The Psychology of Prejudice and the Morale of Minority Groups
Among the most glaring examples of how depraved public opinion could actually be, and therefore how much in need of expert management, was "intergroup conflict." The urgency of lessening racial tensions on the home front and in the military, and explaining Nazi racial ideology, drew the attention of psychological experts to this field and sparked an interest in the psychology of prejudice which would flourish in the postwar decades. World War II made racial and ethnic intolerance appear to be something rather more than an embarrassing blight on a democratic polity. As a manifestation of irrational psychological forces that found an outlet for personal frustration and aggression in scapegoating, racism was understood to be "unquestionably the weakest spot in our national character" and "a moral cancer that must be controlled before it kills." A broad and explicit consensus developed that prejudice was a fundamental source of war and a threat to democracy. Its eradication was identified with respect for the personality, peace, mental health, and with psychological expertise itself.
Anti-Semitism emerged as the first concern not only because Nazi ideology promoted it but because morale-destroying rumors in the United States frequently featured Jews. Gordon Allport, among the many psychologists whose enduring theoretical interests in prejudice were rooted in the all-too-real turmoil of the wartime climate, succeeded in establishing a "rumor clinic" in the Boston Traveler. Initially activated in order to control and counter anti-Semitic accusations—that, for example, Jews were avoiding the draft through undue financial influence—the clinic became a much-imitated model in papers all over the country.
As in so many other areas, World War II-era perspectives on anti-Semitism had been anticipated in the work of Harold Lasswell. In 1933 he argued that Hitler's appeal was a product of deep emotional insecurities. Nazi ideology was viable only because the German national per-
sonality structure was vulnerable to vengeful appeals. When he wrote that "emotional insecurities are reduced by hating scapegoats and adoring heroes," and "politics is a form of social therapy for potential suicides," Lasswell was fueling an analytic style which came to full flower during and after World War II: understanding political ideas (at least hostile ones) in largely psychological terms and addressing social developments with tools designed for individual psychological diagnosis and treatment. By the early 1940s, social psychological perspectives on the character structure and irrational basis of fascism had been aired in the work of Wilhelm Reich, Erich Fromm, and others. Drawing on an eclectic mixture of psychoanalytic and Marxist theory, sociological concern, and historical attention to detail, the approach Lasswell advocated was widely known and used by psychologists and various other social scientists who would play key roles in wartime work.
Concentration camp studies dramatically confirmed that these most horrifying institutional products of German anti-Semitism were indeed built on deficits in the German national character. Further, they had a profoundly and explicitly psychological purpose: to systematically destroy the integrity of individual personalities. Bruno Bettelheim, who had just received his Ph.D. in philosophy and psychology at the University of Vienna when he was sent to Dachau and Buchenwald, wrote about the emotional realities of camp life in his famous article "Individual and Mass Behavior in Extreme Situations." It spoke eloquently of the author's desire for survival and furthered the tendency to generalize, in broad cultural and political terms, from the experience of personal dehumanization. "It seems that what happens in an extreme fashion to the prisoners who spend several years in the concentration camp happens in less exaggerated form to the inhabitants of the big concentration camp called greater Germany. " Not surprisingly, many who were moved by Bettelheim's analysis arrived at the logical conclusion that some sort of mass psychological treatment was the most appropriate response to German political history, and clinically oriented plans for postwar reeducation programs throughout Europe, to be designed and administered by psychological experts, proliferated. Reeducation would do well to treat national personalities as if they were schizophrenic, according to this line of thought, or at least symptomatic of "the postwar sickness."
The high-water mark in the analysis of anti-Semitism came with the groundbreaking The Authoritarian Personality, which inspired a virtual flood of follow-up studies. The book was a product of the Frankfurt
school, a group of left-wing theorists (including Erich Fromm, Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, and Herbert Marcuse) whose trademark "critical theory" combined an abstract, philosophical Marxism with a deep interest in psychoanalysis and contemporary culture. Members of the Frankfurt school began their collective project in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1923, prior to Hitler's rise, and, because many were Jews as well as Marxists, continued their work in exile. After the war, Adorno and Horkheimer returned to Germany to reestablish the Institute for Social Research, but many of the others remained to make their names in the postwar United States.
Although not published in comprehensive book form until 1950, The Authoritarian Personality was a direct outgrowth of wartime insight into the emotional role authority played in enemy national characters. (Psychological warfare designed on the model of national character has already been described in the cases of the Psychological Warfare Division [PWD] of SHAEF [Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force] and the Foreign Morale Analysis Division [FMAD] of the Office of War Information [OWI].) Research funds made available, largely by Jewish organizations, for wartime studies of the psychology of prejudice were also central in the evolution of The Authoritarian Personality. A significant number of preliminary research reports, as well as articles on various aspects of morale, were published during the war years by authors Theodor Adorno, Else Frenkel-Brunswik, Daniel Levinson, and R. Nevitt Sanford. They generally shared the national character orientation of other World War II experts and were motivated, at least initially, by the desire to explain Hitler's success in Germany as well as the rise of Fascist ideologies in general.
The book reported the results of an ambitious questionnaire given to subjects ranging from college students to mental patients, prisoners, union members, and veterans. The questionnaire included (1) factual items (such as income, church membership, and political party affiliations); (2) scales designed to elicit shades of agreement or disagreement with a series of statements about anti-Semitism, ethnocentrism, and political ideology; (3) deliberately ambiguous, open-ended questions which encouraged wide-ranging emotional responses in need of interpretation, such as "What would you do if you had only six months to live, and could do anything you wanted?" In addition to this written survey, psychological experts conducted numerous clinical interviews with and administered projective psychological tests (such as the Thematic Apperception Test, or TAT) to a sample of the respondents.
At the end of their study, the investigators advanced the psychoanalytically informed theory that authoritarian political regimes were built on the deep, unconscious structure of individual personalities so rigidly patterned that they were susceptible to irrational manipulation by ruthless demagogues. Democratic personalities, on the other hand, featured far less uniformity than authoritarian ones and were more likely to incorporate values like rationality and tolerance, precisely those traits that Mead and Allport had so hopefully associated with domestic national character, and which were firmly tied to the self-images of psychological experts themselves.
Conveniently, the authors offered a practical method of measuring individuals' psychopolitical inclinations: the F scale. The scale and the theory that "personality may be regarded as a determinant of ideological preferences" appealed to World War II-era experts and made deep impressions on diverse schools of psychological theory and far-flung areas of behavioral research.The Authoritarian Personality, consequently, illustrated the general acceptance of those trends pioneered by Lasswell's work before World War II, especially the equation of politics and psychology and the convergence of personal and social analysis.
The fact that the research for The Authoritarian Personality was conducted entirely in the United States, however, raised some new and distinctly uncomfortable questions. By drawing psychologists' attention to the fact that authoritarian personalities were not an exclusively foreign phenomenon, and pointing out that plenty of them flourished uncomfortably close to home, the study painted a disturbing portrait of a potential American fascism, based on rigidly conventional and anxiously dependent personalities who were frightened of difference and change. If authoritarianism were a possibility contained within many apparently ordinary personalities, and if prejudice were a latent tendency that could be activated with a little push from the demagogue of the moment, then surely what happened in Nazi Germany could happen in the United States. This catastrophic possibility, brought to life by racial strife on the home front, made the psychology of prejudice a high priority for psychological experts long after the war was over.
Anti-Semitism was not the only focus of wartime work on the psychology of prejudice. Deadly race riots in Detroit, Los Angeles, and other cities in the summer of 1943 (not to mention the internment of Japanese-Americans) were concrete proof of the explosive tensions that characterized relations between African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, and the majority of whites. If anything, they illustrated that
anti-Semitism was only the tip of the iceberg, and that antiblack prejudice was even more socially acceptable and widely expressed. Attempts to analyze home front riots offer a useful illustration of how wartime efforts to comprehend German mass psychology migrated back across the Atlantic and were quickly applied to domestic developments precisely because psychological experts understood that victory abroad and stability at home were intimately, and psychologically, connected. The OWI's Bureau of Overseas Intelligence, for example, conducted a series of secret studies of black civilian morale and attitudes and concluded that policies aimed at reducing racial frustrations in both civilian and military life would be strategic steps toward military victory.
That violent tensions at home were a threat to the prosecution of world war was really no secret to anyone though. Two analysts, Alfred McClung Lee and Norman Daymond Humphrey, described the 1943 Detroit riot as a "hysterical attack upon democracy and American morale" and asked "How can we keep America from dividing itself more and more with walls of intolerance into increasingly warring camps—into a psychologically Balkanized country?" Maintaining the morale of minority groups may have been precarious, but it was essential.
Because psychological experts understood that segregation, employment, and criminal justice practices could tip the balance of the war effort, they took it upon themselves to advise and enlighten policy-makers in municipal administrations and police departments as well as in military institutions. Like the effort to give practical assistance to Japanese-American Relocation Center administrators, psychologists who took up the question of race riots typically offered clear and explicit instructions to those in power: "If These Symptoms Appear . . . Take the Following Actions."
Some experts were not entirely satisfied with roles as advisors and made a commitment to using their skills in even more direct ways. Gordon Allport, for example, along with his student Leo Postman, conducted pioneering training sessions with captains in the Boston Police Department in 1944. Theirs was an attempt to reduce racial tensions in the city by exposing hostile and defensive law enforcement officials to psychology's cutting-edge reeducation techniques. Allport's efforts to instill racial sensitivity in police officers through "catharsis" was another of his efforts that was much imitated in years to come. According to Allport's report, he spent eight long, trying hours with a group of forty police officers who "indulged in aggressive, hostile, prejudiced discourse aimed occasionally at me, the instructor, but more
often at various minority groups (whom we were seeking to understand!), and at other scapegoats, including the public press, intellectuals, parents, and even the citizenry at large." Because he resolved to meet the racist reaction without emotion, the officers' prejudice diminished by the end of the day. Allport claimed that he had produced this constructive effect by listening nonjudgmentally, hence allowing the police to avoid threats to their personal status, project their guilt, and begin restructuring their attitudes on their own, after the fashion of Carl Rogers's nondirective counseling techniques.
Riots also presented psychological experts with the opportunity to make good use of the tradition of crowd psychology and collective behavior that had existed long before the war and that would continue to develop long after, when it would be expanded into an all-purpose theory of revolutionary upheaval in the Cold War era as well as a handy explanation for urban disorder at home. The mood that made the Detroit tragedy possible, for example, was considered a result of "hysterical individual insecurity," multiplied by a factor of thousands, reaching a point of such tension that it needed release. Detroit riot analysts Lee and Humphrey observed that rioters behaved
like a herd about to stampede. . . . Brutalized emotions rise and are given sanction by the mob. . . . All of this looks as though the mob is rapidly going "out of its mind." And the generation of such mass hysteria shows the character of insanity, except that the members of the mob are not nearly as uncontrolled, impulsive, and depraved alone as they become under mob-suggestion. In the race-riot mob, no rules apply, no fair play. No ethics of any kind have meaning except the crude ones of the human-pack, even more brutal than the wolf-pack.
Many riot specialists were eager to translate such theoretical models of collective behavior into socially useful technologies of prevention. A psychological "Race Sentiments Barometer," according to analysts of the Detroit riot, would be a major improvement over even such positive measures as counteracting rumors because it would offer a "more fundamental diagnosis and more accurate prediction through determining the power of the emotional drives at work, the significance of the societal and psychological 'ground swells.'" The suggestion that psychology develop predictive indices for social managers would be repeated in later years, practically word-for-word, in reference to predicting and controlling revolutionary upheaval around the world as well as civil disturbance at home. In Cold War conflicts as well as during
urban riots in the late 1960s, such services were in great demand among policy-makers.
Wartime riots popularized the view that prejudice was a "general psychological condition" whose origins were to be found in early childhood experience and the treacherous steps of emotional development. This view was not a rigid one and gradations were recognized. The emotional basis of intergroup conflict could range from a more or less benign neurosis to a dangerous sickness akin to insanity. The point is that the wartime environment contributed to a decidedly psychological analysis of rioting, as well as a variety of other racial and ethnic problems. The view that individual insecurities and collective emotional depravity were somehow at the heart of intergroup conflict would have lasting consequences.
This was exactly what psychological experts wanted. Because they played major roles in analyzing and treating intergroup conflict during the war, they naturally assumed they would continue this occupation in the postwar era. From psychoanalytically inclined theorists who claimed riots were "violent outbreaks of infantile father hatred" to those more likely to consider sociological factors like poverty and segregation, psychological experts—clinicians, theorists, and researchers alike—emerged from Word War II convinced that it was their responsibility as enlightened professionals to challenge myths of racial difference, including the myths that psychology itself had helped elevate to scientific truth earlier in the century. Racism had become, for them, "America's number-one social neurosis."
"Community disorders" entered the vocabulary of World War II psychiatry as a new type of diagnosis covering, among other things, racial tensions and riots. Management and prevention of mental disturbance was their forté, reasoned the psychiatrists, and prejudice was clearly a deeply rooted mental disturbance. According to this line of thinking, psychiatric authority should expand into any and every sphere of social life in which frustration, fear, aggression, hatred, and insecurity were relevant factors. This argument went well beyond the treatment of racial hostility and provided a general intellectual foundation for the promotion of community psychiatry, perhaps the most significant development in that field in the postwar era.
Institutional and legislative remedies for racial injustices, like the wartime Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC), established via executive order in order to tackle the problem of employment dis-
crimination in the war industries, were not necessarily invalidated by this logic, and many psychological experts gladly supported such liberal means of assuring civil rights. But laws and government regulations were often relegated to secondary status, most dramatically by clinicians, whose work put them into close contact with individuals feeling the consequences of bigotry and discrimination. Such experiences, not surprisingly, bolstered the opinion that since the personal anguish surrounding matters of race was profound, personal transformation in this area could hardly be any less so. In comparison to the potential of psychological experts to help instill personal and cultural change at such deep levels, legally mandated equality, was considered abstract and superficial. "The FEPC and other anti-discrimination agencies are only symptomatic and temporary therapy," commented one writer, whose final word seas that "emotional growth, for the most part, is incomplete in our culture; human difference has become a liability instead of a positive factor in life experiences." There could be no adequate legal solution to a fundamentally emotional problem, agreed another clinician, who explained the prevalence of racism as follows: "Quite evidently, white European man for all his boasts and his weapons did not feel secure."
Gordon Allport, known for his political liberalism, distinguished between discrimination (a question of structure) and prejudice (a question of emotion). If cures for discrimination and those for prejudice were not entirely distinct (Allport, for example, vigorously advocated legislative changes because he understood that legal changes would affect how people felt and behaved), it was certainly the case that Allport perceived attacking prejudice though a process of psychological reeducation as a more direct route to social change. Institutional reform may have been important, but emotional reform was clearly the tougher challenge.
Ironically, but characteristically, the contents of psychology's toolbox, proposed by World War II experts as the most effective resource for combating the epidemic of intergroup conflict, had been used more frequently to fan the flames of homegrown racism in the past than it had been to put out the fire. Intelligence testing programs during World War I, in particular, had been welcomed by eugenicists, eager to prove their point about racial intelligence differences with the help of data from the military. They received prompt and solicitous attention from psychologists, who announced, as scientific dogma, that black sol-
diers were inferior and that there existed a mental hierarchy pegged to nationality: Anglo-Saxons were at the top while the unsavory representatives of recent immigrant groups languished far below. In 1921 Robert Yerkes, who had chaired the important World War I Committee on Methods of Psychological Examining of Recruits, wrote personally to the chairmen of congressional committees considering immigration restriction, calling their attention to the World War I army intelligence tests and suggesting, in no uncertain terms, that these products of psychological expertise could be a formidable resource in their campaign to shut off the flow of undesirable immigration. "The army tests," he claimed, "establish the relation of inferior intelligence to delinquency and crime, and justify the belief that a country which encourages, or even permits, the immigrations of simple-minded, uneducated, defective, diseased or criminalistic persons, because it needs cheap labor, seeks trouble in the shape of public expense." His argument was convincing. Warnings about the mental unfitness of recent immigrants further inflamed fears, already widespread before World War I, about the increasing racial and ethnic diversity of U.S. society, especially urban centers that were magnets for newcomers. The army's testing program, and the eugenic advocacy of Yerkes and other psychologists, offered a powerful scientific foundation for the restrictions written into the Immigration Act of 1924.
Yerkes, as we have already seen, went on to play a starring role in World War II psychology. He never abandoned, or even really revised, his eugenicist beliefs. His vision of a great future for psychological professionals, so crucial to early mobilization efforts, was intimately bound up with a commitment to literal life-and-death control over the "biologically unfit." Nevertheless, a widespread feeling grew up among the vast majority of World War II psychological experts, who, after all, cut their professional teeth in a righteous war against racial and political tyranny, that psychological theories and applications were inextricably, dynamically linked with democratic politics. On the one hand, prevailing definitions of mental hygiene and health assumed personalities capable of making rational choices and negotiating the emotional pitfalls of freedom; these were, as we have seen, the basic elements of democratic morale. On the other hand, it was only by preserving democratic institutions that the psychological professions could ensure their futures. "We are all engaged in the same task of defending the ramparts of democracy," Edward Strecker announced to the assembled forces of
the American Psychiatric Association in 1944, comparing psychiatrists to soldiers. "Our stake in the war is precious for the discipline of psychiatry can only live and flower within the framework of democracy."
One large-scale, interdisciplinary research effort that powerfully embodied the marriage between liberalism and behavioral science was An American Dilemma, a monumental analysis of black-white race relations in the context of democratic principles, first published in 1944. Authored by Swedish-born economist and politician Gunnar Myrdal, the research for the book mobilized scores of social scientists whose wartime service made them acutely aware that domestic racial problems were an international embarrassment for the United States. An American Dilemma inaugurated an era of racial liberalism among academic social scientists that would endure for decades, with only very occasional dissent. Whether or not psychological expertise was the essence of enlightened humanism, inherently blessed with antiracist and democratic values, would become, as we shall see, a major issue in the postwar era.