Longworth: Trail to pathocracy

OPINION – The U.S. presidency appears to have returned to its democratic roots with the election of Joe Biden. Quite a refreshing change from the past four years of the Donald J. Trump style of leadership which can best be described by Andrew Lobaczewski as pathocracy.

Richard Longworth column header

Polish psychologist Lobaczewski spent his early life under the Nazi occupation of Poland, followed by the brutality of the Soviet occupation after World War I. His horrific experiences under both regimes led him to develop a concept he called pathocracy. The concept suggests a deviation from the norm when positions of power are held by individuals with personality disorders. Lobaczewski who lived under a “pathocratic regime” for many years, determinedly studied and wrote about pathocracy despite knowing the risks he was taking and endangering himself. He did not go undetected. He became a victim of the regime, was arrested and tortured by the Polish authorities. Lobaczewski was a survivor who in 1980 immigrated to the United States to continue to devote himself to completing his life’s work finally publishing his  book, Political Ponerology.

Pathocracy is arguably one of the biggest and more recent concerns facing humanity. This is an era of constant conflict, destruction and brutality, with groups fighting against one another over territory, power, control and possessions.

There is, however, a counterargument to this reality. Most humans are not inherently brutal and cruel. These are traits found in egotistical, self-centered, personalities lacking compassion and empathy. When holding positions of power, they become driven exerting a controlling, convincing demeanour that manages to suck in followers who then become brainwashed to commit atrocities on their behalf. 

Contrast this with individuals possessing a high level of empathy, caring, compassion. They are generally not power seekers, but rather, prefer to invest their time interacting, connecting, sharing, supporting others, rarely engaged in attention-seeking, manipulation and absolute control.

Power and pathology

Pathological individuals have an insatiable lust for power. They believe they are superior to others and have the right to dominate. Without kind, considerate, selfless attributes, sadly, they default to ruthlessly exploiting, even abusing in their craving for being omnipotent.

Those with these psychological dispositions gravitate towards positions of power. Past and present examples prevail of pathological leaders such as Hitler, Vladimir Putin, Viktor Orban of Hungary, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey. And not surprisingly it is a characteristic of current President Donald J. Trump.

The principles of democracy are cast aside by leaders clothed in superiority. They view life as a competitive battle where the most ruthless deserve to dominate and win at all costs.  

Lobaczewsk points out, pathological leaders always attract other people with personality disorders, who seek the opportunity to become influential or achieve personal gain. This leaves behind moral, ethical, fair-minded individuals who seek higher ground. They are either, overlooked as ideal candidates or are dismissed or gradually fall away. The outcome is a negative one. Thus, over time pathocracies tend to become entrenched, extreme and very difficult to remove.

Protection against a pathocratic society

In the short term, we should remember that pathocracy only flourishes because we do not take sufficient measures to protect ourselves from pathological leaders. We need to preserve and strengthen our democratic institutions and processes to ensure the masses of law-biding, everyday citizens and their rights are protected.  We need to become aware of the perils of pathocracy and fight for the very survival of democracy. 

In the long term, we need to scrutinize the motives, beliefs, trust worthiness, the integrity of potential leaders. We need to pose some questions such as, “are they in the running for personal gain, their own ego, their thirst for power, or are they genuinely and authentically committed to making a positive difference?” Do our potential leaders ‘speak easy’ about brighter, fairer, more just for all tomorrows?

For 40 years Richard Longworth worked as a systems analyst and university professor at Capilano University teaching math, information technology, and system analysis and implementation. Longworth has published three books Reflections on Life Issues, Turning the Self Inside Out, and Harnessing the Internet into a Knowledge Framework – all related to technology and trends in the industry.