Foundations of Psychohistory, by Lloyd deMause, Creative Roots, Inc. New York, 1982, p. 336

Reviewed by John A. Speyrer

The author defines psychohistory as the science of historical motivation. It is the chronology or reasons why events happen; not the superficial commonly accepted reasons, but the real, although, unconscious ones. One could say, the primal reasons. The author, trained in psychoanalysis, writes that much introspection is required. Another important attribute, needed by those who wish to practice psychohistory, is to believe that there is a dark side to all of us. One cannot really learn about ultimate motivations of tyrants, without finding and studying the tyrant in oneself. Dedicated objectivity and empathy toward, and even identification with the subject are essential.

deMause claims that to study ultimate causes of historical shifts and events one must study childhood. Thus, to investigate the foundations of psychohistory, it is necessary to begin a study of how children were treated from earlier times until the present. He believes that the earlier we probe into the history of childhood, we find a lower level of child care. At its lowest levels we find casual sexual abuse and commonplace abandonment and murder. deMause writes that even in the Bible one does not find any empathy expressed toward children's needs. Child restraints (swaddling) were thought necessary for the child and freed the adults from being bothered by the child's demands. Beatings were quite common and were accepted and approved by many. Naturally, these children in turn battered their children.

Of all deMause's writings, his psychogenic theory of war as birth is undoubtedly the most widely known application of his historical methodology.


deMause feels that a country's foremost officials, rather than being leaders, are actually depositories of their citizens' projected feelings. Thus, to study the origins of war, it is not necessary to examine the interpersonal relations between leaders of the two countries with conflicts. As defenses against feelings of helplessness and rage become less effective, group projection results in the citizenry delegating their leaders as providers of aid. These group-fantasy projections finally get out of control and war becomes imperative.

deMause studied the writings and speeches of the leaders involved before the outbreak of World War II and found ideas of birth images appearing quite frequently. Also encountered, as the individual attempts to reenact his birth trauma, are dream images of birth, including, claustrophobia, choking, drowning, suffocating and hanging relating to being stuck in the birth canal. deMause realized that it was not objective reality that was forcing leaders to feel birth images and the necessity to escape the birth confinement by going to war. The events preceding the outbreak of war are even analogous to the progression of pregnancy until eventually there is a "rupture" of diplomatic relations and the war (birth) is begun, accompanied with feelings of exhilaration and excitement as birth tension is dissipated.

The author says that on some level we all know and yet do not know that going to war is attempting to relive our individual birth traumas. He believes that it is only by continuous defense stripping, introspection and analysis, can the psychohistorian reach the deeper, essential levels of our knowledge and behavior.


Is there a distinct American personality? The author feels there is, as he examines factors that were in play which made America what it is. deMause says that historians generally believe that events are caused by preceding events. Instead, psychohistorians ". . . study the psychogenic interaction between mother and child as the ultimate source of psychotypes, that is, new historical personalities."

deMause says the American Revolution ". . .was first of all a group-fantasy, an assertion of counter-dependency from mother-England. . ." The cause of the revolution was not a question of 'no taxation without representation' since the taxes in question amounted to a pittance. Instead, deMause claims that it is necessary to search for the cause of the revolution in colonial group-fantasy. "Birth imagery infused the everyday language of politics during 1775-76," some even relating to the birth practices which were common at the time. He concludes that our revolution against mother England was not dissimilar to other historical movements. Our country came into being like others, by national acting-outs of war-as-birth. The author believes that history is " . . . the final receptacle for the repressed, the final resting-place for infantile traumata, the group-fantasy which at last re-enacts and makes real that which we would most disown -- our own childhood."


As with biological evolutionary progress, over time a new species of homo-psychologicus is brought into being. deMause believes that the history of satisfying children's needs have gone through six phases or modes since recorded history. The earliest phase which was anti-child is described as Infanticidal. The most recent is the Helping phase. These psychogenic stages show the evolution of emotional closeness of the child to its parents and may be illustrated or synopsized as follows (copied with permission):

Six Psychogenic Modes of the Evolution of Childhood

Mode Parental Wish Historical Manifestation

Infanticidal Mother: "I wish you were
dead, to relieve my fear
of being killed by my
Child-sacrifice and infanticide,
child as breast-penis, intolerance of child's anger, hardening, ghosts and magic,
child sale, child sodomy
Abandoning Mother: "I must leave
you, to escape the needs
I project into you."
Longer swaddling, fosterage,
outside wetnursing, monastery,
nunnery and apprenticeship
Ambivalent Mother: "You are bad
from the erotic and
aggressive projections
I put in you."
Enemas, early beating, shorter
swaddling, mourning possible,
child as erotic object precursor
to empathy
Intrusive Mother: "You can have
love when I have full
control over you."
Early toilet training, repression
of child's sexuality, end of
swaddling and wetnursing, empathy now possible,
rise of pediatrics
Socializing Mother and Father: "We
will love you when you
are reaching our goals."
Use of guilt, "mental discipline,"
humiliation, rise of compulsory
schooling, delegation of parental unconscious wishes
Helping Mother and Father: "We
love you and will help you
reach your goals."
Children's rights, de-schooling
and free schooling, child therapy, birth without violence

deMause believes that as parent-child relationships evolve, they are ultimately translated into historical movements. The embodiment of the historical movement is the result of the search for love. This evolution does not occur at the same rate throughout the world. Some areas are further along on the progression to the upper scales of child-closeness than others.


An essential tool of psychohistorians is the examination of public documents and speeches to reduce their words to a small fraction of their original size, to include perhaps an essential one per cent of words imbued with feeling and action. Negative words are removed and subjects and objects and group responses, including laughter, unusual breaks, etc. The fantasy analysis of this remaining verbiage reveals that the remaining words have " . . . to do with body memories, stemming from the primary trauma of all our lives: Birth."

Psychohistorians have been accused of seeing hidden motivations behind each action, and other meanings in each word. This is a charge that they gleefully accept. The field of psychohistory is criticized by some as being trash and hogwash. More charitable detractors describe it as merely pretentious and outlandish.


In a study of the ultimate origins of history, deMause probes even earlier into sources which help to explain his repressed trauma thesis that the history and culture of each age lay in the early beginnings of the individual. He believes that those origins can have their beginnings in the psychological environment of the womb.

He considers this womb-drama so traumatic that it is continually repeated symbolically in historical cycles of death and rebirth. After presenting obstetrical evidence of this thesis, he begins the analysis of the psychological significance of the placenta to the fetus during gestation. The author believes that this is so because of its proximity to the fetus and because it's importance in the physiology of the fetus. It thus becomes the earliest object or fixation of the mental life of the fetus. Interruptions in the relationship between the fetus and its placenta produce the fetus' earliest feelings of anxiety.

This relationship has two main stages: One in which the placenta is seen by the fetus as nurturing and the other where the placenta is perceived as poisonous. Events in childhood may influence the effects of the relationship between the fetus and his placenta. Thus a fetal trauma may be exacerbated or improved by a loving or toxic relationship with the parent. Historical review of many symbolic concepts of both the poisonous and nurturant placentas with the umbilical cord, both in ancient and modern times are given.


Finally, the author examines the major group-fantasies of each historical period. His objective is to show how the forms of the fetal drama are changed as parent-child relationships evolve. He believes that as the degree of parent-child emotional closeness changes, these changes are reflected in historical movements.

These historical group fantasies originate in the individual's psychic conflicts, but are projected to the group and are "connected to the individual's search for love." The group projection has the effect of alleviating the individual's feelings of rage. The breakdown of the group-fantasy results in a paranoid break-down with resultant turbulent historical action.

deMause examines several historical group-fantasies including a fantasy analysis of the Nixon tapes, presidential cycles, Carter's presidency, and major American historical group-fantasy cycles. He feels that with pre-natal knowledge and understanding of both ancient and modern group fantasies, history becomes understandable. The aim of all the study and analysis in psychohistory is so that we may be able to know consciously what it is we share unconsciously and thus one day could reduce the decisional holds that these continuing cycles of group fantasies have on us.


Lloyd deMause's Foundations of Psychohistory is now available on the internet in its entirety.

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