—Psychopaths or Narcissists?
On November 8th of this year, the “unthinkable” happened. Donald Trump was elected president. Although his campaign sounded more populist that free-market fundamentalist, his choices for cabinet tell a different story. Liberals and progressives and just plain poor people are deeply concerned about the future. Alternet has an article whose title spells it out: It’s Ayn Rand’s America Now: Republicans Have Stripped the Country of Its Last Shred of Morality. Now Trump is hardly the ideal of Objectivists or Libertarians. He doesn’t embrace freedom for the individual, not with his “pro life” and anti-immigrant stance; certainly not with his intention to punish anyone who burns the flag. But the Republican Party representing the 1%, may well make the country Ayn Rand’s America.
Many enemies of Ayn Rand’s philosophy (and there are many) like to call her a “psychopath.” Of course, many of these same people call anyone they disapprove of a “psychopath.” Is she one? Is her philosophy an expression of psychopathy, par excellence?
A friend of mine who, like me, is a socialist and also a psychopath has admitted that, were he wealthy, he would probably change his politics. I admitted I probably would too. We psychopaths are on our own side first and foremost. In that respect, we think in a way that is similar to the way Ayn Rand thought. But there is a difference. We are amoral and Ayn Rand was very moralistic indeed. We consider altruism optional. If we want to be altruistic, that’s our business. She considered altruism evil. “Altruism does not mean mere kindness or generosity, but the sacrifice of the best among men to the worst, the sacrifice of virtues to flaws, of ability to incompetence, of progress to stagnation — and the subordinating of all life and of all values to the claims of anyone’s suffering.” She does like “benevolence” which consists of acts of good will towards those one likes. But suffering should not entitle anyone to make demands. Only productivity entitles one to anything. Well, lack of empathy is harmonious with the refusal to considering the fact of suffering a moral imperative. Does that mean psychopaths are against the social safety nets? No. Rational recognition that life in a society with safety nets protects us as well as others can make government benefits look desirable for everyone who belongs to the 99%. Ayn Rand equated poverty with inferiority. She believed and preached that those who encounter economic hardship are “incompetent” and lacking in value. My article, Libertarianism and Psychopathy, is a rebuttal of that claim.
Her enemies, in addition to denigrating her writing and philosophical strength, made much of an infatuation she had with a serial killer, William Hickman. “Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should,” she wrote, continuing that he had “no regard whatsoever for all that society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. He has the true, innate psychology of a Superman. He can never realize and feel ‘other people.’” The fact that he brutally murdered some little girls doesn’t enter into her description of Hickman, nor does she give any indication that she admired murder. She is said to have modeled the character, Howard Roark of The Fountainhead on Hickman but only his indifference to public opinion seems to have made it into Howard Roark’s description. Roark, the architect, was all about producing great buildings. Her mention of the “Superman” in the above quote is a remnant of her earlier attachment to the philosophy of Nietzsche which she had discarded during her We The Living period. There are actually two versions of the latter, one of which shows Nietzsche’s influence and the latter of which does not. Although she admired Hickman’s sublime indifference to other people’s opinions, she didn’t seem to share it.
Ayn Rand put a lot of emphasis on living in a way that is consistent with one’s values. However, she didn’t manage to achieve that kind of consistency in her own life. While social programs such as Medicare was anathema to her,
“Isn’t it desirable that the aged should have medical care in times of illness?” its advocates clamor. Considered out of context, the answer would be: yes, it is desirable. Who would have a reason to say no? And it is at this point that the mental processes of a collectivized brain are cut off; the rest is fog… … After centuries of civilization, most men—with the exception of criminals—have learned that the above mental attitude is neither practical nor moral in their private lives and may not be applied to the achievement of their private goals. There would be no controversy about the moral character of some young hoodlum who declared: “Isn’t it desirable to have a yacht, to live in a penthouse and to drink champagne?”—and stubbornly refused to consider the fact that he had robbed a bank and killed two guards to achieve that “desirable” goal. There is no moral difference between these two examples; the number of beneficiaries does not change the nature of the action, it merely increases the number of victims.”
she collected Medicare benefits to finance her treatment for lung cancer. She also collected Social Security. In comparing Medicare with criminal expropriation, she said, “the private hoodlum has a slight edge of moral superiority: he has no power to devastate an entire nation and his victims are not legally disarmed.”
Her excuse was that she paid into these programs so she deserved to benefit. But, if she really considered these programs a form of robbery, she must not have considered the benefits true recompense for the contributions the beneficiaries put into the program. If that were true, after all, the programs could not be compared to bank robbery at all but, instead, to withdrawing one’s own savings from from the bank. And she didn’t collect under the name of Ayn Rand. She used her married name, Mrs. Frank O’Connor. She didn’t want the public, including her followers, to know she collected Medicare and Social Security, just as she didn’t want them to know she got lung cancer from smoking. She had always glorified smoking. All her followers emulated her. She denied that smoking caused cancer and insisted that cancer came from a defect of character. Once she found out she had the disease, she put out her cigarette and never smoked again. But refused, when asked, to make a public statement warning others about the dangers of smoking. She probably still believed smoking came from a deficit in her character of which she was ashamed. That’s more narcissistic than psychopathic. Her classes in Objectivism which were attended by worshipful admirers provided all the narcissistic supply a narc could ever want. She became increasingly intolerant of disagreement among her friends. She discarded them one by one on grounds of even trivial differences. She ended life cut off from all but the few who were completely submissive. Expressing disgust at the collective stupidity of the masses, she fastidiously withdrew from public life, condescending only to put out a newsletter that was her unchallenged word dispensed to the faithful.
Critics of Trump are divided on whether to call him a narc or a ‘path. His ruthlessness seems psychopathic but his constant bragging and idealization of himself are very narcissistic. His candidacy didn’t focus very much on a clear-cut ideology. Instead, he urged the voters to believe in him as the solution. He would “make America great again.” Once he could do it.
I think both Trump and Rand wanted to create an ideal human being and to embody that ideal. People refer to this idea as the narcissistic “false self.” That self is a kind of superman, the grandiose god of the narc. Sam Vaknin has called Hitler a narcissist and has stated that a narcissist is more dangerous than a psychopath. Time will tell.
- The Scary Ghost of Ayn Rand Looms Over Trump’s Cabinet. Kali Holloway, AlterNet
- It’s Ayn Rand’s America Now. Neal Gabler/Bill Moyers.com, AlterNet
- Libertarianism and Psychopathy. Atlas Shrugged critiqued.
- The Social Darwinism of Ayn Rand. My Soapbox
- The New Age of Ayn Rand. How she won over Trump and Silicon Valley