The Criminality and Psychopathy of Statism

Government is actually the worst failure of civilized man. There has never been a really good one, and even those that are most tolerable are arbitrary, cruel, grasping and unintelligent.

H.L. Mencken

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From Bryan Caplan, writing at EconLog:

If a private individual did what governments do, almost everyone would call him a criminal.  If I took your money without your consent, I’d be a thief.  If I forced you to work for me, I’d be slaver.  If I killed you, I’d be a murderer – even if you “provoked” me by resisting my demands for your money and labor.  Note further: We’d still make these judgments even if I was acting if “for your own good” or “to help the poor.” (scare quotes optional!)  But somehow when government does it, we change the names and our moral evaluation….

If you put aside all the propaganda, states are gangs of glorified criminals.

I often disagree with Caplan (usually about immigration and defense), but not this time. For example, I have argued that

taxation for the purpose of redistribution is slavery (see number 2 in the second set of definitions). It amounts to the subjection of one person (the taxpayer) to other persons: deadbeats, do-gooders, and  demagogues. If “slavery” is too strong a word, “theft” will do quite well.

I hasten to add that most of the state’s minions don’t think of themselves as criminals. That’s because (a) they don’t think deeply, they just do what they’re paid and told to do (Befehl ist Befehl), and (b) they’ve been brain-washed into believing that the state (as long as it’s their state) can do no wrong. (Well, it can do no wrong today, though its past wrongs are sometimes seen as such through the lens of hindsight.)

If the “criminal” label applies to anyone, it applies to the politicians whose wishes are their minions’ commands. Criminality is a manifestation of psychopathy: a common trait among leftist politicians and the pundits and academicians whose facile rationalizations for statism give aid and comfort to leftist causes. Here is a small sample of John J. Ray’s monograph-length analysis of psychopathy and leftism:

[A]lthough all sorts of different people can be Leftist in one way or another, there would seem to remain a core Leftist type — seen at its clearest among Leftist academics and intellectuals. Although such people form only a small fraction of the total population, their influence and their grasp on the levers of power in the media, in the bureaucracy, in the universities and, at times, in politics, make what they think, say and do very important indeed. And it is my contention that this type is eerily reminiscent of a well-known psychiatric category: The psychopath. So the ULTIMATE explanation for all the core characteristics of Leftism that have been described so far lies in many Leftists being sub-clinical psychopaths.

The characteristics of the clinical psychopath can be summed up as follows: He is not obviously “mad”; he is often highly intelligent; he is unmoved by brutality (except to enjoy perpetrating it); he has no moral or ethical anchors or standards; he is deeply (but discreetly) in love with himself (narcissism) so secretly despises others and thinks they are fit only to be dominated and exploited by him and those like him; he is a great manipulator who loves getting others to do his bidding by deception or otherwise; he is the master of the lie and the false pretence but sees no reason to be consistent from occasion to occasion; he will say anything to gain momentary praise or admiration; his only really strongly felt emotions seem to be hate and contempt and he is particularly enraged by those who have what he wants and will be totally unscrupulous in trying to seize what others have for himself. But above all, the psychopath does not seem to be able to tell right from wrong and, as a result, does sometimes commit or connive at murders and other heinous crimes with what seems to be a clear conscience.

That seems to me to constitute, by and large, a fairly comprehensive description of your average Left-wing intellectual…

Obama … exemplifies psychopathic “flexibility” about what he supports.  He says whatever will please his audience of the moment, regardless of taking quite different stands on other occasions.   ‘At the 2014 National Prayer Breakfast  he warned that “freedom of religion is under threat… around the world.” He neglected to mention, however, that organizations like Little Sisters of the Poor and Hobby Lobby are suing his administration because they object to contraceptives mandated under ObamaCare in violation of their religious views. Even more astoundingly, Obama claimed, “We… believe in the inherent dignity of every human being,” and “the killing of the innocent is never fulfilling God’s will; in fact, it’s the ultimate betrayal of God’s will.” Remember, this is a man who supports abortion under any and all circumstances, even in its most appalling partial-birth form, and who once told Planned Parenthood “God bless you.” The seemingly total lack of self-awareness is beyond shocking but is classical psychopathy….

American “liberals” … often say that not all Leftists are as nasty as Stalin, Hitler, Castro, Pol Pot, Mao, Kim Jong Il and all the other lovely “socialists” who have gained unrestricted power. Some American “liberals” even say … that they hate such “totalitarians” or “authoritarians”. So if “liberals” hate Communists, how come they were apologizing for the Soviets and praising them and trying to protect them almost up to the day that the Soviet Union imploded? Even to this day, to have been a Communist in the past is treated most indulgently in “liberal” intellectual circles — as no more than excessive idealism or as having been “a liberal in a hurry”. And what American “liberal” has ever said a bad word about Castro?… U.S. “liberalism” is just an attempt to achieve the old Communist goal of enforced “equality” in a gradual, step-by-step way. They are just “slowed down” Communists and like the Communists, their real motive for seeking equality is not “compassion” but hatred of other people’s success….

Another absolutely characteristic feature of psychopaths is their readiness to lie and lie shamelessly. And to this day I have never quite managed to get used to the way many Leftists seem to be completely uninterested in the truth. And this is another way in which the Leftists of today differ not at all from the Leftists of the Cold War era….

A more subtle form of dishonesty is the great absurdity of the policies that Leftists have often advocated. Policies such as rent-control and nationalization of industry have a superficial attraction that guaranteed that they would be widely tried but who could honestly advocate them once it is apparent how badly they work? Certainly not a person who had the welfare of the people at heart. Such policies have only ever delivered poverty and housing shortages. Why have Leftists advocated such nostrums for so long?…

[T]he famous Leftist call for abolition of wealth and income differentials would surely lead one to expect that Leftists would reject materialistic ambition in their own lives. But it is not so. Although Leftists seem to decry the scramble for private material possessions (conservatism is smeared as “the politics of greed”), they themselves on the personal level seem to be just as keen for the scramble as anyone else. There has been a lot of research reported in the literature of academic psychology on the subject of achievement motivation but the various measures of materialistic achievement motivation have been shown to have negligible correlation with Leftism — where a high negative correlation might on theory have been expected (Ray, 1981b; Ray & Najman, 1988). In other words, in their own lives Leftists are just about as apt as Rightists to seek personal material gain. Once again the Leftist emerges as being hypocritical and as not honest about his/her real motives and values….

Much that I have said in this monograph (e.g. here, here and here) points out the good fit to reality provided by the explanation that Leftists are strongly motivated by hatred and contempt for others — with “compassion” being merely a necessary cloak for their real motivations. Leftists want power and acclaim for themselves and when they see any power and success in others they hate it and want to tear it down. But is that consistent with Leftists being psychopathic? Are not psychopaths supposed to be devoid of normal human emotions? They are not. They certainly have large emotional deficits and a great lack of empathy but one emotion that thrives in them is hate….

Now … we have come to the point of suggesting that the emotional shallowness that a large but weak ego implies may in fact be just one symptom of a much broader and more serious emotional and intellectual deficit — psychopathy. Psychopaths are after all renowned for their emotional shallowness — to the point where they can at times seem entirely devoid of emotion. Additionally, we have seen that Leftists not only have the moral imbecility of the psychopath but in fact proudly proclaim it — in their “postmodernist” doctrine (See here) that everything is relative and nothing is better or worthier than anything else (except when it suits Leftists, of course). We have also seen that the other major characteristics of the psychopath — indifference to brutality and reliance on lies — are present in spades among Leftists. And most of all, the sense of superiority to others and the masked contempt for others are at once very psychopathic and very Leftist….

In summary, then, Leftism at its deepest level would seem to be a form of sub-clinical psychopathy — not normally severe enough to get the person into much trouble but severe enough to cause lots of trouble for others.

[See also this follow-up by Ray.]

Ray’s analysis comports with what I’ve seen of left-wing politicians, pundits, and academicians over the past fifty years. They love to hate, and they love to project their hate-feelings onto their political opponents. And they’re very good at convincing themselves and others that they “care” — care about the poor, about people of color, about income inequality, about the environment, and about anything and everything that seems worth caring about. But what they really care about is massaging their own egos by forcing others to do their bidding.