History is the story of the struggle of the psychologically normal majority of humanity to free ourselves from the tyranny of a psychologically disordered minority who are marked by their innate propensity for violence and greed. In this long struggle, previous generations have crafted seven essential safeguards to protect us against rule by tyranny – the following seven pillars of freedom.
1. The Rule of Law
The very concept of civilisation is almost synonymous with the rule of law. The absence of the rule of law is a state of violent anarchy, which advantages those of a psychopathic disposition. This was the situation for most of human history up until the advent of the first city states and the first ancient civilisations. The emergence of Leviathans, the term that Thomas Hobbes used to describe governments with the power to impose order, marked a major step in the reduction of violence.
2. Electoral Democracy
As Steven Pinker has documented in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature, the emergence of governments with a monopoly on the use of force solved one problem – violence between citizens – but created another – violence inflicted upon citizens by an all-powerful state. For most of the history of civilisation, government has meant tyranny. The first decisive step taken by citizens to protect themselves from pathological governments was the invention of electoral democracy. In theory at least, electoral democracy provides the opportunity both to keep dangerously disordered individuals from power and to remove them from power once their destructive nature has become apparent.
3. The Separation of Church and State
Electoral democracy and the separation of church and state became the basis of government for the first time, and at the same time, in the Constitution of the new United States of America. This fact singles out the US Constitution as one of the seminal documents in humanity’s historical struggle to wrestle power from the hands of a pathologically dangerous minority. By preventing governments from promoting the interests of a single religion above others, the First Amendment denied zealots the opportunity to use religion as a pretext for discrimination and persecution.
4. Social Democracy
The next three safeguards against rule by pathological elites arose as a direct result of the devastation of World War Two. The Great Depression of the 1930s and the absence of adequate systems of social protection created mass unemployment and poverty across Europe. The public anger at the inability of democracies to resolve the crisis led to support for authoritarian leaders, Hitler among them, who promised to act decisively. One of the lessons that European nations learned from the carnage of the ensuing war was that governments needed to act to protect social cohesion in times of economic crisis. What emerged was the European model of social democracy, which tempered capitalism with economic redistribution. Social democracy aims at limiting social inequality in order to avoid the type of social breakdown that can propel tyrants to power.
5. Human Rights
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights stands alongside the U.S. Constitution as one of the most important milestones on our journey to protect ourselves against psychologically dangerous individuals. In the aftermath of the Holocaust and the systemic mass murder of the citizens of Nazi occupied territories, the international community vowed that how governments treated their citizens would no longer be a matter of domestic concern only. The international framework of human rights law that is now in place is designed to safeguard every citizen on earth from arbitrary abuse of power by national governments. Human rights law also serves to protects citizen, including women, homosexuals, and religious and ethnic minorities, from so-called traditional values and cultures that discriminate against them.
6. Pooled Sovereignty
The third safeguard against tyranny that emerged from the ruins of Europe after the Second World War was the development of what has now become the European Union. In the aftermath of the War, European nations created political institutions in which bitter enemies pooled aspects of their sovereignty in an explicit attempt to secure lasting peace. In the light of the present crisis for the Euro currency, it is important to remember that the institutions of the European Union – the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the European Court of Justice – were formed not primarily for economic reasons, but rather the prevent former enemies from ever waging war against each other again.
7. Cultures of Tolerance
The final safeguard which societies are building against rule by psychopaths, narcissists and those with severe paranoia, are cultures of tolerance and equality. Societies where the prevailing cultures reject prejudice and discrimination on the basis of race, gender and sexual orientation enable all sections of the psychologically normal majority the freedom to develop their abilities and contribute fully to society and deny pathological elites scapegoats for populist campaigns of oppression. The fight for women’s rights across the Arab world, south Asia and India, and elsewhere, is not just about the safety and freedom of women, it is about the safety and freedom of us all.
Common belief in the violence of pre-state societies is pretty inaccurate, for a number of reasons.
First, pre-state communities were rarely larger than 150 people, not coincidentally matching Dunbar’s number of how many people an individual is capable of personally knowing. In such a community, the habits, predilections, abilities, temperament, ect. of each individual is well-known by everyone else, and so any sign of social manipulation or violence was quickly met but community-wide rejection, often leaving to the exile or killing of perpetrators of inter-group coercion and violence.
The common beliefs, totems and norms (religion and culture) of these groups were one with the rules that made a rigid state-like society unnecessary at the scale. The emergence of states really did little to diminish violence, rather it permitted the cohesion of largest social groups who were incapable of forming the personal relationships humans once depended on, leading to role specialization that permitted technological evolution. It was at this point that sociopathy and the like began to have the space to influence and control.
Not to say pre-state humans were peaceful. We warred for when communities co-existed in resource-scarce lands, but only as necessary. States are what created war as we know it: domination and enslaving others to make them the unskilled and disposable workers at the bottom of the social hierarchy.
Anthropology has a lot of resources on this. The book “The Art of Being Governed” is a good (but dreadfully repetitive) portrait of post-literate non-hierarchal nomadic societies that are undeniably egalitarian. But they also boast killing those among them who try to impose centralized control. Which leads me to ask, what exactly can be done with the psychologically disordered? Discovering genetic/epigenetic predispositions? Early psychological checks that permanently mark some as unfit for positions of power?
Your question about what can be done is the most important question. First, I think it is vitally important that scientists and psychologists continue to try to understand what causes dangerous personality disorders and whether or not they can be cured. At the moment we understand little about the causes, and it appears that personality disorders are incurable. Research needs to continue. A second important step is education. Until recently we did not know that a minority lives among us whose psychology is such that they continually seek to destroy the efforts of the majority to build societies based on peace and equality. Without this knowledge we are left defenceless, unable to formulate effective measures to minimise their destructive influence. Thirdly, I think it is important that we see the seven pillars of freedom that I outline in the post above as being defences against the dangerously psychologically disordered that apply everywhere, and not as Western or Imperialist constructs. The effective functioning of the rule of law, the separation of church and state, electoral and social democracy, a reduction in nationalism through shared governance, and tolerant cultures which value equality, are all tools that make it harder for psychopaths, narcissists and paranoids to achieve positions of power. They are by no means working perfectly yet – but they are the best defences we currently have.