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Dorn, R.M. Sigall, M.W. (1977). Political Science and Psychoanalysis. Psychoanal. Rev., 64(2):299-309.

(1977). Psychoanalytic Review, 64(2):299-309

Political Science and Psychoanalysis

Robert M. Dorn, M.D. and Michael W. Sigall, Ph.D., J.D.


In 1900 Freud published his masterpiece, The Interpretation of Dreams. 6 Within the same decade Graham Wallas, the English political scientist, published Human Nature in Politics,14 which challenged the methodology of his field. He issued a call to politicians and scholars alike to divorce themselves from the “ideal” notion that political choice was a rational exercise in self-interest. His work found its greatest response in the United States.

Harold Lasswell emerged from the Wallas tradition, bringing psychoanalysis to the attention of his colleagues in political science. At best, psychoanalysis was a latecomer to these shores—an “immigrant” via medicine; Lasswell was the first American to apply psychoanalytic insights and techniques to the study of politics9

Lasswell's now famous formula, P=pdr—political behavior equals “private motives” becoming displaced on “public causes” and “rationalized in the public interest”—developed from his contacts with the seminal works of Sigmund Freud. Lasswell firmly believed in the presence of a powerful “unconscious” and the oftentimes irrational nature of man—especially in politics. He felt that Freud's concepts were useful for more than simply studying and treating the mentally ill. Free association techniques, the structural (tripartate) theory regarding the mind and political concepts regarding personality types, were very useful in his teachings and writings.

Walter Lippmann carried this theme into the domain of opinion and attitude formation.

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