Robert Jay Lifton (born
1926) is an
psychiatrist and author, chiefly known for his studies of
the psychological causes and effects of
and political violence and for his theory of thought reform. He
was an early proponent of the techniques of
During the 1960s, Robert Jay Lifton, together with
Erik Erikson and
MIT historian Bruce Mazlish, formed a group to apply
psychology and psychoanalysis to the study of history. Meetings
were held at Lifton's home in
Wellfleet, Massachusetts. The Wellfleet Psychohistory Group,
as it became known, focused mainly on psychological motivations
for war, terrorism and genocide in recent history. In 1965, they
received sponsorship from the
American Academy of Arts and Sciences to establish
psychohistory as a separate field of study. A collection of
research papers by the group was published in 1975:
Explorations in Psychohistory: The Wellfleet Papers (see
Bibliography; Lifton as editor).
On Friday October 3rd 2008, Lifton gave a lecture to
60 students at Yale University.
Lifton's work in this field was heavily influenced by
Erikson's studies of
Hitler and other political figures, as well as
Sigmund Freud's concern with the mass social effects of
deep-seated drives, particularly attitudes toward death.
Milieu Control – The control of information and
Mystical Manipulation – The manipulation of
experiences that appear spontaneous but in fact were planned
Demand for Purity – The world is viewed as black
and white and the members are constantly exhorted to conform
to the ideology of the group and strive for perfection.
Confession – Sins, as defined by the group, are
to be confessed either to a personal monitor or publicly to
Sacred Science – The group's doctrine or
ideology is considered to be the ultimate Truth, beyond all
questioning or dispute.
Loading the Language – The group interprets or
uses words and phrases in new ways so that often the outside
world does not understand.
Doctrine over person – The member's personal
experiences are subordinated to the sacred science and any
contrary experiences must be denied or reinterpreted to fit
the ideology of the group.
Dispensing of existence – The group has the
prerogative to decide who has the right to exist and who
His name became further popularly associated with
those terms when he testified as a defense witness in the 1976
Patty Hearst, stating that the
Symbionese Liberation Army had used similar techniques to
produce a behavioral change in Hearst.
Contrary to popular notions of "brainwashing", Lifton
always maintained that such coercion could only influence
short-term behavior or produce general
neuroses, not permanently change beliefs or personality.
Margaret Singer and
Steven Hassan (author of the book
Combatting Cult Mind Control), later loosely adapted his
theories and applied his terms "totalism" and "thought
reform" to the practices of certain religious and other
types of groups.
His most influential books, Death in Life:
Hiroshima (1968), Home from the War:
Vietnam Veterans—Neither Victims nor Executioners
(1973), and The
Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of
Genocide (1986), focused on the mental adaptations made
by humans in extreme wartime environments—whether as survivors
of atrocities or, in the latter case, perpetrators. In each case
Lifton believed that the psychic fragmentation experienced by
his subjects was an extreme form of the pathologies that arise
in peacetime life due to the pressures and fears of modern
His studies of the behavior of people who had
war crimes, both individually and in groups, concluded that
while human nature is not innately cruel and only rare
sociopaths can participate in atrocities without suffering
lasting emotional harm, such crimes do not require any unusual
degree of personal evil or mental illness, and are nearly sure
to happen given certain conditions (either accidental or
deliberately arranged) which Lifton called "atrocity-producing
situations". The Nazi Doctors was the first in-depth
study of how medical professionals rationalized their
the Holocaust, from the early stages of the
T-4 Euthanasia Program to the
In the Hiroshima and Vietnam studies, Lifton also
concluded that the sense of personal disintegration many people
experienced after witnessing death and destruction on a mass
scale could ultimately lead to a new emotional resilience—but
that without the proper support and counseling, most survivors
would remain trapped in feelings of unreality and guilt. In his
work with Vietnam veterans, Lifton was one of the first
organizers of therapeutic discussion groups in which mental
health practitioners met with veterans, and he lobbied for the
post-traumatic stress disorder in the
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Totalism, a word first used in Thought
Reform, is Lifton's term for the characteristics of
ideological movements and organizations that desire total
control over human behavior and thought. (Lifton's usage differs
from theories of
totalitarianism in that it can be applied to the ideology of
groups that do not wield governmental power.) In Lifton's
opinion, though such attempts always fail, they follow a common
pattern and cause predictable types of psychological damage in
individuals and societies. He finds two common motives in
totalistic movements: the fear and denial of
channeled into violence against scapegoat groups that are made
to represent a metaphorical threat to survival, and a
reactionary fear of social change.
In his later work, Lifton has focused on defining the
type of change to which totalism is opposed, for which he coined
the term the
protean self. In the book of the same title, he states
that the development of a "fluid and many-sided personality" is
a positive trend in modern societies, and that mental health now
requires "continuous exploration and personal experiment", which
fundamentalist movements oppose.
Following his work with Hiroshima survivors, Lifton
became a vocal opponent of
nuclear weapons, arguing that
nuclear strategy and warfighting doctrine made even mass
genocide banal and conceivable. While not a strict
pacifist, he has spoken against U.S. military actions in his
lifetime, particularly the
Vietnam War and
Iraq War, believing that they arose from irrational and
aggressive aspects of American politics motivated by fear.
Lifton has also criticized the current "War
on Terrorism" as a misguided and dangerous attempt to
"destroy all vulnerability". However, he regards
terrorism itself as an increasingly serious threat due to
the proliferation of nuclear and chemical weapons and totalist
ideologies. His 1999 book Destroying the World to Save It
apocalyptic terrorist sect
Aum Shinrikyo as a forerunner of "the new global terrorism".
America and the Asian Revolutions,
Trans-Action Books, 1970, second edition, 1973.
(With Falk and Gabriel Kolko) Crimes of War:
A Legal, Political-Documentary, and Psychological Inquiry
into the Responsibilities of Leaders, Citizens, and Soldiers
for Criminal Acts of War, Random House, 1971.
(With Olson) Explorations in Psychohistory:
The Wellfleet Papers, Simon & Schuster, 1975.
(With Eric Chivian, Susanna Chivian, and John E.
Mack) Last Aid: The Medical Dimensions of Nuclear War,
W. H. Freeman, 1982.
(With Nicholas Humphrey) In a Dark Time:
Images for Survival, Harvard University Press, 1984.
Jeremy Rifkin (born
Denver, Colorado), the founder and president of the
Foundation on Economic Trends (FOET), is an American economist,
writer, and public speaker. He is an activist who seeks to shape
public policy in the
United States and globally.
He has testified before numerous congressional
committees and has engaged in litigation extensively to ensure
"responsible" government policies on a variety of
environmental, scientific and
technology related issues. Since 1994, Rifkin has been a
fellow at the
University of Pennsylvania's
Wharton Executive Education Program, lecturing CEOs and
senior corporate management from around the world on new trends
in science and technology.
Rifkin became one of the first major critics of the
nascent biotechnology industry with the 1977 publication of his
book, Who Should Play God? His 1995 book,
The End of Work, an international bestseller, is
credited by some with helping shape the current global debate on
technology displacement, corporate downsizing and the future of
jobs. His 1998 book, The Biotech Century, addresses the
many critical issues accompanying the new era of genetic
After the publication of The Hydrogen Economy,
Rifkin worked both in the U.S. and the EU to advance the
political cause of renewably generated hydrogen. In the U.S.,
Rifkin was instrumental in founding the Green Hydrogen
Coalition. The GHC consists of 13 environmental and political
MoveOn.Org) that are committed to building a renewable
hydrogen based economy.
The Foundation on Economic Trends (FOET), based in
Washington D.C. is active in both national and international
public policy issues related to the environment, the economy,
and biotechnology. FOET examines new trends and their impacts on
the environment, the economy, culture and society, and engages
in litigation, public education, coalition building and
grassroots organizing activities to advance their goals.
Rifkin has sparked controversies about his positions.
Critics in the U.S. have called him a professional scaremonger
precautionary principles, one group going so far as to brand
him "the intellectual guru of the
neo-Luddites," as they view many of his positions as
obstacles to technological advancement. Some groups, like the
Center for Consumer Freedom through its ActivistCash
website, assert that Rifkin's books are "littered with errors
and false predictions."
Time Magazine went so far as to call him "the most hated
man in science",
although groups like the
Union of Concerned Scientists have cited some of his
publications as useful references for consumers.As
well, many have considered his understanding of the American
economy to be absolutely flawed - for in his book, European
Dream, he blamed the vastly unequal distribution of wealth in
America to be the result of unbridled market capitalism, while
many claim that the vastly disparaged class of America have
gotten that way by the government disruption of free markets,
through massive bailouts in favor of large industrial and
financial corporations, resulting in vast debt and inflation.
For example, conservatives like
Ron Paul would argue against Rifkin on this basis and maybe
state that Rifkin actually doesn't understand how the the
American economy works at all - the former clearly describes how
our ills have become resultant from excessive government
intervention and that the free-market Rifkin speaks of is only a
reality in the words of the political candidates, not in the
economic reality of America. Nevertheless, Rifkin is a well
known writer for his works on political economy and socio
economic interpretations of the western world.
Guardian.co.uk - 'Sorry, Mr President, homilies won't
stop the hurricanes: We Americans need to get out of our
SUVs and learn the harsh lesson of Katrina and Rita: we
are all to blame', Jeremy Rifkin,
The Guardian, (September 23, 2005)