In the Name of Enlightenment
Psychological insight is the creed of our time. In the name of enlightenment, experts promise help and faith, knowledge and comfort. They devise confident formulas for happy living and ambitious plans for dissolving the knots of conflict. Psychology, according to its boosters, possesses worthwhile answers to our most difficult personal questions and practical solutions for our most intractable social problems.
In the late twentieth-century United States, we are likely to believe what psychological experts tell us. They speak with authority to a vast audience and have become familiar figures in most communities, in the media, and in virtually every corner of popular culture. Their advice is a big business. It is taken for granted that they have a right to a central place in debates about the current state and future direction of American society. From families to governments, from abuse and recovery to war and urban violence, from the mysteries of individual subjectivity to the manifest problems of our collective social life, few institutions, issues, or spheres of existence remain untouched by the progress of psychology in American society.
More important, the progress of psychology has changed American society. Americans today are likely to measure personal and civic experience according to a calculus of mental and emotional health—"self-esteem" in the current vernacular. We have been convinced that who we are and how we feel are more tangible, and probably also more relevant yardsticks, than whether our society lives up to its reputation
of democracy and equality, ideals that appear increasingly abstract, difficult to grasp, and remote from the dilemmas of daily life. Many people have willingly severed the self from its social ecology, perhaps because of the need for protection against the emotionally toxic hazards of contemporary existence. Feelings of powerlessness against those conditions that shape the self—from mind-numbing corporate depersonalization to the violence ever-present on city streets—have nurtured forms of vehement individualism and elicited desperate hopes that the self can be nurtured and managed at a social distance, out of harm's way. Yet the fundamental awareness that no self exists, except in relation to others and in the context of social reality, survives at the very heart of psychological knowledge itself.
How has this happened? When did psychological experts, professions, practices, and ideas first rise to such public prominence? Why has psychology become so visible? What historical developments have inspired the "romance" of American psychology? This book begins to answer these questions by tracing psychology's rapid spread through post-World War II American society. It explains why and how psychological experts carved out a progressively larger sphere of social influence and asks what difference their success has made in our public life.
Because this book describes a wide-ranging campaign to infuse society with psychological enlightenment, it takes an equally wide-ranging view of who psychological experts were and what they did. This book is not a disciplinary history. It does not focus on professionalization, the evolution of particular theoretical schools, or the status of gate-keeping efforts between psychology and other bodies of social knowledge, even though all of these issues surface from time to time.
Who are "psychological experts"? Many of the people and organizations discussed in this book were affiliated with psychology through the usual procedures of academic and professional training. They pursued doctoral degrees in psychology or attended medical schools where they specialized in psychiatry. Between 1940 and 1970, the numbers of psychologists and psychiatrists belonging to their respective professional organizations climbed astronomically, surpassing both the growth curves in these professions prior to 1940 and those in other medical and academic fields after 1940, although the vast majority remained white and male. Membership in the American Psychological Association (APA) grew by more than 1,100 percent, from 2,739 in 1940 to 30,839 in 1970. During this same period, membership in the Ameri-
can Psychiatric Association (ApA) rose 760 percent, from 2,423 to 18,407.
In the years since 1970, the numbers of these experts have continued to skyrocket and their demographic profile—mostly white, male, and of European ancestry—has started to change as people of diverse ethnic backgrounds, and especially women, have entered the professions. As of 1993, the American Psychological Association boasted approximately 75,000 members and the American Psychiatric Association had passed the 38,000-member mark. More bachelors degrees were awarded in psychology than in most other social or natural science fields (biology and computer science still edged out psychology, but not by much) and, in 1986, there were 253,500 psychologists employed in the United States, of which approximately 22 percent held doctoral degrees. In that same year, the National Science Foundation estimated that civilian employment in psychology would increase between 27 and 39 percent by the year 2000, a far larger jobs boom than the 13 to 23 percent forecasted for all occupations. Throughout the entire postwar era, the United States has trained and employed more psychological experts, per capita, than any other country in the world.
Not only were there more of them, but their careers were more varied. In addition to its traditional ties to scientific experimentation, theoretical production, and testing design and administration, psychological expertise has recently become nearly synonymous with mental health. Today, therapeutic proficiency is considered psychology's most important contribution to human understanding, happiness, and peace. This is a new development. Before World War II, professional healers and counselors were few; most individuals allied with psychology did work unrelated to "helping." After 1945 clinical occupations witnessed extraordinary growth. Today, the three largest divisions of the American Psychological Association all address the practice of psychotherapy and most of the future growth in psychological employment is projected in social and health service sectors. Clinical professionals outside of psychology and psychiatry may be especially well positioned to take advantage of future opportunities because their training is less extensive and their incomes lower. The ranks of clinical social workers alone, for example, more than tripled between 1975 and 1990, growing from 25,000 to 80,000. Fields with ties to psychology's nineteenth-century past, such as physiological and philosophical psychology, on the other hand, have shrunk into numerical obscurity.
Because one of this book's goals is to document the far-flung influence of psychological ideas and practices, I also consider individuals located outside of the formal confines of psychology and psychiatry whose work was interdisciplinary in orientation or was carried out by interdisciplinary teams. Numerous anthropologists and sociologists, for example, considered themselves mental and behavioral experts, and they marched with their psychological colleagues under the banners of "culture and personality," "behavioral science," and "community mental health." This book explores why the vision of a comprehensive human science was especially tantalizing, and appeared so necessary, during the postwar decades.
That they occasionally championed similar causes does not make all of the social sciences identical to psychology, of course. Significant differences in orientation and subject matter remained between distinct professions and academic disciplines. The enthusiastic drive for unified knowledge does, however, indicate how appealing psychology was during these years to people whose concerns had little to do with the psychological (at least as "the psychological" had been understood formerly), how effectively psychological ideas were exported throughout general social-scientific ranks, and how central psychological insights were to the drive for relevant expertise. Because it illuminates why many of the geographic markers in the landscape of social knowledge appeared arbitrary to those whose ambitions included the design of social change, the history of psychological experts promises new insights into some of the most important intellectual shifts in recent years.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, psychology's development as an academic discipline had been circumscribed for important historical reasons and experts continued to follow the upward trajectory of professionalization throughout the postwar era. After 1945, however, they clearly outgrew these bounds. What is most intriguing about psychology in recent decades—and what demands a fresh perspective on its historical evolution and social importance—is that it has flowed freely beyond customary professional domains. It no longer suffices to think of psychology as merely one category of expertise among others. Psychology in our time is a veritable worldview. As much as anything else, the romance of contemporary psychology emanates from its promise to satisfy the hunger for values and the desire for affirmation at the same time that myriad disorienting changes have demoted traditional beliefs to unsatisfying, even fallacious, platitudes.
Which leads to the obvious question: what does the term "psychol-
ogy" mean? My use of the term "psychology" does not stop at the margins of an academic discipline or the boundaries of a professional job category. Rather, it indicates an emphasis on analyzing mental processes, interpersonal relationships, introspection, and behavior as a way of explaining both individual and social realities.
As an academic discipline, psychology traces its historical roots to nineteenth-century philosophy and physiology. But in the period after World War II, it has already been noted, the professions most likely to be associated with psychological expertise were those that originated in or had grown into "helping" trades: psychiatry, clinical psychology, and social work. This varied and flexible history allowed psychological experts to make extremely broad claims to authority. They possessed, in turn, a technology of behavior, a science of social relations, a theory of society, and a theology of emotional healing. Psychology sometimes appeared as a social or natural science, sometimes as a source of moral, cultural, and political values that could address the meaning of human identity and existence, matters that were traditionally the exclusive province of religion or philosophy.
In the late twentieth-century United States, psychology's face is so familiar that it is tempting, but wrong, to consider it an ahistorical fact of life or an entity so amorphous and all-pervasive that it eludes definition altogether. Psychology may have seeped into virtually every facet of existence, but that does not mean that it has always been there or that what experts say has always mattered as much as it matters today.
Understanding the recent history of psychological experts is critical to understanding psychology's place in contemporary society. That history, the subject of this book, is based on an extraordinary quest for power. Enveloped in a climate of catastrophic global militarism and divisive national debate over the realization of racial and sexual equality, psychological experts shaped the direction and texture of public life deliberately, with results that were striking and unprecedented.
Because the appearance of psychological experts and their explanations in the policy-making process has been especially visible and important since 1940, this book begins with World War II. No event illustrates better how military conflict offered psychologists unprecedented opportunities to demonstrate the practical worth of their social theories, human sciences, and behavioral technologies in making and shaping public policy. While the New Deal had offered some social scientists, especially economists, the chance to exhibit the practical assistance that social experts could bring to large-scale federal operations
in the years prior to 1940, it was the atmosphere of international military crisis and conflict after 1941 that permitted new varieties of social experts to outgrow their roles as private citizens and carve out niches for themselves in government, and as government advisors.
From World War II through the Vietnam era, psychological experts decisively shaped Americans' understanding of what significant public issues were and what should be done about them. How could the United States win the hearts and minds of Third World people on the battlegrounds of the Cold War? Why did bigoted attitudes and racial hatreds stubbornly persist in a society allegedly devoted to the freedom of all its citizens? What sorts of emotional adjustments would equality between men and women require? Psychological experts applied themselves to these questions, determined to understand such diverse phenomena as the appeal of revolutionary ideologies and the emotional logic of stereotyping. Their efforts were generally informed by a unified conception of behavior, a conviction that the relevant underlying variables were pretty much the same in all the most vulnerable areas of social life. Frustration and aggression, the logic of personality formation, and the gender dynamics involved in the production of healthy (or damaged) selves were legitimate sources of insight into problems at home and conflicts abroad. Why were these experts so persuasive? This is the question I have tried to answer.
This book recounts the story of psychology's rise to public power. But along the way, experts had moments of terrible disappointment and even delusion. When policy-makers rejected their research and counsel, experts seethed in frustration. On the other hand, when policy-makers embraced psychological theories as blueprints for public action and ordinary citizens espoused psychological ideas as beacons of personal understanding, experts tended to exaggerate their triumphs and imagine themselves more powerful than they actually were. In the 1940s and 1950s, few observers of the intellectual scene were able to assess these wild vacillations between despair and jubilation with any critical perspective, but maverick sociologist C. Wright Mills was such a rare critic. Marginalized within his discipline because of his radical ideas and sometimes difficult personal style, Mills was nevertheless one of the first postwar sociologists to reach a popular audience with books such as The Causes of World War Three (1958) and Listen, Yankee (1960). In White Collar (1951), he chastised members of his own intellectual generation for arrogant pretensions to power and pointed out that critical independence had largely given way to pathetic sub-
servience among "intellectuals caught up in and overwhelmed by the managerial demiurge in a bureaucratic world of organized irresponsibility."
Yet even Mills could see what others saw. The traumatic events of his time—the Holocaust, the ravages of world war, and a superpower rivalry that gambled the future of humanity and the planet itself—called rationality and autonomy into question. History itself was defying explanation, or even comprehension, as if warning that too much faith in the tenets of democratic theory could be a grave error. Instead, the events of midcentury drew urgent attention to a shadowy psychological underside, difficult to fathom and teeming with raw and unpredictable passions, as the likely controlling factor in human behavior. Persuaded that social developments and conflicts were hardly ever what they appeared to be, many observers (some eager, others reluctant) discarded habitual ways of studying and mediating social problems. Logical approaches, commonsense assumptions, and empirical commitments seemed shallow and inadequate in comparison with an alternative that promised insight into the irrationality and madness lurking just beneath the thin veneer of a civilized social order. "We need to characterize American society of the mid-twentieth century in more psychological terms," Mills freely acknowledged in 1951, "for now the problems that concern us most border on the psychiatric."
The fact that setbacks and blunders were part of their history does not diminish the remarkable impact that psychological experts have had on postwar American society. It merely indicates that their historical progress between 1940 and 1970 was not monolithic. Nor should the central concerns of this book—efforts to bring psychological enlightenment to bear on the prosecution of war and the management of racial and gender conflict—be considered a comprehensive historical account of experts loyal to the psychological persuasion. During the postwar era, experts devoted considerable attention to other questions of social importance, from crime and education to industrial relations. Their stories remain to be told.
Not all experts agreed that psychology had a special responsibility to grease the wheels of society; countertrends existed throughout the period surveyed in this book. In psychology, there were those who drew a sharp line between science and society, kept faith with the laboratory as the only legitimate site for the production and verification of new knowledge, and viewed colleagues who testified before Congress and spoke out on public issues as alarming proof that many psychologists
were prone to confusing personal politics and professional responsibilities.
B. F. Skinner, probably America's most famous psychologist, was never one to dismiss psychology's social role, but he did believe that laboratory experiments in behavioral reinforcement and conditioning held the key to even the most complicated social reforms. After the 1948 publication of Walden Two, a best-selling psychological utopia in which every detail was meticulously planned by wise and benevolent experts, much of Skinner's fame rested on his supreme confidence in social engineering. At the same time, he despised socially oriented psychologists who did not share his behaviorist philosophy. He did not consider them scientists, and was quick to dismiss the accumulated knowledge of the social sciences. "I don't believe we have any principles in political science or in economics that can be trusted," Skinner commented as late as 1980. Whatever assistance psychology could offer society would, he felt sure, be grounded in a rigorous process of scientific discovery, and not some fuzzy-headed notion that analyzing social phenomena required insights transcending nature.
Experimentalist Edwin G. Boring of Harvard, known as "Mr. Psychology" and distinguished for his involvement in professional affairs as well as for his writing about the history of psychology, shared many of Skinner's scientific ideals but was leery of any psychologists who seemed too eager to put experts in charge. He made his distaste for socially oriented psychologists (his term was "sociotropes") perfectly clear on numerous occasions. "Can a sociotrope believe in democracy and work for it?" he asked skeptically in 1946. "Or does he know so much about the control of opinion that he feels contemptuous of its free expression or doubts that the word 'free' has any true meaning?" "These people," Boring concluded, "do not think they are arrogant but I think they are."
Similarly, in psychiatry, those who advocated following in the footsteps of somatic medicine sought to steer clear of messy social questions. Their aim was to uncover the biological basis of mental illness and develop new drugs and surgical techniques that might move people toward health. C. C. Burlingame, for example, the psychiatrist-in-chief of the Hartford, Connecticut, Institute for Living and a staunch advocate of psychosurgery, ran for president of the American Psychiatric Association in 1948. He promised to be a leader who would "uphold the traditions of the association as a scientific medical group and not one that is trying to tell everyone else what to do and how to live."
But Burlingame's campaign to defend psychiatry's historic roots from the corrupting influence of social activism was moving against the tide, and he lost his bid for professional office.
After 1945 a variety of dissidents like Boring and Burlingame stubbornly argued that psychologists and psychiatrists had no particular business involving themselves in the affairs of society, at least not as mental and behavioral experts. To do so was pronounced meddlesome, arrogant, and a serious lapse from scientific and professional obligations. Although theirs was a vision consistent with the nineteenth-century roots of psychological science and psychiatric medicine, it became more and more of a minority viewpoint during the period covered by this book. After World War II, it lost considerable ground.
In ascendance was the view that psychology demanded aggressive social intervention, not by experts acting merely as citizens, but by experts acting as an organized constituency, in the name of enlightenment. It is the rise of this outlook that I have described as the romance of American psychology. How and why it placed upon psychology awesome responsibility for its social surroundings, and endowed it with an equally awesome social authority, is documented and interpreted in the following pages.
The crusade for enlightenment proceeded rapidly after 1945. Due in some measure to their own talents and ambitions, psychological experts' rise to power was due initially to the benefits of war: world war at first, then Cold War. Military imperatives during World War II provided psychological experts with their first encounter with policy-makers. Working in organizations devoted to civilian and military mobilization, and having their favorite theories applied to wartime problems, gave them their first taste of power. This formative experience advertised their ideas and earned them bountiful state patronage, both of which served to enhance their professional status. It also inspired a series of correlations that stayed with psychological experts long after 1945: between professional responsibility and patriotic service to the state; between scientific advance, national security, and domestic tranquillity; between mental health and cultural maturity; between psychological enlightenment, social welfare, and the government of a democratic society.
The alliance between psychological knowledge and power may appear ideological in retrospect, but during much of the postwar era it was considered so axiomatic as to be nearly invisible. In spite of the dramatically changed nation and world that came into view after 1945,
the lessons of World War II remained at the very heart of psychology's relationship to a diversity of public issues. For two decades they resisted discussion and escaped meaningful scrutiny.
By the end of the 1960s, the general perspective nourished by World War II and the early Cold War years was finally being interrogated, quite passionately, in public. Opposition to the Vietnam War polarized the country, and frustration with the government's sluggish response to domestic movements for equality and civil rights produced a contradictory mixture of cynical demoralization and spirited activism. The crisis of the 1960s also provoked a thorough reassessment of the assumptions about knowledge and power, expertise and government, that had animated earlier decades. The war's managers, after all, were "the best and the brightest," men whose excellent educations had typically included liberal doses of up-to-date social science. Yet the conduct of the war inspired a degree of dishonesty and moral indifference in high places that shocked and sickened many Americans, casting a long shadow over the alliance between social knowledge and democracy that had been cemented during World War II. The 1960s must therefore be counted as a momentous turning point in recent political, intellectual, and cultural history. That decade's questions about the role of experts in a democratic society altered the way that policy-makers, intellectuals, and masses of ordinary citizens thought about public concerns, social responsibilities, and the various guises of modern authority. As antiwar critic Noam Chomsky put it in 1966, "It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies. This, at least, may seem enough of a truism to pass without comment. Not so, however. For the modern intellectual it is not at all obvious.... The question 'What have I done?' is one that we may well ask ourselves ... as we create, or mouth, or tolerate the deceptions that will be used to justify the next defense of freedom."
What exactly have psychological experts done? Have they spoken the truth or manufactured deception? Have they expanded the realm of freedom or perfected the means of control? While this book suggests no simple answers to these questions, it surveys the history of psychological experts, justified at every step as an enlightening crusade, and concludes that these experts helped to transform the conceptual foundations of public life in the postwar United States.
Other writers who have commented on psychology's history have tended to produce radically divergent narratives: self-satisfied pronouncements about the inevitable goodness of scientific progress and
cranky accusations that psychology has engendered tolerance for programs of capitalist exploitation and bureaucratic depersonalization by repackaging them as liberation. While its fans credit psychology with being an almost magical science, its critics complain that psychology has mainly succeeded in bringing more facets of human experience under the thumb of the market, and with more miserable results, than was ever before the case. Writing about psychology's history and social importance, in other words, has been as elastic as its subject, applauding its benevolence on the one hand and denouncing its repressive capacities on the other.
In this book, psychology is not fixed at one particular point on this spectrum of moral evaluation for two important reasons. First, I wished to recapture the meaning of social responsibility and professional ethics among experts in the 1940s and 1950s in order to better understand why the 1960s and post-1960s intellectual generation came to see things in such dramatically different terms. Second, distinctions between democratic and antidemocratic uses of knowledge have changed over time; the line separating them has a great deal more to do with the social context of ideas than with factors intrinsic to knowledge production.
The application of psychological expertise to ends (such as racial harmony) that appear admirable today was often motivated by the very same set of ideological assumptions that inspired episodes (such as counterinsurgency) unlikely to attract many favorable reviews. For this reason I do not rigidly segregate either the disparate forms or functions of psychology. Scientific discovery or clinical practice, technological innovation or philosophical inquiry, theoretical understanding or practical application—these represented different forms of the same enterprise, at least as far as the relationship between knowledge and power was concerned. In this book I wish to illuminate the common world-view diverse experts shared while attending to the differences in their immediate subjects and aims. Whatever division I have imposed has therefore been solely for the purpose of orderly discussion. (The history of experts who thought of themselves as social and behavioral scientists is concentrated in chapters 2 and 3 and 5 through 8; the history of their clinical counterparts can be found mainly in chapters 4, 9, and 10.)
It may be disquieting to some readers that I neither automatically condemn the advocacy of social engineering by some experts nor embrace the helping credo of others. But one of my goals is to demonstrate that the respective genealogies of "control" and "freedom" are
as connected as their political reputations are disconnected. To choose denunciation or celebration might seem more straightforward, but it would mislead by reassuring us that today "we" always know better than "they" did, and could surely never make similar mistakes.
Some of the experts discussed in this book treated society as a sick patient in need of cure. They attempted to control populations by administering internment camps according to psychiatric principles, tracking the vicissitudes of wartime morale, taking the pulse of Third World upheavals, and monitoring levels of racial tension in U.S. cities. Others treated individuals, seeking to induce personal adjustment and growth through a campaign of prevention and early intervention. These experts ministered to war-weary soldiers, promoted innovative mental health policies, and offered therapeutic services to ordinary citizens suffering from "normal neuroses."
Their daily chores may have been different, but all were involved in forms of human management that made the difference between unethical manipulation and enlightened facilitation appear vague—that is, when the difference was noticed at all. During and after World War II, social engineering was not a slur but a mission proudly embraced by experts active in the civil rights movement as well as by those involved in the Cold War military. Behavioral scientists who devised technologies to predict and control the behavior of populations abroad and at home were not entirely unlike clinicians who heralded the healthy personality as the basis for democracy, insisted that mental health could be mass-produced and purchased, and welcomed psychotherapy as a strategy for the manufacture of normality.
All claimed loyalty to a psychology capable of revealing universal laws about human experience, personality, social life, and subjectivity. All melded the understanding of individual and collective behavior, and in doing so, contributed significantly to the characteristic features of the postwar United States. One of the major conclusions of this book is that psychological experts have been a critical force in the recent convergence between private and public domains, cultural and political concerns. Joining the comprehension and change of self to the comprehension and change of society was their most enduring legacy.
In the end, these experts secured "a larger jurisdiction for psychology," though obstacles littered their path to power. The authority they gained was not inevitable and the forms it took were as historically conditioned as the fact and timing of psychological authority itself. In re-
cent U.S. history, psychology has penetrated corners of politics and culture very distant from the challenges of personal adjustment usually associated with psychological healing. Psychological theory and research, as this book illustrates, became significant ingredients in public policies devoted to managing Cold War tensions abroad and racial tensions at home, while clinical theory and practice had the important, if often unintended, result of inspiring radical political critiques—feminism was one—that collapsed conventional boundaries between therapeutic and social aims by probing the relationship between the personal and the political.
Chapters 2 through 4 begin by examining World War II, a watershed in the history of psychology. Chapters 2 and 3 recount the wartime record of psychological experts in a wide range of policy-oriented occupations, from waging psychological warfare to administering internment camps and keeping tabs on fluctuating public opinion and morale. Chapter 4 discusses the efforts of clinical experts to aid the war effort by safeguarding the mental well-being of ordinary soldiers. The clinical lessons of war began a radical process of "normalizing" mental troubles, a process so comprehensive and far-reaching that it underlay the dramatic spread of clinical experience and clinicians' increasingly broad cultural appeal after 1945.
The next several chapters analyze the growing presence of psychological experts and ideas in particular areas of public policy after 1945. Chapter 5 covers the general outlines of psychology's Cold War career and describes the institutional, ideological, and theoretical developments that fueled the tight correspondence between psychology and national security during the 1950s and 1960s. Chapter 6 relates the fascinating story of Project Camelot, an ambitious, secret program built upon psychology's Cold War successes that inadvertently backfired and became an international scandal in 1965.
The benefits of war transcended military institutions, even war itself. Psychological work initiated during World War II thrived under the auspices of Cold War in the 1950s and flowed easily into domestic policy areas, such as the War on Poverty in the 1960s. Chapters 7 and 8 offer examples of this pattern in policies related to domestic racial conflict. Chapter 7 describes the evolution of psychological theories on racial identity and the sources of prejudice after World War II and explores how they were incorporated into constitutional law and social policy. Chapter 8 illustrates the ways in which these perspectives were incorporated into the research program and policy recommendations
of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. Popularly known as the Kerner Commission, it was appointed by President Johnson in 1967 to investigate urban rioting and prevent future racial unrest.
The final two chapters return to the history of clinical experts, ideas, and practices first introduced in chapter 4. While policy-oriented activities made psychology's political potential explicit, clinicians became both more numerous and far more visible to the public during the postwar decades. For all intents and purposes, work associated with helping people adjust and cope constituted the popular reputation of psychological expertise during an era when the psychotherapeutic enterprise became, literally, a growth industry.
Associated with personal problems and anxieties, devoted to emotional adjustment and change, clinical practices at first glance appear apolitical, or at least very distant from the political questions addressed in the book's early chapters. Yet the history of clinical work has had equally fundamental consequences for U.S. public life. Although converting psychology into public culture was admittedly a less direct process than converting it into public policy, clinical developments served to alter the very. definition and substance of "the political" as well as reorient the goals and styles of political participation in the postwar decades.
Chapter 9 examines the adoption of mental health as a policy priority of the federal government, the rapid popularization of psychotherapy, and the appearance of humanistic psychology, a theoretical and clinical orientation designed to move psychology away from the bizarre disturbances of a stigmatized minority and toward acceptance by the normal majority. Chapter 10 concludes with a look at the early years of the second wave of feminism, when psychology served not only to construct the female, but to construct the feminist and mobilize an agenda of "personal politics."
To this book, I bring a commitment to grasping the immediacy of lived experience with genuine interest and respect, placing subjectivity within the scope of serious inquiry, and challenging experts' fervent campaign to legitimize psychology by imitating the philosophical and methodological patterns of natural science. My perspective is shaped by the central assumption that subjective experience is real, intrinsically meaningful, and ultimately irreducible to anything outside itself. Consequently, I have made a conscious choice to consider the evidence of experience (how experts talked about war in reference to their successes
and failures, for example, or why people said they sought psychotherapeutic help) as valid historical information without also turning personal testimony into a type of unquestionable truth claim that obstructs critical interpretation. Good historical writing, in my view, necessarily combines the imaginative effort to represent experience with the analytical ability to interpret it.
The subject of this book—psychology's dramatic progress in U.S. society—is itself among the chief reasons why historians (and other observers of postwar society) have been wrestling so constantly with questions of identity, experience, and subjectivity in recent years. My own interest in these issues therefore marks me as a product of the very developments I document and necessarily precludes a vantage point strictly detached from the events I describe. On the other hand, if this book illustrates any single thing convincingly, I hope it illustrates how historically sensitive both subjectivity and its management have been. Psychological experts have not always existed, and during their rather brief existence, they have not converted everyone. Their rise to power and success occupies a peculiar historical niche, uniquely suited to illuminating the recent past.
It should be obvious that I am neither a cheerleader for psychological expertise nor a disgusted detractor. I do not consider psychological enlightenment to be an unqualified good, but I also do not consider it notable exclusively as a sinister form of modem social control. Psychology, as this book shows, has been politically flexible and open to divergent interpretations. It has served to complicate, and often obscure, the exercise of power in recent U.S. history, but it has also legitimized innovative ideas and actions whose aim has been to personalize, and expand, the scope of liberty. On both counts, psychological experts have succeeded in large measure because they have addressed the subjective elements of human experience and these are both authentic and important. These are not the only important aspects of personal and social life, of course, but they cannot and must not be dismissed as peripheral matters, reduced to the status of dependent variables, or overlooked altogether.
The public consequences of psychological expertise during the period covered by this book were characteristically mixed and contradictory—sometimes repressive and deserving of condemnation, sometimes inspiring people to move boldly in pursuit of personal freedom and social justice. The popularization of psychological vocabulary and the public appearance of a language of subjectivity do not necessarily prove the seamlessness of elite domination or the existence of a tidal wave of
false consciousness that blocks progressive social change by simultaneously corroding the self and making it the subject of almost obsessive attention. Inclinations toward personal growth, self-esteem, and pleasure can form the basis for new concepts of community and collective action even as they rationalize isolated programs of individual self-improvement.
There may be no way to prove the existence of a human impulse toward autonomy and freedom, but to deny it is to deny the deepest meaning of historical choices and the possibility of alternative futures. To believe in such an impulse is not to posit an ahistorical inner truth or a quarantined self divorced from social context; it is not to conceive of change as a stark choice forcing one to opt for social progress or personal happiness, but never both. If psychological knowledge is to mobilize people for progressive change, rather than equip them to endure new variations on old injustices, the dichotomy between internal and external transformation will have to be rejected as false and useless.
The self consists precisely of the many-faceted ties connecting the individual to the surrounding social ecology, knotting the institutional arrangement of race, gender, and class, among others, to personal identity, as it is actually experienced at particular historical moments. This is a complicated relationship, to be sure, but it is created by human beings and is subject to comprehension and change. As long as the dualism between personal and social existence stands, there are few choices but to elevate reason over emotion or emotion over reason, surrender to despair over hope or hope over despair, trust in expertise over ordinary intelligence or ordinary intelligence over expertise. And these are no alternatives at all.
This book is centrally concerned with these philosophical issues as well as with a number of the most significant historical developments of the postwar era: war, hot and cold; new social movements devoted to civil rights and social justice; government's appropriate functions and reach; experts' role in a democratic society. The romance of American psychology is important because there is something to psychological ideas, and not because psychological experts are smarter than the rest of us. This book points out what that "something" is while exploring its ramifications in public life, for better and for worse, during the postwar decades. It describes a little-noticed historical metamorphosis that deserves far greater attention, not simply because it was profound, but because our society today, and our future history, reverberate with its consequences.