Psychopathy and Politics

Early in my career I worked for two military officers and soon after for two industrial managers, all four of whom I thought must be seriously crazy.  Each of them was threatening and erratic, and created massive personnel turnover within their units, including an uncommon number of demotions, terminations, and serious illnesses.  Regardless, these worthies maintained the confidence of their superiors for a time, though two of them were eventually and abruptly terminated from their positions.  These characters were so far removed from my normal experience that they have significantly defined my life -- led me to further my education, wrote a book (long outdated), gave seminars, and did major study and research with most of it outside conventional channels. 

It took me thirty years to discover that my four crazy bosses were in fact psychopaths, and I now have professional confirmation that I worked for four different psychopath-type personalities.  Psychopathy was largely unrecognized and was poorly understood when I first observed the phenomenon, and it is poorly understood now, forty-nine years later.  Only the Federal Bureau of Investigation, of all the government entities, fully understands and utilizes psychopathy, and then only in regards to criminal cases.

Psychopathy as a psychological discipline concentrates on the behaviors and misbehaviors of personalities; psychopathy is one of several personality disorders, as opposed to thinking disorders (psychoses) and mood disorders (depression, bi-polar).  These three disorder types are often confused with one another.  The major characteristics of psychopaths are a pathological need for control over other people, coupled with a total absence of conscience.  Psychopaths have been characterized as bold, disinhibited, and mean, though psychopaths typically adopt attractive, charismatic, but fake personas for use when they want to impress someone in particular, such as a new girlfriend, upper management, or voters.  Bullying is a common description of a psychopath when he is not on his best behavior. 

Psychopaths operate on all scales from families and local communities to nation-states.  There has been remarkably little comment on totalitarian dictators as psychopaths, though totalitarian dictators have the same corrupt and destructive characteristics as local psychopaths who operate on a smaller scale.  Slavery and colonialism are manifestations of psychopathic-type control on a national or international scale, and are recently prevalent in psychopathic national systems today.

Psychopathy is the most destructive of the mental disorders, but the initial clinical description of psychopathy, by Dr. Hervey Cleckley in 1941, was little noted at the time and had almost no immediate effect.  Psychopaths hide in plain sight, and it is difficult for an untrained or inexperienced person to identify a psychopath due to the fake-but-charming personas that psychopaths adopt.  Psychopathy finally gained large-scale public attention as a result of a series of serial murder psychopaths in the 1970s (Robert Maudsley, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Dean Corll) and serial-murder psychopaths have largely defined the popular image of psychopathy for the past forty years. 

That was not what Dr. Cleckley said; Dr. Cleckley and his principal follower, Dr. Robert Hare, said that anyone may be a psychopath, usually as a result of random hereditary or traumatic damage to the prefrontal cortex of the brain, sometimes aggravated by childhood abuse or neglect.  Psychopaths have the same random physical and mental attributes and shortcomings as the general population, plus psychopathy.  Psychopaths are often subject to co-morbidities such as substance abuse and kleptomania, but this is true of many people.  A large minority of convicted criminals is psychopathic, but most are not.  About one percent of all people are psychopathic, and psychopaths selectively choose their victims according to the psychopath's own capabilities and inclinations.  Consequently, financial psychopaths do not usually commit serial murders, and vice-versa. 

In confirmation of Dr. Cleckley's expansive definition of psychopathy, there was another group of corporate psychopaths that came to prominence in the 1990s, including Bernie Ebbers at WorldCom and Jeff Skilling at Enron.  Ebbers and Skilling both destroyed their own major corporations, damaged thousands of careers, destroyed billions of dollars of corporate value, and went to prison for fraud after being formally assessed as psychopaths.  My last job was an engineering project manager within an Enron company.  My point is not so much that I was privileged to have observed so many psychopaths, but that psychopaths are uncommonly common and are largely unrecognized until too late, even by, or especially by, senior managers, due to the psychopath's charismatic mask. 

Psychopaths are rational and typically have a normal range of mental faculties, good, bad, or indifferent, but are lacking in conscience.  Virtually all known serial murder psychopaths and many mass murdering psychopathic dictators were abused or neglected as children, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and Saddam Hussein included.  No totalitarian dictator except Stalin has been professionally determined to be psychopathic (by Dr. Andrew Łobaczewski of Poland, see below).  Psychopaths are defined by Narcissistic Personality Disorder and by Anti-Social Personality Disorder, plus criminal tendencies and sexual immaturity.  Marxist, Fascist, Japanese militarist, and militant Islamist dictators certainly fit the criteria for psychopaths, operationally if not clinically. 

Dr. Hare specifically declined to label Saddam Hussein as a psychopath on the grounds that the good doctor had never had the opportunity to formally assess Saddam's personality traits through personal interviews.  From an operational point of view, when people are being uprooted and being subjected to genocide, a formal psychological assessment of a psychopath may not be necessary or possible.  If control over others is characteristic of psychopaths, mass murder is psychopathic, the same as the serial murderers in the USA in the 1970s.  An aggressive dictator is not only criminal and corrupt but typically meets other psychopathic criteria.  This is important because knowledgeable observers can identify psychopathic traits early.

At the time of WWII, there were two extended psychopathic systems, militant Islam and the Marxist Soviet Union, and two psychopathic nation-states, Germany and Japan.  Germany and Japan were purged of psychopathic behaviors, at great cost, during WWII.  The Marxist Soviet Union collapsed of psychopathic dishonesty, inefficiency, incompetence, and corruption in 1991.  It would have been well worth our while to assure that Russia never again became psychopathic, but no such foresight.  Putin is as psychopathic as Stalin, fortunately with much reduced demographic and physical assets with which to work.  After a certain amount of death and destruction, Putin's Russia will collapse in much less time than it took for the Soviet Union to collapse, because Putin has fewer assets to waste. 

Militant Islam has been an ongoing psychopathic system for fifteen hundred years and will continue as long as terrorism is allowed as the political operative system.  Sexual dysfunction and immaturity is massively evident within militant Islam and is a prominent driver of the aggressive and suicidal rage of terrorists, which presents a different pathological dynamic from most other psychopaths.  Rape of juvenile boys has the same effect in the Middle East as it had on Robert Maudsley and John Wayne Gacy when they were children.  Female sexual mutilation is common in the Middle East.  The ideological foolishness of Marxists presents a graphic comparison to the existential rage of frustrated and mutilated Islamists.  Marxists are probably not stupid enough to start a nuclear war, but militant Islamists might do it. 

On a global scale, there is an historical recurring pattern of stability and growth followed by periods of unrest marked by increased psychopathic behaviors.  These cycles typically run over a period of decades.  Modern psychopathic periods began with Napoleon, followed by Kaiser Bill and Lenin, and then Stalin, Hitler, and Tojo.  A new cohort of psychopaths appear to be now arising which could include Putin, Obama, the hybrid Chinese system, and Erdogan and the various militant Islamic psychopaths.  There is no obvious pattern to these cycles, but Dr. Łobaczewski presented some intriguing ideas in his book Political Ponerology.

"If there be something that behaves like savagery and boasts of civilization, then there is the devil in it."  --  G.K. Chesterton

According to Dr. Łobaczewski, ponerology (from the Greek poneros, meaning evil) is the scientific study of evil.  Working behind the Iron Curtain in often harrowing circumstances, Dr. Łobaczewski and some fellow psychologists were able to follow the work of Dr. Cleckley and Dr. Hare, and added important insights of their own.  Dr. Łobaczewski affirmed the findings of Western psychologists on the subject of clinical psychopathy, and described a much broader context of psychopathy on a world scale.  Dr. Łobaczewski described the recurring cycles as happy times, followed by hysterical (Łobaczewski's term) and psychopathic times, followed by happy times again.  In Western usage, a more apt description of Łobaczewski's happy/unhappy cycle might be undisciplined times, followed by hysterical times that lead to a re-establishment of discipline as required to deal with the hysterical chaos, and the cycle repeats. 

The Roaring Twenties were happy, undisciplined times that resulted in an hysterical era that led directly to the Great Depression and WWII.  As a society loses the discipline that binds it together, psychopathic behaviors becomes more common.  Massive bureaucracy is the psychopaths' substitute for social cohesion.  But the unhappy Great Depression and WWII imposed discipline and led to the resurgence of American growth and culture, a pattern that was observed worldwide.  We are now entering a new era of indiscipline, hysteria, and bureaucracy with a decay of moral values, politically absurd arguments, and widespread corruption, just as Dr. Łobaczewski observed in the past and anticipated into the future.  One example of an absurd political argument is the Left's accusations of racism in the Michael Brown case, when the actual case was that of a criminal assault on a police officer.  Jonathan Gruber's pathological dishonesty in the service of Obamacare's Marxist and bureaucratic healthcare program is another example. 

This pattern can be traced back through history, as in the case of the hysteria that accompanied Hitler's rise to power in Germany.  Corruption is typical of all psychopathic states and corruption is increasing in the United States at this time. 

Another apt term that Dr. Łobaczewski introduced was "spellbinder."  Napoleon, Lenin, and Hitler were psychopaths and spellbinders that could mesmerize masses of people into enthusiastically participating in their own destruction.  Psychopaths tend to build massive and oppressive bureaucracies to enforce their psychopathic control.  Stalin was no spellbinder, but he inherited (or stole) Lenin's mantle and used the Soviet bureaucracy for his own psychopathic purposes.

Barack Obama displayed some of the spellbinder skill set Hitler once used.  It is hard to believe now, but in 2008 Germans enthusiastically welcomed Obama just as they once did Hitler.  The Nobel Peace Prize Committee was also highly impressed with Obama, but the committee has not commented on recent developments in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The USA is not fertile ground for a Marxist psychopath, and there is resistance to Obama's ambitions.  If the Democratic Party had succeeded in taking away Second Amendment protections from the American people, history might have been significantly different. 

Historically, psychopathic failure is universal sooner or later, and we see massive evidence of the failure of Obama's policies, as reflected by Obama's repudiation by the voters and also by many Democratic politicians.  The current case of the USA confronted by a psychopathic threat is unique, as previous psychopathic threats were not within free, republican (small r) states but in politically, socially, and economically grossly stressed states.  Other than that, Obama's assault on the American Constitution and state has definite parallels to previous psychopathic assaults by totalitarian dictators in Russia, China, Germany, Japan, and throughout the Middle East.

James G. Long has been an army captain, a professional engineer, an author, and a blogger, with a lifelong interest in organizational management problems.