Rezension zu Kritik der Psychohistorie (PDF-E-Book)

Journal of Psychohistory Vol.33#3

Rezension von Juhani Ihanus

This German work is aimed at criticizing »independent psychohistory« as constructed by Lloyd deMause. Its main theoretical criticism comes from Friedhelm Nyssen whose two articles fill the third of the work s pages. Psychohistory is here defined as including three basic areas: the psychogenic history of childhood, the psychogenic theory of history and the anthropology of »homo relatens« (as opposed to the anthropology of economic or political man). Already in its subheading the work labels psychohistory as a »psychologistic paradigm.« Unfortunately, »psychologism« is never explicitly defined in this work. There have been many forms of »psychologism« in the history of sciences and philosophy (see, for example, Kusch 1995 and Jacquette 2003), and it would have been of interest how the psychohistorical »paradigm« might exactly be related to this long tradition.

From reading the work, it becomes evident that deMausean psychohistory is accused of the »lack of complexity« of giving priority solely to psychical determinants (individual motivations) of the historical and political scenes, and thus of discarding such concepts as »society«, »social class«, »social structure«, »social institution«, even »culture« and »power« as sociological »myths« and »holistic« constructs. According to Nyssen, this abandonment of »social and cultural facts«, while psychohistory is striving to become »exact science«, is the great fallacy of independent psychohistory. All contributors of this volume consider social influences on human action and on history and politics to be primary, although they also admit psychosocial influences. Should this attitude, on the contrary, be called »sociologism«, or an unwarranted »flight from psychology«?
Social dynamics (the dialectics of individual and social dynamics) is at least favored in this work (instead of psychodynamics), and social and cultural studies are presented as relevant guiding disciplines for psychohistory. In the spirit of the dialectics of Enlightenment and the critical theory of the Frankfurt school, authors steer psychohistory to the direction of social-psychological psychohistory, socialization theory and institution and ideology critique. The psychohistorical project is not, however, rejected by the contributors. It is assessed to be necessary-not as an independent and isolationist project, but as an area for questioning and researching, together with other disciplines, the relations of human development, emotions and motivations to historical and current social action.
The history of childhood and group-fantasy analysis are neither totally rejected in this work but they are treated as »part analysis« and as »perpetual abstraction« that should be complemented by psychosocializing psychohistory. While deMause s work is characterized as an »essential contribution« to the history and evolution of childhood, well-grounded on developmental child-parent research, deMauses theory is nevertheless regarded as a kind of »dictatorship of the empathic«, including too far-fetched conclusions. These kind of labels may be part of the lack of empathy in the critics themselves. Maybe the Romanian-born writer E. M. Cioran (1992) was on the right track when he stated in his aphorism, »Criticism is a misconception: we must read not to understand others but to understand ourselves.«
In defense of deMauses work, it must be here mentioned that deMause and those who have based on his work and developed it in their own directions (I would not call them »followers« or »advocates« of the presumed deMausean »circle« as Nyssen does) are not unaware of the latest advances in the fields of evolutionary and cultural studies, or of neuroscientific and various kind of psychological research that focuses on, for example, developmental life-cycle processes, attachment, parenting, coping and coadaptive strategies in relation to physical, psychical and socio-cultural environments. Trauma research (concerning the impacts of trauma on psyche-history-politics) has long been one of the main issues in psychohistory. Actually, developmental determinism of the traditional psychoanalytic frame of reference is not encompassing present-day psychohistory nor even many psychoanalytic fields.

The above said does not purport to exclude well-argued criticism of psychohistory (of which there is some portion in the German work). Critical works that are not totally hostile and try to add to the co-construction of psychohistorical endeavors deserve keen attention among psychohistorians. Such criticism may add to self-reflection and understanding of psychohistorians, against complacency, deep-rooted belief systems and simplifying reductionism. Psychohistorians certainly should be more informed also of other than psychoanalytic or psychodynamic approaches, for example, of new family, gender, social and cultural historical research, of the history of the mentalities, and of microhistory. Still, for psychohistorians, history is never a totally external force, just happening to people.
There surely can be simplifications, poorly nuanced socio-cultural contexts, dangers of pathologizing, theoretical and interpretive fixations and rhetorical seductions inherent in psychohistorical studies. Still, the matrix of psychohistory is stratified and many-splendored. Analyzing the lack of love (or the lack of sensitivity and mutuality), as it is reflected in history, politics and economics, is not an easy task. It demands recognizing the effects of such a lack also in the psychohistorians themselves-in their transferences to research »objects«, and in their countertransferences to other researchers interpretations.
Independence of psychohistory should not mean isolationism from other fields of research. Psychohistorians need to embark on inter- and cross-disciplinary projects that at their best build bridges, transform strict disciplinary identities and fertilize co-constructive research development. For some psychohistorians this move may figure as a threat of losing ones distinct specialty, ones uniqueness. Independence is, however, not indifference to other voices but empathic relating to them. There will, of course, be mutual projective identifications on »both sides.« They can lead to fragmentation, but, if insightfully analyzed, they may also produce more integration.
The German Critics of psychohistory tend to bring forth a socio-psychological cultural critique apparatus as a secure base for explaining irrational flights from freedom, whereas deMause conceives of such flights reflecting inabilities to cope with too threatening individual freedom that is full of dangerous emotions-the salvation from »maternal engulfment« fears being a manic flight to external action from internal reality. Problems and traumas of developmental social-affective-cognitive processes in the separation-individuation process are bypassed by the critics. For example, instead of unconscious emotional motivations of mentalities, politics, economics and technology, Nyssen presents »political consciousness« and »rationality and greed« mentality as explanatory premises. Is this not Nyssens own drive-based »perpetual abstraction« of which he accuses deMause? Through the genuine act of rationalization, the »risk society« is evaluated by Nyssen to be as important an area as the »traumatized childhood.« Is this not a flight to institutional external reality from the inner emotional source of social institutions and actions?
Contrary to Nyssens claim, deMause is not caught up in a vicious circle, and does not refer in his writings to the »impact of the psychic on the psychic.« Instead of that, deMause refers to the impact of the child hood-originated and later during life-history developed psychic on history, politics, economics, technology and socio-cultural relations. The contents of the psyche are not postulated in deMauses writings to be only unconscious phantasy formations. Human actors have, of course, also conscious psychic acts.
Nyssen is quite clear in his claims, but Peter Jüngst, in his anthropologically oriented description of three different societal formations (hunters and gatherers, »simple« agrarian and state-hierarchically organized societies) and traumatic experiences in their socialization processes, is more cryptic and touches only slightly upon deMausean ideas. It is a pity, since there would be interesting points of connection. For example, in hunters and gatherers societies mothers were often given the power to decide on the life and death of newborn babies. An exciting further reflection would take into account deMauses (and others) anthropological discussion and his concept of »terrifying mother« /»Killer Mommy«. Jüngst only mentions »mother imagos« in passing, and Evelyn Heinemann also briefly acknowledges »bad mother imagos«. In this context it would have been of further interest to analyze such a newer deMausean concept as »social alter«.
Jüngsts text has good observations of childrearing practices in different societies, though these practices are seen as (for example, narcissistic) aspects and moments in the overall socialization process. On the other hand, Jüngst does not seem to notice that social production and reproduction are also programming »mechanisms« that may block people from becoming conscious of their own individual infant-based aspirations and their vicissitudes. It is important to stress, as Jüngst does, the different bestowal of parental affection at different developmental ages upon girls and boys. Jüngsts writing style is broodingly circumstantial, and he would undoubtedly get more readers through relieving his German armchair-theoretical prose.

Other authors of the work deal with several themes, again only slightly touching upon especially deMauses thinking. In his article Hartwig Weber writes about child sacrifice in the Old Testament and in Christianity. He denies the existence of child sacrifice in early times, but considers infanticide to have been real in all early cultures. For him, stories and myths about child sacrifice and cannibalism are only imaginary, defending against guilt (derived from real infanticide), releasing from personal responsibility, and transforming (deifying) the real killing into mythological dimensions. Gods will take the place of the real killers of infants. As Weber concludes, »The antagonism between aggression and intimacy toward the child is a central trait of the sacrifice and cannibalism stories that let ambivalent feelings toward the object rise to a mythological level and look like theologically justified.«

Evelyn Heinemann, who has earlier written more extensively on witches and their persecution, has two articles in the volume. The first is on the contribution of psychohistory and ethnopsychoanalysis to understanding cultural phenomena. It includes passages from often-quoted Freudian, ethnopsychoanalytic and historical research. Its discussion about holiness, possession and hysteria comes closest to psychohistory. Heinemanns second article on psychoanalytic training in Germany would have belonged to another work, since it has no connections to psychohistory. The emotional scene of a psychoanalytic training institution and the writers reactions to it introduce her conceptions of the »maternal« vs. the »oedipal Super-ego«, but that hardly serves as an example of carrying on (or criticizing) psychohistorical research.

Marion Bornhoff-Nyssens reading of modern German fiction is also based on »emotional reactions« of the researcher. She whole-heartedly accepts modern writers who painstakingly describe confused egos, fragmented psychic states, and antiheroic events. She is more critical of such appraisals as made by Ludwig Janus who traces in modern literature signs of growing empathy and in-depth reconfigurations of our identity. It is actually surprising how little literary and art studies have been embraced in psych ohistorical research.
Other articles in this work deal with apocalyptic images in early modern time in the context of the history of European religions (by Edmund Hermsen), with empathic relations and economic decisions (by Wolfgang Priess), and with psychogenic theory and raising of small children (by Heide Kauert). With his sermon-like ecological tones Priess is concerned with the childrens rights that are so often lost in economic power (not empathic) relations. The current child sacrifice takes place on the altars of the exploitative consumption race.
This work as a whole raises the question about where, and in what directions, psychohistorians should seek sources of renewal of their research and theories. The authors of the work gesticulate to the direction of social and cultural sciences. There are, however, other possible directions, and not only among psychoanalytic reformulations. I mean here the connections of psychohistory with natural sciences, evolutionary theory and neurosciences. We maybe witnessing in the future such new fields as evolutionary psychohistory and neuropsychohistory (with cumulative aids provided by already existing evolutionary psychology, neuro-psychoanalysis and cognitive neuroscience).
Lloyd deMausé has already in 1989 in his article »The Role of Adaptation and Selection in Psychohistorical Evolution« sketched a »robust« theory of Psychohistorical evolution, with its six central hypotheses: »(1) that the individual, not the culture, is the locus of evolution; (2) that childhood adaptations provide the source of all variations; (3) that adult adaptations furnish the occasion for group and environmental selection; (4) that the selected personality types and therefore cultural practices are highly dependent upon the peculiar evolutionary history of the group; (5) that cultural traits and historical movements contain shared defenses constructed to handle the abandonment depression resulting from lack of parental love; and (6) that these defenses have periodically moved from rage directed Outwards to self-destructiveness directed inward, from intergroup belligerence to sacrifice, from war to economic depression.« This theoretical perspective was linked by deMause to Gerald M. Edelmans (1987) »neural Darwinism« that concentrates on the evolution of the brain organization as a selective process, discarding vitalist concepts (such as »will« and »desire«).
Thus, the initiative toward combining evolutionary psychohistory and neuropsychohistory has already been taken. This emergent field will help in alleviating »the sterility of cultural theory« that is visible in huge piles of historical research, and also partly in the theoretical perspectives presented in this German work. Biological or psychological evolution is not conceived by deMause as something teleological, parents emotionally installing into children »preparations« for adult life. Improvements in childrearing, according to deMause, do not depend on a kind of »progressive« teleology, on the belief in evolutionary progress (the rule of the empathic), of which he is often blamed, also in this work. Neither does the evolutionary tendency of organisms toward complexity and flexible co-adaptation depend on inevitable teleology. The absence of progressive teleology is, however, no reason to pull out of actions and programs that are planned to improve parenting and the living conditions of the children.
Finally, some minor technical comments on the work. The work would have benefited from a subject index. The contributors (except the editors) are not presented at all. And not all sources mentioned in the notes are included in the references.

Cioran, E. M., Anathemas and Admirations. Translated by Richard Howard. London: Quartet Books, 1992.
deMause, Lloyd, »The Role of Adaptation and Selection in Psychohistorical Evolution.« The Journal of Psychohistory, 16(4), 355-371, 1989.
Edelman, Gerald M., Neural Darwinism: The Theory of Neuronal Group Selection. New York: Basic Books, 1987.
Jacquette, Dale (ed.), Philosophy, Psychology, and Psychologism: Critical and Historical Readings
on the Philosophical in Psychology. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2003.
Kusch, Martin, Psychologism: A Case Study in the Sociology of Philosophical Knowledge.London: Routledge, 1995.

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