Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend

Robert J. Richards in American Scientist:

HitlerIn the 1930s, Sigmund Freud collaborated with American ambassador William C. Bullitt to produce a psychoanalytic study of President Woodrow Wilson, which portrayed him as suffering from a libido that had been blocked of normal expression and rechanneled into a messianic identification with his father and Jesus Christ. The manuscript was finally published in 1967 to scornful and suspicious reviews. The notion that even the master of psychoanalytic technique could provide a scientific study of a man he had never met, whose history he learned at second and third hand and about whom he had an admitted prejudice, was rejected not only by the sober historian Richard Hofstadter but also by the eminent practitioner of psychobiography Erik H. Erikson. Erikson judged, on the basis of internal evidence, that very little of the final version had actually been written by Freud himself.

No such exculpating considerations appear to relieve Barbara Oakley of responsibility for Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend. Oakley, an associate professor of systems engineering, became interested in what she calls the “Machiavellian” personality as the result of long experience with the erratic and deviant behavior of the sister referred to in her title. The Machiavellian syndrome was initially defined in the 1950s and principally consists of highly manipulative behavior done without moral scruple. Studies that Oakley cites associate the syndrome with another set of traits, which also characterized her sister: those of the borderline personality disorder, which includes rapid mood swings, impulsive decisions and self-damaging actions.

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