"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.