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The French Revolution

A Tale of Terror and Hope for Our Times

Harold Behr is a psychiatrist, co-author of Group Analytic Psychotherapy: A Meeting of Minds (Wiley/Blackwell) and former editor of Group Analysis: The International Journal of Group Analytic Psychotherapy. In this book he applies his knowledge of group dynamics and psychology to his long-standing interest in the history and politics of revolution.

This is the story of the French Revolution told from a psychological and group dynamic perspective. The aim is to throw light on the workings of the revolutionary mind and the emotions at work in society which pave the way towards revolution and war. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette are presented as a couple trapped by the symbolism invested in them, a circumstance that turned them into scapegoats. The contrasting personalities of the two most controversial leaders of the Revolution – Robespierre and Danton – provide psychologically informed explanations of their success and failure as leaders. The group perspective – the nature of crowd behaviour and mob violence – links to the complex relationship between leaders and groups. In the Parisian case of 1789 group emotions – fear, rage, euphoria and fervour – influenced the course of the Revolution. The assassination of Marat and the struggle to the death between the extremists of the Left and the Moderates is a classic study in group paranoia culminating in a Reign of Terror destined to end in self-destructive violence. The conflict between the Revolution and the Church as an expression of belief in an ideal society led to a battle for the minds of a people facing two incompatible ideologies.

The French Revolution was an important milestone in western social and political development. It carried within itself the seeds of a humane society, but turned into murder and execution. The dichotomies arising echo down the generations. The same split in our thinking applies to how we view today’s social upheavals and conflicts – conflicts of opposing mythologies with their psychological overtones interpreted as political doctrines – as evinced currently in Russia’s territorial claims to Eastern Ukraine, Islamic fundamentalist wars, and the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Hope lies in the application of therapeutic principles garnered from the field of group dynamics.

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-703-2
Paperback Price: £19.95 / $29.95
Release Date: February 2015
Page Extent / Format: 180 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: Yes


A Personal Note
Chronology of the French Revolution

Theoretical Preamble
Chapter 1 Louis XVI: The Scapegoat King
Chapter 2 Robespierre: The Mind of a Fanatic
Chapter 3 Danton: The Passionate Opportunist
Chapter 4 Violence and Enlightenment: The Paradox of the French Revolution
Chapter 5 The Revolutionary Crowd: Bloodthirsty Mob or Will of the People?
Chapter 6 Revolution versus Religion: God, Reason and the God of Reason
Chapter 7 Heroes, Tyrants and Martyrs: The Assassination of Marat and
the Murder of the Girondins
Chapter 8 The Reign of Terror: A Study in Group Paranoia
Chapter 9 The Power of the Group to Destroy its Leader: The Fall of
Chapter 10 How History and Mythology Intertwine

Books Which I Hope Will Interest the Reader

Psychiatrist Harold Behr has written professional works on group analytic psychotherapy; in this illustrated book, he uses that background to examine the French Revolution, applying contemporary insights from psychology and group dynamics to the behavior of the key figures and the revolutionary mob during the French Revolution. Writing in plain language for general readers, history buffs, and students, he plumbs the psychological factors that allowed the Reign of Terror to take place, with special focus on the psychology and personality of two leaders of the French Revolution: Robespierre and Danton. There is also a wealth of discussion on the psychology of mob violence, crowd behavior, group emotions, and group paranoia. The book includes a detailed chronology from 1762 to 1794, plus black and white historical illustrations and political cartoons. An extensive list of further reading is divided into sections on general works, key figures, the Enlightenment, crowd terrorism, religious belief, trauma psychology, biology and human nature, mythology and culture, and group dynamics and psychotherapy.

Psychiatrist Harold Behr describes a lifelong interest in this period of history, beginning in his South African childhood and developed by devouring biographies of Maximilien Robespierre, ‘the idealist turned monster’. He experienced a growing awareness of controversies and contradictions at the heart of the history and ‘decided that the only way to unmuddle myself was to pull a few clinical tricks out of the psychiatrist’s bag and examine some of the dramatis personae of the Revolution as if they were patients. This would force me into empathic mode by investigating their backgrounds, rooting around in their childhoods and doing my level best to see the Revolution as they might have seen it.
... This interesting book has stimulated me to think more about groups and leaders, which can only be a good thing – but who knows if we will ever fully understand the significance of the times in which we live?
Tom C. Russ in The British Journal of Psychiatry (November 2015)

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