Joyce Milton: The Road to Malpsychia

Humanistic Psychology and Our Discontents

Encounter Books, 2002

Front and Back Flaps:

MiltonBy the early 1960s, at the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, social scientist Abraham Maslow was predicting that psychologists would soon seize control of values from religion and be able to create an ideal society made up of “self-actualized men and women.” This idea resonated powerfully with a generation increasingly suspicious of authority and drawn to radical individualism. Almost immediately, Maslow became the prophet of the new humanistic psychology movement. Its matriarchs were anthropologists Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict, with whom Maslow had studied. Its leading practitioner was Carl Rogers, the California human potential guru who used encounter groups to teach people to get in touch with the dark impulses of their “true selves.” And the marketer in chief was Maslow disciple Timothy Leary, who left Harvard once he saw LSD as a shortcut to the nirvana of total selfhood.

The Road to Malpsychia tells the story of the human potential movement’s long assault on American culture. Joyce Milton creates masterful portraits not only of Benedict and Mead, Maslow, Rogers and Leary, but also of Werner Erhard and the other movers and shakers of this movement. She shows how the hothouse ideas these individuals shared eventually trickled down into popular culture through organizations such as Synanon, est and Esalen. She also documents what happened when Maslow disciples Abbie Hoffman and Betty Friedan applied his teaching to political activism and feminism, and when educational theorists too eagerly adopted the principle that children must develop “intrinsic knowledge”, free from the “tyranny of facts”.
Impatient with human limitations, anxious to put the self at the center of the universe, the humanistic movement was momentarily triumphant. But the questing selves who joined the movement did not arrive at Eupsychia, Abraham Maslow’s ideal of a “fully human” selfhood. Rather, as Milton shows, they found themselves stranded in a culture of narcissism they themselves had built, speaking psychobabble instead of studying philosophy.
The Road to Malpsychia charts the rise and fall of one of the most significant cultural movements of our time. Filled with character and event, Joyce Milton’s story chronicles the failure of what Maslow once hailed as “the religion of human nature” and shows how today’s therapeutic culture is the human potential movement’s lasting heritage.
Back Cover:
“A critically astute and thoroughly fair account of the ideas and disheveled lives of the major theorists and ‘liberators’ who gave shape to the 1960s. Margaret Mead, Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow and Timothy Leary are not spared nor are we when Milton shows how their ideas and innovations are still reverberating ominously in our therapeutic culture.”  Dr. Sally Satel, author of PC, M.D.: How Political Correctness is Corrupting Medicine
About the Author:
Joyce Milton is the author of The Yellow Kids: Foreign Correspondents in the Heyday of Yellow Journalism, Loss of Eden: A Biography of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Tramp: The Life of Charlie Chaplin, and The First Partner: Hillary Rodham Clinton, and co-author of The Rosenberg File.

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All original writing and photography © Jan Olof Bengtsson

"A Self-realized being cannot help benefiting the world. His very existence is the highest good."
Ramana Maharshi