Introduction to the topic 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). Lord Owen as a neurologist and then a politician has always had a keen interest in the inter-relationship of politics and medicine. He began studying and writing more about illness in heads of government, not only physical and depressive illness but what he perceived as a change in personality as a result of holding high office, or what Bertrand Russell called ‘intoxication of power’ and which Lord Owen has labeled ‘hubris syndrome’.
In November 2006 an article 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 which has since been updated and republished in 2016. 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, the texts of which are all available in this section of the website. An article based on the Samuel Gee Lecture given to the Royal College of Physicians was published in Clinical Medicine in 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). In 2009 Lord Owen 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”. http://brain.oxfordjournals.org/content/132/5/1396.full
The table in this article outlines the proposed criteria for Hubris Syndrome and their correspondence to features of Cluster B personality disorders in DSM-IV.
An independent assessment of Lord Owen’s description of hubris syndrome was written by Professor Gerald Russell, Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry in The Psychiatrist in 2011. ThePsychiatrist
In conclusion Professor Russell wrote “Owen has made important contributions to the psychiatry of politicians and others in positions of power, which should be warmly welcomed. The description of the hubris syndrome may require further refinement before entry into the recognised psychiatric classifications.”
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 in 2011 Lord Owen was instrumental in establishing a charitable trust, the Daedalus Trust (www.daedalustrust.com) 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 aims to raise awareness of this important leadership and governance issue and to support research that studies both the positive and the negative consequences of behavioral risk management while giving precedence to neither. It has held a number of workshops and annual conferences and published books. For more information on the Trust please go to its website: www.daedalustrust.com
More articles and interviews by Lord Owen addressing the subject of hubris syndrome can be found in the following section of the website. Earlier copies of lectures can be requested by contacting Lord Owen’s office.