Chapter 2: Current Theories of Political Motivation
Humans act politically. Establishing leadership and cooperative roles to address joint problems marks all human groups from the earliest family groups in which fathers hunt and mothers nurture children through the modern nation-state regime. As populations increase and family groups enlarge to tribes and clans, the political instinct evolves, as does the role of leader and participant. Increasing numbers within the tribe and more numerous groups around them require leaders who can accommodate growing demands within the group and who can coordinate interaction with outsiders. Politics becomes a necessary activity for the internal and external success of the group.
The motivation to act politically is not settled among political scientists. Aristotle asserts all humans are zoon politikon (political animals). His blanket definition of all humans as political creatures assumes an innate inclination to act politically. Rational choice theorists since Thomas Hobbes build an approach to political motivation that assumes people who are fully informed will make rational choices. If there is more to be gained by participation than the action will cost, then a person will act. If the cost is more than the expected gain, a person will abstain. Harold Lasswell, a leader of modern political psychology, argues some humans are homo politicus (political persons). His definition assumes few people have a political personality predisposed to value power and motivated to act politically. Lasswell’s student James Chowning Davies retranslates Aristotle’s words zoon politikon to mean “social animals who sometimes act politically” (1959 pg. 410). He reasons, any person will act politically when one needs to do so.
Davies’s definition accepts political activity as an innate activity performed out of interest, enjoyment, or biological compulsion for few people. He evaluates political action as a tool most humans use to satisfy needs. Advocates of transformational politics define political activity as a social expression of the spiritual and the personal. They hope political activity is part of human potential beyond the individual (Woolpert et al, 1998). When perfectly practiced in full democratic participation, it can empower citizens to fulfill their individual and collective potential. This chapter will briefly explain each of these schools of thought.
Political science theory has focused on power and the powerful for the last one hundred years. Contemporary political motivation theory focuses on the ends a person or people expect for a particular course of action. It assumes a calculated measurement of power expended or collected in each political action. Many influential theories of political motivation follow the expectation theory of motivation that evaluates what a person expects in order to account for the behavior a person pursues. The theory leads political scientists to see politics as a means to accumulate rewards such as power, wealth, prestige, and territory
The cause of human political actions interests great thinkers. Aristotle in ancient Greece says man is a zoon politikon, a political animal. Nicolo Machiavelli describes people as players of the deadly serious game of politics, which they win by dominating (1513). Thomas Hobbes writes about politics as a way to restrain men’s violent, selfish tendencies with a God-given leader (1651). Rex lex. The king is law. Hobbes sees the nature of man as savage and power-seeking that requires a divinely appointed authority to rule as a father rules his family and as God dominates creation in order to restrain man’s natural evil. He assumes natural law and natural right work against humans, precluding the possibility of self-rule. John Locke challenges the monarchy’s claim to divine right (1690). Human understanding permits government as a necessary judiciary to establish and protect individual rights. Political authority comes from the consent of the governed because reason expressed in a defensible legal code can restrain human nature. Jean-Jacques Rousseau aspires to political activity that can be enlightened with reason and allow individual freedoms before it disintegrates into anarchy (Rousseau, 1778). Lex rex. The law is king. Thomas Paine denounces hereditary rule and argues man uses representative government to balance conflicting interests without anarchy (1775, 1781).
The strong faith in reason and natural order of the previously mentioned writers seems romantic, especially when contrasted with the concept of political activity put forth by modernists. Earlier work deals in the descriptive reality of human nature and the political behavior that naturally flows from it when not restrained. Modern and contemporary thinkers work within the prescriptive realm of what should be. Hans J. Morgenthau, the cupbearer of political realism, provides a transition between the two approaches by describing politics as it is then advocating improvements. He begins his political study, like Locke, with the premise that humans are rational actors participating in politics to accumulate self-interests that are attainable only with cooperation. The first motivation for political activity is survival of the state. The second is accumulation of power, defined as interest. He flatly rejects attempts to force the thought processes of other realms onto the political realm (1948). Politics is about the accumulation of a commodity unique to the political realm—political power. Political power refers to a reciprocal psychological relationship of control between holders of public authority and the people at large. The mutual relation is a balance of power. A variety of voices echo Morgenthau, evaluating political activity as a way to accumulate power, wealth, territory, business, and a variety of external commodities. C. Wright Mills sees politics can be an activity of manipulators, who use the consent of the governed to induce changes the people neither understand nor necessarily want (1959). A robot is perfectly rational, he points out, but that is not a desirable outcome for human life. Increased reason does not necessarily make for increased freedom. Nor do all humans have equal influence in their political activity. Some adapt to their environment rather than confronting or changing it. To act optimally, people must be fully informed.
Contemporary practitioners of rational choice theory are skilled statisticians. They take the theories and ideas of Aristotle through Morgenthau and attempt to apply numbers to measure and predict outcomes. First, rational theory assumes people act in one’s own self-interest. Second, rational choice theorists assume people act rationally. A rational person will compute the cost of an action and compare it to the expected gain to be garnered. If the cost is less than the expected gain, one will act. If the cost is more than the expected gain, one will not act. Applying this theory to voting is best represented by the calculus of voting, which expects rational voters to chose an action with maximum utility (Riker and Ordeshook, 1968). A vote is an investment in a preferred outcome (Fiorina, 1976). Minimax regret theory also expects voters to seek maximum utility from their actions, yet it anticipates a rational voter will act so as to limit the amount of potential regret experienced (Ferejohn and Fiorina, 1976). A voter may want Candidate A to win but will vote for Candidate C because C is more likely to win and because Candidate B is an undesirable outcome. The voter will regret less voting for one’s second choice; than one will regret wasting a vote on one’s first choice. Game theory is also part of rational choice theory. Like the calculus of voting, it assumes voting is a collective action in which individual participate to achieve expected outcomes. It also predicts voter turnout increases indirect relation to the perceived decisiveness of the vote (Aldrich, 1992). If a voter expects to cast the tie-breaking vote, one is very likely to vote. The concept of efficacy is key to rational choice theory. A citizen will participate politically in as much as one expects the action to increase the chances of attaining a preferred outcome. Yet in accounting for the human need to make effective actions, rational choice theory can not account for values, beliefs, attitudes, or other preferences on which human behavior is based (Aldrich 1993). Some voters chose not to participate because no one in a large electorate expects to cast a deciding vote. Rationally there is no reason to participate, but many people do. Some voters participate because they believe in democracy and because they perceive the act of voting as important. Some voters are intrinsically interested in politics. These are the types of affects for which rational choice theory cannot account.
Rational choice can measure the correlation between specific factors. For example, they can calculate the relationship between voting and a variety of factors including age, gender, educational attainment, and interest. They can also tie voter turnout to partisanship, political efficacy, and newspaper readership (Cassel and Luskin, 1988). In linking these factors to each other, however, they are only able to account for a percentage of likely voters. By necessity the theory requires a trimming of potential variables to a mathematically manageable number, potentially cutting out key factors
Psychopolitics looks at psychological predictors of political behavior. It evaluates why people take certain steps and accounts for the influences of national character, ideology, public opinion, and public attitudes (Pettman, 1975). The use of psychology in political science intends to discover why people act politically. Political scientists working on the psychology of politics tend to settle into one of three theoretical assumptions. All three recognize central needs or goals. The first group, which Lasswell dominates, understands needs as Freud does—life and libido. The second, which Davies advocates, builds from Maslow’s Need Hierarchy and Darwin’s evolutionary theory. The third and most recent foray into political psychology attempts to tie the political to the intricacies of the human experience including the spiritual.
Lasswell’s chief concern is the achievement of worldwide dignity. His approach to political purpose and political motivation of leaders and participants divides into two distinct parts: what is and what ought to be. Politics is about influence and the influential but ought to be about shared decision-making and human dignity. Political leadership is provided by deference-craving individuals but ought to be a democratic process. Participants are seeking human goals in the form of cultural values. They are often frustrated by authoritarian hindrances and ought to be supported in their self-determination and decision-making. He believes a democratic approach to politics, especially political policies and practices enlightened by the studies of psychology and psychiatry, can best explain political participation. The central focus of the work of Harold D. Lasswell is the democratic assumption that humans have a basic preference for dignity based on individual merit rather than birth, and the goal of his political work is the grandest possible realization of human dignity (1951).
Lasswell builds on Sigmund Freud’s work by expanding the basic needs list Freud developed of two needs (love/libido and life) to eight goal values shared across the human experience, regardless of culture or historical era. He defines a goal/value as wants, desires, preferences, expectations, or beliefs. Though the list is not intended to be exhaustive, it is thoroughly built on the concepts of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that the American founders declare. Humans, according to Lasswell, are motivated to work towards human dignity by power, wealth, well-being, skill, enlightenment, affection, rectitude, and respect. He expects these goals values to be cross-cultural and cross-historical period, yet he stops short of claiming they are innate human characteristics: He does not look for values as innate characteristics springing from genes or chromosomes, though he leaves open the possibility that empirical study may connect genetic predisposition to choice of roles in society (1951). Goal values motivate political activity; in fact, they can necessitate political action in certain people. Politics, as any social process, is the pursuit of goal values though institutions based on resources. All people seek these goal values through social processes, but only certain humans chose to pursue them through a political process. The people who chose the political process for goal value pursuit are those with a political personality, marked by a desire for power. Research into the process can lead to predictions about future trends as well as extrapolation of past conditions. Lasswell strongly asserts that predictions are not inevitable because humans can alter their conduct or change their understanding of the context through enlightenment
Chapter 1: Building a Foundation for Self-Determination Theory in Politics
Meta-Theories of SDT
Areas of Caution.
Chapter 2: Current Theories of Political Motivation
Maslow and Davies
Chapter 3: Developing Motivated Political Participants
SDT in Political Science
Comparing and Contrasting Current Trends to SDT
Chapter 4: A Proposed Study of Political Campaign Volunteers
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