Among the aberrations of personality categorized by Freud that attracted attention widely among the intelligentsia of Europe (and soon North America) was the condition known as "narcissism." Adult narcissism is both normal (at very modest levels of self-absorption), but normally very pronounced among infants and children up through the age of five or so. In a sense narcissism is a stage of development that might be predicted to occur given the structural genetic inheritance of the human brain and the artifacts and processes of human culture. We conclude that a personality is appropriately embedded in society with meaningful relationships to other human beings with the term "self respect." It connotes an positive valence of integration with the rest of us.
But at first, as neonates, we understand virtually nothing of the outside world and are completely captivated by the sensations of our own bodies. Mother's smiling face only gradually is distinguished from self and much else follows this pattern of separation of one's own perceptions and needs and desires from material and psychological reality. Differentiation is not an easy process for mother's milk flows in anticipation of baby's need, and so it goes throughout early childhood that those hovering external beings seem to cater to emerging needs as if by divine plan. Perhaps "the terrible 2's" are a signpost along this process.
Children who do not shed their infantile egocentricity for whatever reason ... doting parents, mistaken understandings of cause and effect, etc. ... are usually called "spoiled," spoiled not like milk, though for some it appears to be irredeemable. No, it is more like spoiled like a ground or surface, contaminated, not by a pollutant but by a false paradigm, a false notion of how the world's processes proceed, remediable, but perhaps only with "Superfund" resources.
A person like Tom DeLay on the other hand uses a strong will in the place of a strong intellect and is, in any case, a different sort of narcissist. DeLay is a second level pathological narcissist, whose personality's ego centrism has reached the point where starkly binary relationships exist for him: those who fawn over him and kiss his ring are favored, those who don't (and everyone in their party) are not even worthy of being called human beings. The rejection of a person's humanity provides a multitude of excuses, of course, but fundamentally a person like DeLay has no friends, only courtiers who, like DeLay, see a feeding/suckling frenzy for what it is and latch on for their own narcissistic ride.
Leadership, especially significant political leadership, is expected (by those led) to be a tight wire act. We know that leaders are fallible, but we want them to have just enough narcissism to smooth over their occasional faulty judgments and actions. We do not want them collapsing in distress when something starts to go wrong. We want them to deal with it and "move on." We groom people from middle school onward who show evidence of a willingness to "impose" their wills on others as long as we can also observe charm, humility, and deference to the real needs that others have expressed. We often lose track of kids, like Karl Rove, whose charm is deficient and whose deference to the needs of others takes a back seat to his own material and psychological desires and fantasies. These people emerge later in life as demagogues and in other ways significantly dangerous candidates for or advisors to those in public office. Voters are asked to judge whether the person is really as selfish and narcissistic as some actions would seem to indicate, but meanwhile political parties work feverishly to obscure the evidence that we might have if we were just taking stock of people in a neighborhood. Political parties are trying to preserve their investments and too often choose to deal with the narcissistic "pig" in the poke later on. It never works out!
Over the past two years and some I have be writing my reflections on the passing events of the day, and occasionally my perspective strikes a reader as wrong or worse, wrongheaded. The readers who think me wrongheaded write comments and send me email calling me an a**hole, bastard, jackass, f*cking son of a b*tch, and some other similar but intersyllabically complex names you probably never heard unless you spent some time around sailors at sea. These vocabulary-challenged people are miniature versions of the pathological narcissist. Their attempts to denigrate the humanity of a fellow human being are evidence of their division of the world into people who love them and, they think, subpeople who hate them. These are spontaneous expressions of their own hapless egos, defending the indefensible territory of their narcissism. One does not find common cause with people like this. The fact is they have utterly missed the point. They are no better than the pathologically narcissistic rednecks and red state radicals for whom Bush, DeLay, Rove, and Rumsfeld are avatars of "the one true righteousness."
Eventually we discover that the handmaidens of narcissism are corruption and intolerance.
There is no one true righteousness. There is no single truth. No one can understand all of the world and its activities, and in fact, no one acting on the public stage really and truly understands what the mid- and long-term effects of his or her actions might be. The narcissists (by definition) isolate themselves and so they lose the benefit of productive discussion, discussion which might easily avoid the kinds of consequences now raining down on us from Bush & Co.
No political party is free of narcissists, but parties must learn that weeding out the pathologically narcissistic corrupt is a solemn and necessary duty. We play the game of politics in America knowing full well in advance (under our separation of powers Constitution) that we are playing with a part of human nature that all too easily slides into corruption. We must, if we are to govern ourselves democratically, be ever on the alert for signs of narcissistic pathology and remove these people from positions of authority.
James Richard Brett