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 Cold War Psychohistory


Cold War Psychohistory in the Scottish Psyche 


Alastair McIntosh


A paper based on the presentation at the conference, Scotland’s Cold War Experience, Glasgow Caledonian University, 31 January 2003; published in the conference proceedings , Scotland and the Cold War, Cualann Press, Dumfermline, 2003, pp. 70-84.



The Inner Life of Conflict


It is customary to think of the Cold War as having been a post-World War II phenomenon, tersely strung between Stalin and Gorbachev. Whilst that may be so within a narrowly-defined system boundary, it is psychologically naive. To appreciate the wider and deeper perspective, we must inform our discourse with psychohistory - the emerging discipline that examines inter-relationships between “outer” or “factual” historical events and the “inner” and “mythic” psychodynamic processes of individuals and whole peoples. Without such a challenging approach, it is impossible adequately to address either the aetiology or the prognosis of Scotland’s ongoing Cold War.


Superficially, the Cold War was about an East-West standoff - communism versus capitalism conceived very much in 20th century terms. However, I want to suggest that, psychologically speaking, this was just a presenting symptom of a much larger syndrome of modernity; one deeply embedded in a need dualistically to draw a line and distinguish an in-group from an out-group. I have lost count of how many times I have heard senior military officers privately say, “When we joined the Services it was clear cut. The Russians were over there, we were over here, and our job was to keep it that way. But since the Berlin Wall came down, we’re not so sure where the line is drawn and for what we may be asked to fight.”


Post 9/11, that line has, in many minds, been reconsolidated. The enemy that was “communism” is now “terrorism”. “He” is now Arabic/Islamic rather than Red. He comes replete with a latter-day highly-personalised demonology of Bin Laden, Saddam and other Tarot-esque gamblers (or gambled with) on fate’s deck of cards. This transmogrification of one enemy into another was psychologically inevitable. The Berlin Wall came down in outer history, yet the inner structures that had sustained it remained in place. Those controlling power in the West spoke of the “Peace Dividend” outwardly, but overlooked the inner need to adjust to events. They failed to see the authoritarian mind’s need to see the world in simple, black and white terms, and if necessary to manufacture such seemingly-secure polarities to maintain group identity and purpose (Pennington, Gillen & Hill, 1999; Gromyko & Hellman, 1988).


In my experience, notwithstanding their interest in “psyops” (psychological operations), many of the military (and politicians) are considerably resistant to examining their own relationship to psychodynamics. Arguably, for some, and, perhaps, for these subcultures as a generalisation, it brings home too many unresolved issues from alienated and alienating early childhoods where, as has been widely biographically demonstrated with many key figures, strong team and leadership identity has seemingly emerged from a fractured primal integrity (Duffell 2000; Miller 1987; Gillegan 1997; McIntosh 2001). It is true that there has been recent CIA interest in the disturbed childhood psychodynamics of figures like Saddam Hussein, particularly through the work of Dr Jerrold Post (Borger 2002), but I have also heard the significance of this played down within the military, perhaps with some immediate tactical justification, as “lacking sufficiently reliable predictive power”. I wish to emphasise that, in drawing attention to the psychopathology of war, it is crucial not to overplay the hand and pathologise away real threat. My appeal to integrating psychodynamic insight with objectively factual history is not to deny the very real issues upon which conflict can be pegged – for example, the human rights record of the former Soviet Union, offensive military build-ups, Saddam’s gassing of the Kurds, the West’s greed for oil, a festering Israel/Palestine situation, Crusade interwoven with Jihad in the minds of militant fundamentalists on both sides, and so on. These realities are of great importance. Rather, I am highlighting the need to remember that consciousness is a function of outer perception and inner cognition. We must therefore try to “read” geopolitics with eyes less tinted by projections. Equally, we must learn, as one of the arts of peace, how to de-couple the other’s projections (and, in psychodynamic parlance, countertransferences) onto us. Achieving such mutually clear recognition between peoples and in their representatives is prerequisite to avoiding the continual generation of new enemies. Without such psychological awareness, any remaining Peace Dividend from the Cold War is doomed to improvidence, and perhaps catastrophically so.



Dynamics of the Split Psyche


My position is well summed up by the Indian Jesuit thinker, Anthony de Mello. “Do you know where wars come from?” he asks. “They come from projecting outside of us the conflict that is inside. Show me an individual in whom there is no inner self-conflict and I’ll show you an individual in whom there is no violence” (de Mello, 1992, 182).


Applying this to Cold War psychohistory means exploring beyond the geopolitical, military and economic presenting symptoms and examining possible applications of analytical (which is to say, Jungian) depth psychology. As a contemporary Jungian political thinker puts it, “What connects depth psychology and politics is a preoccupation with therapy. The analyst of complexes is preoccupied with the therapy of the individual; the analyst of politics is preoccupied with the therapy of the nation or society or the world” (Samuels, 1993, 30).


What, then, might be a framework for such analysis?


Whilst aspects of Freudian theory have been discredited in recent years, few would challenge Freud’s basic observation that conflict between inner needs and the outer socially-imposed “reality principle” may be reduced by a process of splitting off from ego-consciousness, and repression into the personal unconscious. “Go, go, go, said the bird,” in Eliot’s Four Quartets, “human kind/ Cannot bear very much reality.” In Freud’s understanding, civilisation emerges out of sublimated dissonance between the urge for pleasure, and the “reality principle” of social norms that constrain it (Freud 1991; Brown 1991).


Jung further developed this into what he called “complex psychology” – the psychology of the quasi-autonomous “complexes” that result from such splitting parts off from conscious awareness in such ways. He introduced the term, “complex”, (first used by Bleuler), or “feeling-toned complex”, to designate “groups of feeling-toned ideas in the unconscious” (Jacobi 1968, 36-39). A suitable analogy is an electromagnetic field, “toned”, or given distinctively tuned characteristics, by specific magnetic disturbances. Here, the “magnetic disturbances” are traumatic or uncomfortable emotional circumstances, and the “electromagnetic field” is the “libido” – the energy of the psyche. “Psyche”, in turn, can be defined as the totality of what it means to be a human being, “body, mind and soul”. In Jung’s view, psyche is ultimately interconnected with the rest of reality; with the totality of human and all other nature. He therefore surmised: “People who know nothing about nature are of course neurotic, for they are not adapted to reality” (Jung 1967, 190).


To Jung, then, ordinary psychic “dis-ease” or neurosis resulted from a defective adjustment to reality. It is as if the energy-charged complexes keep knocking on life’s door, reminding that not all is well within. More radical psychic disease - psychosis - arises when complexes don’t merely tap on the ego’s carefully controlled constructs of conscious life, but start to take it over. Jung saw war in these terms. He saw the Second World War as an outbreak of collective psychosis rooted in overly-rational modern humankind’s alienation from mythic and erotic expression.


Those unacceptable and denied parts which have been split off from the conscious life of the psyche contribute to what Jung called the “shadow” – Dr Jeckyll’s alter-ego in Mr Hyde. The problem is not that we all have psychological shadows. It is that when we deny the constellation of repressed complexes that make up our shadow, the psyche seems to have a peculiar talent for projecting it out into the world in ways that we don’t always realise. It is as if the hidden inner world shapes our outer perceptual and cognitive frameworks. Our capacity to see is constrained by what we are, and inasmuch as we don’t understand what we are, so much the worse for us and those around us. The “other”, who we demonise, may say more about ourselves than about them. It is as if we have an inclination to most hate in others that which has been hermetically compartmentalised and repressed with an inner violence within ourselves. Thus, for example, the gay-basher may be the upright and uptight pillar of the establishment who most fears his own latent homosexuality. The pacifist may be adept at passive-aggression, and so on. The individual least grounded in her own cultural identity may be the one who most yearns the acceptance of in-group solidarity by stirring hatred against out-groups – as with the woman who was convicted a few years ago for putting up anti-English “Settler Watch” notices in the Scottish Highlands, and was a German incomer!


Applied militarily, mechanisms of splitting, repression and projection force us to ask how far our fears of the other really are justified. How much does our perception of the misdeeds of the “enemy” differ from their perception of ours? Studies of the social psychology of prejudice and stereotyping demonstrate how very easy it is to cultivate a group dynamic of misrepresentation and hatred. Sometimes, this may be justified - there being good reason to fear the other. “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.” Other times, we may be adding fuel to the fire because we have perhaps justifiably erected outward defences, but failed to attend to our own inner constellation of forces that influences the assessment of threat. To invert the popular expression, “Just because they’re out to get you doesn’t mean you’re not paranoid.”


We can probably say that any situation where there is a clear-cut “us-and-them” dynamic, together with caricature to a mythological degree, is conducive of shadow projection. Both the Cold War, and the current War on Terrorism, unmistakably show these features. Saddam was a “monster”, no doubt, but as former Labour Party minister Dennis Healey said at the onset of the First Gulf War, “he’s a monster [in part] of our own making”. Add to this the power of stereotyping in group roles, and the hypnotic power of obedience to authority, and it becomes indisputable that very little stands between an otherwise nice person and the capacity severely to abuse others (Haney, Banks & Zimbardo 1973; Milgram 1974). Cold War “Reds under the beds” psychology is a disturbingly everyday psychopathology … and by the way … notice the revealing psychodynamic allusion in that expression – precisely why, we might ask, should it be our “beds” that the “Reds” ostensibly lurk “under”?


Splitting of the Psyche and Atoms


In psychological terms, then, the Cold War can be seen as a splitting of the entire world into a charged polarity. In its late-modern form, this took place in a context of Stalinist pogroms on the one hand, and McCarthyite fascism on the other. Each of these rendered the occupation of intellectual and ontological middle ground unsafe, thereby focussing energy at the extremes. Each sought total obedience to its own way of relating to reality and was, as such, both neurotic and totalitarian; in sum, like the iconic Dr Strangelove, they were psychotic. Each necessitated a psychic splitting and repression in the collective unconscious. It then took either enormous courage to refuse to conform, or self-breaking of the spirit to toe the party line and, in so doing, offend against inner integrity. When such a collective wounded self was projected back out onto the other, the consequences in military firepower were globally life-threatening.


The main presenting symptom of the Cold War was a conflict between the command economic paradigm, and the market economy. In both, economy is a proxy for power. The impact of this on human life ought not be underestimated. As Lady Thatcher put it in May 1988, “Economics are the method. The object is to change the soul” (in Roberts 2002, 300). The command-market polarity may therefore be seen as being about much more than how the groceries are delivered. Arguably, it parallels the axiomatic Freudian dichotomy between the pleasure and reality principles. To the Soviets (and, for that matter, the Chinese), the West was “decadent”. Equally, to the West, the Soviets were “Godless”, which amounts to much the same stereotypical projection. Each, at the extremes, saw the other as inhuman – mad and bad. Each system of political economy, inasmuch as they operated as systems of domination rather than of empowerment, were, in their own ways, unreal, inhumane and unsustainable. As such, the Cold War represented a contest over “civilisation” itself. Both sides equally feared the savage wildness that might break out if the walls of their particular worldview were breached: “… they were over there, we were over here, and our job was to keep it that way.”


Notwithstanding Europe’s decreasingly audible lipservice to a mixed economy, neither side could see an authentic third or middle way. It was not just the old-style Soviets who felt their peace troubled when the Berlin Wall came down. The entire East-West dysfunctional co-dependency became destabilised. Public attention had consternated itself with the energy that might be released from malevolently splitting the atom. Most did not realise that the whole show, actually, was constellated by the libidinal energy fission of a split in the collective psyche. Apartheid was not just a concept applicable to South Africa, and radiotoxicity penetrated the mind with omega emissions – intimations of end times, so to speak - beyond merely the physicist’s alpha, beta and gamma.



Scotland’s Cold War – Culloden to 9/11


In Scotland we have a peculiar saying about matters that we know to be of dysfunctional intergenerational cultural consequence. We’ll often say, “It all goes back to Culloden.”


The Battle of Culloden near Inverness in 1746 was, as can be testified by the many who recall it like yesterday, our “Road to Basra” experience of total military humiliation. It was the last battle ever staged on mainland British soil. It represented the final consolidation of the nascent British state in the wake of the Union of the Crowns (1603), and the massively unpopular Acts of Union (1707). These had the effect of forging England and Scotland into one “United Kingdom of Great Britain”. When, in 1745, Scots Jacobites under Prince Charles Edward Stuart rose up and marched on London, they were subsequently neutralised at Culloden (by forces drawn from both England and Scotland). Thereafter, with the British state internally secure against Scots alliances with the French, the British Empire was free to expand.  But what was the psychological cost of such imperialism?


Robert Burns, Scotland’s national bard, wrote his iconic two-verse Strathallan’s Lament in 1767, just twenty-one years after Culloden. In this poem he stands in the shoes of the 5th Viscount Strathallan, whose father had been slain by the battle’s vanquishing troops.


Burns portrays an old world order replaced by an emotionally vacant brave new world; one in which neither the wild beauty of nature nor the soft conviviality of human community (the “busy haunts of base mankind”) can any longer give solace. The young Strathallan’s very capacity for perception is altered. No longer can he see his world as before.


Thickest night, surround my dwelling!

            Howling tempests, o’er me rave!

Turbid torrents wintry-swelling,

            Roaring by my lonely cave!

Crystal streamlets gently flowing,

            Busy haunts of base mankind,

Western breezes softly blowing,

                        Suit not my distracted mind.


In the cause of Right engaged,

            Wrongs injurious to redress,

Honour’s war we strongly waged,

            But the heavens deny’d success.

Ruin’s wheel has driven o’er us;

                        Not a hope that dare attend,

The wide world is all before us,

            But a world without a friend.


                                    (in Mackay 1993, 287)


From a Scottish point of view, those last two lines arguably sum up the whole primal aetiology of the Cold War. As I have shown elsewhere (McIntosh 2001), Burns was not alone amongst his contemporaries in making this diagnosis. Neither is this the only Burnsian output to pinpoint such decisive cause. Indeed, probably the reason why Burns is our national bard is his capacity to minister so astutely to the soul of nationhood.


From Culloden onwards, Scotland was forced to adopt the role of adjutant in Empire. The landed and mercantile classes spawned a breed of “Enlightenment” or “imperial Scots” such as Adam Smith, and the perceived barbarism, once projected onto Gaelic Scots and Irish people as the alien “other” during the reign of James VI & I, became re-projected onto dark-skinned peoples in the colonies. The Scots psyche was left fissured by colonial violence. On the one hand, it championed imperialism; on the other, internationalism. For example, in ‘Exterminate all the Brutes’, the Swedish writer, Sven Lindqvist, notes that the founding figure behind “scientific racism” was an Edinburgh University professor of anatomy, Robert Hooke – also of Burke and Hare bodysnatching fame. In polar contrast, Lindqvist points out that it was another Scot, R. B. Cunninghame Graham, who became one of the few effective 19th century voices to urge the emancipation of colonised peoples (Lindqvist 2002; see also Fraser 2002).  On the one hand, then, Knox was teaching the inferiority of blacks and maintaining, “the only real right is physical force … laws are made to bind the week, to be broken by the strong.” On the other, Cunninghame Graham became Joseph Conrad’s closest friend and helped to inspire his Heart of Darkness analysis of colonialism; an analysis which, consistent with the psychology posited in this paper, suggested that “darkest Africa” is, in reality, a projection of the West’s own dark heart (Lindqvist 2002).


Set in the psychohistorical context, the Cold War is nothing new to Scotland. It is merely the ongoing desiccating blast of a “world without a friend”; a world that Scotland was pushed into, part-willingly, part-kicking, as the “divide and rule” tactic of British internal consolidation first split, and then yoked the opposites of so-called “Caledonian Antisyzgy”, into Scotland’s chariot as the Queen’s-owned first lieutenant of Empire. In the driving seat has been a “might is right” presumption of God-given “manifest destiny” to plunder a post-Edenic “fallen” world, first through overt global colonisation and now, with her one-time American scion, through globalisation’s market domination.


The supporting cast includes both modern weapons, and modern marketing techniques. Each explodes in consciousness with surgical precision, distorting perception as to what constitutes “right” or proportional relationship with one another and with the planet. Indeed, it is apposite to observe that marketing, as a discipline, only fully emerged after World War II. Mainly-American corporations feared losing the market share they had built up under a war economy. The “Depth Boys” school of motivational manipulation were employed by leading corporations to turn the therapeutic insights of Freud, Jung and Adler, linked to the behavioural psychology of Pavlov and Skinner, towards baiting emotional triggers that would “hook” into addictive, newly invented “needs” (Packard 1960; Sheth, Mittal & Newman 1999).


As Burns saw with a more compassionate eye, it set in process a Molochean “world without a friend”.


This is what makes it all so “cold”, and why it is a matter of “war”. This is why the Cold War neither started with Stalin, nor ended with Gorbachev; and why its aetiology and prognosis should be of the utmost concern to Scots and other sentient beings.



Towards a Cultural Psychotherapy


Today, post Berlin Wall, fresh geopolitical tension related to globalisation culminated in the World Trade Towers being the focus of the attacks of 9/11. As was to be expected, the Cold War has hotted up again, the dividing line re-projected as an “Axis of Evil”. We might note, in passing, the dualistic rhetoric from America that “if you’re not with us, you’re against us.” We might note, too, Donald Rumsfeld’s effort to polarise Europe into “Old” and “New”, and we might question whether America really thinks there is room in the world for the newly-minted Euro to rival the dollar as a potentially alternative petro currency.


We might further note that the Islamic world, following years of civic distortion by oil-bloated semi-puppet dictatorships left by former colonial powers, has become tinder-dry to reciprocate its own shadow projection onto the West. Furthermore, it has found a constellating righteous cause in the complex that has, since Biblical times, become the Israel-Palestine altercation. Meanwhile, Islamic economics, with its carefully thought-through critique of usury, happens to be one of the few significant intellectual challenges potentially capable of troubling advanced capitalism (Choudhury & Malik 1992; Visser & McIntosh 1998). Indeed, I have argued, elsewhere, that the Islamic critique of capitalism, because of its implications for Discounted Cash Flow investment appraisal methodology, may be one of the deepest fault lines in the psyche of our times (McIntosh 2004, at press).


Psychologically, it has been clear even from before the First Gulf War that we live in Tolkeinesque archetypal times. The world’s “dark lords” are dragging us all into a slow Armageddon as they play out “final showdowns” (and not just in the movies) between “good and evil”, emanating, arguably, in considerable measure, from schizoid splits in their own unexamined inner lives and class subcultures.


The real battle – the battle to become self-aware – the battle to expose and understand the “myth of redemptive violence” (Wink 1992) - is not as easy as sitting in an armchair setting off fire-and-forget weapons. If we want to live in a different world, we must start by getting real about the state we are in. We must get to grips with the repressed historical complexes that have been driving us to collective schizophrenia led by rather too many iceman psychopaths. We must consider the need for cultural psychotherapies.


In personal psychotherapy, an individual is helped to recover their repressed history, so that they understand how their being has been constructed, and perhaps distorted and stunted. A similar process maybe needs to happen with the soul of nations. We need to recover those parts of our shared national histories that have been kept off the curriculum, and see how they have shaped us as peoples.


This means understanding not only factual history, but also the story of the cultural soul. We can do this helped by such post-colonial writers as Paulo Freire, Alice Walker, Frantz Fanon, bel hooks, Gustavo Gutiérrez, Adrienne Rich, Ben Okri, Starhawk and Hugh MacDiarmid - yes, there are plenty of them, and that’s just for starters.


We need to create contexts to explore how we feel about our history and not just what we think of it. The arts are crucial in this. We need to recognise that there are parts of us, collectively, that have developed in distorted ways, parts that are stunted, and maybe some parts that have never developed at all. It’s about getting behind the emotionally frozen stiff upper lip, and beyond.


In Scotland, we have already been experimenting with this in reclaiming Highland Clearance history; exploring the emotionally cauterising knock-on effects of intergenerational trauma (Hunter 1995; Newton 2000; McIntosh 2001). The political consciousness raised by such popular education contributed hugely towards the passing in 2003 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act. We now need to extend such profound reflection to other areas of life and, especially, to our relationship with violence. We need to understand the processes of conflict recognition, reconciliation and forgiveness – as, for example, are pointed towards by South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and by a growing number of other instances where principles of non-violence have been applied to considerable positive political effect (Johnston & Sampson 1994; Wink 1992).


We can do this work all the more powerfully if we do it jointly with those we have misunderstood and hurt in the past – for example, with the Irish, with East Europeans, with people of colour, and with our Muslim sisters and brothers.


We can make such healing of nationhood part of creating an ethnically inclusive Scottish national identity – moving towards Scots internationalism in a co-operative “One World” ethos that gradually replaces the competitive paradigm of globalisation. And of course, what is said for Scotland here, and Scotland’s Cold War, could apply to many other nations – England and the US too.


We can embody this in our trade relations, such as buying organic and “Fair Trade” products where we can, and in generally seeking to live in accordance with social justice and environmental sustainability. After all, corporations are responsible for structural injustices only in part, because their greed is also the projection of our aggregated individual mindless consumerism and investment policies. We cannot apportion blame without looking into mirrors. True, we will be confused by tricks with mirrors, but that not excuse evasion from the imperative of facing up to reflections of our own dark shadows.


The wonderful and liberating irony of so doing, is that it is only possible in the light, and with eyes that have opened to seeing the light of interconnected human relationship. A wide world is, indeed, all before us. It need not remain devoid of friends.






Borger, Julian (2002), ‘Saddam, tell me about your mum’, The Guardian, 14 November, www.guardian.co.uk, consulted 2-8-03 (Nb. There is also a Journal of Psychohistory dedicated to this field – www.psychohistory.com - the articles in which seem to be of variable scholarly standard).


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Alastair McIntosh is a Quaker and Fellow of Edinburgh’s Centre for Human Ecology. He is the author of “Soil and Soul: People versus Corporate Power” – described by George Monbiot as “one of the most important books I have ever read”. Over the past 5 years he has guest-lectured to some 2,000 senior military officers in advanced training at the Joint Services Command & Staff College and has discussed the ethics of war with several of Britain’s most senior serving officers, including some of the key figures responsible for operations in Iraq. He also serves as an advisor to the head of the Economics Department of the Russian Academy of Sciences, as an advisor on combating Islamophobia to the imams of Glasgow Central Mosque, and as a consultant on mutuality and governance to the French co-operative bank, Groupe Crédit Mutuel.  He speaks and teaches at universities and with community groups around the world. Many of his publications are available online at www.AlastairMcIntosh.com .




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10 July 2003

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