Interview: Robert Jay Lifton on his intellectual influences

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Cartoon drawn by Robert Jay Lifton, published in Robert Jay Lifton, Birds: Words and Birds (New York: Random House, 1969)


In April 2014, Daniel Pick sat down with Robert Jay Lifton for a wide-ranging discussion about Prof. Lifton’s life and research. In this second installment from that interview, Prof. Lifton speaks about his intellectual influences, including his complex, sometimes critical, engagement with psychoanalysis.


In the video below, Prof. Lifton describes his training in psychiatry and psychoanalysis; the influence of his family on his politics and intellectual interests; his reading of Freud, Camus, Erik Erikson and other thinkers; and his distinctive method of using interviews in his psychohistorical studies. Throughout, he discusses the roles played by scientific experts, particularly the psy professions, in American government during the twentieth century. In the final minutes of this segment Lifton denounces the CIA’s use of medicalised torture in the War on Terror, recalling his influential critical essay in the 29 July 2004 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

The first installment, in which Lifton discusses his research on brainwashing and totalism, can be found here.

This interview was filmed by Doug Higginbotham, and edited by Ian Magor.