Research has shown that top jobs in politics, as indeed in many other walks of life, are frequently successfully held on to by people with psychopathic traits. Throughout history the possession of psychopathic traits has proved a useful passport to high office. Men or women who are unfettered by moral scruples, who are prepared to lie or cheat their way to the top and who will make promises they know they cannot keep have a huge advantage over those held back by notions of decency and fair play.
There is no doubt that leaders who possess psychopathic traits are at an enormous advantage. They have more freedom in their dealings with the public, with those with whom they work and with their potential enemies. They are able to control and manipulate people without any qualms. Psychopaths fake their emotions (which they learn by studying other people) and so suffer very little in circumstances which healthy people would find emotionally difficult. It is not surprising, perhaps, that many people in positions of power (including judges among others) and many people who seem especially pushy are psychopaths. We should not be too surprised at this; after all psychopaths are surprisingly common. (One in every 100 people is a psychopath.)
Here is a list of the traits associated with psychopaths. If you go through it thinking of political figures you will, I suspect, be surprised to see how many people you can identify as psychopaths.
1. Exceptionally selfish
2. Constant liars (and very good at it)
3. Manipulative – socially manipulative
5. Callous and indifferent to suffering
7. Have a sense of entitlement
8. Lack personal insight
9. Parasitic – live off others or the state
10. Bullying and abusive
11. Able to trick and con people successfully
12. Superficially charming
13. Apparently strong, calm and confident
14. Unable to experience love or compassion
15. Guilty of random and senseless violence
16. Not anxious and never irrational
17. Anger, rage and frustration are common emotions
18. May appear sincere but invariably insincere
19. Apparently likeable and sane
20. No shame or remorse and doesn’t care about the feelings of others
21. Never learns from experience
Now try applying those criteria to the politicians you can think of.
What Is Psychopathy?
Psychopathy is among the most difficult disorders to spot. The psychopath can appear normal, even charming. Underneath, he lacks conscience and empathy, making him manipulative, volatile and often (but by no means always) criminal. She is an object of popular fascination and clinical anguish: adult psychopathy is largely impervious to treatment, though programs are in place to treat callous, unemotional youth in hopes of preventing them from maturing into psychopaths.
Psychopathy is a spectrum disorder and can be diagnosed only using the 20-item Hare Psychopathy Checklist. (The bar for clinical psychopathy is a score of 30 or more). Brainanatomy, genetics, and a person’s environment may all contribute to the development of psychopathic traits.
The terms “psychopath” and “sociopath” are often used interchangeably, but in correct parlance a “sociopath” refers to a person with antisocial tendencies that are ascribed to social or environmental factors, whereas psychopathic traits are more innate, though a chaotic or violent upbringing may tip the scales for those already predisposed to behave psychopathically. Both constructs are most closely represented in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as Antisocial Personality Disorder.