In the maiden post to this substack I acknowledged a real danger of studying pathocracy, against which one had to be vigilant: the convenient confirmation bias of using the psychopath label to pathologize and stigmatize one’s political rivals. Toward clearing some conceptual underbrush, in this regard, it would be useful to contrast pathocracy studies, as discussed here, with an earlier effort – aimed precisely at pathologizing political rivals. For, a genuinely impartial observer might well ask: what is the difference between the pathocracy illuminating ambitions of this substack, and related intellectual efforts, and the pathologizing of political rivals, under the rubric of the authoritarian personality research, as conducted by the Frankfurt School in the U.S. in the aftermath of WWII?
For those unfamiliar with this chapter in intellectual history, the Frankfurt School (sometimes called cultural Marxists, though consciousness Marxists, might be more accurate1), which had fled Germany following the rise of Hitler, eventually landed in America as Jewish refugees. They were quite careful, even during the U.S. alliance with Stalin, to not make a great display of their Marxism. As their institutional biographer Martin Jay noted, “critical theory” became their in-group code-word for Marxism.2 In the aftermath of the war, they undertook an extended study of what they characterized as the authoritarian personality, the most famous manifestation of which was the book published in 1950 by leading Frankfurt thinker, Theodor Adorno, going by the same name.3
The challenge for Marxists of this pedigree was that Karl Marx ’s perfectly well reasoned argument that Germany (and possibly the U.S.) should be the first country to enjoy a communist revolution, obviously, turned out to be quite erroneous. When the anticipated capitalist crisis finally came, a large portion of the German working class supported the Nazis.4 Their resulting conclusion was that such crude, economistic Marxism was mistaken, and some explanation needed to be found in the corrupted consciousness of those who failed to fulfil their designated revolutionary destiny. The Frankfurt School research alleged to find the answer to this riddle with the discovery of an incipient crypto-fascism, measured along the F-scale (yes, F for fascism) pervading not only the German working class, but even normal Americans. In fact, a bit of an epidemic of crypto-fascism was revealed in America. Anyone interested in pursuing the matter will find a wide range of criticisms of this work, specifically aimed at its shoddy methodology, including sampling, survey question and content analysis biases.
I want here though to make a different point. That work was a brazen attempt to pathologize the researchers’ political rivals. However, as noted above, one can appreciate that critics of this substack might be prone to levelling comparable allegations. So, it behooves me to directly address this matter; what exactly do I claim is the difference between the pathocracy studies that I discuss here and the Frankfurt School’s F-scale research? And, as I’ve said, I’ll leave aside scholarly rigor, though, parenthetically, the pathocratic-related research I’ve emphasized here would win on those grounds as well. But, I do want to emphasize this other point.
The F-scale research was devised and executed precisely to pathologize the researchers’ political rivals. That was its sole purpose right from the start. In contrast, the pathocracy research emerged from a far older research agenda, concerned with the identification, codification, and diagnosis of psychopathy in distinctly non-political contexts. It was originally aimed at understanding the criminal mind. It was only many decades later that it was fully appreciated that psychopaths with effective impulse control could insinuate themselves into public-facing institutions, which often even promoted psychopathic traits. The political psychopath was gradually discovered through a long history of diagnostic research. The F-scale test, in a triumph of tautology, had the precise purpose of stigmatizing and pathologizing political rivals with a conjectural pathology, based on a hypothesis for which the only supporting empirical evidence was the test itself.
Without going too far down the rabbit hole on this, the hypothesis was based upon a philosophical cooptation of Freudian ideas, in blithe indifference to the fact that the operative assumption in that cooptation – transcendence of a repressive substrate of the personality – was antithetical to Freud’s own position that it was the sublimation of such a substrate which made civilization possible. So, one might be forgiven for speculating that the Frankfurt School crowd was either misusing or misreading Freud, or just aiming at the destruction of civilization.
But back to the main point. Not only was the F-scale and its kindred research, right from the start, targeted at its promoters’ political rivals, but its operative assumptions grew out of the massive social engineering project of psychologically cleansing post-war German culture and institutions, known as denazification. Frankfurt School associates were active participants in this denazification. All of this was based upon the dubious premise that some phantom of crypto-fascism lurked in the minds of those who expressed anti-communist, conservative or even nationalist sentiments.5 From the start, it was nothing short of a targeted indoctrination campaign masquerading as psychological science.
Perhaps, from a hardnosed realpolitik perspective, one could defend the sweeping nature of this denazification project by arguing along the lines that the authoritarian and conservative traditions in Germany had their day, which resulted in Hitler, the Nazi legacy and eventual military defeat and international humiliation. There’s certainly a debate to be had about to what extent such German traditions were responsible for all that – though, notwithstanding their skepticism and even revulsion at Hitler, they did fail to prevent those outcomes. However, the proposition that the Americans, who sacrificed lives and treasures to play a decisive role in defeating Hitler and the Nazis, would be legitimately subject to the same operative assumption of harboring the same crypto-fascist psychological phantom only underlines the crude partisan power play involved in this bogus psychology.6
Again, the F-scale and the whole anti-authoritarian personality project was from the start a politically self-serving effort to stigmatize through pathologizing their political rivals. The study of pathocracy and political psychopathy is exactly the opposite. It is based upon over a century of increasingly sophisticated research and medical diagnosis. And only gradually came to apply the diagnostic lessons learned from the study of criminal psychopaths to their role in political life. Additionally, pathocracy studies do not resort to sectarian or partisan vilification of political rivals. Even this modest substack has pointed to pathocracy associated with both left and right regimes. Furthermore, it has acknowledged that even the managerial class – whose social engineering ambitions have been identified as the greatest threat to human freedom and dignity in the world today – is not made up exclusively, or even in the majority, of psychopaths. So, pathocracy studies is as different from Adorno’s partisan-motivated, and ideologically-driven, authoritarian personality studies, with their bogus, pseudo-scientific F-scale, as is night from day.
However, as will be seen in the next post, its more principled and empirically grounded approach does not guarantee to pathocracy studies any freedom from the risks of political pathologizing. Vigilance still remains necessary.
Whereas the earlier Marxists had followed Marx’s own determination that class consciousness would follow the dialectic of unfolding economic processes, the Frankfurt School was in a tradition, sometimes called critical or Western Marxism (e.g., Korsch, Lukács, Gramsci), that concluded that history had revealed this assumption as wrong. In fact, consciousness itself could not be assumed to be subordinate superstructure that would follow developments in infrastructure – i.e., the mode of production. And consciousness had to be treated as a problematic of its own; failing to do so doomed the Marxist revolution to failure as the proletariat was brainwashed by what the Frankfurt School elsewhere called The Culture Industry: Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, 1 edition (Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 2007).
Martin Jay, The Dialectical Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt School and the Institute of Social Research, 1923-1950, 1st edition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996).
Theodor Adorno et al., The Authoritarian Personality, Illustrated edition (London; New York: Verso, 2019).
What their analysis failed to appreciate was that communism and Nazism were just different strategies of the managerial class, sculpted by the circumstances specific to the country in which they took hold: see my book, The Managerial Class on Trial.
For discussion of these events, see: Paul Gottfried, Fascism: The Career of a Concept (DeKalb, Illinois: Northern Illinois University Press, 2017). Also, in this book and elsewhere, Gottfried has made the point that this treatment of Nazism as somehow indistinguishable from the more widespread generic fascism, which was usually nothing near so pathocratic as Nazism, is a common historical confusion perpetuated by the indignantly anti-fascist zealots.
What this research was capturing, in part, was the same tendency to social conformity likewise captured by Stanley Milgram’s famous experiments on conformity to authority. What Adorno’s crowd was oblivious to — and, in fairness, there wasn’t at that time a sufficient evolutionary psychology to fully tease this out — was that given humans’ unique social nature, social conformity was fueled by an evolutionary deep need for social belonging and acceptance. For perfectly good fitness enhancing reasons, Darwinian theory would predict a tendency to social conformity as the default human setting among most people. I’ve discussed the evidence for such evolutionary adaptation elsewhere: see, Darwinian Liberalism and Biological Realism. However, to interpret this tendency to social conformity as representative of the pathological anti-Semitism of some phantom crypto-fascism, is as illogical as it is oblivious to human evolution. The fact that most normal people incline toward social conformity says nothing about to what they conform. Communist Russia and China were no doubt also packed full of conformists, who just wanted to get along, and avoid public humiliation or physical harm.