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Róheim, G. (1943). The Illusion of National Character: By Hamilton Fyfe. London: C. A. Watts and Co., Ltd., 1940. 274 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 12:281-282.

(1943). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 12:281-282

The Illusion of National Character: By Hamilton Fyfe. London: C. A. Watts and Co., Ltd., 1940. 274 pp.

Review by:
Géza Róheim

National character is an illusion fostered by the self-seeking rulers of nations and their immediate following. 'Dictators always play up the national idea—for the reason that it can find easy lodgment and a welcome in those least developed minds which are everywhere in the majority' (p. 73). 'Despots have in all ages claimed for their machinery of suppression an importance far above that of the people suppressed' (p. 14). The author brings historical evidence to prove his thesis that what we call a nation's character, its assumed likes and dislikes, changes very rapidly and is really, even while it lasts, more a fantasy fostered by literature than a fact. People as such have no ambitions; it is always the governments only that want 'places in the sun'. The author believes that the first appearance in history of the idea of a national character is to be found in the Old Testament. This, however, is an exaggeration, for at least the idea that every nation believes it is better than its neighbors is as old as mankind. Greeks and Romans certainly regarded themselves as innately superior to others. The author believes that the idea of 'the country' came to birth about the middle of the eighteenth century and was due to the growing size and importance of the wealthy middle classes (p. 166). Chapter VII, How the English Have Changed, shows that John Bull represents merely the fantasy of an epoch but in no way corresponds to what the average Englishman is really like.

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