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Psychopaths in Power

There’s so much that is false, wrong, erroneous, chaotic (and its twin brother, demonic) in the world at present that it’s difficult to see your way as it all swirls around us. But every now and then, someone hits on an illuminating insight that pierces through, like a lighthouse in a raging storm. The great psychologist and social commentator Jordan Peterson recently found exactly the right few words for our predicament: Psychopaths are in power. Others have said as much. He added, however, that the psychopaths have been utterly brilliant in using terms like freedom, tolerance, inclusion, openness, and diversity to disguise the destruction they’re causing, making it look sane, progressive, constructive, compassionate, even “Christian.”

A bit of realism based on experience treating mentally disturbed people.

It’s useful to trace out exactly what this means just now, because we’re living through something different than in the past. We’ve seen psychopaths in power, via obvious lies, in historic dictatorships: left was right, down was up, murder was justice, repression brought liberation. The twentieth century was full of them: Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Fidel. More recently we’ve had Hugo Chavez, the Ortegas, Xi, Kim Jong Un, and countless others.

As is usual in such cases, it’s impossible to tell where the murderous ideology ends and the personal psychopathology begins because, in such great evils, they pretty much depend on and feed off one another.

But our current predicament is a veritable Copernican Revolution from these classic historical examples. Our psychopaths in the “free” societies of the West operate under a creeping – and creepy – indirect influence, and dictate to our political leaders now. Joe Biden, Justin Trudeau, and a host of others don’t really believe the radical nonsense of, say, the trans craze or open borders or the wilder reaches of environmentalism. To do so, first of all, they would have to be capable of consistently following out a train of ideas. And like many politicians today, they aren’t. They indulge the craziness to maintain their share of power.

It’s a safe bet, however, that if prevailing winds favored strict Christian sexual morality or sane immigration policies or more human-friendly and achievable ecological goals, they would be pushing those ideas just as hard.

This is an odd reversal of social dynamics. In “The Power of the Powerless [1],” the Czech dissident and writer Vaclav Havel – Czech president after the fall of Communism – described how totalitarian ideology works in everyday practice. It doesn’t have to be by direct physical or social threats. As he put it in a much-quoted passage: Take an ordinary greengrocer in Communist Czechoslovakia. He puts up a sign in his window, “Workers of the world, unite!”, not because he’s a Communist. He almost never is. He does it because it’s the tiny bit of incense he has to burn in submission to the regime to stay out of trouble.

Ordinary people, “need not accept the lie. It is enough for them to have accepted their life with it and in it. For by this very fact, individuals confirm the system, fulfill the system, make the system, are the system.”


This is common enough even in non-Communist tyrannies. But it also underscores how different our situation is today. Social media and media in general, having now been formed by crazy ideas flowing out of the universities, engage in a kind of terrorism, including “cancellation,” against anyone who offends against “woke” pieties.

If you need the evidence, look around. To take just one example, when a much-loved figure like J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, can be savagely attacked and receive actual death and rape threats because she’s a TERF [2]– “Trans Excluding Radical Feminist” – we see that the old clunky Iron Curtain regimes had nothing on us when it comes to demanding social submission.

But there’s a different pathway of threat to be noted here. A national government usually has something close to a monopoly on the use of force within its borders. Hence, the poor greengrocer or manual laborer or hairdresser have to play nice with the regime. But we’re seeing governments and their leaders themselves now being intimidated by the power of social media.

As a “Catholic” or even just as a sane human being, Joe Biden might say, for example, that the trans craze is, well, crazy, and is leading thousands of young people into self-mutilation, when all but a small percentage will outgrow “gender dysphoria” by the time they’re twenty. That’s the truth and easily discoverable – if you want the truth. Instead, Joe’s told us repeatedly that “trans rights are the human rights issue of our time.”

I doubt that even a man with such a wobbly relationship to the truth believes that. He knows that unless he not only accepts but promotes woke madness, his party – which has also been intimidated by psychopaths in academe and the media – would repudiate, i.e., utterly destroy him.

It takes courage like that of  Vaclav Havel and many others – heroes and saints – to stand up against that kind of threat. But many political leaders here and abroad, long since having sold their own souls, have now handed over the power to set or veto policies to any number of psychopaths who, as Jordan Peterson has said bluntly but rightly, have brilliantly co-opted all the older “nice” words of our tradition to hide what they’re doing.

In sunnier days, the Church would have had a steadying, counterbalancing public effect. Instead, much of what we see coming out of Rome wants to “dialogue” with or accompany the psychopaths and their enablers. “Trans” people meet with the pope, radically pro-abortion “Catholic” politicians are granted cheerful audiences, a slippery American Jesuit, whose doubletalk is intended to reverse Catholic teaching on LGBT matters, is told by the highest authority in the Church that he has “the style of God.”

King Lear had it right: That way madness lies.


Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent books are Columbus and the Crisis of the West and A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century.