Collective Narcissist Supports Populism and Authoritarianism

Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism argues that the purpose of life is the pursuit of happiness, and that the purpose of government is to aid that pursuit. Laissez-faire capitalism, she argues, is the only system that truly protects individual rights. Rand believed: “It took centuries of intellectual, philosophical development to achieve political freedom. It was a long struggle, stretching from Aristotle to John Locke to the Founding Fathers. The system they established was not based on unlimited majority rule, but on its opposite: on individual rights, which were not to be alienated by majority vote or minority plotting.” The core of Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism, is that unfettered self-interest is good and altruism is destructive. Ayn Rand was defined by her rage, not her advocacy of a fantasy version of capitalism. Her message of creative aspiration is laced with anger and cruelty, and endowed with idealized and moralized selfishness and greed.1

A former associate and romantic partner of Ayn Rand, Nathaniel Branden also played a prominent role in the 1960s in promoting Rand’s philosophy. Branden declared that self-esteem was the most important facet of a person in his 1969 publication of The Psychology of Self-esteem. This book promoted the belief that one must do whatever he can to achieve positive self-esteem. The belief that one must do whatever he can to achieve positive self-esteem became a movement with broad societal effects. Education departments adopted this mantra. The world will be saved from crime, drug abuse and under-achievement through bolstering self-esteem. This self-esteem movement has had a significant impact on the school system – in order to ensure positive self-esteem, educational standards were lowered, creating a milieu for extreme individualism. When there is too much self-esteem, there are problems of self-tolerance, entitlement and narcissism. This person demands automatic and full compliance with his/her expectations.

From the 1970s to the 1990s, individualism thrived in the school system. Rights replaced responsibilities. Self-criticism, self-denial, self-control, self-sacrifice were no longer in vogue. Self-expression, self-assertion, self-indulgence, self-realization and self-approval, all which blend into self-esteem, became important. Narcissism has been on the rise and now influences many aspects of our lives, and along with it appears a heightened sense of entitlement. With this sense of entitlement has come expecting well-paid employment and not having to work hard. In an individualistic consumer society, there is a strong focus on rights. Along with these rights are expectations of entitlement to goods and services. However, extreme individualism leads to narcissism. The narcissist exaggerates achievements and talents to a point of lying, and demands to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements. This has led to a culture of complaint.

In an individualistic consumer society, there is a strong focus on rights. Along with these rights are expectations of entitlement to goods and services.  In complaining, the individual establishes an image of himself that he knows what’s going on (even if it is wrong) and therefore establishes an image of himself as alert and knowledgeable. Complaining amidst a group of like-minded whiners forges a sense of togetherness and community. Donald Trump complained about unfair treatment since, well, pretty much since the beginning of his 2016 campaign. Trump is completely committed to complaining about being a victim. According to him, he’s misunderstood, mistreated, persecuted, falsely accused and unfairly punished. Trump is the complainer in chief, but tells Democrats who complain to leave the country. Aaron James notes: “He’s completely out of touch with the moment, just living in his constructed world of grievance.”

The cult of individualism creates the milieu for excessive narcissism and the accompanying mental manipulation. This manipulation is a subtle thing. Mental manipulators manipulate reactions to things; as reactions come from within, they are manipulating thoughts. Narcissists are excellent at manipulation because they have been practicing from childhood. Typically, they share personal information of themselves to make people feel sorry for them. Initially this may appear that they are sensitive and perhaps vulnerable, but this is only part of their system. Everything they say and do is for effect; to get the reaction they want. The truth is irrelevant; it is whatever works as they play for the reaction they want. This activity makes them extremely observant and perceptive; they can appear to be smart. They will tend to agree with people, that is, tell them what they think they want to hear, and then find subtle ways to undermine it.

Studies conclude that higher social class is associated with increased entitlement and narcissism. Paul Piff from the University of California, Berkeley Psychology Department says that wealth gives rise to a sense of entitlement, a sense that one deserves more good things in life than others, which in turn gives rise to an increased or inflated sense of self-importance, vanity, grandiosity, and omnipotence (narcissism). Piff is a specialist in the area of wealth and personality, as well as its effects on behavior. He has found that upper-class individuals are more likely to lie and cheat when gambling, cut people off when driving, and endorse unethical behavior in the workplace. Social narcissism represents the dark side of intelligence and communication skills. As humans become more intelligent, as we improve our ability to communicate with others, our prospect for understanding reality increases, but our prospect for massive self-deception increases to the same degree.

Narcissism reduces everyone to an object to be maneuvered for the narcissist’s pleasure. The game plans of social narcissists are trivial but effective. 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, narcissists like Donald Trump make their way into positions of conventional (political) authority. 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 pathological narcissist though he may seduce and fool those who serve his agenda, has no loyalty and no code of honor. His denial of any objective truth, particularly moral truths, makes him the ultimate nihilist, with no ideology and no belief system.

The narcissist is addicted to the attention of others for admiration, applause and affirmation. They are driven by a need to uphold and maintain a false self projected to the world. Behind this façade they only care about appearances. They feel omnipotent; there is nothing he/she cannot achieve. They rarely admit to ignorance and regard his/her intuition and knowledge as superior to objective data. They are impervious to consequences of their actions; and have an ability to find scapegoats while others see them as ‘getting away with it.’  With this belief system, the narcissist conditions the people around them using intimidation, positive and negative reinforcement, and ambient abuse, covert or controlling abuse.  Narcissistic rage occurs when a narcissist’s beliefs about their perceived importance or grandiosity are confronted. There is an association between undermined self-esteem and collective narcissism. However, endorsing collective narcissism does not predict an increase in self-esteem.

What does collective narcissism do to society? In everyday settings it can keep people from listening to each other. At worst it might fuel violence. Collective narcissism is associated with hypersensitivity to provocation and the belief that only hostile revenge is a desirable and rewarding response. It arises when the traditional group-based hierarchies are challenged and empowers extremist as well as populist politicians. Insteasd of alleviating the sense of threat to one’s self-importance it refuels it. Hostility, entitlement, and resentment lie at the heart of collective narcissism. Those embracing collective narcissism exhibit hostility, prejudice, and susceptibility to biased viewpoints in intergroup dynamics, fostering social dominance and nationalist sentiments. This toxic synergy glorifies the ingroup while disparaging outgroups, fueling societal divisions and hindering inclusivity and understanding among diverse groups. Understanding this interplay illuminates societal complexities and challenges to fostering cohesive and tolerant societies.2

Collective narcissism is associated with the weakening of democracy in America. Donald Trump is an accomplished populist leader, who mobilizes his supporters by defining American national identity in terms of vulnerable greatness. The Capitol attack can be seen as an effect and illustration of such a construction of national identity, particularly when this identity was threatened by its representative’s loss of power. It happened because collective narcissism is associated with support for populist leaders to the point of disregard for democratic procedures, seen as an obstacle to the shared national identity. Studies show that national collective narcissism is robustly associated with right-wing authoritarianism (i.e., obedience to convention and authority and the rejection of deviants; and thus, it is likely to predict support for undemocratic leadership defined by strength and centralization of power).3

Narcissists tend to communicate differently than other people. Their words are often used as tools or weapons. Their language often disguises their true intent. In addition to hoarding conversation time, narcissistic communicators also tend to control and direct conversation topics. They focus on what they want to talk about, the way they want to talk about it, with little or no consideration for alternate views.  Former President Trump stays popular by fueling narcissism – by creating or promoting perceived ingroup disadvantages with his anti-immigrant, anti-elitist, and strongly nationalistic rhetoric. With the moral degradation of the present political governing elites; the lack of virtuous men in power positions, now politics is not a profession, but a profitable part-time job for some seeking to promote and attain certain private advantage. The task at hand is to reverse the decline of democracy in America.

The philosophy of individualism provides the support within the general population that keeps this system of privilege in place. In the 21st century, liberty and self-determination, available to those who have sufficient financial resources and cultural capital, is out-of-reach for much of the population. The culture of extreme individualism ushered in the narcissism influencing decision-making and accountability today. With narcissism, such a person lacks empathy and does not recognize boundaries: personal, corporate or legal. The world viewed from an emotional rather than a rational perspective allows personal feelings to override the distinction between right and wrong. The wealthy know that the collective narcissism in the country will lead to authoritarian regimen. In this climate they elevate their personal interests above the common good. While the overall US economy improves, for the general population inflation is the measuring stick – making them vulnerable to the populist sway of collective narcissism.

Can the courts save the day? Trump has long been an expert in tying the courts in knots by exhausting every single avenue of appeal – often using fanciful legal strategies that nevertheless take time to litigate – to postpone accountability. The former president’s common strategy across his four criminal trials is to use the constitutional protections granted by a legal system he claims is corrupt to push the moment he will stand before a jury until after the election in November. Thus, senseless motions and hearings. In order to delay the process, the narcissist will file senseless motions, excessive hearings, and multiple postponements. This is again done to drain the financial resources of the opponent and create an atmosphere of the never-ending-lawsuit. For a narcissist, all attention is good so dragging things out longer only benefits their ego. The looming existential question, will Trump succeed at running out the clock?

Collective narcissism was at play in 2016, and is in play again for 2024. This means Democrats need to enlist independents, dissatisfied Republicans, women, and those who were planning to sit this election out due to indifference to both candidates. Collective action is required as Trump’s economic message is fool’s gold for swing voters. In addition, expose Trump’s republican enablers in Congress, on how the Trump appointed court killed Roe. Democrats’ messages must include a more progressive tax structure to provide more services and reduce economic inequality by making sure that the wealthiest Americans pay the highest tax rate. If Donald Trump implements all his announced trade barriers, the growth rate of the American economy will fall, even without retaliation from trade partners. Collective narcissism undermines rights of LGBTQIA+ community and Black community. Such groups need to be informed of consequences of another Trump presidency, in order to mobilize turnout. Turnout is key to countering this populist movement to prevent America from slipping into authoritarianism.

1 https://questioningandskepticism.com/to-create-positive-change-reduce-alienation/

2 https://www.byarcadia.org/post/narcissism-can-be-collective-collective-narcissism-and-its-societal-impact

3  https://spssi.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/asap.12274

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