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Mastery and Retreat: Psychological Sources of the Appeal of Ronald Reagan

C. Fred Alford
Political Psychology
Vol. 9, No. 4 (Dec., 1988), pp. 571-589
DOI: 10.2307/3791528
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3791528
Page Count: 19
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Mastery and Retreat: Psychological Sources of the Appeal of Ronald Reagan
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Abstract

Freud claims that illusions are wish fulfillment fantasies. As such, they stem from our anxieties: With our wishes and illusions we seek to alleviate an anxiety. This paper examines the popular appeal of Ronald Reagan by considering the national anxieties that he addresses. Prime among these anxieties is a feeling of helplessness: that our economy and society are out of control. More precisely, the anxiety is that, out of a combination of complacency and fear, Americans have abandoned the quest for mastery and control over their collective lives. Reagan labels our national retreat, from collective mastery over the public world into the apparent security of private life and private solutions, a return to the traditional verities. In so doing Reagan calls our retreat a victory. He thus protects our collective ego from a tremendous blow: not merely that we have lost national mastery, but that we have abandoned its pursuit for a strategy of individual survival.

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