At the social level, narcissists tend to be skilled manipulators who trigger and exploit narcissistic impulses in the people around them. Narcissists tend to be ruthless and lacking in empathy, and their dialogue with the rest of the world consists of endless, persuasive rationalizations for their belief system. Based on this game plan and over time, some narcissists make their way into positions of conventional authority — religious, legal, and political. They prefer positions where they can impose simple, inflexible systems of rules on others, and they avoid circumstances where accomplishments matter more than claims.
The primary purveyors of social narcissism are religion and government, and their game plans are trivial but effective. Religious narcissism pretends an association with an invisible super-being and orders its followers about on the basis of that authority. Governmental narcissism’s game plan is even simpler — it finds out what people are going to do anyway, orders them to do it, then takes credit for the result. This means government exists in a perpetual moral vacuum — if citizens think they have the right to entitlement, government thinks that too.
Sometimes a person gets into government with twisted ideas about its role and limitations, then creates a program based on personal narcissism that conflicts with public sentiment. Such mistakes are common, but citizens quickly forget what such mistakes tell us about the nature of government.
If a list of policy failures were the essence of social narcissism, there would be no point to an article like this one. Unfortunately, the problem is not when social narcissism fails, but when it succeeds, when widespread, latent public narcissism sees perfect fulfillment in public policy.
There are many examples of “successful” social narcissism, but in order to make my point, I will focus on just one — the Holocaust. Even though 60 years now separate us from the Holocaust, historians have scarcely begun to understand what the Holocaust reveals about government, about public policy, and about us.
In order to fully understand my point, I ask that my readers examine the Holocaust as separate from the other events of the era — the rise and defeat of Nazi Germany and the imagined triumph of democratic forces. I ask this because the Holocaust was only coincidentally associated with Nazi policies (who exploited public Antisemitism, but did not invent it), and it shouldn’t be pictured as a simple crime punished by the defeat of Nazism. The Holocaust rises above these temporal associations and exposes truths about all people of all times.
Social narcissism’s failures tell us that governmental policies cannot prevail against the common instincts of common people. But social narcissism’s successes tell us something much more disturbing — that governments achieve their greatest power when they recognize and amplify the most uncivilized impulses we hold as individuals. Successful governments publicly appeal to our collective narcissism while privately acting at the tribal level people actually care about.
If the common Germans of the mid-1930s had realized what the new policies meant — that if a specific group could be targeted by government, then any group, their group, might be next — they might have acted against the new regime. But to realize this, the citizens would have to be willing to think critically, as individuals, as well as reject the overtly narcissistic appeal that was the Nazis’ primary rhetorical device (“we’re superior to everyone else”). In order to think critically, the citizens would have to be (a) educated, (b) perpetually skeptical of government’s motives, and (c) immune to narcissistic overtures. None of these things was true.
Now let’s take this overview of pathological Socialism and contrast it against the speech made famous by Ayn Rand between her fictional character John Galt and the POTUS:
It is right to pursue one’s own happiness as one’s principal goal in life. I don’t consider the pleasure of others my goal in life, nor do I consider my pleasure the goal of anyone else’s life.
I am a trader. I earn what I get in trade for what I produce. I ask for nothing more or nothing less than what I earn. That is justice. I don’t force anyone to trade with me; I only trade for mutual benefit. Force is the great evil that has no place in a rational world. One may never force another human to act against his/her judgment. If you deny a man’s right to Reason, you must also deny your right to your own judgment. Yet you have allowed your world to be run by means of force, by men who claim that fear and joy are equal incentives, but that fear and force are more practical.
And then there’s your ‘brother-love’ morality. Why is it moral to serve others, but not yourself? If enjoyment is a value, why is it moral when experienced by others, but not by you? Why is it immoral to produce something of value and keep it for yourself, when it is moral for others who haven’t earned it to accept it? If it’s virtuous to give, isn’t it then selfish to take?
Your acceptance of the code of selflessness has made you fear the man who has a dollar less than you because it makes you feel that that dollar is rightfully his. You hate the man with a dollar more than you because the dollar he’s keeping is rightfully yours. Your code has made it impossible to know when to give and when to grab.
You know that you can’t give away everything and starve yourself. You’ve forced yourselves to live with undeserved, irrational guilt. Is it ever proper to help another man? No, if he demands it as his right or as a duty that you owe him. Yes, if it’s your own free choice based on your judgment of the value of that person and his struggle. This country wasn’t built by men who sought handouts. In its brilliant youth, this country showed the rest of the world what greatness was possible to Man and what happiness is possible on Earth.
Then it (America) began apologizing for its greatness and began giving away its wealth, feeling guilty for having produced more than it has’ neighbors. Twelve years ago, I saw what was wrong with the world and where the battle for Life had to be fought. I saw that the enemy was an inverted morality and that my acceptance of that morality was its only power. I was the first of the men who refused to give up the pursuit of his own happiness in order to serve others.
To those of you who retain some remnant of dignity and the will to live your lives for yourselves, you have the chance to make the same choice. Examine your values and understand that you must choose one side or the other. Any compromise between good and evil only hurts the good and helps the evil.