restricted access 2. Political Ambition Theory
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14 2. Political Ambition Theory chapter two What actually drives our political leaders? In this chapter I will provide a brief recapitulation of what political scientists over the years have had to say about the motivations of politicians. In fact, it is almost only American scholars who have studied the subject. In the final section of the chapter I use this literature to outline my definition of what should characterize a politician with career ambitions. POLITICAL MOTIVATIONS FROM AN AMERICAN PERSPECTIVE What motivates politicians has been the object of both normative and empirical studies (see, e.g., Barber 1985; Faulkner 2007; Payne et al. 1984). Attention to political motivation was actualized in the early 1900s and centered on leadership analysis before, during, and after the two world wars. One reason for the focus on the individual agent was the experiences of the era with charismatic leaders. It was a relatively simple matter to drive home the thesis that individual motivations play an important role. For this reason, political leaders and their psychological dispositions were an obvious subject for social scientists. One of the pioneers was Harold Lasswell. He did not hold politicians’ motives in high esteem, as is evident in the title of his 1930 book, Psychopathology and Politics. According to Lasswell, politicians are generally individuals suffering from an inferiority complex. Lasswell summarized his theory in a formula: p}d} r = P, where p equals private motives, d equals displacement onto a public object, r equals rationalization in terms of public interest, and P equals the political man (Lasswell 1930:75). In Lasswell’s model, it is the personal that becomes the political. According to Lasswell, politicians have an intense and unmet thirst for respect. To compensate for their low self-esteem, they seek power. Lasswell’s interest in psychodynamic processes led to his becoming one of the founders of political psychology as a separate research discipline. He borrowed ideas from the doyen of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, who also evinced interest in people in the political world—US president Woodrow Wilson in particular. In collaboration with American diplomat William C. Bullit, Freud sought to explain Wilson’s failure at the 1919 peace talks in Versailles and his later inability to bring the United States into the fold of the League of Nations. In due course, the analysis raised an outcry.1 Freud determined that a contributory cause of the failure was political ambition theory 15 Wilson’s complex personality, partly because “his Ego had not achieved a satisfactory solution of the Oedipus complex” (Freud and Bullit 1999:51).2 From the ideas inspired by Harold Laswell that politicians’ behavior is governed by factors rooted in psychodynamic processes, researchers eventually turned their attention to the circumstances of politicians’ lives as well. It was, after all, dif- ficult to empirically determine the relationship between politicians’ psychological dispositions and their behavior (Immelman 2003). Consequently, there was a reorientation from how agents influence their worlds to how their worlds influence agents. And thus was the door opened to sociological explanatory models. The key concepts were learned roles and contextual explanations. The personal ambitions of individuals were understood as subordinate to greater social contexts . Politics was analyzed from the macro perspective and understood as a product of social norms. The political system was thought to be structured to preserve and defend the prevailing order (Searing 1991). Various sociological studies produced a sea of information about the socioeconomic backgrounds of members of Congress (Davidsson 1969; Matthews 1954, 1960; Prewitt 1970; Wahlke et al. 1962), but less about how parliamentarians reasoned in an attempt to orient themselves in the political world. As the sociological explanatory models celebrated triumphs, progress was unfolding in party research. When Anthony Downs published An Economic Theory of Democracy in 1957, it was a revelation for many political scientists, who began to understand politics in a completely different way. Downs’s premise was that political parties are rational actors in an electoral market place. For the parties, the main goal is winning as many votes as possible. The “theory of relativity” of party research had seen the light of day. Using a few simple assumptions, we could understand contexts previously thought to be much more complex. Sociology was obliged to retreat, and in the latter half of the 1970s, the emphasis was on the individual . The breakthrough of the rational choice model, and not psychological advances, was the primary reason for the change of perspective. By the mid-1980s, Kenneth...