The Varieties of Pathocratic Experience
Thoughts on Subtypes of Pathocracy
In the comment section of my previous post, John Carter (Postcards From Barsoom) raised several points in response to my observations of Hare et al.’s conclusions on the nature of Pinochet’s armed forces.
In response, today I wish to focus on three questions:
Did Pinochet’s Chile qualify as a pathocracy, as defined by Lobaczewski?
Do certain state organs tend to attract psychopaths (or subtypes) consistently, regardless of regime type?
Does the possible or probable emergence of pathocracy justify extreme methods to prevent it?
I briefly alluded to psychopathic subtypes in the last post. To expand on that, here is one of the figures from the article cited there. It depicts the PCL-R subtype profiles from the total sample studied for the paper (i.e. Chilean general community, prison, and “crimes against humanity” samples):
We see the four subtypes represented, including prototypic psychopaths (high scores on all four PCL-R facets), a callous-conning subtype (high interpersonal-affective facets, low lifestyle-antisocial facets), an externalizing subtype (AKA “sociopathy”—relatively low interpersonal-affect, high lifestyle-antisocial facets), and a general subtype with low scores overall.
I think something similar probably applies to pathocracies. Lobaczewski describes some variations based on their mode of genesis (PP, pp. 218-219): 1) prototypic (i.e. the result of a relatively homegrown, revolutionary circulation of elites, e.g. the USSR), 2) imposed by force (i.e. overtly imposed by an existing foreign pathocracy, e.g. the Eastern Bloc), and 3) artificially infected (i.e. covertly imposed through revolutionary and political warfare, e.g. various socialist/communist revolutions in Asia, Africa, and the Americas—today these would be called “color revolutions”).
He notes some differences between these types. Force-imposed pathocracies will more resemble primary ponerogenic associations (i.e. criminal gangs), while prototypic pathocracies have features of secondary ponerogenic associations (i.e. normal political associations which have been ponerized). All other governments he classifies as “systems of normal man,” which he defines as “social systems wherein the links, structure, and customs of normal people dominate in any way” (p. 196).
However, in an interview with Henry See for Sott.net, he points out that no country can be considered truly healthy, because all contain psychopaths. This statement follows a question about the then-current state of Poland, which he regards as no long a pathocracy, but still “permanently sick,” a state from which it must recover gradually (presumably the same applies to all post-communist nations).
I take from this an implicit acknowledgment that there must be degrees of pathocracy even within countries considered “normal” by Lobaczewski—both those recovering from pathocracy, and those either keeping it in check or undergoing a ponerization process that could lead to its emergence. I imagine a scale from an imaginary and impractical “zero psychopaths in leadership positions” to a full-blown pathocracy where 100% of psychopaths integrate into the leadership hierarchy.
But first, in his comment Carter wonders “if Pinochet's government really qualified as a pathocracy per se,” adding that “he voluntarily relinquished power, again not something you usually see from a psychopath.”
Indeed, Lobaczewski remarks that while normal people leave public office willingly (and often with a sense of relief), abnormal ones become “incapable of returning to normal life” once they rise to power (pp. 184-185). However, I don’t know enough about Pinochet to know if he can be said to have successfully “returned to normal life.” From my scanty reading on him, it appears that he did his best to stay in power after losing the 1988 referendum, but conceded defeat only after those attempts failed.
Regardless, was Chile a pathocracy, as defined by Lobaczewski? I don’t think so, and this is where I think it might be necessary to develop some subtypes not described in Political Ponerology. Actual pathocracies are systemic and fractal in nature, recreating the same dynamics at every social level, from the center of power down to the village and neighborhood. But that doesn’t mean other social and political structures can’t come close, or that certain institutions can’t become dangerously ponerized.
What if only one or two institutions become significantly ponerized? Here are some examples of what I consider possible “hybrid” pathocracies, in which normal people might still dominate the social structure overall, but which can skirt fairly close to the boundaries of pathocracy, and perhaps even pass them under certain conditions:
Hybrid pathocratic military dictatorship
Hybrid pathocratic monarchy
Hybrid pathocratic democracy
The result of a military coup will rely on multiple factors, including the base rate of psychopathy in the armed forces. As Carter writes in his comment: “I wonder if it might not be the case that certain organs of the state will almost invariably attract psychopaths, but that so long as the top leadership remains in the hands of psychologically normal humans the worst impulses of the psychopaths are reined in.”
This leads to a research question: were the Chilean armed forces out of the ordinary? It’s difficult to know for sure. It may be that callous-conning psychopathic subtypes are attracted to and succeed in such positions.However, different militaries may show different trends. In the case of a particularly high percentage, a military coup may result in a hybrid pathocracy where a psychopathic military rules a nation, but other institutions remain relatively un-ponerized.
Military dictatorships over the past 65 years have been relatively short-lived (a mean of 8 years’ duration). They may be harsh, even brutal, but they are not necessarily pathocracies as Lobaczewski defines it. Geddes, Wright, and Frantz write:
…only in military dictatorships is democratization more likely than transition to subsequent autocracy. … Military dictatorships are more likely to negotiate their transitions, rather than cling to power at all costs, making it less likely that their exits will be violent and more likely that they will democratize.
Military coups usually have a set practical purpose (often to guarantee officer salaries and avoid military reform). As long as those guarantees (or some other goals) are met, they are willing to give up power.
The same principle goes for the second and third examples. What happens if a pathological individual becomes king? Or is controlled by a close circle of pathological advisers? I see a pattern like this frequently in history, e.g. among the Roman emperors, or in the case of Ivan the Terrible. Such tyrants can cause a lot of chaos and destruction, but things generally calm down and return to normal for the most part when they either die or are assassinated. (Though in the case of Ivan it was only after the Time of Troubles that order could be said to have been restored.)
On pathocratic democracy, here’s a machine translation from chapter 5 of Lobaczewski’s Polish book, Logocracy:
Since the introduction of universal political rights, American democracy, like everywhere else, has become a façade system, behind which other forces are already hiding to exercise real power. … In every democracy there are organized minorities that take advantage of its described weaknesses to try to secure power for themselves. Their activities are in fact semi-secret, because they are shielded by official programs and propaganda, and it is very difficult for citizens to find out what their motives really are.
If such forces (e.g. intelligence community, lobbyists, think tanks, cliques, etc.) constitute a ponerogenic association, I would consider the democracy in question a hybrid pathocracy—ruled by a pathocratic clique even if the social structure itself hasn’t become fully pathocratic.
In such cases as these three, it may be that the problem never becomes systemic for whatever reasons, and the society of normal people is able to regain power relatively easily, or maintain a semi-stable hybrid state. Though things will most likely degenerate if not remedied.
The Social Autoimmune Response
So what is a country to do when threatened either by a homegrown or foreign-inspired “color revolution” likely to result in development of pathocracy? Carter writes: “Following Allende's removal from power, a Marxist insurgency immediately arose that resorted to terrorist attacks. The harsh methods employed by the military government to suppress this insurgency may well have been necessary.”
In terms of Machiavellian politics—the study of politics as they’re practiced, not necessarily as we imagine or would like them to be practiced—I would agree, this is what societies (and more specifically, ruling elites) tend to do: crack down. And when they do, it is always portrayed as being necessary, whether or not that is the case. I think this has been true throughout human history, though the crackdown isn’t always successful. As Carter writes, preventing the Bolshevik revolution “would probably have required the Czarists to be far harsher than they were.” I’ll add a contemporary example: It’s arguable that Ukraine would not be in the state it is in today if Yanukovich had allowed the Berkut to use force against the violent Maidan insurrectionists, for example.
One of Machiavelli’s lessons was that if you defeat a prince, you must kill his family, otherwise you risk being challenged by an heir or relative in the future. The same cold logic applies to uprisings. If you do nothing (or very little), you’re lunch. To add another contemporary example: Syria today might have been another Libya if not for the war against numerous foreign-backed jihadist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS.
But since this is a Political Ponerology substack, I want to bring up a couple points from the book. Lobaczewski would argue that these social “immune defenses” are obsolete and unnecessary (at least in principle). He likens them to primitive cures for an insufficiently understood disease (bleeding the patient comes to mind). In the context of the Cold War, he writes:
International reason must therefore prevail, reinforced by rediscovered moral values and naturalistic science concerning the causes and genesis of evil. The “new weapon” suggested herein kills no one; it is nevertheless capable of stifling the process of the genesis of evil within a person and activating his own curative powers. If societies are furnished an understanding of the pathological nature of evil—something they were unaware of before—they will be able to effect concerted action based on moral and naturalistic criteria. (p. 326)
This is an example of “the politics of prevention,” to use Lasswell’s phrase: “to obviate conflict by the definite reduction of the tension level of society by effective methods” (Pscyhopathology and Politics, p. 203). According to Lobaczewski this would be easiest during the early stages of ponerogenesis (p. 101). By the time military coups and anti-terrorist operations are being contemplated (assuming the threat is real), it may already be too late.
In the context of pathocratic ideology, he writes that such ideologies are “rejected by all those social groups governed by healthy common sense,” and their activities “induce nations to stick to their old tried-and-true basics in terms of structural forms, providing hardline conservatives with the best weapon possible,” stagnating cultural/political evolution (p. 321). I’d add “tried-and-true” methods, too—including the “shotgun” method of rounding up everyone suspected of subversion, with little to no concern for the number of innocents who get caught up in the process.
Additionally, harsh methods always risk setting their own processes of ponerogenesis in motion (p. 138). The way this works is clear enough. Like Dick Cheney infamously said regarding the War on Terror:
We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We've got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we're going to be successful. That's the world these folks operate in, and so it's going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.
Just look at the types of groups the U.S. has supported (overtly and covertly) in their fight against the USSR and now Russia: nazis and jihadist Islamists. As I noted in the new edition of PP: “In their fight against communism, the U.S. and its allies in fact supported a rival ponerogenic totalitarian movement, and have continued to do so even after 9/11” (p. 226, n. 70). They’ve been so consistent, I can’t help but think it’s intentional.
When you engage in activities that require and reward psychopaths and sadists, you open up yourself to ponerization, especially if you have no idea that this is in fact what you are doing. You risk a healthy immune response turning into an autoimmune response attacking your own body. The first criterion of ponerogenesis applies, as always.
If Lobaczewski is right, ponerology may be able to prevent such responses from even being contemplated. In the meantime, the cycle of ponerogenesis will continue, along with the wars, tortures, and assassinations committed both by those spreading it, and those ostensibly seeking to fight it.
Additionally, Lobaczewski doesn’t argue that all pathocratic leaders are necessarily psychopathic. E.g., when discussing the Soviet pathocracy he makes no such mention of Khrushchev, Brezhnev, or Gorbachev (who, like Pinochet, also willingly stepped down from office after Yeltsin’s revolution from above). Gorbachev, incidentally, was the last of only three Soviet leaders who didn’t die in office (the others being Khrushchev and Malenkov).
On this topic, term limits have their advantages (e.g. to stave off the ponerogenic effects of a gerontocracy of senility and corruption—see PP, p. 132 n. 152). But even so, that does not necessarily imply that all long reigns lead to poor outcomes. A good king with an extended rule is better than a succession of poor or even evil ones—just as a succession of good or even middling ones is better than the extended rule of a brutal tyrant. Marcus Aurelius ruled Rome for 19 years, and Romans probably would have preferred another 19 if it meant they didn’t have to endure 16 years of Commodus.
This is where I disagree with some academics and psychologists who have adopted Lobaczewski’s terminology of “pathocracy”—for whom it seems to apply to all governments, or simply becomes synonymous with “rule by evil dictator.” Authoritarianism is not synonymous with pathocracy. I’ll come back to this subject in the future.
A brief note on prevalence: The base rate of psychopathy in the general population is 1.2% (when measured using the PCL-R), up to 4.5% (when measured using all instruments, including self-report scales). Prevalences vary depending on the type of population being studied. University students score higher than the general population, and people in organizations score higher than university students. They also vary depending on the job type or (potentially) field of study, e.g., higher scores for managerial positions and jobs with occupational risks (police officers, firefighters, military service people, miners), lower scores in helping careers (nursing, teaching, mental health, etc.).
On the second point, it would depend on how you define “top leadership.” A pathocratic military is probably in the position to remove a top leader not to their liking. Lobaczewski mentions a similar possibility on pp. 157, 212.
Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way have a book coming out later this year, Revolution and Dictatorship: The Violent Origins of Durable Authoritarianism, which may provide some insights into these problems. The description reads:
Revolution and Dictatorship explores why dictatorships born of social revolution—such as those in China, Cuba, Iran, the Soviet Union, and Vietnam—are extraordinarily durable, even in the face of economic crisis, large-scale policy failure, mass discontent, and intense external pressure. … radical efforts to transform the social and geopolitical order trigger intense counterrevolutionary conflict [i.e. civil or external wars], which initially threatens regime survival, but ultimately fosters the unity and state-building that supports authoritarianism. … These counterrevolutionary wars pose a threat that can destroy new regimes, as in the cases of Afghanistan and Cambodia. Among regimes that survive, however, prolonged conflicts give rise to a cohesive ruling elite and a powerful and loyal coercive apparatus. This leads to the downfall of rival organizations and alternative centers of power, such as armies, churches, monarchies, and landowners, and helps to inoculate revolutionary regimes against elite defection, military coups, and mass protest—three principal sources of authoritarian breakdown.
I wonder if Ponerology as a science studying psychological pathology would see modernity as essentially a psychopathic situation generating psychosis. I wonder this, because in reading Augusto Del Noce, the new totalitarianism proceeds by negating every form of transcendence, especially the religious truth and universal reason which Del Noce calls “Platonism.” It reconceives reality as “a system of forces, not of values.” Being and nature are dissolved into the flux of history. And truth is reduced to social and psychological “situations” to be administered by social scientists.
This totalitarianism is total because it does away with the idea of truth and universal reason, reducing the one to pragmatic function and the other to empirical analysis. This scientism ushers in what Del Noce, following Michele Federico Sciacca, calls “the reign of stupidity.” Argument becomes impossible because truth claims are attacked as expressions of class interest, bigotry, or psychosis. Ultimate questions can no longer be posed in a public way, much less answered. “Only what is subject to empirical observation and can be empirically represented . . . ‘is,’” and so thinking itself is reduced to the refinement of technique and the multiplication of means. After the negation of transcendence, politics itself becomes the transcendental horizon, and ethics, like truth, is subsumed under the form of war. https://www.firstthings.com/article/2017/06/what-del-noce-saw
This was an excellent, thought-provoking response to my earlier comment. Thank you for taking the time to compose it. This brings essential nuance to the discussion.
I especially appreciated your emphasis that a pathocratic system can arise in any political system, and vice versa; thus a benign authoritarian system such as a monarchy can be far superior to a malign 'democratic' system such as we have today. That's a very important point and one I think few would have appreciated before the events of the last couple decades revealed the Western order for the beast system it has become.
The risk of being killed by one's own immune response is not to be treated lightly. "Take care that in fighting monsters, you do not become one ... and when you stare too long into the abyss, the abyss also stares back."
Given that there is some evidence for psychopathology to have direct correlates in neural architecture and activity patterns, I've often wondered if a very simple intervention could all but eliminate psychopaths from the top leadership of society: just require that any would-be candidates for political office, corporate leadership, etc., submit to an MRI. That might not catch them all, but it would probably catch a lot of them.