- Narcissism and Politics: Dreams of Glory by Jerrold M. Post
The role of the individual has always been a fascinating and alluring topic of research for historians. The role of the leader, the figure who engages in politics and actions that shape the events of history, has been an even more attractive topic of study. Scholars have asked themselves repeatedly what weight should be given to the solitary individual, however highly placed. When trying to understand and analyze the events that shaped the fate of nations and peoples, and thus determined the course of human history, historians have asked what weight should be given, not only to a leader’s decisions, but also to his personality and character, going back even to the environment in which he was reared.
When a researcher focuses attention on the solitary individual, and even more, on a political leader, it is in the nature of things for criticism to arise from those who advocate giving priority to mass behavior and the deep [End Page 713] processes this generates, especially in the social and economic spheres. In this view, processes determine the course of events and human history more than the decisions, and sometimes the whims, of the solitary leader or politician. In this connection, we might recall Bertolt Brecht’s poem, “Questions from a Worker Who Reads,” in which he protests that it was not only Frederick II who won the Seven Years’ War, or Philip II of Spain who cried when the Armada was lost, or Caesar who defeated the Gauls, or young Alexander the Great who conquered India, and so on.
Still, it is the leader, the king, the Caesar, or the military commander whom history remembers. Perhaps this is because it is human nature, and above all, the character of the historian who tends to find more interest in the personal or private affairs of the solitary individual than in the often more tedious and impersonal research demanded in order to reveal deep processes or the story of the amorphous and faceless masses.
In recent decades research devoted to the personality of historical figures and historical leaders has taken significant steps forward, thanks to advances in medical, and even archeological, knowledge, and the great possibilities now available for experts in these fields and historians to make contact with each other in order to share their findings. Such exchanges of expertise make it possible to gain insights that were inaccessible in the past. To give just one example from popular culture: Nicholas Hytner and Alan Bennett’s 1994 film, The Madness of King George, suggests that the king suffered from the genetic disease “acute intermittent porphyria,” which can now be dealt with thanks to advances in medical knowledge. Research published in 2005 on samples of King George’s hair revealed high levels of arsenic, which probably came from the medicines or cosmetic products the king used, which impaired his condition even more.
For the historian interested in the individual, especially the leader, the personality trait of narcissism cannot be ignored. Any effort at understanding the leader in history without taking narcissism into consideration is doomed to failure. It would even seem that the threesome—leadership, the leader, and narcissism—emerged as a unit all entwined together. Jerrold M. Post’s important book, Narcissism and Politics: Dreams of Glory, is devoted to this phenomenon. The book seeks to enlighten historians and the interested public about this aspect of the historical record, without which it is difficult to obtain a complete picture of the research into the personality of the leader.
As a rule, the term “narcissism” is used to describe a type of problem in a person’s or group’s network of relations with themselves and others. In everyday speech, “narcissism” is frequently understood as egotism, arrogance, or boastfulness. In psychology, the term “narcissism” serves to describe a trait [End Page 714] possessed by every person to some extent, but when manifested to an extreme extent, it then becomes known as “narcissistic...