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Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of 'brainwashing' in China Paperback – July 31, 1989
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Lifton has written a book with the rare virtue of being at once a rich source of information vital to international relations, and an interesting exploration of several aspects of ideology and identity.--Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease
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The concept "brainwashing" first came into public use during the Korean War in the 1950s as an explanation for why a few American GIs defected to the Communists. The two most authoritative studies of the Korean War defections (and this book was one of them) concluded that "brainwashing" was an inappropriate concept to account for this renunciation of U.S. citizenship. When several new religious came into high profile during the youth counter-culture of the 1960s and 70s the concept "brainwashing" was again employed as a culturally acceptable explanation to account for the fact that some idealistic "flower children" came under the influence of "cult" leaders. A quarter-of-a-century of scholarly research on why people join new religions has come to essentially the same conclusion as the Korean War studies -- "brainwashing" is not a viable concept to describe the dynamics of affiliation with new religions. Defenders of "brainwashing" have used other concepts like "mind control" and "thought reform," but they have failed to produce a scholarly literature to support their claims. Thus, whatever euphemisms may be employed, the basic conclusion against the brainwashing thesis is not altered. Still, the mass media continues to report claims of "brainwashing" as if the alleged phenomenon were real. And, as a result, the concept "brainwashing" sustains considerable currency in popular culture. It is, to be sure, a powerful metaphor.Read more ›
Lifton's principal shortcoming is the overarching psychotherapeutic interpretations, which sometimes stretch the imagination.
Lifton's book is often misunderstood and misrepresented as a polemic against 'brainwashing' and religious 'cultism'. 'Brainwashing' usually means the hypnotic manipulation of one's thoughts forcing someone to change their beliefs counter to their awareness or conscious will; Lifton denies emphatically that this happened in China or that it can happen. It appears that many who cite his work (and some of the reviewers here) have never read the book, other than through excerpts and summaries.
Lifton himself admits that 'brainwashing' is a misnomer; he denies that 're-education' was effective or that it converted people against their will. Furthermore, he argues that the principal difference between Chinese methods of thought-reform and normal, usual persuasion is the Chinese use of physical violence and imprisonment.
Lifton never intended for his book to be used by the anti-cult industry to attack religious non-orthodoxy and constitutionally guaranteed religious expression.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Still the formative work on thought reform. This should be required reading for every freshman college student and every conscientious citizen of the world. Read morePublished 10 months ago by Amazon Customer
I Used Lifton's book and his concept of Totalism to write my Master's thesis. I highly recommend if you are interested in "cult" mindset, group think, or brainwashing.Published 21 months ago by Anastasia E
Lifton relates his fine research of mostly Westerners caught up in Maoist China's thought reform camps of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Read morePublished 23 months ago by Renée
Growing up one of Jehovah's Witnesses, some of what Lifton describes in this book I have definitely seen and it really rang true for me. Read morePublished on December 24, 2013 by Amazon Customer
There is no higher praise I can offer Robert Jay Lifton than this: his 50 year old book which deconstructs the mechanisms of Chinese Communist "re-education" efforts remains, to... Read morePublished on August 3, 2013 by Gregory J. Jemsek, author
This book is filled with scary truth about totalism. It was heart
wrenching to read, and I wish more people were reading it.
Lifton helps us to see how Mind control is being use even in our day. If you look at how even at the highest levels of Government we are being manipulated with Mind control you... Read morePublished on February 16, 2013 by Tomcat
Many who have written reviews here obviously are in a defensive stance in regard to some personal feelings about new religions. Read morePublished on September 24, 2011 by gary32