I was struck by these words in Steve Taylor‘s recent newsletter:
“I’m not a particularly political person, but I find behaviour of some present world leaders worryingly reminiscent of psychopathic and narcissistic dictators like Hitler, Stalin, Franco and Mussolini. That’s not to say that the present leaders have perpetrated the horrors of the older ones, but it’s easy to see how they have the capacity to, and how similar their personality types are. Political power is naturally very attractive to psychopathic and narcissistic personality types – and we should do everything we can to rein them in, and even to prevent them from attaining power in the first place.”
We all know who they are. Good people will need to stand up and be counted to keep them in check and swing the balance back towards the good. And I’m sure they are doing so.
Of course, it’s not just in politics. These people are found near or at the top of quite a number of business and financial institutions, often leading them to spectacular failure due to loss of contact with reality. As has been observed many times, money and power are great corrupters of weak, easily glamoured egos.
Readers of my last few posts will have detected a certain attraction to the ideas expressed in Erich Fromm‘s book The Heart of Man: Its Genius for Good and Evil, first published in 1964.
There is much more in the book than my blog posts listed below, which will give a flavour of some of the content. I find Fromm’s work accessible, readable and very relevant today, when the mistakes of the past are rising again to confront humanity – the mistakes that led those such as Fromm to leave a Europe where Hitler’s racism was brewing up into war, for the relative stability of the US.
In “The Heart of Man”, Erich Fromm relates social narcissism to the Roman Catholic Church and to the Renaissance, in an illuminating discussion on the nature of periods of Renaissance which might give us clues to the nature of a New Renaissance.
Humanism and Fanaticism
When considering narcissism in large groups, such as major religions, Fromm suggests that there are counteracting forces of narcissism and anti-narcissism at work. He uses the Roman Catholic Church as an example, the personal humility that is at the heart of Christ’s teaching being at the opposite end of the scale to the intense narcissism of a church that believes it is the only chance of salvation and its officers provide the only path to God.
Following up my earlier post Fromm on Narcissism, I move on to Erich Fromm’s thoughts on social or group narcissism and the role it plays as a source of violence and war.
Any social grouping depends on a sort of group narcissism for its survival and continuation, similar to the narcissism of the individual.
Similarly, we can distinguish benign and malignant forms. The benign form tends to involve some form of achievement outside the group by productive effort, which maintains contact with reality. The malignant form tends to involve concern for the group itself, its splendour and past achievements, and its continuation regardless of its current contribution.Read More »
In The Heart of Man, first published in 1964, Erich Fromm examines “the role of narcissim for the understanding of nationalism… and the psychological motivations for destructiveness and war”. It all sounds very relevant today.
Fromm recognises that narcissism fulfils an important biological survival function for everyone, but needs to be at an optimum level modified by the reality of social cooperation. (cf healthy attachment to one’s own children, which needs to be bounded by reality.)Read More »
I like Eric C’s post on Signs of Collective Narcissism, which seems to capture a useful concept that neatly describes some of today’s more alarming phenomena – nationalism, religious extremism, political extremism, populism, racism, sexism…
Of course this is the collective equivalent of narcissism of the invidual ego – the narcissism of a group. The job of all groups is to transcend this group ego and place it in support/ service of the whole, rather than serving itself at the expense of the whole.
Political parties, religions, followers of strong leaders, in particular please note.
“…the uncanny game of hide and seek in the obscurity of the soul, in which it, the single human soul, evades itself, avoids itself, hides from itself.”
Recent events brought to mind psychotherapist M.Scott Peck’s book People of the Lie: The hope for healing human evil, published 1983, which I read many years ago now.
Peck’s book is actually about the psychology of evil, or rather seeking towards such a thing.
He gives a useful definition of evil:
Evil is that which kills or suppresses life or the life force.
Goodness is its opposite – that which promotes life and liveliness.
There is an element of such evil in all of us, but what matters is how we respond and evolve. If we invoke the mask of self righteousness, a self-image of perfection, and are not open to the evil that might be within then we deceive ourselves – the biggest lie.Read More »
According to Gary Lachman, the ‘Right Man’ was an idea developed by science fiction writer AE Van Vogt.
“It describes the type of person who under no circumstances can accept that he is wrong. His need for self-esteem is so great and his grasp of it is so tenuous that the slightest contradiction sends him into a rage. His belief in the absolute correctness of all his actions is so unshakeable that he treats any question of it as a personal betrayal.”
In modern parlance we might see this as an extreme form of narcissism.
Lachman reports that from Colin Wilson’s Criminal History of Mankind that it is clear that “most of history has been written by right men” quoting examples such as Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Nero, Caligula, Genghis Khan, Tamerlane – the great tyrants of history. Obvious modern examples will come to mind.Read More »
The term “narcissism” comes from the Greek myth about Narcissus (Greek: Νάρκισσος, Narkissos), a handsome Greek youth who, according to Ovid, rejected the desperate advances of the nymph Echo. These advances eventually led Narcissus to fall in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. Unable to consummate his love, Narcissus “lay gazing enraptured into the pool, hour after hour,” and finally changed into a flower that bears his name, the narcissus… The concept of excessive selfishness has been recognized throughout history… It is only more recently that narcissism has been defined in psychological terms
A required element within normal development
Healthy narcissism might exist in all individuals. Freud said that this is an original state from which the individual develops the love object… He argued that healthy narcissism is an essential part of normal development.