1st Edition

On Guilt The Force Shaping Character, History, and Culture

By John Carroll Copyright 2020
    192 Pages
    by Routledge

    192 Pages
    by Routledge

    Guilt is the dark force behind haunting anxiety, obsessive-compulsive behaviour, life meaninglessness, and depression – a force to be kept in check. Yet guilt is equally our richest and most hidden resource, the essence of our humanness, and it drives us on to our highest achievements. Today, when individuals feel bad it is not usually because of something specific they have done. Rather, thundering around in the depths of their being is guilt: obscure, unconscious, yet irrepressible and ever-present. Where does it come from, what are its ways, and how might it be put to useful work?

    This book explores the nature of guilt, shedding light on how the modern West came increasingly to understand it as ‘the most terrible sickness’. It traces the psychological origins of guilt in each person’s family, and demonstrates the historical rise of guilt in parallel with civilization. It examines the modern predicament: the difficulty of finding explanations for guilt in a secular, post-church society – and the possibility of relief from its curse, while channelling it into a fulfilling life. As such it will appeal to those with interests in sociology, psychology, psychiatry, cultural studies, cultural history, and anthropology.

    1. The Sense of Guilt

    Part 1: What Is Guilt?

    2. Definitions

    3. Naive Culture

    4. Persecutory Guilt

    5. Depressive Guilt

    6. The Family Origins of Guilt

    Part 2: The Cultural History of Guilt

    7. England: 1350-1800

    8. The Causes of Increasing Guilt

    9. No Remission – the Death of God: 1800-1920

    10. Depressive Guilt Culture: 1920-1980

    11. A New Balance: 1980--

    12. The Metaphysics of Redemption


    John Carroll is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at La Trobe University, Australia, and Fellow of the Center for Cultural Sociology at Yale University, USA. His books include Land of The Golden Cities; The Existential Jesus; The Wreck of Western Culture: Humanism Revisited; The Western Dreaming; Ego and Soul: The Modern West in Search of Meaning; and Break-Out from the Crystal Palace. Metaphysical Sociology, a book on his work, was published in 2018. For more information on John Carroll visit www.johncarrollsociologist.wordpress.com.