Toward a Larger Jurisdiction for Psychology
"I can imagine nothing we could do that would be more relevant to human welfare, and nothing that could pose a greater challenge to the next generation of psychologists, than to discover how best to give psychology away." Thus concluded George Miller's presidential address to the American Psychological Association (APA) in 1969. Intended to stir the souls of his professional colleagues, Miller's confidence that "scientific psychology is potentially one of the most revolutionary intellectual enterprises ever conceived by the mind of man" drew sustenance from the historical record. "I believe that the real impact of psychology will be felt," he concluded, "not through the technological products it places in the hands of powerful men, but through its effects on the public at large, through a new and different public conception of what is humanly possible and what is humanly desirable."
At the dawn of the 1970s, psychological experts had reason to feel satisfied with what they had accomplished since World War II. They had become players in far-flung areas of public policy and public culture, bringing their theories and research to bear on the major issues of their day. It is telling that even those critics who denounced the delivery of psychotechnologies to the military—and there were many in attendance at the 1969 APA meetings who opposed the Vietnam War—were likely to share Miller's pride that psychology had revealed positive new ways of conceiving the human experience.
For better or worse, psychology's rise to power during the postwar decades changed ordinary Americans' expectations of their lives by publicizing the pertinence of emotion, the virtues of insight, and the unavoidability of subjectivity in the conduct of private and public affairs. These feats earned experts high status and permanently transformed the way war, racial conflict, gender equality, and the responsibilities and possibilities of democratic self-government were understood.
The Benefits of War
Psychology's political progress was founded, first and foremost, on the ever-present militarism of the war and postwar years. World War II had been generous to psychological experts. Because of it, they gained abundant training opportunities, professionally beneficial contacts, and a stockpile of theoretical leads to pursue when the fighting ended in 1945. They understood that helping to win the war was their first obligation, but experts never hesitated to experiment in the laboratory of international military conflict with an eye toward enhancing their scientific standing and improving the effectiveness and marketability of their technological talents.
A fixation on "morale" unified projects as diverse as running internment camps, destroying enemy morale, monitoring public opinion, procuring intelligence, and ensuring compliance and fighting spirit among soldiers and civilians. Committed to a vision of war that placed the feelings and attitudes of populations at center stage, psychological experts turned to theories that postulated fundamental parallels and intersections between individual and mass behavior. Frustration and aggression, they pointed out, were as sociologically convincing as they were psychologically sensitive. Dissatisfied people were prone to intolerance and authoritarianism, so it stood to reason that dissatisfied nations were prone to demagoguery and war.
From such comparisons, behavioral experts extracted a number of key propositions. First, psychology could and should operate as a weapon system, at least as significant, if not more so, than any other in the rapidly expanding U.S. arsenal. The real threats to global peace and national security, they believed, were epidemics of irrational emotion and flawed national characters in need of containment and reconstruction. Second, war was a fundamentally psychological conflict in which
the psyche was a battlefield, persuasion was a key military strategy, and victory was measured in the capture of enemy minds. Third, no important distinctions existed between patriotic service, social responsibility, and government employment. The highest professional calling was to be of official use. Finally, the experts learned that the progress of psychology was an accurate index of democratic freedom, the public status of its practitioners a barometer of the wisdom of government policy and the soundness of society at large.
These lessons, which bonded psychological knowledge to political power, were not in the least abstract. Psychological experts toiled in the school of immediate experience. Immersed in the problems facing public organizations at war, they rapidly coordinated their skills with urgent policy needs to keep the domestic economy producing, the armed forces fighting, the melting pot from boiling over, and public opinion in line. If these jobs sometimes frustrated them, if they had to jump many hurdles before psychology could bring order and enlightenment to the policy-making process, it was also the case that World War II firmly oriented psychological experts toward policy elites and gave them a heady sense of their own potential for informing and altering the exercise of power.
Beyond the practical education World War II offered experts about the bureaucratic realities of government and the obstacles and inducements it placed in their path, world war shaped the lives and ideas of an entire generation of psychologically oriented intellectuals. What they absorbed about their own potential, their responsibilities and relationship to government, and the very changed shape of the world would guide this generation into the 1950s and 1960s.
The World War II model had stamina. For years afterward, it inspired psychological experts to bring their theories and research efforts to bear directly on issues of public importance. Social experts in a democracy were not only equipped, they believed, but positively obligated to immerse themselves in public projects—the more ambitious, the better. With their knowledge linked to progress, maturity, enlightenment, and peace—as well as power—psychological experts conceived of their future in very ambitious terms. Their postwar duty was to help construct a comprehensive "science of human behavior" that would be theoretically sophisticated yet practically equipped for the tasks of "prediction and control." They aimed at nothing less than to "fashion a new civilization" and "restructure the culture of the world."
Psychology as Public Policy
On the heels of war, a variety of psychological experts moved decisively to influence public policy. In return for their record of military service, they were accorded new prestige and greatly expanded authority. Supported by huge infusions of public funds, largely justified by psychology's military record and scientific claims, policy-oriented experts during the 1950s and 1960s contributed their research and theories to agencies of the state.
The conception of war that emerged from World War II—a "minds race" in which the quality of "mental materiel" could determine eventual victory or final defeat—was tailor-made for the Cold War era. So too, experts believed, was their knowledge of the psychology of revolutionary upheaval. Helping emerging states navigate the dangerous waters of capitalist modernization with policies geared to the design and manufacture of personalities suitable for development would surely enable the United States to conquer the territory most contested in the Cold War—the emotional loyalty residing in Third World psyches—and simultaneously ensure national security and global political stability.
From policy-makers' point of view, preventing upheaval in the first place was even more attractive than helping Third World identities mature, and the aspiration to "predict and influence" social change energized psychology's Cold War career, including the failed Project Camelot. In the aftermath of the scandal, no consensus was reached on whether Camelot was virtuous, socially engaged research, underhanded espionage, or merely proof that many intellectuals were extremely naive. Camelot revealed that the lessons of World War II remained sturdy and psychology's historical direction remained steady. The Cold War made behavioral science appear to be "one of the vital tools in the arsenal of the free societies." Waging "peacefare" in order to avoid direct superpower confrontation guaranteed a global arena in which behavioral theories could be formulated and tested. Psychological expertise continued to be applied to politically explicit goals effectively and without significant opposition. Public service and professional advance proceeded together unabated.
And so it was on the home front as well. A generation of experts
whose practical techniques and analytical perspectives were shaped by military directives during World War II and the early Cold War brought their talents to bear on an array of nonmilitary concerns in later years. Racial conflict was one. During World War II, riots and a racist Nazi enemy had compelled numerous explorations of "intergroup conflict." These studies proliferated after 1945, becoming especially visible and germane upon the appearance of a mass-based civil fights movement in the 1950s, which captured the sympathies of a majority of psychological experts even as it rudely interrupted the celebration of postwar affluence and consensus.
Just as political instability in the Third World required constant attention and preventive measures, so too did threatening levels of racial hostility within U.S. borders. Their investigations into the psychology of race led experts to insist that the relevant variables were pretty much the same on the domestic scene as they were on the frontiers of the Cold War: frustration and aggression, the logic of personality formation, and, in particular, the gender dynamics involved in the production of either healthy or damaged (masculine) self-esteem. During the 1950s and 1960s, evidence of the harm prejudice and racism caused the developing personality was accorded a central place in law, government policy, and programs devoted to attaining equal opportunity and civil rights.
The Kerner Commission's deliberations, research, and policy recommendations provide evidence that official explanations of urban unrest during the 1960s had been deeply influenced by the work of psychological experts. As they analyzed the past errors and charted the future course of local police forces and municipal administrations, the commission's experts leaned heavily on the postwar themes of personality damage, wounded masculinity, and social disorganization within black ghetto communities. They recalled World War II-era investigations of irrationally prejudiced attitudes among soldiers and civilians and applied counterinsurgency models to the unrest in U.S. cities.
That the benefits of war were so flexible and far-reaching underlines the mutually reinforcing relationships between the growth of the U.S. welfare state in the twentieth century, the professionalization of the social and behavioral sciences and their recruitment into state service, and the extraordinary expansion in accepted notions of government, its proper spheres of operation, and its techniques of control. It is accurate enough to point out that wartime developments during the early 1940s
had ancestors in Progressive Era reform and the depression-inspired programs of the New Deal and descendants in the Great Society of the 1960s. In each period of reform, experts supplied technical assistance in many different areas of domestic policy, from poverty and criminal justice to education and employment. While important details differed, the larger question—what role would experts play in ambitious government schemes for rational economic planning and conscious social engineering?—surfaced repeatedly over many decades.
The growth of the welfare state certainly offered psychological experts numerous opportunities to gather data, reach conclusions, and thereby test the practical validity of their theoretical hypotheses. The appearance of the warfare state and the constant military emergencies of the postwar years were at least as hospitable. The emphasis in this book on war and militarism is not intended to suggest that the growth of the state's domestically oriented concerns and bureaucracies have been insignificant to psychology's history during or after World War II. Quite the contrary. One of the most significant political developments of the postwar period is the growing convergence between the requirements of welfare and warfare, and the belief that ensuring national security in a dangerous world and constructing a just and decent society for U.S. citizens at home were necessarily part of the same project.
At times, welfare and warfare appeared as a stark choice: welfare or warfare? This was the case, for example, when the Kerner Commission's recommendations for expanded social programs in U.S. cities collided with the fiscal requirements of waging war in Vietnam. At other times, the warfare state assumed the functions of the welfare state. Policy-makers like Daniel Patrick Moynihan utilized military behavioral research as a blueprint for 1960s social programs and insisted that the Department of Defense offer soldiers opportunities for education and training that would lift them out of the civilian underclass. Perhaps it is only now, as we look back on the Cold War as history, that this intimate relationship between welfare and warfare can finally come into focus.
Whether they were offering advice on managing the Cold War or prescribing a reduction in racial tensions in U.S. cities, psychological experts brought their considerable talents to bear on the design and administration of postwar public policy. Their mission was to enlighten approaches to the most decisive and divisive matters of their day and, in doing so, to enlarge the responsibilities and appropriate subjects of government while broadening psychology's reach and influence.
Psychology as Public Culture
The career of clinical experts was animated by the wartime normalization of psychotherapy, the evolution of mental health into a national public policy priority, and the migration of the therapeutic sensibility into the political culture of the 1960s. Far more than their policy-oriented colleagues, clinicians were concerned about individual human beings, practices like psychotherapy, and concepts like normality and mental health. But psychological experts of all types shared basic assumptions that placed them on similar historical trajectories. The belief that psychology might systematically expose universal laws of human behavior and motivation won the loyalty and captured the imaginations of psychotherapists and behavioral scientists alike.
World War II was as momentous for clinicians as it was for social and behavioral scientists. Because exposure to military conflict, especially combat, was stressful to the point of precipitating mass breakdown in otherwise normal men, clinicians accorded new prominence to social context in their estimations of what caused (and what might alleviate) symptoms of mental trouble. The job definition of clinical experts subsequently shifted from identifying individuals predisposed to emotional disturbance to treating masses of men made neurotic by war and regulating the military environment so as to prevent the same thing from happening to others. War bound professional helpers to normal human fears and anxieties, completely reversing the old association between clinical expertise and madness.
Convinced by war that their insights and practices could and should be brought to bear on a wide range of social problems in the name of mental health, clinicians pursued an ambitious strategy that fundamentally transformed the nature of their authority. Clinical practices and theories, previously considered methods of treating and understanding gross mental abnormalities and deviations from the average, gradually earned a reputation as best suited to comprehending mild forms of psychological maladjustment as well as entirely normal psychological experiences. In the case of psychiatry, a change in geographic location corresponded to this radical shift in emphasis. On the assumption that severe mental illness could be prevented, the majority of the profession moved aggressively away from isolated asylums and into the heart of U.S. communities.
As a result, psychological help was defined so broadly that everyone needed it. Because mental health became a prerequisite to social welfare and economic prosperity, and not merely a state of individual well-being, virtually no aspect of U.S. life, private or public, remained out of clinicians' reach. Neurotic emotional disturbance was gradually accepted as a fact and product of modem existence rather than as the shameful secret it had been just a few decades earlier. Clinicians, the madness specialists of an earlier era, evolved into empathetic guides whose job it was to assist their fellow humans in navigating the emotional quicksand of modem life. When mental health was accepted as a relative and unstable social resource, rather than as a property permanently belonging to (or absent in) given individuals, psychotherapeutic encounters were enshrined as precious experiences and clinical assistance and social activism became difficult to tell apart. To seek self-understanding and help became an emblem of emotional courage, a means to growth and happiness, and a step toward responsible, self-controlled citizenship. Therapeutic need began to lose its stigmatizing sting.
Mental health itself became an important concern among policy-makers after 1945, a direct result of the exposure of millions of American men—soldiers and veterans—to programs of clinical testing and treatment. Historic legislation like the National Mental Health Act of 1946 and the Community Mental Health Centers Act of 1963 reflected vigorous demand for postwar services emanating from veterans, their families, and, of course, clinical professionals themselves. Community psychology and psychiatry, the most innovative trends in the postwar clinical fields, displayed the tenacity of wartime lessons about the importance of managing emotional disturbance with methods geared to preventing it in the first place. By definition, community-sensitive methods embodied the idea that psychological fitness was inseparable from public policy devised and implemented by wise and compassionate social engineers.
In spite of the concerns they shared with social and behavioral scientists, most clinicians remained obligated to helping individuals or small groups like families, and they held fast to a correspondingly personal vision of mental health during this period. Yet the popularization of clinical work had major public consequences during the 1960s. During that decade, a diversity of political movements added to conventional political agendas demands for a drastically changed type of political participation and subjectivity. To civil rights guarantees for members of
racial minority groups and an end to military involvement in Southeast Asia were added calls for participatory democracy, a feeling of "somebodiness," and a personally meaningful civic life.
These developments illustrated how politically enriching and liberating psychological perspectives could be and were. By the 1960s, psychological experts had expanded both the subjects of official government action and extended citizens' expectations of their public lives. If alienation and frustration nourished such developments, they also produced new and dynamic levels of citizen engagement, expressing desires that political responsibility, social welfare, and public activity be rejuvenated and made worthwhile for masses of disenfranchised people.
Psychology's public face did not always appear so benevolent. Clinical expertise itself became the subject of political protest during the 1960s, as if to underscore that its pernicious potential was at least as obvious as its more salutary consequences. Antipsychiatry was inspired by the critical writings of such thinkers as Thomas Szasz and R. D. Laing, and grassroots groups like the Mental Patients Liberation Front built alliances between ex-patients and leftist clinicians. Together, they elaborated a radical critique of clinical work. Even within antipsychiatry, however, which assumed that the psychological worldview was little more than a cover for the mystification and rationalization of political oppression and hierarchy, there existed liberating possibilities for the practice of "radical therapy."
The case of feminism is illustrative because it recapitulates the divergent possibilities demonstrated throughout this book: psychology could be both politically liberating and oppressive. To the extent that feminists protested the sexism of experts but utilized psychological ideas and practices for distinctly feminist purposes, the women's movement offers a fascinating window into that aspect of psychology's political history. It reveals some of the connections between mainstream social science, radical activism, and intellectual dissent.
The popularization and redefinition of clinical experience after 1945 was a significant, positive factor in the women's movement's emergence, mobilization, structure, demands, style, and theoretical literature. So too though was the critique mounted by antipsychiatry. Feminist activists did not merely imitate psychotherapy or reproduce humanistic theories wholesale. Neither did they echo the most simplistic antipsychiatric accusations that clinical practices were mere smoke-screens for political repression. From the practice of consciousness raising to theoretical questions about the origin of male supremacy,
feminists—at all points on the movement's political spectrum—vigorously debated the place of psychology in women's oppression and liberation. Was it part of the problem or part of the solution? The lack of consensus exposed the fundamental political legacy of postwar psychological expertise: it was neither and it was both. Feminism's dual identity as a public campaign for formal equality and a cultural revolution in the subjective experience of gender demonstrates very clearly how much the direction of postwar political activism depended upon the hallmarks of psychological expertise during this period: the merging of public and private, the political and the psychological. Psychology may have constructed the female, but it also helped to construct the feminist.
"A Larger Jurisdiction for Psychology"
Wherever they were located and whatever their immediate concerns, diverse psychological experts sought "a larger jurisdiction for psychology" during the years after 1940. I have tried to show that, to a remarkable degree, they achieved it. Delighted that psychology had finally attained some of the visibility and power they thought it deserved, they contemplated the happy prospect of "giving psychology away," consolidating their gains by making psychology an inextricable element of contemporary civilization rather than a factor dependent upon the fickle fortunes of one professional group or another.
The eager exchange of ideas between clinicians and behavioral scientists nourished this broad jurisdiction. Techniques of individual diagnosis were eagerly applied to the study of national character and international relationships during World War II by such figures as Lawrence K. Frank and Alexander Leighton. Their recommendation that society be treated as "a patient" was but a single instance of a widely accepted view: namely that clinical insights could and should be adapted to the requirements of foreign and military policy. Delicate challenges in the sphere of domestic policy elicited similar perspectives on cities and urban disturbances more than twenty years later. The Kerner Commission's research effort included analyses of cities as diseased entities and riots as psychopathological symptoms which, not surprisingly, concluded with recommendations for urban' treatment.
For their part, many clinicians during this period came to believe that
their professional commitment to cultivating individual mental health required them to become social planners and political activists engaged in the policy-making process. This belief was the essence of community mental health, a movement spearheaded by professional organizations like the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry, known for championing an array of activist, liberal solutions in the name of clinical social responsibility. Numerous individual careers progressed from rescuing troubled individuals to mapping public policy, a move that appeared logical and necessary in a society showing symptoms of social strain and even sickness. For example, psychiatrist John Spiegel, a clinician involved in the treatment of war neurosis during World War II and an active proponent of family therapy in the 1950s, could be found in the 1960s directing the Lemberg Center for the Study of Violence at Brandeis University, a hub of policy-oriented investigations into the causes of civil disturbance. What could be done, after all, about individual or family well-being in ghettos if one ignored dilapidated housing, wretched schools, and a climate of material impoverishment and spiritual despair?
The historical chronologies of clinical and policy-oriented experts also paralleled each other during this period. Clinicians derived long-lasting benefits from World War II, when their fervent efforts to maintain the military's mental balance underscored yet again the salience of morale. Programs that screened, diagnosed, and treated millions of individual soldiers helped to turn subjectivity into an essential ingredient of successful war making, just as psychological warfare and attitude research, designed for application to entire populations, had done. All of their wartime accomplishments were lavishly rewarded after 1945, in the tangible form of public financial support for professional training and research and in the less tangible form of enhanced popular prestige, which increased private demand for services and advice.
In sum, this book has described a metamorphosis in ideas about change: how it was to be most effectively conceived, planned, and administered. It has also attempted to illuminate a number of the historical circumstances that produced that metamorphosis. As they gained public stature and ambition in the years after 1940, psychological experts claimed increasingly broad authority to understand and alter the conditions of human behavior and experience. Some occupations gravitated toward persons, others toward populations. Enveloped in world war and Cold War, determined to reveal the sources of racial hostility
and the logic of gender identity., it is hardly surprising that almost all of them concentrated on the intersections between self and society.
Experts charged with managing populations felt they had no choice but to navigate the murky depths of the interior psyche in order to accomplish their goals. Experts moved to aid suffering individuals resolved that only social alterations could alleviate pain and facilitate growth. Thus did the concerns of behavioral science and clinical healing merge, complicating the meaning of social engineering and personal liberation alike. Adding the individual psyche to the targets of public policy expanded policy's reach and redefined government as a process in which subjectivity was implicated and altered. Making clinicians accountable for environments conducive to mental health and happiness drastically extended the psychotherapeutic frontier by implying that society itself was in dire need of emotional help.
Developments such as these offer fresh vantage points from which to view postwar history in the United States and provide insights into some of its characteristic features: the blurring of public and private boundaries, the overlap between political culture and cultural politics, the anxious standoff between self and society. Psychological experts not only linked personal and social change. They suggested that the points of contact merited political scrutiny and government action, a proposition that transformed subjectivity into a potential resource and obstacle in public life. Because human psychology was an enigma—amenable to probing investigation one moment but allergic to it the next—experts with the authority to fathom and guide it were indispensable to the future of democracy.
Does the rise of psychology herald a new chapter in the evolution of humanism or merely indicate that Big Brother is bright enough to arrive cloaked in the rhetoric of enlightenment and health? If differentiating these possibilities appears a perplexing task, that only suggests that the relationship of psychological knowledge to power, which has had varied and paradoxical consequences in the past, will likely continue to present a host of thorny contradictions. The romance of American psychology in the postwar era is consequential not because it offers reassurance that freedom and control are entirely different things, but because it shows that they are not.