Megalomania: Unreasonable conviction of one’s own extreme greatness, goodness, or power. An obsession with doing extravagant or grand things. A delusional mental disorder that is marked by feelings of personal omnipotence and grandeur. An extreme form of egotism. Adolf Hitler is generally considered to have been a megalomaniac.
Delusion of grandeur: Individuals with grandiose delusional disorder have an inflated sense of self-worth. Their delusions center on their own importance, such as believing that they have done or created something of extreme value or have a “special mission.” A conviction of one’s own importance, power, or knowledge. [A] delusion (common in paranoia) that you are much greater and more powerful and influential than you really are.
The above are composite dictionary definitions of the afflictions in question, ones which are symptomatic of the two most severe forms of mental illness: Bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
When an individual exhibits these traits he or she is correspondingly diagnosed, treated with psychotropic medications and often with court-ordered hospitalization, and monitored for being a potential threat to himself and to others.
However, when a nation, or a leader representing one, manifests the same symptoms there is to date no effective mechanism for mandating therapy or for ensuring the protection of others from one so affected.
To understand individual psychopathology magnified to the level of world affairs, imagine that in any other context a person described his own role and the qualities of his employer as unique in the world as well as history and as alone beneficial to humanity; that others are good or bad, benign or malignant, useful or dangerous in proportion as they share the person in question’s estimate of himself; that the use of force, including deadly force, is the sole prerogative of that person and his friends and allies, that “If I have to use force, it is because I am me; I am the indispensable person. I stand tall and I see further than other people into the future, and I see the danger here to all of us.”
The quote is an adaptation of one by then-U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in 1998. The first person singular has been substituted for the plural and personal references for those of the nation she represented as its chief voice in international relations.
A person not endowed with the trappings of government office who loudly, persistently and intolerantly proclaimed himself the world’s sole superperson and the only individual capable of intervening with and resolving differences and disputes between all other people in the world, and who accused those who thought otherwise of being engaged in a furtive conspiracy against him because of his elevated, indeed messianic, status would be sent post-haste to his company’s human resource department and shortly thereafter placed on a combination of mood stabilizers and anti-psychotic medications. For his own protection and that of others.
Delusions of grandeur are associated with the manic phase of bipolar disorder and frequently with other delusional content typical of schizophrenics, especially delusions of persecution – paranoia. Grandiosity can be comparatively harmless, although disruptive to family and professional relations and an impediment to healthy and productive functioning in general.
But when combined with delusions of persecution it is dangerous. The reason the two are frequently linked and mutually reinforcing is that only a person who is convinced that he is uniquely and innately imbued with superior abilities and moral qualities and is assigned a role in and even above history can believe that he is an object worthy of an elaborate, relentless and unparalleled campaign of harassment and hostility. A normal person – or nation – doesn’t entertain that degree of self-importance in either respect.
A recent example of the coupling of grandiosity on one hand and criticizing and belittling anyone who questions or resents the self-appointed status of superiority on the other was offered by President Barack Obama last December on the occasion of his receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, when he denounced “a deep ambivalence about military action today…joined by a reflexive suspicion of America, the world’s sole military superpower.”
Doubts, even the mildest of misgivings, about the actions of history’s first – and decidedly unelected – global military juggernaut, which launched three unprovoked wars between 1999 and 2003 – Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq – and is currently conducting and participating in deadly attacks in South Asia, the Middle East, Africa and South America, could to the grandiose/paranoid mindset only be motivated by primitive instinctual reactions, irrational bias and inherently and ineradicably evil motives.
Being good, being preeminently good, being good in a manner and to a degree unmatched in the annals of time, means being incapable of anything but good motives and good actions. Ipso facto. Axiomatically.
The distinction between us and them is that of good and bad. Good persons and nations have nothing to regret, nothing to apologize for, nothing to correct, nothing to change. Good comes from good and bad from others, in direct proportion as they differ from us and refuse to concede our unmatched sense of goodness. Acts that perpetrated by others would evoke unequivocal condemnation and harsh – even deadly – responses are when performed by us and ours excusable if not praiseworthy.
On September 8 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered her latest confirmation and defense of that doctrinaire conviction.
While addressing the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C., she touted her country’s achievements in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan – three war-stricken disaster areas – without of course admitting any responsibility for the plights of their respective populaces. The U.S. was doing nothing blameworthy in any of those three countries and never had; it is not responsible in any manner for violence, dislocation and eventual fragmentation in the nations now or at any point over the past half century.
In fact just the opposite. Washington’s faultless, noble, beneficent, healing role needs to be universalized: “Solving foreign-policy problems today requires us to think both regionally and globally, to see the intersections and connections linking nations and regions and interests, to bring people together as only America can. I think the world is counting on us today, as it has in the past. When old adversaries need an honest broker or fundamental freedoms need a champion, people turn to us.”
And, at least implicit in her contentions, having witnessed the effects of recent U.S. armed interventions in the Middle East and South Asia, the world is even more insistent that Washington extend its presence and enforce its mandatory model elsewhere. Everywhere.
Clinton continued: “I see it on the faces of the people I meet as I travel – not just the young people who still dream about America’s promise of opportunity and equality, but also seasoned diplomats and political leaders who, whether or not they admit it, see the principled commitment and can-do spirit that comes with American engagement.
“And they do look to America – not just to engage, but to lead. And nothing makes me prouder than to represent this great nation in the far corners of the world.
“Americans have always risen to the challenges we have faced. That is who we are. It is in our DNA. We do believe there are no limits on what is possible or what can be achieved.”
Again, an individual who proclaimed that everyone else dreamed of being like him, that he possessed unlimited talents and abilities, and that his superiority was moreover a matter of genetic inheritance would likely soon end up on a locked psychiatric ward. Even if he didn’t account for the preponderance of the deadly weapons in the world and didn’t have a sixty-year history of almost unbroken violence against others, often against defenseless victims.
One of the privileges of egomania writ large – megalomania – is the right to lecture others on one’s unique, suprahuman, ineffably lofty qualities and to dress them down for not possessing them.
In introducing Clinton on September 8, Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, reminded the audience that in slightly over a year and a half she has visited some 64 countries, a third of United Nations members, and “has racked up 350,000 miles in the process.”
The following comments indicate to what extent her worldview and views of the world alike have been expanded by those travels:
“The world looks to us because America has the reach and resolve to mobilize the shared effort needed to solve problems on a global scale, in defense of our own interests but also as a force for progress. In this we have no rival. For the United States, global leadership is both a responsibility and an unparalleled opportunity.”
Though she displayed either uncharacteristic modesty – an unlikely enough prospect – or the obligatory deference to her predecessors that she expects her successors, and history, to confer on her in stating:
“We know this can be done because President Obama’s predecessors in the White House and mine in the State Department did it before….Those were the benefits of a global architecture forged over many years by American leaders from both political parties.
“That is why we are building a global architecture that reflects and harnesses the realities of the 21st century.”
She was referring most immediately to George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice as alleged visionary leaders that with her and Obama have accomplished nothing less than building a planetary political-economic-social-military structure for an entire century. And, not to be unduly humble, a new millennium into the bargain.
Although American global dominance rests squarely on a World War Two-level $708 billion defense budget for next year, six international military commands, six navy fleets, eleven aircraft carrier strike groups, the world’s largest nuclear arsenal and in general the ability to dispatch overwhelming and crushing military force anywhere in the world at short notice, another of the prerogatives of international hubris is, as noted earlier, to attribute that supremacy to genetically determined entrepreneurial and ethical advantages. According to America’s top diplomat, the globe’s sole superpower is entering yet a higher and more refined avatar, “national renewal aimed at strengthening the sources of American power, especially our economic might and moral authority.”
At the same time, “Of course this administration is also committed to maintaining the greatest military in the history of the world and, if needed, to vigorously defend ourselves and our friends.”
A hallmark trait of mania and grandiosity is the tendency of one suffering from them to speak of himself, his accomplishments and by extension those of his friends in superlatives. Hence boasts of being the world’s sole military superpower and possessing the greatest military in the history of the world.
Every detail of such a person’s life, even the most minute, mundane and tedious, becomes a matter of world, even historical, importance and of inestimable value, overshadowing all other events, even those affecting millions of other people: Wars, natural disasters, economic crises. Grandiloquent rhetoric is enlisted in the service of petty personal matters.
In responding to Richard Haass’s introductory comments, Clinton said, “I thank you for referencing what has been the most difficult balancing act of my time as secretary of State, pulling off my daughter’s wedding, which I kept telling people, as I traveled around the world to all of the hot spots, was much more stressful than anything else on my plate.”
The multi-million dollar nuptials of the daughter of a former president and the son of two former congresspersons, one a convicted felon, and himself a multi-millionaire investment banker for a hedge fund, was a source of more concern – “stress” – for the head of the foreign office of the world’s superpower than the nearly nine-year war in Afghanistan, the ongoing military occupation of Iraq, the devastating floods in Pakistan, the taunting of China by U.S.-led naval exercises in the Sea of Japan, the Yellow Sea and the South China Sea, the economic catastrophe confronting tens of millions of Americans themselves and other matters only of interest to the victims and other billions of unimportant, disposable bit players in the grand drama of erecting a 21st century global architecture.
As with her biological, so with her politico-military family: “NATO remains the world’s most successful alliance. Together with our allies, including new NATO members in Central and Eastern Europe, we are crafting a new strategic concept that will help us meet not only traditional threats but also emerging ones, like cybersecurity and nuclear proliferation. Just yesterday President Obama and I discussed these issues with NATO Secretary-General Rasmussen.”
The North Atlantic military bloc’s role in completing the violent dismemberment of Yugoslavia and in waging a war in Afghanistan that will begin its tenth year in three weeks does warrant the use of the superlative, though questionably so when linked with the word successful.
The U.S. is the unchallenged pioneer in and master of overseas outsourcing, from most of its once unrivaled industry to tens of millions of its jobs, and the same practice is employed in regard to its international military ambitions. If other countries are better positioned geographically and can do it less expensively, then Washington can get more war for the dollar, more bang for the buck. Thus in Clinton’s words, “From Europe and North America to East Asia and the Pacific, we are renewing and deepening the alliances that are the cornerstone of global security and prosperity.” It takes an entire village to further the geostrategic plans of its chief.
Regarding what is one of the projects the Obama-Clinton team inherited from its Bush-Rice forerunner – recruiting the most important nation ever as an American military ally – Clinton added, “India, the world’s largest democracy, has a very large convergence of fundamental values and a broad range of both national and regional interests, and we are laying the foundation for an indispensable partnership. President Obama will use his visit in November to take our relationship to the next level.” By clinching a reported $5 billion arms deal.
With Europe and much of the rest of Eurasia secured through NATO, the U.S. has expanded its military and geopolitical scope and currently “our strategy has been to reinvigorate America’s commitment to be an active trans-Atlantic, trans-Pacific and hemispheric leader.”
Referring to the state in the first person as is the wont of grandiose political personalities, Clinton affirmed: “We are a nation that has always believed we have the power to shape our own destiny and to cut a new and better path, and frankly to bring along people who were like-minded from around the world.”
Language like power, destiny, better path, around the world is reminiscent of claims made in Central Europe seventy-five years ago.
Humanity is not only bifurcated into good and bad, but is divided between leaders – rather one leader – and followers.
As to those who refuse to be led, “we are approaching the Iranian challenge as an example of American leadership in action.” China and Russia, though nominal friends, also came in for their share of criticism, in Russia’s case for the Caucasus war of two years ago and ensuing developments.
Friends are used as sounding boards to echo boasts and bravado, as mirrors for one’s vanity, as flashy accoutrements and social adornment, but are never accorded the status of persons in their own right. Narcissism is a one-sided, zero-sum proposition: Acknowledging others’ qualities is to distract and detract from one’s own. Having more than any other is insufficient. Having the most, more than all others combined, is not enough. Anything less than all is unacceptable.
Therefore, “time and time again I hear, as I do interviews from Indonesia to the Democratic Republic of Congo to Brazil, how novel it seems to people that an official would come and take questions from the public. So we’re not only engaging the public and expanding and explaining America’s values and views, we’re also sending a message to those leaders.”
Friends and allies can be good people – they can assuredly be useful ones, which is why they are friends – but can only aspire with varying degrees of success to emulate the great ones. For at bottom they are genetically disadvantaged and hence at best poor facsimiles of the original. Claims that others are equal partners and even that one is merely first among equals are insincere. Others exist solely to acknowledge, confirm, praise, applaud and serve one’s superior virtues.
It is only in Clinton’s detached world with its inflated sense of self-importance that she and fellow American federal officials can be seen as engaging the public both at home and abroad.
Mechanical glad-handing and other sterile mummeries of biennial and quadrennial elections campaigns – run by mammoth advertising and public relations firms paid with billions of dollars from special interests – and state-engineered photo opportunities in the capitals of other countries are what in fact is meant.
On September 8 Clinton demonstrated what she understands as public engagement. On a Wednesday, a workday for other Americans who pay her salary through their taxes, Clinton addressed those who truly pay attention to U.S. foreign policy and whose expectations must be met if one hopes to remain in office: The Council on Foreign Relations and other planning bodies of the permanent rather than the transient and fleeting elite of temporary officeholders. Groups whose members reflect and deepen each other’s sense of omnipotence and grandiosity by using the map of the world as their private chessboard.
The psychiatric ailments that give rise to delusions of grandeur are chronic. They cannot be cured, only controlled. Left untreated the prognosis is poor, even terminal. When grandiosity seizes a player on the global stage, and its major one at that, the risk exists of the world being endangered by and consumed along with the megalomaniac should the scaffolding of his pharaonic architecture collapse around his head.
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!