Northern Illinois University Press

Past Impersonal

Group Process in Human History

Rudolph Binion

"The work is a gem ... includes psychohistory, demographic history, cultural history, social history, and literary history. Few scholars have mastered so many fields at once; perhaps none have forged such effective links between them."—John Demos, Yale University

"Binion is quite simply the most accomplished, creative, and influential practitioner of psychologically oriented history working over the past thirty-five years, and this book is in some ways a culmination of his ongoing refinement of that approach."—Stephen Kern, Ohio State University

"A bold new approach with exciting interpretations in art history, literature, demography, and group psychology.... Rarely do works of history cross so clearly the intellectual divide between the arts and sciences: this is such a book."—American Historical Review

In this groundbreaking study, renowned historian Rudolph Binion develops a whole new understanding of human history. Exploring the collective dimension of human behavior in various historic contexts, he argues that people participate in purposeful group actions while pursuing only their own individual ends as far as they know. The basic moving force in history thus emerges as neither individual motives, nor abstract tendencies such as modernization or globalization, but group process operating in concealment.

Past Impersonal synthesizes decades of Binion’s innovative and exhaustive research to show how groups act behind the scenes of history, leading lives of their own independent of individual volition. Through several complementary historic case studies ranging over two millenniums, Binion demonstrates how individuals pursue group purposes, or hidden group agendas, unawares. He discerns three basic modes of group action—adaptive, maladaptive, and symbolic—that may combine, work at cross purposes, or go their separate ways. He draws his material from a rich sampling of mankind’s political, social, and cultural past, using quantitative analysis and depth psychology with equal ease and expertise while turning even iconography and epidemiology to new account.

Written with both rigor and grace, vividly illustrated to clarify its argument, Past Impersonal is a multidisciplinary virtuoso performance: it draws on all the conventional approaches to history while also transcending them.

(2005) 208 pp.
ISBN: 978-0-87580-345-6
cloth $42.00

Rudolph Binion is the Leff Professor of History at Brandeis University. He lectures and publishes the world over in several fields and languages. His previous books include Frau Lou, Hitler among the Germans, After Christianity, Love Beyond Death, and Sounding the Classics.

Table of Contents

Introduction—Group Process
1. The Guilty Family
2. Ideology in the Bedroom
3. A Community of Fate
4. The Sublime and the Grotesque
5. Being, Doing, Having
6. Three Mourning Mothers
7. Death on a Rampage
Epilogue—Open Questions

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ISBN: 978-0-87580-345-6
cloth $42.00