Beyond Sacred Cows and Scapegoats: Displacement, Ideology, and the Future of Democracy *

By D'Agostino, Brian | The Journal of Psychohistory, Spring 2019 | Go to article overview

Beyond Sacred Cows and Scapegoats: Displacement, Ideology, and the Future of Democracy *


D'Agostino, Brian, The Journal of Psychohistory


On the one hand, I will argue, ideologies legitimize or delegitimize the power of kings, presidents, corporate CEOs and other public authority figures (Skinner, 2002). On the other hand, these same ideologies express unconscious complexes originating in our childhood experiences of our parents or care providers, our earliest encounter with authority and the template for how as adults we perceive public power holders (Lasswell, 2016; Milburn, Conrad et al 1995; Milburn and Conrad, 2016; D'Agostino, 2012; 2018).

That is a simplified, first approximation of my topic. Before getting into the complexities, let me mention my personal connection to this subject matter. I was born in 1954 and grew up in a conservative Catholic Republican family in the suburbs of New York City. Beginning in college, I spent several years in Jungian analysis, especially working through my relation-/ ship with my father, an authoritarian, Italian-born businessman. During this same time my political views transformed 180 degrees. I ended up doing doctoral research on the psychology of ideology, which was informed by introspection on my personal evolution including changing political beliefs. This paper is my latest in a series of writings on the psychology of ideology.

I. MONARCHY, CAPITALISM, AND LEGITIMATION IN WESTERN EUROPE, 1500-1918

Historian Paul Kennedy (1987) in The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers divides European history from the Sixteenth to the mid Twentieth Century into three periods, dominated first by Spain, then France, then Britain. It is convenient to use major wars as the dividing points between these periods. In 1648, the conclusion of the Thirty Years War marked roughly the end of the Spanish hegemony. France then dominated European affairs until losing the Seven Years War in 1763 to Britain, and the British hegemony waned after World War I, followed by "the American Century."1

A parallel development to these geopolitical phases was a series of ideological upheavals associated with royal absolutism, religion, and capitalism (Skinner, 1998; MacPherson, 2011). In earlier centuries, the consolidation of royal power in Europe had been legitimized by the Divine Right of Kings-an ideology deriving the authority of rulers from God, not from popular sovereignty. The Pope in Rome was the guarantor on earth of this divinely-based authority, so the Protestant challenge to Papal authority beginning in 1517 threatened the power of Europe's rulers. Spain pressed the counterattack on this new heresy in the Thirty Years War, but the Dutch Republic and other Protestant powers prevailed. The French crown, whose political rivalry with the Spanish Habsburgs proved more decisive than its allegiance to the Pope, sided with the Protestants and ensured their victory.

In Britain, as in the Netherlands, Protestantism as an ideological force coincided with the rise of capitalism and democracy (Weber, 2001). Calvinists, merchants, and republican (small "r") politicians were overlapping and allied groups in both societies. This coalition led the Dutch Revolt in 1568 and for eighty years fought the Spanish Hapsburgs for independence and republican self-rule. In the Seventeenth Century, this same religious-commercial-political coalition overthrew royal absolutism in Britain, establishing a parliamentary system in which real power was held by elected prime ministers, and the royal family became increasingly vestigial. In the Eighteenth Century, a similar coalition overthrew royal absolutism in France.2

By the time of the French Revolution, France had dominated continental Europe for over a century but had lost its struggle with Britain for world hegemony. The latter was decided by the Seven Years War, fought by mul- tinational coalitions in Europe, Asia, and North America. In this global conflict, religion was of little importance, compared with the central role it had played in the Thirty Years War. This time, the economic and geopolitical factors identified by Paul Kennedy came into clearer focus. …

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