Lightly bolstering commonsensical armchair analysis of history's despots and cultists, this cursory survey manages to tell a hit less than we may sense we already know about the pathological use of power. Of Robins's (Political Science/Tulane Univ.) and Post's (Psychiatry/George Washington Univ.) theme--""that paranoia is a characteristic mentality of the late twentieth century""--this review of destructive regimes leaves little doubt, if there ever was any. But primarily retailing the well-known behavior of the likes of Poi Pot and cult leader Jim Jones, it is weaker on the more vexing question of their success in leading, in the extreme cases, entire societies to severe self-mutilation. After summarizing some basic psychology about the ""need for enemies,"" the authors largely neglect much examination of the specific conditions that allowed these paranoid delusions to be writ so large--save to quickly observe, for example, that in the Middle East conspiratorial thinking is fostered by a history marked by actual conspiracies or that interwar Germany was in ""distress."" By the chapter on Hitler, the tininess of the psychological analysis (the possible Jewish grandfather) relative to the magnitude of the events in question becomes obvious. When the French and Russian revolutions are principally cited for operating ""as if [they] were to produce a messiah or introduce a millennium"" (a condition the authors classify as a ""pairing group"" state), it seems that any contextual understanding of social movements or conflict has been overshadowed by the psychopolitical angle. And yet the banal truth of political paranoia's rampancy is not even fully enough represented here, as the diagnostic line drawn around the pathological--decontextualized even in an example as immediate as the militia movement--underplays the wider spectrum of irrationality, superstition, and resentment along which most mainstream politics reside as well.
Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1997
Page Count: 352
Publisher: Yale Univ.
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1997
Hey there, book lover.
We’re glad you found a book that interests you!