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Narcissism and Power

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Narcissism and Power

Psychoanalysis of Mental Disorders in Politics

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ISBN 978-3-89806-480-4

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German original edition: »Narzissmus und Macht. Zur Psychoanalyse seelischer Störungen in der Politik« Copyright © Psychosozial-Verlag, 2002

Bibliographic information of Die Deutsche Bibliothek (The German Library) Die Deutsche Bibliothek lists this publication in the Deutsche Nationalbibliografie (German National Bibliography). Detailed bibliographical data can be accessed via internet (http://dnb.ddb.de). Abridged English edition of the German original edition © 2009 Psychosozial-Verlag Walltorstr. 10, D-35390 Giessen. Phone: +49 - 641 - 96 99 78 - 18; Telefax: +49 - 641 - 96 99 78 - 19 e-mail: info@psychosozial-verlag.de www.psychosozial-verlag.de All rights reseved. No portion of this publication may be reproduced in any manner without the written permission of the publisher. Cover: Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres: »Napoleon on the Imperial Throne«, 1806 Cover layout: Hanspeter Ludwig, Giessen Printed by Majuskel Medienproduktion, GmbH, Wetzlar www.majuskel.de Printed in Germany ISBN 978-3-89806-480-4


Contents Introduction Power and Narcissism – the Siamese Twins The Bad Reputation of Narcissism and Power . . . . . . . . Narcissism, Love, Power . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Power as Reflected by Psychoanalytic Theories of Narcissism Crowds, Power, and Narcissism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Narcissism as a Personality Disorder . . . . . . . . . . . . . Psychoanalysis and the Problem of Power . . . . . . . . . . The Psychosocial Genesis of Power . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Power in the Light of Sociological Theories . . . . . . . . . .

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The Generation of ’68 and Power The »Fischer Debate« . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The »Deepening of Democratic Commitment« through the Movement of ’68 What actually Constitutes a Generation? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Joschka Fischer’s »Long Race« toward Power . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . »Only He Who Changes Remains True to Himself« . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The Past is Present . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The Parents’ Failure to Resist and the RAF’s Exaggerated Resistance . . . . . . »Secret Joy« and the Hunt for Sympathizers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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101 101 105 108 110 116 122 125 132

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The Kosovo War – Group Psychology and Ego-Analysis 135 Slobodan Milosevic: Early Trauma and Early »Maturity« . . . . . . . . . . . . . 136 A Loner Makes a Career for Himself . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 139 Slobodan Milosevic’s Malignant Narcissism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 145 Did Slobodan Milosevic Suffer from a Borderline Personality Disorder? . . . . 151 Slobo and Mira: A Narcissistic Couple . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 153 The Large Group Identity of the Serbs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 162 Patrilinearity, Machismo, and Socialization to Violence . . . . . . . . . . . . . 172 The Hajduk Myth and the Myth of Prince Marko . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 174 Milosevic’s Idiosyncratic Disorder and the Ethnic Disorder of the Serbs . . . . . 181 The Need for Collective Grieving and Reconciliation Work between Ethnic Groups183 Psychoanalysis and Politics 188 Power and Powerlessness in Politics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 188 The Possible Benefit of Psychoanalysis for Politics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 193


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Thoughts for the Times on Terror, War, and Death The Syndrome of Fanaticism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . How to Become a Terrorist? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . September 11, 2001 as a Collective Trauma . . . . . . . George Bush: On a Mission from God . . . . . . . . . How Patients in Germany Reacted to 9/11 . . . . . . . The Psychological Meaning of 9/11 for the Entire World

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205 208 218 222 226 229 231

Photo credits

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Bibliography

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Name Index

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Subject index

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Power and Narcissism – the Siamese Twins »[T]he power position is not an end in itself – it serves to satisfy vanity, [. . . ] what matters is the perception of the splendour of one’s own standing in the reactions of others.« Vittorio Hösle: Morals and Politics (1997, p. 365)

»After psychological separation has taken place the child needs the gleam in the mother’s eye in order to maintain the narcissistic libidinal suffusion which now concerns, in their sequence, the leading functions and activities of the various maturational phases.« Heinz Kohut: Forms and Transformations of Narcissism (1965, p. 252)

The Bad Reputation of Narcissism and Power »But I say unto you: your neighbor-love is your bad love of yourselves. Ye flee unto your neighbour from yourselves, and would fain make a virtue thereof: but I fathom your ›unselfishness‹.« Friedrich Nietzsche: Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883, Part 1, 16. Neighbor-Love)

Power is usually thought of in negative terms. This holds true for general opinion as well as for many social science theories of power, which tend to regard power as something negative that ought to be restrained for the sake of individual freedom. »No power for nobody«, was a slogan of the German Movement of ’68. Exactly one hundred years earlier, Jakob Burckhardt had said in his book Reflections on History, Now power is of its nature evil, whoever wields it. It is not stability but a lust, and insatiable, therefore unhappy in itself and doomed to make others unhappy. Inevitably, in its pursuit, peoples fall into the hands both of ambitious dynasties seeking to maintain themselves, and of individual »great men«, etc., i.e. of the forces which have the furtherance of culture least at heart. (1868, p. 86)

»Addiction to Power« is how Der Spiegel (2001) headlined its title story about »the psychology of dominance and subjection«, in which it cited the American


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social psychologist Philip Zimbardo, whose Stanford prison experiment of 1971 furnished the script for the movie The Experiment (2001), »If perfectly ordinary people are handed positions of power, their behavior will change dramatically. The study shows how easy it is to convert good people into fiends« (Zimbardo, as cited in Der Spiegel 2001, p. 97). In his social psychology experiment, Zimbardo had assigned selected students to play the parts of prisoners and prison guards and locked them in a cellar at the university. It took only a few days for a terrorist system to be established, in which the guards tormented and tortured the prisoners. However, Zimbardo sees power not merely as an instrument of the devil, but also as an instrument of sexual stimulation: »Power is an aphrodisiac« (ibid.). Thus, the students of Paris in May 1968 did not simply demand the elimination of power, but articulated, »More power to the imagination!«. Power evidently seems to be an enigmatic phenomenon, eliciting highly ambivalent feelings, fantasies, and judgments. On the one hand, we degrade, condemn, and vilify power, while on the other, we are fascinated by it. We admire and envy those who exercise it and yet shudder before incarnations of the »demon of power« (ibid., p. 103). We secretly dream of wielding infinite power ourselves and appease the guilt feelings associated with this wish by thinking that, of course, we would use this infinite power for the benefit of humanity. All would profit from our power and generosity – except perhaps those who really did not deserve any better. Interestingly, it is similar with the concept of narcissism as with the concept of power, for it, too, has highly ambivalent Titel page of Der Spiegel, no. 11 of connotations. Sigmund Freud diametriMarch 12, 2001 cally opposed object love to narcissism. He developed a strict economic model in which the object libido increases with a decline in the libidinous attachment to one’s own ego – and the other way around. He stated that the more of your limited libidinous energy you gave away to others in the form of love and affection, the less of it would be left over for love of yourself, so to speak. Those, on the other hand, who chiefly put themselves first, would have no love reserves left for other people.


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Narcissism appears to be associated with egoism and thus to be an antisocial quality. In describing persons as narcissistic, we criticize them and characterize them as egotistical, self-centered, conflict-shy and impaired in their social functioning. Persons with narcissistic disorders are considered difficult to treat by psychotherapy, and the increase of narcissistic disorders in modern society which some authors postulate is interpreted as a sign of thorough social decay. American social psychologist Christopher Lasch (1979) speaks of the present time as an era of narcissism, and this diagnosis no doubt expresses a negative judgment. American sociologist Richard Sennet (1977) even declares narcissism to be today’s Protestant ethic, and leaves no doubt that he considers the terror of intimacy a fundamental evil in a society guided by narcissist goals and values. With his book Pubertät und Narzissmus (Puberty and Narcissism) Thomas Ziehe (1975) started a vehement and controverMichelangelo da Caravaggio (1573–1610): Narciso sial debate during the 1970s about the »new type of socialization«, with opinions split as to whether the shift from the anal personality with its compulsive and authoritarian traits to the »social character« (Fromm 1980) of the »oral pinball player« – with a narcissistic orientation toward consumption – should be regarded as progress, or rather, a regression. On the one hand, narcissism is castigated as an anti-social attitude, but on the other, in this age of unregulated markets, we bow to the narcissistic ideals of self-realization, pushiness, and egoism as the principles behind our competitive economy. Evidently, the phenomena of power and narcissism are complex, causing feelings of ambivalence and favoring a tendency toward exaggeration and contradictory statements. However, rash opinions cloud perception of the deeper psychological and social connections and meanings of power and narcissism. Even though the abuse of power and the effects of a pathological narcissism make up the main themes of this book, it is first necessary to analyze the phenomena of narcissism and power with a detached, unprejudiced look, in order better to understand their ways of functioning. Power in itself is neither good nor evil, only inevitable. Even in a democratic


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society avoiding force in settling political differences of opinion, values and interests, competition is inevitable »as a milder (because legally regulated) form of power struggle« (Hösle 1997, p. 406). To express the relevance of power in the words of Niklas Luhmann’s system theory, »Power is an environmental universal of social existence« (1975, p. 90). Or, to formulate this more simply in the words of Anthony Giddens (1982, p. 696), power is a »pervasive aspect of all human relationships«. The same inevitability also applies to narcissism. It is part of the basic human equipment and therefore, neither good nor evil. Just as social life is not possible without processes involving power, the individual cannot exist without a minimum of self-love – to define narcissism in very simple terms. Power and powerlessness are just as omnipresent as narcissistic self-love and social relatedness. I will give a closer sociological definition of power later on; nevertheless, because the concept of power is going to be important for the discussion of narcissism, I am going to lead off with a brief pragmatic definition of power now. Power shall be defined as the capacity of human action to intervene in the course of events creatively by employing certain resources (money, influence, knowledge, information, connections, beauty, infrastructure etc.) with the goal of achieving certain results that are in the user’s own interest (cf. Giddens 1982, p. 420ff; 1984, p. 256ff; Neckel 1991, p. 152).

Narcissism, Love, Power »Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.« Leviticus 19:18

»Power is the most potent aphrodisiac.« Henry Kissinger

»Human beings even compensate for that scarcity of time, which – because of finiteness, i.e. mortality – results from our only having one life, by multiplying that life, in that we have fellow humans and can, by communicating with them, live their lives a little, as well.« Odo Marquard: Philosophie des Stattdessen (Philosophy of the Instead; 2000, p. 43)

The contradictory opinions of the phenomena related to narcissism are reflected even in common usage. Traits such as vanity, pride, egoism, self-satisfaction, egomania, a craving for admiration, arrogance, a sense of superiority, shamelessness,


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egoism, self-adulation, overestimation of one’s abilities, self-glorification, but also, insecurity, feelings of inferiority, self-accusation, shame, and self-consciousness characterize aspects of narcissism which are generally judged to be negative. On the other hand, traits like self-confidence, self-awareness, self-assurance, selfrespect, self-esteem, moral strength, independence, authenticity, self-control, self-knowledge, sincerity, self-restraint, self-determination, self-discipline, selfpreservation, and self-help are generally considered characteristics demonstrating a positive relationship with the self. Other concepts change their meaning according to the circumstances of their use. The behavior one person might regard as self-confident may appear to others as snooty, arrogant, or conceited, just as those who impress either by their ability to assert themselves, or by their independence, may be regarded negatively by some who associate this with inconsiderateness. Freud defined narcissism as a state of affairs in which one’s own ego, one’s own self, one’s own person, or one’s own body becomes the object of libidinous (and aggressive) desires and impulses in exactly the same way as another person, or any external object. This narcissistic cathexis may also be confined to certain aspects of one’s self or one’s own body. Thus, one may be particularly proud of one’s musical abilities, acute reasoning power, thoroughly fit body, or nice appearance. In turn, the libidinous (and aggressive) self-reference may assume all those variations and pathologies that are known from object relations. One may love, idealize, care for, but also hate, disdain, and damage oneself, one’s own body, and one’s own characteristics in the same way one could treat another person. As for the origin of narcissism, Freud believed that the original mental condition of the individual in his earliest childhood is one of »primary narcissism«, during which the child cannot yet distinguish between himself and the outside world and therefore cannot form object relationships with persons in the outside world. Actually – so Freud assumed – the child would prefer to remain in a state of primary narcissism, but would, in the face of continued frustrations, eventually be compelled to take »the step from an absolutely self-sufficient narcissism to the perception of a changing external world and the beginnings of the discovery of objects« (Freud 1921, p. 130–131). In accordance with need, children would transform their original narcissism to object libido. However, Freud warned elsewhere (1912/1913, p. 89), a »human being remains to some extent narcissistic even after he has found external objects for his libido«. He thought that normal people, too, frequently withdrew their libidinous cathexis from objects and devoted it to their own selves – a process whose result Freud termed »secondary narcissism«. Whereas Freud tried to reconstruct his theories about the emotional life of infants from the memories and fantasies of his adult patients, modern infant research proceeds by another theoretical route, as it examines the actual


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interactions of mothers and their infants directly with the aid of sophisticated research programs and the use of audio-visual research procedures. The results of modern infant research (Dornes 1993; 1997; 2000) have called into question and qualified several psychoanalytic assumptions concerning early childhood. During the past few years, the »classical« psychoanalytic depiction of the baby as an autistic, symbiotic, ambivalent, passive and »primary narcissistic« being – as Martin Dornes (1993) formulated it – has been countered by the »competent infant«, who manages an active exchange with his environment from the very beginning. The assumptions of John Bowlby’s »attachment theory«, according to which humans are capable of relationships from birth and at the same time, are creatures dependent on bonding, contact, and closeness, were thereby confirmed. As observations of early mother-child interaction have shown, babies actively begin seeking contact with their mother right after birth. Incidentally, even the smile is an »act of seduction« by the child to direct the mother’s attention to him/her. The »primary narcissism« assumed by Freud as the normal and healthy condition of newborns may, thus, be regarded as scientifically refuted. This also eliminates the basis for Freud’s diametrical opposition of narcissism and object libido, which, by the way, corresponds to all clinical experiences showing that patients whose feeling of self-worth increases during the course of therapy, also increase their ability to have stable and satisfactory (intimate) relationships with others. It is virtually necessary to assume, conversely, that (healthy) narcissism, (healthy) self-love – no matter how »healthy« might be defined in detail – represents an elementary aspect of human inner life. The inner prerequisites for conducting mature object relationships do not exist until, in the course of their development, humans reach a fairly autonomously balanced narcissistic equilibrium that is not constantly dependent on narcissistic confirmation by external objects. As, for example, Béla Grunberger puts it, »The more a person is capable of bonding the self in a certain way, the more libido for the object would he have at his disposal« (1971, p. 17; own translation). However, Freud’s theories on narcissism have not been completely refuted, but only relativized in such a way, that the »primary narcissistic« phenomena described by psychoanalysis – passivity, autism, symbiotic fusion with the mother, etc. – do not occur with the normal, that is, healthy infant, but are always associated with disorders. Freud is not describing the normal development of the child’s inner world, but rather, his descriptions are applicable only to pathological developmental processes. In this, however, the child does not pursue a »natural« need to return to former »primary narcissistic« states, but the child’s symbiotic, ambivalent, and autistic tendencies should be interpreted as an answer to the parents’ unconscious role expectations for the child. This consideration, to which I will return later, is described as the basis of Horst-Eberhard Richter’s


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psychoanalytic family therapy in his book, Eltern, Kind und Neurose (Parents, Child, and Neurosis; 1963). Interestingly, a reflection by Freud on two types of object-choice provides the point of departure for Richter’s theory. However, this Freudian theory is in strange contradiction to his own hypothesis of the incompatibility of narcissism and object-choice. Just as narcissists can make their entire self-image or a partial aspect of it the object of their narcissistic love, they tend to deal similarly with things or persons whom they regard as their own. He considers »his car«, »his house«, »his yacht«, and »his wife« as extensions of his grandiose self, just as he regards »his knowledge«, »his opinion«, »his company«, and »his children« as his property and as narcissistic objects. Freud recognized this tendency of narcissists to make their relationships to their love objects obey the dictates of their narcissistic needs, and conceptualized this through his theory of the »two types of object choice«. According to Freud (1914a, p. 87) a human being »has originally two sexual objects – himself and the woman who nurses him«. Many people choose their future love object taking their mother »as a model«. Freud calls this type of object choice anaclisis, because the object choice is being made with a parent figure in mind. Strictly speaking, Freud could also have spoken of a »transference type« of object choice, because the subject is transferring his parental relationship to his partner. Others choose their love objects based on the model of their own person. »They are plainly seeking themselves as a loveobject, and are exhibiting a type of objectchoice which must be termed ›narcissistic‹. Guy Billout: The Lonely Man’s Garden, [. . . ] [I]n doing so we are postulating a pri1984 mary narcissism in everyone, which may in some cases manifest itself in a dominating fashion in his object-choice« (ibid.). Thus, in Freud’s view the narcissist is quite capable of forming an object relationship without reducing his narcissism; however, in that case his object relationship is narcissistically structured, that is, according to the narcissistic model of object choice. It is remarkable that Freud describes only two types of object choice – both of them no doubt implicated in pathological relationship patterns –, yet he leaves open the question whether besides these two there might be additional patterns, possibly healthy ones, or if at least healthier, non-pathological types of object


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choice would be conceivable in principle, and which characteristics they might have. As we all know, psychoanalysis has problems defining which psychological condition is »healthy«, which psychological processes are desirable, and which lifestyles are »good«. Psychoanalysis can, on the other hand, furnish very accurate information concerning which psychological mechanisms are compensatory or serve as defense mechanisms, or may be understood as symptomatic compromises. All attempts to answer the ancient philosophical question about the »good« life with positive recommendations from a psychoanalytic perspective have led either to conventional platitudes – which includes Freud’s »ability to work and to love« as a therapeutic goal – to questionable narcissistic idealizations – such as the »genital character« by Wilhelm Reich (1933), or to dull abstractions like »mature oedipality«. Psychoanalysis apparently involves a type of theory which Odo Marquard (2000) in his book Philosophie des Stattdessen (Philosophy of the Instead) defines as »compensation theory«. This compensation theory is distinguished by regarding humans not as complete, but always and principally incomplete beings. Following Nietzsche’s principle, according to which man is a being to be overcome, psychoanalysis can tell its patients what to overcome, but cannot tell them where this either will or ought to lead them. According to Marquard (2000, p. 41f) this is no weakness of compensation theory, but rather, its advantage, for it avoids illusions of completeness by respecting human finality. Man consists to a greater extent of his experiences than of his achievements. He is not only an acting, but above all a suffering being: that is why he is his stories, for stories are blends of actions and experiences. He is more clearly defined by his frailties than by his goals: his mortality limits his completion; he is not headed for perfection, but »for death« [. . . ]. He does not rush from victory to victory, but must make up for defeats and weaknesses: man does not triumph, he compensates.

»It is impossible to escape the impression that people commonly use false standards of measurement – that they seek power, success and wealth for themselves and admire them in others, and that they underestimate what is of true value in life«. This is how Freud begins his famous essay Civilization and its Discontents (1930, p. 57; own emphasis). He obviously is of the opinion that the narcissistic ideals of power, success, and wealth are not »true values«, and that as a result, a life based on these »false standards« cannot lead to real happiness. In the continuation of his essay, in which Freud among other things deals with the question of how people can attain the happiness they apparently strive for, it becomes clear that Freud has great difficulty defining what a »happy«, »successful« and »good« life, or a »happy«, »successful«, or »good« intimate relationship might


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look like. Psychoanalysis can indicate and describe minutely the relationship pattern and emotional mechanisms of the defensive function – Marquard would call it the compensatory function – and why these must be overcome on the way to a good life, or a good relationship. However, the patients themselves have to know and decide how to design the good life. It is just as impossible to give a psychoanalytic definition of »healthy« narcissism, even if psychoanalytic therapy and theory at least implicitly assume that it exists. However, it can not describe healthy narcissism in »positive« terms at all, or only very indefinitely and »negatively«, by the absence of pathological mechanisms. These, on the other hand, can be named very accurately by psychoanalysis. This similarly applies to the concept of »psychological health« or even the idea of a »good leader«. I shall deal with Kernberg’s – as I believe, problematic – attempt to characterize a »good« and »healthy« leader’s personality by means of psychoanalytic criteria later on. According to the background of Freud’s distinction between the »true value« and the »false standards« – or to put it in the words of Winnicott (1965), the »true« and »false self« – it is now possible to resolve the contradiction in Freud’s theory of narcissism. Whenever Freud speaks of the incompatibility of narcissism and object love, he actually means the incompatibility of the pathological narcissism with the non-pathological, the unselfish, the »true« object love. Subjects become internally liberated for the »true, the genuine, the unselfish« love only to the extent that they succeed in distancing themselves from their »selfish« narcissism. However, as long as they are dominated by their selfish narcissism, they also shape their intimate relationships according to narcissistic aspects, that is, they make their love objects serve their selfish interests. This also means that a »healthy narcissism« must be assumed apart from the pathological. Such a non-pathological narcissism could involve »true« self-love which would not be linked to selfishness and a devaluation of objects. Concurring with these assumptions, one might further agree with Freud’s assertions – contradictory as they first appear – that on the one hand, narcissism and object love exclude one another, and that, on the other hand, there is a narcissistic type of object choice. Basically, this does not involve the incompatibility of narcissism and object love, but the antagonism between love and power. One of the characteristics of love and appreciation is that they are gifts, that is, given voluntarily and with no specific objective. Once obtained under conditions of power and coercion, they are automatically contaminated with the poison of lies and profaned and devalued through their functionalization. Love which is bought, ordered, coerced, or stolen is no »true« and »genuine« love; it derives from a »false self« and therefore often reaches only the »false self« of the love object. Love and power are exclusive characteristics that belong to different spheres of human life. If they are forced into proximity, this inevitably results in dramatic


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Max Klinger (1857–1920): Narcissus and Echo

complications, paradoxical situations, conflict-laden tensions and pathological relationships as we know them from literature and drama, from politics, and of course also from our own lives. After all, no individual is free from pathological narcissism, no individual is without the unconscious desire to stabilize his own psychological equilibrium by using his partners, and in particular, his lovers, for his selfish interests and needs. No individual is free of the temptation of trying out his power even in his love relationships. However, it is an inevitable consequence that relationships at least partially develop a narcissistic aspect. Not even the Christian motto »Love thy neighbor as thyself« offers a satisfactory answer to the question of the »right« life, because love for one’s self can be shaped by an outsider’s power and functionalization purposes and be as contaminated as the relationship to the neighbor. It is the grand discovery of Freud’s theory of narcissism to have enunciated this insight. Incidentally, Nietzsche considered the same problems in Thus Spoke Zarathustra when he said, »But I say unto you: your neighbor-love is your bad love of yourselves. Ye flee unto your neighbor from yourselves, and would fain make a virtue thereof: but I fathom your ›unselfishness‹«. And he explicitly asserts, »Ye cannot endure it with yourselves, and do not love yourselves sufficiently« (1883, Part I, 16.). But both theoreticians


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Narcissism and Power

– Freud, the philosophical psychologist as well as the psychological philosopher Nietzsche – remained stuck in the Zeitgeist molded by Calvinism, the Reformation and authoritarianism, in that they did not see through and criticize the doctrine that self-love was a fundamental evil and that the love of one’s self excluded love for others, which dominated theological, psychological and ethical thought. Fromm (1947, p. 126–127) vigorously expounded on how the sentence »Don’t be selfish« has been impressed upon millions of children, generation after generation. [. . . ] Aside from its obvious implication, it means »don’t love yourself«, »don’t be yourself«, but submit yourself to something more important than yourself, to an outside power or its internalization, »duty«. »Don’t be selfish« becomes one of the most powerful ideological tools in suppressing spontaneity and the free development of personality. Under the pressure of this slogan one is asked for every sacrifice and for complete submission: only those acts are »unselfish« which do not serve the individual but somebody or something outside himself.

However, the motto placed at the front of this book, »For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world and yet lose his own soul?« (Matthew 16:26a), provides a workable maxim for life which stands up to ethical, philosophical, and even psychological criticism. This first of all is due to the fact that no direct, positively formulated recommendation on the order of »Thou shalt« is given, as with the sentence, »Love your neighbor as yourself«. Instead, the maxim is presented in the form of a question, whose rhetorical structure, while indicating the general direction of the answer, avoids specificity. To be exact, the question implicitly makes the following assertion, »It is possible that in the course of gaining power over the world, the human soul would suffer damage. That is not necessarily the case, but there is a chance«. And the question indirectly recommends awareness of this danger. The statement, which this maxim avoids, is also important. It does not say, »Stay away from power, for it is absolutely evil and will only damage your soul«, as Jakob Burckhardt does (cf. 1868). Instead it calls people’s attention to the fact that they cannot get around the following decision: They can either decide to renounce power in order to preserve the tranquility of their soul, or they can decide to sacrifice the tranquility of their soul for power, or they can also seek ways to achieve power and exercise it without doing damage to their soul. Even this last possibility is not excluded in principle, though the spiritual author of this question probably tends to consider the danger rather great that power and the health of the soul will be at odds – for otherwise he would not have asked the question and taken so much trouble with its formulation.


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Narcissism and Power

Psychoanalysis of Mental Disorders in Politics

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Narcissism and Power