4 Pages


Religio-ideological totalism entails an absolute division of humanity into dual categories such as saved/damned, human/subhuman, godly/demonic, etc. Totalistic ‘cults’ are not necessarily violent, but the psychology of totalism does feature an impulse to validate an absolute worldview by confronting demonized exemplars of evil as contrast symbols. Such confrontations can become violent under certain circumstances, which may include totalistic persecution by the anticult movement. As Robert Lifton has noted, ‘Totalism begets Totalism’, and anticult confrontations of totalistic movements may themselves take a totalistic and hence persecutory form. Lifton specifies the totalism begets totalism principle somewhat cryptically, and does not articulate either its theoretical or its practical implications in any detail: a defect which we attempt to remedy in this article. We discuss research which documents a cycle of increasing totalization of both the group and the counter-group response, which may escalate out of control to the point that it triggers a violent dénouement. We also develop a model of the interactively totalistic nature of both cult and anticult ideologies and activities which highlights both the psychological concept of projective identification and the sociological concepts of deviance amplification and conflict/interaction. In our discussion of this model we describe projective identification and these sociological concepts as complementary rather than competitive explanations, at different levels of description, of the ‘totalism begets totalism’ principle. We discuss this model in relation to a variety of research studies on millenarian religious and political movements, including two very different North American governmental reports which were apprehensive of millennial violence in 2000.