Political Psychology

By Kristen Renwick Monroe | Go to book overview

5
Political Psychology: A Personal View
GEORGE E. MARCUS
Williams College

WHAT IS POLITICAL PSYCHOLOGY?

There are a number of ways to approach defining political psychology. For a very long time, humans have inquired about their nature, seeking to reconcile their political beliefs and aspirations with what they took to be their underlying essence. It has been a common presumption that whatever this essence is, and however it might be stretched by growth or stunted by deprivation, we must begin with a sound understanding of human psychology. Aristotle, Plato, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Descartes, Hume, Hobbes, Locke, and Madison are just some of the most obvious who began in this fashion.1 Speculations about the “state of nature, ” wherein the true, uncontaminated nature of humans would be revealed, abound in Western political philosophy.2 Additionally, “human nature” is taken to be at the heart of explaining how people, as organized in nations or communities, interact. When Herodotus and Thucydides wrote the earliest histories of the Greeks and of the wars that engaged them among the various city-states and between the

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1
For Aristotle, both The Politics (1983) and Rhetoric (1954); for Plato, The Republic is a good place to begin (1974); for Monstequieu, The Spirit of the Laws (1955); for Rousseau, On the Social Contract (1983); for Descartes, Discourse on Method and Meditations (1637/1960); for Hume, A Treatise on Human Nature (1739/1984); for Hobbes, Leviathan (1968); for Locke, The Second Treatise on Government (1689); and for Madison, all of the Federalist Papers he wrote, but especially, no. 10 (Madison, Hamilton, & Jay, 1961).
2
Though of course, it was always an effective rejoinder, that given by Aristotle, that our nature could only be fully revealed not in a state of nature but in the polis.

-95-

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