Rank and Russia

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In the ’30s and ’40s, when the world was young and naive, Freud and his fellow psychotherapists had legions of followers. Theories of human behavior flourished like mosquitoes on summer nights. If we could just find its causal factors, human behavior would be as predictable as hydrogen and oxygen producing water.

One mainstream theory said the personality was structured by birth trauma – tough birth, tough individual. A psychiatrist, Otto Rank, popularized this theory.

I thought of this hypothesis the other day as I read “The Last Tsar,” by Edvard Radzinsky: the story of modern Russia’s birth and the assassination of the imperial family. The Marxists mowed down the tsar, his relations, and his retainers – Al Capone style. No trial, no constitutional or legal protocol. Just shot the whole shebang. And millions more. What kind of state could come from such origins? By comparison the French Revolution was namby-pamby.

Rank would have loved it. It would have bolstered his theory that organizations, like individuals, take on the coloration of their birth. Here was the metaphorical spawn of a gangster nation – a bold philosophical proof of his theory. Almost a century later repression still rules in Russia: poisonings, media suppression, absence of legal justice.

One of the more amusing, less gory, Soviet slogans of the day was “let us drive mankind to happiness with an iron hand.” Has anything changed between Moscow and Vladivostok?

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