Help us sharing our research, consultation and experiences

Donate Now

The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Interests, Passions and Politics: Assumptions of the U.S. Constitution

Though words be the signs we have of one anothers opinions and intentions, yet, because the equivocation of them is so frequent according to the diversity of contexture, and of the company wherewith they go (which the presence of him that speaketh, our sight of his actions, and conjecture of his intentions, must help to discharge us of): it must be extreme hard to find out the opinions and meanings of those men that are gone from us long ago, and have left no other signification thereof but their books; which cannot possibly be understood without history enough to discover those aforementioned circumstances, and also without great prudence to observe them. (Thomas Hobbes, The Elements of Law, Natural and Politic I.13.8, 1640) The designers of the U.S. Constitution, in particular Madison and Adams, were acutely aware of individual and group psychodynamics and their impact on the function and viability of democratic government. They designed governmental structures and the relationship between the parts of government with explicit reference to how these structures would contain individual ambition and the drive for power; group conflict and the conflicts of various social, religious and economic interests; the needs of groups to define boundaries and enemies; the tendency of large groups to irrationality, impulsiveness and grandiosity; and the tendency of dominant groups to tyrannize and scapegoat minorities. The understanding of human behavior and motivation by the designers of the Constitution arose from a rich tradition of scrutiny and theorizing about human behavior by theologians, moral philosophers, poets, satirists and political theorists of the 17th and 18th centuries. This paper will explore key themes of this era and how their implications were translated into the design of a particular complex organization via the U.S. Constitution. The human understanding embedded in this process will be compared and contrasted with some current psychoanalytic concepts relevant to group and individual political and organizational behavior, to see if these perspectives from a different era might offer some 'new' insights of use to us today.