Revitalizing Political Psychology: The Legacy of Harold D. Lasswell

By William Ascher; Barbara Hirschfelder-Ascher | Go to book overview

Preface

This book grew out of two concerns. First, for the past quarter century political psychology has largely neglected the roles of affect, psychological needs, and the psychodynamic mechanisms that are crucial for understanding the full complexity of political behavior. Second, the connections between political psychology and the study of public policy seem increasingly tenuous. With notable exceptions, political psychology has focused predominantly on explaining individual or collective political behavior rather than trying to guide policy decisions that would be greatly aided by insights about how people react to symbols, how psychological needs shape their perspectives and predispositions, and how crises can undermine the defenses against destructive behaviors. These dimensions can be recaptured by explaining, defending, and extending the contributions of Harold D. Lasswell, who was unquestionably the dominant figure in developing political psychology in mid-2Oth-century America. Trained in the fields of pragmatist social science in America and psychoanalysis in Europe, Lasswell was the foremost figure in applying psychodynamic theories to politics. His framework and theories provide the best grounding for revitalizing political psychology. Yet, his framework also accommodates cognitive processes and social interactions ranging from communications (his model is still a prominent paradigm in journalism schools) to the policymaking process (his social process model is the heart of the policy sciences framework). This enables Lasswell's contributions, if properly understood, to resist the rejection of psychodynamic theories that has hampered contemporary political psychology.

In one respect, Lasswell's work is experiencing a renaissance, as witnessed by the republication of 10 of his books since 1990 as well as numerous articles, the posthumous publication of his 1,600-page magnum opus, Jurisprudence for a Free Society (1992), and the establishment of the Society for the Policy Sciences to further the applications of the Lasswellian framework. At least four organizations offer Harold D. Lasswell prizes: the American Political Science Association, the International Society for Political Psychology, the Policy Studies Organization, and the Society for the Policy Sciences. However, as Eulau and Zlomke (1999) pointed out, many who invoke Lasswell do so rather superficially. The use

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