Is the State of Nature
C. FRED ALFORD
University of Maryland
Human beings make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.
—Karl Marx (1852/1978),
The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
The contribution of political psychology is immediately evident if we conceive of the past that Marx was talking about not in terms of objective history, but rather as a psychological past, going back to infancy, comprised of layers of experience that Freud compared to an archeological dig. Political psychology studies the influence of this psychological past on the present. In particular, political psychology studies how groups of people come to share a psychological past that they draw on to make a collective world. This world is no less real because we make it out of our hopes, dreams, fears, and desires. However, unless we understand where this world comes from— deep inside the minds of men and women who live in it—we will never be in a position to awaken from the nightmare that is (all too often) human history.
I came to political psychology from the study of the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory, particularly the work of Jürgen Habermas and Herbert Marcuse. The Frankfurt School emerged in the years before and after World