Pathological Power: What It Is And What It Does.


Pathological, as defined by the Oxford dictionary, is an individual who is ‘not reasonable or sensible; impossible to control’. The conclusion that jumps to mind is that to call someone pathological is nowhere close to being a compliment- this is a very pejorative term and is very often used to describe mental illnesses. However despite this term’s negative, even chaotic connotations, the term Pathocracy has become increasingly common in modern day political science to describe systems of power throughout history. Looking at certain traits in leaders such as a constant hunger for power and control, the pathological side of power can be explained to a frightening extent.

The word pathology comes from the Greek pathos (suffering). Often described as ‘the science of disease’, the word pathology is often found in words such as pathological power or pathocracy, which can be unnerving when it is in regard to groups or individuals who hold a great amount of power over others. From the emperor Caligula who ruled over Ancient Rome to Donald Trump who is currently the president of the United States of America, many individuals in similar positions displayed characteristics which would enable them to be labelled as pathological. The question is: why and how do these individuals manage to acquire such power? One answer to this question is, surprisingly, their lack of empathy. No matter whether they are said to be narcissists or psychopaths, one trait which unites every pathological leader is their ability to carelessly manipulate and abuse others for themselves; that is, to gain power. Since the competitivity of the political world is as strong as ever, the most ruthless, immoral, and relentless often find themselves on top. This, as a consequence, only feeds into the narcissistic tendency of such individuals to think that they are superior to those around them and deserve to hold power.

Another explanation for the success of pathocracies is an idea developed by Andrew M. Lobaczewski, author of ‘Political Ponerology’. He explains that not only individuals are concerned when looking at pathocracies. According Lobaczewski, both ‘types’ of people are affected; those who are ‘normal’ and those who are pathological. Firstly, the much repeated Law of Attraction can be applied in this context: ‘Like Attracts Like’. Pathological individuals attract people who are similar them. This, over time, will cause them to accumulate and therefor cause the pathocracy to grow, all the while excluding others who generally tend to step away as to not contribute to what they view as evil. This phenomenon can explain the rise of many pathocracies across history and why it took such a large amount of time for them to fall. On the other hand, Lobaczewski also states: ‘if an individual in a position of political power is a psychopath, he or she can create an epidemic of psychopathology in people who are not, essentially, psychopathic’. This means that certain people, when exposed to these pathological tendencies which become increasingly present around them, will choose to accept the change and become a part or a supporter of the regime in question. For example, both of these cases can be applied when looking at the rapid rise of Hitler’s Nazi regime and the Nazi takeover of the German government prior to and during World War II. Regimes similar to that of Germany under Hitler are called autocracies, where control is held by a single individual.

Autocracies are often a consequence of pathological leadership. Democracies are often put in place due to the uprising of the population in question when faced with a pathological autocracy. An example would be the famous French revolution, where the traditional absolute monarchy, in which the King held all the power, was torn down by the anger of the French population after they were subjected to many injustices under the King’s rule. This then led to the modern day French republic, a democratic system where access to total power, that is executive, legislative, and judiciary would not be held by a single individual to avoid an autocracy. Once pathological leaders acquire a high status in the political system, a common tactic is for them to try and dismantle the democratic system. Yet again, this can be related to Hitler’s political tactics when he was given the position of German chancellor. Even though the pathological leader would be in charge, they surround themselves with like-minded people in order to strengthen their political stability and to avoid being confronted.

The hunger for power is a concept that has always been present and has been explored throughout history; in Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ up until modern day psychologist trying to unlock the secrets of the human mind, there many debates as to if power corrupts only certain individuals or if it touches every one of us, like Nietzsche’s concept of the ‘Will of Power’, or if it is only down to nature versus nurture. No matter which theory is correct, we are all touched in one way or another by the effects of pathological power around us.

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