The Psychology of Democracy: Psychological Concepts in American Culture, 1940-1965

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This dissertation examines some of the ways that mid-century American culture represented mental health and employed psychology to understand and describe America and Americans during and after World War II. I argue that Americans used psychology both to describe and define the ideal to which Americans should aspire. This ideal differed widely among authors, but almost always included an embrace of a "free" society, which among other things meant free of neuroses. Neurotic people were seen, in this literature, as not having rational free choice in their actions, and such unfree people created unfree forms of government. Psychological health was therefore not only necessary for individuals, it was also an issue of public concern. This meant, for example, that the ability of a woman to achieve sexual satisfaction was not just a question of her own physical contentment, but also of the very survival of American democracy. Mid-century authors feared that the mental health of Americans was especially vulnerable in the modern era, and that this vulnerability might plunge America into authoritarianism. These authors were most concerned that Americans were too often tormented by feelings of inferiority.

This dissertation demonstrates the connections between psychology and political ideals, shining new light on both the views of postwar liberals and on the rising "new Right."  In addition, it shows how the anxiety that Americans felt over modernity affected discussions of democratic social structures.  It also demonstrates the vital ways in which these discourses were connected.  

This work relies largely on mass-culture sources, including magazines, films, popular books, and television programs.  These sources are supplemented by the papers of the American Psychological Association, the works of publicly influential intellectuals, and by government documents.

The chapters of the dissertation deal specifically with the supposed effects of child discipline on the formation of political beliefs, the role of masculine autonomy in a democracy, the effects of women's sexuality on American society, the effects of racial prejudice on both the prejudiced themselves and on the victims of prejudice, and the place of juvenile delinquency in a democracy.