Rudolph “Rudy” Binion (1927-2011), Leff Family Professor of Modern European History at Brandeis University (where he taught from 1967-2011), was one of the most erudite and brilliant psychohistorians I have ever known. David Beisel, a veteran psy-

Page 223

chohistorian, upon reading our Fall 2022 issue, asked how we could publish on intergenerational and transgenerational trauma without mentioning Rudy’s numerous publications on his concept of traumatic reliving. Beisel went on to declare, “Don’t your authors check the literature by reading Clio’s back issues and the history of psychohistory before publishing?”  I had no easy answer for this distinguished psychohistorian who has done so much for our field. Clearly, most of our authors, especially those who are clinicians, tend not to do the thorough literature search that we were trained to do as historians, and psychohistorical journals are not consistently indexed. Because the intergenerational and transgenerational trauma issue is divided in two parts, our colleague’s concerns about where Binion fits into our special issue can be probed with this article in part two.

In writing my contribution to the special issue, I focused on the intergenerational transmission of trauma, resilience, and values based on a psychoanalytic model of individual therapy. In contrast, Professor Binion’s focus was on group psychohistory. He even wrote an article, “Psychohistory’s False Start,” arguing “that the reasons for human doings are largely unconscious” and therefore to rely on a psychoanalytic model based on individuals “was a false start” (Binion, March 2000, p. 133). In John Hartman’s symposium, “The Evidential Basis of Psychohistory and Group Process,” he declares that “psychohistory is not ‘the application of depth psychology to history’” (Binion, June 2006, p. 5). While agreeing that an enormous amount of what we humans do is based on unconscious motivation, I did not look to my good colleague and friend’s traumatic reliving articles. My model, in fact, is much more based on both conscious and unconscious transmissions of trauma than his. Rudy, who started as an out-and-out Freudian, devoted enormous effort to showing, to his own satisfaction, that Freud’s model was not the correct one for psychohistory. Clearly, I disagreed with my beloved friend, thinking that his failure to have a personal analysis had much to do with his seeing the Freudian individual focus as a “false start.”

An example of the intergenerational transmission of knowledge may be found in the life and family of the great naturalist Charles Darwin. He may have been born years after the death of his naturalist grandfather Erasmus Darwin, but his father Dr. Robert Darwin, the family, and even his culture transmitted knowledge of Erasmus’s wild speculative poetry about evolution. Robert Darwin,

Page 224

though he was an extremely successful doctor, hated the sight of blood so much that if his father Erasmus had given him the slightest opportunity for a non-medical profession, he would have seized the opportunity. Robert transmitted his fear to his son, who he hoped would become a doctor. As part of his identification with his father’s revulsion of blood, Charles twice ran out of the operating room as an Edinburgh medical student. Although the “Great Naturalist” says there was no influence of his grandfather on his own development of concepts of evolution, when he was a teenager, the term Darwinizer was in the dictionary as a term for wild evolutionary speculation.

Psychoanalyst Burton Seitler reminded me of a case of the intergenerational transmission of trauma in Freud’s family. When Freud was 12, his father, Jacob, told him that when he was walking on the sidewalk in Galicia an anti-Semite knocked off his beaver cap, telling him to get in the gutter where Jews belonged. “What did you do?” asked the boy, only to be shocked by Jacob reporting that he stepped in the gutter and picked up his hat. Freud as an adult dated his disillusionment with his father from this incident and his identification with the Semite Hannibal who wreaked vengeance on the Romans who had oppressed his people. Dr. Freud was not inclined to back down. Even in the face of the Nazi takeover of Vienna, he was determined to stay in his home, despite the frantic efforts of many, until his daughter was threatened, which led to him reluctantly moving to London.

In my experience as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist, researcher, and historian, I find that a great deal is transmitted negatively and unconsciously within families as well as consciously. In re-reading Binion’s articles on traumatic reliving in groups, I find no evidence of the mechanism of transmission. Binion argued it was the historical, repetitive pattern of trauma that was important. Inna Rozentsvit, my talented medically trained psychohistorical colleague, thinks that the late Brandeis historian was writing about something totally different than what we are probing and plans to elaborate on this in a separate article.

In conclusion, I thank my distinguished friend David Beisel for pointing out that omitting a reference to Professor Binion’s concept of traumatic reliving from our symposium was unfortunate, and we are glad to be able to include it in Part II. In the end, I find no direct connection between his group approach and my focus on a

Page 225

Freudian-based study of this transmission.

Page 226


References:

  • Binion, Rudolph (March 2000). Psychohistory’s false start. Clio’s Psyche, 6(4), pp. 133, 138-139.
  • Binion, Rudolph (June 2006). Begging to differ. Clio’s Psyche, 13(1), 5-6. (This is in response to John Hartman’s symposium article, “The Evidential Basis of Psychohistory in Due Process,” pp. 1-5, which had seven commentaries, pp. 5-19).

Authors:

Paul H Elovitz

Dr. Paul H. Elovitz, PhD, began organizing scholarly meetings when he started as a faculty member at Ramapo College and then as convener of the Institute for Psychohistory Saturday Workshops (1975-1982). In 1982 he founded the Psychohistory Forum to nurture psychohistorical research and continues to lead its Executive Council. In 1994 he created Clio’s Psyche (cliospsyche.org) to publish its scholarship, of which he is Editor-in-Chief. Prof. Elovitz is a historian, psychoanalytic researcher, and author of about 400 publications, covering presidential psychobiography, teaching, documenting the field of psychohistory, and much more. After taking his doctoral degree in history, he trained and practiced as a psychoanalyst, and in 2019 was made the first Research Psychoanalyst by the New Jersey Institute for Psychoanalysis. Elovitz is the author of The Making of Psychohistory, editor of The Many Roads of the Builders of Psychohistory, and edited or wrote eight other books. He is a founding member and past president of the International Psychohistorical Association (1978-) who serves on its leadership council and presents at all meetings. Prof. Elovitz is a founding faculty member at Ramapo College who previously taught at Temple, Rutgers, and Fairleigh Dickinson universities. He may be contacted at .

How to Cite This:

Elovitz, P. H. (2023). Where does Binion’s traumatic reliving fit into Clio’s issue of intergenerational and transgenerational trauma. Clio’s Psyche, 29(2), 223-226.

PDF downloads:

Download this Article PDF
Download full Issue PDF

keyboard_arrow_up