Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

Lord Owen: the issue of Hubris Syndrome

In 2002 Lord Owen gave a lecture to the Annual Meeting of the Association of British Neurologists and the British Neuropsychiatry Association on “The effect of serious illness on Heads of State or Government”.  This was later published as an Occasional paper in the QJM (Q J Med 2003; 96:325-336) entitled “Diseased, demented, depressed: serious illness in Heads of State.  In February 2005, as Chancellor of Liverpool University, Lord Owen delivered the Lord Henry Cohen History of Medicine Lecture on “The effect of Prime Minister Anthony Eden’s illness on his decision-making during the Suez Crisis”. This too was subsequently published as an Occasional Paper in the QJM (Q J Med 2005 98(6): 387-402). In November 2006 an article by Lord Owen on “Hubris and Nemesis in Heads of Government” was published by the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (J R Soc Med 2006, 99:548-551). A small paperback called Hubris Syndrome was published in 2007 followed by a much longer book In Sickness and In Power in 2008.  Since then Lord Owen has given lectures to the Royal Society of Medicine, the Royal College of Physicians, the Maudsley Grand Round, the Royal College of Psychiatrists Annual Meeting and the Association of British Neurologists covering different aspects from these two books.  An article based on the Samuel Gee Lecture given to the Royal College of Physicians was published in Clinical Medicine in August 2008 (Clinical Medicine Vol 8 No 4 August 2008). A Personal View column “Let us see the medical records of future world leaders” also appeared in the BMJ in November 2008 (BMJ2008;337:a2486).  More recently, Lord Owen has co-authored a paper for BRAIN on “Hubris syndrome: An acquired personality disorder?  A study of US Presidents and UK Prime Ministers over the last 100 years”.

An independent assessment of Lord Owen’s description of hubris syndrome has been written by Professor Gerald Russell, Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry.  His commentary and Lord Owen’s afterword are highlighted in the abstracts below together with the links to the full articles.

In Sickness and In Power has been published in the UK, America, the Netherlands, Greece, Russia, Spain, Portugal and a number of other countries. It has been widely and well reviewed.

It is clear from this high level of activity, and the numerous other medical and literary meetings that have been addressed by Lord Owen that both books have aroused considerable interest, not only in political circles but more specifically in the medical profession. It looks as if the debate on hubris syndrome will continue for some time to come.  With this in mind, Lord Owen has been instrumental in establishing a charitable trust, the Daedalus Trust ( with the aim of promoting research into personality changes associated with the exercise of power amongst leaders in all walks of life. The name for the Trust was chosen because of Daedalus’s combination of risk taking tempered by wisdom.  The Trust will aim to support research that studies both the positive and the negative consequences of behavioral risk management while giving precedence to neither.  For more information on the Trust please go to its website.

More  articles and interviews by Lord Owen addressing the subject of hubris syndrome can be found under the Hubris section of the website, clicking here or visiting the site of the Daedalus Trust.

Earlier copies of lectures can be requested by contacting Lord Owen’s office.

For more on Hubris Syndrome, visit – the website of the academic and research oriented Trust dedicated to raising awareness of this important leadership and governance issue.

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