Revitalizing Political Psychology: The Legacy of Harold D. Lasswell

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

Chapter 8
Conclusion: The Role of the
Political Psychiatrist

Lasswell presented positive models for leaders, citizens, and political discourse, but in focusing on the potential pitfalls of these models, most of his analysis centers on the pathologies that can undermine these models. Ultimate goals are neither rational nor irrational, but the concrete objectives that individuals set for themselves—and the strategies they choose to pursue them—may be irrational in terms of achieving the individual's interests, whether selfish or altruistic. Healthy political and policy discourse requires minimizing the irrational. If individuals act contrary to their own interests, the societal impact will often be destructive.

In light of Lasswell's pervasive emphasis on these pitfalls of psychopathology, human destructiveness, and the character deformations caused by deprivation and anxiety, one might be tempted to think of Lasswell as a Jeremiah. Yet, Harvard psychiatrist Miles Shore (2001) called Lasswell “one of the most hopeful and influential political scientists exploring ways in which [political science and psychiatry] might benefit one another” (p. 192).

What accounts for this positive, optimistic assessment of Lasswell as “hopeful”? Shore recognized that in identifying the deepest sources of unproductive, irresponsible, or undemocratic behavior, Lasswell held out the promise of being able to address and rectify these behaviors. He promised that the application of scientific approaches to political psychology would provide freedom from destructive compulsiveness and thereby from destructive behaviors (1951). However, the crucial questions are: How should these behaviors be addressed, and by whose authority? The answer hinges on the concept of self-insight, which is also a key to addressing the controversy over the use of the concept of the unconscious.

In this concluding chapter, we link Lasswell's fundamental diagnosis of political psychopathologies with his prescriptions for minimizing

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