Losing Reality

On Cults, Cultism, and the Mindset of Political and Religious Zealotry

A definitive account of the psychology of zealotry, from a National Book Award winner and a leading authority on the nature of cults, political absolutism, and mind control

“One of the world’s foremost thinkers on why we humans do such awful things to each other.” —Bill Moyers

In this unique and timely volume, Robert Jay Lifton, the National Book Award–winning psychiatrist, historian, and public intellectual proposes a radical idea: that the psychological relationship between extremist political movements and fanatical religious cults may be much closer than anyone thought. Exploring the most extreme manifestations of human zealotry, Lifton highlights an array of leaders—from Mao to Hitler to the Japanese apocalyptic cult leader Shoko Asahara to Donald Trump—who have sought the control of human minds and the ownership of reality.

Lifton has spent decades exploring psychological extremism. His pioneering concept of the “Eight Deadly Sins” of ideological totalism—originally devised to identify
“brainwashing” (or “thought reform”) in political movements—has been widely quoted in writings about cults, and embraced by members and former members of
religious cults seeking to understand their experiences. In this book, Lifton weaves together some of his finest work with extensive new commentary to provide vital understanding of mental predators, their assaults on truth, and our efforts to regain reality.

Books by Robert Jay Lifton

The Climate Swerve
Reflections on Mind, Hope, and Survival

Robert Jay Lifton