An incisive examination into the pairing of psychology and situation that creates despotic leaders from the author of Murderous Minds.
Not everyone can become a tyrant. It requires a particular confluence of events to gain absolute control over entire nations.
First, you must be born with the potential to develop brutal personality traits. Often, this is a combination of narcissism, psychopathy, Machiavellianism, paranoia and an extraordinary ambition to achieve control over others.
Second, your dangerous personality must be developed and strengthened during childhood. You might suffer physical and/or psychological abuse.
Finally, you must come of age when the political system of your country is unstable. Together, these events establish a basis to rise to power, one that Stalin, Hitler, Mao Zedong, Saddam Hussein, and Muammar Qaddafi all used to gain life-and-death control over their countrymen and women. It is how the leaders of the Islamic State hoped to gain such power.
Though these men lived in different times and places, and came from vastly different backgrounds, many of them felt respect for each other. They often seemed to recognize their shared, “dark” personality traits and viewed them as strengths. Only in rare cases did they show signs of mental disorders.
“Getting inside the heads” of foreign leaders and terrorists is one way governments try to understand, predict, and influence their actions. Psychological profiles can help us understand the urges of tyrants to dominate, subjugate, torture and slaughter.
Tyrannical Minds reveals how recognizing their psychological traits can provide insight into the motivations and actions of dangerous leaders, potentially allow to us predict their behavior?and even how to stop them. As strongmen and authoritarian leaders around the world increase in number, understanding the most extreme examples of tyrannical behavior should serve as a warning to anyone indifferent to the threats posed by political extremism.
Psychologist Haycock (Murderous Minds) closely examines the inner nature of tyrants in this intriguing, if occasionally strained, study. Offering case studies of such figures as Adolf Hitler, Mao Zedong, and Saddam Hussein, Haycock posits that they share, in addition to experiences of deep loss and childhood neglect or abuse, the personality disorder of "malignant narcissism," which a psychiatrist cited here describes as being based on "subtle paranoia, lack of conscience, and sadism." Paranoia is particularly important, Haycock notes; the authoritarian ruler often has betrayed others and expects to be betrayed in turn Joseph Stalin, on whom Haycock offers a particularly fine chapter, was a prime example of this. Unfortunately, Haycock spends too much time on President Trump, whom he acknowledges is not a despot but a "fast-talking narcissistic salesman" who admires authoritarianism in other national leaders. Stylistically, Haycock's writing is clear and permeated with insight, though he occasionally delivers bland, self-evident observations (Of Stalin: "It is possible that had he been born into a comfortable, loving, and supporting family... he might have found far less destructive ways to spend his time.") Still, this is otherwise a thoughtful and significant contribution to the art of psychologically profiling political leaders from afar.