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Does mass psychology renaturalize political theory? On the methodological originality of “Crowds and Power”

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The actual originality and radicalism of Canetti's mass psychology provides a comprehensive picture of humanity and society which could also accommodate a naturalized political domain. Proceeding according to a deliberate plan, Canetti discusses four “purely” political complexes on the basis of his mass-psychological conception. These four complexes are completed, architecturally as it were, by the Schreber Case, the keystone, which legitimately unites and synthesizes the political and psychological domains in terms of power. His strategy does not involve the projection of already available psychological explanatory patterns onto the political subject-matter. He chooses rather a political subject-matter in the analysis of which the already elaborated mass-psychological insights can resurface. The way leads, therefore, not from mass psychology to politics, but from politics to politics seen in a different way—via innovative mass-psychological insights. The four case-studies selected by Canetti display remarkable coherence in their conceptual structure. At the same time, they are also astonishingly diverse and variable. The Versaille Case describes a unique act involving the suppression of collective identity, while the Inflation Case captures the possibility of the shocking devaluation of individual and collective identity, a possibility which can in principle always become reality. The approach is yet again different in the Parliamentarianism Case: politics is shown to be wise enough to restrain political struggle by means of a taboo. Finally, for the case of socialism Canetti provides an original concretization and interpretation of a widely shared view, which is nevertheless seldom articulated with the required precision, namely that socialism and human nature run, at least latently, counter to one another, making their incompatibility predetermined.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 December 2004

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