Trump forcefully reminds us that psychology is central to politics. Yet the discussions around both Brexit and Trump have yet to cohere into any meaningful insights into the role of the individual psychology of the leading actors or the mass psychology behind these momentous events. My book ‘Disordered Minds – How Dangerous Personalities Are Destroying Democracy’ deals precisely with these issues and helps us understand how democracy is in danger of being trumped by fascism.
Outline of the Book
A personality disorder is a type of mental disorder characterised by a rigid and unhealthy pattern of thinking, functioning and behaving. Most personality disorders, such a depressive disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder, cause distress to the person suffering from the condition, rather than pose a danger to others. Of all the personality disorders recognised by psychiatrists, my book is concerned with only three – psychopathy, narcissistic personality disorder and paranoid personality disorder. It shows how people who suffer from these disorders pose a very real danger to society.
Chapter 1 ‘Disordered Minds’ describes what we know about dangerous personality disorders. The chapter develops the book’s first argument: that people with these disorders pose a grave threat to society when they act together and when the circumstances are such that they can influence a substantial proportion of the psychologically normal population to support them.
Chapter 2 ‘Stalin and Mao’ and Chapter 3 ‘Hitler and Pol Pot’ provide concrete examples of this dynamic in practice. These chapters use a model called the ‘toxic triangle’, comprising destructive leaders, susceptible followers and conducive environments, to illustrate how people with these disorders come to power. These chapters show that the history of the twentieth century cannot be understood without acknowledging the central role that people with these disorders played in the century’s most tragic events.
Chapter 4 ‘Democracy as Defence’ introduces the book’s second main argument, namely that democracy can be understood as a system of defences against people with these disorders. This system of defences comprises the rule of law, electoral democracy, the principle of individual liberalism, social democracy, and legal protection for human rights. Acting together, this system of defences not only serves as a deterrent against dangerous individuals. Democracy also creates ethical norms under which the majority of us are less likely to support them.
Chapter 5 ‘Destroying Democracy’ argues that democracy remains fragile today because the conditions which empower this dangerous minority are still deeply embedded in our political, economic, and religious institutions. These conditions include vast inequalities in wealth, and the culture of excessive greed which has come to characterise modern capitalism.
Despite the violence and greed that currently scars our world, there are grounds for optimism. These are set out in Chapter 6 ‘Hope?’ Democracy has been spreading and deepening over time. As a result, many parts of the world today enjoy a greater level of protection against psychopathic, narcissistic and paranoid leaders than in any previous era. Reasons for hope can also be found in our psychology. Dangerous personality disorders are, at least in part, the result of failures in love and care in early childhood. Finding ways to reduce the occurrence of such disorders, while strengthening societies’ defences against those who suffer from them, can lead us to a more just and peaceful world.
Much more, however, remains to be done. The existential threats that humanity faces at this moment in history are very real. So the book closes by introducing a fourth argument. At the beginning of the twenty first century a strengthening of democracy is urgently required if human progress is to continue, immense human suffering is to be avoided, and perhaps even if humanity is to survive, in the decades to come.
Why This Book Matters
There are three reasons why this book matters. First, the concept of personality disorder is generally not well understood. This book aims to clarify what these disorders are and to show, given the difficulties in conclusively identifying individuals with these disorders, that a more nuanced and effective approach to public diagnosis is needed.
Second, by explaining how democracy can be understood as a system of defences against dangerous personalities, this book provides a new and vital psychological perspective on democracy. At a time when democracy itself is in retreat worldwide, it explains clearly what democracy is and why it is crucially important that we defend it.
Third, this book matters because the malign influence of a minority of people with dangerous personality disorders is causing the rest of us to believe in a distorted view of our own nature. We are not an irredeemably violence and greedy species. The majority of people the world over crave peace, justice and freedom from oppression and discrimination. It is only by reducing the influence of the minority with these disorders that we will begin to see this truth more clearly.
My experience of growing up in a violent society taught me a fundamental truth that most textbooks do not – when it comes to our propensity for violence and greed, human beings are not all the same. This assertion is at odds with the predominant paradigm in psychology today which assumes that, because every person is capable of violence and greed, we are all equal in this respect. Growing up it was clear to me that people like my father were of a different moral order than those who relished their roles as bullies and thugs, empowered by nationalism and religion to commit atrocity after atrocity. The discovery of dangerous personality disorders finally provides us with scientific evidence that when it comes to violence and greed we are not all the same.
About the Author
Ian Hughes has trained as a scientist and psychotherapist. He is co-author of ‘Power to the People: Assessing Democracy in Ireland’ (Tasc at New Island, 2007). Ian has been interviewed for NewsTalk Radio Show in Ireland and for The Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show and Doug Bennett’s Unspun Radio Show, both in the United States. His writing has appeared on journal.ie and factsandarts.com. His blog disorderedworld.com has been shortlisted in the top ten political blogs in Ireland in 2013, 2014 and 2016, and he has over 10,000 followers on his twitter account @disorderedworld. Ian’s literary agent is Tracy Brennan at the Trace Literary Agency. Contact:firstname.lastname@example.org