply it. But Columbia University threw me out while I was doing my doctorate, saying there’s no combining political science and mental health.
I remember that Professor Dean, the head of the political science department, said, “Saying what you want to on your PhD is like saying you like strawberry ice cream. It’s a taste of yours. But I don’t know anything about psychoanalysis, so you can’t use it.” I was going to study Hitler and he said, “No, you can’t do that.” Four years later he was Dean Dean of Columbia College, standing on the barricades for the students who were saying that we ought to get out of the war in Vietnam, and he said to them, “What you want around Columbia — we’re not, after all, a democratic institution — what you want is like saying ‘I like strawberry ice cream.’” And then James Kunen wrote a book, The Strawberry Statement, which was made into a movie, about the Columbia student uprisings. And I thought to myself, I was just four years too early! I would have had the whole Columbia College behind me if I had waited a little longer!
BL: By the late sixties, then, you were working on the history of childhood?
LdM: Yes. I was the research head of American Imago. I tried to take it over, make it less literary and more psychohistorical, and failed. I was doing childhood history myself, since it was obvious to me that childhood was the key to history. I found that most psychoanalysts, other psychotherapists, and historians did not follow me. Even the family historians I got to write The History of Childhood finally nearly threw me out of the book even though I was editor. I thought they would do the main job and I would write a little foreword that would summarize their material. But their material — they whitewashed so much! They would bring a 13th-century Tuscan dialect recording of Morelli saying that the parents were really loving to their children: “I put my hand on my wife’s belly and said, ‘I’m not going to beat this child up, and send him out to wet-nurse, and do terrible things to him, like was done to me. I’m going to be different’.” I said, “That’s wonderful! That’s the spirit of the Renaissance — a rebirth of humanism. Now, let’s turn the microfilm reader and see what finally happened.” “‘My child has just died at the age of seven. Why did I send him out to wet-nurse? And why did I beat him? And why did I never give him any of my time? And why was I so mean to him all the time? I didn’t carry out my promise’.” I said, “That’s good, too — put that in.” “No, no, we don’t want to put that in. That makes him look bad. And anyway, he seems distraught.” I said, “So, say he’s distraught. But put it in. That’s also the Renaissance. Great aspirations, but you can’t make it.” No, they wouldn’t do it. They were cutting out all the material that was emotionally important. So I wrote my own article at the beginning with my own research and all of the people had a revolution and wanted to throw me out of the book, saying that they wouldn’t appear in a book with me, that they didn’t agree with it at all.
BL: Why is there such a reluctance to do the history of childhood?
LdM: It’s hard work, and why have we overlooked child abuse for millennia? Even Freud did. He saw that there was plenty of child abuse around him but didn’t really believe it caused anything. About the patients that came to him he said, Yes, they were all sexually abused but this has nothing to do with hysteria because everybody’s sexually abused, so how can it etiologically have any bearing on this particular syndrome? Of course, in some sense he’s right. You’d have to redo your whole theory. But the fact that most of the people in his society — most of the children, most of his patients — were quite obviously swaddled, sexually-abused, and beaten to a pulp — Freud and all the psychoanalysts around him said all this had absolutely no effect. Beating and raping of children — which I think was the reason they came to him, the reason they were sick — he said had no influence.
Family experts might do some family history — how many people lived under one roof in 1780 in England versus in 1810, or how property passed down. But parent-child relations? No. The history of childhood is not mentioned in family history courses or social history courses or feminist history courses. You’d think the feminists would pay some attention. Yet they’re absolutely, totally blank on it.
BL: What kind of training or experience should a person enter the field with today?
LdM: Well, they should have some therapy for themselves. (I’m in my 26th year of analysis.) They should take one of the social sciences. And they ought to take a reasonable amount of depth psychology — whether it’s psychoanalytic or other is of less importance, I think, than that they know what the literature is in general.
BL: What about clinical exposure?
LdM: It’s nice, but not absolutely necessary if you have a lot of therapy, because you have to look inside yourself and literally identify and then dis-identify with the aggressors. One thing I don’t like in psychohistory is continuously identifying with victims and saying, for example, “Well, everybody was killed in the Holocaust and the psychology of the victims is interesting.” What we need to know is why the perpetrators did it in the first place. So, I keep asking the same people, “Identify with the Nazis [to gather your initial material] and give me a good analysis of Nazis — you’ve got some autobiographies of Nazis.” I get no answers from them. People who are very much involved. “I’m a Jew and I can’t,” they’ll say to me, “because that will excuse the Nazis.” No! Understanding people does not excuse them! Understanding doesn’t mean you’re for the murderer and murder, for the aggressor and aggression. But you first have to understand them to stop it. And why just plain people become murderers. There’s an awfulness to society that is hardly suspected. We’ve just begun to see it.
BL: Who was important to your development?
LdM: Well, I suppose the best teacher I had was C. Wright Mills. He was in the Sociology Department at Columbia. I was his research assistant and helped him write White Collar. He had a lot of energy and would come in and throw his motorcycle saddlebags down and say, “All right! There’s fourS fiveS six of us. We’re going to divide up the problems of the world into six and solve them!” Which I felt was a good way to start out a project. Rather than “Learn the 52 counties of England by next session.”, which was what Jacques Barzun said in our first class and then I dropped his course. I honestly didn’t learn much at Columbia other than Mills’ spirit.
BL: As you look back over your career to-date, what would you do differently?
LdM: I would learn a lot more languages — Latin and Greek and so on. I have to depend on and pay people to translate all the original material. But you can only do so much.
BL: In a December 5, 1994, New Yorker article you said that a good scientist should try to predict. What about prediction in psychohistory?
dM: I think a good psychohistorian — or any other scientist — ought to be using his or her predictions because we don’t have any way to experiment. Even in psychology you’ve got some animal experiments in laboratories where you can actually go into the hippocampus to see if it’s being depleted of serotonin. In history, you just don’t. I can’t go out and change the face of history. Nor do you ever have a second chance at anything. Every morning, one or more of my friends in psychohistory call and ask, “What does that cartoon mean?”, or say, “It looks like we’re going to war.”, or, “What will Clinton do to respond to all these cartoons and other material that say he’s a wimp?” This kind of constant prediction is the best you can do. And I think it’s important to do it. I try not to be too proud of it because I’m wrong more often than I’m right. But my being wrong makes me modify my hypothesis.
We’re still at that early stage in a science where our first job is postulating bold hypotheses and modifying or disproving them and starting over. What we want to do, I think, is make all of those things that we’re now so terribly familiar with unfamiliar. We know what war is. My God, do we have to study another war?! You’ve got whole libraries full of wars. And depressions. And shootings of Presidents. What we need to do is make them seem problematic for the first time, whereas before they just seemed natural. That’s what Freud did on individuals, I think. Before him, “They’re hysterical. Well, it must be in the genes, or their constitution.” And everybody nodded. And he listened, and he listened, and he said, “Well, wait a minute. What was the previous trauma, what do you associate it to? And then what happened? What was the first time you did that?” He strung it back and essentially found the way the brain stores memories, strung on these clumping mechanisms and neurons, and made it unfamiliar again. Then he asked the right questions. I don’t think we’re asking the right questions.
BL: What are the right questions?
LdM: A right question is, “What are the motivations for social action?” We need to bring emotions back into the social sphere from which they have been thrown out by historians, sociologists, and everybody else. Durkheim started sociology based on the fact that you don’t have to study the psychology of any individual at all, you don’t have to study emotions, and wrote a book saying that in suicide you don’t even have to know what the emotions of anybody are to understand it. To bring psychology back in, to find out what the real emotions are, trace those back to their sources, sticking close to the empirical record. Watching more closely what’s really happening in front of you is the task.
When Dave Beisel [SUNY<Rockland Community College], who is now teaching his 5,000th psychohistory student, starts students out he plunges them right into their own childhood, he has them go talk to their mother and grandmother and see what they were like in their childhood. He has them go right out to the newsstand and pull in all the editorial cartoons they can and plunge right in and say, “What’s the emotion?” He doesn’t care if any of them have taken a course in Freud. You don’t need a course in Freud! If you look at the cartoons and you see nothing for three or four months but women like Lorena Bobbitt and Hillary Clinton with knives, then you know there’s some fantasy abroad that women are out there with knives. And when suddenly, the day that O.J. Simpson allegedly stabs his wife with a knife, all those disappear and for the next four months only men have knives, then I don’t care what your theoretical system is — you have a psychohistorical observation that you have to explain somehow. So, I want to plunge into the empirical material, both present and past, and see what the emotions are.
BL: Going back to that New Yorker article for a minute, do you feel six months later that we’re still in a manic period and that another war is coming?
LdM: It’s yet to be seen whether Clinton will be a Bush and actually carry it out [as Bush did in Panama and the 1991 Persian Gulf War] because he’s afraid of being called a wimp or whether he will he be a Carter who just pushed his foot into the ground and said, “I will not do that.” Carter went as far as to send a helicopter [into Iran during the 1979-1980 hostage crisis] but when that helicopter crashed he didn’t put the rest of the troops in. And we threw him out because he didn’t. With Clinton, it has to do with what’s going on in his head right now, and in the heads of his advisers. His mother left him when he was very, very young, although the grandmother wasn’t so bad. The stepfather beat him up, and actually had a gun, and beat up the mother, so that wasn’t so good. Maybe he’s got enough trauma in him to say, “I have to play that out on the historical stage.” So far, though, he’s pretty much dug his feet into the ground. Though he was ready to go to war in Haiti, wasn’t he? Except for Carter who came in and ruined it for him!
BL: How can psychohistorians strengthen our work today? Have more influence?
LdM: We strengthen our work just simply by doing more research and more writing and more sharing with each other. Encourage each other and don’t backbite. I honestly don’t worry too much about influence. You hear about the bombing in Oklahoma City and next day I get 20 phone calls from newspapers, radio programs, and TV programs. There’s enough people listening to us if we have the answers. I’ve suggested, for instance, that we ought to have nuclear tension monitoring centers around the world so that in case there’s another Cuban missile crisis, you ought to have somebody to pick up the phone and call just like you have a suicide hotline to say, “Gee, I’m about to jump out the window. Is there anything you can say to dissuade me from this?” A couple people in the UN thought it might be a good idea. Nothing was done. Meanwhile we’ve got branches abroad, we’re getting the beginning of the ability to do it ourselves. The influence will come.
BL: How would you like to see psychohistory develop over the next decade or so?
LdM: I hope it’ll be around in a decade! I really consider its survival a miracle because humans’ capacity to deny their emotional problems, that they act out on the social stage, is so vast, so enormous, and so collusive. Newt Gingrich will come on stage and say, “We’ve got to take all the money away from all these children because they’re getting too dependent on welfare, on food stamps, and on school lunches.” For the most part we collude, “There’s no psychological problem in that.” Just as we once colluded in saying schizophrenia, multiple personality disorder, and other kinds of individual problems were just craziness. We don’t say, “Now, what happened? How can you have this? There’s something goofy going on here.” We have to overcome that vast collusive denial.
Autonomy, the French Revolution, and Human Rights:
Lynn Hunt, Bob Lentz The Psychohistory Forum
BL: When did you know you wanted to be a historian?
LH: When I was a teenager I became interested in history, but I didn’t really decide to go into history until my second year in college. I attributed it to the fact that my mother’s parents were immigrants from Europe. Her father was a German-speaking Russian from Ukraine and her mother was born in the United States to an immigrant family from Germany. So they were both Germans but from different parts of Europe.
BL: What are your areas of expertise?
LH: My subject area is the French Revolution and the 18th century. I also do a fair amount of work on historical methods. In the 1980s my interest shifted away from what might be called traditional social history, which I had done in the 1970s, towards the new cultural history which is language, symbols, and the various forms of symbolic behavior and how they enter into politics and society.
BL: Symbols include the arts?
LH: Absolutely. I began with certain speeches and festivals, then I did quite a bit of work on engraving, and from there I became more interested in painting — how they’re used to set up a new political culture in a revolutionary period such as the French Revolution. One of the characteristics of revolution is the need to re-create identities very quickly, so there’s a heavier than usual reliance on things like festivals and propaganda. You can’t accomplish political re-education all at once. One of the fastest ways the revolutionaries tend to believe it can happen is by mass rallies and by changing all of the symbolic aspects of politics — the seal of state, the symbols of the nation — and giving them a new content.
BL: When and how did you first encounter psychohistory?
LH: I had always been interested in psychology. When I was a teenager I had already read a lot of Erich Fromm, Karen Horney, and the American school of ego psychology. I had seriously thought of going into psychology when I was in college. The big influence on me in graduate school was Erik Erikson’s Young Man Luther. The book was the subject of intense discussion in the late sixties. I think it stuck with me because most of my fellow graduate students were so hostile to it, and I was not.
BL: Were there any mentors who helped you with the psychodynamic approach to history?
LH: I had one lecturer in graduate school, Margo Drekmeier — she taught early modern European intellectual history — who was very interested in the relationship between psychological and sociological components, and encouraged me to read in that area in a general way, although it was more heavily on the sociological side. The big book in those days for us was Berger and Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality (1967).
The other person at Stanford who had a not immediate but long-term effect was Paul Robinson who has always been interested in Freud and the psychological dimension. His first book, The Freudian Left (1969), was on the modernization of sex — Wilhelm Reich, Herbert Marcuse, and others. He probably doesn’t do psychohistory, strictly speaking.
BL: You’ve had neither analysis yourself nor any psychoanalytical or psychotherapeutic training. How did you become able to do psychologically/psychoanalytically-informed history?
LH: I think I came at it more from the side which has recently grown in importance, the cultural studies side, in the same way that people in literature did, through a long project of reading Freud and an intense interest in psychoanalysis, though not from a clinical therapeutic side. That’s very characteristic these days of literature people who tend not to be psychoanalytically trained — there is a tremendous amount of psychoanalytic work being done in literature compared to history. Most of my historian friends have been or are in therapy, so it’s not that they are uninterested in the psychological dimension. But, interestingly, in their historical work they tend to avoid it because in history the psychological dimension has fallen out of favor in the last decade, though I think it is bound to come back.
BL: How can we hasten its return?
LH: There need to be more general articles like the Fred Weinstein article in History and Theory, “Psychohistory and the Crisis of the Social Sciences” [1995 34(4), 299-319], which tried to grapple with how to bring the social and the psychological together.
BL: How do you define “psychohistory”?
LH: I see an important distinction to be made. Psychohistory has been identified with explicitly using psychological, especially psychoanalytic, theory of individual development in historical context. I would like to see more of a move toward a revival of the psychosocial which I see as having been quite prominent in historical work in the nineteen-teens, nineteen-twenties, and nineteen-thirties; as having been quite prominent in sociological work — in the work of Talcott Parsons, for example — but as having dropped out, ironically, with the rise of social history in the post-World War II period. The older connection was already implicitly there in Max Weber and Emile Durkheim — more socially oriented theorists who saw that the psychological had to be incorporated. This is the part that would speak to all historians as opposed to the very specific interest in current psychological and psychoanalytic theory and its possible application.
BL: Has psychohistory itself had any impact on your areas of expertise?
LH: Certainly, Bruce Mazlish’s work, The Revolutionary Ascetic (1976), is important in studies of comparative revolutions. Ironically, in my view, there has been more interest in psychological explanation in explaining extremes in history — revolutionary movements, fascism, totalitarianism, witchcraft — what are seen as abnormal historical experiences — than in explaining mainstream events.
BL: Would the psychosocial cover more the mainstream?
LH: Well, it certainly would remind historians that everyone has a psyche — not just Hitler, not just the extremes and abnormals. It’s not just people who believe in witchcraft who have psychological components to their behavior.
BL: Tell us briefly about your best known work, The Family Romance of the French Revolution, on the psychological aspects of the French Revolution.
LH: It’s an attempt to do a collective psychological analysis of the way the French thought about politics. I use a fair number of psychoanalytic concepts to do that, to try to get at what was the psychological underpinning for the way politics were re-thought during the Revolutionary period. I closely follow the work of two people with competing visions of how the psychological works. On the one hand, Freud, who, in Totem and Taboo, tries to analyze the origins of all political organization and social structure, which I think is an important attempt to get at the way in which founding myths are established. I also use the work of Rene Girard, Violence and the Sacred (1977),who is a critic of Freud’s but who is also interested in the psychological dimension of collective behavior. In the case of Freud, what I’m interested in is the whole idea of a primal story of the foundation of political authority. In the case of Girard, it’s really his competing claims about what that primal story really is. He focuses on the community’s need for a scapegoat to overcome its internal desires for violence rather than on the father figure. The scapegoat can be the king but can also be someone else who does not occupy a paternal role.
BL: What has been the nature of the commentary on The Family Romance?
LH: I think for historians the big issue is the use of psychoanalytic concepts in connection with historical analysis to which many historians are violently resistant. And they’re also resistant to the idea of analyzing the collective unconscious which is a concept that I take from Freud and also, to a certain extent, from Emile Durkheim. There are things about the French Revolution such as an excess of emotional attachment to certain issues that are just impossible to explain in terms of rational calculation of interest. For example, the queen, Marie Antoinette: why did they have to execute her? Extremely unusual event in world history, to kill a queen who cannot rule, who has never ruled, who will never be able to rule — and the kind of vitriol that surrounded her person and her trial!
BL: Could you elaborate on the “collective unconscious”?
LH: I think of it as that area in which rules of conduct and presuppositions about the meaning of life are developed that are either not entirely conscious or not at all conscious to the people whose behavior we’re talking about. For example, why would the French Revolutionaries, in the midst of war — a war that they’re losing at that moment — spend their time having a trial of the queen in which they discuss her sex life and her supposed incest with her son in great detail? It shows that a lot of the rules of political behavior are actually developed unconsciously rather than in the process of conscious political discussion. What I tied to argue in my book is that the collective unconscious for Europeans is very much tied up with family models of authority, and I tried to work through to new models of authority, which can’t be done entirely on a conscious level.
I think there are various clues about the collective unconscious in political behavior. I used actual political decisions like holding the trials of the king and the queen, and planning to execute them, and what that might have meant to people. But I looked at not just what was said in newspaper editorials or in political speeches, but also by what subjects were chosen for engraving, for painting, for the writing of novels. I tried to access what unconscious rules were being developed there by looking at father figures, mother figures, brother figures, and their development over time in both novels and paintings. Then, perhaps most controversially, I also used the writings of the Marquis de Sade [1740-1814] as what I called a kind of revolutionary dreamwork, as one especially extreme expression of these familial models of authority and how they’re being worked through. I used pornography, in short, as a clue to what was going on in the collective unconscious. (I have edited a book called The Invention of Pornography. In that book, I and my collection of essay writers argued that pornography began as a form of political and social commentary — a form of criticism of aristocracy and monarchy — and only really took shape as we know it as a modern commercial product sold for sexual arousal — as a sex-aid product — at the very end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries. We don’t know why the shift in pornography took place; that’s a subject that remains to be researched.)
It’s not until Sade that you get the working through of all possible pornographic themes. There is no one who is more extreme than the Marquis de Sade because he understands murder and death as being the final result of what he is talking about, and portrays it as such obsessively over and over again. Why do we get this very extreme representation of pornography in the 1790s? I argue that what the French Revolution does is show people, largely unconsciously, that all authority is conventional, all authority depends on people believing in it. The most striking thing that the French Revolution does, and I think this is what Sade is commenting on, is to undermine the idea that authority is natural, traditional, God-given — that it has some transcendental foundation that cannot be contested. Instead, what the French Revolution does is say, “We can remake the social and political order according to ideas we have about what would be the best social and political order.” What Sade does is essentially turn that around and say that you could also remake the social and political order along the most evil lines. In other words, the idea that you can create the authority you want by a decision of human will opens the possibility that anything is possible. Sade is showing that if there is no foundation of authority other than in human will, then all things are possible and the foundation of morality is in question. Sade is not just a simple celebrator of this discovery but also the person who showed its most alarming consequences.
BL: Are there any psychosocially significant revolutions in the world today?
LH: The whole Islamic world is basically in a state of revolution. This would be a very interesting movement for a psychosocial analysis because it’s clear that there are enormous psychological as well as social issues involved in Islamic fundamentalism. There’s a steady current of resistance to modernity. What modernity represents for many people in the Islamic world is a threatening rearrangement of familial roles and, especially, gender roles — what the role of women is supposed to be in a modern Islamic society. I see a large amount of reaction to the idea that women in the Islamic world will be like women in the Western world, completely autonomous beings. That is a big, big strain in Islamic fundamentalism.
Where the fundamentalists actually get power they try to turn back the clock on women’s autonomy and self-motivation and self-determination. But it’s very hard to do that. It’s an area that calls out for symbolic analysis because what you’re wearing underneath that black robe is a tremendously fraught issue. In all revolutionary situations: what people wear becomes the ultimate symbolic arena.
BL: What is the importance of childhood to psychohistory and the psychosocial?
LH: It’s been one of the most difficult things in historical analysis to resolve because we tend not to have huge amounts of information about the childhood of historically significant people. As a consequence of this paucity of information on individuals, there’s been a fruitful turn toward looking at the history of childhood in a social as well as a psychological way in a more collective fashion, focusing not on the lives of specific individuals but on more general patterns of childrearing. Surprisingly little has been done on this, at least in French history, since Philippe Ariès, Centuries of Childhood (1962), pointed the way to the importance of a kind of collective analysis of the history of childhood, and there needs to be much more done on this subject.
BL: Who are some others who have made the greatest contribution to psychohistory or the psychosocial?
LH: I have been most influenced by those who have started from the social and then tried to incorporate the psychological. What I find most promising for the future is, for example, the kind of thing laid out by Norbert Elias in The Civilizing Process (1939). Elias was a German Jew, forced to flee in the 1930s, who lived much of his life in Switzerland. He tries to bring together a sociological and psychoanalytic analysis, tries to offer a kind of developmental history of the West in these psychosocial terms, which is also one of the things that Freud does. So it is not about an individual — it’s an attempt to get at the unspoken rules of social behavior and what they might tell us about the changing historical contours of the psyche, how the experience of the psyche might have actually evolved over time. This is an area that has been much neglected but now, interestingly, Elias’ direction has been picked up much more by the Dutch and the Germans than it has in the Anglo-Saxon world, not just because he wrote it in German originally, but for reasons that have to do in part with the dominance of behavioral psychology in America in university faculties.
Someone like Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality (1980),is very important because, even though he’s hostile to psychoanalysis, he points to a way of understanding the psychological historically over time. Also someone like Ariès who was deeply interested in how psychological experiences were shaped historically. I’m also interested in the work of a philosopher like Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self (1989), who wants to understand the origins of what he calls “modern inwardness.” Now, he understands it in terms of intellectual history, which I think is too limiting, but he again points to a kind of Western development of ideas of the self rather than assuming that the self is the same in every era over time. So I’m very interested in the developmental view and that’s why for me, Ariès, Elias, Foucault, and Taylor, and even Jürgen Habermas who has some suggestions along these lines in his early work, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (1989), are very interesting ways of reviving the whole area.
BL: What are you working on now?
LH: I am working on the history of human rights. One of the things I’m very interested in is the history of human rights is a kind of Norbert Elias question, which is, What vision of the self has to come into play for human rights to make sense? I’m interested in practices and ideas about individual autonomy, which I want to argue became much more prevalent in the 18th century than they had been before — not that there were no ideas before, obviously there were — but that everyone might be an autonomous person is an 18th century idea which started in the 17th century. One of the things I’m going to argue is that the novel is very important for spreading this idea and making it a kind of concrete reality psychologically for most people. The idea that you can read about ordinary people — imagine yourself as identifying with them — is an important psychological component of making human rights a credible idea. You have to move away from the Medieval notion that a person is a kind of marker in the system of kinship relations, is completely defined by the communities that they are in, is defined much more in the communal and social context in which they live, to a more 18th-century and modern notion, that the individual is self-determined, that you make your own choices, you decide what you want to do. I think there’s a lot of social determiancy that goes along with the psychology that’s behind human rights. You can’t have human rights — and I don’t think you had human rights before the 18th century — unless you can imagine that all individuals, starting with all male individuals but spreading quite quickly thereafter, are equally able to make their place in the world.
BL: Do any exemplary novels come to mind?
LH: The novel for me in this regard is the one that many people in 18th-century English literature talk about, Samuel Richardson’s novel, Clarissa. One of the things I’ve always been interested in is why it is that the fictional individual in the 18th century is almost always a woman, why it is that it’s the woman that is the heroine of the story when rights are in the first place imagined to be male. Yet, for Rousseau, Richardson, and most writers, it’s a female figure that is the figure that they use to develop these ideas of what it is a self is. So, why Clarissa? Why Pamela? — Richardson has another novel, Pamela, about a servant girl — and that’s very important in starting this off because here you have middle class and upper class people identifying with a servant girl. And for Rousseau it’s also a woman in his novel, Julie. My current thinking is that it’s because women are especially poignant cases of dealing with restraints. There’s a way in which the idea of the struggle for autonomy is much clearer with women who are much more controlled by their family. So you can get a much better story about the conflict over individuality with female characters because they’re not free to leave home — they’re not free to go off and seek their fortune. Now, of course, there are many stories about that with males: Tom Jones, Robinson Crusoe — I don’t mean to say there are no male heroes. But one of the really interesting issues is why the heroes aren’t just male, since they are the ones who are free to go off and make their way in the world. I think it’s because there is a tremendous emotional investment with the idea of what to do about constraint, what to do about restraint, what to do about limits on autonomy.
Mel Kalfus: Psychobiographer, Institution Builder, and Survivor
Paul H. Elovitz, Ramapo College and the Psychohistory Forum
Paul H. Elovitz (PHE): Please tell us about your family background.
Melvin Kalfus (MK): My family was Jewish. Both parents were born in New York City. Mother’s parents were of Hungarian descent. Father’s parents were from Silesia, Austro-Hungarian Empire, of Polish-Jewish lineage. My parents were born and grew up in immigrant poverty on the Lower East Side. Mother married my father when she was 16, in part she later said, to get away from home and to not have to get a job. My brother, six years older, and I were born when our parents resided in Brooklyn. Mother was a homemaker until she was 50, when she fulfilled a girlhood ambition of becoming a nurse, a licensed practical nurse. Father was a very successful plumbing and heating contractor, specializing in restaurant and hotel work in Manhattan. Father died when I was 43. (I did not learn of his death until 3 months afterward; we had been estranged since I was 22.) Mother died when I was 63.
PHE: What has been the effect of all the moving around your family did — Long Island, Miami, Long Island, Tucson, Long Island, Rosedale?
MK: Actually, my wife Alma and I moved even more often in the first dozen years of our marriage than my family did when I was a kid — mostly in response to my rapid career changes, which suggests a reluctance or inability to “put down roots” as a result of childhood instability and insecurity. But such moving around can also help some individuals to become flexible, adaptable, and able to deal with change, and possibly less insular.
All the moving around as a child was complicated by illness. I was born with the whooping cough, which turned into bronchiectasis — a chronic lifelong respiratory condition that today requires I use oxygen equipment around the clock. A terrible and unnecessary operation when I was five just made it worse. Put them all together and you have the formula for a good deal of inner rage and pain as well as insecurity. On the flip side, you also have the evolution of a survivor: what Bowlby says about trauma as healed-over scar tissue. You can function well enough most of the time, but the scars throb on rainy days.
PHE: You’ve said elsewhere that you hated school when young, yet you went on to get a doctorate and become a teacher. How do you explain that?
MK: In high school and then undergraduate university at Purdue, I did well at the subjects I liked (English, history, and some math), but my mind and imagination went on “walkabouts” everywhere else (the sciences and engineering mechanics). But I almost never missed a class or a day of work in later years. When I went back to school the first time, to Boston University, for an MBA program I didn’t complete, it was for a career advantage. When I went to NYU for the doctorate in history, it was to pursue something I loved. Focus and self-discipline were things that came late to me: perhaps after I moved to Hartford at age 24 to start work as a reporter for the Courant, maybe not even until I came to the ad agency at age 36. After holding seven different jobs in the 12 intervening years, I stayed at the agency for 22 years.
One reason I later identified so strongly with Frederick Law Olmsted was coming across this statement of his, early on, that he wrote when he was 68 (my age now!): “I never before had the question so clearly before me, how such a loitering, self-indulgent, dilettante sort of man as I was when you knew me and for ten years afterward could, at middle age, have turned into such a hard worker and doer as I then suddenly became and have been ever since.” Of course, I know now that it wasn’t so “suddenly” with him, or with me. I said in my book that Olmsted’s experience perfectly illustrated Erik Erikson’s concept of a “psychosocial moratorium” — “a period, sometimes lasting many years, during which a young person seeks to find ‘a niche in some section of society’” which will allow him to consolidate and to live in harmony with his sense of identity. Obviously, I believed that also about myself.
PHE: What psychoanalytic/psycho-therapeutic training and experience have you had?
MK: No formal training. As part of the doctoral program at New York University (NYU), I was permitted to take courses in the Psychology Department in place of a foreign language requirement. Took three or four. But, as an autodidact, I heavily read Sigmund Freud, Melanie Klein, Eric Erickson, Donald Winnicott, and Margaret Mahler, plus subscribed to several journals. I also purchased second-hand at the Strand Bookstore many copies of that wonderful series, The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child (1945).
I went into therapy in the mid-1970s, in large part to deal with the tremendous stress of the advertising business, but I quickly found I was dealing with issues far beyond that immediate problem. I believe it was essential to being able to be effective as a psychobiographer and a psychohistorian. You simply have to have dealt with your own issues to diminish the tendency to impose them on your subjects and end up making your work just another link in your defenses. Plus, there is nothing like the experience of psychotherapy to enable you to truly grasp the theoretical stuff you have been studying. What did I really know about the powerful defenses of splitting and transference and projection and denial until I had grappled with them and their effects in therapy?
I also believe that the intense psychotherapy I engaged in between 1985 and 1988 made it possible for me to get myself together after chemotherapy and go on to complete my dissertation, get my doctorate, and publish a book. And probably also being able to resign from the ad agency, move to Florida, and launch a late-life career change to teaching.
PHE: How do you define psychohistory?
MK: I like your early phrase at the head of Clio’s Psyche:: Understanding the “Why” of Culture, Current Events, History, and Society. That helps to explain what I think is one of the most valuable traits of a good psychohistorian — an insatiable curiosity.
PHE: What brought you to psychohistory?
MK: I didn’t start out doing psychohistory or psychobiography at NYU. I started out thinking of a political/intellectual study of John Adams and Edmund Burke, and did a seminar paper on the subject. While taking another course, I got involved with Frederick Law Olmsted and, for this course, read Laura Wood Roper’s biography, FLO: A Biography of Frederick Law Olmsted (1973). He fascinated me, clearly because I identified with him in so many ways, not the least of which was his self-proclaimed “dilettantish nature” noted above. At any rate, the Roper biography just whizzed by so many things in his life that raised so many profound psychological questions that I felt a compelling interest in answering and understood I could only answer psychobiographically. It was while building the background to do it that I discovered the Journal of Psychohistory (recently renamed from the History of Childhood Quarterly, which is what I was looking up in the NYU library) and, through it, the brand-new IPA, and through them both, an absorbing interest in doing psychohistory.
PHE: What books were important to your development?
MK: I’ll answer for my development as a psychobiographer:
- Erik Erickson: Childhood and Society and Identity, Youth, and Crisis.
- Donald Winnicott: The Maturational Process and the Facilitating Environment.
- Margaret Mahler (et al): The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant.
- Alice Miller: Prisoners of Childhood.
- Melanie Klein: Love, Guilt and Reparation.
- Anthony Storr: The Dynamics of Creation.
- Harry Guntrip: Schizoid Phenomena, Object Relations and the Self.
- And that wonderful series: The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child.
To answer this question in its largest sense, I have to return to my childhood as a “sick kid” who spent an inordinate amount of time bedridden. Books such as Robin Hood, The Hardy Boys, Baseball Joe, and The Saga of Billy the Kid developed, deepened, and enriched my imagination. Then, in the high school and university years, I was blown away by Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms; Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night and The Great Gatsby; Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury; Dickens’ David Copperfield; Bronte’s Wuthering Heights; Maugham’s Of Human Bondage and The Moon and Sixpence; Bellow’s, The Adventures of Augie March; and Farrell’s A World I Never Made.
What all of this created in me was the consuming passion about mythmaking and storytelling, for the richness and variety of the human experience, that is at the heart of both the historical and the psychohistorical imagination. I don’t know how widely-read today’s would-be psychohistorians are, but it is useful to remember that our discipline is one — and just one — of the humanities.
PHE: Who was important to your development as a student of psychosocial phenomena? What impact did Erikson have on you?
MK: Of the writers mentioned previously, Winnicott and Erickson had the most influence. Winnicott’s True Self/False Self, in dynamic interrelationship with “the environment,” has been at the center of a lot of my work. And I should add the work of Robert Stoller, related to gender development and identity, which I have found so useful to the study of creative people and which has significant psychosocial implications.
Erickson’s influence has been profound in leading me (as he had led so many others) to doing psychobiography and psychohistory. I doubt that I would have turned to psychobiography to answer the questions I had about Olmsted (after reading Laura Wood Roper’s biography) if I had not first read Erickson. That, by the way, happened only because my mentor in history, Carl Prince of NYU, assigned Erickson as a part of a class on historiography in 1974. And reading Erickson first also made me a lot more open to Lloyd deMause’s Foundations of Psychohistory (1982) than I would have been.
PHE: Did you have any mentors in psychohistory? What special training was most helpful in your doing psychohistorical work?
MK: I had none of a formal nature. What I had were role models, and through them, places to turn to acquire ad hoc training. When I began to be interested in psychohistory, David Beisel was both president of the IPA and editor-in-chief of the Journal. I learned more about doing psychohistory from David than from any other single individual. He was my editor on two articles important to me [on Olmsted and Wagner], and my encourager in so many ways large and small. Through my growing friendships with David, you, Henry Lawton, Bernard Flicker, Mel Goldstein, and Lloyd deMause, I became very active in the IPA, the Institute for Psychohistory, and the Psychohistory Forum.
The “special training” I most benefited from was the Saturday morning sessions of the Institute for Psychohistory and the Psychohistory Forum. In each case, someone would present an excerpt from a work-in-progress. The work would be critiqued and a gazillion suggestions made by those attending. These were superb vehicles for learning psychohistory through other people’s projects — but especially for learning by doing (by presenting one’s own projects). These workshops successfully did what universities try to do with mixed success in their seminars.
PHE: Of which psychohistorical work are you the most proud?
MK: My book on Frederick Law Olmsted. It has something new and important to say about Olmsted, the sources of his creativity, and the role of his gentry class in 19th century America. It reflects more than a decade of very careful, very thorough research and writing, and it carefully sets forth solid and ample evidence upon which my findings were based. Since I was working at the ad agency full-time, I purchased a second-hand microfilm reader on which to go through the 60 reels of Olmsted papers purchased from the Library of Congress, usually from 8 p.m. to 1 or 2 in the morning.
Let me give one small example of how this research paid off. The previously printed version of a letter Olmsted wrote late in his life has him saying that he felt “giddy” when he thought of the many honors that had been heaped upon him. When I read the same letter in microfilm, I found that he had written in “giddy” after striking out the word he originally wrote. He had first written that when contemplating these honors, he felt “guilty.” Not only is this a very different response, but it is one of the keys to understanding the reparative nature of his work. And there were many other instances such as this. Primary research should be as primary as you can make it.
PHE: Your Olmsted book and article on Wagner really impressed me and I think others would like to know more about them.
MK: My work on Olmsted was first published in an article for the Journal of Psychohistory in 1978 and, after my doctoral dissertation was concluded in 1988, as a book from New York University Press in 1990. The Wagner article appeared in the Journal in 1984.
Both of them proceed from the same point of inquiry: the inner sources that a creative person draws upon in his work. For Olmsted, the work was, primarily, his role in creating the great urban parks — Central Park in New York, Prospect Park in Brooklyn, and Franklin Park in Boston. For Wagner, the work was, clearly, his operas, with special emphasis upon Tannhäuser and the Der Ring des Nibelungen tetralogy (Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung).
I was also interested in the process of identity formation — its sources and vicissitudes. Interestingly, both of these men suffered devastating parental losses and also had been sent away from home during their formative years. Olmsted, a first-born child, lost his mother when he was not quite four, ten months after the birth of his brother. From ages 7 to 17, he was sent away from home to rural boarding schools, often under repressive clergymen. Wagner lost his supposed father during infancy, but gained a wonderful, caring, creative step-father within a year — the man that he and everyone else believed to be his real father (through his mother’s adultery) and which he and many current scholars believed to have been a Jew. Until age 14, Wagner was known as Richard Geyer.
I suggested that Olmsted’s life was dominated by a need to make reparation to his lost mother — recast as nature — and a need to assimilate the feminine and masculine identities that he had taken into himself and which were apparent in his self-representations. Wagner’s life, I argued, was dominated by splitting and by a much stronger pull toward feminine identification. Wagner’s splitting, ominously, was often focused upon the conflict between his German self (Richard Wagner) and his Jewish self (Richard Geyer).
PHE: What are you researching now?
MK: I had been working in three fields: the Civil War; the modern Presidency, especially as related to Jewish issues (mostly FDR but also JFK, Nixon, and Clinton); and Hollywood and the Jews. But I do hope to continue to publish articles on FDR and on Hollywood (such as “How Hollywood Hid the Holocaust” that I wrote for the December, 1999, issue of Clio’s Psyche).
One of the courses I teach, “The Truth about FDR,” deals with FDR, the Holocaust, Palestine, and the Jews. The Jewish community at one time worshipped FDR, and now a great many condemn him mightily for American inaction either on Jewish refugees or in reaction to the Holocaust itself: “He knew and he did nothing!!!!” I think this offers a most important example of the psychohistorical role of the leader. My interest is in seeing the leader whole, and in the context of his times — un-split, neither idealized nor demonized. And in seeing the leader as a delegate: shaped by, and shaping, the dominant group fantasies of his time.
PHE: What is it like being a scholar at a distance from the main centers of learning?
MK: It was very tough, even at a time when I could, and did, travel back to New York very frequently. Being quite limited in my travel now, it is extremely hard. But this mostly relates to being able to be among my friends and fellow psychohistorians such as Ralph Colp, Dan Dervin, and Howard Stein on a regular basis. It is so very easy to feel isolated and out of touch down here in Florida. But there’s the Internet — a life preserver for disabled scholars, and those who live far from the center of the action. Norman Simms, in your September Cyberspace issue, whetted my appetite for doing far more by way of research and historical/psychohistorical communication via the Net.
PHE: What is the importance of childhood to psychohistory?
MK: It’s fundamental. How can you do psychohistory without reference to childhood, individually and societally? Whenever I lecture, I use Alice Miller’s phrase in discussing psychohistorical causality, noting that all of us, including our leaders, are “prisoners of childhood.” And I give everyday examples of splitting, denial, projection, return of the repressed, etc. How we learn to operate in the world and deal with people is built upon the matrix constructed in childhood, out of the family circle and all those attached to it, or impacting upon it, for good or ill. We are burdened with all the unfinished business of childhood, roiling in the unconscious awaiting release through re-enactment, when crisis or emotion pushes us to the wall.
When lecturing on leadership, one of the models I have adopted is that of charismatic leadership, paranoid or reparative. In this model, a fundamental issue is the Eriksonian psychosocial focus upon the development of basic trust vs. mistrust. The former makes possible reparative leadership; the latter is the fundamental basis of paranoid leadership. It is a paradigm that has to be applied to the whole society, not just the leaders themselves. You can see that this provides a useful way of comparing the leaderships of FDR and Hitler, both of whom came to power in 1933. This series of lectures, “The Democrat and the Dictator,” begins with their childhoods and with the kinds of childhood that dominated the societies for which they became leader/delegate. None of this is a novelty to psychohistorians, most of whom are well aware of the pattern of paternal authoritarianism and abuse that pervaded German society.
PHE: How do you view parental influence, identification, separation, and loss?
MK: My work has included both political leadership and creativity, sometimes both in the same individual. Olmsted, Wagner, Theodor Herzl, FDR, Hitler, Nixon, Clinton, William Tecumseh Sherman, Herbert Graf (“Little Hans”), and Hemingway. In every case, there are issues with both parents. But overwhelmingly, separation from the mother is a major issue, and an inner feminine identification is an issue — it must be true of every male who received a smothering love from his mother, or at least an extreme closeness. In every case I’ve studied, the father was either remote or frequently absent. What occurred among most, if not all, of these men was an over-valuation, idealization, of masculinity, with a fear that one is not masculine enough combined with a need to suppress one’s inner feminine identifications. If the individual finds a way to integrate these paternal/maternal, masculine/feminine identifications, the result can be quite positive. This is where reparative political leadership and reparative creativity comes from as with Olmsted, Herzl, and FDR.
Olmsted always thought of nurturing as feminine, doing as masculine. His great work (with Calvert Vaux) of Central Park was feminine — pastoral parks are nurturing — but his role was masculine, doing, making it happen as Superintendent and Architect-in-Chief. When he directed the Sanitary Commission during the Civil War, the work of the Commission was nurturing; his role was doing, making it happen. One could say the same thing about Herzl, a would-be author and playwright, and Zionist. “The Jewish State” was his greatest play, and he spent his life trying to make it happen. His banker father was remote; his mother (to whom Judaism was important) was very close and both emotionally domineering of and worshipful of her only son (and only child, after a sister died young). FDR’s inspiration for his socialistic, welfare-state, “New Deal”-response to the Depression was also feminine. His austere and remote father died when he was young; his domineering, smothering mother controlled his finances until she died in 1941.
Where the individual is moved to repress all signs of femininity in himself and around himself, including the repression (or abuse) of the women he knows and identifies with, then the outcome can be an obsession with masculinity or stereotypical masculine endeavors and attitudes: aggressive, dominating, even ruthless. The impact on himself, or his work, or the society around him can be devastating: Hitler, Nixon, and Hemingway offer very different examples of this. Sometimes there is some integration, but still a lot of problems as with Clinton.
Most of these men were also hit hard by parental loss, some quite early. There is always an impact, but the nature of the impact varies greatly — idealization of the lost parent with need to make reparation; feelings of abandonment and rage; or a perpetuation of mourning with depressive feelings. Olmsted, for example, lost his mother when he was almost four, and re-created her in the idealized form of Nature. When he was eight, Wagner lost the person he believed was his father (and who probably was), a very kind and nurturing man, whom many still believe was Jewish. Wagner re-created him in a split image: the idealized German father (Wotan in the Ring) and the feared and despised Jewish father (Alberich in the Ring).
PHE: Are high achievers more identified with their fathers?
MK: In my own work and experience, I haven’t seen a pattern that suggests that. It may simply be a case of either parent, or both, thinking the child is something special, has a great destiny. I would think that this is more often the mother, but, as in Wagner’s case, it can be the father. I think the high achiever, especially the creative achiever, identifies with both parents. But, it’s always the father who offers the target to be surpassed.
In my own case, I was a child with a severe, chronic illness. As such, I was quite dependent upon my mother. She probably had a vested interest in having a sick child (it got her away from my father twice). She was very encouraging and believed in me and made me believe in myself, always preaching that I could do anything I wanted to strongly enough, and that everything was open to me. And she was adventurous and independent, and very, very smart.
My father was an interesting man. In his lectures to us — and he always lectured, never spanked or hit — he always sold the macho male line. He had it in his mind that his role should be authoritarian, a disciplinarian. He urged us to be tough, and he hated it when I cried (and I cried often and easily — “Oh God, here come the tear ducts again,” he’d say). But, in fact, my father was kind, generous, gentle, and comradely. I never saw him acting belligerent or coming anywhere close to a physical confrontation.
When I was in my early teens and my parents were headed for a break-up and then finally separated for good, I was the intermediary, carrying the messages (usually about money) back and forth, or trying, when they were together, to prevent the explosions that were going to come anyway. Those three or four years, 13-17, certainly stood in the way of idealizing either one of them, and helped me to see them as all too human. (And, it was pretty good training for dealing with clients in my ad agency days — it undoubtedly played a role in my tendency to take the mediator’s role, to be a consensus-builder.)
Of course, my parents were both, in their own ways, enormous influences on me. The funny thing is that I still take delight in all the ways, large and small, that I “take after” my father. He used to take great pleasure in his large success in the small community of New York City construction trades. And he urged that on me as an example of what I should aim for in life: “It’s better to be a big fish in a small pond, than a little fish in a big pond.” After I was elected president of Congregation B’Nai Israel, standing alone in the sanctuary in front of his yahrzeit [memorial] plaque, I said: “Look at me, Dad — just like you said, a big fish in a very small pond.”
PHE: As someone who has attended every International Psychohistorical Association meeting and served in almost every office, I know as an insider that you did a first rate job as its president, vice president, and treasurer. Please comment on your contributions to IPA organization-building, especially the issue of fiscal soundness.
MK: We certainly pursued a rather single-minded policy of achieving fiscal soundness as well as organizational stability and continuity during my years as president from 1980-1982 and the decade or more afterwards that I was treasurer. But I was following and elaborating upon a direction first set by Bernard Flicker, the third IPA president (1978-1980); the Executive Board; and myself as treasurer.
When I became president, we established short- and long-range goals for the organization itself. We concluded that we had two fundamental activities to finance in the pursuit of maintaining a community of psychohistorians. The first of these was the annual three-day convention — the only opportunity then in existence for large numbers of psychohistorians to come together, to present their work, to critique and encourage the work of others, and to bond with one another. The second crucial activity was to provide a first-rate newsletter, published at least twice a year, which would allow all those members who could not make it to the convention to keep up with what was happening in the organization. We also wanted to create programs that would encourage people, especially students and women, to do psychohistory.
To make all this possible, we needed to build a solid and enduring financial base. And this meant, above all, following Bernard’s basic strategy of strengthening the annual convention as our principal source of income. We increased the membership and convention fees modestly to be more nearly in line with the fees of other organizations and we staged our conventions in academic settings to hold costs to a minimum. These strategies proved to be quite successful over time. Later on, we were able to invest our reserve funds and generate some additional income. To further advance the goal of achieving financing stability, I spent a great deal of time getting the IRS to grant us tax-free status.
I certainly believe that my own approach to “managing” various IPA activities was heavily influenced by my prior business experience.
PHE: Your background in business interests me because you are one of a number of talented psychohistorians — Lloyd deMause, Sid Halpern, and Eli Sagan, for example — who came from business rather than academia or the consultation room. How did the business background effect your acceptance in the field, your thinking, and your work?
MK: I suspect it had positive effect insofar as being so quickly accepted into the leadership of the IPA, certainly insofar as what others felt I had to offer organizationally. Both my engineering education as an undergraduate and my business experience were of some value in developing an approach to problem-solving. The nature of my business experience — both marketing-oriented and client-oriented — also sharpened my attention to human behaviors and attitudes. The pragmatic approach to decision-making fostered by business needs is also probably a useful form of reality-testing that has to benefit any psychohistorian. Some blue-sky is great for creativity; too much blue-sky can lead to disaster. Also, if you have had a business career, you are less likely to either demonize or idealize the businessman, especially the successful businessman (a particular hazard for this academic psychohistorian whose own father was a successful businessman).
PHE: Tell us about your career as teacher.
MK: Taken as a whole, it has been great. I taught undergraduates for a few semesters at Florida Atlantic University and for more than six years at Lynn University, both in Boca Raton. My last year, I taught on a very reduced schedule before retiring in 1997. The head of the department did ask if I would be interested in joining the faculty full time in 1994 or 1995, but I had to decline because it was becoming clear that my physical problems were increasing.
Even though the income situation was exploitative, I enjoyed teaching at Lynn as long as they gave me the chance to teach advanced courses — seminar courses. These were usually history students that I’d had already in two or three classes, and they were usually my best students. These were the students I introduced psychohistory to in seminars such as “Totalitarianism and the Holocaust” and “Comparative Political Systems.” These were the motivated, highly responsive kids and it was a joy to teach them.
In 1996, a friend of mine asked me to do a couple of Elderhostel sessions, and I loved it. A highly motivated, highly involved group of 50-60 seniors, very responsive. They actually wanted to be there. And no tests or term papers! And I got to teach only subjects that interested me! And, cumulatively, the pay was actually a little better! Heaven! The next year I also taught in FAU’s Lifelong Learning Program.
Seniors in both Elderhostel and LLP have been very open to psychohistorical ideas and concepts. In fact, most are anxious to be exposed to new ideas, new ways of looking at things, especially familiar things. And they love to study the events and leaders and culture of their own lifetimes. There are, of course, a few seniors who are quarrelsome or negative, or who make speeches instead of asking questions — but I have found them to be very few and easy to deal with. The courses have to be lively and entertaining, as well as informative — we laugh a lot in my classes. I will miss Elderhostel very much when I have to give it up entirely as my physical limitations increase. But maybe I’ll then begin doing more writing!
PHE: Your reference to your physical limitations reminds me that at the wonderful party in 1988 where you celebrated earning your doctoral degree, I had the pleasure of sitting at a table with members of your cancer support group who were a terrific bunch of people. This had special meaning to me since I had greatly admired your courage in facing this disease and in accomplishing so much since first having to confront it. Would you be willing to talk about your health and what you learned psychohistorically in the course of your struggles to restore or maintain it?
MK: My bronchial illness had proved to be only a minor handicap during my working career, up to 1984 (when I was 53). I had great energy and was able to work the long hours that advertising agency work demanded, as well as pursue other interests. But clearly I was greatly overdoing it. My immune system likely suffered from stress and from fatigue and I developed cancer (lymphoma), detected reasonably early. The oncologist said that the next year would be the worst of my life, and he was right. I have always viewed myself as a survivor (bronchiectasis and my dysfunctional family), and I was fortunate enough to survive this bout with cancer. But there was a price. The very aggressive chemotherapy we pursued severely worsened my respiratory problems.
The greatest impact of this experience upon my life has been a progressively greater inner pressure to use my remaining years, and my talents, in ways that truly mattered to me. My Judaism was one of the driving forces in reassessing where I wanted to go with my life. But — and this was important to my doing of psychohistory — I also drew great inspiration from Donald Winnicott’s writings on the True Self and False Self and the danger of allowing the demands of the False Self to take over one’s life. “Only the True Self can be creative and only the True Self can feel real,” Winnicott wrote. And, after cancer (and renewed psychotherapy), I put a “full-court press” on completing my doctorate and bringing my ad agency career to an end. If I’m a survivor, I want to be a survivor with a worthwhile purpose in life, pursuing goals that I truly value.
Confronting the reality of one’s mortality certainly throws into clear focus all that one regrets in one’s life, the misuse of time, the hurts and bruises inflicted, etc. And that, for me, underlined the sense of making reparation. In Reform Judaism, great emphasis is placed upon the concept of tikkun olam, of being G_d’s surrogate’s in “repairing the world.” I would like to believe that my psychohistorical work after surviving cancer was deeper, richer, and more focused than it was, or could have been, beforehand, and that this was true of all the other aspects of my life.
PHE: Has psychohistory helped in understanding your strong Jewish identity?
MK: Therapy, perhaps; psychohistory, not much that wasn’t there to begin with. My Jewish identity was always strong. How could it not be? The two years in Tucson, followed by eight in Rosedale, were immersions in very palpable anti-Semitism. And I was always a G_d-centered kid. I had somehow learned the Shema very young, the only “prayer” I knew — but somehow it was sufficient (dayenu!). I began to become a serious Jew at 24, after reading Ludwig Lewisohn’s wonderful books, The Island Within (1928) and The American Jew (1950). I followed his road map in the latter: learning Hebrew; giving up the tref [unclean] foods — pork and shellfish; affiliating with a synagogue; and reading books. My name is on the charter for the first Jewish congregation to be formed in the more than 300 years of history of Sudbury, Massachusetts.
If anything, I think my understanding of Judaism helps me to be a better psychohistorian. The sages taught that every human being possesses a yetzer ha-tov and a yetzer ha-rah, an impulse to do good and an impulse to do evil — and that we spend our lives in choosing between the two, actively and passively. Further, Judaism understands doing good to be life-affirming and doing evil to be life-destroying (“See, I have set before you this day life and good, or death and evil…. Therefore, choose life”). I think this is a pretty good context for doing psychohistory.
PHE: What are your thoughts on fundamentalism, terrorism, and violence?
MK: There probably isn’t a psychohistorian who doesn’t believe that you cannot eliminate violence and terrorism until you eliminate poverty and massive abuse of children by parents and society. If you raise children who are loaded with rage, have nothing to lose, and can easily acquire devastating destructive technology, what else can you expect? How much of the world today, of our own American society today, is locked into the paranoid-schizoid position, feeding on hatred of the other — that split-off part of the self that needs to be annihilated? Are these youngsters not candidates ripe for recruiting to gangs, militia groups, and terrorist organizations?
I set great store by the Kleinian/Win-nicottian concepts of the development of the child (and, for me, society) through the paranoid-schizoid position to the depressive position (achieved slowly and painfully). In the depressive position, the child (and society) has achieved a better grip on object relations, splitting is greatly reduced (but certainly not eliminated), and cooperation, consensus, and reparation become possible. This is akin to Erikson’s concept of maturing enough to form “basic trust.” It is my belief that democracy, compromise, tolerance, and peace-making only become possible in a society dominated by individuals who have matured at least to the depressive position.
PHE: What training should a person entering psychohistory today pursue?
MK: Training in the historical method should come first. Then, if affordable, psychoanalytic education/training later has got to be extraordinarily helpful. It is imperative that psychohistorians have experienced psychotherapy themselves. They should read the psychohistory publications, back issues, too, and stop trying to reinvent the wheel. It always drove me nuts at IPA conventions to have papers read on a particular subject that never cited any of the work already done on that subject by our leading IPA scholars.
PHE: What do we as psychohistorians need to do to strengthen our work?
MK: Be rigorous in our standards of what is and is not psychohistory, and in the quality of psychohistorical work, the integrity of psychohistorical argument. It is hard to build a profession upon work that is based upon wild speculation and unsupported “findings.” It is also hard to respect work that seems to be in the service of a political agenda. Good psychohistory, as with any other discipline, is hard work and we have every right to expect that the hard work be done.
PHE: How do you see psychohistory developing in the next decade?
MK: The answer has got to be the Internet, which alone can make our work truly international. We need all the Web pages and online publications we can get, of course. But even more, we have to be online ourselves, posting our message to mailing lists and newsgroups, with invitations to visit our Web sites. What a great way to bring new people into the orbit of psychohistory, especially considering how much into the Web college students are.
PHE: What are your recommendations concerning the problem of new leadership for the IPA and psychohistory in general?
MK: I remember it was a problem that confronted us when I was IPA president, and that was more than 15 years ago — we always seemed to be drawing upon the same small group of people and failed to persuade some other very talented people to become more actively involved. I’d like to see a sort of mentoring system. I remember David Beisel, Jerry Atlas, and you as being very good at this, back when I was heavily involved in the IPA. Each one of the existing leaders could identify and nurture potential leadership recruits. We could also hold “leadership training” seminars and meetings, which people are nominated to attend.
The Internet offers a great opportunity to the IPA and the Forum for recruitment and for involvement. Members and officers can now easily be from anywhere in the U.S., or the world! Why can’t Board meetings take place online? Why can’t there be discussions and referenda on issues that concern all members online? Convention and work-in-progress papers should be available online. I just can’t imagine a more exciting way to recruit members and develop leaders than to permit interested people to dialogue with leading psychohistorians from all over the world. If Erik Erikson were alive today, he’d be online.
PHE: How can we psychohistorians have more impact in academia and on society in general?
MK: What is there to do but keep on writing, preaching to the converted, and jumping at every opportunity for a wider audience, even if it’s only a letter to the editor? As psychohistorians, do we not believe that we will not influence people until they are ready to be influenced? But when they are ready, we still have to be there: writing, teaching, lecturing, debating, or whatever.
PHE: What has been the influence of psychotherapy, psychohistory, and psychobiography on you as a man and on your world-view?
MK: I am not sure that my world-view has changed at all since my 20s. I am now, as I always have been, an unreconstructed New Deal/Fair Deal Democrat and serious about Judaism. But maybe my commitment to these concepts has also been deepened along the way.
Therapy helped me to confront the power of the repressed, the irrational in my own life — and the destructive and self-defeating behaviors stemming from it — and, empathetically, in others, in society. To understand the sources of your own creativity, ambition, needs for love and affection and acceptance, enables you to understand them, empathetically, in the lives of others.
I think that I am far more tolerant and accepting now than I was before therapy began all those years ago (in 1976), more willing to let rage and resentment pass quickly and harmlessly, and move on. I have burnt many bridges in my time, and helped to build many walls. In recent years I have tried to rebuild some bridges and tear down some walls. I lay much of that to therapy, as well as to aging, to surviving — it all goes together. I think I am a much better husband, father, and friend now than before — though there is still much room for improvement.
The demons still stalk the corridors of the unconscious, but they have names now and they can even be taken out into the sunlight every now and then for an airing. When I do act on my anger, I hope that it is because more often than not the anger is directed at the right things — at meanness and indecency and hatefulness and exploitation. My wife says I’m a lot more patient — even when driving — but, again, there’s room for improvement — especially when driving!
I must say that doing psychohistory and psychobiography — especially in my later years, after all I’ve experienced and survived — has deepened my respect for those who have struggled for decency and kindness and cooperation and compromise in life, and has deepened also my own wish to be remembered as one of them.
Paul H. Elovitz, Editor Clio’s Psyche
Pauline V. Staines, The Psychohistory Forum
PS: Why did you start Clio’s Psyche in 1994?
PHE: To further develop and leave a printed record of some of the ideas we as psychohistorians usually just talk about. I felt a need to communicate more effectively with members of the varying Psychohistory Forum research groups as well as members-at-a-distance who kept joining an organization I had initially started as a New York-centered Philadelphia-to-Hartford group. Currently, half of our membership is outside of this region with a number living around the world. By 1994 the Forum had enough members to support a modest publication financially and with scholarly materials. Associate Editor Bob Lentz’s willingness to work on all aspects of Clio’s Psyche made it possible to turn an idea I had been working on since 1990, into a reality.
PS: Is it a publication just of, by, and for the Psychohistory Forum?
PHE: No! We actively seek to have articles of psychohistorical interest from a large variety of sources, within both the academic and clinical communities. I like to see articles by colleagues from other psychohistorical groups. Unsolicited articles from non-members are welcomed. However, we are not inclined to have repeat articles by people who choose not to become members or subscribers since we are totally dependent on membership dues and gifts to cover our administrative, printing and mailing costs.
PS: How did you become a psychohistorian?
PHE: Partly by accident! In 1968 while teaching at Temple University I meet Sidney Halpern, an ancient history professor. When we spoke of the Western Civilization course we were each teaching, I realized he had a much more profound understanding of history because he was analyzing the unconscious dynamics of historical personalities and change. This was not something I had learned in graduate school at Rutgers where one of my instructors drove out (to Harvard) the only student who spoke openly of psychohistory. I audited Sid’s Western Civilization and American History courses and borrowed many books from him by Edmund Bergler, Norman O. Brown, and Freud. Today I smile at the rather simplistic nature of Bergler’s books, but they were important to my self-education in the late 1960s. Under Halpern’s tutelage I learned to begin to think psychohistorically. When he died in 1994, I devoted considerable time to properly commemorate him with a thoughtful obituary and a Sidney Halpern Psychohistorical Award Fund.
PS: Was Professor Halpern the only reason you became a psychohistorian?
PHE: Certainly not! As Sid was fond of saying, there are no accidents in the unconscious. I had many profoundly personal reasons for becoming an historian and a psychohistorian, some of which I spell out in my family history chapter in the forthcoming book, Immigrant Experiences.
PS: What special training was most helpful in your becoming a psychohistorian?
PHE: My own psychoanalysis. It enabled me to really understand the power of the unconscious and the incredible complexity of the mechanisms of defense. Working with patients is also incredibly helpful in the same regard. Ten years of psychoanalytic training was an enormous help. I started out with an academic model, thinking that the five years of weekly psychoanalytic class work would be the important part of my task. After about three years I realized that it was the case presentation seminars and the control analyses which were next most important after my own analysis. In case presentation I, and my fellow psychoanalytic candidates, initially thought that there was one correct answer as we struggled to interpret the case one of us presented, mostly from patients in the Low Cost Clinic. We soon learned that our varying interpretations, based on different theoretical frameworks, case loads, and personal experiences, each shed a variety of lights on the case.
PS: Why did you start the Psychohistory Forum?
PHE: To continue the Saturday Work-in-Progress Meetings which Alice Eichholz and I had pioneered at the Institute for Psychohistory from their inception in 1974. In 1983 the Institute dropped the Saturday workshops when it decided to switch its format to one of public education with large lectures. So, I, together with Henry Lawton as associate director, started the Forum.
PS: What happened to Alice Eichholz and Henry Lawton?
PHE: After a few years Alice moved to Vermont to work as an adult education teacher specializing in what I call psychogenealogy. Henry was turning his energies to writing The Psychohistorian’s Handbook and to film studies. Henry’s face would always light up when we talked about films. About six years ago he started a successful, New York-based psychohistorical film group of which I am a founding member.
PS: I think the readers would like to know about the Forum’s Saturday work-in-progress meetings.
PHE: These were started in 1983 and have been happening about a half-dozen times a year ever since. Usually ten to twenty psychotherapists (of the most varied theoretical frameworks), historians, and other academics and professionals as well as a few laypeople sit around for three or more hours and discuss a short paper that has been mailed out to people on our membership list a month before. Almost all of our time is devoted to an in-depth discussion which usually spills over into a two-hour lunch. Papers often have a surprisingly positive effect on members-at-a-distance since they keep rejoining the Forum and sometimes send in written communications. Just the other day I received a letter from a colleague I have never met, who lives half-a-continent away. He said that the Forum is his “favorite think-tank.” He has just finished a book which Yale University Press is considering for publication. I hope he will be able to present his materials to the Forum.
PS: What about the Forum’s research groups?
PHE: We started them so that we could grow, yet continue the tradition of small group work. One example is the Communism < The Dream that Failed Research Group. I consider it to be a great success because a small group of talented researchers have some wonderfully productive meetings which do not require my administrative involvement. I especially recall one presentation when I was awed by the intellectual courage of a colleague who was probing his own familial, intellectual, and psychological reasons for being drawn to Marxism.
On the other hand, one group we tried to start was dropped because no one came to the organizational meeting and the subject matter was perhaps too close to that of another group. The usual problem is, how do we get people who live in disparate parts of the country together to develop a common purpose and agenda? Some groups meet at regular sessions of the Forum devoted to their subjects and others meet at the International Psychohistorical Association (IPA) convention panels sponsored by the Forum. I would be delighted if we could make similar arrangements with the International Society of Political Psychology (ISPP) and the Group for the Use of Psychohistory (GUPH).
PS: How can the research groups become more effective?
PHE: We need to spread the administrative leadership to more people. Because of my disparate interests and publications, I can co-direct several groups: The Childhoods and Personalities of Presidential Candidates; Teaching Psychohistory; and War, Peace, and Conflict Resolution. But for the groups to achieve their full potential, more people have to accept administrative responsibility as coordinators or directors. I would like to step down from two of these groups. Apocalypse, Cults, and Millennialism is a new group with which half of our incoming members want to affiliate and which has already done some good work, yet we still need a coordinator.
PS: What do you think will ensure the importance of psychohistory to future generations and the permanence of the Psychohistory Forum and Clio’s Psyche?
PHE: Individual people die. Ideas survive. Psychohistory will thrive in the future because it helps people have a better grip on their internal dynamics and societal reality. There is need for multi-disciplinary exchanges based on depth psychology to think more profoundly and solve individual and societal changes. On this basis the Psychohistory Forum and Clio’s Psychewill live on long after the deaths of Paul Elovitz and many others who have made it possible.
I am a strong believer in applied psychohistory. Robert Jay Lifton with the Center on Violence and Human Survival and Vamik Volkan with the Center for the Study of Mind and Human Interaction have led the way in showing the practical basis of psychohistorical knowledge in dealing with concrete contemporary issues of war and peace. When we help society with its problems it will pay more attention to our ideas.
Founding organizations and publications such as the Forum and Clio’s Psyche is rather like becoming a parent. You always mention your children — especially in your will. You do all you can within your power to help create an environment of permanence. Other people who have a powerful emotional stake in what we are doing may respond similarly, but money is never enough. One needs valuable ideas and living, breathing people to provide the next generation of leadership. Consequently, I encourage my students, younger colleagues, and most people who come to our organization to step into the shoes of leadership.
The Psychoanalytically-Informed Historian: Peter Gay
Paul H. Elovitz, Ramapo College | David Felix (CUNY-Emeritus) | Bob Lentz, The Psychohistory Forum
Clio’s Psyche (CP): Please tell us about your family, siblings and birth order, and age at parental loss.
Peter Gay (PG): I was the first and the last child. My father was a manufacturer’s representative, which is not the same thing as a traveling salesman. He ran a firm in Berlin, which represented a number of manufacturers of china, glass, and crystal. He would deal with the large department stores. My mother was a housewife. My father died in January, 1955, when I was 32, and my mother died in 1977, when I was 54.
CP: Are there experiences from your early years in Germany that profoundly affected your life?
PG: I’m writing a memoir just about that. It’s actually very largely done and should be out next year. I’m trying to deal with my life at home, and how my parents managed the advent of the Nazis. I was roughly nine-and-a-half when the Nazis came to power. That clearly made a big difference — it was very isolating and difficult to deal with because I was constantly being called names. It was also complicated by the fact that I continued in a school, or gymnasium, and stayed there for five years during that period, and on the whole had a pretty easy time of it.
My main positive experience was that my father was very active in providing all kinds of alternatives to brooding about what was happening in the newspapers or in the streets. He was a very impassioned soccer fan and so was I, and this meant that we had a lot to talk about and a lot of games to go to every Sunday. I’m going to devote a whole chapter to what I call survival strategies — obviously things that I didn’t know then but which I unconsciously dropped into to keep myself more or less sane by a number of preoccupations of which sports was the most important.
The other thing to be said about my father is that once he became particularly active in getting us out of the country, he did all kinds of illegal things to make it possible, taking big chances, all of which I very much appreciated and all of which worked. So, I think he looms very large in my mind, much larger than my mother who was more passive than he. He took the initiative. That was psychologically of great importance. I never rebelled against him in any particular way. Just one example: He was a village atheist of the most extreme kind, and so am I and have always been. Unlike so many people I know who as adolescents or grownups turned away in some way from their parents, this did not happen to me at all.
CP:You’ve completed your series, The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud?
PG: The fifth and final volume, Pleasure War, is ready — I’ve just sent back page proofs. It is shorter and some of the old material is very much cut down. To ask anyone to read all five volumes may be too much, so this final one repeats a number of the themes and restates them using examples the way Freud did on dreams — he took his The Interpretations of Dreams and cut the material way down. Also, I have much new material on cultural tastes; I am trying to reinterpret the notion many hold against the bourgeoisie. In the 19th century, the bourgeoisie participated in important cultural interchange. Many of them had excellent taste and were progressive in their taste. They supported not just the academic painters or composers, but were very alert to new developments. I call it a progress report.
CP: You’re going to be working with the New York Public Library?
PG: I’ll be starting officially September 1 as the director of a small think tank, a place that will give houseroom to about 15 people each year to work on either some particular topics or perhaps branch out from a general theme to be announced. It will be a common center for scholars and writers. I imagine anyone but a severe natural scientist could fit. I’m certainly not going to confine it to historians.
CP: How do you define psychohistory? Are you a psychohistorian?
PG: I haven’t used that word for my myself because, although it’s very convenient, on the whole I’ve always thought that psychohistory has been excessively reductionist, giving too much weight, or causal importance, to certain inner experiences of whatever sort. So I’ve used this clumsy phrase of being a historian who is “oriented towards,” or “influenced by,” psychoanalysis.
I am a historian. I feel a little bit like Erikson who did not like the word psychohistorian and I can see why. I am a historian who uses psychoanalysis without forgetting that I am a historian. I have been very much interested in the outside world — the world of the ego. There is nothing unorthodox about that as far as Freud is concerned. Freud talked about history a great deal, though he never did any real history. He did, however, make it possible to do history from his point of view. One of the real problems is that analysts are not doing enough about the outside world. When I wrote my little book, Freud for Historians, there were two interesting reactions. One was that analysts had no reactions to my work and, second, that historians, on the whole, had none either! With the historians I understood this, because as a profession they are very ignorant about and hostile to psychoanalysis. In Freud for Historians, I tried to mobilize the objections to psychoanalytic history I could think of, and suggest that they could all be overcome. But, again and again historians have said, it’s too much trouble, or the material is too rare or too difficult to come by, or the leaps that you make are too large. On the other hand, I would have thought that analysts might have picked it up as “applied analysis.”
My argument over the years has been that Freud left us a much more general view of how things happen, so that presumably the external influences the ego has to deal with are of great importance. For example, he believed that the history of the Oedipus complex in each individual depends on schooling and reading and people around him, all of which are absorbed by the inner world so that there’s a kind of steady exchange. In history, if you want to do a psychohistorical study of the French Revolution you can’t just talk about parricide and rage boiling over and so on. All of these would be true but would not take account of such things as the bankruptcy of the French state, the loss of prestige of the French Crown, and the highly conflicted view of the various estates toward one another — all of which fed into the French Revolution. I see the inner life as a rich amalgam of external influences and internal responses, or, rather, internal causal agents like the drives. So, although I’m very happy with psychoanalysis as an auxiliary science or discipline, it seems to me the historian has much more to do than just that.
I think of myself as a historian who has learnt a lot from psychoanalysis and who has not given up on what most of my colleagues were not at all interested in calling real history. I do not do a great deal of analysis, although I have done some dreamwork and have used, but only very rarely, psychoanalytic language. When I went into my psychoanalytic training, I never had any intention of becoming an analyst. I just thought that what analysis had to offer was the way people played their parts.
CP:Did you practice at all?
PG: No, but I did some interviewing. I went through the entire course as a research candidate and at the end I decided not to take the analytic] route [to clinical practice]. I could have gotten a waiver, a “PhD” or an “MD,” because I have some connections with the American Psychoanalytic. But I finally decided against it because it would have meant staying in New Haven eleven months of the year for years until I had my two or three patients done and I did not want to do that. It had been a lot of commitment just to do the six or seven years of the training and classes.
CP: What brought you to psychohistory? Your Freud for Historians was published fairly recently, in 1985.
PG: The interest goes back to 1950/1951 when I was just beginning to teach at Columbia in the Government Department, as I was working in the history of political ideas there. History was the discipline to which I moved. The first impetus came from an older colleague, Franz Neumann, who was a left-wing Marxist but open to other fields. Having been tied to the Frankfurt School he had some interest in Freud, but in 1950/1951 he, his wife, who was as smart as he was, and their best friend, Herbert Marcuse, who came from Washington, DC, to do this, started this serious course of reading on Freud. This aroused my interest. Neumann was very influential among his younger colleagues. So, from the very beginning I had an interest in psychoanalysis and as an amateur would try to think about how to deal with it and how to use it. It certainly appears in a number of things I wrote, though it’s not very prominent. Even my book on Weimar Germany, Weimar Culture (1968), has a number of psychoanalytic categories which are more or less invisible although they were in my mind. But it wasn’t until the mid-1970s that I took professional training. So, it wasn’t really until later than that that I really felt comfortable enough to write about it.
CP: Please tell us about your experience with collegial collaboration.
PG: One of the courses that I taught for several years was the famous Contemporary Civilization course, called “CC.” It was a freshman course; each instructor had his own section. We would meet on Thursdays for lunch. We battled over our syllabus, or over what the final should look like. We spent a lot of time like that even though the departmental rewards were very limited. Then there came prosperity, conferences, and enormous emphasis on producing. Now, I do not think that I produced because I had to — I enjoyed it, I felt at home. But, more and more people would do their own work and not talk business at lunch anymore — just eat, maybe gossip, and then go back to work. Look at my situation with the Early American historian John Demos at Yale. I like him and I think he likes me. I once invited him to a graduate seminar where we were reading his Entertaining Satan. He made the students very familiar with the work and it was a very enjoyable evening. But did he and I otherwise sit down and talk about psychohistory? Virtually not at all. But I do not regard that as unusual. There is such an emphasis on rushing things out and protecting yourself that the old, more leisurely way of getting together has become pretty rare.
I have felt that the two fields, history and psychoanalysis, really fit together, but most of the time there is very little patience on either side. When analysts used to say, “Why don’t you write something?”, I would say, “Why don’t you write something!” But I have done enough fighting. In the late 1960s there was a panel at a meeting of the American Psychoanalytic that dealt with group processes. The reporter said that this was the first panel on group processes that we had had in 28 years and he thought we should do this more often.
Another difficulty is the question of how you can structure a graduate program that would include psychohistory and that would be practical. I once actually wrote a lecture of how one might even have a graduate program in which young historians interested in this would have dual training in history and in psychoanalysis right at the beginning in their mid- or late-twenties. But I never published it because it seemed to be not practicable. In part, not only because the training is so expensive, but also because the profession is so suspicious of it that you’re not going to impress your colleagues. I always said to my students that if they wanted to be trained in psychoanalysis, I thought it would be a very good idea, but not to announce it at the beginning — their careers might very well be hampered. Rather, they should emphasize that they are historians of modern Germany or the Reformation or whatever, and then when they have tenure they can come out of the closet. This is unfortunate, but this is how the historical profession is.
CP: Why is dual training valuable?
PG: It seems to me fairly obvious that the psychoanalytic view of the human animal is the most fruitful psychology we’ve got. To have psychoanalysis as one of your instruments to search with or as one of your fundamental orientations towards individuals and collective experiences makes dual training very valuable. But psychoanalytic training is also very expensive and very difficult. Therefore, it’s going to continue to be very rare. One of my good friends, who is an American historian, has just entered into training and it’s going to be financially extremely difficult to absorb. But he came to the conclusion that that’s what he wanted to do for the sake of his history, not in order to become an analyst. There are about half-a-dozen of us who have done it. It’s not an easy thing, but I would argue that it’s extremely valuable, precisely because it gives you an intimate sense of what the Freudian dispensation is about, as well as some sense of being able to take a critical distance from it which you could hardly do when you’re surrounded by all this clamor that is either 100%-accepting or, more likely these days, 100%-rejecting of psychoanalysis.
CP: Do you foresee these obstacles — the time, the money, the suspicions of colleagues — being overcome in the future?
PG: No, I don’t see it. The historical profession, as a whole, strikes me as quite unreceptive to dual training for a number of reasons. First of all, history itself is a pretty demanding discipline. A graduate student who wants to become a professional has to do a great deal of reading and paper writing. The neighboring disciplines — anthropology, economics, whatever — will be picked up, on the whole, quite informally. If you’re doing a historical essay of the Great Depression in the United States, you will certainly want to study economics a little so that you have some sense of what the forces were in the stock market. But psychoanalysis is an extremely hard discipline to pick up. Freud thought nobody knows about it until he’s been analyzed. Well, that already eliminates a lot of people.To be somewhat more optimistic, what I do see is the possibility that some of the assaults will slacken off — they do have trends and rhythms of their own. I suspect that more and more psychologists, to judge from textbooks that I have seen, will acknowledge that Freud was a psychologist of great importance who made permanent contributions. Something else that would help would be a historian who informs himself, who spends a good deal of time reading, and who even takes some courses without going through the analytic training itself. That would at least eliminate some of the more outrageous nonsense which he must have been reading in the newspapers. It would also alert that historian to some areas in which no other auxiliary discipline makes much sense. There will always be people to do that — there are a few dozen people around who have taken an interest in that. I can also see that when some of the more faddish postmodern isms disappear, as I think they’re beginning to already, that there may be once again more room for psychoanalysis in history.
CP:What about the encroachment in recent years of psychopharmacology on psychoanalysis?
PG: As Freud himself said in An Outline of Psychoanalysis, there might be a day when we get medication. At the moment, though, the best we have is this expensive, clumsy thing called psychoanalysis. Let us suppose for a moment that psychoanalysis as a therapy dies out, which I do not think will happen, but suppose it did. That would still be no reason for psychoanalysis to disappear altogether because its picture of the human animal is the best we have. I just don’t see any other model that gets you anywhere near where the historian wants to go. I think most psychology tells you all the things he doesn’t need to know about. Psychoanalysis sensitizes you to some things that great historians like Marc Bloch did on their own. How complicated things are, for example. What I would propose is that psychohistorians should one day write the history of the defenses, which would be a wonderful thing to do. A lot of people are not aware of the fact that even Andrew Carnegie might have had a superego.
CP: How would you write a history of the defenses?
PG: It might be possible to take, let’s say, Anna Freud’s list of defenses, or take half-a-dozen of the most important examples from it, and see what we can find out — whether some defenses rise in prominence, and how they are struck in this place and that. There is a very interesting and remarkable book on England in the Reformation period, Treason in Tudor England (1986) by Lacey Baldwin Smith. It does not use psychoanalysis, and its diagnosis might not be what you or I would agree with, but it perceives the fact that most people are really paranoid. Paranoia in that period was encouraged by the way people were taught. Everyone was trained to look behind himself before someone else stabbed him. It is quite an interesting example of how one could research a history of the defenses.
CP: What other authors, other works, do you feel are important to psychohistory?
PG: There is the Georges’ book, Woodrow Wilson and Colonel House (1964). It’s very well informed about Wilson. It’s also didactically interesting because there has long been a big debate whether Wilson really had strokes or instead had psychological problems.
Another book I greatly admire is E. R. Dodds’ The Greeks and the Irrational (1951). Dodds was a great classicist, not a historian, who decided to clarify a number of rather puzzling issues, particularly the ancient Greek superego and its development and its pulling back later towards mysticism. His Greek intellectual history is remarkably original, very persuasive, really brilliant. I once took the trouble to look at the reviews of Dodds’ book because I wanted to know what classicists would say about it, and they were uniformly appreciative, which doesn’t mean that a lot of classicists have followed his road. I think Dodds got interested in psychology and psychoanalysis through these English groups whose parapsychological investigations, although he didn’t pursue them to their superstitious ends, gave him an impetus to study Freud very carefully.
I think well of John Demos’ book, Entertaining Satan. In it he does not yet do what he’s begun to do more of lately where fictional material comes into his work. Entertaining Satan is a very interesting book because it’s an attempt to place certain inner pressures into interaction with other elements — with the historical development, the sociological situation, and the individual lives of the Puritans in their fight against the Indians and their attempts to establish their little commonwealth under untoward circumstances. The book is an interesting instance of how inside and outside conflicts work together, stimulate one another, and frustrate one another. My only criticism of the book is that he makes the psychological dimension one of four dimensions, equal to the other three. My own feeling is that the psychological dimension, with which he begins, should have been the most significant one, the one which is modified and dealt with by the other categories of historical development, sociological cohesion, and biography.
CP:How can psychohistorians strengthen our work and make more of an impact? How do you see psychohistory developing over the next decade?
PG: My own feeling is that the journals are useful but will be read essentially by the converted. There is one, and only one, way in which psychohistory may work, and that is by doing, by having examples, by showing that this really makes sense. An example of this, and a fourth book to add to the above three, is Maynard Solomon’s Mozart: A Life (1995) which I have just now read through very carefully. It is an excellent example of the kind of thing I have in mind. The author knows about the Mozarts’ social place in 18th-century Austrian society. He knows a great deal about music and writes about it with an expert’s competence. Yet he never leaves the relationship of the son to the father out of the center of his concerns. It is the kind of book that I think might win some converts. I think that this is the only way: To say, “Look, I’m doing this and I’m finding things that I would not have found otherwise, and I’m not really that far from you.” You know the point I’ve made in my Freud for Historians, that every historian is a psychologist anyway. Everybody makes guesses as to why this population group was more susceptible to the Nazis than others, or why Churchill was the ideal man to take over in May, 1940. You’re constantly psychologizing, whether it’s groups or individuals. My only real hope is that books of that kind will convince or persuade simply by being there.
A Biographer and His Subject: Ralph Colp and Charles Darwin
Paul H. Elovitz, The Psychohistory Forum and Ramapo College
Paul H. Elovitz (PHE): Please tell us about your family background and childhood.
Ralph Colp (RC): My parents were middle-class, of which my mother often spoke with pride. She, Miriam Mirsky, was a homemaker with a strong intellectual interest in biology. As a graduate student at Columbia she taught microscopic anatomy to medical students for one year and then stopped professional work altogether. Though she never attained her PhD, my mother maintained an intense intellectual life. She enjoyed conversing about biology and the history of science with scientists, academics, and physicians, who visited our home. In talks with her friends, my mother demonstrated the pleasures of the life of the mind, which has made a lasting impression on me. In fact, when I speak of the type of intellectual life she created in our home, several colleagues refer to it as a “salon.” I think they are right. Through her I acquired an intellectual treasure early in my life.
There was a splendor about my father in his achieving prominence in surgery and setting an example of excellence. Growing up, after my parents divorced when I was four years old, I had a difficult time with my father whose house I would go to once a week. I did enjoy the marvelous dinners, although not the conversation there which paled in comparison to that my mother created in the milieu of our home. I was in awe of my father and afraid to be alone with him. I repeatedly turned down opportunities to travel alone with him in Europe, which I now regret, though I did go for a week’s walking tour with him when I was 18 years old. Although I was separated and estranged from him, after his death I felt I had incorporated some of his better attributes.
The first loss I suffered in life followed from my parents’ divorcing. This domestic struggle influenced my early interest in civil war, introducing the American (1861-1865) and Spanish (1936-1939) conflicts. The deaths of my parents were important to me. My mother died in 1967 when I was 43. I had a feeling of loss after her death as well as a loss of stimulus in work. Then I introjected her values and felt as if she was always an audience for me: as I wrote, I thought of how she would respond to my ideas. After my father’s death when I was 50, I felt liberated from some of his criticisms of me and freer to identify with some of his best values. I felt freer to work on Darwin and added a great deal to what I wrote about Darwin based on my father’s outlook. I do feel the loss of my parents freed me to work more and from being preoccupied with their lives and caring for them.
I was an only child, although when my mother remarried when I was five, I then had a three-year-older stepsister whose own mother had died in childbirth. We did not share activities and she did not exert an influence on me. Later, I became an early critic of her pro-Communist position and tried without success to get her to read Trotsky’s critique of Stalin. In retrospect, my mother strongly favored me, and my stepfather Mitchell (Itelson) favored his daughter, which was part of the reason for the mild estrangement between my stepsister and me. My mother’s second husband was in commercial real estate and lacked the social prestige and money of my father, as well as my mother’s cultural interests. All of our many social friends were acquired and cultivated by my mother. Mitchell was kind and sweet but detached from me, my friends, and my interests. He and I never did any activities together and he was not an influence in my life. He outlived my mother by seven years.
PHE: How did you feel about being a Jew?
RC: I am a non-observant Jew who has never been in a synagogue nor had any training or interest in the Jewish religion. I attended, as did my children, and my parents as children, Ethical Culture schools. Now I consider them to have been secular Jewish schools since the movement was started by a former rabbi (Felix Adler) and 80-90 percent of my classmates also came from Jewish homes. I was educated in Ethical Culture schools from elementary school through graduation from Fieldston High in 1942.
I felt ambivalent about my Jewishness. It was a really complex issue. My ideal was the socialist rejection of nationalism and religion, and belief in meritocracy. I was aware and afraid of anti-Semitism. (Indeed, my father always felt that he would have been the top surgeon in the country were it not for his Jewish origins and he was probably right.) Identification as a Jew felt constricting, so I did not acknowledge it. When almost all of the other Ethical Culture students were absent on Jewish holidays, I would be in school. We always had a Christmas tree and neither of my parents liked being a Jew, though most of their friends and associates were Jewish. The anti-Semitism in medical school was considerable. Because of the prominence of my father I was identified as being a Jew by my fellow medical students, about one-third of whom were Jewish themselves. Unlike most other colleges at the time, Columbia did not have a formal enrollment restriction on Jews. Of course, I was always fervently anti-Nazi and in favor of the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War. In 1955, after I finished my military service in Europe and without acknowledging my Jewishness, I traveled around Arab countries where I felt the people to be most friendly and hospitable. Yet, when I walked from Jordan into Israel, I suddenly felt I was at home and I remain profoundly pro-Israel today. So I had a Jewish identification of which I was not aware. When my wife Charlotte, who specializes in pulmonary medicine, and I were married, it was by a rabbi, in his office.
PHE: What psychoanalytic and psychotherapeutic training did you have?
RC: I had considerable psychoanalytic supervision of psychotherapy cases: As a medical resident, I had two years at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center (Boston Psychopathic Hospital) and then one year at St. Luke’s Hospital (Department of Psychiatry) here in New York City, and subsequently four years at Hillside Hospital on Long Island. Since then I’ve carried out the supervision, from a psychoanalytic perspective, of residents at the Mental Health Division, Columbia University Health Services.
PHE: Aside from personal psychoanalysis, I think supervision is where you learn the most about psychodynamics. I had close to 10 years of psychoanalytic supervision, though we called it “control analysis.”
RC: Supervised casework is great. It makes you into a psychotherapist. It takes about five years to learn the craft of psychotherapy and supervision is a vital part of it.
I should include my psychoanalysis with Max Schur, who was Freud’s last physician. That went on from November 1, 1959, which coincided with the birth of my daughter, until October 12, 1969, just coincidentally my birthday. That day Schur died rather suddenly after 10 years of my psychoanalysis, which was never less than four times a week. The analysis went deeply into all areas of my life. There were many important areas that I really had been unaware of, including the real nature of both of my parents.
PHE: You have had some wonderful training for the brilliant work you have done on Charles Darwin (1809-1882). Your ability to see him from your perspective as a medical doctor, psychoanalytic psychiatrist, and psychohistorian allows for a depth of insight that those non-psychoanalytically trained just don’t have available to them.
RC: Before I went into psychiatry, under the influence of my father I performed surgery for three years at Mt. Sinai Hospital and then for two years in the Air Force. I think that gave me a feeling for physically suffering people — many of them had abdominal pains and complaints, which Darwin had, and so I had that perspective on him. As a psychotherapist, one thing I have learned is that the symptoms a patient suffers from, especially with severe depression and anxiety, are determined by several factors that overwhelm the ego for a time. That is what happened to Darwin but only for a time because he recovered from his illness and continued to go on with his work. With Darwin, I have been able to identify the psychological factors that caused his major illness (with Chagas’ disease of the stomach making him more sensitive). At times the great naturalist feared he would die early. In 1848-1849 he thought he was dying. Five people he felt close to died of stomach problems so he was especially concerned about this. I wonder what Darwin was clinically like but no doctor who saw him has left a medical report.
PHE: So you had a full realization of just how much people could suffer, whether from the mind or the body, or both. You got to see both sources of pain, as opposed to those who want to put the etiology of suffering all in the body or all in the mind. I was a pre-medical student until I rebelled against my father’s career plan for me, fearing I might inadvertently hurt or even kill patients. I’m curious as to what surgery didn’t provide for you or if you had fears regarding it, such as the ones that influenced my decision.
RC: I could do the operations but I had too much psychic conflict about not being as good as my father — I didn’t have his innate talent and flare. Besides, I wasn’t really that interested in operating — I was interested in talking to the patients and finding out their life stories. My mother believed in the life of the mind but my father put it down. He said, “Look, if you can’t answer why Hamlet delayed, so what! But if you can’t answer what is wrong with a patient, it can be his life.” He felt that surgery was superior to intellectual studies. [long pause]
PHE: He felt that surgery was a matter of life or death, and that intellectual activities were just talk.
PHE: Both your father and Darwin’s father were prominent doctors who overpowered sons whose interests were less immediately practical than their own.
RC: There was always a tension between Darwin and his father, as there was between me and mine. Darwin managed his father much more successfully than I did my own. While the tension persisted, he got income from his father, which I never received from my father, and he got his father to take care of him when he was sick, which was very important. I could not adapt my father to my purposes until after his death.
PHE: Could that have been an issue of the fathers far more than of the sons? Darwin’s father was psychologically aware and empathetic with people, and yours was not. Dr. Robert Darwin practiced a type of psychological medicine partly because he hated the sight of blood, as did his son. Thus, he could help his patients with their symptoms at a time when bloodletting was the prime form of treatment — and if you operated, the patient was inclined to die of either shock or infection. It was very good to have a father-doctor who was psychologically attuned to others, including his own son Charles and his needs. So even though the son was in awe of the father, the father helped the son to find his own way. Your surgeon father, by comparison, saw the issues in physical, medical, surgical terms. To him, things were much more a matter of right or wrong and black or white. Because of the residue of your parents’ divorce, he was also a more distant force in your life than was Dr. Robert Darwin in the life of Charles, whose mother died when he was eight years old.
RC: Yes, that is true.
PHE: Thus, Dr. Robert Darwin could be more empathetic than was your father. What was his name? Oh! Of course. Ralph Colp, Senior! My embarrassing momentary denial of reality — I know your name so well — is based upon my never seeing you as “Junior.” Yet you have always seen yourself as a junior. You always insisted on that for so many years in our conversations. Yet I always see you as a senior: you are such an accomplished intellectual, psychiatrist, psychohistorian, and psychotherapist.
RC: Yes, that’s valid.
PHE: Your strength as a Darwin scholar is rooted in your incredible empathy for him. When did your lifelong interest in Darwin take on the form of scholarship?
RC: It really began in 1959 with the sense of my beginning to become my own person — leaving surgery, marrying, beginning and finishing my psychiatric residency, and having my first child. Also, November 1959 was also the centenary of The Origin of Species and Darwin was much talked about. It was in that year also that I read Erikson’s Young Man Luther, which I think has influenced me perhaps more than any other book in psychohistory, despite my having serious reservations about it as a contribution to Luther studies.
Young Man Luther was invaluable to me as a way of doing psychobiography and of understanding the concept and imagery of identity and identity crisis. It was in the course of working with psychiatric patients that I first began, in the words of Erikson, to “detect some meaningful resemblance between what” I had come to see in myself and what I judged my patients, colleagues, and supervisors expected me to be. (Young Man Luther, p. 14) I was developing a sense of listening to patients, and by listening, making a difference to them, and learning the difference between being an investigator and being a therapist. In subsequently reading Erikson’s biography (Lawrence J. Friedman, Identity’s Architect, 1999), I came to realize how he formed his own identity out of his past and dreams. As fellow psychohistorian Dan Dervin has commented, it was Erikson’s genius to push aside many aspects of his real life to invent his own identity. His psychotherapist daughter’s article on him in the Atlantic Monthly points out how lacking he was in a sense of reality. [Sue Erikson Bloland, “Fame: The Power and Cast of a Fantasy,” November 1999]
PHE: The spelling out of the method of inquiry, rather than the conclusion, is often what’s really important. While I’ve disagreed with some conclusions of my fellow psychohistorians, I’ve been extremely impressed by the method they had been using. I remember reading Young Man Luther and being thrilled and inspired by it but unconvinced it was correct. Many of the right questions were being asked. However, I prefer Norman O. Brown’s interpretation in Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytic Meaning of History (1959).
RC: The excremental vision.
PHE: Yes. Brown’s scatological interpretation dealt more with the real situation. But it is so often the case that we find something enlightening even when we disagree. Returning to our interview questions, how do you define psychohistory?
RC: For me it is psychobiography. It involves a detection and delineation of emotions that individuals tend to deny or minimize. I have written on: Vanzetti’s depression following the death of his mother and his life as a hobo in America; Halsted’s intimate friendship with and perhaps love for William Welch, and how it influenced his surgical career; Trotsky’s failure to become Lenin’s successor, explained by his fear of surpassing his father; and Stalin’s sadism — we need more explanation of his envy.
PHE: What brought you to psychohistory?
RC: I had three paths: my childhood historical interests, development of greater psychological insight into my biographical interests, and work with the Psychohistory Forum. First, when I was growing up, I had a passionate interest in a number of topics and the lives of individuals, including biographies of scientists and doctors. Two important early intellectual influences were my maternal uncle Alfred Mirsky, an eminent research scientist at the Rockefeller Institute, who talked with me about Darwin’s life and work, and my maternal aunt Jeannette Mirsky, author of books on exploration and a biography of Eli Whitney, who talked to me about her research in writing biographies.
I had a tremendous interest in revolutions, specifically the French and the Russian Revolutions, as well as in ancient history, particularly that of Greece and Rome, including the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. My curiosity was whetted by the times in which I grew up, the 1930s and 1940s: the histories of Europe, the United States, and the Second World War. Some books that particularly influenced me include Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian Wars and Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution. Among the influential scientists and physicians were Pasteur, Darwin, Harvey, Osler, and Halsted, and among the military and political leaders were T.E. Lawrence, Lincoln, and Lenin. I had an unquenchable curiosity to know more about them and their times.
My second path to psychohistory began when I was in psychiatric training in 1956. I had a desire to further develop and elaborate on these biographical interests by adding psychological insights to them. (My desire to further understand was and still is very strong.) This led to my writing articles on English physiologist Ernest Starling, 1951; Vanzetti, 1959; and Halsted, 1959 and 1984 (which I dedicated to my father). “Trotsky’s Dream of Lenin” (Clio’s Psyche, September 1998, pp. 50-54) touches on why Trotsky didn’t succeed Lenin. My views on Stalin’s sadism are treated in “Why Stalin Couldn’t Stop Laughing” (Clio’s Psyche, September 1996, pp. 37-39) and on his envy as one of his strong motivating forces, in book reviews of new biographies of Stalin in The Psychohistory Review (Winter 1990 and Winter 1993) and in “Stalin’s Victims and Their Predator” (Clio’s Psyche, December 1998, pp. 111-112).
The third path has been my work in the Psychohistory Forum, which is quite important to me. I have attended most of the Forum meetings, listened to the work presented, and formed intellectual friendships with the colleagues I have met. In becoming a scholar I was self-taught, without any psychohistorical mentors, but in a sense, the Psychohistory Forum has helped mentor me. At the Forum’s Communism: The Dream that Failed Research Group meetings, this work on ideas of mutual interest continues even as the group has switched its focus to biography. Included in the intellectual friendships are those with Mary Lambert, Jay Gonen, and Mary Coleman. Mary Coleman really took an interest in my recent illness but, aside from that, she has a range of interest in ancient history. There are the friendships with David Felix, Connie and Lee Shneidman, Ben Brody, and you, though we really haven’t had as much of a one-to-one relationship as I would like.
PHE: If you came out to New Jersey we could have that.
RC: [laughter] Sure! Sure! You notice I haven’t really been that motivated to attend the yearly International Psychohistorical Association (IPA) meetings. I keep up with my membership but I prefer the Forum.
PHE: There’s something about the smaller group format that I think fits nicely with being able to work in depth and to form the closer connections that I think work especially well for your personality.
RC: Yes, and I enjoy the lunches we have afterwards with the continued conversation there.
PHE: I certainly enjoy those as well. What training was most helpful in your doing psychohistorical work?
RC: A good beginning was Henry Lawton’s The Psychohistorian’s Handbook (1988), which conveys the range of psychohistory and gives the sense of its being an intellectual adventure (which Henry strongly feels and conveys in conversation). Reading reviews of psychohistorical and related books in the Journal of Psychohistory andClio’s Psyche was a good way of getting into the literature. Lee Shneidman’s are unfailingly good.
PHE: What other books were important to your development?
RC: There are so many. If I focus on psychological books I would have to include: Erik Erikson, Childhood and Society; Levinson, The Seasons of a Man’s Life; Peter Loewenberg, Decoding the Past: The Psychohistorical Approach (1983);Allen Wheelis, The Quest for Identity (1966); and Eugene Victor Wolfenstein, The Victims of Democracy: Malcolm X and the Black Revolution (1981).
PHE: What is the influence of your psychoanalytic experience on you as a psychohistorian?
RC: I am still in psychotherapy practice, and I frequently apply what I know about patients to my work as a biographer. It has involved separating psychological insights I have formed on current political leaders from their political ideas and their impact on politics.
PHE: Please list the five people who you think have made the greatest contribution to psychohistory in order of their contribution.
RC: I answer this not as a historian or psychohistorian but simply citing four books and an article I have especially enjoyed: Erikson, Young Man Luther; Peter Gay, The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud (1984), and Wolfenstein, The Victims of Democracy, are great books and I wrote this in my review of them in “Views of Psychohistory,” (Free Associations, 14, 1989); I would now add George Victor, Hitler: The Pathology of Evil (1998), and Lee Shneidman, “Alienation in Marx” (Clio’s Psyche, June 1994, pp. 4&5), to this list.
PHE: How do you see psychohistory developing in the next decade or two?
RC: Psychohistory will survive because psychoanalysis will survive. In my “History of Psychiatry” section in the Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, I point out that while the influence of psychoanalysis on American psychiatry has declined because it is no longer used in formulating diagnoses and while there is intense controversy about its value and validity, Freud’s place as one of the supreme makers of the 20th century alongside Darwin, Marx, and Einstein remains secure. Because of this continuing status, psychoanalysis will remain a source and inspiration for psychohistory.
PHE: What do we as psychohistorians need to do to strengthen our work and have more influence?
RC: Many things. One is to write books that are both scholarly and talked about, and that become popular — such as Erikson’s Childhood and Society. In the reviews and letters to the editor in the Times Literary Supplement and the Sunday edition of The New York Times, there is a striking absence of references to psychohistory books. Despite being published by a well-known press — New York University — Mel Kalfus’ biography, Frederick Law Olmsted: The Passion of a Public Artist (1991), was not reviewed in the Times, as were earlier Olmsted lives. To the best of my knowledge, Jay Gonen’s brilliant book on Nazi psychology, Roots of Nazi Psychology (2000), has received little discussion outside of Clio’s Psyche. But how many psychohistorians have achieved the fame of Erikson? Conversely, their work may be strengthened by accepting that they are fated to write for only a small audience. The limited readership for two superb books, Gonen’s and Victor’s Hitler, are examples.
Perhaps most important is the encouragement of small groups — such as the Psychohistory Forum and its research groups — where work is discussed and individual intellectual friendships are formed and continued outside of the group.
PHE: What is your primary affiliation?
RC: I have two identities: one as a psychoanalytically oriented psychotherapist and another as a Darwin scholar. This shows in my office where every day I see patients and do work on Darwin. On one side of this room there are books on Darwin and Victorian times and on the other side there are books on Freud and psychiatry.
PHE: Of which of your works are you most proud?
RC: To Be an Invalid: The Illness of Charles Darwin and “Charles Darwin’s ‘Insufferable Grief’” (Free Associations, 9, 1987, pp. 7-44). Both delineated important but neglected areas in Darwin’s biography. “Darwin’s ‘Insuf-ferable Grief’” recounted Darwin’s grief over the death of his daughter Annie — the most emotional event in his life. It was a pioneering work and has led to the recent, much more extended study of Darwin and his daughter, Annie’s Box (Darwin, His Daughter and Human Evolution is the title of the American edition) by Randal Keynes.
There are two other articles I’d like to mention. “‘Confessing a Murder’: Darwin’s First Revelations about Transmutation” (Isis, 77, 1986, pp. 9-32) is about Darwin’s guilt over his having unpopular ideas. It showed how he persevered and began to form an identity of the “Devil’s Chaplain.” I am reminded of his 1856 remark in a letter, “What a book a Devil’s Chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering, low & horribly cruel works of nature.” Darwin’s clerical training at Cambridge had a profound impact on him, and he rightfully feared the clergy’s reaction to his theories. Then there’s the history of the contacts between Darwin and Marx. This is interesting for demonstrating what the actual contacts were, how letters can be misleading, and what really took place in the discovery of the real nature of the contacts because one participant had written an account of the history, which omitted several of the participants for several reasons. (“The Myth of the Darwin-Marx Letter,” History of Political Economy, 14:4, 1982, pp. 461-482)
PHE: For those of our readers who are not familiar with To Be an Invalid, what are its main points?
RC: When I first began to think about writing on Darwin in 1959, I noticed that the many biographies of him had little to say about the causes and nature of the illness that dominated his life. There was, for instance, no delineation of what his clinical symptoms were. After I decided to write on his illness, I spent many years researching unpublished Darwin documents. (It took me several years to learn to decipher his handwriting.) In To Be an Invalid I published the first comprehensive account of his illness. I showed that as a youth he suffered brief psychosomatic symptoms from transient mental stresses, and as an adult he suffered protracted psychosomatic illness mainly from working on his controversial theory of evolution. When his theory was accepted and he stopped working on it, his illness became better. While his physical symptoms were mainly flatulence, vomiting, and eczema, he also had a variety of other psychiatric symptoms — obsessions, anxieties, and depressions — and psychosomatic symptoms — headaches, cardiac palpitations, trembling, and altered sensations. I also stressed that with the absence of current methods of diagnosis, much about the nature of his illness remains uncertain. My book filled a gap, and was very well received by other Darwin scholars.
Now I am working on a second edition of the book. It is really a new book that incorporates the great amount of new primary source information on Darwin — published and unpublished — that has become available since 1977. In it I will delineate more fully the clinical nature of Darwin’s symptoms and their causation. I will also raise the possibility of arrested Chagas’ disease of the stomach, which can lead to all sorts of stomach disorders, making Darwin more sensitive to psychological stress. The result will be a more precise picture of Darwin’s illness and a more intimate portrait of Darwin the man.
As an appendix to it, I am including Darwin’s “Diary of Health” which was a unique daily diary that he kept from 1849-1855, in which he put down his symptoms, and for several years his main treatment of hydropathy (treating illness by external douching with cold water) and how it affected him. The “Diary of Health” is a unique medical and psychological document that has never been transcribed. [A photocopy of the original manuscript is shown.]
Together with the Darwin biographer Jim Moore, I hope to someday do an annotated edition of Darwin’s autobiography. It would be along the lines of the annotated autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.
Now that I am in my 70s, I am interested in what it was like for Darwin in his latter years. I might want to publish something on them, based upon the approach of Daniel Levinson’s Seasons of a Man’s Life (1978). Levinson stopped at age 65 and his approach needs to be taken to the latter years.
I sense now that Darwin studies are burgeoning more than ever. His complete correspondence is being published and the second part of a two-volume biography is coming out soon. An important biography of Darwin the botanist is in the making — it includes insight into some of the areas of his greatest creativity. When I correspond with other Darwin scholars and they ask me something, I really extend myself and do work for them (which is one reason why I have not written more for Clio). Of course, the idea of mutual work allows me to ask the same from them.
PHE: How do people in Darwin studies respond to psychohistory?
RC: Scholars in the “Darwin industry” I have known or corresponded with, fall into three groups regarding the use of psychological insights. Four scholars have used psychological insights in their work, endorse the concept of psychohistory, and have strongly supported my work. (I never had any contact with John Bowlby whose psychobiography of Darwin I have some disagreements with.) Two scholars were very interested in discussing Darwin’s illness with me — both obtained copies of my book on the illness but were not interested in psychobiography. Several scholars are adverse to any psychological explanation and want to remember Darwin for his ideas, not personality. All of these scholars have greatly aided me in different ways.
All this work makes me more aware of Darwin as a personality in this room [motioning to his Darwin books]. I like to know his manner, his attentiveness in talking to another person, the niceness and sweetness of his disposition, and the animated way he could sometimes talk about topics when his whole face would light up. In various ways I have found that my own behaviors carry some touches of Darwin. You tell me how my face often lights up in individual conversation. I write on the backs of old manuscripts the way he did and I annotate books in his manner, listing the annotations on the book’s front page.
PHE: [returning the photocopy of the “Diary”] That “Diary of Health” manuscript is something! There are all these abbreviations, so you really have to be a Darwin scholar to know this.
RC: The main thing is the “FLT.” It stands for flatulence, that’s his main symptom.
PHE: How did he feel about flatulence? Did it trouble him greatly?
RC: Enormously. It bothered him in a number of ways. Sometimes the pain was so severe that it interrupted his work. He said that when he was writing The Origin of Species, because of the pressures of writing, he was never free from flatulence; he had it all the time. It was embarrassing because it would frequently lead to eructations, or belching, and that would be embarrassing if he was with somebody. It was very exhausting and he had this symptom for all of his life.
With the special training in surgery and psychiatry that I had, in understanding Darwin’s symptoms I always have to bring myself back to Victorian times and understand that they were really so ignorant of disease. They didn’t know about bacteria; it was just during Darwin’s lifetime that chloroform anesthesia was invented; and the medical exam was next to nothing. A doctor listened to the patient, took a history, checked his pulse, maybe listened to his lungs — and that was it. One major factor in Victorian times that we don’t have now was the depressive weight of religion. That caused Darwin to suffer feelings of guilt and he adapted to it in many ways. This point is not original with me — the Darwin scholar Jim Moore has shown it. In his life at Down, in many ways he took on the identity of a “squarson” — a squire and a country parson. He took on the duties of a clergyman because he understood them well, having trained to be a clergyman.
PHE: Can you give some examples of what duties he would exercise at Down? How many years was he there?
RC: He was at Down for his last 40 years, 1842-1882, most of his adult life. (He died at the age of 72.) He became friends with one of the clergymen there, who would ask his advice on various problems in the village. He contributed to the Down school, served as a magistrate viewing legal cases, and formed various clubs, such as the Down Friendly Club in which he advised people on how to look for medical treatment and how to save their money to assure themselves a decent burial. He contributed to any local charity. As he made more money from his books and his investments, he became a philanthropist like his father.
There were many philanthropies that Darwin supported. They are very interesting in what they show about Darwin the de facto clergyman. He gave to Christian missionary societies in Africa and Tierra del Fuego steadily, throughout his life. Darwin was a great believer in the civilizing effects of Christianity and the work of Christian missionaries. Also, he would always give sums of money to people he knew who were in financial difficulties when they wrote to them. He gave particularly to needy scientists. When a German scientist in Brazil suffered losses from a flood, Darwin gave him a large sum of money.
PHE: What is the importance of childhood to psychohistory?
RC: It is important but it is not always easy to locate the child in the adult. Darwin is an example. John Bowlby argued that Darwin’s failure to mourn the death of his mother when he was eight influenced his later illness. I think this is questionable. After eight, Darwin was cared for by his loving sisters who were mother surrogates. I think a more evident impact on the adult is his early defiance. He wrote that before he entered a room with his sister Caroline, he said to himself, “‘What will she blame me for now?’ and I made myself dogged so as not to care what she might say.” (Autobiography, p. 22) I think this early example of his being “dogged” and opposing a person’s command to him is important.
PHE: I think you are right to emphasis this point. I think it was crucial to his being able to stay with his mission. Dogged, to me, implies not an open defiance but crouching down like a dog, a passive-aggressive type of defiance which seems to fit his character because he so wanted to please.
RC: His early disobedience partly accounts for his adult trait of defiance in support of unpopular ideas.
PHE: In teaching Darwin, I have always told my students that one of the keys to his drive to success, as well as to his conflict over success as a naturalist, was Charles’ disproving his father’s statement and prophecy: “’You care for nothing but shooting, dogs, and rat-catching, and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family.’” (Autobiography, p. 28)
RC: I think that is very important. That was a momentary outburst of his father but the general attitude that the father and sisters had toward him was that he was “a very ordinary boy.” One of Darwin’s strongest characteristics was his perseverance. Behind that perseverance must have been a mixture of anger and defiance: the feeling that “I am not an ordinary boy.” But behind that defiance was the feeling that deep down he was ordinary, that he was ugly, that he had bunions, and that he was looked on as stupid. “I will show them!” And he did in his own quiet way.
PHE: In listening to your descriptions of Darwin in relationship to his father, I keep coming back to the many similarities you have with him. For example, you also deviated from the career plans of your father, as Darwin did when he failed to be either a doctor or clergyman, when you left surgery for psychiatry and scholarship. Like Darwin you are a non-believer who is quite tolerant of the belief or non-belief of others. Like him, you prefer one to one conversations and relationships to group relations and discussions.
RC: Yes, you are right on all three counts. You know quite a bit about me through our friendship and the Psychohistory Forum sessions on the motivations and fathers of psychohistorians at which we both presented in the 1980s and 1990s.
PHE: Some Forum researchers have been struggling with the issue of identification with a particular parent and achievement. RC: I got different things from each parent. While identifying with my mother’s intellectualism, in deciding to rewrite To Be an Invalid I was influenced by my father’s interest in physical symptoms and the very tough standards he set for his operations, which I believe I carry over to my standards in scholarly writing. For a man, the father is the main source of manly achievement.
PHE: In your experience, are high achievers more identified with their fathers?
RC: The dozen or so graduate students I have known who have achieved excellence in their careers all had high-achieving fathers. Many students with high-achieving fathers were inhibited by the scale of their father’s success or, more frequently, had too many conflicts about their success. Students from economically poor and disadvantaged homes suffered from absence of fathers or from fathers who lacked achievements. Fathers who were unsuccessful but had fantasies of success were sometimes inspirations to their sons to succeed, especially in cases of a loving father.
PHE: What are some trends in graduate students’ psychodynamics you have observed over the four decades of your career working with them?
RC: A watershed in my work with Columbia University graduate students was the student radicalism of the 1960s, which prompted students to lead a more autonomous campus life. Some students then sought to define themselves better by entering psychotherapy; other students turned away from therapy by entering groups of women, blacks, or gays; and some combined therapy with being in a group. In this trend of increased freedom, there were many psychological issues and different kinds of psychotherapy, including: l) issues of identity involving problems of intimacy with another person and of career that often led to years of long-term psychotherapy (Erik Erikson was the one psychotherapist who was something of a hero to graduate students); 2) new techniques of short-term psychotherapy for some students; 3) using new anti-psychotic drugs to successfully treat psychotics (some with hallucinations); 4) successfully treating cases of panic-disorder with new Prozac-type medicines; 5) learning to treat borderline patients with different modalities of psychotherapy and medications, and, when necessary, hospitalizing them for brief periods to prevent self-mutilation and suicide; and 6) treating foreign students which involved learning something of their culture.
My work at Columbia with graduate students leads me to want to publish on these marvelous, bright, aspiring, grad students at their stage of life. The main difficulty in continuing therapy with them is that they are impecunious.
PHE: You are such a reserved, private, scholarly man, who was raised in a generation when sex was not that talked about in “polite” society, that I am somewhat puzzled by your being a sex therapist.
RC: Training in sex therapy and helping others with their sexual issues allowed me to explore an area that I was not that comfortable with in my earlier life, mostly because I did not have a lot of close contact with teenage boys and young men who spoke freely about sexuality. My own analysis had freed me from many preconceptions and inhibitions.
PHE: What are your observations on women’s sexuality issues over three decades?
RC: A convenient starting point for the many dramatic changes that have occurred are the two books of Masters and Johnson — Human Sexual Response (1966) and Human Sexual Dysfunction (1971) — which showed the great orgasmic potential of women (and discredited Freud’s theory of clitoral and vaginal orgasms). It brought psychology into sexual dysfunctions (Masters and Johnson’s “conjoint therapy” with both a female and a male therapist) showing that orgasmic dysfunctions can be treated. The advent of the birth control pill and the vibrator encouraged women to enjoy their sexuality. I was often impressed when women, who had never had an orgasm, had their first orgasm with a vibrator, and how this first orgasm increased in a lasting way their feelings of self-esteem. Some women, who cannot have orgasms, have still learned to enjoy having sex because of the feelings of intimacy with their partner that it gives them. Knowledge of sex has led to some women doing graduate work in aspects of sex in history. With all this advancement in sexual it is still necessary, when doing psychotherapy with women, to search out underlying, sometimes unconscious, reservations about sex, often from parental attitudes or religious precepts.
PHE: How do you explain the growth and psychology of fundamentalism?
RC: Fundamentalism is an attempt to deny anxieties and uncertainties by reaching for religious certainty. I saw several fundamentalists in my work at Columbia. They were suffering from some of the somatic manifestations of depression such as insomnia, anorexia, and constipation, and had difficulty in breathing. They refused any sort of personality examinations and only wanted medication. Most did well on the newer antidepressants. I also saw some ex-fundamentalists who had lost their faith and suffered from severe anxiety. They were helped by insight therapy — uncovering childhood parental influences.
PHE: What are your thoughts on the psychology and psychodynamics of violence in our world?
RC: Of the many different areas where violence is present I have been especially interested in the Balkans — the breakup of the former Yugoslavia — and the chronic, endemic nature of the violence. More psychological studies on nationalism are needed. In Trotsky’s In Defense of Terrorism, he argues that the ruling class does not want to leave so you have to force it to leave.
PHE: As we meet here in New York City two days after the terrible destruction of the World Trade Center, how do you understand the psychology of terrorism in our world?
RC: There are different forms of terrorism. Marxist ideologies of class war explain the Lenin-Trotsky “Red Terror” of 1918-1921 and the terror of Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot. There is the present-day Arab-Israeli terror with its complex causes including the expulsion of Arabs by Israelis and the occupation of their lands. (There is the tendency for Israel to become apartheid state.) There is the Muslim ideology of terror, America as the “Great Satan,” which was just manifested in the terror we saw here earlier this week. As we learn about these suicide bombers, I see the suicide as secondary to the belief in the ideology. They are like soldiers who accept death as part of the job.
Behind Arab feelings towards the West and Israel is the deep wound of displacement. I have had many contacts with Arab graduate students and Western-educated Arabs who feel they have been dislocated by Israel. Not one of them can accept Israel. You cannot give them the Western answer: that it is a tragedy like the struggles in Troy between Achilles and Hector. They will not accept that. It is a wrong. To them the creation of Israel is a wrong that they must right. They cannot accept it. The absence of Arab leaders willing to attempt compromise is distressing. It looks like unending war and terror for the near future.
PHE: I want to conclude with the comment that I think your selection of Charles Darwin as the subject for your medical and psychobiographical research was a wonderful choice for both you and for Darwin scholarship.
RC: Here I am in my old age and Darwin keeps me young.
The Advocacy and Detachment of Robert Jay Lifton
[On the Holocaust:] People have asked me how long the study on Nazi doctors took and my answer is usually “two lifetimes” because it felt like that — [it] was the hardest and the most demanding [study] in many ways. I began really immersing myself in the work in the late seventies and published the book in 1986. There was lots of living in Germany for seven to eight months, many trips back and forth, and lots of hard work in the writing. Sitting at one’s desk and struggling with ideas, getting help and translations — that probably took about seven years altogether. It was horrible to come to my desk every morning and find the Nazi doctors on that desk for years and years.
When I finished the book I could clear my desk of them. It does not mean I have stopped connecting my work with the Nazi doctors or that I have been able to dismiss the Nazi doctors from my life, far from it. But completing a book is kind of an inner permission to leave that subject, imaginatively and creatively and in scholarly efforts. So that means my conscience becomes focused on getting the book written. That is a very important matter because that focus has helped me through the difficulty and anxiety and pain of doing the study on the Nazi doctors, knowing that I would write the book and have my say about them and what they did. I refer to it as the scholar’s revenge.
One has to pace oneself in this work. I tell students of mine who plunge into the Holocaust or nuclear weapons to pace themselves, almost in the way an athlete paces himself or herself because one is using one’s mind in perhaps the way an athlete uses the body. For instance, I tell them not to read the material after nine o’clock at night. As a rule of thumb for myself, I read about the horrors during the day and read novels or poetry at night. And you need a lot of love in your life and a lot of humor. I have had a long and loving marriage and that has helped a great deal. I draw these bird cartoons and they have always given me an outlet, too. One needs balancing factors in one’s life. It does not mean that they will spare you pain, it just means that they give you a little more strength in accepting the pain.
In all good psychiatric or psychoanalytic or clinical psychological work you have to give of yourself, and your self has to be available and attentive, and, therefore, in some ways, vulnerable. When you study very painful events that derive from highly destructive behavior — mass killing and dying, as I have — the self touches some very painful areas, but you have to let it be open to them. Otherwise you do not learn everything very much. The self is one’s instrument and has to feel pain to work on painful issues. You know, I wrote in my book on Nazi doctors about an encounter with an Auschwitz survivor. Early in the research, after I had read a great deal and had immersed myself in literature on the concentration camps especially, I had just traveled to Germany and just begun some interviewing. I complained to the former inmate that I was having bad dreams, anxious dreams, nightmares in fact, about Nazi camps. I was behind bars and, worse than that, my wife and kids were there, too, and that really hurt. This was an Auschwitz survivor, a friend of mine, and he looked at me very steadily, with neither pity nor disdain, but just straight, and said to me, “Good, now you can do the study.” That was just right, what he was saying was very obvious, he knew that I had to suffer a little bit as an outsider to the experience, seeking to be empathetic. One has to offer the self to the suffering in some degree.
There is no such thing as too much empathy, but there can be too much sympathy. Empathy is imagining oneself into the experience of someone else. Sympathy is carrying that further. It is a necessary distinction. If I sense myself liking or disliking the person I’m interviewing, I take it as a clue to something going on in the process and trust myself or my gratitude toward the subjects to keep the interview on a certain level. I needed to have empathy for Nazi doctors — and that was a hard recognition on my part — but I certainly did not have to have sympathy for them. I have struggled with having too much sympathy for people and that is where the element of detachment comes in, but not in the sense of non-feeling or divesting myself of ethical passion. I mean stepping back into the scholar’s role which is to recreate the experience, create a narrative of it, which brings to it one’s professional, even technical, knowledge.
The Courage of Rudolph Binion
CP: How did you come from demo-graphic and political history to psychoanalytic psychobiography and psychohistory?
RB: I found myself a psychobiographer in spite of myself. I had taken up Freud only incidentally to be obliging to some student who requested a readings course on Freud. Then the student switched to Rilke for the second semester. I came across Lou Andreas-Salome behind both these figures and ended up writing Frau Lou, my book about her. I got involved in trying to explain her short stories and novels with reference to her actual life experiences, some of very recent vintage. The deeper I immersed myself in those experiences, the more contradictions I stumbled upon between her own self-versions and what I could reconstruct of the facts about her from documents of the times, such as exchanges of letters and others’ diaries. How her memories had been distorted over the years! Why were they distorted? I had originally taken psychoanalysis as the orthodox straight approach to understanding a human life and assumed that her major experiences had been with her father in her childhood and then with the preacher who took the place of her father in her heart, and that the later men in her life, especially the overpowering father figures beginning with Nietzsche, had been Freudianly experienced by her. But little by little the childhood material behind her fiction seemed dragged in, forced, only marginally relevant.
More and more I came to see that what was happening in her adult life, especially her Nietzsche experience, dominated at least her fiction unconsciously. I put into my conclusion that my whole method was wrong – the material simply redounded against it – and found myself a revisionist Freudian psychobiographer. I did a couple of other psychobiographical studies but drew connections from biography to large-scale history only tenuously. Finally I had to make the transition from psychobiography to what was going on in groups or masses or nations. That’s how I got into the Hitler business: because I thought I could go from the individual charismatic leader to what was passing unconsciously between him and his following.
I’ve got to throw in something. In my conclusion to Frau Lou I remember speculating on how memories might fade, disintegrate, and recombine, saying that the Freudian models of the topography of the mind were just inadequate but that lots of other thoroughgoing studies like the one I had just done were needed before any new conclusions could be reached. The other day in my dentist’s waiting room I saw a story in Time or Newsweek on a neurological conception of how memory works, or doesn’t work when it doesn’t, from a book called The Myth of Repressed Memory. It was about the memories or pseudornemories of child abuse that ex-patients, or patients, are coming up with against their parents. I saw that what I had then dimly envisioned with Frau Lou as a kind of reconsideration of how memory works is now pretty much what, though with some differences obviously, neurophysiologists and psychologists are coming to, though on other grounds than mine. I was quite amused.
CP: Did you pick up any formal psychoanalytic or psychological training?
RB: No, I not only did not but I’m sort of glad that I didn’t. I don’t believe in applied psychoanalysis – I think that’s a big mistake. I share Lloyd deMause’s early view of the independence of psychohistory, specifically from psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis is the starting point in historic fact, with the concept of an unconscious and its psychodynamics. But psychoanalysis in its practice has been essentially limited to consulting rooms and clinics, and the experience with individuals that provides. The historic record is much richer in independent information. It deals primarily with masses and groups, and that’s what psychohistory should be concerned with. I think that how the unconscious works, how it works historically, historic memory, should be studied without preconceptions derived from psycho-analytic experience. Psychoanalysis was the childhood of psychohistory – a Sunday-psychoanalyzing of historical figures by shrinks or ex-patients or on-going patients. While psychohistory has much in common with psychoanalysis, it must not look to psychoanalysis for authority or for clues or hints.
I’m up against this problem whenever I teach a seminar in psychohistory. I hesitate about whether to give the students some psychoanalytical background. I do now give them one week of reading on the ground that this is where psychohistory came from, so it’s important to know it historically. But I’m always afraid that they’ll look at it the way some psychohistorians used to look to Erikson and others for models, that they’ll then read it into the evidence or organize their historic facts around it in trying to understand or make sense of historic events, and that this will be an exercise in futility – that it would stack the cards or vitiate the evidence in advance. One should just plunge in and ask, “Why is this happening? What’s going on here unconsciously?” The “why?” question is the first one a psychohistorian should ask – without any models, especially since the psychoanalytical paradigms just don’t apply to history if you’re dealing with large-scale events.
CP: How does a psychohistorian “plunge in”?
RB: The closest I can find to a fine expression of what I do is Bergson’s in his Introduction to Metaphysics. He says that you exhaust the intellectual knowledge of the subject, you move around it, look at it from every known angle. Suddenly you plunge in, suddenly you feel it from the inside. At that point everything’s clear, everything falls into place, everything makes sense. You get breakthroughs, discovery of documentary material that you didn’t even know existed. It’s all confirmatory. You know you’re on the right track. Internally you get the sense that this is the way it was lived. You’re way ahead of other historical explainers because you add the internal fit, the internal understanding, to the usual evidential, external exactness of your interpretation. Take the very human experience of the fall in marital fertility in the European family at the time of the contraceptive revolution in the late nineteenth century which I looked at it in a recent article. If you use just external things like statistical correlations – degrees of industrialization, rural-urban, Protestant-Catholic, young-old – to explain it, it’s extrinsic. But if you start asking, “Why did marital fertility suddenly fall? Why was family planning suddenly adopted in all walks of life and all nations of Europe, and Europe only, when it was? What’s going on here collectively?” and put yourself in the place of the population that’s undergoing this transformation at the time, it’s something else. Both the outside story and the inside story must check with whatever answers you find: both must make sense. If you look only to the outside picture and try to make sense of it in a positivistic way, then you’re missing the whole point of it.
CP: Your most famous psychohistorical work is, of course, Hitler among the Germans. Now, almost twenty years after its publication, do you have any further thoughts and feelings on Hitler and the Germans?
RB: It’s hard to get that book behind me in Germany or Austria. It’s terrible. I once told Andreas Hillgruber, a great researcher and friend of mine, “I’m done with Hitler.” He replied, “You’re never done with Hitler!” No, I’ve never had occasion either to want to change anything in that book or to add anything. Not that I think it was well written – that it was not. It’s very difficult to write psychohistory because it is so complex. It’s so difficult to make it intelligible and to present it methodically so that people don’t lose the thread. In every line you want to add a hundred things that go off on tangents right and left, that associate in one way or another, because psychohistory is complexes that work on different levels of awareness and are all so difficult to retrace.
CP: How do you view the state of psychohistory in Europe today?
RB: I know it perhaps better than most because I lecture in German, French and Italian. So I’m the privileged psychohistorian as far as European invitations go. It seems I spent most of last year flying back and forth to Vienna, where I suddenly had a strangely good press and they wanted to hear me on this, that, and the other thing. England I don’t know well, though I lectured at Oxford once or twice. I think the English are, in their national character at some level, incompatible with psychohistory – they just can’t understand it. The French have their mentalites, sort of unthinking, unreflective, uncritical attitudes. Still, France is open, hospitable to the unconscious, but on the psychoanalytical side. They’re all broken up into fiercely factional Lacanian cliques; therefore, anyone who does psychohistory is instantly attacked, assailed. The French are also exceedingly difficult because they’re so intellectually polemical-minded, they love to scrap and fight. Now, the Italians are responsive to everything foreign. In Italy I’ve enjoyed front-page covers, many triumphant moments, that were soon forgotten. I think they translate more books from abroad than any other people, though maybe the Japanese are in close competition. But I wonder who buys the books, who reads them all. They’ll recycle history like anything else – it’s superficial.
The Germans had, because of Hitlerism itself, a kind of hiatus, or gap, in their national education and missed the whole Freudian period. So, when it came to post-Freudian developments, including psychohistory, they had to plug in very late along. I find them prejudiced in the first instance, receptive after that. Initially they’re all wary of what they call monocausal explanations, anything that smacks of reductionism, perhaps because of the Hitler experience. It is immediately spattered with mud and rejected out of hand. But if you say this is one of the reasons, the psychological reason, and there are many other causes, they’ll listen sympathetically and soon be quite responsive. There isn’t that kind of factionalism that in the French experience derives from psychoanalysis itself. In Germany my own Hitler work was and still is exceedingly controversial because it had very much to do with the political sense of my reading of the records that Germany as a mass followed Hitler. This was not welcome in some quarters because the original postwar adjustment to the Hitler period had been to consider that Hitlerism was an aberration, a conspiracy of a bunch of political gangsters who pulled wool over German eyes, and now that the wool was off their eyes they were back to the democratic path that was theirs by a natural vocation for freedom and brotherly equality and justice throughout the world. Indeed, they are now very democratic-minded, and Hitlerism is pretty much out of their system as a nation. But the record is the record.
CP: Any suggestions how North American and European psychohistorians might work more closely? Collaborating on the Berlin conference in two years?
RB: In general I’m a little sceptical of what conferences do. They don’t really promote much awareness. They’re usually just free rides for the participants who know what the other guy’s going to say anyway. The media coverage, if any, is here today, gone tomorrow. The level on which fruitful interchange takes place is reading each other’s books and following through. If the interest is there, nowadays you get a book fast. I don’t know that there’s any need to drum things up.
CP: You’ve written in German a lot this past year. Could you give us a synopsis of your critique of Freud’s theory of aggression?
RB: What I criticized primarily was Freud’s late theory of a certain quantity of aggression which, if it isn’t discharged outwardly, is discharged inwardly, in which case it is self-destructive. One would expect that, if discharging aggression outwardly were a precondition for the individual surviving longer, when there was virtually no warfare in Europe for the century after the Congress of Vienna in 1815 longevity would be less; in fact, never did life expectancy increase so greatly. You would expect that women, who tend to be, in Freudian terms, more masochistic in discharging their aggression inwardly, would die younger. But they live longer. You would expect that the hardened killer would live forever if he weren’t caught and executed. The theory just doesn’t check – it just does not work.
CP: And another paper about Freud as a fin-de-siecle character?
RB: I tweaked his beard by saying how, first, he prided himself on blazing new trails, not being influenced by others. But a full-fledged theory of a death instinct is already implicit in Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice of 1912, among other works of that time. Mann’s implicit theory corresponds strangely to Sabina Spielrein’s conception that was aired in Freud’s own Wednesday evening circle in 1912 and that Freud evidently misunderstood, misheard, judging by his replies and responses to the paper that she presented. He picked up a lot from Ferenczi and others. He was very late when he came out with his death theory after World War I – after all the cultural elites had dropped it long since in Europe. Anyway, there were loads of lines that I took, having fun as it were with what was obviously just a theoretical blind alley and blunder on Freud’s part. The reason was not that I wanted to shake a finger at him – it was the 25th anniversary of the museum set up in his house in Vienna, and the theme of the year in Vienna was aggression and death in Freud’s thinking. My guest lecture in the Town Hall was to be monitored and questions fielded by the directress of the Freud museum. Hence reverence was in order, but dammit, I just couldn’t – I just found that the theory was a huge mistake. Freud was a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant theorist and researcher, but when he settled for that late-life device to undercut all the other instincts by love and death drives, he just screwed up hopelessly.
CP: Is there anything about psycho-history today that troubles you?
RB: The innumerable footnotes to psychoanalytical theorists in psychohistorical articles. A couple of the editors of things I wrote asked for psychoanalytical references to substantiate what I was affirming, which drove me up the wall. Early along I focused, because the material forced me, on the mechanism of traumatic reliving. Then, with a ten- to twenty-year lag, it established itself in psychiatry independently. But, at the time, way back, a bunch of wise-guy psychoanalytical-type historians said there was nothing in the clinical literature to bear me out. But it was my own research experience that spoke through my findings.
Also, a number of people honor me by sending me their drafts and asking for comments and I love that. But I find that when they’re verging on new insights they sort of guard themselves and hold back for fear of breaking new ground, or of losing the bulwark of the established, received wisdom.
CP: Where would you like to see psychohistory go in the future?
RB: Well, I can think of so many things. How does mass unconscious process work? This is the most difficult thing. There are approaches to it that some of us have taken, but we still look upon it as a kind of unexplored territory for the most part. We’re just beginning to carve out paths in it. All the works exploring mass consciousness so far are tentative. You’re bound to be breaking new ground because shrinks don’t put nations or continents, group identities, on the couch. Almost anything one has the courage to do will be rewarding.
Psychodemography, or psychodemographic history, can be very fruitfully explored. Demography has tended to be positivistic, quanto-historical with loads of information. You name it: breastfeeding, mass traumas, plagues – all sorts of human experiences that people are collectively reliving, abreacting, and that have never been explored psycho-historically.
I remember a student coming to me asking for some mass psychological topic in Weimar Germany. Though I don’t like to suggest topics, I couldn’t resist after a while and said, “Why don’t you try the German runaway inflation in the early 1920s, which was a state of mind? Just explore the psychological, the psychohistorical aspects of it.” At first, she seemed to rise to the challenge but then got so uptight. This was going away from the received – with a student it’s more difficult, they’re more sensitive to this – the received, accredited, established, recognized, canonical modes of procedure and problem-posing. She wound up violently hostile to me for ever having suggested it, as if I had forced the topic on her. People are afraid to do anything new in psychohistory. They’re afraid to do psychohistory if they’ve got a professional career in the balance, but to do anything new in psychohistory puts them in double jeopardy.
CP: In your 1977 article “Doing Psychohistory”, you wrote that “the aspirant psychohistorian is best advised to pick a biographic subject.” Would you still give that advice? What other?
RB: I don’t know that I’d give it still. I guess it was in part projective. I myself had done a psychobiography [Frau Lou] first off. That is certainly how I came to the workings of history psychologically understood, and, therefore, maybe it wasn’t a bad course to follow. But, no, I’d rather not give advice. If someone wants to plunge right in on a group level, so much the better. It’s like the old line about the faith: each must come in his or her own way to a method or practice or approach.
East Meets West: The Psychohistory of Sudhir Kakar
Paul H. Elovitz, Ramapo College and the Psychohistory Forum
We wish to thank the following for their help in arranging the interview: Mary Chin, PhD, of the University of Hawaii’s Center for South Asian Studies; Shyamal Gupta of Calcutta; and Professor Ashok Nagpal of the Department of Psychology, Delhi University.
PHE: Please tell us about your background.
SK: My father was a civil servant, my mother, a housewife. The family religion was Hindu and my parents’ social class was upper middle. My only sibling, my sister, is five years younger and a schoolteacher. My mother died when I was 37 and my father when I was 45.
PHE: How do you define yourself in professional terms?
SK: I define myself as a psychoanalyst and a cultural psychologist who is engaged in the study of mental representations. In the first case, the mental representations are primarily of the individual’s bodily life and family relationships while in the second case they are the representations of the individual’s culture and its history.
PHE: What brought you to the study of the unconscious?
SK: I think what brings one to the unconscious is always the sensing of its presence in one’s own person. For me this took place in early youth, facilitated by the reading of literature, for instance, the fiction of Dostoyevsky and then Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams.
PHE: When did you first encounter psychohistory?
SK: I first encountered psychohistory orally rather than in the written form. This was in conversations with Erik Erikson over the winter of 1964 in Ahmedabad where he had come to do his book on Gandhi. Of course, I did not know that what I was listening to, with a mounting sense of excitement and fascination, was psychohistory. I read Erikson’s Childhood and Society and Young Man Luther just after I met him in 1964.
PHE: What was the immediate and long-term impact?
SK: The impact of both the man and his writings was dramatic. With his help and encouragement I decided to change my profession from economics to psychoanalysis. It was to be a version of psychoanalysis that is much more receptive to the history and culture of the individual’s community than is normally the case in analytic therapy and writing. Over the years I have come to appreciate how unique Erikson was by being the foremost proponent of cultural relativism in the profession.
PHE: What were Erickson’s strengths and weaknesss in examining Gandhi?
SK: The great strength of the Gandhi book lay in its methodology, implicit in Erikson’s earlier book on Luther and explicit in Gandhi’s Truth, that, to understand the meaning of a historical event or “action” it has to be studied in the four-fold complementarity of the individual’s developmental history, his present stage of life, the present state of the individual’s community, and the history of these communities. There were other methodological advances in the book such as a delineation of the dynamics of the psychohistorian’s own unconscious involvement in his subject, with his witnesses, and in the very process of history. Its weakness was that Erikson’s empathy with his subject sometimes slipped into idealization, his counter-transference reactions preventing the highlighting of some of the dark corners of Gandhi’s mind.
PHE: How do you define psychohistory?
SK: To me psychohistory is the study of the influence of mental representations, conscious and unconscious, individual and collective, on the behavior of actors in a historical situation.
PHE: What is the importance of childhood to psychohistory?
SK: If the recognition of recurrent motivational themes in a historical actor’s life and the demonstration how they influenced his actions is important for a particular psychohistorical work, then childhood, the period where the themes are first articulated, becomes significant.
PHE: You were about 10 years old when India obtained independence from Britain. Do you have any childhood recollections of Gandhi and the times. If so, did any influence your becoming a writer and a psychoanalyst?
SK: I have vivid childhood recollections of the time of independence, especially of the riots between Hindus and Muslims which broke out at the partition of the country into India and Pakistan. I have described these memories in detail in The Colors of Violence [reviewed in this publication, December, 1997]. In this book, a psychohistorical account of violence between Hindus and Muslims, I became aware how my extended family’s “war-stories” from the riot towns of Pakistan had become the core of my memory of “the Muslim,” and that the ambivalence of fear and fascination from my past with which I regarded Muslims had not vanished. I became aware that in my interviews my first impulse was to defend myself against the threat the Muslims posed to my boundaries by strengthening and fortifying them as Hindu. Then, in a kind of reaction formation, my tendency was to move in the opposite direction by consistently placing a more positive gloss on Muslim statements and actions than on Hindu ones. The confrontation with my childhood memories, I discovered, was essential for my present research.
PHE: Please list some people who you think have made the greatest contribution to psychohistory / psychobiography in order of their contribution.
SK: Erik H. Erikson, Bruce Mazlish, Peter Lowenberg, and Peter Gay
PHE: What training should someone wanting to be a psychohistorian get today?
SK: I can only talk about one essential element: an experience of the unconscious through a personal analysis. Such an analysis, depending on the individual, need not be long but it is vital that the psychohistorian discover psychoanalytic concepts and theories at a level other than that of intellect.
PHE: Which mentors helped you with a psychodynamic approach to biography and history?
SK: Besides Erikson, Abraham Zaleznik at the Harvard Business School (HBS) was my guide when I was writing my psychodynamic biography of Frederick Taylor. I was further influenced by the work of Bruce Mazlish at MIT and by Alexander Mitscherlich of the Freud Institut in Frankfurt where I trained. I found Mitscherlich’s psychohistorical accounts of post-World War II Germany, such as his Die Vaterlose Gesellschaft [Society Without the Father, 1969], fascinating.
PHE: Zaleznik is not well known in psychohistorical circles even though I remember being quite impressed by one of his articles on the uses of failure by businessmen. Would you tell our readers some more about this individual, his ideas and publications, and how he mentored you?
SK: Zaleznik was Professor of Social Psychology of Management at Harvard Business School for many years as well as a Faculty Member at the Boston Psychoanalytic Institute. The focus of his work at the HBS was on the role of irrational factors in business decision making. With the help of many case studies he showed how the leadership style of business leaders was influenced by their personality development and their unconscious conflicts. His book Human Dilemmas of Leadership (1966) was quite influential in the study of leadership and organizational behavior. I attended his seminar, Psychoanalytic Psychology and Management Theory, and in 1967 he arranged for a Research Fellowship at the HBS for me to write a psychohistorical study of Frederick Taylor, the “father of scientific management.” I still continue this particular interest by teaching every year in a three-week program for top management, called “The Challenge of Leadership,” at INSEAD, the European Institute of Business Administration in Fontainbleau, France.
PHE: Your work on time and motion pioneer Frederick Taylor has had an impact on professors of business and other academics, but I never hear it mentioned by psychohistorians despite my own enthusiasm about it. What are your thoughts on it after all these years?
SK: My book on Frederick Taylor, with the subtitle A Study in Personality and Innovation, was published in 1970. It was not only my first book, thus giving it a special place in my affections, but it was also one of the early works in the emerging field of psychohistory. I found the interplay of psychological motivation and historical fact in Taylor’s life and work fascinating, and I remember that the book was received quite generously by critics. I think the book was very successful in showing how Taylor’s defenses; the control of his instinctual life by mechanistic means, activity, and attention to external detail; and his ambivalence to authority were reflected in his system of “scientific management,” and how his theories also met a pressing historical need of his times. I don’t think I would change much in the book if I wrote it today except, perhaps, tone down “Eriksonisms” in its language, to which I was then partial.
PHE: How would you describe the progression in methodology and focus of your four major books listed in the introduction?
SK: Whereas the first of these, The Inner World, was modeled on Erikson’s classic Childhood and Society, the subsequent works were much more comparative and contained a large amount of anthropological fieldwork.
PHE: What has been your experience with clinical practice?
SK: Psychoanalytic experience with patients has been invaluable for my written work. It checks any tendency toward a mechanical application of concepts and theories and, of course, infuses a sense of humility and relativity in face of the complexity and range of the human mind.
PHE: How extensive is the impact of psychoanalysis and psychohistory in India?
SK: The impact of psychoanalysis and psychohistory in India is minimal. The reasons are many. Psychoanalysis is looked upon as a Western import with little relevance for a society with different family patterns and religious traditions. It also goes against the grain of spiritual “idealism” which characterizes the Indian approaches to the mind. Aurobindo, a respected mystic-guru reflected this orientation when criticizing psychoanalysis six decades ago: “The secrets of the lotus cannot be found in the mud in which it has its roots.”
PHE: Psychoanalytic ideas and concepts are encountered in everyday speech and writing in my American culture. Do you think this is helpful or does it primarily add to an intellectualized defense against really combining thoughts and feelings?
SK: I think the use of psychoanalytic ideas and concepts in everyday discourse contributes to intellectualized defenses in therapy. Western patients often use abstractions such as “hostility” against, say, a brother. I always try to bring them nearer to concrete, bodily feeling by saying, “I don’t know what you mean by ‘hostility’. Do you want to hit him, strangle him, or what?” Lacking a psychoanalytic vocabulary, Indian patients have a quicker access to the emotions underlying concepts.
PHE: As a dream group leader, I am curious as to whether Indian men are more open to probing the unconscious through dreams than Americans or Germans?
SK: Yes, I believe they are, once the analyst conveys his interest in this kind of exploration. One reason is that the communication of psychic events, including mental distress, through narration of dreams is a well-known device on the Indian subcontinent. Popular manuals of dream interpretation are avidly consulted by millions. These manuals list hundreds of objects and situations occurring in dreams and ascribe each a standard meaning. A second reason is the relatively undeveloped defense of intellectualization.
PHE: How is the USA viewed in India today? How do Indians respond to our current obsession with Clinton, Lewinsky, Starr, and impeachment?
SK: The USA is viewed with a degree of ambivalence. It is the promised land for the educated middle class, greatly admired for its democratic institutions and the opportunities its open society affords immigrants. On the other hand, its hegemonic intentions are resented. Like the newspaper-reading European, the Indian is baffled by the American obsession with Clinton and Lewinsky, and there is great deal of sympathy for the President. Sexual excess is generally accepted as the prerogative of the powerful.
PHE: What changes have you seen in both Germany and the USA since you first came to these countries as a student?
SK: The biggest change is in the increase of openness to non-Western Cultures. Non-Western art forms and foods are accessible to more and more people, even though Germany sometimes seems to have to be dragged kicking and screaming into greater multi-culturalism. Another big change is in an increasing interest in spirituality and the spiritual aspects of traditional religions. This is particularly striking in Germany.
PHE: How do you explain the growth and psychology of fundamentalism?
SK: Here I would highlight the identity-threat that is being posed by forces of modernization and globalization in many parts of the world. There are the feelings of loss and helplessness accompanying dislocations and migrations from rural areas to the shanty towns of urban megalopolises, the disappearance of craft skills that underlay traditional work identities, and the humiliation caused by the homogenizing and hegemonizing impact of the modern world, which pronounces ancestral cultural ideals and values outmoded and irrelevant. These are all conducive to heightening the group aspects of identity as the affected (and the afflicted) look to fundamentalist religious groups to combat their feelings of helplessness and loss, and to serve as vehicles for the redress of injuries to self-esteem.
PHE: What are your thoughts on the psychodynamics of violence in our world?
SK: I think we need much more work on the psychodynamics of group violence. The old Freudian argument that as personal identity disappears in a crowd, the residue is some regressed, primitive state where the violent side of human nature is unleashed, is not convincing. Identity in a crowd only seems to get refocused from a personal to a group identity. This refocusing is certainly dramatic and full of affect since a crowd amplifies all emotions, heightening a feeling of well being into exaltation, fear into panic. There is no regression to a primitive level but behavior, including violence, is molded by the group’s norms, values, and historical traditions.
PHE: Turning to the spread of nuclear weapons in South Asia, do you see much danger of nuclear war between India and Pakistan?
SK: At the moment, no, though this may be a judgement based on wish fulfillment. I hope that with the danger of nuclear was staring the leadership of both countries starkly in the face, the tensions between the two can at last start being reduced. Perhaps it is indeed true as the poet Roethke observed: “In a dark time, the eye begins to see.”
PHE: What are you working on now?
SK: I have just finished a work of “psychohistorical fiction.” Located in 4th century India, it is the imaginary biography of Vatsyayana, the author of the Kamasutra. In the USA, it will be published in January, 2000, by Overlook Press.
PHE: Why call it “psychohistorical fiction” rather than a biographical novel?
SK: I call it psychohistorical fiction since the re-creation of the mentalité regarding sexual mores was as important as the fictional life of novel’s protagonist. Its distinguishing characteristic is its fictional evocation of ancient Indian sexuality and an implicit comparison with modern sexuality. The advantages [of a more fictionalized form of expression] are a greater play of hunches, intuitions and the like, and of not having imagination fettered by facts.
PHE: What are your thoughts on the future of psychohistory?
SK: I feel the future of psychohistory in North America and Europe is very much linked to the future of psychoanalysis in these parts of the world. In contrast to Europe, psychoanalysis has had a roller coaster ride in the USA, from an exaggerated expansion in the 50s and 60s to an equally exaggerated contraction in the 80s and 90s. Both psychoanalysis and psychohistory will occupy a small but well carved out space in their fields. This space will remain contested, but there is no replacement in sight for the particular strengths of these two disciplines. In India and other parts of Asia, psychoanalysis and psychohistory will both expand to fill out their “natural” territorial space which is still unoccupied in this part of the world.
The Diplomacy of Vamik Volkan
Peter Petschauer, Appalachian State University
PP: What do you define yourself as professionally?
VV: I am a physician. All my professional life, after I trained in psychiatry, I have worked in university medical schools as a professor. Now I wear different hats. I am a professor and practitioner of psychoanalysis, a theory-builder and practitioner in the psychopolitical arena, and a writer on psychohistorical and psychopolitical topics. Recently, most of my work has focused on psychopolitics.
PP: You seem to be using your medical and psychoanalytic training to find solutions to ethnic conflicts.
VV: “Solutions” is a strong word. What we are really interested in is reducing ethnic tensions. If you want to use a medical model, you could say we are trying to vaccinate the process to prevent the spread of further disease. Because of past historical markers, the psychological dimensions involved in ethnic or other large-group conflicts tend to promote rigid barriers. If we can somehow modify these barriers, we can “immunize” against future conflict and open doors to communication between opposing groups by eliminating the poison in their respective relationships
PP: How do you define psychohistory?
VV: For me, psychohistory is a comprehensive way to find out how historical events have become mental representations for a person or group. In the clinical setting we learn about the individual’s mind, which doesn’t necessarily correspond with the psychology of large groups, but does give us some clues. And psychoanalysis, while there is very important work in it on the psychology of small groups, also falls short of illuminating the psychology of large groups. So, for psychohistorical or psychopolitical works, the psychoanalyst has to cooperate with others, such as historians and political scientists, because no one discipline can have the answer.
PP: In what way does psychohistory play a role in theory-building in psychopolitics?
VV: In my international work, there are two major focus areas. The first one focuses on the rituals between two large groups that guide them in peace and war. What are these rituals? What are the principles that govern them? The second one focuses on the leader-follower relationship.
Imagine many individuals under a tent representing an ethnic group. Each individual wears his or her individualized garment that fits him or her snugly (their personal identity). All individuals under the tent are linked by the tent’s canvas (their group identity) which envelopes them and serves as a caregiver, a mother. For a tent to stand up, however, it has to have a pole, the leadership. Now imagine two tents side by side, two neighbors. There is a ritualistic relationship between the peoples in these two tents that governs their behavior. The psychology of international relationships comes from the psychology of neighbors, and in the psychology of international relationships, two phenomena converge: tent-to-tent and leader-follower interactions.
However, to understand an ethnic group and its motivations we need to know what the canvas of the tent is made of, and this is where reliance on other disciplines is required. The canvas itself is covered with cultural and religious symbols: songs, language, dances, foods, and tools. These are observable things that are painted on the canvas, and they are important, but what is more so is what they are painted on. What is the fabric of the canvas made of? Is its texture tight and coarse or smooth and loose? To know this, you have to know the story of the tent (its history) and, more importantly, its version of history: the shared mental representations of history which pass from generation to generation and become ethnic markers within the fabric. I call them “chosen traumas” and “chosen glories,” and this is where history becomes psychohistory.
Chosen glories are those historical references that bring glory to an ethnic group, such as a victorious battle or a famous leader. They serve to bolster a group’s self-esteem, but in large-group psychology, they are not as important as chosen traumas. When an event occurs in an ethnic or large-group’s history in which a severe loss of people, prestige, or land is suffered, the extreme humiliation associated with the event prevents the group from successfully mourning its losses and resolving conflicts associated with the trauma. Because they cannot be mourned, they are passed on from generation to generation in many different ways, not just through story-telling, in an unconscious fashion. Chosen traumas are one of the cornerstones of psychopolitical theory, inasmuch as they are the main barrier to successful negotiations between opposing groups.
PP: I know this very well from Austria and Italy. I grew up in South Tyrol. There was the conflict between German-speakers and Italian-speakers. Every time we got together, and the question came to ethnicity, the same things were repeated over and over. One of those markers was Andreas Hofer, a significant figure during the Napoleonic wars, who the French were able to capture and execute. But since the 1950s the economy has been very good in the area. Maybe more importantly, the Italians decided to leave the Germans alone. In the ethnic consciousness Hofer has ceased to be a significant person.
VV: The ethnic poison in South Tyrol is going down then. It is important to note how this has been achieved. At other places in the world chosen traumas are reactivated to poison ethnic relationships. A good example comes from the former Yugoslavia. When the big Yugoslavian tent disappeared, groups under the smaller tents, i.e., Serbs, Croatians, and Bosnian Muslims, asked, “Who are we now?” “How are we different from our neighbors?” Slobodan Milosevic took advantage of the uncertainty, went to Kosova, and gave an inflammatory speech about the Serbs’ major chosen trauma: six hundred years ago, Serbian King Lazar’s army was defeated by the Ottoman Turks at Kosova and King Lazar was killed. Now, six hundred years later, the Serbian leadership dug up King Lazar’s grave and put his remains — whatever was left — into a coffin, and the coffin made a year-long pilgrimage to Serbian villages. Serbs then began to call the Bosnian Muslims “Turks” since they had converted to Islam during the Ottoman period. In effect, the time span between the defeat in Kosova and the present day collapsed for the Serbs, and protection of their “new” ethnic identity became more important than maintaining their individualized identity. Psychohistory allows us to understand how these historical events became mental representations for large groups which should help us to explain and understand their collective behavior.
I am not involved in the Yugoslavia of today. But I hear from some good friends who have been involved. When things are so hot and bleeding, you need to create a power which we do not have. My methodology requires power. Power is what you need in Yugoslavia, and I don’t mean military power. There is no power in Europe or in America to say to these guys, “Stop it!” Nobody made a moral issue of it and got support for intervention. There is a constant helplessness and the Serbs, step-by-step, get away with their aggression. Even now, war atrocities! It has been three years and just last week they decided to have a trial. If they had done it in two weeks, it would have shown power.
PP: What led you to study and work in this field?
VV: Being from Cyprus! In 1969 the Brookings Institution held a meeting for government officials and scholars in Washington, DC, that was convened to study the political situation in Cyprus. They wanted to know why the Turks and Greeks on the island could not get together as one nation, and I was invited to offer my views. A young psychoanalyst at the time, I went to Washington to talk with this group, and all I could offer was stories from my childhood that underscored how I was different than my Greek neighbors. This is how my career in the psychopolitical and psychohistorical fields began.
PP: So, you had to reveal yourself — your past — in public, and then analyze it.
VV: Yes. Soon after and because of it, I was asked to become a member of a task force on psychiatry and foreign affairs of the American Psychiatric Association (APA). At the time, it was a small group of American psychiatrists who were interested in international conflict; but none of us knew much about it. One committee member had worked with a Presidential candidate and was supposed to think politically and inform the committee. But from 1969 to 1977 we met every six months for cocktails, but did no substantial work whatsoever. Then in 1977, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat went to the Israeli Knesset and said, “70% of the trouble between Arabs and Israelis is psychological.” Because of his political prominence, we suddenly received funds to study his statement. We went to Egypt and Israel, interviewed influential Egyptians and Israelis, and brought them to Washington to start a series of meetings between the two groups. For the next six years, we conducted some of the first unofficial meetings between Egyptians, Palestinians and Israelis — way before the events in Norway.
PP: Did you meet in Washington?
VV: Yes, but we also met in Switzerland, Egypt, and Austria. We had six major meetings and many, many minor ones. They were highly noted in the Arab and Israeli worlds. I just had a call from General Shlomo Gazit, an Israeli hero who masterminded the Entebbe raid. He told me that he wants to raise some funds, after all these years, for the veterans of the Arab-Israeli meetings to have a reunion in May.
PP: So, the committee is still functioning in a way?
VV: Not formally, but I still see many people from this group every now and then at various functions. Upon reflection, it was in these meetings that I had the opportunity to observe and to formulate many of the theories that I explained in my book, The Need to Have Enemies and Allies, which, in part, recounts the Arab-Israeli relationship.
PP: More recently you’ve been involved in the former Soviet Union?
VV: Well, we originally went to discuss the larger problem of Soviet-American relations. (That is how I eventualy met Mikhail Gorbachev.) When the Soviet Union collapsed, our Center here in Charlottesville became involved in reducing tensions in the newly-independent Baltic Republics. Because of their history, we felt that they would be able to separate from the Soviet Union in a more effective and adaptive way than other former Soviet Republics. But problems do exist there, such as the fact that large parts of these republics consist of Russian-speaking communities that need to be integrated into the Baltic societies. Needless to say, there is a great deal of friction in the integration process.
PP: I have read that some Baltic individuals have made genuine breakthroughs by recognizing that their parents or they themselves had done something very specific that could be interpreted as an atrocity.
VV: Yes, in the Baltic communities, at various times in history, there were German sympathizers, Soviet sympathizers, and ultra-nationalists, and now that the ethnic tent has been shaken they are asking, “Who are we now?” In Estonia there was an anniversary celebration, the rescue of Tallinn, or something like that, and former Soviet sympathizers and former German sympathizers could not get together. As recently as a year-and-a-half ago, most Estonians were literally turning purple when they talked about Russians in Estonia. The general wish, though unspoken perhaps, was to get rid of them. But just this past month we had a meeting in Estonia among Estonians, Russians, and Russian-speakers in Estonia, and the Estonians were able to talk about their present fears of integration (of the Russian-speakers in Estonia with Estonians) instead of their desire to deport the Russians. Estonians are much better than Latvians in that respect. They’re doing a lot of soul-searching. I’ve seen dramatic changes in Estonia in the past two years. I think they’re going to make it.
PP: Latvia is different?
VV: In Estonia about 35% of the population is Russian-speaking. However, in Latvia the percentage is even higher. In every large city in Latvia, including the capital of Riga, the percentage of Russian-speakers is higher than Latvian-speakers. The Russian-speakers seem to have no incentive to learn the Latvian language. So the Latvians in the major cities are in the minority in their own country. There is greater fragmentation within Latvian society in spite of the physical changes within Latvia — they are making Riga beautiful and building hotels. But again you have the emotional problems which are not settled. There has been no initiation of in-depth discussion on ethnic plurality in Latvia. The issue seems to be avoided through the creation of more and more legal requirements for issues such as Latvian citizenship.
PP: Do you think an outsider can play a moderating role much more easily than an insider?
VV: There is always initial distrust of outsiders, but a third and neutral party helps to facilitate dialogue and can serve as a positive catalyst. They say, “Why do you do this?” There was no community service in the Communist world. In Russia this time, just before our farewell dinner, the Russians — the highest one was the Vice Chairman of the Committee on CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) Affairs — called me and said, “Let’s have a secret talk.” So, three Russian parliamentarians and I went to a sauna — you know, Russian-style — because we could not get another place. We had four hours and talked; everybody sat in front of me. They had gone to see the Estonian president and he had told them that we were okay. Now, the Russians in turn wanted to make sure that we were okay. Again, personal contact! This was an extremely important meeting to have the Russians commit to what we were doing. PP: What comments do you have about the other Eastern European nations or other ethnically-divided areas, such as South Africa?
VV: I think it would be interesting to study the peaceful separation of Czechoslovakia into the Czech and Slovak states. I hear, however, there is still a lot of negative feelings between the two groups. But they succeeded in accomplishing something without bloodshed. If one were to study how they did this, I suspect you would find out that a lot of it is based on personal relationships.
I have never worked in South Africa. My experience in Africa, in general, comes from traveling to Senegal with former President Jimmy Carter and his International Negotiation Network (INN) a few years ago and getting some firsthand information from a lot of people from Zaire, Senegal, South Africa, and Nigeria. I met and traveled with an Afrikaner who secretly initiated the dialogue between Mandela and deKlerk when Mandela was in jail. In South Africa they did not force “togetherness.” Most of the illusion in conflict resolution is that we force “togetherness” and that creates a mess sometimes. What Mandela said, in a sense, is, “We’re black and they’re white, we’re not the same; but we want to live under the same tent with separate identities.” That has helped so far; at least as long as Mandela is the leader. What happens when he is gone remains to be seen.
PP: I have just written a book about human space. What do you think about the spatial aspects of ethnicity?
VV: The two principles that govern ethnic relationships are: number one, thou shall not be identical to your neighbor and, number two, — and they are related — thou shall have a border (a psychological space) between you and your neighbor. All ethnic rituals are based on these two principles. If I am identical to you I cannot project things onto you in a stable fashion because the same things will simply come back to me. Borders help to maintain these differences. In this respect, there are spatial aspects to ethnicity, psychologically speaking.
PP: What has been your most surprising finding?
VV: The most surprising finding was something that I probably knew, but hadn’t realized: international relations include the most primitive mental mechanisms. Clinically, I’ve worked with some very regressed individuals, such as schizophrenics, and interestingly, those experiences have added a lot to my understanding of international relations. For instance, projections play a significant role in political decision-making. Even major decisions, especially those made in crises, are often made because of either realistic or fantasized personal beliefs or relationships among decision-makers of opposing groups.
PP: Let’s turn to some more personal questions. Bill Niederland — he was your mentor?
VV: Oh, Bill. Bill was a poet of psychoanalysis. He was a German Jew who had no country during the Nazi period and because of this lived on a boat for a long time. Eventually he came to the United States. Early in my career, he took me seriously and was very kind. When we, Norman Itzkowitz and I, were writing the Immortal Atatürk book, I sent him some manuscript pages. He actually took the time to respond. I met him many times and thought very highly of him. I would not call him a mentor, however, because I never studied under him, but I would call him an older brother who took me seriously. It meant a lot to me.
PP: What influence did Erik Erikson have on you?
VV: Some years ago, I was awarded a six-year grant to meet Erikson and others in annual, week-long sessions at the Esalen Institute in California. There were about 20 of us. Most were well-known people in their respective fields, i.e., political science, diplomacy, philosophy, and psychoanalysis. We met with Erikson and his wife, Joan, but during this period he was slowly developing what was probably Alzheimer’s disease. So in a sense Erik could not contribute to these meetings because of his condition, but getting to know him as a person and witnessing the enormous amount of respect and adoration from those around him made me appreciate and study his writings carefully.
PP: None of us is safe from disease. Of which of your psychohistorical works are you most proud?
VV: Oh, I don’t know about being “proud.” Writing about Atatürk had the most impact on me. It was an emotional experience because I had to analyze my idealized father representation in Atatürk. When historian Norman Itzkowitz and I finished writing the book, the dean here at the medical school gave a big party to celebrate the publication of the book as a way of congratulation. That night I had a dream. In it there were newspeople from many different countries: Germany, Italy, France, Greece, Turkey — as if I knew all the languages! I distinctly remember hearing, “Atatürk el morte.” In a sense, I had finished that part of my life and Atatürk died after the celebration for the book’s publication.
PP: I wrote my first book about Northern Italy and when I finished with it, there was somehow an ease, a release.
VV: A release, yes! There is a danger in writing psychohistory. The danger is that you have transference toward your subject. Then, if you are not careful, fantasy and reality merge and you write bad psychobiography. So it’s important to check your transference reactions. A good way is to work with a co-author so you have someone to talk with about personal feelings who can help to dissolve the fantasies.
PP: I had always thought that my group, the German-speaking South Tyrolians, were much better than the other group, the Italian-speaking residents of the area. Supposedly, they drank more, raped our women, and did all sorts of terrible things. When I wrote my first book, I did some statistics. What we said was not true! My group drank more and was just as “bad” as the other. Once I realized this, I realized also that all the hostility was justS
VV: Projection. Some of it may have been real, but not to the degree you had believed it to be.
PP: Have all the travels and negotiations sidetracked you from your writings?
VV: Well, I’ve published many books. Writing is part of my life. When I was a teenager I wrote journals by hand, even illustrated them. It became my hobby. Writing is very personal. I write almost every day, even when I travel. My newest book is coming out this week. It is on schizophrenia and related clinical topics. But because I have been involved in psychohistorical and psychopolitical activity, I write a lot that is outside the field of clinical psychoanalysis, even though most of my books deal with clinical issues.
PP: What is your journal, Mind and Human Interaction, all about?
VV: It is envisioned as a window for interdisciplinary communication and has a psychohistorical bent. While we deal in theory, we try to avoid jargon in order to make it accessible to a wide audience. It is a quarterly journal, and because of a grant, we are able to mail about 2,000 copies around the globe, some to high-level officials in 20 different countries.
PP: Can you tell me a bit about strategies for funding applied psychohistory?
VV: The Center for the Study of Mind and Human Interaction is lucky in the respect that it has now attained a level of reputation where some key foundations communicate with us without our going to them.
PP: Did you ever teach psychohistory?
VV: No, but I lecture on it. I’ve also developed a methodology on writing psychohistory which I hope to publish.
PP: One of the great weaknesses of the field seems to be that there is not enough training.
VV: Yes, we must also come up with standards and a methodology of psychohistory. The difficulty is that the field includes contributors from various disciplines with their various professional languages. Itzkowitz is an historian, and since we’ve been working together now for almost twenty years we’ve learned each other’s language. Because there is competition between the disciplines, in order to develop a working relationship you have to break down the professional borders to some extent. This takes time.
PP: What do you see as psychohistory’s future?
VV: We need more psychohistorians who are making names for themselves and getting attention because of the seriousness of their work. This would protect the field from “wild psychoanalysis.” We need a journal, an organization, and a spokesperson. Those three will be a winning combination. And we need prominent academic centers to lend their prestige to psychohistory’s serious work.
PP: How can we recruit new people to the field?
VV: By doing good work, we attract others to it.