Although it is hard to say he was much more than a sidereal figure: distant from the Society, unaffected by its pull.
Robert Mitchell Lindner was born 14 May 1914 in New York City to Charles Lindner and Sadie Schwartz. Both of his parents came from immigrant families, Charles’s from Austria and Sadie’s from Hungary. The family was Jewish. Charles manufactured labels, according to the 1920 census. Robert was the eldest son, soon joined by Manuel (born 1918) and Harold (born 1923). Robert went to Bucknell, where he received a B.A. in 1935. In 1937, he married Eleanor Johnson. At the time, he was a psychology graduate student at Cornell; he received his Ph.D. in 1938. Afterwards he worked for the state of New Jersey.
Lindner became fascinated by psychoanalysis—not unusual for a Jewish child from immigrant families living in New York. back in the 1960s, sociologist Charles Kadushin showed how ideas about and interest in psychoanalysis spread through New York City social circles, and attributes of those circles included being Jewish and connected to immigrant enclaves. He was a student of Theodore Reik. He also had an interest in hypnosis, which he would use in his practice.
He was busy during the late 1940s. He published another book “Stone Walls and Men” (1946), co-editing a third, “Contemporary Criminal Hygiene” (also 1946). He went to work for the Maryland Department of Correction and opened his own practice. He was involved in professional groups. And he volunteered for Progressive Citizens of America, which was behind Henry A. Wallace’s third-party run for the presidency in 1948. He and his wife Eleanor had three children.
Lindner came to public attention in the early 1950s. Through a series of books, articles, and lectures, he attacked the limitations of psychiatry and psychoanalysis. The book that won him Fortean plaudits was 1952’s “Prescription for Rebellion.” In it, he attacked the growing conformity of American culture—this was a common complaint at the time—and identified as psychology as one of the culprits smashing individuality: psychologists spent their time adjusting people to a sick culture. Psychoanalysis, as conceived by Freud and Jung, he said—this is debatable—was meant to free humans from shackles, liberate them. Instead, it was being used to subjugate them. The book was reviewed widely and won Lindner the friendship of Norman Mailer.
It is true that he continued to do what some commentators still see as sensitive case studies and investigations of psychoanalysis—he edited “Explorations in Psychoanalysis” (1953), a festschrift for Reik, and wrote “The Fifty-Minute Hour” (1955), comprised of five case studies—but he also continued blasting at his profession. He had an essay in McCall’s titled “Raise Your Child to Be a Rebel,” and gave a series of lectures for the Hacker Foundation. These became the basis of his 1956 book “Must You Conform?” In this latter work, he thought that the rise of conformity was an apocalyptic signal, leading inexorably to communism and the extinction of individuality. His social criticism was bombastic, hyperbolic, but even a number of his detractors admitted that there was a kernel of truth on what he was saying: everyone was worried over the plight of the individual as the 1940s gave way to the 1950s.
The friends he gathered around him were faithful. Mailer, Kenneth Wylie, author of “Generation of Vipers”—who had met Lindner during the war—and a few others came together in the mid-1950s to establish The Robert Lindner Foundation. By this time, Lindner had passed. He had been admitted to Johns Hopkins hospital in January 1956.
Robert Lindner died 27 February 1956, of an otherwise unspecified heart ailment. He was 41.
I do not know that Robert Lindner ever read Fort; I do not think that he ever sought out the Fortean Society. His career as a Fortean was almost entirely as an icon, a hero to the Society’s prime moving force, Tiffany Thayer. Like Norman Mailer, Thayer had been blown away by “Prescription for Rebellion.” He *liked* bombastic writing; liked brick-bats and stone throwing. He was sure that American culture was stultifying. Lindner’s left-libertarianism fit well with Thayer’s own political schemes. Thayer welcomed Lindner into the Society with wide-open arms.
Lindner’s first mention came in Doubt 41 (July 1953); Thayer compiled a column of Fortean triumphs, which included discussing Caresse Crosby, Ajax Carlson, J. T. Boulton, and Lindner. His praise was over-the-top, especially given that Thayer had only read Lindner’s latest book, “Prescription for Rebellion,” and nothing earlier:
“These triumphs for the Fortean philosophy, and the several others noticed elsewhere in this issue of DOUBT, add up to a pretty total of progress, but now our cup runneth over. Here is a fall of manna that will make you turn handsprings.
“It is a book—easily the most important book published since the Fort omnibus, transcending Korzybski—a MUST for every Fortean. It is PRESCRIPTION FOR REBELLION, by Robert Lindner. The author does not mention Fort or the Society, but he had put the very essence and epitome of Forteanism on paper, in a clear, succinct and imperative warning to the world that this is the way of life, the meaning of man, the purpose of existence and the only hope for civilization.”
Thayer had not even discovered the book on his own; another Fortean had sent it to him (MFS Wheeler, otherwise unknown to me). But he was excited. H went on to briefly run down Lindner’s qualifications, then gave a long quote from the book about the evils of conformity. He thought his society and Lindner’s were doing the same work. But Lindner was doing him one better, reaching an audience that Thayer never could. Lindner was going to save people from frontal lobotomies and make judges rethink their positions. “No fooling, here’s the physic that will make the Declaration of Independence *work*. Buy it! Buy two—send them out for Christmas cards.” The Society was selling the book for three-and-a-half bucks.
Lindner was chosen as Honorary Fortean Fellow for 1953, a position that went to anyone, member or not, and he agreed to it, making him—in Thayer’s nomenclature—Accepted Fortean Fellow. Notice of his book went out in the Society’s periodic book sale and so the word was spread among Fortean not just once, but repeatedly. In September, Thayer wrote Russell telling him who published “Prescription for Rebellion in England”—it was Victor Gollancz, who had published the English edition of Fort’s “Lo!,” in 1932—and offering to send him a copy if he could not find one himself. There must have been some correspondence between Lindner and the Society, which might shed a little light on what Lindner thought of Forteanism, if not Fort, but I have not found it, and it may not exist any longer.
Lindner became a touchstone in Thayer’s writings. Doubt 42 (October 1953)—the issue after the introduction—discussed him more under the title “Revolt!” Thayer again urged the readership to order one or more copies of the book. He quoted a paragraph by Bertrand Russell praising Lindner and nonconformity. He then went on to exhort protests against shock treatments and frontal lobotomies, tying this advocacy in with newspaper clippings: lobotomies on sixteen people in West Virginia and the expressed hope of some doctors that new forms of shock therapy would be even easier and more helpful.
The following issue, Doubt 43 (February 1954) brought Lindner up once more, under the title “Don’t Pick It.” He pointed to an article which showed the best outcomes for those psychiatric patients with the least intervention. He then went on to quote Lindner (and recommend his book), this from a later piece that attacked electroshock therapy. There was an extended riff on the superiority of using sound waves to using lobotomies; Dr. Karl Menninger saying that criminals are not all sick—but should have been adjusted when they first showed signs of not conforming; and another machine, the so-called toposcope, which was supposed to be able to identify criminal markers in children.
Art Castillo quoted him in Doubt 57 (July 1958). (Castillo’s contribution was along list of contributions which suggested American society was sick and required individuals to doubt their own sanity in order to survive.) He also may have contributed an item—which suggests at least a token connection to the Society. His name was in a long list of acknowledgments for Doubt 45 (July 1954). Again, it suggests possible correspondence between Lindner and the Society.
Enthusiasm for Lindner seemed to slow after 1954, perhaps because he focused on his other, less inflammatory, books, and then his last yawp was obscured by his death. Thayer, though, was badly affected by Lindner’s passing. Soon after he heard, he wrote to Russell, “So, now [Tom] Elsender follows Lindner to nowhere. I am very sorry to hear it. This past year has been particularly hard upon friends of mine. Ten or more have gone—with shocking suddenness.”
Thayer eulogized Lindner in Doubt 52 (May 1956). Aside from the brief mention by Castillo, it was the last time that Lindner would be referenced in Doubt:
“What malicious Fate is aiming her shafts at Baltimore? First, H. L. Mencken, then—in the same 24 hours—a fire that killed ten, and now our Accepted Fellow, Dr. Robert Lindner.
“Bob was only 41 years old, the father of three wonderful children by a wife who shared his outlook, his years of labor, his ideals and his all-too-brief success.
“Only last month his latest book was published, and we should be reviewing it with praise this issue, to help spread the dogma-shattering ideas he presents. Certainly this is no place for a book review or advertisement, but the contents of the volumes is [sic] the very essence of what Bob Lindner lived for, and so YS urges every member to read ‘Must You Conform?’
“The loss is too personal to be stated without emotion, but to the best of my judgment this is a blow to Forteanism and to the progress of rational thinking in the world. So young a man—with so much to say still unsaid. Here, if ever, that word ‘premature’ does truly apply to a man’s death.
“Even as we go to press comes word of a movement in Baltimore to establish a foundation in his honor for research in the special fields of his interests. By its very nature, the Fortean Society is precluded from participating in that movement, but our memorial to him will be in carrying on his own rebellion against his colleagues insofar as we are able.
“It was good to know you, Bob.”