The State of American History

By Herbert J. Bass | Go to book overview

On Psychohistory

ROBERT JAY LIPTON

Granted there is such a thing as a "psychohistorical approach," can we then speak of a "new psychohistory"? If so we had best be tentative. Historians know well -- and psychologists should know -- that anything now new will soon be old, and that we often label as new (or New) that which does not yet quite exist. As for psychohistory, it is in one sense already old, and in another hardly born.

None can deny the logic of a marriage between psychology and history. Many writers from both traditions have emphasized their common concern with narrative sequence and with the nature of man's experience in the midst of that sequence. But a certain amount of skepticism about logical marriages (and their offspring) is always in order. And the greater one's commitment to this marriage, the more convinced one becomes of the impossibility -- and undesirability -- of an easy union.


I

Skepticism, in fact, is as good a principle as any for approaching psychohistory. Most of us involved in the project are not only critical of traditional psychoanalytic views of history but skeptical of the kind of pristine cause and effect -- and therefore of the kind of knowledge -- claimed by any monocausal and hyper-reductive approach to history. Our simple commitment to develop a psychological framework that takes historical currents seriously is itself an act of skepticism toward what I shall soon identify as the ahistorical position of most psychologi-

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