chapter  9
Myth, History, and Morality
Pages 25

The publication in 1986 of William McNeill’s Mythistory and Other Essays rekindled interest in the notion of public myths and their social impacts. Myths, according to McNeill, are publicly held beliefs that unite peoples, comfort them by alleviating uncertainties, and mobilize them to act. They are “general statements about the world and its parts . . . that are believed to be true and then acted on whenever circumstances suggest or require common response.” Myths, McNeill notes, are “mankind’s substitute for instinct.” Without them, “coherent public action becomes very difficult to improvise or sustain.”1