Psychopaths and Nazis are fun to write about. I’ve written about both. Henry Turner (Any Tomorrow: The Calling) is a classic psychopath―cold, unemotional, violent, and abusive. Of course, since the Any Tomorrow series is dark fantasy, the trigger for his psychopathy isn’t his childhood or his hatred for small furry animals. It is something darker and much more sinister. But you can bet that when a psychopath or a Nazi enters the storyline something very bad is going to happen.
I’ve written about my fascination with psychopaths in previous posts, and even about Nazis, so once touched, you’d think I’d move on to something new. Well, I have. Only one of the novels I have in the bin awaiting publication have either a psychopath or a Nazi.
The thing is that recently I watched an episode from the National Geographic Channel’s “Nazi Underworld” series that got me to thinking about how Nazis, psychopaths, and CEOs may be related.
Do Nazis, psychopaths, and CEOs seem like an unequal pairing? Well, maybe not.
Normally when I think about the Nazi leadership (Hitler, Himmler, Speer, Goering, etc.), the first word that comes to my mind is “evil”. The second word is “psychopath”. Those are quickly followed by terms like mass murder, genocide, and torture. But I had never thought about Nazis as businessmen. The NatGeo series, based on new evidence from financial records, suggests that the Nazi desire to acquire wealth and power may have provided a motive equal to or surpassing any ideological motivation. In this context, the methodical extermination of the Jews and acquisition of their wealth was simply a means to an end. But it wasn’t just the Jews that were wealthy targets. New evidence suggests that the Christian Churches were next.
Adolf Hitler was the CEO and the others his corporate officers. While the Nazi Party grew, their leadership became fabulously wealthy, even though inflation was phenomenally high and average workers fought over scraps of bread. Even though certain portions of the population must have been aware that they were being duped, effective use of propaganda by the Nazis led the populace to accept them, support them, and, in some cases, actually help enforce their reign of terror. The Nazi leaders were cold, uncaring, and greedy, but were they psychopaths?
Jon Ronson, The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, provides a fascinating look at psychopaths and the psychological research associated with the study of psychopaths. (Don’t be intimidated, it’s a fast moving easy read.) He talks about Bob Hare, creator of the PCL-R Test, a 20-step Psychopath Checklist. Hare suggests that many CEOs, like Hitler, share the common attributes of a psychopath. (The actual number is unknown, but Hare suggests that the number of psychopaths on Wall Street may exceed 10%. More here.)
“People who are psychopathic prey ruthlessly on others using charm, deceit, violence or other methods that allow them to get what they want. The symptoms of psychopathy include: lack of a conscience or sense of guilt, lack of empathy, egocentricity, pathological lying, repeated violations of social norms, disregard for the law, shallow emotions, and a history of victimizing others.” – Robert Hare, Ph.D
It’s just that the psychopathy of a sitting CEO is more difficult to test since his psychopathic behavior has made him a success and success in Western society is everything. Ruthlessly acquiring and gutting corporations, then escaping with a golden parachute is just good business. The destroyed lives and ruined communities don’t matter―it’s just the collateral damage from good business.
And so it comes round full circle, if what the new evidence suggests is correct, then the murder of millions in Europe prior to and during World War 2 was the means to acquire wealth. The dead and damage were collateral damage. The corporate leaders of Nazi Germany were greedy capitalists getting all they could while they had the chance. Had Bob Hare administered the PCL-R to them, I’ve no doubt that most, if not all, would have qualified as psychopaths. Hare’s research might take it a step further to suggest that their qualification as psychopaths puts them in the same company as many successful corporate CEOs.
The only difference between the Nazi corporate leadership and the corporate leadership of a major corporation is one of scale. The Nazi corporation owned all the resources for the whole country, while the corporate leadership of a major corporation doesn’t. The corporate leadership of a major corporation has some checks and balances. But what if it didn’t?
What if the CEO was in charge of the whole nation, including the military? Would his psychopathic behavior be limited to gutting corporations? Would it still be limited? As a writer I find this possibility intriguing. As a citizen I find the possibility of a CEO as President of the United States is terrifying.
But this is a blog about fiction. Take what I’ve written, check out Ronson’s book, watch NatGeo for the series and then let me know what you think. What if the president was a psychopath? What would it take for the country to blindly follow him? Would the result be dystopian or a brave new world?