YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

August 22, 2009

Left-liberal social psychologists and “civilian morale” at Harvard

pop culture paradise

pop culture paradise

[This blog should be read along with another book excerpt, https://clarespark.com/2009/08/25/preventive-politics-and-socially-responsible-capitalists-1930s-40s/ for equally determined elite initiatives to improve “social cohesion” at the expense of critical thought.]

One internet journal pitched to educators, Inside Higher Ed (see Scott McLemee, August 19, 2009),  has resuscitated the fascinating book by Leo Lowenthal and Norbert Guterman, Prophets of Deceit, a guide to the tricks of  right-wing agitators. I suppose that political scientists of the center-Left admire this book, and I enjoyed it too when I read it years ago, twice. But it is hailed by McLemee (though it was published in 1949) as an attack avant la lettre on the tactics of conservative spokespeople in the media (with Glenn Beck as chief example), alleging that racist demagogues of the Father Coughlin stripe are at large and duping the electorate in order to massacre “health care reform.”

   To pin “sykewar” on “the Right” as if “progressives” had not been practicing their own style of mind-management is to ignore the historical record. While I was studying the social psychologists and propagandists who had played leading roles in the Melville revival between the wars, I found materials in the Harvard University Archives that were so startling that even my jaded dissertation committee at UCLA was shocked. So I am putting an excerpt from the second chapter of Hunting Captain Ahab on the blog to warn the Sparkists not to trust politicians and their academic supporters without the most scrupulous and detailed investigations of their rhetoric, claims, and sources. The sociologists, psychologists, and political scientists I studied included Talcott Parsons, Henry A. Murray, Gordon Allport, and Harold Lasswell. A slightly revised excerpt from my second chapter follows, and this is only a tiny sample of the horrors I found in my research. (Footnotes not included).

[From Hunting Captain Ahab:] According to the Kleinian psychoanalytic theory of “projective identification” the self projects forbidden aggression into an external object which must be controlled. In the case of the upwardly mobile middle class, their (contemptible) will to power is supposedly projected upon the Jews. Stubborn adherence to non-dualisms was identified with scapegoating, obviously a bad thing for mental health. Social psychologist Gordon Allport denounced group prejudice in his frequently reprinted Freedom Pamphlet of 1948, The ABC’s of Scapegoating. Allport advised Americans to adjust to pluralism by looking inside to check their “moral cancer” (7). Whites should stop scapegoating blacks, Christians should stop scapegoating Jews, “labor” should stop scapegoating “the spokesmen for ‘business’ ” (like Allport?), and conservatives should stop confusing liberals with communists by scapegoating FDR (26). Allport’s pamphlet is illuminated by comparison with the worksheets he earlier devised with Dr. Henry A. Murray for the Harvard seminar Psychological Problems in Morale (1941), meant to be disseminated to “private organizations” throughout the nation. As part of the Harvard Defense Council, the seminar was to be “an important component in a general program of coordinated research.” The materials for the course consisted of one short red-bound typescript, and numerous stapled worksheets, each methodically dealing with some aspect of propaganda, including a summary of Hitler’s personality and psychodynamics that would inform counter-propaganda. Hitler’s duplicity, irrationality and contempt for the masses was constantly compared with American rationality, which oddly enough, was derived from the protofascist and irrationalist social theorist, Vilfredo Pareto.

     In worksheet #4, “Determinants of Good and Bad Morale,” the authors outlined “aggressive needs in group coherence.” First, there must be “outlets for grievances”: “Provision for the free expression of opinion improves morale.” Second, “scapegoat outlets” were another aid to good morale:
     “The direction of aggression against a subversive minority group may reduce tensions, and will be least disruptive if the scapegoat group is one which is in conflict with the total group in respect of major immediate aims. Aggression had better be directed against the external enemy, but if this is frustrated, or the group becomes apathetic, the subversive minority group may improve morale by either (1) reducing frustrated tensions of aggression or (2) reawakening aggression, or (3) displacing aggression away from intra-group aggression, or (4) displacing aggression away from the leaders of the group, if and when reversed [sic] are suffered (p.8).” [The worksheets are vague about what “subversive minority group” is meant. Could it be “the Jews”? For instance, Keynes once wrote in a letter complaining about the terms of the postwar loan from the U.S. to Britain, and referring to Truman’s “Jewish economic advisers (who, like many Jews, are either Nazi or Communist at heart and have no notion of how the British commonwealth was founded or is sustained)….” (Skidelsky bio of Keynes, Vol. 3, p.445) In other words, despite Allport’s pamphlet skewering “scapegoating in  1948,” only a few years earlier, expediency virtuously demanded that such techniques were appropriate in the interest of a national consensus. Given the widespread impression that Jews were always subversive, no matter what their social class, my conjecture is not unwarranted. Added, 8-22-09]

   I am suggesting that the ahistoric, irrationalist concept of “scapegoating” or “negative identity” cannot explain “prejudice”; rather, the pluralists are admitting there is no basis for unity in class societies whose politics are organized around national or ethnic “peaceful competition.” If the only unity is found in differing groups worshipping one “ideal self” (or artwork, which will, in practice, be designated by at least one segment of the elite), then the bad individualist like Melville will be attacked. Thou shalt not question the good parent’s benevolence or the possibility of “group adjustment” by reconfiguring the social structure along materialist, i.e., “Jacobin” lines. As Sartre noted in his wartime essay Anti-Semite and Jew, German unity was forged solely in the common project to remove the social irritant that prevented natural harmony. This “prejudice” against the Jewish intellect and its sulking reverence, so corrosive to “natural” family bonds, was specific to a pluralist society whose objective divisions could not be overcome without some measure of institutional transformation. The rooted cosmopolitanism of the moderate men, by definition masking class and gender conflicts with the bizarre notion of competing, yet peacefully co-existing, mutually adapting ethnic groups, is thus deceptive and discredits all science: its “pluralism” and “tolerance” attack the moral individual seeking common ground by straying outside the boundaries set by elites. In the case of the Murray-Allport worksheets, those limits were scientistically delineated; the Jeffersonian tradition was co-opted and redefined in the indispensable “Values of the Past”:

      “The more awareness there is of the group’s heroic past the better the morale. (Freedom from Old World Oppression, Jeffersonian Democracy, etc.) The more awareness of a national tradition of which the group is ashamed or guilty, the worse the morale…The slogan “Make The World Safe For Democracy” was anchored neither in the historical past or future. A durable morale must be historically anchored in the past and in the future, as well as in the present (Worksheet #4, 4, 5).”

     So much for the messianic republican mission and Wilsonian Progressivism. The ever-questioning, self-critical temper of the Enlightenment, the very Head and Heart of the libertarian eighteenth century, could only lead to bad morale. Although the authors had discarded the Wilsonian project, they went on to say that racial or economic discrimination were bad for morale, that there could be no doubt about the prospects for a better postwar world. A hodge-podge of factors: “communism, fascism, economic chaos, depression, or uncertainty,” all would impair morale (6). Peace aims were suggested: an International Police Force would ensure that “There will be a better distribution of the goods of the earth; all classes will be benefited” (Red-bound typescript, 13). But war aims must remain vague, for we were a “pluralist society,” not a “unified society”; there were different strokes for different folks: “Disparities of statements shouldn’t be too obvious or made visible (#4, 7).”

[compare with this excerpt from another essay of mine, describing the Bunche-Myrdal dispute: “…wise progressive planning and foresight, included the sighting of threats to order, and was reiterated in a Q. and A. booklet from the Office of War Information, “What Do Students Do In The War and After” (numbered M-3227,  slipped into the Ideologies volume in the Bunche Papers at UCLA, though not bound). On page 8 the Committee for Economic Development [business leaders adopting Keynesian economic policies, created in 1942, C.S.] is mentioned as promising “maximum employment and high productivity” after the war. Page 9 quotes Ambassador Winant in a speech to English miners: “Anti-Fascism is not a short term military job. It was bred in poverty and unemployment. To crush Fascism at its roots we must crush depression. We must solemnly resolve that in the future we will not tolerate the economic evils which breed poverty and war. This is not something that we solve for the duration. It is part of the war.”  Page 10 announces “There is a growing sense of social responsibility among business leaders and a wide-spread acceptance of the inescapable duty of business to maintain full production and continuous employment to maintain the purchasing power upon which prosperity depends.” Page 11 ff., states that the curricula for history, the social sciences and the liberal arts will be revised and adjusted accordingly: Education must stress science, interpersonal human relations, and international affairs, the “larger world of other peoples and other cultures with whom we must collaborate in establishing world order.” [end, excerpt from my essay on Bunche-Myrdal interactions]

    Properly guided we would be historically anchored in promises of abundance and an illusion of unity, yet we were not fascists. The section “General Attitudes Toward Leaders” anticipated the criticism that American propaganda duplicated Nazi methods. First the authors warned “the less the faith in sources of information, the worse the morale.” The next item suggested “Linking of Present Leader to the Idealized Leaders of the Past”:

     “The more the present leader is seen as continuing in the footsteps of the great idealized leaders of the past, the better the morale. (Picture of Roosevelt between Washington and Lincoln would encourage this identification.) The more the present leader is seen as falling short of the stature of the great idealized leaders of the past, the worse the identification (11).”

    “By effective leadership the group’s latent communality may emerge through identification with the leader. If this smacks of the Führer-Prinzip, we would insist that identification is a process common to all societies, and that what distinguishes the democratic leadership from the Nazi leadership is not the process of identification but the content of what is identified with. It is the function of the democratic leader to inspire confidence in the democratic way of life, in its value for the individual or the society and not mere identification with his person, or the mythical Volk (16).”

    For the tolerant materialists Murray and Allport, as with David Hume before them, there is no foreordained clash between individuals and institutions, no economic relationships to undermine altruism and benevolence: man is naturally communal and “society” as a coherent entity, a collective subject, actually exists. The good leader is neither autocratic nor corrupt, “does not waver, is not self-seeking, is impartial, accepts good criticism” (#4, 10). As we have seen, tolerance, i.e., criticism of leadership, had its limits. Jefferson’s legacy had to be reinterpreted because critical support of political institutions in the Lockean-Jeffersonian-Freudian mode is not identical with “identification,” an unconscious process whereby primitive emotions of early childhood are transferred to all authority, coloring our ‘rational’ choices and judgments. Only the most rigorous and ongoing demystification and precise structural analysis (with no government secrets) could maintain institutional legitimacy for political theorists in the libertarian tradition, but, for the moderates, such claims to accurate readings as a prelude to reform were the sticky residue of the regicides.
And where is the boundary between good and bad criticism? Alas, just as Martin Dies had suggested that the poor should tolerate the rich, Murray and Allport advised Americans to tolerate (or forget) “Failure in the Nation’s Past.” We must do better, of course.

    The worksheet continues, recommending that traditional American evangelicalism embrace the disaffected, for there may be moderate enthusiasts in the new dispensation:

   “The submerging of the individual in enthusiastic team work is not altogether foreign to the American temper. This means Jews, the “lower” classes, the draftees, labor unions, and so on. It cannot be done by fiat, but the inequalities might be mitigated if not removed, so that otherwise apathetic groups would feel a stake in the defense of the country, and the middle and upper classes more aware of the meaning of democracy (16).”

    These latter remarks were intended to answer the question Murray and Allport had posed at the beginning of their book: “Certain themes in Axis propaganda are continually stressed, notably the self-righteousness and hypocrisy of the democracies in general and of the U.S. (and President Roosevelt) in particular. What’s to be done about it?” (4). Virtually the entire postwar program of conservative reform was foreshadowed in these pages. As formulated in the mid-nineteenth century, abolitionist and working-class demands for universal education, equal rights, and enforcement of the Constitution would be redirected into the quotas of affirmative action or multiculturalism. In worksheet #17, “Long Term Aspects of Democratic Morale Building,” a program of integration and deferential politeness would rearrange the American people’s community:

   “…far from ignoring or suppressing diversities of intelligence, the objective of democratic morale-building should be their conscious integration into an improving collective opinion. The techniques of such integration exist. They are inherent in the democratic tradition of tolerance and the democratic custom of free discussion. They exist, however, in outline rather than in any ultimate or perhaps even very high state of development (4). [Quoting Gordon Allport:]…Our pressure groups are loud, their protests vehement and our method of electioneering bitter and sometimes vicious. In the process of becoming self-reliant Americans have lost respect, docility, and trust in relation to their leaders. Our habit of unbridled criticism, though defended as a basic right, brings only a scant sense of security to ourselves in an emergency, and actively benefits the enemies of the nation (5).”

    And one such source of insecurity (i.e., subversion) was anti-war education and pacifism: “insofar as the disapproval of war was based on a rejection of imperialist patriotism, it engendered war-cynicism” (Red-bound typescript, 4). In other words, Murray and Allport were admitting that involvement in the war could not be legitimated as an anti-imperialist intervention, nor could there be any other appeal to reason. Leaders, past and present, would have to be idealized; all criticism bridled in the interest of “integration.” The disaffected should moderate their demands, settling for mitigation, not relief. And if, despite the neo-Progressive prescriptions, the road to national unity remained rocky, scapegoating, properly guided by social scientific principles, would certainly deflect aggression away from ruling groups.

[Ernest Kalibala, graduate student in the Harvard Department of Sociology, to Ralph J. Bunche, 30 August 1943:] “Our University is now in the hands of reactionaries. ”

   The famous Harvard Report General Education in a Free Society (1945) addressed the “explosive growth” of high schools populated by the working-class. Fellow-feeling, common ground and common standards as conceived in traditional culture would bind potentially wayward youth, protecting them from the atomizing society made even more divisive and menacing by the baleful influence of mass media. Moreover the Murray-Allport (depoliticized, irrationalist) interpretation of mass politics informed their efforts: youth revolts were exacerbated by “extreme skepticism.” The Report asked “How far should we go in the direction of the open mind? Especially after the first World War, liberals were sometimes too distrustful of enthusiasm and were inclined to abstain from committing themselves as though there were something foolish, even shameful in belief. Yet especially with youth, which is ardent and enthusiastic, open-mindedness without belief is apt to lead to the opposite extreme of fanaticism. We can all perhaps recall young people of our acquaintance who from a position of extreme skepticism, and indeed because of that position, fell an easy prey to fanatical gospels. It seems that nature abhors an intellectual vacuum. A measure of belief is necessary in order to preserve the quality of the open mind. If toleration is not to become nihilism, if conviction is not to become dogmatism, if criticism is not to become cynicism, each must have something of the other.”

   Like the rest of the Report, this statement co-opts the language of enlightenment, but whenever it gets down to cases, actually mentioning writers and documents, those “landmarks” or critical methods of the Western heritage that point to possible irreconcilable structural conflicts are missing. The double bind operating at Columbia University in 1917 was in full force: there shall be no contradiction between “belief” and the open mind.

   Harvard has not gone out of its way to publicize the Allport-Murray contribution to “civilian morale.” In a 1995 exhibition of photographs celebrating Harvard’s participation in the war effort mounted near the entrance to Harvard University Archives, neither Murray nor Allport was represented. Similarly, the Fall 1995 issue of Harvard Magazine featured “Harvard in World War II,” but omitted their role in psychological warfare at home: Gordon Allport was mentioned once in connection with army propaganda and Murray was invisible, while rationales for American involvement described a fight for “liberty,” not democracy. [end, excerpt from chapter two, Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival, Kent State UP, 2001, paperback rev.ed. 2006]

German poster WW1

German poster WW1



  1. […] not only to support the second world war, but in establishing a stable peace afterward. See https://clarespark.com/2009/08/22/left-liberal-social-psychologists-and-civilian-morale-at-harvard/. The Fort Hood massacre has motivated me to read in the annals of military psychiatry. What I have […]

    Pingback by Strategic Regression in “the greatest generation” « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — December 10, 2009 @ 4:25 pm | Reply

  2. Clare,

    This is fascinating stuff. While your speculation on Jews as the potential scapegoat certainly is plausible, given e.g. continued restrictive quotas after the war, I wonder if it also might not prefigure the Red Scare? Numbers of Communists and Trotskyists were minuscule, and in the event it seems that they were made the scapegoats in practice. Perhaps not in 1941, the death camps were not yet known or only beginning to become so. I suppose the 1941 document predates U.S. declaration of war and might or might not predate German invasion of USSR in July. Not mutually exclusive either, of course, both in the sense of indeterminacy and to the extent that anti-Semitism often identifed Jews and Communists with one another. It might be interesting to look at post-War anti-Communism as having an intellectual face cleansed of such anti-Semitism while continuing to appeal to it in a right-wing populist way in some circumstances (though it is notable that some of McCarthy’s key henchmen were Jewish, e.g. Roy Cohn, the attack on Hollywood Reds might have had that underside).

    Of course the situation with atomic weapons made even a very small group of scapegoats potentially highly dangerous.

    Did you come across the work of the Harvard physical anthropologist Carleton Coon? In 1939 he published a book called _The Races of Europe_ in which he distinguished among a largish number of such races. In the acknowledgments he thats either the German or the Berlin Institut für Rassekunde. After the war he became part of a rearguard defense of the intellectual integrity of the idea of races having discrete biological-categorical existence (as opposed to individuals having attributed or self-attributed racial identities to which are attached putative characteristics). This is a bit far afield of Melville and psychoanalysis, though I suppose the reconstruction of race as a matter of social-psychological identity curves back around to your areas of interest.

    Do you know Sidney Diamond’s book on university anti-Commmunism, partly Harvard and partly Yale?

    Will have to get hold of your book, fascinating stuff.


    Comment by Chris Lowe — September 29, 2009 @ 3:21 pm | Reply

    • Chris, I do quote Carleton Coon at the beginning of one of my blogs! You should also read the one on preventive politics, taken from chapter nine of my book on the Melville Revival. I will look for the Coons quote. If you get my book, get the second edition (paperback).

      Comment by clarespark — September 29, 2009 @ 4:05 pm | Reply

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