The Humanistic Tide
During the 1950s and 1960s, humanistic experts emerged as probably the most avid proponents of a psychological theory based on normality and a therapeutic practice designed to offer liberating encounters to masses of ordinary people as well as progress to U.S. culture at large. Although the majority of individuals who identified with humanistic psychology were immersed in theoretical and clinical tasks, they viewed their work as both politically and philosophically significant. In a lecture at Yale in 1954, humanistic personality theorist Gordon Allport outlined the political challenge confronting psychological professionals: "Up to now the 'behavioral sciences,' including psychology, have not provided us with a picture of man capable of creating or living in a democracy. . . . What psychology can do is to discover whether the democratic ideal is possible."
By the 1960s, humanists had moved beyond trying to prove the feasibility of democracy to pointing out the congruence between a constantly evolving democratic system and their theories of psychotherapeutic change and personality development. Personhood, the goal of psychotherapy and the subject of much psychological theory, was a pro-
cess, a fluid state of change, exchange, and ongoing renewal. The core imperatives of humanistic theory—to grow, to become, and to realize full human potential—were nothing less than democratic blueprints grafted onto the map of human subjectivity.
Although existentialism in its European version .was too gloomy and tormented for the humanists' taste (Maslow, for one, called it "high-I.Q. whimpering on a cosmic scale"), the humanists eagerly assimilated the existentialist conviction in "the total collapse of all sources of values outside the individual." Refusing to surrender to European styles of unbelief, the humanists redoubled their strenuous efforts to weave inexorable democratic promise into the fabric of normal human development. "There is no place else to turn but inward, to the self, as the locus of values."
The humanists called themselves a "third force," by which they meant that they were forging a path distinct from both psychoanalysis and behaviorism. Although they were scattered throughout the country and institutions devoted to perpetuating their ideas were not established until the 1960s, they operated as a self-conscious tendency within the psychological professions throughout the period after 1940. For a group accustomed to describing itself, and being described by others, as a band of rebels pounding on the walls of the psychological establishment, the humanists were unusually successful in winning conventional professional rewards as well as spreading their gospel to the popular culture in the twenty-five years after 1945. Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow, two psychologists whose work is discussed briefly below, were each elected to the presidency of the APA, in 1947 and 1968, respectively, and both became gurulike celebrities (to Rogers's delight and Maslow's disgust) among fans of encounter, human potential, "new consciousness," and other variants of the 1960s counterculture.
Revolutionary bravado was a staple in the humanists' writing. Maslow, for example, compared the movement to the momentous work of Galileo, Darwin, Einstein, Freud, and Marx and called humanistic psychology "a new general comprehensive philosophy of life." While some of their ideas were certainly original, others were borrowed from the very two "forces" against which humanistic psychology defined itself. Both Maslow and Rogers were quick to trace their own intellectual pedigrees to a variety of sources, including the neo-Freudianism of Karen Horney, Harry, Stack Sullivan, and Erich Fromm, the Gestalt psychology of Kurt Goldstein, the philosophy of John Dewey and Martin Buber, and the scientific method so exalted by behaviorists.
The most important common ground between the humanists and other psychological experts was the ambition to carve out "a larger jurisdiction for psychology," an expanding sphere of social authority and influence. In fact, the humanists went about the task of exploring psychology's political implications rather explicitly. In the end they proposed severely narrowing democracy's subject to "the self" and pledged that practices like psychotherapy could help make that self both autonomous and mature, capable of living up to ideals of democratic thought and action.
Proving that people were capable of reasoned behavior—and not merely victims at the mercy of strong emotional currents—was a conscious, if sometimes implicit, goal for the humanists, including Rogers and Maslow. Yet they did not think of themselves as political theorists, and certainly not as political activists. Their preferred environments were academic and clinical psychology and their professional and personal identities were shaped by desires to generate scientific personality theory and help people cope with the problems of life and living.
Carl Rogers: Inherent Capacity as a Scientific Basis for Democracy
Carl Rogers was a clinical psychologist who became famous after World War II for his work in developing, and then scientifically studying, an approach to psychotherapy first termed "non-directive," and later renamed "client-centered." Rogers's terminology was important; he was largely responsible for the widespread adoption of the term "client" in the mental health field. "Client" gradually replaced "patient," at least outside of psychiatry, illustrating the democratization of the therapeutic relationship and the retreat from (or sometimes even outright rejection of) the medical model in which a dependent and suffering individual relied on the kindness of an omniscient doctor.
After twelve years of full-time work in a child guidance clinic (the Rochester, New York, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children), Rogers switched to an academic career. In 1940 he moved to Ohio State University and in later years he was affiliated with the University of Chicago, the University of Wisconsin, and the Western Behavioral Sciences Institute in La Jolla, California. Toward the end of his life, Rogers founded the Center for Studies of the Person in La Jolla. Beginning in 1940, university employment facilitated Rogers's system-
atic investigation of what actually occurred during counseling and psychotherapy. He and his colleagues were the first to use and publish unedited transcriptions of audiorecorded therapeutic encounters and they earned reputations as innovative pioneers in this new field of research.
The client-centered approach was based on a series of hypotheses, the most fundamental of which was an almost religious belief in the inherent human capacity for growth, psychological insight, and self-regulation. Rogers, who grew up in a very religious family and studied at the Union Theological Seminary before transferring to Columbia University Teachers College to study psychology, sometimes called it a "divine spark." According to Rogers, "the individual has within himself the capacity, latent if not evident, to understand those aspects of himself and of his life which are causing him dissatisfaction, anxiety, or pain and the capacity and the tendency to reorganize himself and his relationship to life in the direction of self-actualization and maturity in such a way as to bring a greater degree of internal comfort." If a nurturing interpersonal environment were achieved, in psychotherapy and elsewhere, "change and constructive personal development will invariably occur."
The Rogerian conception of psychotherapy required a healthy self equipped with healthy psychological potential. "Therapy is not a matter of doing something to the individual, or of inducing him to do something about himself," Rogers wrote in one early formulation. "It is instead a matter of freeing him for normal growth and development, and removing obstacles so that he can again move forward." a No longer was the therapeutic subject someone whose behavior and personality were so disordered that they needed prescriptive assistance. The therapeutic subject may have been neurotic, but he (or she) remained a "person who is competent to direct himself."
The humanists' concern with normality was consistent with the overall clinical lessons of World War II. Their psychotherapeutic techniques, however, diverged sharply from those of the psychodynamic psycho-therapists who dominated the clinical professions after 1945. Simplified, the theory underlying psychodynamic practice was that experts helped individuals paralyzed and helpless in the face of unconscious fears. The clinician acted simultaneously as judge, interpreter, and healer. In contrast, the Rogerian therapist was a supportive cheerleader watching the client engage in what amounted to something like deliberate self-help. If therapists were sufficiently "permissive" (i.e., accepting and empathetic), and if they made strenuous efforts never to
interpret or even evaluate feelings or problems, then clients' internal capacity would inevitably move them toward self-understanding, and from there on to greater satisfaction and maturity. Robert Morison, an officer of the Rockefeller Foundation, was skeptical of Rogers's ideas about the therapeutic relationship and thought his detour from the medical model betrayed a "trace of fanaticism."
Rogers frequently noted that the concept of internal capacity not only confirmed the logic of democratic social arrangements, but revealed the psychological roots of those arrangements. "If, as we think, the locus of responsible evaluation may be left with the individual, then we would have a psychology of personality and of therapy which leads in the direction of democracy, a psychology which would gradually redefine democracy in deeper and more basic terms." Human nature and democracy, in other words, could be allies rather than enemies. In the following passage, Rogers approvingly quoted a student evaluation in order to make this point.
I have come to see that there may be a scientifically demonstrable basis for belief in the democratic way of life. . . . I cannot honestly say that I am now unalterably convinced of the infallibility of the democratic process, but I am encouraged and inclined to align myself with those who hold that each individual has within himself the capacity for self-direction and self-responsibility, hoping that the beginnings of research in areas such as client-centered therapy will lead to the unquestionable conclusion that the democratic way of life is most in harmony with the nature of man.
The humanists were especially cognizant that their benign conception of human nature, and the fortuitous basis it provided for democratic ideas and behaviors, ran counter to much psychological theory and rather a lot of psychological data (especially notable were studies done under pressure of war). The bulk of twentieth-century psychological thought hypothesized a malignant psychological interior, an awful place where destructive instincts and monstrous terrors lurked, threatening to rip through the thin veneer of Western civilization. "There is no beast in man," Rogers wrote defensively in 1953. "There is only man in man. . . . We do not need to be afraid of being 'merely' homo sapiens."
Rogers's famous 1956 dialogue with B. F. Skinner, leading behaviorist and author of the utopian novel Walden Two, was evidence of his deep concern not only about the political implications of various psychological theories but about the political role and direction of clinical experts and behavioral scientists themselves. In his exchanges
with Rogers and elsewhere, Skinner had proposed that democratic political ideology was a historical relic. He conceded that it had perhaps been necessary and important for the political tasks facing the eighteenth century (i.e., overthrowing monarchies), but Skinner believed democratic ideology was obsolete in an era of modem science. "The so-called 'democratic philosophy' of human behavior . . . is increasingly in conflict with the application of the methods of science to human affairs." Science—psychological science in particular—had revealed freedom to be mythological and social control to be both necessary and inevitable. The real question, according to Skinner, was not whether social control was good or bad, but what kinds of control would be exercised, and by whom.
Rogers countered with the concept of universal, inherent capacity. He forthrightly criticized the idea that experts always knew best and worried that "the growth of knowledge in the social sciences contains within itself a powerful tendency toward social control, toward control of the many by the few." Giving too much power to experts could surely lead "to social dictatorship and individual loss of personhood." Rogers's apprehensions, however, revolved around people like Skinner, usually behaviorists, whose calls for power and control were most candid.
Excluded from such analysis was his own brand of helping relationship, which he claimed was based on cooperative, nonauthoritarian partnerships between "equals" or "co-workers." (This failed, of course, to explain why one of the "equals" was a "therapist" while the other was a "client.") Rogers thought of his politics as a logical extension of his psychology—both were intensely egalitarian projects devoted to realizing autonomy and freedom—and regretted that more of his colleagues were not aware of the intimacy of this relationship. "There are really only a few psychologists who have contributed ideas that help to set people free," Rogers complained toward the end of his life, because "it is not in fashion to believe anything."
Abraham Maslow: Democracy for the Self-Actualized Few
Abraham Maslow was an academic psychologist best known for his hierarchical theory of motivation, his description of "self-actualization," and his professional activism on behalf of humanistic psychology. Initially affiliated with Brooklyn College, Maslow
moved on to Brandeis University, where he spent eighteen years beginning in 1951. He lectured widely, served as a consultant to industry and government, and was a founder of the Journal of Humanistic Psychology in 1961 and the American Association for Humanistic Psychology in 1962.
Like Rogers, Maslow was deeply concerned with the relationship between psychology and politics. He was at least as explicit about his own political views (which were not the same as Rogers's) and wrestled constantly with the political implications of his theoretical positions, especially during the late 1960s, when he was seriously considering writing a book about "B-politics," a parallel to his "B-psychology" (B stood for "being"). A heart attack cut his life short in 1970 when he was only sixty-two, and Maslow never wrote the book. Consequently, his journals are often far more revealing of his politics than is the body of his published work. Begun in 1959, they were finally published nine years after his death.
During the 1950s, Maslow attempted to make liberal democratic values integral to a definition of mental health and psychological maturity. This was part of the general humanistic project to test the feasibility of democracy by wiring individual dignity, tolerance, freedom of choice, and similar virtues into the unfolding process of normal human development. In his explorations of self-actualizing people and their "peak experiences" during the late 1950s and 1960s, Maslow refined his understanding of the political arrangements most appropriate to normal, even exemplary, psychological functioning.
Maslow's motivational scheme consisted of a hierarchy with basic needs at the bottom and higher needs at the top. The choice of a hierarchy was not arbitrary. Maslow intended to arrange human needs from lowly to lofty, in “a series of increasing degrees of psychological health ." At the lowest level were physiological needs for food, clothing, and shelter. A bit farther up were safety needs, then needs for "belongingness" and love, and finally needs for esteem, achievement, and respect. Higher needs emerged progressively as lower needs were satisfied. Self-actualization, the inherent tendency in people to move toward becoming all they could potentially become, was located at the summit of the motivational heap. "Very good conditions are needed to make self-actualizing possible."
Self-actualization, in other words, rested self-consciously on the type of environment that the postwar United States allegedly offered: a society of abundance. The higher reaches of human psychological experi-
ence were possible precisely because, it was assumed, poverty and material deprivation had yielded to widespread prosperity in a middle-class society. Mental health, the product of a psychic economy of plenty, resulted from economic affluence. It could be bought and sold.
The most famous part of Maslow's study was his description of individuals who had climbed the motivational heights and actualized themselves. Maslow included historical figures as well as live subjects (Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, William James, and Eleanor Roosevelt were among them) and his inventory of their characteristics became a working definition of psychological well-being. Across the board, Maslow summarized, they were perceptive, self-accepting, spontaneous, autonomous, empathetic, and creative. They always made up their own minds, displaying independence and free will, and they reported mystical states that Maslow compared to orgasms and termed "peak experiences." Capable of feeling simultaneous power and powerlessness, ecstacy, awe, and heightened awareness, Maslow's peakers were acutely self-conscious and invested in their own psychological growth and development. They exemplified psychological integration and exhibited the fullest and most admirable potential of human identity.
For these very reasons, they were the perfect psychotherapeutic subjects. Insight and the desire for personal exploration, already in place, would grease the wheels of psychotherapy, making for less resistance and more success. That self-actualizing people should be intensively studied (and not only in psychotherapy) was one of Maslow's recommendations as well as a general tenet of humanistic psychology. "It becomes more and more clear that the study of crippled, stunted, immature, and unhealthy specimens can yield only a cripple psychology and a cripple philosophy." Only healthy people could be the source of a truly universal psychological knowledge with broad jurisdiction.
Because individual health and sickness were inseparable from societal health and sickness, self-actualization was a relative, dependent, and occasional goal, rather than something either present or lacking at all times in particular individuals. Maslow's vision of a good society was consequently one where social and economic arrangements expedited upward movement through the motivational hierarchy, facilitating both personal growth and the production of good citizenship. "It is quite true," he noted, "that man lives by bread alone—when there is no bread." "Democracy of Western sort is OK for rich & well-organized, educated society, & capitalism then can work fairly well. For
people with lower basic needs satisfied, higher needs emerge & we can talk about freedom for self-fulfillment, autonomy, encouragement of growth, humanitarianism, justice, democracy, etc. . . . There is now a hierarchy of societies paralleling the hierarchy of basic needs."
Maslow's "hierarchy of societies" placed authoritarianism on the bottom rung with laissez-faire capitalism higher and New Deal welfare statism highest of all. Although Maslow felt that self-actualizing people would thrive in almost any political environment, he tended to think that an antisystem of anarchic individualism made the most sense for them. His portrait of Eupsychia—a utopia inhabited by psychologically healthy people—was of a society committed to democracy but opposed to laws or constitutions, united in community but devoid of any traces of nationalist passion, abounding with permissiveness but lacking such problems as crime and unemployment.
Self-actualizing individuals may have been the quintessence of all that was best and most promising about human nature, but according to Maslow, they were still only a tiny minority of the population, even in the United States. Consequently, different political structures were required even within a single society. Maslow, forever coining new terms, distinguished between "jungle politics," suitable for the majority stuck on the lower end of the motivational ladder, and "specieshood politics," for the self-actualizing elite. He wrote bluntly in his journal that there should be "one [political system] for winners & one for losers."
Because Maslow was much more hard-boiled than Rogers in both his political views and his political assessments, he did not shy away from the conclusion that his hierarchical scheme might support a self-actualizing ruling class and lead to a two-tiered society, a sort of psychological apartheid. Because he accepted the inevitability of inequality as scientific fact, yet was unwilling to relinquish his commitment to liberal democracy, Maslow opted for institutional arrangements that would reward the "biological" superiority of a natural elite, rather than one founded on aristocratic, racial, or religious prejudice. I quote at some length from three separate journal entries.
I think there are innate superiors & inferiors. How could there not be? Everything varies from more to less. But, on the other hand: (1) We must make the world safe for superiors. The lower the culture & the lower people are the more likely they are to resent & hate the superiors & so to kill them off and drive them into hiding & camouflage. The more we educate the bulk of the population, the better it will be for the elite, e.g., less danger, more audience,
more disciples, protectors, financers, etc. Also the better the society & the institutional arrangements, the safer the world, the more synergic it is, the better it is for eliteniks. . . .
It seems clear to me (I said) that the regime of freedom and self-choice which is desirable for innovating-creative people (& which they desire) can be ruinous for noncreative people who are too authoritarian, too passive, too authority-ambivalent, too noncommitted, etc.—ruinous at least in the sense that this regime permits them to fail, since it assumes resources which are not there. . . . So I vote in favor of making life better for the ones I call "good students,"—those who are autonomous, committed, dedicated, hard-working, etc.—& letting the others go hang. . . .
Also, the humanistic psychology absolutely needs a doctrine of an elite, degrees of humanness, health & sickness, winners & losers, aggridants (whether by heredity or by learning), good specimens, good choosers, no equal votes, nonequal weighting. The taste or judgment of one superior can & should outweigh 1000 or a million blind ones.
"Adjusted to What?"
Maslow was a self-proclaimed patriot, a supporter of the Vietnam War, and an advocate of restrictive population and reproductive control politics whose reaction to the political mood of the 1960s was to call his activist students and colleagues members of the "Spit-on-Daddy Club." As far as he was concerned, they were overindulged, underdisciplined, ungrateful, and impolite. According to Maslow, even his own beloved daughter Ellen was a naive kid who had fallen under the spell of the demagogic leaders and "hard-bitten revolutionaries" in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and other civil rights organizations.
It is ironic indeed that Maslow should have helped to prod an unruly new generation into the use of psychological theory for left-wing purposes. But that is exactly what he did when he pointedly asked,
Adjusted to what? To a bad culture? To a dominating parent? What shall we think of a well-adjusted slave? . . . Clearly what will be called personality problems depends on who is doing the calling. The slave owner? The dictator? The patriarchal father? The husband who wants his wife to remain a child? It seems quite clear that personality problems may sometimes be loud protests against the crushing of one's psychological bones, of one's true inner nature. What is sick then is not to protest while this crime is being committed.
To interrogate the wisdom of passive self-modification, disparage equations between maturity and conformity, and speak out against injustice in the name of one's own psychological integrity became characteristic
features of many 1960s social movements. Their inspiration came, in part, from critiques of adjustment such as Maslow's and from glowing advertisements for self-actualization, which Maslow and the other humanists had elevated to the very pinnacle of human development. Abbie Hoffman was only the most notorious individual to suggest that "Maslovian theory laid a solid foundation for launching the optimism of the sixties." Hoffman, an eager student of Maslow's in the late 1950s and president of the Brandeis psychology club during his senior year, insisted that "everything Maslow wrote [was] applicable to modern revolutionary struggle in America."
To be sure, Maslow protested loudly and repeatedly that his thinking had been misappropriated by Hoffman (a "pathological" publicity seeker) and other countercultural crusaders for human potential. Yet he also recognized a degree of kinship with the "nuts, fringe people, and borderline characters" who were seeking the "peak experiences" he had publicized and celebrated. In the end, Maslow could only clarify his intentions for the record and grudgingly admit that he had no control over the political lessons others extracted from his life work.
In contrast, Rogers did not distance himself from liberal and left-wing activists during the 1960s because he understood their goals to be identical to the goals of humanistic psychology and client-centered psychotherapy: authenticity, intimacy, nonjudgmental empathy, and trust in subjective experience, to name but a few. One of Rogers's last pieces of writing expressed his support for movements among black Americans, students, hippies, and others. "I simply say with all my heart: Power to the emerging person and the revolution he carries within."
During the twenty-five years after 1945, the federal government moved toward methodically governing the mental health of ordinary U.S. citizens, those ordinary citizens moved toward enthusiastically consuming psychotherapeutic services, and psychological experts moved to solidify their authority over every aspect of individual and social life implicated in the manufacture of normality and psychological well-being. The work of theorists and clinicians affiliated with humanistic psychology, such as Rogers and Maslow, demonstrated that the durability of democratic ideas and institutions might even depend upon an intentional quest for better-than-normal psychological development. The absence of mental illness and presence of mental health were no longer sufficient. An ongoing process of conscious becoming, of self-actualization,
in psychotherapy or elsewhere, was necessary to cultural as well as to personal evolution.
Each of the developments described in this chapter expanded psychology's jurisdiction by applying the theories and technologies of clinical expertise to more people in more places for more reasons than before. In so doing, psychological experts helped to stretch the definition of "the political" and alter the goals of political participation. Not only had mental health been encompassed as a legitimate sphere of public action, but subjectivity itself had been exposed as the key to maintaining social stability and attaining prosperity in communities and in the nation. Strengthening feelings of human connection and identification, struggling to adjust, gain insight, and become fully human—these were gradually transformed into important social goals as well as widespread individual preoccupations during the postwar decades.
Not only did the history of clinical experts have public repercussions; it was a significant factor in blurring the lines between culture and politics, between the immediate experience of everyday life and more abstract dialogue on matters of public power and social conflict. Especially during the 1960s, it is possible to see how profoundly clinical vocabulary influenced political thought, political action, and political change. As chapter 10 will show, psychology's cultural progress energized women's collective action during the early years of the second wave of feminism, making the public pursuit of psychological happiness more political than ever.