Malignant Leaders and Vulnerable Followers
The Psychopolitics of Hatred
Professor of Psychiatry and Political Psychology and International Affairs, George Washington University
President-Elect Garavelli called the 2089th meeting to order at 8:15 p.m. on April 3, 1998. The Recording Secretary read the minutes of the 2088th meeting and they were approved.
The speaker for the 2089th meeting was Jerrold Post, Director of the Political Psychology Program at the George Washington University. The title of his talk was, “Malignant Leaders and Vulnerable Followers: The Psychopolitics of Hatred.”
Everyone will readily agree that each of us needs friends. However, all too often we observe enthusiastic response by otherwise peaceful peoples to hatred and the associated enemies. Is there some natural need for such hatred and enemies?
As pointed out by Mr. Post, we need enemies as well as friends. Further, we all can be vulnerable followers of malignant leaders as described in the title of his talk. This may help to explain the rise of ethnic and nationalist tension and violence in many parts of previously peaceful areas of the world upon the recent loss of our familiar enemy, the Soviet Union. The speaker provided a contemporary example citing Walt Kelly's character, Pogo and his well known vernacular quote, “We have met the enemy and they is us.”
During times of socio-economic stress or transition, a hate-mongering demagogue can generate a moral imperative that appears logical. This allows his or her followers to externalize and hate a “them” — the supposed cause of all the problems related to the current stress or transition. The enemy in such cases then becomes responsible for all the bad things associated with the stress and transition confronting the group. Ultimately, this leads to a multiplicity of new and truly bad things including hate crimes, violent movements, and in the extreme, “ethnic cleansing” and genocidal violence. This provides a basic model of how terrorist organizations and hate-filled regimes operate.
By identifying the Jews as the enemy and cause of all Germany's post World War I problems, Adolph Hitler created this dynamic very adroitly almost sixty years ago. The Holocaust resulted. Mr. Post provided other examples of hate mongering leaders who identified a “them” and adeptly presented arguments that seemed to make sense. These individuals included our own Pat Buchanan who identified a “them” as Mexicans taking “our” jobs and proposed building a 12-foot wall at the U.S. border to keep “them” out. He also described Louisiana's David Duke who demonized blacks.
Mr. Post concluded that because we do need our enemies, it is very discomforting to lose them. After the loss of our traditional “enemy,” the Soviet Union, the discomfort was expressed by a rise of right wing, pseudo-Christians groups who were essentially racists, anti-Semites and anti-government. The consequence of the latter was the April 19, 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City killing 168 people, the largest single act of terrorism ever experienced in the United States. Another example presented was the Fidel Castro's original success in Cuba based on his identification of Batista as his “enemy.” Castro's continuing success was based in part by the redirection of the initial hatred toward the original enemy, Batista, to a new enemy United States and its trade embargo.
Mr. Post then closed his presentation and kindly answered questions from the floor. During the discussions, Mr. Post pointed out that in the case of contemporary Cuba, Castro's regime would probably lose much of its steam should the United States revise its foreign policy and embrace Cuba. Castro would then have lost his needed 25-year “enemy,” the United States and the glue that held his vulnerable followers in place would dissolve. President-Elect Garavelli thereupon thanked Mr. Post for the society, announced the next meeting and made the usual parking announcement. She then adjourned the 2089th meeting at 9:22 p.m.