Review of Paul H. Elovitz’ (Ed.) The Many Roads of the Builders of Psychohistory (New York: ORI Academic Press, 2021), ISBN 978-1-942431-17-6, 261 pages, softcover, $24.95 on Amazon.

The history of history has evolved into the odyssey of psychohistory. Rejecting psychodynamic explanations, historians generally assess historical figures as rational actors. However, since most human brain activity takes place outside the realm of consciousness, how is the rational-actors model rational? Paraphrasing contributor Peter Loewenberg, who introduced psychoanalytic training to California graduate students in history and psychoanalysis to China, “why settle for ‘rational interest’ explanations in history and politics” when psychodynamic explanations “enable us to better comprehend personal motives, conflicts and behaviors.”  Contributor David Beisel, the former editor of the Journal of Psychohistory who also taught psychohistory to 8,000 students, suggests that traditional history defends against “the denied brutality of the repressed self, the split-off not-me” at the center of human conflict, while psychohistory accepts “irrationality, fantasy, and emotions.”  Contributor Ken Fuchsman, retired professor at the University of Connecticut, concurs, quoting Montaigne: “we are, I know not how, double within ourselves, with the result that we do not believe what we believe, and we cannot rid ourselves of what we condemn.”  Perhaps psychohistory should be conceptualized as a “meta-discipline,” suggests European psychohistorian Marc-André Cotton.

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Both status report and celebration, The Many Roads of the Builders of Psychohistory illuminates the pathways to psychohistory of 37 distinguished psychohistorians. The list includes psychoanthropologist Howard F. Stein, historian Lawrence J. Friedman, historian Rudolph Binion, physician Vamık Volkan, psychoanalyst Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, and anthropologist Michael Maccoby. Knowledgeable editorial comments at the start of each chapter, a concluding chapter, an abstract, and an “About the Contributors” (featuring their biographies) summarize their accomplishments while chronicling the maturation, complexities, and challenges within psychohistory itself. The book’s chapters detail the contributors’ routes to psychohistory from other disciplines. Whether residing in the U.S., London, or Helsinki, 19 migrated from academia, 12 from history, 12 from psychoanalysis, and 13 from psychology and other clinical settings—brandishing 28 PhDs, five MDs, one EdD, and one DDS. Several were educated in the Ivy League, often mentored by scholars such as Arthur Link, Paul Roazen, and David Riesman. They teach, do research, and practice at various universities, including UCLA, Columbia, Northwestern, and Brandeis. Though lacking the imprimatur of institutionalized history, their work is acknowledged and often lauded in other institutional environments where they have found acceptance and acknowledgment.

Their stories are fascinating and sobering. The editor of this volume and author of The Making of Psychohistory, Paul Elovitz, in his continuous search for self-knowledge, wonders if his “lifelong quest for warmth” could be related to being put in his immigrant grandmother’s oven in infancy to be kept warm. Inna Rozentsvit, the founder of ORI Academic Press, grew up in a Jewish family in Ukraine. She describes Moldavians declaring their independence “by calling ‘to drown Russians in the blood of Jews.’”  Herbert Barry III, who has studied birth order, explained that his mother “believed that parental permissiveness ‘spoils’ children and my father told her to prevent the dangerous Oedipus complex by refraining from kissing the children and other expressions of affection.”  Burton Norman Seitler, the founder of the Journal for the Advancement of Scientific Psychoanalytic Empirical Research (J.A.S.P.E.R.), describes how his fascination with Mark Twain led to a false accusation of plagiarism and years of self-recrimination about being called a “cheater.”  Historian Peter W. Petschauer, whose father was an SS officer, admits to nightmares and intense identification with Nazi victims. Education activist Robert Samuels confesses to being “haunted” by what it means to be a Jew in the modern world. Psychohistorian Lloyd deMause’s discussion of the nightmare of childhood has rarely seemed more appropriate.

The contributors’ lifelong journeys comprise intellectual autobiographies rich in the institutional and human matrix from which psychohistory has emerged. Vamık Volkan came to the U.S. with $15 in his pocket and later traveled the world, working for peace at the Center for the Study of Mind and Human Interaction at the University of Virginia and authoring works such as Enemies on the Couch (2013). Mentored by Heinz Kohut and Robert J. Lifton, Charles Strozier founded the Center on Terrorism. He dissected his The Fundamentalist: Mindset Psychological Perspectives on Reli-

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gion, Violence, and History (2010) and the human impact of 9/11. A seminar on race at Harvard led psychohistorian John Jacob Hartman to an immersion in the work of Erik Erikson and group dynamics, which he utilized in a life committed to social activism, progressive change, and healing. Noting that writing psychohistory can be “a political act,” C. Fred Alford, the former Executive Editor of the Association for Psychoanalysis, Culture, and Society’s journal and author of over a dozen books, describes U.S. culture as “traumatogenic.”  Author of Sex and the Psyche: The Truth About Our Most Secret Fantasies (2007) and a Trustee at both the Freud Museum and Freud Museum Publications, London psychoanalyst Brett Kahr established the monograph series “The History of Psychoanalysis” for Karnac Books. Jewish feminist Eva Fogelman wrote and co-produced the 1984 documentary Breaking the Silence: The Generation After the Holocaust, and she along with psychoanalyst Judith Kestenberg created a database housed in Israel of 1,500 interviews of child Holocaust survivors.

While this review has barely skimmed the surface of the growth of what critics have labeled a pseudoscience, willful ignorance of the breadth and depth of psychohistory and the qualifications and scholarship of its practitioners are increasingly passé—as is renouncing the discipline, while surreptitiously smuggling in its ideas. New York University psychoanalyst Arnold Richards notes that in China, psychohistorians are “rock stars.”  Hopefully, Barbara Tuchman (Fall 1975) will speak for historians in general when she says, “all good history is psychohistory” (p. 184). Perhaps someday soon in the U.S. controversy will have morphed into a convention and psychohistory will no longer be abjured.

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References:

  • Tuchman, Barbara (Fall 1975). Response to deMause. The Journal of Psychohistory, 3(2).

Authors:

Kenneth Alan Adams

Kenneth Alan Adams, PhD, is on the board of The Journal of Psychohistory and previously served as a Co-Assistant Editor of The Journal with Howard. He can be contacted at .

How to Cite This:

Adams, K. A. (2023). Psychohistorical odysseys. Review of the book The Many Roads of the Builders of Psychohistory by Paul H. Elovitz. Clio’s Psyche, 29(2), 248-250.

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