[the nation state] offers most of its members a stronger sense of security, belonging or affiliation, and even personal identity, than does any alternative large group ...[The] greater the need of the people for such affiliation and identity under the strains and shocks of social mobilization and alienation from earlier familiar environments, the greater becomes the potential power of the nation-state to channel both their longings and resentments and to direct their love and hate.

--Karl Deutsch, Contemporary Political Science: Toward Empirical Theory, 1967:271

Over the past two decades, mergings of psychologists and political scientists have taken place to yield the field of political psychology. The union was inevitable. Indeed, modern political systems routinely shape the identities, memories, stereotypes, beliefs, language, emotions, and actions of their citizens. A sample of research topics:

Civil Religion in WW II


With social evolution, modern political systems have become increasingly responsible for addressing individuals' needs for safety, order, meaningfulness, and well-being. With modernization, for instance, political regimes have become the collective instrument for controlling all forms of deaths and for managing cultural death fears as well. Given the contemporary political involvements with abortion, suicide prevention, warnings of contaminated food and the risks of smoking, and homicide, it should be evident that polities have become responsible for preventing most forms of premature, man-made (and hence avoidable) death. But political responsibility now extends to protection from death by the natural order as well. Following an earthquake (the prediction, itself, is a political responsibility, much like the weather), for example, we no longer appeal to God as did Job but rather call Washington for relief. Even the contemporary manifestations of cultural death fears have become politicized, including not only the politically-sponsored radioactive mushroom clouds, but fears of cancer and gray hair as well. Now as we witness the defense budgets of developed nations being dwarfed by their expenditures devoted to those most likely to die, the sick and the old, we can detect a more subtle yet profound involvement with death by modern political economies. Well over one-half of the U.S. federal budget is devoted either to refining the instruments of death (e.g., the military), preventing death (e.g., environmental control and cleanup; paying for nearly one-third of the nation's health care bill; and its promotion of air and auto safety), or assisting those most likely to die (between the 1960s and 1980s, the portion of the federal budget going to those 65 and older increased from 15 to 28 percent (with between 25 and 35 percent of Medicare expenditures going to the 5 to 6 percent of enrollees who die during the year). Such involvements in the battle against death have come at a cost: the state increasingly monopolizes the use of legitimate force.

Other costs have accrued given state involvements with other need systems. Consider the following table. In late 1989 the Soviet people were asked whether the state should be mainly responsible for people's success and well-being or whether people should look out for themselves and decide for themselves what to do for success in life (Source: Emory University survey of 2,485 Soviet citizens, interviewed by the National Center for Public Opinion in Moscow; cited in New York Times, March 29, 1990:A6).









Balts 39% 52% 9%
Central Asians 38% 57% 6%
TOTAL 46% 45% 9%
Under 25 41% 50% 9%
25-29 46% 49% 5%
30-59 47% 43% 10%
60+ 50% 41% 9%

Can you predict in what areas and among what age groups of the former U.S.S.R. that communism's demise was least appreciated? What parallels are there between these findings and attitudes of Americans toward the welfare state?


A further dilemma of democratic government in our time arises from the fact that techniques for appealing to sub-rational and even to subconscious levels of human motivation are still in their infancy when applied to politics. Liberal democratic theory assumed human rationality and discounted the passions; but psychologists and social scientists no longer believe that men are ruled by reason, while advertisers and military men know they are not.

--William McNeill, The Rise of the West, 1961

University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes In The Presidential Character (1972), James Barber develops how modern political regimes must respond to a "climate of expectations," which includes the public's needs for reassurance, sense of progress and action, and legitimacy. In 1996 this "climate" featured disenchantment, disconnectedness, and cynicism, leading to the lowest Presidential election turnout since 1924. Since 1973, with the exception of 1974 (the midst of the Watergate crisis), public confidence in the leadership of Congress and the Executive Branch has never been lower.


The central function of the state is its maintenance of order. Historically this has been achieved through its monopoly over the use of force. If modern political regimes cannot control a people by direct force then they must control how they think--particularly in democracies, which is why the United States has long had an advanced public relations industry. It is also why nation-states require the political socialization of their young in their schools' curriculums.

Strong must be the ideology legitimating those at the throttles of power. But what is an ideology? In part, it is an interpretative framework that integrates and gives consistency to individuals' wide-ranging experiences, beliefs and values, and that organizes their social drives. Consider, for instance, the 1992 Republican logic that working mothers have contributed to the moral breakdown of the country that, in turn, is the cause of high crime rates and increasing cynicism in American society.

Civil Religion in WW II The collective memories occasioned by the thirty-third anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination featured the latest of the conspiracy theories. Framed by Oliver Stone's "JFK" and "Nixon" movies, stories of the Government using American citizens as unwitting guinea pigs, and stories of Government disinformation campaigns and lies concerning the exposure of U.S. troops in the Gulf War to Iraqi chemical and biological agents, one wonders what if the CIA and other agencies were found to indeed found to have been involved in the President's murder. What would be the implications if Americans' reactions were "So what? What else is new?"

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