Hubris Syndrome and Hubris trait: speech to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, 20 January 2016.

Introduction: John Adams, one of the Founding Fathers of America who helped draft the United States Constitution in A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law, published in August 1765, wrote about ‘a general knowledge among the people’, which he believed meant that ‘they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefensible divine right to the most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge. I mean the character and conduct of their leaders.’ If this judgement is true, which I believe it to be, then leaders’ character and conduct must be open to informed comment from physicians and psychiatrists who are not their medical advisers, philosophers, playwrights, psychologists and others necessary for the exercising of that right.

Hubris and narcissism haunt heads of government, military commanders and business leaders. Sigmund Freud invented the term and the idea in his important essay called simply ‘On Narcissism’ (1914). In describing primary and secondary nar­cissism, he said primary narcissism was an instinct ‘a measure of which may justifiably be attributed to every living creature’. In 1931 Freud also described narcissism in a very short four-page paper called ‘Libidinal Type’ about the ‘normal’ per­sonality, defining his three normal types as erotic, obsessive and narcissistic. In the 1940s Erich Fromm added a fourth normal personality type, the marketing personality, about people who adapt to the market, a phenomenon first iden­tified and associated with the highly competitive global economy developed in the twentieth century.

Download the full speech here: RoyalCollegePsychiatristsSpeech