The Psychology of Authoritarianism: Approaches from Political Psychology and Psychohistory

Class Overview: In this 13-week class, we explore the psychological dimensions of authoritarianism: its potential origins in the infant’s psyche; factors that predispose individuals to relinquish their autonomy; social and cultural patterns that create susceptibility to authoritarian phenomena; mass movements vs. mob rule; the authoritarian personality; and the psychology of totalitarianism.

We explore theories of authoritarianism from various perspectives: political science; psychohistory; critical theory; social psychology; and others.

Finally, we use a comparative case study to investigate the link between creativity and enhanced resistance to authoritarianism.

Weeks 1-2: The authoritarian personality. Traditional psychohistorical approaches: authoritarianism child-rearing, reaction formation; conformity and obedience; the Frankfurt School theorists and the impact of fascism on the development of political psychology. The dynamics of authoritarianism and the F-scale.

Weeks 3-4: Susceptibility to authoritarianism. Psycho-social view; re-conditioning and persuasion; latent states of war; conformity and obedience. Processes of authoritarian reeducation: organized disempowerment and organized disconnection; dissipation of attention, mental discontinuity, and discouragement of memory.

Weeks 5-6: Charisma and conversion. Projection of the sacred; conversion, apparent converts, apparent resisters. Double-edged leadership; charisma, authority, and authenticity.

Weeks 6-7: Nationalism and the moral psychology of the community. Identification and internalization. Communal loyalty and popular sovereignty. Personality and political leadership. Coercion and group identity.

Weeks 8-9: Psychology of personal responsibility. Internal autonomy/external heteronomy; anti-authoritarian tendencies. Negative freedom and positive freedom; the altruistic personality; bystander effect/bystander apathy. The Stanford University “prison experiment.”

Weeks 10-11: Diffusion of responsibility. Hierarchy-enhancing and hierarchy-attenuating environments. Mob versus mass. Social dominance and legitimizing ideologies. Bureaucratic structures in the psychology of totalitarianism. The Milgram experiment.

Weeks 12-13: Two communities under siege: conformity and resistance. Psychological survival strategies in two demographically distinct ghettoes under Nazi control; psychosocial preconditions for creativity under duress and its relationship to anti-authoritarianism; privilege and protection as factors in group conformity; strategic arbitrariness and the “save-what-you-can game.” Variations of the “Stockholm Syndrome” in the administration of self-destruction.

Attachment Theory and Romantic Love

Class Overview: In this 13-week class, we explore the psychology of attachment: the origins in the infant’s psyche of the capacity to bond; factors that contribute to the expression and development of this capacity; and the psychodynamic correlates of bonding from infancy through maturation that include idealized objects, frustration, aggression, sexualized love, eros, and romantic jealousy.

We explore theories of attachment from various perspectives: object relations; humanist psychology; Self Psychology; developmental psychology; and others. Along the way, we encounter concepts such as the “strange situation”; attachment styles and behaviors; and the implications of classic theory on more recent modalities, such as Imago therapy.

We also look at the neurochemistry of bonding. Finally, we explore the often-posited associations between the failure of empathic attunement in mother-infant bonding and the failure to forge satisfying romantic bonds in adulthood. In addition, we engage in class exercises using our own experience as it applies to the theoretical material we are exploring.

Weeks 1-2: Introduction to attachment theory. Attachment styles; the “strange situation”; core identity and self-boundary formation; merger and individuation; separation anxiety and rapprochement. Reparation and object restoration. Behavioral styles and attachment modes.

Weeks 3-4: The “good enough” mother. The holding environment; relatedness and affective ties; nature vs. nurture; behaviorism and learning theory; introjects, ambivalence and splitting; object permanency; psycho-social developmental stages.

Weeks 5-6: Freudian and Jungian theories of human love. Drive theory and the role of eros; psychosexual staging and development; anima/animus and Jungian archetypes. Other theorists: transference love; clinical distinctions between love and lust.

Weeks 6-7: A self-psychological view of attachment. Kohut’s selfobject and the inventory of selfobject needs; mirroring, idealization, and twinship; narcissistic development and “love made hungry”; deviation and deficit models of attachment.

Weeks 8-9: The domain of core-relatedness. The subjective self; intersubjective relatedness; verbal relatedness and emergent relatedness; affective bonding, mother-infant intersubjectivity and dyads; deficiency models and maternal depression.

Weeks 10-11: Hierarchies of needs. Capacities for love, self-love and self-actualization. Humanistic models of love. “Being” love versus “deficiency” love; self-actualization as a basis for love; self-love versus narcissism. Neural basis of pair bonding in mammals; neurochemistry and biology of romantic love.

Weeks 12-13: Overview of adult attachment theory. Characteristics of mature love. Empathic attunement, rupture and repair; adult change processes; communication and the therapeutic process; restoration of the capacity to love.

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