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The cover of "Harold Lasswell on Political Sociology" from the University of Chicago Press.

Harold Dwight Lasswell (February 13, 1902 — December 18, 1978) was a leading American political scientist and communications theorist. He was a member of the Chicago school of sociology and was a student at Yale University in political science. He was a President of the World Academy of Art and Science (WAAS) and the American Political Science Association (APSA). Along with other influential liberals of the period, such as Walter Lippmann, he argued that democracies needed propaganda to keep the uninformed citizenry in agreement with what the specialized class had determined was in their best interests. As he wrote in his entry on propaganda for the Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences, we must put aside "democratic dogmatisms about men being the best judges of their own interests" since "men are often poor judges of their own interests, flitting from one alternative to the next without solid reason". [1]

He is well known for his comment on communications:

Who (says) What (to) Whom (in) What Channel (with) What Effect

and on politics:

Politics is who gets what, when, and how.

Lasswell studied at the University of Chicago in the 1920s, and was highly influenced by the pragmatism taught there, especially as propounded by John Dewey and George Herbert Mead. More influential, however, was Freudian philosophy, which informed much of his analysis of propaganda and communication in general. During World War II, Lasswell held the position of Chief of the Experimental Division for the Study of War Time Communications at the Library of Congress. He analyzed Nazi propaganda films to identify mechanisms of persuasion used to secure the acquiescence and support of the German populace for Hitler and his wartime atrocities. Always forward-looking, late in his life, Lasswell experimented with questions concerning astropolitics, the political consequences of colonization of other planets, and the "machinehood of humanity."

Lasswell's work was important in the post-World War II development of behavioralism.

Major works

  • Propaganda Technique in the World War (1927; Reprinted with a new introduction, 1971)
  • World Politics and Personal Insecurity (1935; Reprinted with a new introduction, 1965)
  • Politics: Who Gets What, When, How (1935)
  • "The Garrison State" (1941)
  • Power and Personality (1948)


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