Conquest is murder & theft.
Conquerors were vicious criminals.
Vicious criminals became kings.
Kings designed civilization.
We are the products of civilization.
Right wing populists increasingly draw attention around the globe, but the attention is misdirected. The real problem is not the authoritarian, but the fanatics who who follow him. If people do not blindly follow and obey the despot, 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 wise leaders and gallant defenders of justice. They were vicious criminals. The historical records make it abundantly clear, they represented the most evil psychopaths, narcissists, and sadists in the history of humanity.
And for the past 10,000 years, anyone who disagreed with them risked ruin and death.
As celebrated author Jon Ronson comments below, “I’ve always believed society to be a fundamentally rational thing, but what if it wasn’t? . . . What if it was built on insanity?”
Abraham commands a very fine style. Humane, incisive, rigorous in its scholarship.”
—Robert Mighall, former editor, Penguin Classics
The term ‘must-read’ has been so overused. But Kings, Conquerors, Psychopaths is a must-read… must-own… and, most of all, a must-ponder.”
—San Diego Jewish World
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, Sloan Scholar, Senior Fullbright Fellow, NIH Career Awardee, UCI Medical School Professor Emeritus, 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
If you are at all interested in politics and in the future of our country and, indeed, the future of mankind, this may be the most important book you will ever read.”
—Robin Levin, The Death of Carthage
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
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
If you liked Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test, you’ll want to read this book.”
—Indie Book Awards
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 were never noble, generous or kind. An objective consideration of history reveals that they were gangsters running national protection rackets: they extorted money from their subjects, monopolized high-profit resources, and dealt viciously with political, religious, and philosophical resistance or independence.
Chapter II: Conquerors
Conquest is murder, theft, torture, and enslavement of entire populations, for the king’s self-promotion, and for his fabulous wealth. In effect, conquerors were serial killers who prey upon nations. This is stark contrast from the frequent opinions expressed by the layman, and often, the scholar. Royal horror was not an occasional thing, it was universal, and it necessarily characterized all monarchs. Atrocity was not committed by ‘other’ nations, all cultures are guilty. Finally, we all share a hagiographic reinterpretation of the truth, even in the face of overwhelming historical descriptions of the constant terror and atrocity across all pre-modern civilizations.
Chapter III: Psychopaths
Kings & conquerors meet the diagnostic criteria for the ‘dark tetrad’ of criminal psychopathy, narcissism, Machiavellianism, and sadism. It is not necessary that we demonstrate that each king or conqueror meets the psychiatric criteria for these disorders, because they are necessities of monarchy. There is no way for one person to subjugate and control millions, except through viciousness and terror. I introduce the term ‘atrox’ to collectively refer to monarchs, dictators, raiders, and anyone who exploits and controls large numbers of people through terror.
Interlude: Genetics, Eugenics, Genocide
Human genetic behavior is ruts, not rails. Beyond a few survival functions, our minds can control our genetic influences. It is offensive to categorize people by their genetic characteristics; but ignoring our genetic tendencies leaves us even 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 the those they victimized. Through both lineages, for millennia we have been culturally and genetically selected to ignore doubt and independent thought, on risk of ruin, 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 king’s hierarchy were ‘important’ people, indicating that everyone else is 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, old authoritarian factions constantly surface and attempt to regain and increase their prerogative, and to force the rest of us back into hierarchy and oppression.
Chapter VI: Privilege & The Double Standard
‘Privilege’ means ‘private law’. It is a codified inequality and a legal double standard: the king and nobility insist upon a middle class morality for those beneath them, while the powerful are free to pursue a criminal anti-morality of predation, subjugation, and exploitation.
Chapter VII: The Authoritarian Personality
Millennia of cultural and genetic selection under king and conqueror leave 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 10,000 years under monarchs and their privileged hierarchies, progress was slow and serendipitous. The arrival of modern democracy has gradually eliminated the oppression of the noble classes, which allowed for innovation, diffuse prosperity, and individual power to grow rapidly. That liberation, with the attendant expansion of intellectual and economic participation, have allowed genius and progress to explode, giving us the modern world.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.
For 10,000 years under monarchs and their privileged hierarchies, progress was slow and serendipitous. The arrival of modern democracy has gradually eliminated the oppression of the noble classes, which allowed for innovation, diffuse prosperity, and individual power to grow rapidly. That liberation, with the attendant expansion of intellectual and economic participation, have allowed genius and progress to explode, giving us the modern world.
Joseph N. Abraham, MD, is a retired 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. He currently lives in Europe with his wife and two children.
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Kings, Conquerors, Psychopaths was published by the University of Louisiana Press, September 18, 2018.