Gary Olson – Are We Governed By Secondary Psychopaths?

In his article “Are We Governed By Secondary Psychopaths?” Gary Olson suggests that political leaders in the West are psychopaths/sociopaths.  While well-intentioned, Olson’s article can be rejected as based on dubious theory.  Namely, the concept of “psychopathy” or “sociopathy” is premised on a DSM-style psychological theory of deviation from normalcy.  This is a contested and highly politicized topic.  For instance, Lacanian psychoanalysis rejects the concept of “normalcy”, instead positing that there are only different ways interacting with the world but none of them can objectively be called normal or abnormal.  (For what it’s worth, Lacanians recognize psychosis and neurosis, and address ethics and duty in a very different framework — see Ethics of the Real).  Second, Olson’s attack on politicians for what amounts to hypocrisy (he calls them secondary psychopaths) can be seen as medicalizing political questions to bracket out and essentially de-politicize the central political questions that underlie his analysis through an appeal to expert medical authority (much akin to appeals to “expert” economists or teachers).  For example, Domenico Losurdo‘s Liberalism: A Counter-History provides a very convincing alternative theory, namely that political liberalism is a politics of exclusion that devotes its energies to drawing lines between the community of the free and those excluded from those same freedoms — this theory is very similar to what Jacques Rancière calls the “part of no part”.  Losurdo explains this as not simple hypocrisy in the sense of being an “error” in practical application but rather consistency with an outwardly-denied exclusionary tenet of political liberalism.  From that perspective, Olson’s claims suggest that anyone who subscribes to political liberalism is a sociopath, a notion that is every bit as ridiculous as it sounds.  Olson is making an unfortunate ploy here to sidestep questions of politics and surreptitiously insert his ideological framework through a disingenuously “neutral” medical (psychological) framework.