What is psypolitics?
by Federico Soldani – 27th Sept 2021
This article aims to introduce the terms – and related concepts – of psychopolitics and psypolitics.
As previously written in the PsyPolitics blog, political psychology applies the knowledge acquired through psychology research to the understanding of political phenomena, so it can be said that it psychologizes research in political science.
On the contrary, when we talk about bio-politics (for example M. Foucault) or psycho-politics (a term of uncommon use and of uncertain definition) we tend to do in a certain sense an opposite operation, which is we politicize the measures and practices that refer to the physical and / or mental health of the population.
In the first case, that of political psychology, the psychological point of view is used to study political phenomena, especially in terms of studying and of carrying out research.
In the second case, that of biopolitics, the political viewpoint is used to study phenomena relating to measures and practices for the physical and / or mental health of the population.
Nowadays, during the last year and a half, authors with no familiarity with the work and ideas of French author Michel Foucault have begun talking – due to the coronavirus pandemic and especially the media and government responses to this pandemic – of biopolitics. A concept that was mentioned by authors before Foucault but which he developed in his cycles of lectures Society Must Be Defended of 1975-76 and subsequently The Birth of Biopolitics of 1978-79.
It is important to point out – and this is remarkable in my opinion – that initially during his academic career Foucault worked on psychology and psychiatry. In fact, his earliest publications were Mental Illness and Personality (Maladie mentale et Personnalité, 1954) and Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason (Folie et Déraison: histoire de la folie à l’âge classique, 1961).
In this article – part of a work-in-progress – it is argued that in order to refer, in the biopolitical field, to the mental aspect and to the so-called ‘psy’ disciplines, in English the term psypolitics is to be preferred to the previously and sporadically used psychopolitics. In Italian the term psicopolitica appears sufficiently adequate.
The new terms can lend themselves to problems of various types, perhaps especially in a historical period like the present one, which sees the continuous and daily proliferation of new terms even in languages other than one’s own – primarily in English. One of the effects that sometimes new terms can generate is that of not showing the genealogy of the concepts that they would pretend to convey. Therefore, it will be important to make as explicit as possible the origin of the concepts underlying a new term and to explain in detail how the proposed term is chosen.
In English the proposed term is ‘psypolitics’ while in Italian it is ‘psicopolitica’.
Psypolitics is a term that is meant to be entirely new. Previous sporadic uses can also be taken into consideration for a historical analysis of the use of this term, for example on the Web, however they have not influenced the choice and proposal of the term. Psypolitics partly includes and intends to overcome the old term – psychopolitics, used in different and disparate contexts – and certainly also refers to the biopolitical dimension as for example developed by Foucault.
In English the term psycho has a negative connotation, being linked to psychopathy. Furthermore, psycho, while it corresponds to the initial part of the terms psychology and psychoanalysis (but not psychanalysis) and also psychotherapy and psychopharmacology, does not exactly correspond to terms such as psychiatry or even the increasingly relevant psychedelic. Furthermore, the expression ‘psy disciplines’ already exists in the English-speaking world to outline the disciplines that deal with the psyche in various ways. The use of psy – simpler and more inclusive than psycho and also more in line with the popular bio prefix of biopolitics – may appear preferable.
The term in Italian – psicopolitica – is not entirely new but it appears anyway to be the best choice: psi-politica does not sound good, since psi is not used as bio instead (for example there is bio-logia not psi-logia) and the prefissoide psico in Italian does not denote psychopathy (excluding some recent exceptions, probably borrowed from the use of psycho in English) as does the term psycho in English (think of Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho or the Ellis’s 1991 novel American Psycho). Of course, it does not correspond perfectly with terms such as psichiatria or psichedelico, instead corresponding with psicologia, psicoanalisi (but not psicanalisi), psicofarmacologia and psicoterapia.
While in the past the term biopolitics / biopolitica was used to include both the bio aspects and in part the psy ones, today it seems appropriate for various reasons to use a term dedicated to the mental aspect and related disciplines.
There are some who have spoken – in relation to a perhaps more general but certainly less technical aspect – of the politics of the spirit or of pneuma, but although this is an aspect related to the psyche it is not linked to the technical dimension of the psydisciplines. The psydisciplines are sometimes presented, especially by those who advocate their expansion to the whole of society – now very popular – as opposed to the concept of technique. However, this appears to be a difficult position to support, and it is in a certain sense bordering on the spiritual dimension. The psydisciplines – including related professional practices such as psychotherapies – are technical.
This article therefore supports the need to work on a definition and articulation of the study of the politics and policies of the psyche and of the psydisciplines, a new disciplinary field for which the terms ‘psypolitics’ in English and ‘psicopolitica’ in Italian are proposed here.
It is interesting to note how several authors have previously written both about psychopolitics (eg. Greenblatt in the United States) and psicopolitica (eg. De Marchi in Italy, archived Rai Libri profile in Archive.org here), even as if they were the first to have developed these concepts, without however such resolutions – even on the part of highly prominent figures from an academic or medical point of view – leding to further developments of a discipline. Is it possible that the topic of psy/cho/politics is so delicate and sensitive to the point of making one prefer not to deal with it in a systematic or explicit way, for example in a university environment?
In this perspective, it will also be necessary to carry out a genealogical, philological and historical study of both the terms and concepts previously used such as ‘psychopolitics’ in English and ‘psicopolitica’ in Italian.
More and more frequently today, but also in the past, the global dimension of politics is linked to the biological and mental, even individual, dimension. For example in the document cited several times in PsyPolitics “A LARGER US” 2019 of the Collective Psychology Project based in London. In this context it can be noted that the terms geopolitics and biopolitics were both initially used by the same author at the beginning of the twentieth century.
The term biopolitics was used by the Swedish political scientist, statistician, geographer and politician Rudolf Kjellén. He also used the term geopolitics and is considered one of the founding fathers of the discipline that bears this name. In The Great Powers of Today (1905) he introduced the term biopolitics in his work and later his The State as a Life-form (1916) contributed to the development and spread of the term: in his intentions he was to delineate a new discipline that he “baptized” (sic) with the name of biopolitics.
At present the first traceable use of the term psychopolitics is by the German jurist expert in international law Heinrich Rogge in Psychopolitics and the problem of the leader (Psychopolitik und Führerproblem, 1925). Rogge’s prominence is also testified by the reviews that at least from 1934 to 1937 his writings on Hitler and on the prospect of peace in Europe obtained in the magazine Foreign Affairs, of the US Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).
Last Updated on November 7, 2022 by Federico Soldani