Social Context as the Source of Prejudice
The environmentalist consensus that emerged from World War II generally prevented psychological experts from advocating crude versions of psychological reductionism and encouraged them to incorporate sociological variables into their discussions of the development of black personality or the causes of white racism. This trend was yet another instance of the abstract commitment to a comprehensive behavioral science approach during this period. It was, however, also the case that the institutional realities of race—the elaborate apparatus of legal segregation in particular, but also the legacy of slavery—were so clearly salient and so impossible to ignore. One consequence was a marked convergence between the perspectives of psychological and nonpsychological experts. Some psychologists started sounding like anthropologists, and there were many sociologists who eagerly incorporated the language of psychoanalysis into their research. Not infrequently, research involved interdisciplinary team efforts.
An example of this, which simultaneously illustrates the centrality of the war experience to postwar work in this field, was the research on racial attitudes jointly conducted by emigré psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim and sociologist Morris Janowitz. Both had been indelibly marked by the war. Bettelheim's first-person account of concentration camp survival had confirmed that German national character was severely disturbed and furthered the vision of postwar psychological reconstruction on a national and international scale. For his part, Janowitz had worked as an intelligence expert and "sykewarrior" during World War II. His postwar research on the political sociology of mili-
tary institutions would make him a key player in Cold War behavioral science.
The Bettelheim and Janowitz study was conducted among 150 male veterans in Chicago and was published in 1950 as Dynamics of Prejudice: A Psychological and Sociological Study of Veterans. The effort was funded by the Department of Scientific Research of the American Jewish Committee and was part of the famous "Studies in Prejudice" series that included The Authoritarian Personality, also published in 1950. Bettelheim's and Janowitz's own backgrounds, as well as the source of research support, undoubtedly informed their choice to study both anti-Semitic and antiblack attitudes, a choice of multiple subjects in the study of racism that would become rarer and rarer in later years, as noted above. Their use of veterans as subjects was quite deliberate. They believed that World War I veterans had been an important vehicle of anti-Semitism in Germany, and they were concerned that maladjusted U.S. veterans might contaminate the postwar domestic landscape with similar prejudices.
Their stated goal was very practical: to formulate a "diagnosis" and then "a cure for one of the major disorders in contemporary American society: ethnic discrimination and aggression." This was perfectly consistent with the desire (so evident in Myrdal and in many other contemporary experts) to make behavioral expertise inform government policy and inspire social action. Bettelheim and Janowitz reached the following conclusions about the nature of prejudice. First, prejudice was an expression of fundamental hostility, anxiety, and aggression. Second, it originated in past deprivations (especially in childhood) and anticipation of future deprivations (especially economic threats). Third, it resulted from an absence of ego strength and inadequately internalized controls, which caused aggression to be discharged indirectly and irrationally rather than directly and rationally. Fourth, prejudice was more likely to correlate with downward socioeconomic mobility than to be located on any particular rung on the ladder of the U.S. class structure.
All of these themes were standard fare in postwar studies, with the exception of their final conclusion about class mobility, which rejected the assumption that working- and lower-class individuals were necessarily less tolerant than middle- or upper-class individuals. Equally standard was their view that such theoretical conclusions deserved direct translation into government action, even when that meant radical shifts in public policy. Bettelheim and Janowitz saw fit, for example, to call for programs of full employment, an adjusted annual wage, and a dra-
matic extension of social security benefits. Reforms that would protect people from sliding downward, they argued, would do more than simply offer an economic safety net and insurance against poverty. They would actually insulate people from the emotional hazards and frustrations that resulted in explosions of racial intolerance and ethnic hatred.
In the end, like the experts who have been described in previous chapters, Bettelheim and Janowitz preferred prevention to even the most dramatic of social rearrangements. Because nothing appeared to have quite as much preventive potential as education, "tolerance propaganda" should begin at a very early age, guiding the release of aggression and hostility (which they assumed to be a fixed and universal feature of human psychology) in more socially acceptable directions than racial animosity.
Rearranging personality structures through manipulating the process of parenting and childhood socialization held the greatest promise of all. One of the chief characteristics of the democratic personality was that it incorporated symbols of appropriate authority rather than left social control to the whims of external coercion. Bettelheim and Janowitz had contributed to the theoretical literature that implicated deep personality structures in the production of prejudice, making the manufacture of tolerant personalities the most effective route to eliminating such objectionable attitudes. The reform of childrearing was also attractive for practical reasons: it was more likely to succeed than the radical economic redistribution they had called for. "In any case," Bettelheim and Janowitz pointed out, "it seems simpler, and more feasible, to influence parental attitudes toward children, when compared with the efforts needed for assuring a stable economy free from the fear of war and unemployment." David McClelland had reached similar conclusions in his quest to promote achievement-oriented personalities in developing countries as a method of heading off the violent upheavals that international inequalities and tensions were likely to produce. Mothers, everyone seemed to agree, were an appealing audience because they had an immediate impact on their young children. Moreover, they could be reached, counseled, and tested.