Political Paranoia

The Psychopolitics of Hatred

Robert S. Robins and Jerrold Post

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Paranoia is not an obscure mental state afflicting some individuals but a widespread condition of modern societies, say the authors of this engrossing book. Robert S. Robins and Jerrold M. Post, M.D., experts in political psychology, document and interpret the malign power of paranoia in a variety of contexts—in political movements like McCarthyism, in organizations like the John Birch Society, in leaders like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Jim Jones, and David Koresh, and among extreme groups that commit violence in the name of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Indeed, Robins and Post show that the paranoid dynamic has been aggressively present in every social disaster of this century.

Robins and Post describe the paranoid personality, explain why paranoia is part of human evolutionary history, and examine the conditions that must exist before the message of the paranoid takes root in a vulnerable population, leading to mass movements and genocidal violence. Their wide-ranging discussion sheds light on many troubling episodes in our history:

·   why more than 900 people committed suicide in Guyana in 1978 with their leader, Jim Jones;

·   how the terrorists who bombed New York’s World Trade Center in New York in 1993 justified their violence in the name of God;

·   how the need for enemies in the wake of the dissolution of the Soviet empire led to a rise in anti-Semitism in some Eastern European countries even though the Jewish population had been nearly decimated;

·   how paranoia underlies racism—among both whites and blacks;

·   why the conspiracy theory elaborated in Oliver Stone’s film JFK strikes such a resonant chord in the viewing public;

·   and much more.

Robert S. Robins is professor of political science and deputy provost at Tulane University. He has served several presidential administrations as a consultant in political psychology. Jerrold M. Post, M.D., is professor of psychiatry, political psychology, and international affairs at George Washington University. He founded and for more than two decades headed the U.S. government’s Center for the Analysis of Personality and Political Behavior.

"A very important study of a crucial subject, one that has been at the root of the most phenomenal destruction visited by man on man."—Marvin Zonis

"A first-class, fascinating, fast-moving study of how hatred can disable world leaders. Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot are just a few of the despicable characters that Robins and Post evaluate with cool objectivity in this truly landmark book."—Douglas Brinkley

"A brilliant excursion into the territory that has never before been plumbed to such depths. The toxic mix of unsublimated aggression and paranoid thinking challenges our social order and democratic foundations."—Herbert S. Sacks, M.D.

"A monumental book which is an outstanding contribution to this flourishing field of human nature and the political personality. In their insightful and provocative new book, Robins and Post cite the existence of the paranoid personality and interpret the prevalence of paranoia in human evolutionary history, mass movements, and genocidal violence of the twentieth century. . . . [The authors] triumph by captivating their audience with provocative insights into the minds of political personalities and illumination of the most controversial developments of the twentieth century."—Dale Ann Zumbroski, Yale Political Monthly

"An important book that sheds light on many of the irrational aspects of political life and international relationships. The authors convincingly illustrate how a leader's innate suspiciousness and wish to protect his or her followers from dangerous others can sometimes overshoot benevolent objectives with disastrous results. This lucid book will be valuable to a wide spectrum of readers."—Vamik D. Volkan, M.D.

"A pathfinding study of paranoidal conspiracy thinking and of many political movements in which it has manifested itself in twentieth-century history down to the present time along with instances in which men of paranoidal disposition have achieved dictatorial power."—Robert C. Tucker, author, Stalin in Power

"Political Paranoia contains, in addition to some significant insights, a great deal of valuable information."—Richard Webster, Times Literary Supplement

"Every psychiatrist who is also interested in world affairs outside his or her work in the office should read this book as an excellent example of how psychiatric insights illuminate dark sides of human interaction."—Vamik Volkan, M.D., Psychiatric Times

"With case histories drawn from today's headlines, "Political Paranoia" is a timely, valuable book."—Dennis Persica, The Times-Picayune

"Political Paranoia is an extraordinary book. It moves through the psychology and politics of paranoia with richly argued concepts and historical detail and deftly treats history and theory with a readability that highlights the crucial importance of this often neglected concept in political theory. . . . A must-read book for those who see an intimate and real connection between how the self functions and how political life works. Students of politics will be enriched by the book's psychological and psychodynamic contributions, and students of the self, psychopathy, mental illness, and group behavior will find their theories broadened by the book's insightful grasp of political reality and political history."—James M. Glass, Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease

"Political Paranoia is a big work, one that brings together many historical, psychological, and political threads. The authors excel at delineating the similarities amid the differences that unavoidably distinguish political situations. Students of political psychology and political ideologies will find [it] indispensable."—Cynthia Burack, Psychoanalytic Books

"This book is very much worth reading. . . . Given the universality of paranoid thinking, cutting across time and culture, this volume would be found timely regardless of when it was picked up. It could prove useful to instructors in clinical psychology, sociology, and political science, as it would certainly provoke energetic debate."—Psychological Reports

ISBN: 9780300070279
Publication Date: September 23, 1997
408 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
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