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The Century of Psychopaths

The 20th century politics was dominated by several psychopaths. The book Political Psychology combines the studies of the psyche of Hitler, Stalin and Mao with an assessment of how people generally experience extreme political situations.


It was Adolf Hitler's takeover of power in the Democratic elections in 1932 that formed the starting point for "political psychology" as an academic direction. The researchers were not only interested in Hitler's own confused mind, but also the mental state of the masses. How could the majority, and later the Riksdag, choose to put democracy aside by what is termed "constitutional suicide"?

Hitler's parade case

Nils Johan Lavik and Nora Sveaass, psychiatrist and psychologist respectively, lead their own disciplines together with disciplines such as law and political science. They are far from the first to do this, and they go through a thorough methodology chapter through classic books in this cut. The most famous is The authoritarian personality from 1950, written by Theodor Adorno, among others, and based on psychoanalytic thinking. Later combinations of individual and group psychology provide a tentative answer to the question of the "parade case" Hitler's way to the pinnacle of power. The wrong seducer had a so-called mirror-hungry personality, while the traumatized, complementary personality that dominated the masses was it ideal hungry [P. 117].

Of course, psychology plays an equal role in more moderate political environments, and the authors present the importance of the size, structure, routines and leadership of decision-making groups. While these are topics that may be closely related to sociology and business psychology, psychoanalysis also has its place as a tool for understanding what is called group think, that is, how individual integrity can wither away, whereupon one goes almost automatically to sanctioning directives.

Psychology from the South

Perhaps the most exciting chapter of the book deals with "psychology from the south," where the authors introduce a cultural perspective into their considerations. They have been well versed in the settlements in Latin America following the dictatorships of the 1970s and 80s, including Chile, Argentina and Guatemala.

It is nevertheless the work of The Truth and Reconciliation Committee in South Africa that must be considered the most profound and successful national cleansing project, although it was never so traumatic. The tame attempts to punish Chile's former dictator Augusto Pinochet are a shameful comparison, and likewise, only a handful of people have been convicted of the relentless dictatorship in Argentina in the 1970s.

The authors' love for Latin America comes into its own when they write about it liberation psychology, a real child of the continent's liberationtheology, which, in short, assumes that the church is committed to addressing local problems such as poverty and oppression. Several of the politically conscious (and often persecuted) priests in this social movement have a background in psychology. Their work is simply to get people to reflect and then act on experiences. It is obvious that such a psychology is unbelievable and very unpopular with many governments, and it has also stifled persistent imperialism.

Decades of human rights

Lavik and Sveaass try to keep a continuous assessment of the role of their own colleagues in various critical historical situations. They distribute both praise and rice, but emphasize that ethics already stand strong on the psychologists' curriculum. They then point out the paradox that human rights are almost absent in vocational education, and to rectify this seems largely to be their main concern with this book.

Political Psychology culminates in an indispensable defense of human rights and international law. Like so many other similar assessments of the world situation since September 11, it is not neo-Nazis or old communists that, in the authors' opinion, should be most suited for, but the militarized different country, the footnote power of the United States.

However, they are quite optimistic, calling the 1990s "the decade of human rights". There are several good reasons for this, not least the fall of the Wall and the dismantling of the apartheid regime and other dictatorships have created better conditions for peace work.

This is a thorough book, which largely succeeds with its ambitions. The long method chapter and the internal ethical discussion are ideally intended for professionals, while the treatment of human rights and international law (fortunately, one would say) must withstand fierce competition from many other books a day. In the introduction to "psychology from the south" it is well argued that this is more than a contribution to "our" beliefs. Otherwise, the authors might have been somewhat more generous with examples from their broad experience with clinical psychology and close contact with traumatized refugees, as well as from the court settlements in Latin America.

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