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Superpower Syndrome: America's Apocalyptic Confrontation with the World (Nation Books) [Paperback]

by Robert Jay Lifton
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 22, 2003 1560255129 978-1560255123
No one is better equipped than psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton-a leading scholar of thought control and mass violence- to make sense of the extreme moment. From Hiroshima survivors to Nazi doctors, from Vietnam veterans to the cult that sarin-gassed the Tokyo subways, he has explained to us global apocalyptic urges, the ravages of psychic numbness, and the psychology of the survivor. Now, as al- Qaeda's desire to purify the earth of "evil" meets the unilateral urge to dominate the globe's sole superpower, Lifton believes we have arrived at a remarkably perilous moment. The United States-from its leaders to much of its people-feels itself painfully vulnerable and thinks of itself as a survivor nation. The combination of such feelings roiling through the land over the last year and an administration with unprecedented military power bent on dominating and purifying the earth adds up to an intensely dangerous atmosphere-in fact, a "syndrome." Unfortunately, there is no therapy available for empires-or rather, the only therapy available is self-prescribed. But while Lifton can't be therapist to the earth's last superpower, he can bring together a half century of wisdom and apply it to Superpower Syndrome.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Lifton brings his unique psychiatric and psychohistorical perspective to the heated issues of the war on terror and America in a unipolar world. Lifton defines superpower syndrome as an aberrant "national mind-set... that takes on a sense of omnipotence, of unique standing in the world that grants it the right to hold sway over all other nations." He examines parallels with other instances of apocalyptic nations, which he has explored in groundbreaking works about Hiroshima (Death in Life), the Holocaust (The Nazi Doctors), the Vietnam War (Home from the War) and global terrorism (Destroying the World to Save It). Bush's war on terror can be seen as apocalyptic, Lifton says, because of its call for an amorphous battle unlimited in time or space and encompassing the absolute eradication of evil. The perceived threat of group annihilation leads apocalyptics to "merge with God in the claim to ownership of death," asserting the right to "murderous purification" and to decide who lives and who dies. The U.S. response to Nazi violence was similarly apocalyptic, in Lifton's analysis, a battle "for global salvation through the flames of destruction," such as the bombings of Dresden and Hiroshima. The latter in turn fed into the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult in Japan in the 1990s. Similarly, the Bush response is "part of an ongoing dynamic in which the American apocalyptic interacts, almost to the point of collusion, with the Islamic apocalyptic"-an escalation that, Lifton believes, "has in it the potential seeds of world destruction." Yet escalation isn't inevitable, and with guarded hope, Lifton provides a complex yet clearly articulated roadmap to national self-reflection rather than international destruction.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"As with all of Mr. Lifton's reflections on politics and psychology, this one [Destroying the World to Save It] has many powerful and compelling insights."

Product Details

  • Series: Nation Books
  • Paperback: 211 pages
  • Publisher: Nation Books (October 22, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1560255129
  • ISBN-13: 978-1560255123
  • Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 4.9 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,933,341 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
This concise book is undoubtedly one of the most important critiques of America's foreign policy along with Barber's, Rampton & Stauber's and Daalder & Lindsay's. The author recognizes, for example, the war on Iraq as a manifestation of America's apocalyptic face-off against Islamist forces. Nonetherless, at the heart of 'Superpower Syndrome,' the author argues, lies a powerful fear of vulnerability. This insight that the world only superpower suffers from such ambiguity is an extremely interesting point which only psychiatrists can explore. He also refers to other apocalyptic imaginations such as Islamist's and a Japanese cult called 'Aum.' I really enjoy reading this interesting work!
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A chilling and accurate analysis January 7, 2004
By A Customer
This book is truly amazing. By looking at the actions and motives of the Bush administration through Lifton's psychological perspective, so much of the insanity of our predicament suddenly comes into perspective. Without slandering the Bush administration, Lifton compares their motives and worldview to cults, terrorists, and other militant ideologues, the common thread being their apocalyptic mindset. Lifton reconciles the religious apocalyptic views of Bush with the more secular and political apocalyptic views of those in his administration...and you finally realize that, although they're all coming at it from different angles, they're all equally willing and eager to destroy the world for the sake of glory.
Some of the most interesting parts come when Lifton talks about the ideas of "controlling history" and therefore controlling life and death. This explains the apocalyptic mindset of those who don't hold religions as the catalyst. This book is a very interesting, and I think accurate, frame through which to view current events. Criticism of the Bush administration is often dismissed as liberal, Democrat slander. This book was not written from any certain political perspective; it was written from a very humane, psychological perspective. The final diagnosis is less of a critique and more of a warning about the imminent threat posed by the current political status quo.
I was telling my sister about this book, and what I thought of it, and she said: "Isn't there a part of you that doesn't want to know these things?" It's an odd question, but understandable. This book is frightening. It forces the reader to consider that we may be in the grips of an apocalyptic cult which, beneath the public-friendly rhetoric about peace and freedom, is motivated by a need to destroy all evil, and all of the world, if necessary.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most important books published this year December 20, 2003
By A Customer
The man who wrote the terrifying book The Nazi Doctors puts the Bush and his adminstration on the couch! A startling and elegant book that analyses America's new apocalyptic mindset, in the context of 9-11, Bush's war on terror and the invasion of Iraq. It also complements Lifton's lifelong work on cults and extreme violence. This is a disturbing and provocative book. not quite the comfort food that many liberals and progressives seem to dine on these days; but this marvellous book also has hope in its heart.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent look at the Bush presidency August 22, 2004
from a different angle. In essence what Dr. Lifton does is to put the Bush administration on the psychiatrist's couch and probe into the psyche of Bush, his cronies, and like-minded ideological extremists. One conclusion that can be readily drawn is that psychologically there is minimal distinction between Bush and his neo-con and Christian extremist cronies and those extremists from other religious and ethnic groups (say, such as the Likudites and Osama bin Ladin & Al Qaida). Lifton does a decent job not only of describing in layman's terms the psychological underpinnings of these extremists, but goes on to show the destructive dynamic that often exists between competing groups of extremists. A must read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Relevance increases over time June 7, 2004
Dr. Lifton puts George W. Bush, his advisors and foreign policy on the psychoanalyst's couch, and what emerges is an unflattering, dangerous portrait. The combination of evangelical, fundamentalist Christianity and military action is hypocritical; I cannot understand bloodthirsty, xenophobic, war mongering, cutthroat capitalists who pray and sing the praises of Christ their saviour. Bush, Dr. Lifton states, is the first president who would not hesitate to employ nuclear strikes.

The author, a Harvard psychiatrist, envisions the U.S. as a beacon of peace, wisdom and dignity, and decries "bull in a china shop" diplomacy that only serves to exacerbate resentment. Bush has been a brilliant advocate for violence, somehow operating under the premise there is a finite number of terrorists - "evildoers". His consolidation of power in all three branches of government (legistative, executive, judiciary) is frightening, and diametrically opposed to how the Founding Fathers designed the Constitution. The latter recognized the potential for good and evil lies within the human psyche, not without: to Bush, "we are good, they are bad". Simplistic and Machiavellian; the end justifies the means. The us against them, black and white thinking prevalent has resulted in the horror (yes, civil war) that is Iraq today. The Middle East has been destabilized, and will likely further deteriorate; there is a history here, of which too many Americans (particularly those in power) are ignorant. It fascinates me that some Americans still believe Iraq was directly responsible for 9/11, that weapons of mass destruction are waiting to be discovered, and that Saddam Hussein harboured Al Qaeda terrorists.

Any extremism, whether Oriental or Occidental, must not be tolerated.
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