Hadley Cantril looked beyond the surface of social movements to examine the psychology behind them. What motivates people to follow an untried leader? What does the social environment do to make people suggestible? What are people thinking about, puzzled about, and hoping for when they lose themselves in some cause that seems strange or esoteric to the observer? Part I gives a systematic framework for interpretation of social movements. Part II examines specific social movements: the lynching mob, the kingdom of Father Divine, the Oxford Group, the Townsend Plan, and the Nazi Party.
Cantril uses the technique of phenomenological analysis to straighten out the tangle of mental context and motivation found in the individual who is adjusting to the social world. He notes that "the principles of some social movements are 'wrong,' those of others are more nearly 'right.' Some are cruel illusions accepted by bewildered people who follow false prophets; others uncompromisingly base policies on assumptions which the psychologist knows are untrue; some would completely prohibit the search for an understanding of man and his social world; some unnecessarily destroy the capacity and talent of man in obtaining his objectives."
The Psychology of Social Movements sets forth an outline by which social movements can be judged and their outcomes predicted. Cantril lays the responsibility for making these evaluations at the feet of social scientists who are best equipped to do so based on knowledge rather than ignorance, bias, or prejudice. This volume will be of continuing importance to sociologists and political scientists as well as psychologists and anyone interested in the mechanisms that drive social movements.