Earl Hopper

Dear and respected ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

it is my honour and pleasure to introduce Earl Hopper, our beloved mentor, to be awarded the Prix Irene 2016.

First of all, however, let me thank the members of the Prix Irene Committee who have made this wise election, and I wish to thank, too, those who are supporting our activity, namely Mr and Mrs Lažanský and the members of the Czech Society for Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy.

However, in the course of thanking, the first to be thanked is certainly Earl himself, for being who he is.

So, who is Earl Hopper?

As Malcolm Pines stated years ago: „…from the war in Vietnam to the war in Iraq – Earl Hopper has steadily evolved his theory of social, cultural and political cohesion and incohesion. He has also applied his idea to clinical practice with traumatized persons, including drug addicts, criminals, and sexual deviants, as well as survivors of massive social trauma. He has worked with traumatised organisations of various kinds, and has been an advisor to film directors and studios about the psychological and social dynamics of scripts and their production.“ 1)

According to respected authorities, Earl Hopper has for years been the most prominent personality in a special field of human sciences. It is only symptomatic that the science itself cannot be squeezed into one branded (označkovaný) simple set of boundaries. As an experienced psychoanalyst, sociologist, group analyst and analyst of organisations Earl is not to be named or defined by a single science – but the multidimensional science/discipline is to be defined by Earl Hopper. He will be seen as its founder.

Earl’s intense work on the matter of social unconscious has been expressed in his formulation of his Fourth Basic Assumption theory. As Yvonne Agazarian says: „Earl’s addition of a Fourth Basic Assumption to Bion’s work is a seminal contribution to the field, and is perhaps the first coherent presentation of a theoretical background that addresses the universal annihilation dynamic that is present in every human being…. he recognizes these basic dynamics as isomorphic to all levels of systems in the hierarchy of persons, groups, organizations and nations. His gift is an additional and valuable Sociologist’s perspective which is often missing in Psychology“ 2).

Earl Hopper’s theory of the Fourth Basic Assumption elucidates the conditions of human misfortune, and of the decline of human group and its violent regression, to a developmentally lower level of organisation.

Such a decline of the human group to a developmentally lower level is manifested in the phenomenon of polarization: the group social field which was originally multigonal is simplified, and degenerates into the bi-polar one, usually expressed as „We“ against „They“. Then those „They“ are drained step by step of their human nature/substance and finally deprived of their human


existence. This tragic transformation of the human group had been experienced by those who had to live through any totalitarian regime. However, the phenomenon discovered and described by Earl Hopper – the decline of the human group – appears, too, in many pre-totalitarian situations such as bullying, some political campaigns, etc.

According to Earl Hopper, the decline of the human group organization is likely to appear after the group has suffered a traumatic experience and especially when this experience was not properly made conscious, was not mourned and was not transformed into post-traumatic growth. In such a negative case the group tends unconsciously to return to its unfinished business and to fall into the trap of trauma repetition, of traumatophilia.

Thanks to this theoretical background it is possible to understand many situations of world history as well as from citizens‘ daily life and from family tales. A good basis for wise civic behaviour and for clever political decisions is thus made available. And then – what other scientific discovery is able to provide such useful guidance?

Earl Hopper stands out for most of us as a great intellect. We are in awe of how his brain works to conceptualize and understand theory: the social unconscious, the fourth basic assumption. However, there is the other part of him 3) – his practical behaviour as a citizen. Both his parts – his scientific achievements and his practical peace-making deeds – are of outstandingly high importance. Apart from having made more than 250 presentations all over the world, of having chaired for years the most important scientific institutions and of inspiring other scientists to join his creative publishing activity Earl Hopper, too, appears as a man of action when necessary. After 9/11, after that terrorist attack without precedent, he came hurrying from England to New York to help in any way he could. In Israel in 2006, on the heels of the 2nd Intifada he helped Israeli colleagues to organize The Imagine Conference to bring Arabs and Israelis together for dialogue. Just like Irene Bloomfield in Prague long ago, he has been coming all these years, repeatedly to Prague, to bring and discuss new scientific achievements and to help to integrate our way of thinking into the larger scope of the western intellectual space. In his lectures he has been naturally using his scientific capacity together with his social understanding of human conditions to analyse the here and now, the catastrophic events of our contemporary daily life, and to integrate these events into the system of his thinking and understanding.

Dear colleagues, can how such an interesting intellectual and moral personality be born? As a psychotherapist I have been listening to various stories of human misfortune for decades and I feel so relieved when I meet with an endowed fate. It feels like a good nurture for my soul.

Then what circumstances may influence such a personal growth ?

Let us try to collect information.


Let us start with the symptomatic small story of a four year old boy 3): Earl’s father had to go off to battle in W.W.II, and while saying good-bye the father said to his little son: „you are the man of the house, now; take good care of your mom, aunt and little brother“. What a statement for the future psychoanalyst to hear! What a fortunate sort of oedipal victory! Even Sigmund Freud might have been envious.

Actually, Earl’s personal history is distanced from us by space and by respect, too, but

some important moments were presented to us by Earl himself, while he was lecturing at our conference „Trauma and home“ in 2014.

We were invited to imagine a little boy born in the United States, in St Louis, where the rivers Mississippi and Missouri meet – and the association of lucky boyhood may emerge, of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Our little boy’s story, however, was a special one. Earl mentions his mother aged 23 and having just given birth to her firstborn – a big, greedy, demanding baby – Earl himself. Being afraid of her future possible infertility she soon had several more pregnancies followed by miscarriages before her firstborn was one year old. Then, soon later, her second son followed. Her firstborn then might feel dislocated from her fragile body and from her overanxious mind, which is the way how the adult analyst sees his primal time. However, the first-born boy was encompassed with the loving care of aunts and of two girl cousins and of three black servants… He was even lovingly cared for by his own personal nanny. And she used to take him – the Jewish boy – to the Catholic church every Sunday (already a well proved way, as we know, to develop a psychoanalytic founding father). Thus in his tender years the young boy was deprived of the unique care of his mother but was rewarded and lavished with intimate affection of the whole tribe of females. This was the situation which Earl later coined as the group-mother. Shall we thus guess that his interest in groups and his idea of group-mind was conceived in his tender years?

Soon the young boy was entrusted into the care of his grandparents. Now we can see the little boy, rocked on his grandfather’s knees while his grandmother is playing with his small hands and is feeding him with baked potatoes and butter. The tender scene is sheltered by the roof of their delicatessen shop and its story seems typical, too: the grandfather arrived in the US from Poland as a Jewish Socialist, tried to become a Yiddish publisher and the shop he started was originally the bookstore. Grandpa’s store became a place for discussions and in the intermissions of the debates, Grandma used to sell delicatessen. Later Grandpa went bankrupt as a publisher and the store turned into a prosperous delicatessen shop.

For the young boy this was the time when two mighty items met: food and culture, civic affairs. From time to time his mother took him to a special shop for hamburger and sweets. Once the shop, as Earl remembers, was full of


black people who were sitting, silently and en masse, on their seats, showing their wish to be served the same way as the white people. The image still was saved in the public memory, of black slaves being sold on the steps of the court. Earl remembers his feeling of identification with those protesters, in their passive disobedience. Later he became involved in civic affairs , as did his two younger brothers.

While his experiences of his tender age inspired his idea of the group mother, his later childhood, as Earl says, inspired two other major items, food and civic affairs, culture.

Thus we can imagine a boy who from the beginning of his life was exposed to demanding situations; he had to suffer relative maternal deprivation but at the same time he was able to accept love and care from other rich and genuine intimate resources; then, from his young age he was watching the difficulties in human relations but he learned, too, from the best examples in his family, how to overcome. He was well trained through his childhood to meet difficulties and to overcome them and he was lucky enough to win. And he was lucky, too, that there was not any really bloody threat to his world which, in other times, may defeat/break even strong people.

While remembering his primary experiences Earl mentioned, too, his basic theoretical standpoints: it is not the body but the human relation which is at the heart of the human condition and thus the main problem may be failed dependency, helplesness. And trauma may appear in several modes, as strain/stress trauma, or cumulative trauma, or catastrophic trauma.

It seemed that in his lecture Earl Hopper let his Prague audience learn the basic components of his theory as well as the basic events of his life.

However, Earl did not mean that his notes should just spread his biography. He offered his intimate memoirs to his Czech audience, to us, as he wanted to inspire us to join him, to become more open, more brave, more independent, more assertive, while expressing ourselves in front of the group. In the discussion after his lecture some individual group members did reveal themselves more, while telling their stories. Thus Earl indeed initiated an instant treatment of the group on the spot. What was still left to be mastered in group and public discussion was the direct assertive truthful dialogue of the here and now.

This is, anyway, the common item of our public life at large – the need to cultivate public dialogue more, to cultivate the art of truthful independent words. This phenomenon of missing dialogue is easily understood with the help of Earl’s theory of the Fourth Basic Assumption. His theory makes us conscious of our own collective anamnesis – while his personal story provides us with hope, awakes in us the wish to follow him, and to join his optimistic and realistic insight into the human matters.

In my opinion it will be we in Prague who will be honoured by Earl


Hopper’s acceptance of our Prix Irene. There is an old Jewish proverb: the receiver provides the giver with a bigger pleasure then the giver provides for the receiver.

Once more just simply: it is our greatest pleasure and honour when Earl Hopper will accept our modest Prix Irene.


  1. Malcolm Pines:Foreword, in: Traumatic Experinece in the Unconscious Life of Groups, by Earl Hopper, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2003
  2. Yvonne Agazarian
  3. Elaine Cooper

According Priscilla F.Kauf „His background in sociology has generated a broad and unique horizon which has dictated the impressive scope of his interests. It is reflected in his expertise in areas such as addiction, every kind of group including large groups, primitive group dynamics, and the consequences of trauma upon groups ranging from small therapy groups to societies. More recently his work on the social unconscious has provided a common language for group therapists world wide…“ 1).