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It’s always easier to turn away from the horrors of history, but Abraham forces us to look, and look carefully. Using wide-ranging research and an unflinching eye for detail, he reminds us that it’s only through the stories of the past that we can understand where we’ve come from, what we’ve become, and how we can even hope to effect change.”
—Candice Millard, New York Times best-selling author of The River of Doubt and the Edgar Award-winning Destiny of the Republic
Dictators and political strongmen often fit the criteria for psychopathy. Abraham makes an insightful, novel argument based on both a keen clinical eye, and an exhaustive review of the literature, for understanding the historical and genetic roots of this problem, and why we should be aware of the potential dictators all around us.”
—James Fallon, The Psychopath Inside
A detailed and engaging examination of our haunted past and threatening future. Read it and weep.”
—John Mack Faragher, Howard R. Lamar Professor Emeritus, Yale University, Daniel Boone; A Great and Noble Scheme; and The American Heritage Encyclopedia of American History
I’ve always believed society to be a fundamentally rational thing, but what if it wasn’t? What if it was built on insanity?”
—Jon Ronson, The Psychopath Test
Xenophobia. Racism. Fascism. Intolerance. Inhumanity. Coercion.
Right wing populists increasingly draw attention from around the globe, but the attention is misdirected. The real problem is not the authoritarian, but the authoritarian personalities who follow him. If we do not blindly submit to the despot and obey him, he is irrelevant.
Why do we attach ourselves to demagogues and mountebanks? Why do we defend even their most obvious hypocrisies and lies?
The answer is found in the history of civilization. Despite our romantic traditions, kings and conquerors were not the wise, virtuous leaders that we have imagined. They were the most vicious criminals in the history of humanity.
And for the past 10,000 years, anyone who disagreed with them faced ruin and death.
Prologue: Fantasy & Horror
War is not gallant heroism, it is horror: it is the sadistic dismembering of soldiers and civilians.
Chapter I: Kings
Kings were gangsters running national protection rackets: they extorted money from their subjects, monopolized high-profit resources, and dealt viciously with any resistance.
Chapter II: Conquerors
Conquerors are serial killers who prey upon nations. They committed murder, theft, and enslavement of millions for fabulous wealth.
Chapter III: Psychopaths
Conquerors meet the diagnostic criteria for the ‘dark tetrad’: criminal psychopathy, narcissism, Machiavellianism, and sadism. Kings and conquerors do not need to personally meet the psychiatric criteria for these disorders, because successful conquest and monarchy always do.
Interlude: Genetics, Eugenics, Genocide
Human genetic behavior is ruts, not rails. It is a mistake to categorize people by their genetic characteristics, but ignoring our genetic influences leaves us more vulnerable to them.
Chapter IV: The Breeding Programme
Through rape and polygamy, on one side of our family tree we are all descended from the conqueror and his armies; on the other side, we are descended from their victims. Through both lineages we have been selected to ignore doubt and independent thought, on risk of torture and death. Survival under king and conqueror required that we not only agree, but that we blindly believe anything the monarch said, however illogical or outrageous.
Chapter V: The Noble Classes
Those atop the noble hierarchy were ‘important’ people. By default, the rest of us were unimportant and expendable. Through his lieutenants, the king designed civilization as a rigid caste system of subjugation, subordination, and exclusion. Despite the rapid expansion of egalitarian ideals in recent centuries, the world still struggles against authoritarian factions who work to pull us back toward hierarchy and oppression.
Chapter VI: Privilege & The Double Standard
‘Privilege’ means ‘private law’, a legal double standard: the king and nobility demand a middle class morality of the commoners, while personally pursuing a criminal anti-morality of every imaginable evil.
Chapter VII: The Authoritarian Personality
Millennia of cultural and genetic selection under king and conqueror leaves us vulnerable to unquestioning loyalty to diverse demagogues, and many of us still believe any lie or hypocrisy the despot presents. This explains political and religious fanaticism, blind obedience to political strongmen, and the resulting cult of personality.
Chapter VIII: The Atrocino
King and conqueror have morphed into modern business and political leaders, who continue to exploit us and expend our lives for power, wealth, and narcissism.
Chapter IX: The Modern World
For 10,0000 years under the king, progress was slow and serendipitous. After 1776, as the oppression of the noble classes was gradually eliminated, diffuse prosperity and independent thought grew rapidly. That liberation, with the attendant expansion of intellectual and economic participation, allowed genius and progress to explode, giving us the modern world.
Chapter X: The Ugly Truth
Without the slaughter, torture, and terror of the conqueror, we would still be neolithic hunter-gatherers. That was the horrific cost of civilization.
Equality and democratic participation are still the only real antidotes to the psychopaths and narcissists who struggle for monarchy and monopoly around the globe. If progress is to continue, it is essential that we have an educated and engaged electorate. Without it, we will revert to the brutality of the past.
About the Author
Joseph N. Abraham, MD, is an emergency physician, an evolutionary biologist, and a Vietnam veteran, with academic backgrounds in art, chemistry and French. For 30 years, he served as president and founder of the Acadiana Educational Endowment, which distributed over $600,000 to schools in south Louisiana, most of it after Hurricane Katrina. As a widely-interested reader and inveterate traveler, he draws on his diverse backgrounds to offer a new examination of the human condition.
Kings, Conquerors, Psychopaths was published by the University of Louisiana Press September 18, 2018.