10 April 2008

The Role of Ideology in the Development of Evil Regimes (Pathocracies)

The second in a series of articles that have appeared at Democratic Underground. Be sure to join the discussion.

Time for change Democratic Underground Tue, 08 Apr 2008 15:22 EDT

Last week I posted on DU "Political Ponerology: A Science of Evil Applied for Political Purposes". Most of the material for that post was taken from "Political Ponerology - A Science on the Nature of Evil Adjusted for Political Purposes", by Andrew M. Lobaczewski. Lobaczewski, a psychiatrist, began the research that eventually led to the book more than half a century ago, in collaboration with other researchers, all who are now dead.

The research was conducted in secret, as the researchers were all victims of Joseph Stalin's totalitarian regime, which obviously provided fodder for much of the book's content.

In my previous post, I began with some comments from the book's editor, Laura Knight-Jadczyk, on the importance of evil in today's world:

At the social level, hatred, envy, greed and strife multiply exponentially. Crime increases faster than the population. Combined with wars, insurrections and political purges, multiplied millions across the globe are without adequate food or shelter due to political actions... The totality of human suffering is a dreadful thing...

Jadczyk noted the defining characteristic of a psychopath to be the lack of conscience:

They can imitate feelings, but the only real feelings they seem to have... is a sort of "predatorial hunger" for what they want. All else - all activity - is subsumed to this drive. In short, the psychopath is a predator. If we think about the interactions of predators with their prey in the animal kingdom, we can come to some idea of what is behind the "mask of sanity" of the psychopath. This leads us to an important question: what does the psychopath really get from their victims? It's easy to see what they are after when they lie and manipulate for money or material goods or power. But in many instances... we can only say that it seems to be that the psychopath enjoys making others suffer.

I noted in my last post four reasons why many evil people are so difficult to identify:

1) Many psychopaths develop the ability to make themselves appear normal.

2) Denial: Many normal people find it very difficult to acknowledge the presence of evil.

3) Many normal (though naïve) people believe that psychopaths are found only in prison.

4) Racism, etc: When evil is perpetrated on "others", many have a tendency to ignore it.

And I talked at some length about the tremendous damage that is often inflicted on society when psychopaths climb to positions of great power.

In this post I expand on my previous one by discussing the role of ideology in assisting some psychopaths in their quest to acquire control over groups or even whole societies, despite their small numbers in all human populations. An understanding of this process by normal people is very important because the first and most important step in preventing these tragedies is to recognize them in their early stages. But first a word about labeling:

A few words on the labeling of evil

A minority of DU posters responded to my previous post with great concern over the idea of labeling people as "evil". Their concern appeared to be related to the potential for such labeling to lead to something akin to genocide, as has occurred so frequently during the past century. I understand the concern, but I believe it to be misplaced. I have the following responses to that concern.

First, genocides occur when groups of people are labeled as being inferior or evil based on race or other superficial characteristic. In marked contrast, a proper labeling of people as evil is based on behavior, rather than on any superficial characteristics.

Furthermore, Lobaczewski's approach to the issue is the opposite of an approach that would be likely to lead to violence. He repeatedly stresses the need to use an objective and scientific approach rather than a moralistic approach to the issue of evil (I myself have difficulty viewing evil through an objective rather than a moralistic approach, but that's just me). He does not believe in the death penalty. And he repeatedly stresses a preventive rather than a punitive approach. The preventive approach that Lobaczewski discusses emphasizes the need to keep psychopaths out of positions of power where they have the potential to do great harm to other people.

Is there potential for abuse if people are labeled as "evil"? I'm sure there is some potential for that, just like anything else can potentially be abused. Currently we label people with such words as "criminal", "traitor", "sex offender", or many other equally inflammatory terms when a person's behavior is legally (or otherwise) determined to fit those categories.

The reason why I and Lobaczewski believe it is important to pursue scientific inquiry into the causes and recognition of evil, and how to prevent its widespread perpetration on human populations, is as follows: When psychopaths gain control over societies, the potential for war, death and destruction is tremendous. Such occurrences have been way too frequent in both the distant and the recent historical record. Labels are necessary if we are to have the ability to talk about a subject. For example, lithium has been used with great success to treat people with manic-depressive illness. It would be very awkward and perhaps impossible to develop and use treatment against a disease that we were prohibited from naming. How are the results of scientific research to be shared with regard to a subject that has no name? The understanding of evil is way too important to allow it to be shackled in that manner.

The role of ideology in the ponerogenic process

Lobaczewski writes a lot about the role of ideology for individuals or groups in the ponerogenic process that leads to pathocracies*. The ideology itself is usually not inherently evil (although it may be, as in the case of Nazism), and the ideology does not generally characterize the movement or group. Rather, the ideology serves as a mask, to hide the actual intentions of the group. Lobaczewski explains it like this:

It is a common phenomenon for a ponerogenic association or group to contain a particular ideology which always justifies its activities and furnishes motivational propaganda.... Human nature demands that vile matters be haloed by an over-compensatory mystique in order to silence one's conscience and to deceive consciousness and critical faculties, whether one's own or those of others.

If such a ponerogenic union could be stripped of its ideology, nothing would remain except psychological and moral pathology, naked and unattractive. Such stripping would of course provoke "moral outrage", and not only among the members of the union.

The fact is, even normal people, who condemn this kind of union along with its ideologies, feel hurt and deprived of something constituting part of their own romanticism, their way of perceiving reality when a widely idealized group is exposed as little more than a gang of criminals.

A perfect example of this explanation, in my opinion, is the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. If George Bush and Dick Cheney had told the American public, in their run-up to war, that it was necessary to invade and occupy Iraq in order to open up tens of billions of dollars worth of economic opportunity for their corporate cronies and to gain access to Iraqi oil, the American people and even their corporate news media would have been hard pressed to drum up much enthusiasm for war. Instead, we were provided with (especially after the "weapons of mass destruction" excuse was proven to be a lie) the ideology of democracy (We're doing it to bring democracy to the Iraqi people) and anti-terrorism (We have to fight them over there so we don't have to fight them here.)

The last paragraph of Lobaczewski's that I cite above explains why so many normal Americans are willing to accept the Bush administration's lame excuses. Acknowledging that our President and Vice President are no more than criminal thugs and psychopaths is just too painful for most Americans. It is much more comfortable for them to believe that their country goes to war for idealistic and generous purposes.

Let's now consider how four different ideologies, none of which are inherently evil, have been corrupted for political purposes:

* A pathocracy is a social movement, society, nation, or empire that is controlled by evil individuals and habitually perpetrates evil deeds on its people and/or other people. The "ponerogenic process" leads to the development of a pathocracy.


One could make a good argument that the U.S. Declaration of Independence, which after all provided the full justification for our country becoming a sovereign nation, contains the true, uncorrupted version of Americanism. There are two salient ideas expressed in that document, which also happen to be the epitome of liberal/progressive values: 1) That everyone has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and 2) Whenever a government becomes destructive of those rights, the people have the right overthrow that government. I am in 100% agreement with those ideas.

Unfortunately, however, that ideology has become badly corrupted, especially under the current presidential administration. For George Bush, Dick Cheney, and the right wing ideologues who support them, "Americanism" has become the ideology that says that the United States of America is so superior to all other nations that any action it takes with respect to other nations should automatically and unquestionably be considered morally right. For an American citizen to think or act otherwise is to border on treason.

"Americanism" in that form has been used to declare wars against nations that pose no threat to us and to overthrow numerous democratically elected governments that likewise posed no threat to us.

Consider this speech:

As long as whole regions of the world simmer in resentment and tyranny - prone to ideologies that feed hatred and excuse murder - violence will gather... and raise a mortal threat.

There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment, and expose the pretensions of tyrants, and reward the hopes of the decent and tolerant, and that is the force of human freedom.

We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends upon the survival of liberty in other lands. The best hope for freedom in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.

That speech invokes the best of the American dream and ideals. There was just one problem with it. It was spoken by George Bush as a means of justifying an action (the invasion and occupation of Iraq) that had nothing whatsoever to do with the wonderful sentiments expressed in his speech. He was merely using a great ideology as a mask to hide his true motives.


Christianity contains some core values that any liberal/progressive could be proud to live by. Jesus Christ preached that we should love our neighbors, treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves, and be charitable towards the poor. In short, he embodied the best of liberal values. Accordingly, Christian groups have done some great things over the centuries, including playing a leading role in the abolition of slavery in the United States.

One could say, I suppose, that the Christian Bible contains the full content of Christian doctrine. Looked at in that way I suppose that one could say that it states some ideas that are patently absurd (such as the Earth being four thousand years old) or even contain the seeds of evil. I won't go into that, mainly because different people interpret it in very different ways.

But Christianity has also often been used to justify evil actions, including wars of aggression and torture of "non-believers" with the aim of getting them to convert to Christianity. Some, even today, still use Christianity to justify slavery, as Patrick Buchanan recently did in his attempt to put his criticisms of Barack Obama in the best light:

The Silent Majority needs to have its convictions, grievances and demands heard. And among them are these: First, America has been the best country on earth for black folks. It was here that 600,000 black people, brought from Africa in slave ships, grew into a community of 40 million, were introduced to Christian salvation, and reached the greatest levels of freedom and prosperity blacks have ever known.


Capitalism carries the potential, by means of providing incentives for productivity, to act as an engine of economic growth that provides tremendous benefits to a society. Forget for a moment that there is no such thing as pure capitalism, or that society works best economically when it uses some combination of capitalism and socialism. My only point here is that (I believe) capitalism has the capacity to provide substantial benefits to people when used as one component of an economic system.

Capitalism is one of the main ideologies used by the Bush/Cheney administration, and it is used as justification for all manner of policies that hurt people, such as George Bush's veto of health insurance for children. Bush likes to characterize his view of capitalism as "free market", and as such he uses that ideology to push for international agreements that primarily benefit his corporate friends.

But in fact, there is nothing "free market" about the Bush/Cheney brand of capitalism, if indeed it can be categorized as capitalism at all. Rather, their favored economic system is one in which their corporate cronies are given billions of dollars in no-bid contracts to perform functions for which they have little expertise, with little or no oversight from government. The result has been billions of dollars of missing money, with no investigations to determine where the money went. That's a mighty strange brand of capitalism.

James Petras, in "Rulers and Ruled", describes how so-called "capitalism" has worked out in recent years in so many countries:

Given the enormous class and income disparities in Russia, Latin America and China, it is more accurate to describe these countries as "surging billionaires" rather than "emerging markets" because it is not the "free market" but the political power of the billionaires that dictates policy

Countries of "surging billionaires" produce burgeoning poverty, submerging living standards. The making of billionaires means the unmaking of civil society - the weakening of social solidarity, protective social legislation, pensions, vacations, public health programs and education...

The growth of billionaires is hardly a sign of "general prosperity" resulting from the "free market"... In fact it is the product of the illicit seizure of lucrative public resources, built up by the work and struggle of millions of workers... It has little to do with entrepreneurial skills.


Communism has been defined as "a socioeconomic structure that promotes the establishment of a classless, stateless society based on common ownership of the means of production." Its initial popularity can be attributed to its promise to greatly reduce economic inequality in societies that were previously characterized by huge levels of economic inequality. That is a worthwhile goal IMO.

My own view is that the best economic system is one that uses a combination of free market incentives to increase productivity, combined with government provision of essential goods and services, goods and services that don't respond to free market incentives (such as the running of our elections), progressive taxation, and regulation to ensure such things as worker and environmental protection and the prevention of monopolistic practices. Whether or not pure Communism is capable of providing a viable and productive economic system is a question I can't answer and is not highly relevant to this discussion.

The Russian Revolution of October 1917 brought Communism to Russia, which it maintained for more than 70 years. However, soon after its introduction it began to be seriously corrupted, to the point where by some time in the 1920s it is probably accurate to say that it wasn't Communism at all. By that time an empire had evolved (called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) into a solidified Totalitarian system, and a small elite ruled over everyone else with an iron fist and had control over all of the country's resources. Under the iron rule of Joseph Stalin, economic plans were put in place that resulted in the deaths by starvation of about seven million people. This was not a classless society, nor was it stateless, nor was it based on common ownership of the means of production. Yet the myth of a Communist state prevailed in the USSR until it broke up in 1991.

The lessons we should learn from the role of ideologies in the ponerogenic process

In my opinion this is one of the most important issues dealt with in Lobaczewski's book. There are two major lessons that it should teach us.

First, it should teach us that we should never uncritically accept that an individual's or a group's purpose is what they say it is, especially when matters as important as war and peace are at stake.

Second, we should not uncritically blame an ideology for the fact that a group uses it for their own nefarious ends. The great ideals of the American dream, as expressed in its Declaration of Independence, should not be blamed for the fact that our current American leaders justify aggressive war, widespread violation of human rights, and wholesale violation of the U.S. Constitution that they swore to preserve and protect - all in the name of the United States of America. Christianity should not be blamed for the fact that various elites throughout history have used it as an excuse for war, torture, and pilfering other lands - all in the name of Christianity. Capitalism should not be blamed for the corruption it has undergone under our current leaders and the so-called Neoliberal economists, who use it mainly to increase the wealth of small elites, at the expense of everyone else - all in the name of "free market capitalism". And Communism should not be blamed for the Communist rulers who tyrannized and impoverished the nations that they led - in the name of Communism.

More on the use of ideology in the ponerogenic process leading to pathocracy

In this post I have covered only a portion of Lobaczewski's description of the ponerogenic process that leads to the development of pathocracies - though I believe it is the most important portion. I intend to cover more of it in a later post.

In my first thread on this subject, some DUers told me that they were looking forward to a follow-up post where I would talk more about how to identify evil. This is a very complex subject. The portions of Lobaczewski's description of the ponerogenic process that I have omitted from this post deal with that issue in quite a bit of detail. However, the details are very difficult to grasp, especially for people who are not familiar with mental health issues. For example, here is some of Lobaczewski's continued description of the role of ideologies in the ponerogenic process:

Characteropathic individuals adopt ideologies created by doctrinaire, often schizoidal people, recast them into an active propaganda form, and disseminate it with their characteristic pathological egotism and paranoid intolerance for any philosophies which may differ from their own. They also inspire further transformation of this ideology into its pathological counterpart.... The ideology continuously affects the movement's activities and remains a justifying motivation for many... The carriers of other pathological factors become engaged in this already sick social movement and proceed with the work of final transformation of the contents... in such a way that it becomes a pathological caricature of its original ideology... Such a situation eventually engenders a wholesale showdown: the adherents of the original ideology are shunted aside or terminated... The ideological motivations and the double talk they created then are utilized to hide the actual new contents of the phenomenon....

In summary: An ideology is used as a mask to hide the true, psychopathic motives of the psychopaths, serving simultaneously to inspire some of the more honest (normal) members of the group. But the psychopaths transform the ideology beyond recognition, to serve their own sick needs, while continuing to use the ideology's original name so as to hide their true motives. When the true adherents of the ideology realize what's really going on, they may rebel, and if they do they probably will be shoved aside or much worse.

The identification of evil

So, back to the critical question: How does one identify evil? One of the most important things to understand about this is that most people - perhaps the great majority of people - don't really want to identify it.

Recall the reasons why evil is so difficult to identify, which I discussed in some detail in my last post and summarized in this post. Three of the four reasons relate to things that apply much less to most DUers than they do to most of the rest of the U.S. population: denial, stereotypical ideas that reject the possibility of finding evil in highly successful people, and racism.

Lobaczewski notes how terribly disorienting and confusing it is for normal people to be exposed to psychopaths and ponerogenic processes:

People who have been thus thrown out of a ponerogenic association because they were too normal suffer bitterly; they are unable to understand their specific state. Their ideal, the reason they joined the group, which constituted a part of the meaning of life for them, has now been degraded, although they cannot find a rational basis for this fact. They feel wronged; they "fight against demons" they are not in a position to identify. The fact is their personalities have already been modified to a certain extent due to saturation by abnormal psychological material, especially psychopathic material.

As I re-read this, the first thing that comes to my mind is members of the U.S. Congress - notwithstanding the fact that they haven't yet been "thrown out". Think about it. Maybe this is closely related to the reason why no impeachment effort has taken place.

So this is what I believe is the most important thing to keep in mind when trying to identify evil:

Be skeptical about what people, especially politicians, say and why they say it. Don't be fooled into thinking that a politician's professed ideology necessarily has much to do with his/her true motivations. I'm not saying that they're all liars. I'm just saying that we need to keep an open, skeptical mind on the subject. So instead of taking their rhetoric at face value, weigh their actions more than their rhetoric. (For example, if we invaded Iraq to bring democracy to them, why did we kill over a million of their civilians, and why don't we leave when they want us to leave?)

Don't for a minute believe that the possession of wealth or success in life makes it less likely that a person is a psychopath. Wealthy successful psychopaths are far more dangerous than the ones who end up in jail. And the most dangerous of all are national leaders.

And for God sake, don't EVER think that just because the only people who are being abused, tortured, and killed by your government are of some other race, ethnic group, or religion - Muslim, for example - that that means that they (your government) aren't evil and aren't likely to turn on you next.



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