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8 The Kerner Commission and the Experts
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The Kerner Commission and the Experts

By the mid-1960s the momentum of the civil rights movement and mounting evidence that white Americans' racial attitudes were changing with excruciating slowness had significantly altered the landscape of domestic policy-making. The intractability of white resistance and the rising tide of black anger began to undermine hope that the federal government could actually eliminate racism and poverty through dramatically expanded social welfare programs like the War on Poverty, a disheartening situation that made psychological explanations more appealing than ever. The seriousness of prejudice, personality damage, and a laundry list of social pathologies had been absorbed by policy-makers, who were convinced by landmarks like Brown that such maladies were profoundly consequential and therefore deserving of government attention and action, the sooner the better. And the legacy of World War II lessons about intergroup conflict and rioting— that irrational racial fears were dangerous threats to U.S. democratic morale and unity—also endured.

At the same time, evidence of psychological disorder was found to be politically expedient in new ways. The ugliness of psychic deformation offered a justification for the Great Society that was more durable, or at least fresher, than such tired old abstractions as equality and social justice. By the late 1960s, when urban riots became commonplace, Johnson's political career was in ruins and his administration's major commitments were under attack from an antiwar movement on the Left


and right-wing forces increasingly alarmed about the Great Society's economic and racial reforms.

It was in such a hostile environment that a policy framework steeped in the language of psychology proved its real usefulness. Psychological arguments helped to insulate large-scale social welfare programs and shield them from political opposition by conferring upon them a new identity as "mass treatment programs" for the range of serious social problems that resulted from unchecked poverty and racism.[1] Not coincidentally, the association between mental well-being and social welfare also rebounded in new levels of psychological authority, and ever-increasing government attention to psychological issues. "Freedom from mental illness has taken on a social importance somewhat equivalent to freedom from want or freedom from fear," pointed out mental health policy-makers in the 1950s, "and the right to mental health is achieving a status like that of the right to work."[2] One clear expression of the government's deepening commitment came in the form of new federal legislation and funding for clinical professions and institutions. Another, however, was the integration of psychological issues into the guts of urban, employment, and civil rights policy. The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, for example, provided $800 million to investigate the "psychological, social and health deficits" that impaired the lives of the poor and exacted such high social costs from the society at large.

This chapter documents one case—the Kerner Commission—in which psychological expertise was employed to analyze the causes of a significant domestic problem—urban riots—and inform federal approaches to racial conflict, prejudice, and discrimination.

Beginning with the Watts riot in 1965, which coincided with the release of the controversial Moynihan Report on the black family, psychological experts relied on the major themes of postwar research and theory to explain violent civil disturbance in particular as well as the emotional turbulence of race relations in general. Riots, which brought terrible damage and death to hundreds of inner cities during the second half of the decade, also made the lessons of Cold War psychology appear as applicable in the South Bronx as they were in Southeast Asia. Even before Watts, Kenneth Clark (whose research had decisively informed the Brown decision and an array of Great Society programs, and whose ideas would directly influence the Kerner Commission two years later) had called for a "relevant social psychology." He identified Project Camelot, and its objective of predicting and controlling Third


World revolution, as a pertinent model for the study of riots and disturbances at home.[3]

The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (popularly known by the name of its chairman, Governor Otto Kerner of Illinois) was the federal government's major response to urban rioting during the 1960s. Because its formation was so widely publicized and its final report so widely read, it was also the best known of all the 1960s presidential "social issue" commissions.[4] On 27 July 1967, with the shock of the Detroit riot not even a week old, President Johnson addressed the nation solemnly, reassuring citizens that the federal government would respond swiftly and forcefully to the crisis. He announced the formation of a riot commission at the outset, but stressed that the first responsibility of officials was "not to analyze, but to end disorder."[5] Two days later, on July 29, the eleven-member body was created by executive order (fig. 15). Johnson charged it with "a tall order": investigating what had happened during the riots, why they had happened, and how to prevent them from ever happening again.[6]

The Kerner Commission case illustrates how indispensable psychological perspectives had become in key domestic policy-making arenas. Just as Project Camelot had shown psychology's usefulness in foreign and military policy directed at Cold War counterinsurgency, the history of the Kerner Commission underlines the bond between psychological authority and government pronouncements on race and urban crisis. During its short existence, the Kerner Commission employed an army of experts to conduct large-scale research on the rioting process, invited testimony on a range of urban and racial afflictions, and received piles of unsolicited advice about what exactly had gone wrong in U.S. cities. Psychological perspectives were evident in each of these, and other, areas of the commission's work. This chapter describes the efforts of researchers to understand the causes of riots and the motivations of rioters, analyzes the relationship of experts to commission politics, and assesses the degree to which psychology informed the commission's conclusions and policy recommendations. The experience of the psychological experts who worked for the Kerner Commission underlines how continuous and familiar certain themes were in psychology's postwar public history. It also illuminates distinctive and changing aspects of this history in the late 1960s.

When Johnson announced the Kerner Commission's formation, his foreign and domestic policies were both already on the defensive. The pressures he faced made Johnson deny at the very outset that the com-


Figure 15. President Johnson signing the executive order that created
the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (the Kerner Commission)
on 29 July 1967. Photo: Yaichi R. Okamoto, Lyndon Baynes Johnson Library Collections.

mission's function was to prop up his administration's approach to urban policy and civil rights. He instructed the commissioners to follow the truth freely, wherever it led. "We are looking to you, not to approve our own notions, but to guide us and to guide the country through a thicket of tension, conflicting evidence and extreme opinion."[7]

Seven months later, when the final report was issued, the Johnson presidency was on the rocks. Although the commission had produced a report that was compatible with the administration's political orientation—especially in its total disregard for how the Vietnam War was choking the Great Society—Johnson ignored the commission's warning that extraordinary levels of new funding and political will were required to tackle poverty, racism, and urban despair. In January 1968 the beginning of the Tet Offensive had shaken Johnson's confidence by making the depth and hopelessness of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam clearer to the public than it had previously been. By March 1, when the report was issued, Johnson's career was finished. On March 31 he announced his decision not to run for reelection.


The Kerner Commission may have been unusual in attempting to complete its task at the moment of ultimate political misfortune for the president who had appointed it. In its use of social and behavioral expertise, however, it was entirely typical, another in the series of postwar episodes in which science's good reputation bolstered the legitimacy of a high-level policy-making process that would otherwise have appeared thoroughly contaminated by political considerations.

To say that psychological experts were politically useful to the Kerner Commission, however, is not to say that they were mere pawns in the hands of the state, hoodwinked into supporting Johnson administration aims against their will. In a pattern very similar to Project Camelot, and World War II work before that, the Kerner Commission's experts made genuine efforts to advance scientific understanding of important public questions and fortify their own authority at the same time. They considered advising the president an important opportunity to act on their social and professional responsibilities, while pursuing the ongoing project of infusing the operations of government with psychological enlightenment. Robert Shellow, who directed the commission's research effort, reflected, "I don't believe it is enough for us to make passive offerings to decision-makers. I believe we should try to get closer to those in power and engage them actively. . . . How else can the social scientist hope to have an impact unless he is close enough to the policymakers to interpret to them his theories, to explain to them his findings and translate their implications into action?"[8]

By 1967, with scandals like Camelot behind them, experts were not at all sure how to answer such questions. Policy applications no longer appeared as unequaled opportunities for public service, scientific advance, and professional growth. Instead, they promised so many headaches and such constant compromise that researchers were often quite conscious of their contradictory position in the policy-making process and of the likelihood that their work would be used as window dressing for a policy based more on political considerations than scientific evidence. Shellow himself recalled that "a number of well-known scholars had been approached for the job [of directing the commission's research] but had declined, believing (I learned later) that the commission was destined to white-wash the crisis facing America, and was therefore too risky an enterprise with which to be associated."[9] Although he understandably defended the ultimate value of the research effort, even Shellow readily admitted that the mandate President Johnson gave to the experts


was an impossible task—a social scientist's nightmare come true. . . . There was more of a preoccupation with building an argument that would hold water than with developing a reliable picture of what happened. Despite these severe constraints on the normally deliberate scientific approach, I believe that my staff and I made certain critical contributions which substantially affected the course of the commission's deliberations and its final product.[10]

Not all observers agreed with Shellow's positive assessment that the results were worth the effort. Michael Lipsky, coauthor of a book about riot commissions published several years after the Kerner Commission, concluded that its research effort had allowed the Kerner Commission "to demand changes and advocate radical reforms without calling names. . . . The problem is identified and solutions are proposed. But no one is responsible, and no one is blamed, or urged to act, as an individual, any differently."[11]

Notwithstanding such differences of opinion, psychological expertise was a standard ingredient in high-level domestic policy-making by the late 1960s. A look at the Kerner Commission's internal operations not only verifies their existence and importance but reveals the process by which almost three decades of psychological research and theory about race and rioting expanded the reach of government by defining new areas of human experience—the subjective experience of self, in particular—as appropriate and legitimate spheres of public policy. Helped along by the dramatically increased status and visibility of psychological experts in nonpolicy spheres, especially popular culture and clinical work, the Kerner Commission's experts employed all the intellectual tools that had been placed at their disposal by their World War II and Cold War predecessors: the importance of frustration and aggression, the irrationality and prejudice of public attitudes and opinion, the personality damage done to black Americans, the tradition of crowd psychology. But the commission's context in urban rioting and in the polarized social climate of the late 1960s also served to alter some of those tools, or at least shed new light on their past (and future) political importance.

The Movement Context

Just as research on the psychology of prejudice and racial identity had been spurred on by the direction of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and early 1960s, so the work of the Kerner Commission took place in the context of that movement's turn toward black


nationalism, a transition that made psychology, if anything, more prominent in the demands of activists, and certainly in analyses of them. Black power was understood, by critics and supporters alike, as a bid for self-worth and psychological independence. Alarmed observers like Erik Erikson called the departure from integrationist goals proof that black activists were moving in the direction of psychological despair, away from the "essential wholeness of experience" and toward a rigid and intolerant "totalistic world view."[12] Supporters of black nationalism expressed themselves in equally psychological terms, pointing to the analogy between black power and adolescent rebellion against "bad parents" or suggesting that long-suppressed black rage required constructive expression—in separatist forms—if the tragedy of black self-hatred and identity crisis were ever to be overcome.[13] Alvin Poussaint, for example, restated the salience of personality damage to black rage in a New York Times Magazine article, "A Negro Psychiatrist Explains the Negro Psyche," published just as the Kerner Commission was getting under way.[14]

Psychological analysis of this sort was not simply imposed by hostile outsiders. Civil rights activists, nationalists and integrationists alike, adopted the language and tactics of psychology as their own. A concern with black Americans' "degenerating sense of 'nobodiness'" had long been apparent in the thought of Martin Luther King, Jr., whose appeals to conscience described the terrible anguish of witnessing "ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form" in the "little mental sky" of black children, and seeing them "begin to distort [the] personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people."[15]

As they turned toward black nationalism in the mid-1960s, members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee also advanced a sharply psychological understanding that the U.S. system of race relations was permeated by inescapable, subconscious images linking blackness with evil and savagery.[16] Eldridge Cleaver, the Black Panther party's minister of information, later used the vocabulary of humanistic psychology when he titled an important essay on his personal and political development, "On Becoming."[17] And Price Cobbs, a black psychiatrist, conducted interracial encounter groups, called "Racial Confrontation as a Transcendental Experience," out of the San Francisco office of Esalen (a countercultural hub) for two years, until the effort disintegrated in a cloud of angry recriminations in 1969.[18]

Civil fights activists also tried to make psychology's insights serve their explanations of rioting and what to do about it. Black nationalist


Reverend Albert Cleage, of Detroit's Central United Church, pointed to the devastation of rioting in order to counter Moynihan's condemnation of black psychology: "His study tries to show that the black community is sick; but the black community is not as sick as the white community."[19] And a young Jesse Jackson, lieutenant to Martin Luther King and director of Chicago's Operation Breadbasket, wrote the following to Mayor Richard Daley in August 1967:

Riots are illegal, but make no mistake about it, they are not illegitimate. . . . For the victims of slum life, military suppression redirects their frustration and sets akindle a flame of passion and hate. This bottled up fear and stifled search for justice drives men to spontaneously combust and come up screaming irrationally. . . . The debate is not over the pursuit [of liberty] but over the right to be a man.[20]

The Kerner Commission Is Appointed

The Kerner Commission was established one week after the start of the Detroit riot, in which forty-three persons were killed, more than seventy-two hundred arrests were made, and approximately $40 million worth of damage was done to property. Eleven commissioners were personally named by President Johnson. As a body, the commission was weighted sharply toward the ranks of elected national officials and exuded an aura of moderation. Liberals of both parties predominated; neither southern Democrats nor black nationalists were represented; organized labor, big business, established civil rights organizations, and police departments each had some voice, and the commission included one female and two black Americans.[21] The commission's executive director, also designated by Johnson himself, was David Ginsburg, a Washington attorney. Not a single one of the commissioners was a social or behavioral scientist (although Fred Harris could certainly claim to be an advocate), and Ginsburg's credentials were obviously political rather than scientific, leading one blunt critic to dismiss him as Johnson's "chief political cadre."[22] This insensitive oversight elicited pointed criticism from the intellectual community and resulted, in the short run, in the appointment of psychiatrist W. Walter Menninger (one of William Menninger's sons) to a subsequent presidential commission.[23]

The seven months between 27 July 1967 and 1 March 1968, when


the commission's final report was released, were crammed with work for commissioners, their staff, and outside consultants. The deadline for a final report, which was unrealistic in the first place, was pushed up by six months, making the already hectic pace of work almost unbearable, and even calling its quality into question. Almost no one involved believed that seven months was adequate time to methodically review all the facts about urban rioting, let alone produce a scientific explanation of its causes. But they were animated by a shared sense of terrible crisis and by the tremendous power and responsibility of telling the federal government how to cope.

In spite of the mad rush, the final report became an instant bestseller, with the result that its famous conclusion—"Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal"—was widely discussed even if the Johnson administration was too far gone to do anything about it.[24] The Bantam paperback press run of thirty thousand sold out in three days and another 1.6 million copies were sold between March and June 1968.[25] Marlon Brando, in a personal effort to raise the racial consciousness of his fellow citizens, even did a dramatic reading from the report on a late-night television talk show.[26]

The Experts and Their Work

The Kerner Commission's assistant deputy director for research, whose job it was to coordinate the commission's massive and hurried research program, was Robert Shellow, a social psychologist previously on the staff of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). He came to the commission highly recommended by American Psychological Association Executive Officer Arthur Brayfield, who wasted no time in making staff suggestions to Fred Harris and expressing the view that the commission "must take a hard look at the psychological aspects of the problems."[27] Because of the pressure to issue an authoritative statement at the earliest possible moment, not all of the commission's research was completed in time to be included in the 1 March 1968 final report. A volume of supplemental research studies was published later on that year.[28]

The commission's data gathering and analyzing effort was vast. The in-house social science staff, although important, consisted of only a


handful of researchers outside of Shellow himself, and not all of them worked full-time for the commission. David Boesel of Cornell and Louis Goldberg of Johns Hopkins were both Ph.D. candidates at the time, in political science and sociology, respectively; Gary Marx, a sociologist on the faculty of Harvard's Department of Social Relations, came to Washington three days a week; Elliot Liebow, an NIMH administrator and anthropologist, scraped together one day each week to work for the commission. Regular consultants included sociologists Ralph Turner (of the University of California, Los Angeles) and Neil Smelser (of the University of California, Berkeley).[29]

The in-house staff was tiny in part for political reasons. By 1967 many prominent social and behavioral scientists had become critics of Johnson's foreign policy, and experts with antiwar records were simply eliminated from consideration for spots on the commission staff. Administrators assumed that such individuals would be security risks.[30] There were practical reasons for the small size of the research staff as well. Lining up academic experts on very short notice proved to be a formidable logistical challenge. Few were willing to alter their immediate plans, take on a huge research project, and work at a hectic pace. A combination of politics and convenience thus determined that the number of experts engaged in contract research for the commission would far outstrip the numbers of in-house researchers. No background checks were required for contract work and it could be managed far more flexibly, without, for example, requiring that experts move to Washington, D.C. Although the vast majority of the commission's experts were not submitted to any official litmus test, the Vietnam War, a very sore spot with the administration, was not discussed anywhere in the report. Considering the war's rapid depletion of Great Society funds, this astonishing gap is difficult to explain except as a result of executive pressure.[31]

The work done by the small in-house research team was supplemented by field teams of six, who were sent out to gather information in twenty-three cities in an effort to compile accurate chronologies of urban disorders.[32] In all, team members interviewed twelve hundred people—from mayors to rioters—pored over official documents like police and fire department logs, took scores of witness depositions, and lined up confidential testimonials for the commission. Robert Shellow estimated that the final city-by-city analyses were based on 15,200 pages of raw data, excluding the teams' own voluminous research reports.[33]


Contract research that was paid for directly by the commission involved hundreds of thousands of dollars and the kinds of quasi-independent research organizations that proliferated after World War II in the rush to meet the government's new demand for expert help. For example, the University of Michigan's Survey Research Center, a branch of the Institute for Social Research, which had been a stepchild of World War II-era military expertise, handled one of the commission's supplementary studies on racial attitudes, which involved more than five thousand written surveys and personal interviews in fifteen cities.[34] Other significant pieces of research of immediate use to the Kerner Commission fell under the funding auspices of more permanent, and generously endowed, federal bureaucracies. The NIMH, for instance, cooperated fully with the Kerner Commission. It was already sponsoring more than fifty studies (at a price tag of $4 million) on "mass violence."[35] These included efforts to design accurate riot predictors by the Lemberg Center for the Study of Violence at Brandeis University and a large-scale psychiatric study in which forty NIMH staffers investigated the salience of masculinity in differences between rioters and nonrioters in Detroit.[36]

In addition to research done for, or in cooperation with, the Kerner Commission, Robert Shellow made it his business to collect and review the most recent behavioral and clinical theories. His meetings with consultants and advisors reviewed work being done by a range of academic experts on social conflict, racial attitudes, and rioting. The commission considered the feasibility of predicting individual dissatisfaction and developing phase models of revolutionary upheaval, efforts remarkably reminiscent of Project Camelot and of World War II work before that.[37] Among the consultants to the Kerner Commission were Neil Smelser (who had also been one of Project Camelot's advisors) and Ralph Turner, both important figures in the translation of crowd psychology into the sociological literature on "collective behavior." Along more clinical lines, the commission's psychiatric consultants (including Robert Coles and Charles Pinderhughes) set out to translate social problems directly into the language of psychiatry. They argued that "pathogenic" social structure should be subject to medical treatment, analyzed riots as an element in group identity, and wrote reports on various aspects of adolescent male psychology.[38]

The major accomplishment of the in-house research staff was a lengthy and controversial document, titled "The Harvest of American Racism." It concluded, in no uncertain terms, that the desperate state of U.S. cities was the fault of white racist institutions and that white—


not black—Americans were destroying the American dream. Greatly increased taxes and a multibillion-dollar assault on urban slums, far beyond anything envisioned by the Great Society, were the only possible means of preventing further riots. A shocked David Ginsburg reacted to this radical criticism of the Johnson record by firing Shellow and his immediate colleagues en masse in December 1967, along with 120 other staff members. A funding shortfall, caused by the Vietnam War, was the official reason offered for this dramatic move.[39]

In the short run, the housecleaning confirmed some experts' suspicions that they were useful only as "social science input," obediently serving a process that had been politically determined by others from the start.[40] Robert Shellow, for example, reported the following brief conversation with one of his staff superiors as evidence that the commission appreciated expertise more for its appearance than its substance.

My statement: You realize that it's going to be awfully difficult to mount a study of riots using social science methodology and compress it into four or five months.

And the reply: That's not important . . . what's important is that you've got that Ph.D.[41]

Even some experts deeply invested in the Great Society bureaucracies that "Harvest" had criticized as Band-Aid approaches reacted sharply to Ginsburg's purge of the commission staff. Research psychologist Thomas Tomlinson, of the Office of Economic Opportunity, for example, accused the commission of abandoning any and all approaches that were likely to provoke presidential wrath (either because they cost too much or pointed the finger at Vietnam), even if they were the only way to prevent future rioting.[42] Not surprisingly, Ginsburg lambasted such charges as "irresponsible and totally inaccurate."[43] Whatever the truth in this particular case, the roller-coaster relationship between expertise and public policy, which made experts feel giddy with power one moment and weak and expendable the next, was not new. It was a significant pattern in the history of policy-oriented psychological experts since 1940, as we have already seen.

Masculine Self-Esteem Revisited

All of the psychological experts affiliated with Kerner Commission research were steeped in the postwar literature on prejudice and personality damage, and their explorations of riot causation were marked by the characteristic themes of psychological work on race


since 1945: social pathology, wounded masculinity, matriarchal families, and problematic self-esteem. Also very conspicuous in their work was the language of clinical practice. The conceptual basis of medicine and psychiatry—health, sickness, and therapeutic treatment—infused policy debates about the status of U.S. cities and the motivations of rioters, corresponding to the increased status and visibility of postwar clinical work, as well as to the innovative trends of community psychology and psychiatry. What follows is a discussion of the significance of these particular patterns, unmistakable and influential, in the testimony that was offered and the research that was done by and for the Kerner Commission.

John Gardner, the secretary of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW), was one of the very first witnesses to appear before the commission. A member of the cabinet, Gardner was the highest-ranking psychologist in the federal government. He brought to his job a perspective that had been shaped by the kinds of wartime experiences described in earlier chapters. During World War II, Gardner worked for the FCC's Foreign Broadcast Monitoring (later Intelligence) Service and the OSS. After the war, he became president of the Carnegie Corporation and consultant to government officials in the Department of Defense, the Agency for International Development, and the White House. In 1965 he brought to his job as HEW secretary a particular commitment to organizational psychology and a strong desire to champion individual potential and development in the face of mass institutions.[44]

On 1 August 1967 Gardner explained to the Kerner Commission that rioting was caused by poverty and discrimination, but he also lamented "the social evils of the ghetto," including crime, disease, and family breakdown.[45] Clearly, social pathology and gender nonconformity were on the minds of policy-makers—even cabinet secretaries—as reasons why black ghetto residents remained poor and trapped in inner cities.

Social psychologist Kenneth Clark also spoke to the commission early in its deliberations, on 13 September 1967. His pessimistic testimony made such a deep impression that a ninety-three-word excerpt was prominently featured in the conclusion of the commission's final report, a statement longer than the text of the conclusion itself.[46] Calling himself a "social diagnostician," Clark warned the commission that "the patient is suffering from a very severe and viral disease," not necessarily terminal, but with "symptoms which suggest a grave diagnosis, a serious disorder."[47] His testimony continued, full of analogies between


riots and infectious disease, and he railed against the government for its unwillingness to take action beyond convening official investigating bodies. He even expressed something like regret over his own appearance before the commission. There was, he emphasized, little more to learn about rioting and human hopelessness. Psychological experts and policy-makers alike understood exactly what sort of "treatment" was needed to cure cities and turn them into environments conducive to human development rather than violence. There was, however, simply not the political will to do so; allegiance to the "American Creed" had been exposed as a myth. He even compared urban ghettos to German concentration camps and white Americans to World War II Germans who had done nothing to stop, or even acknowledge, the Holocaust while it was occurring. Finally and sadly, he pointed out that too much anxiety swirled around damage done to property. Rioting's logic was psychological, and the price to be paid for it was similarly psychological. In comparison, material destruction was trivial.

Elliot Lie bow, an NIMH administrator who worked on the in-house research staff of the commission one day a week, also offered testimonial advice to the commissioners. Trained as an anthropologist, Liebow, was the author of Tally's Corner (1967), a widely read and discussed ethnography centering on a small group of ghetto residents in Washington, D.C., who, not coincidentally, fit the accepted profile of rioters: black, male, adolescent or relatively young, under- or unemployed.[48] Liebow's fieldwork started as part of an NIMH study of childrearing among low-income families in the early 1960s, but it soon evolved into a sympathetic portrait of the men's "streetcorner society." His analysis of their emotionally impoverished lives emphasized the family; the bulk of the book described hostility between men and women and the estrangement of fathers from their children. Liebow traced the men's numerous disappointments to the gap between what the dominant culture expected them to be—reliable providers and loyal husbands—and what the men actually were—members of a "streetcorner society," an inferior friendship network in which a system of games and "public fictions" eased the pain of their failures with women and children.

In Tally's Corner, Liebow reiterated the view, prevalent in the postwar literature, that poor black communities were not independent sub-cultures, and therefore not exhibits for cultural pluralism. They were pathological variations on the white norm. The men's inability to find decent jobs and live up to the role of patriarchal breadwinner sentenced them to lifetimes of low self-esteem and dependence on an all-male version of sociability that was both shallow and pitiful. "The street-


corner," Liebow concluded, "is, among other things, a sanctuary for those who can no longer endure the experience or prospect of failure."[49] The policy implications of this point of view directly recalled the earlier work of Frazier, Myrdal, and Clark in suggesting that male wages were the key to assisting black families and communities. For Liebow, public policy had gone too far in the direction of making women and children the subjects of government social programs. Men deserved more attention.

Liebow's testimony before the commission, on 9 November 1967, began with just such a plea for the repair of masculine self-esteem. "At the heart of our family system is this husband-wife relationship and the husband is also the father. In our society we define a man as someone who is the breadwinner of the family, who supports the family and he is the head of it, and that is what it is to be a man in American society. . . . There are a lot of lower class Negro males who are not men in this sense, and why aren't they men? Why aren't they heads of families and supporters of these families? And I think that one of the things—one of the reasons that he is not, quite apart now from opportunity and quite apart from the very real conditions that he faces, is how he sees himself."[50] Liebow suggested that rioting was not the logical endpoint in a downward spiral of self-esteem but rather the behavioral response of men who were attempting to assert some form of power and control, who rejected a sense of self as lazy, incompetent, and irresponsible. This trend toward interpreting rioting in quasi-sympathetic terms—as a bid to recoup emotional or political self-esteem—was new in the late 1960s. Eventually, it helped to transform psychological and social theories of collective behavior dramatically. Beginning in the late 1960s, social movements of all sorts became far more sympathetic objects of social-scientific analysis. Theorists began turning away from the fundamentals of the crowd psychology tradition (collective action as a sort of group temper tantrum or psychotic episode), considering instead the possibility that social collectivities might act purposefully and rationally, on the basis of rising expectations and increasing material resources.

The City as Patient

Matthew Dumont was another NIMH administrator who offered the commission his advice in the form of a report on the positive, community-building roles of ghetto gangs, and he suggested


that policy-makers would be wise to consider their potential to act as counterrioting forces.[51] His semioptimistic interpretation of civil disturbance was similar to Liebow's: "One may have to conclude that the rioter is a more mentally healthy person than the non-rioter. He is a person who still believes that action means something, that things can improve."[52] Dumont, however, did not make his special concern with black men, or masculinity, explicit. He did not really have to. Rioters, or most of them anyway, were male; therefore, his subjects were male. That rioting was a gender-specific behavior was an assumption made by most, if not all, of the Kerner Commission experts. Rarely was it considered necessary in reports or recommendations to point out that rioters were male.[53] In this sense, Dumont was not at all exceptional.

As an advocate of community psychiatry, Dumont represented one of the most innovative and significant developments in the postwar clinical professions (see chapter 9).[54] By the late 1960s, popular perception no longer tied clinicians to their historic charges: the institutionalized insane. Perfectly normal (if painfully maladjusted) individuals had become appropriate participants in clinical exchanges, and healing complex social environments had been gathered under the mantle of clinicians' ever-expanding list of therapeutic chores. Even the names of their respective movements made it evident that psychiatrists and psychologists were prepared and eager to bring diagnosis and treatment to communities at large. The working definition of community psychiatry typically covered all aspects of life, supplementing the profession's conventional commitment to clinical work with hefty chunks of research, education, urban planning, government administration, community organization, and political activism.[55] Community psychiatry and psychology implied sweeping social interventions in the name of mental health because "everything a patient does and says, including what he does and says as a participant in a social system, falls within the therapists' purview."[56]

In the case of rioting, Dumont thought it sensible to consider violence a symptom in need of immediate treatment. He was not alone.[57] To consider "the city as patient" was to acknowledge a truly remarkable expansion in the subject of psychological authority, founded on the World War II preoccupation with "prevention," expressed through massive campaigns to instill mental health in the U.S. public during the period after 1945, and finally enacted on the level of state policy through federal legislation.[58] In 1963 the Mental Retardation and Community Mental Health Centers Construction Act institutionalized


psychology's progress in the form of an ambitious federal program: two thousand community centers would be built to replace the outmoded system of segregated asylums. They would be accessible to all U.S. citizens on the assumption that combating the scourge of mental disease in the community would prevent most, if not all, of the negative social consequences associated with severe psychological illness.[59]

By the time the Kerner Commission was established, their community focus made the purposes of psychiatry and psychology virtually indistinguishable at times from those of the welfare state, and advocates were quick to notice similarities between their goals and assumptions and those of the Great Society; both envisioned community participation and the enfranchisement of the poor and oppressed through deliberate improvement of damaging environments. The mission of community psychology, Robert Reiff announced in September 1967, was to "place the psychologist in the position of social interventionist, whose primary. task was to intervene at the social system level to modify human behavior."[60]

Matthew Dumont stated the alliance between psychology and liberal politics even more simply: "Mental health is freedom."[61] He showed how useful a justification mental health had become for social welfare programs and how intertwined it was with language of 1960s activist politics. And he brought this perspective to the attention of the Kerner Commission, some of whose members embraced this advantageous, new way of expressing policy concerns.[62] Like Kenneth Clark's testimony, Dumont's rhetoric relied on extensive disease metaphors and called for the prompt diagnosis and treatment of social disorder. He referred frequently to "urban organisms," "painful tissue destruction," and the "sensory deprivation psychosis" experienced by ghettos. The spread of rioting convinced him that entire communities, not just individuals, were suffering the pain of poor self-esteem. "This, then, is the diagnosis. A riot is a symptomatic expression of deficits of stimulation, self esteem, a sense of community, and environmental mastery. The treatment of the condition is no secret and in inadequate dosages it has already been administered."[63]

While the parallels between socially sensitive mental health approaches and an expanded welfare state seemed obvious to Dumont, Clark, and many others by the late 1960s, some dissenting voices persisted, reminders that the application of psychological expertise to urban rioting (and social problems in general) need not result in liberal public policies. A widely discussed letter to the Journal of the American


Medical Association in September 1967 suggested that "brain disease" was being overlooked in the rush to stem the tide of urban violence with better jobs, housing, and education. According to two of the authors, Vernon Mark and Frank Ervin, who later expanded their controversial thesis in Violence and the Brain (1970), "The real lesson of the urban rioting is that, besides the need to study the social fabric that creates the riot atmosphere, we need intensive research and clinical studies of the individuals committing the violence. The goal of such studies would be to pinpoint, diagnose, and treat those people with low violence thresholds before they contribute to further tragedies."[64]

Complaints about the workability of expanded social programs were not limited to experts determined to unlock the biological mysteries of assaultive behavior, however. The June 1968 issue of Psychiatric Opinion featured a series of short pieces by psychiatrists involved in riot studies, including John Spiegel and Elliot Luby, whose work was duly considered by the Kerner Commission. All of the contributors shared a fundamental commitment to exporting psychiatric insights to the policy-making process, but Robert McMurry forcefully disagreed that extending social welfare programs was either a necessary outcome of this process or a viable solution to the ills of the city. In his view, greater permissiveness in society at large was to blame for lessening the burden of guilt for antisocial activities. This development deeply affected "riot-prone" individuals who had "no internal policing agencies in their egos."[65]

The crucial point is that many of these participants in riots are people who have little or no control over their aggressions, are largely or wholly lacking in conventional moral standards, and many are to some degree out of touch with reality. In consequence, almost none are reasonable people. Logic, kindness and a regard for consequences have little or no influence on their behavior. They are chronically and, in many instances, irredeemably incorrigible. They are not only misfits in society; they are threats to its integrity. . . . Like a forest fire, once ignited, this mass madness is not only contagious but is very difficult to extinguish and can lead to astronomical costs in human life, injuries and property losses.[66]

Equally determined to see urban violence addressed in a psychological fashion, McMurry nevertheless believed that aggressive surveillance, probation, and protective custody—and not employment opportunities or decent housing—would help to eliminate the problem. His argument should serve as a reminder of the political flexibility of the psychological worldview. For Dumont, the philosophy of community psychia-


try implied freedom from material and spiritual impoverishment. Yet for McMurry, psychiatry held a different lesson: "Just as the criminal and the insane must be denied their freedom, so must the sociopaths, psychopathic personalities, and the emotionally immature delinquents be subjected to control. The alternative is a form of anarchy, the letting loose upon the population of a pack of potential mad dogs . . . with the capability of limitless harm."[67]

The Benefits of War, Again

Just as Cold War psychology had offered militaries a new lease on life as constructive, nation-building institutions, capable of reducing levels of national and international tension, so Dumont hoped to translate the internal policing functions of the state into a positive force for therapeutic treatment. "Law enforcement and correctional institutions may themselves be redefined as preventive and rehabilitative forces," he wrote, "with policemen functioning not as an army of occupation but as community organizers, group recreation workers, and counselors, armed with knowledge, understanding, physical prowess and self-control rather than with guns."[68] Sensitivity training for police forces had been on psychological experts' riot prevention agenda since Gordon Allport and Leo Postman first set out to reeducate Boston police during World War II and strenuous efforts had been made, in the intervening years, to "professionalize" police responses to race-related rioting through heavy doses of social psychological knowledge about frustration and aggression, childhood traumas, and the stages and types of rioting mobs.[69] Since 1964, J. Edgar Hoover informed the Kerner Commission, the FBI National Academy had run training sessions for more than seventy thousand police administrators and instructors all around the country. The curriculum included a required course on "Causative and Psychological Factors in Development and Behavior of Mobs" alongside the demonstration of riot control techniques by crack army units.[70] By August 1967, when the commission began its work, approximately sixty thousand copies of the FBI's Prevention and Control of Mobs and Crowds were in the hands of state and local law enforcement personnel. This standard manual, first issued in February 1965 and updated two years later, emulated the work of World War II riot experts (by defining the police role as preventive treatment and "release


of tension") while also incorporating the painstaking theoretical progress that riot experts had made in the decades since. The manual carefully distinguished crowd types, crowd behavior patterns, rioters' personality profiles, and riot chronologies, among other things.[71]

By the mid-1960s the FBI was certainly more willing to accept and dispense psychological experts' advice than World War II-era police departments had been, but domestic polarization over "pacification" campaigns in Southeast Asia had begun to make optimistic analogies between law enforcement and enlightened social relations (whether applied to foreign militaries or domestic police forces) appear naive and misguided, especially to experts and observers opposed to the Vietnam War.[72] Even some professionals whose careers were based on the persuasiveness of psychological approaches ruefully agreed that equating cities with patients and law enforcement with therapy embodied terribly repressive, as well as liberating, potential.

Kenneth Keniston, well known as the author of books about generational identity such as The Uncommitted (1960) and Young Radicals (1968), penned a telling satire along these lines in 1968, "How Community Mental Health Stamped Out the Riots."[73] He warned that idealistic psychological approaches could be put to frightening purposes if they actually managed to transform public policy-making into a process of correcting individual maladjustments and community pathologies. In his article, Keniston imagined looking back on the landscape of the late 1960s from a vantage point in 1978. The Department of Defense had been renamed the Department of International Mental Health, General Westmoreland had been appointed secretary, and wars had become struggles for a mentally healthy world. On the home front, Ronald Reagan (famous during the 1960s for his law-and-order approach to campus activism and unrest in California) had directed a massive community mental health program in an effort to stem the tide of urban rioting. In 1971 laws were passed sentencing people identified as potentially violent to mandatory therapy. And since 1972 a "Total Saturation Approach" to urban problems had been used, featuring "Remote Therapy Centers" (relocating riot-prone patients to the same sites used for Japanese-Americans during World War II) and "Mobile Treatment Teams," which had been found far more effective than old-fashioned police departments. Finally, Keniston reiterated, ironically and with ominous overtones, the neat fit between mental health and social welfare. "Our long-range goal: nothing less than a society in which all men and women are guaranteed mental health by simple vir-


tue of their citizenship. Thus, the entire community must be our target: we must insist upon total mental health from the womb to the grave."[74]

As the utopian hopes of postwar community psychiatry and psychology were dashed against the stubborn persistence of poverty, inequality, racism, and violence in U.S. society, Keniston's skepticism became a more common feature of progressive analysis, to the point where the sheer existence of psychological approaches to subjective experience was considered prima facie evidence of sinister schemes of social control.

Keniston sketched his negative vision in extreme and satirical terms for the purpose of dramatizing the dangers of community psychological approaches. The Kerner Commission, however, received many suggestions, completely sincere and sometimes unsolicited, that overlooked these dangers and assumed that psychological approaches were intrinsically enlightened. Therapy for rioters and modes of communication that would release unconscious fears and boost levels of self-esteem were common refrains. In letters to the Kerner Commission, citizens informed policy-makers that constructive means of preventing future riots were, among others, "reality therapy," dialogue centers, human relations councils, and in-depth clinical interviews to explore the motivations of individual rioters.[75] Given the preponderance of psychologically oriented advice from experts and ordinary citizens alike, it was little wonder that Executive Director Ginsburg identified "an entire system of deprivation and frustration leading to the alienation of individuals" as the commission's very first priority in developing social and economic recommendations to improve ghetto life.[76]

Cold War Psychology Comes Home

The intimacies that transpired between Cold War psychology and policy-makers' approach to urban rioting were not figments of Kenneth Keniston's overheated imagination. The Kerner Commission made full use of resources that had been developed for the use of the military during the 1950s and 1960s, sharing with such projects as Camelot not only similar approaches to the psychology of crowds, revolutionaries, and rioters, but overlapping personnel as well.

Ted Gurr and Ithiel de Sola Pool linked the two experiences, illustrating the flexibility of policy-oriented experts and their desire to operate in diverse areas of government. Ted Gurr, a consultant to CRESS (the organizational sponsor of Project Camelot, renamed in 1966)


turned his comparative studies of civil strife abroad toward more domestic topics. In 1968 he argued that sophisticated frustration-aggression theories could be applied to the circumstances of Guatemalan guerrillas, Indonesian students, and urban black Americans with roughly equal effectiveness, a view that was adopted, as noted above, by the commission's director.[77] Sola Pool, a vocal figure in military behavioral science, won a Kerner Commission contract worth $221,000 for his consulting firm, Simulmatics Inc., to track the media's contribution to urban riots.[78]

Beyond the presence of such individuals, the entire project of riot analysis was infused with the sense that the military had the most "Directly Related Experience," according to the rifle of a Kerner Commission memo on successful psychological warfare and counterinsurgency campaigns.[79] Much of the riot training and equipment advice sought after by municipal administrations and police departments came from the military, whose own experts sometimes derided the value of civilian knowledge on these topics.[80]

New Variations on Old Crowd Psychology

The Kerner Commission experts also owed a debt to the military's patronage of expert work on the nature of social upheaval and to those elements of the crowd psychology tradition that had survived as themes in postwar theoretical models of crowd formation and revolutionary stages. By the late 1960s, crowd psychology was called by a new name, "collective behavior," and had migrated throughout the social sciences via the behavioral revolution of the 1950s, which stripped crowd psychology of its obvious antidemocratic tendencies and injected it with a heavy dose of scientific method.[81] The theoretical work of Kerner Commission consultants Neil Smelser and Ralph Turner kept alive the residue of the old psychology in the form of a sophisticated new sociology. The idea that groups were subject to unconscious social contagion remained viable, alongside the conviction that race rioting was appropriately classified with religious cults, natural disasters, and other types of social panic.[82]

The Kerner Commission experts employed phase models of urban disturbance, compiled elaborate chronologies, designed multifactored riot classification schemes, and hypothesized that rioters shared a common personality profile.[83] All of these recalled military efforts, like the


failed Project Camelot, which had used these very techniques to make the explosiveness of civil unrest in the Third World at least a little bit more predictable for military and foreign policy-makers. They also all employed, sometimes almost verbatim, the theoretical jargon of social science for descriptive purposes: riots were labeled as "expressive," "suggestible," "permissive," or as prototypes of "social contagion."[84]

There were significant differences, however, having to do with the sympathy that black Americans had gained since the 1950s through the civil rights movement and the growing presence of intellectuals in a variety of 1960s social movements. The justice of civil rights demands, the slowness of racial change, and decided patterns of activism among highly educated Americans on university campuses had momentous consequences within the literature of particular social science disciplines. Also important was the movement of the psychological professions away from their preoccupations with the abnormal, a shift that decisively changed the subjects of psychological experts, beginning with World War II. All of these developments combined to make it less likely that experts in the late 1960s would view urban rioters as deviants in the grip of irrational forces. We have already considered instances of this tendency toward a more positive and rational theory of collective behavior among Kerner Commission experts, such as Elliot Liebow, who suggested that rioting was psychologically empowering for individuals whose lives were otherwise impaired by apathy and hopelessness.

Rioting was sometimes even posited as an ideological stance, a necessary, if destructive, stage in the civil rights movement, or, as it was more likely to be called in the late 1960s by advocates of this position, the black revolution. This perspective was only possible because the irrational contamination of ideological commitment, a core element of the World War II worldview, was challenged in the 1960s. The terrible destruction wrought by enemy national characters and the deep emotional appeal of fascism faded from view during a decade when the ideological commitments closest at hand—eradicating racism, poverty, and imperialism—seemed beyond reproach and the postwar "end of ideology" appeared nothing so much as an irresponsible abandonment of moral principle.

A number of Kerner Commission experts and research projects tested out this positive new assessment of ideology. Riots could appear to be purposeful, organized protests against legitimate and pressing grievances, instead of hysterical fits. That riots were taken seriously as a form of political action was sometimes indicated through the vocabu-


lary used to describe them: "urban rebellions" competed with "mob violence" and "lawless anarchy."

Widespread consideration of riots as a rational collective activity was new, but the idea itself was not. As early as the Harlem riot of 1943, Kenneth Clark had suggested that a significant number of black Americans condoned rioting as a specific means to achieve the end of racial justice.[85] By 1965 he denied that ghetto violence was an uncontrollable force and chose instead to call it "a weird social defiance" of objective social conditions ranging from substandard housing and soaring crime and infant morality rates to impoverishment and discrimination.[86] Clark, however, sometimes reverted to the old crowd psychology themes in his observations of riots. "Such anarchy could even be a subconscious or conscious invitation to self-destruction," he noted that same year. "Those who despair in the ghetto follow their own laws—generally the laws of unreason."[87]

Gary Marx, one of the commission's in-house researchers, did not so much criticize the old crowd psychology as try to turn it upside down, by applying its principles to the behavior of police, rather than rioters. "Who controls the agents of social control?" was, Marx submitted, a major question that generally went unasked and unanswered. He went so far as to suggest that law enforcement personnel had caused urban riots, or at least intensified them, through the classic pattern of contagion, panic, and frustration usually attributed to crowd members.[88] Marx's themes found strong encouragement in the publications of the Lemberg Center for the Study of Violence at Brandeis University, a research center, established in 1965, that had blazed trails eagerly followed by Kerner Commission experts. The Lemberg Center staff insisted that rioters could be understood as reasonable actors frequently faced with "police panic." Further, they speculated, rioters were attempting to solidify a positive sense of community and masculinity. They simply could not be compared with Gustave Le Bon's primitive and herdlike crowds.[89]

The Commission's Conclusions

In retrospect, it appears that the Kerner Commission turned the expert investigation of rioting into an unprecedented executive priority. But it was hardly the first such official investigation during the 1960s. During the Johnson presidency alone, thirteen commissions


were appointed at municipal and state levels.[90] Since early in the century, commissions had been among the government's favorite answers to the questions raised by riots. Between 1917 and 1943, twenty-one were established to investigate riots in East St. Louis (1917), Chicago and Washington, D.C. (1919), Detroit (1925 and 1943), Harlem (1935 and 1943), and elsewhere. According to critics, commissions offered a convenient way of "processing racial crisis" symbolically, purchasing urban stability and, at the same time, ensuring "the continuation of long-term social conflict by other means."[91] According to supporters, commissions were clear evidence of government making good on its responsibilities to maintain social order while still addressing intergroup conflict with speed and seriousness.

Following the Watts riots in the summer of 1965, California Governor Edmund G. Brown had put a state-level commission together, determined to pinpoint the causes of violence in the Los Angeles ghetto. The McCone Commission was named after its chairman, John A. McCone, a businessman who had served as CIA director. Hundreds of other riots occurred and investigating bodies formed during the two years between Watts and the Kerner Commission's formation—164 during the first nine months of 1967 alone—but the McCone Commission's work was especially important in influencing the direction that Kerner Commission experts took.[92] Because Watts had been among the largest of the riots, the McCone Commission had received wide publicity, as had its conclusions about the nature of urban disorder: that riots were "spasms" and rioters "marauding bands" who "seemed to be caught up in an insensate rage of destruction."[93] In the months and years that followed, the McCone Commission findings were used to support theories that urban riots were the handiwork of criminal "riffraff," conspiracies concocted by black nationalists, attacks of mass hysteria, or a combination of all three.

The Kerner Commission experts deliberately set out to counter these conclusions, as the final report makes clear.[94] Months of research and analysis resulted in a final report that emphasized the responsibility of white institutions and attitudes for urban rioting. "What white Americans have never fully understood—but what the Negro can never forget," the report concluded, "is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it."[95] On the one hand, this forceful statement (which appeared in the final report's introductory summary) illustrated that the merits of the ill-fated internal document, "The Har-


vest of American Racism," had not been entirely lost on the commissioners. On the other hand, the final report contained evidence that led some critics to dismiss it angrily as "a white document written by white writers and aimed at a white audience—about black people."[96] It enumerated a long list of social pathologies and incorporated lengthy descriptions of the "culture of poverty" from which black Americans suffered, for instance. A chapter on "Unemployment, Family Structure, and Social Disorganization" reiterated all the standard themes, from the poor self-esteem of black men who could not achieve the status of patriarchal breadwinners and hence were forced to become demoralized members of a "streetcorner society" to the damaging consequences of an unnaturally high labor force participation rate among black women.[97]

The net result could be confusing. The report called "the racial attitude and behavior of white Americans" the most fundamental cause of rioting, but pronounced increased black self-esteem a crucial step in the right direction.[98] And while many of the commission's "Recommendations for National Action" were for new or reinvigorated federal programs (in the areas of jobs, education, welfare, and housing), they were sprinkled with references to the need for a new black psychology, as if to imply that institutional reforms were attractive mainly for their psychological consequences—lower levels of frustration, heightened self-esteem, and more "normal" families.[99] One month after the Kerner Commission finished its work, a parade of social experts testified before the Senate that programs geared to improving the socioeconomic status of poor black Americans were important not because they redistributed money or power, but for their psychological consequences. "We know that looting is as bad for the looter as the looted. The burning store is a statement of frustration about self as well as a criticism of a society that permitted cynicism and prejudice to grow in place of community and love."[100]

Perhaps the final report's inability to decide which came first—the unequal division of material and political power or the unequal division of psychological resources—simply mirrored the experts' ambivalence about their own position and goals. Robert Fogelson (coauthor of the commission's supplementary study "Who Riots?") was disappointed in the report's equivocation, and less than happy that his own work had been used to support what he considered muddy analysis and feeble recommendations. Because he believed that profound institutional reorganization was necessary in order to solve the problems of cities, he


criticized the commission's emphasis on attitudes. He also admitted, however, that a document more to his radical taste would surely have been rejected, or even used by people in power to undermine the Great Society by blaming reformers for the problems they were trying to reform. "Its [the commission's] casual dismissal of community control and black power, not to speak of more radical proposals for social change, is particularly disappointing. But, in view of the public opinion polls, the Kerner Commission did a better job than the country deserves. . . . And had the commission abandoned its liberal perspective and submitted a more original interpretation and more radical recommendations, it would probably have been rejected outright by most Americans."[101] As if to confirm the truth of this ironic double bind, Georgia governor Lester Maddox sent the following telegram to Lyndon Johnson upon the final report's publication.


Opponents of the "socialists" on the Kerner Commission were not limited to southern Democratic power brokers like Maddox. The majority of ordinary white Americans, as the experts themselves had shown, would not change their minds under the constructive pressure of the "American Creed"; they barely recognized the prevalence of racism, let alone considered themselves a part of the rioting problem and solution. Experts' work might illustrate that radical changes were needed, but it also led to the conclusion that such changes were unlikely to be tolerated. In such a circumstance, what could experts do except complain about the uses to which their efforts had been put? Many did exactly that.[103]

Not everyone, of course, shared such a dim view of the Kerner Commission's accomplishments. Arthur Brayfield, executive officer of the


APA, was delighted with the final report. He praised it as comprehensive and deserving of support, especially for "its clear recognition of the psychological factors—the crucial role of attitudes, of feelings, and indeed of the total functioning of human personality in its social and physical environment."[104] For Brayfield, the commission had offered a positive model for government use of psychological experts because it illustrated how far government had moved in the direction of defining its responsibilities and programs in terms of their psychological consequences.

I believe that any inquiry into the development of human resources must focus on the black revolution. For the black revolution poses in its starkest form an overwhelming question: Can we design and develop a society—a set of social arrangements—a human environment—that will foster the sense of personal worth and self-esteem required to sustain the human spirit, give meaning to our lives, and provide the energizing force to forge our personal destinies and to insure the emergence and survival of a humane society?[105]

This chapter has demonstrated that the benefits of war were both flexible and far-reaching. Many of the patterns characterizing the history of psychological experts during World War II, and in Cold War military policy, were also evident in the evolution of domestic social policy. In fact, the development of the U.S. welfare and warfare states was intimately linked and mutually reinforcing, as the Kerner Commission case shows. In investigating riots at home, no less than revolutions far away, psychological experts were engaged in an ambitious, interdisciplinary project to tease apart the knotted strands of personal motivation, social context, and history, all without losing sight of political principles and realities. They came up with few, if any, new ideas that passed scientific muster, but they were remarkably successful in ways neither intended nor anticipated. In particular, psychological experts' work on the domestic policy issues tackled by the Kerner Commission made the precise relationship of psychological and social change a focal point of the policy-making process. It made individual subjectivity an ever more significant factor in policy calculations and a new and undisputed subject of government.

In the course of this process, experts and policy-makers sometimes found themselves at odds or in direct conflict. The experts typically presented the relationship between psychology and society as complex, dynamic, and confusing, a state of affairs that frustrated policy-makers' desires for unambiguous guidance and prestigious legitimation of expe-


dient solutions. For their part, experts became increasingly conscious of the contradictions embedded in their rising status in government, a development fueled by 1960s social movements that captured their sympathy and, at the same time, pointed out how much damage uncritical intellectuals could do. Experts like Robert Shellow and his staff had tried to walk a fine line between the risks of associating with power and the risks of failing to act at all. Shellow's final thoughts about his experience with the Kerner Commission made clear just how difficult and significant a challenge that was.

It is not only possible but desirable and perhaps essential that the social scientist become more deeply involved in trying to bring about social change in a direct manner. . . . It is time . . . to get on with the job of correcting injustices rather than simply despairing of their pervasiveness or beating our breasts on the sidelines. No doubt it is best that some of us keep our distance from the unpleasantness of the arena, stick to our research craft, and content ourselves with enriching the minds of the young. But if that is all we do, the product of our efforts will be valued only among our colleagues, our theories will remain untested or untestable, and our talented and impatient youth will look elsewhere for preparation to cope with the world as they find it.[106]

During the Kerner Commission's short history, the experts and the policy-makers argued continuously about how psychological insights into rioting could best be operationalized and whether or not their consequences, in policy forms, were liberating, repressive, ineffective, or entirely irrelevant. Neither group was monolithic and neither acted on needs that were unified and clear at all times. The interests of professions were significant factors in the self-promotion campaigns of experts, but they sometimes conflicted with the political requirements of government bureaucracies. Even so, there was rarely much disagreement about psychology's fundamental relevance to matters regarding race and racial conflict, a fact that must certainly be considered a mark of great progress in the public history of psychology.

Psychology's postwar career on the level of state policy—both in the case of Cold War counterinsurgency and in the case of racial conflict at home—leaves little doubt that psychological expertise had tremendous repressive potential. It could and did, for example, assist police forces at home and in the Third World to quell legitimate protest without resort to obvious, old-fashioned mechanisms of coercion and control. On the other hand, psychology's career also illustrates that experts were increasingly aware of this negative potential as they navigated the sea change that occurred with the Vietnam War and as the old equations


between psychology, democracy, and patriotism began to unravel. Experts cannot therefore be understood simply as political pawns (although they were at times), and the research and theories they developed in government service were not simply vehicles through which Washington adapted its methods according to the dictates of sophisticated, scientific obfuscation (although at times, this occurred too).

Further, psychology's politically liberating potential remained utterly convincing. For every domestic policy-maker who emerged from the 1960s convinced that black Americans needed nothing beyond vigorous self-improvement routines, there were thousands of citizens and activists who believed that the keys to mass persuasion and radical change rested within the U.S. psyche at large. For the many civil rights activists and supporters who believed their own antiracist politics had changed them psychologically and permanently, a color-blind vision of equality and opportunity could hardly be realized without a plan of truly thoroughgoing change in the psychological, as well as the material and political, spheres of social life.

This remarkable chameleonlike capacity—to serve a variety of political purposes in unpredictable ways—is perhaps the most important lesson to be learned from those facets of psychology's public history reviewed thus far. If government tended toward using psychological experts to dress up repressive public policies in enlightened disguises, it was the particular purposes that shaped the consequences, rather than anything intrinsic to psychology itself. Government, in theory at least, could as easily seek to promote as to impede social change.

The point is not to choose whether psychological experts continuously served a master of democratic progress or antidemocratic social control, but to see how they extended the reach of government and the purposes of public policy to include the subjective and emotional realities of power. During the postwar decades, they altered the tone of public life in a variety of ways, not by any means limited to policy-making or contained within the formal apparatus of the state. Their impact on public culture in general—on the very definition of "the political" and on the direction and style of civic participation—offers further evidence of the complexity of psychology's political history. It is to aspects of this history that we turn next.


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8 The Kerner Commission and the Experts
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