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  • The Pathology of Man: A Study of Human Evil
  • David H. Jones
The Pathology of Man: A Study of Human Evil, Steven James Bartlett (Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas, 2005), xv + 361 pp., cloth $73.95, pbk. $53.95.

Steven J. Bartlett ambitiously presents what he describes as the first "comprehensive analysis of the psychology of human evil," which will enable us to "understand what it is about the average person's patterns of thinking and the specific contents of the individual's mental life that support and encourage human evil" (p. 5). Trained in medical pathology, psychiatry, and psychotherapy, Bartlett views all human evil—whether individual or collective—as caused by the fatally flawed emotional and cognitive constitution of individual humans. Moreover, from a medical and psychiatric perspective, this flawed constitution is properly evaluated as "pathological," because humans are destructive to each other and to the species as a whole. He also believes that the species should be classified as a "global pathogen," because of its destructive effects on other species and the environment. Although conventionally the term "pathology" is restricted to that which is "abnormal" in the sense of departing from the statistical norm, Bartlett feels justified in using a new classification, "universal pathology," to designate the disease that afflicts all human beings to one degree or another (pp. 5–6). Although his approach is entirely secular, empirical, and scientific, Bartlett's main thesis has a striking similarity to the religious myth of Original Sin: all humans carry within them a set of predispositions to evil. But instead of "sin," Bartlett blames "human stupidity" (pp. 280–89).

The author presents a variety of reasons and evidence to support his main thesis, including the views of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Erich Fromm, Karl Menninger, and other psychiatrists; Stanley Milgram's obedience studies; and the work of ethologist Konrad Lorenz. His presentation of evidence—in a staggering thirteen chapters on topics such as aggression, self-destructiveness, genocide, terrorism, war, obedience, hatred, moral intelligence, and moral stupidity—is highly tendentious, however. Throughout his discussion Bartlett emphasizes humans' alleged emotional needs that strongly predispose them to commit evil: the need to be led, the enjoyment of cruelty, the gratifications of war, the need to hate, and the need to find solace in comforting myths.

Yet Bartlett's prior commitment to an individualistic explanation of human evil clearly dictated his selection and interpretation of evidence. For example, his examination of the "gratifications of war" fails to mention the numerous accounts that stress the horror and trauma experienced by combat troops or the often draconian measures taken to keep troops fighting. (According to Omer Bartov, during World War II the German Army executed 15,000 of its own troops for disciplinary infractions.)1 Bartlett generally tends to avoid or dismiss situational explanations of human evil: peer pressure, the presence of authority, fear of punishment, [End Page 326] ideological indoctrination, and diffusion of responsibility in bureaucracies. Thus, not surprisingly, he also shows little interest in trying to prevent human evil by means of public policy or improved social and political institutions.

Bartlett's views on what can be done about human evil are starkly simple: human evil can be reduced or eliminated only by radically changing the dysfunctional nature of individual humans' psychological and cognitive constitutions. The ideal would be to produce individuals who have "moral intelligence," which Bartlett defines primarily negatively as not receiving emotional gratification from evil (p. 279). He cites Lorenz to the effect that achieving this goal would require a radical program of eugenics (admittedly not politically feasible), or individual psychotherapy on a massive scale (pp. 145, 324). Bartlett claims the latter option is impossible, since "human evil most often is made up of pathologies for which no known effective treatment is available" ( p. 316). Recognizing that he may have painted himself into a corner, Bartlett poses the question: "Why, then, would one write and publish a book whose goals it is impossible to reach?" (p. 323). His answer is that it is far preferable to explicitly acknowledge the apparent hopelessness of the situation than to succumb to "the pathology of hope," which only encourages further passivity (pp. 317...


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