Even if you do not accept the cynical belief that politicians and the senior managers of either public, private or charitable organisations are solely ‘in it for themselves’ rather than the common good, you will be living a rather sheltered life if you have not come across popular assumptions that self-interest motivates political leaders as much as an altruistic desire to benefit all of humanity. Ideological ideas are held by political activists with different degrees of understanding and commitment and are often ‘more honoured in the breach than the observance’. This chapter considers the extent to which self-interest may both reinforce ideological and ethical commitment but also destroy any earnest pretensions to ideological and moral correctness. In this chapter the term ‘self-interest’ is attached to that aspect of human behaviour that is concerned with the advancement of an individual’s personal development or that of their family members or close friends, rather than the good of society in general. This is a definition that needs some explanation. Schools of psychology view motivation from differing perspectives. Positivist para-

digms championed by some experimental psychologists argue that there are intrinsic needs and desires that are wired into the genetic make-up of the human brain that will react in differing ways when faced with similar environmental conditions. These behaviourists believe that they can get some idea of how the machinery of a normal brain will operate by observing the reactions of individuals when placed in similar situations. In contrast, it is argued that human motivation is subjective and we must understand what this may be through statements from an individual as to what they feel and perceive. Phenomenological thought suggests that our desires and fears are personal to ourselves and it is difficult if not impossible to understand whether the concept of, for example, ambition, has the same meaning for each person (Ashworth 2000: 105-8). The subjective approach to human psychology creates a problem of classifying motives. Recognised motives and emotions such as a desire for power or love may be a consequence of very different feelings and result from the impact of differing unconscious motives and behavioural impulses. For example, it is frequently argued that many politicians are motivated by a determination to gain power, but what may be the source of that attitude? How far is the desire to wield power a consequence of a concern to satisfy further personal motives such as to ensure our security or to gain the praise of others or to altruistically establish humane policies? During the twentieth century many social psychologists have attempted to classify

and, also, morally order the sources of motivation. Among the early proponents of policy studies, Harold Lasswell (1948) was particularly interested in this issue and in his earlier works suggested that politicians frequently seek power as a consequence of

the suppression of their ego in their childhood. Maslow’s (1970) pyramid of social wellbeing that culminated at its apex in the notion of self-actualisation is probably the most well known of these theoretical models. More empirically based understanding of the growth of human behaviour is based on Piaget’s (1977) studies of child development, which identified stages from an infant’s early self-absorption and egocentric motivation to the later dawning in childhood of a realisation that others have similar concerns and wishes as themselves. Lawrence Kohlberg (1973) developed a more complex theoretical model of motivation and moral consciousness arguing that at a higher, and more adult, level of moral interaction the individual accepts that their ego must come to terms with the well-being of others. This structuring of self-interest has considerable resonance within the discursive democratic theories of Jürgen Habermas (1990: 2001). Self-interest as defined in this analysis is attached to motives that satisfy the ego, that

is the self, and does not extend to concerns for community or humanity as a whole. This should not, however, imply that self-interested actors are wholly uninterested in ideological views. The ubiquity of self-interest as the basis of human motivation prompts many critics of this position, such as Frank Fischer (2003: 21-7), to spend some time defending ideology as a motivation that cuts across the assumption that we are all self-interested and have no sense of genuine altruism. Many individuals will be attracted to ideological positions that reinforce their own self-interested inclinations and hence the two forms of motivation can often be complementary. Individuals who are wealthy are, for example, more likely to support right wing values opposing the redistribution of wealth, whilst those who feel that they are unjustly treated in terms of their share of wealth will be attracted to redistributive socialist policies. In a global society based on self-governing states, self-interest tends, for example, to be linked with ideological support for nationalism and the political structuring of the national constitution and the national interpretations of that country’s history.