The Pursuit of the Nazi Mind: Hitler, Hess, and the Analysts

Overview


An intellectual and cultural history of the encounter between psychology and fascism, The Pursuit of the Nazi Mind draws on neglected archive sources in Britain and the US, as well as literature, film, legal testimony, letters and memoirs, to map the rise and fall of psychoanalytic and psychiatric explanations of the Third Reich, highlighting the clinical ambition to transform mysterious "Nazi monsters" into plausible, individual "case studies."

Daniel Pick brings both the ...

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The Pursuit of the Nazi Mind: Hitler, Hess, and the Analysts

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Overview


An intellectual and cultural history of the encounter between psychology and fascism, The Pursuit of the Nazi Mind draws on neglected archive sources in Britain and the US, as well as literature, film, legal testimony, letters and memoirs, to map the rise and fall of psychoanalytic and psychiatric explanations of the Third Reich, highlighting the clinical ambition to transform mysterious "Nazi monsters" into plausible, individual "case studies."

Daniel Pick brings both the skills of the historian and the trained psychoanalyst to weave together the story of clinical encounters with leading Nazis and the Allies' broader interpretations of the Nazi high command and the mentality of the wider German public. Following the bizarre capture of Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess in 1941, leading British psychiatrists (especially Dr. Henry Dicks) assessed their new charge, in an attempt to understand both the man himself and the psychological bases of his Nazi convictions. Around the same time, Pick reveals, a similar team of American officers (notably Walter Langer) working for the OSS, the forerunner of the CIA, were engaged in an attempt to understand Hitler's personality from afar, using the theories and techniques of Sigmund Freud. Pick then weaves together these Allied attempts to understand Hess and Hitler with the wider attempt to understand the pathology of Nazism and its hold over the German people.

Pick asks what such psychoanalytical and psychiatric investigations set out to do, showing how Freud's famous "talking cure" was harnessed to the particular needs of military intelligence during the war and the post-war reconstruction period. Looking beyond this, he also shows just how deeply post-war Western understandings of how minds work and groups operate were influenced by these wartime attempts to interpret the psychopathology of Nazism.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Nazism was the one historical phenomenon crazy enough to license the wildest flights of psychoanalytic speculation, to judge by this probing study of Freudian efforts to understand the Third Reich. University of London historian and psychoanalyst Pick (Svengali’s Web: The Alien Enchanter in Modern Culture) examines several attempts to put Nazism on the couch: British psychiatrists’ interviews with captive Nazis, including Hitler’s crony Rudolph Hess, a raving nut obsessed with health food nostrums and paranoid delusions of Jewish plots; reports on Hitler’s psyche commissioned by the wartime American OSS; postwar psychiatry, scholarship, novels, and movies that took Nazism as a template for sociopolitical pathology. Pick’s lucid but rather dry discussion is appropriately critical of knee-jerk Freudian dogmas, remaining cautious about analysts’ impulses to ground fascist attitudes in infantile trauma and a harsh Germanic “super-ego” or to theorize about Hitler’s Oedipal issues. But he also shows why psychoanalytic concepts, with their focus on the irrational roots of behavior, unconscious desires and fantasies, and the hysterical emotions Hitler elicited from Germans, were so persuasive to contemporaries trying to understand the power of Nazism. The result is a thought-provoking, though inconclusive, investigation of psychoanalysis at its peak of ambition and influence, and of the link between politics and individual psychology. Photos. 20 b&w illus. (Aug.)
From the Publisher

"Pick has contributed an important chapter to the still-unfinished history of the psychoanalytic encounter with politics." --History of the Human Sciences

"[A] story that needs telling...Historians of this period can read this valuable work to uncover a different perspective on the Nazi leader, and psychologists and psychoanalysts will be pleased to discover how much their work was valued during some of the darkest days in the 20th century." --PsycCRITIQUES

"shows why psychoanalytic concepts, with their focus on the irrational roots of behavior, unconscious desires and fantasies, and the hysterical emotions Hitler elicited from Germans, were so persuasive to contemporaries trying to understand the power of Nazism" --Publishers Weekly

''This is a terrific book. ... Soberly and clearly written... profoundly illuminating... 'this is the best book we have on one of the most illuminating encounters in twentieth century history and it deserves a wide audience.' --Prof Eli Zaretsky, Jewish Quarterly


"Remarkable, richly informative, and profound. This thought-provoking work marks a major contribution to understanding this very complex period. Highly recommended." -CHOICE


"A superb new book ... Pick, a distinguished historian of admirable breadth as well as a psychoanalyst, is the ideal author of such a study. His treatment of psychoanalysis is both historically framed and theoretically nuanced." --Professor Paul Lerner, Times
LiterarySupplement

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199541683
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 6/18/2012
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel Pick is Professor of History at Birkbeck College, University of London. An editor of History Workshop Journal, he is also a practicing psychoanalyst and a fellow of the British Psychoanalytical Society. He is the author of numerous works on European cultural history, including Svengali's Web: The Alien Enchanter in Modern Culture and, most recently, Rome or Death: The Obsessions of General Garibaldi.

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction
2. Analysts and Nazis
3. 'The Deputy Madman'
4. Getting Through to Hess
5. Madness and Politics
6. The OSS
7. Hitler's Mind
8. So Plainly Mad?
9. Nuremberg: Conspiracy and Confession
10. Sane Features
11. Legacies
12. Afterword Appendices Notes Index

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