He had, as they say, one power which transcended all others, and proved an implement of his chase for men: that of assimilating and adapting himself to the pursuits and lives of others, thereby assuming more violent changes than the chameleon. That animal, however, as it is said, is utterly unable to assume one colour, namely, white; but Alcibiades could associate with good and bad alike, and found naught that he could not imitate and practice. In Sparta, he was all for bodily training, simplicity of life, and severity of countenance; in Ionia, for luxurious ease and pleasure; in Thrace, for drinking deep; in Thessaly, for riding hard; and when he was thrown with Tissaphernes the satrap, he outdid even Persian magnificence in his pomp and lavishness. It was not that he could so easily pass entirely from one manner of man to another, nor that he actually underwent in every case a change in his real character; but when he saw that his natural manners were likely to be annoying to his associates, he was quick to assume any counterfeit exterior which might in each case be suitable for them. At all events, in Sparta, so far as the outside was concerned, it was possible to say of him, " 'No child of Achilles he, but Achilles himself,' such a man as Lycurgus trained"; but judging by what he actually felt and did, one might have cried with the poet, " 'Tis the selfsame woman still!"--Plutarch, Life of Alcibiades 23.4-6 (translated by Perrin).
- To develop your ability to analyze the personality and behavioral traits of a leader
- To apply a psychopathy checklist to an ancient leader and evaluate the validity of such a method
- To evaluate the use of the construct of psychopathy in the popular media
With the possible exception of the Pericles (whom you may learn about in the module on history and Thucydides, "The Weight"), no Athenian statesman of the fifth century BCE loomed larger in his own time or in the cultural imagination after. The historian Thucydides, the comic playwright Aristophanes, the philosophers Plato and Xenophon, the biographer Plutarch, and many Roman writers, as well as many artists, wrestled with what to make of this charming and confounding figure. Here is the basic outline of what we know about him. On his mother's side he was born into an illustrious Athenian family called the Alcmaeonidae around 450 BCE. His father Cleinias died gloriously at the Battle of Coronea. Alcibiades was raised by his guardians Pericles and Ariphon (who were also of the Alcmaeonidae). Alcibiades fought in battles early in his life and formed a close relationship with Socrates. He rose to political prominence in the 410s by advocating an aggressive imperial foreign policy for Athens during the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BCE) and became the main rival of another prominent Athenian, Nicias. Alcibiades advocated what would turn out to be an ill-fated expedition to Sicilian and in fact defected to Sparta before the campaign, in order to avoid trail at Athens for sacrilege (see the Mutilation of the Herms scandal). He served as a strategic advisor to the Spartans in their war against Athens until falling out of favor there and seeking refuge in Persia with the satrap Tissaphernes. He is eventually recalled to Athens where he distinguished himself as a military commander. After a defeat at Notium, however, Alcibiades was again out of favor and went into exile in the Thracian Chersonese. It is uncertain exactly how Alcibiades dies, but according to Plutarch (whom we will read below), he died in 404 BCE either through the agency of the Spartan commander Lysander (who pursued him in exile) or at the hands of the brothers of a local woman that Alcibiades had corrupted.
Listening for Leadership One: Analyzing personality and behavior
Read the following selections from Plutarch’s Life of Alcibiades (c. 100 CE). You should recognize at the outset that Plutarch's main goal is not historical but biographical in a very specific sense: he wants his readers to reflect on the portrait of his subject (in this case Alcibiades) and use their reflections to develop their own character. Consequently, Plutarch's Alcibiades is a morally ambiguous character, someone you might find likeable and abhorrent at the same time. Is is also worth keeping in mind that Plutarch may share some stories about Alcibiades that may not be historically faithful and he even fabricate some stories out of whole cloth, in hopes of depicting the kind of character that he thought Alcibiades truly was. For a portrait of Alcibiades that is almost wholly laudatory, you may wish to read the biography of Alcibiades from Cornelius Nepos in his Lives of Eminent Commanders.
As you read Plutarch identify eight to ten personality or behavioral traits that Alcibiades exhibits. For each trait you exhibit rate it according to how intensely (strong) or extensively (frequently and in many areas of life) it seems to be exhibited by Alcibiades. Mark the intense and extensive exhibition of the trait with a “2” and the less extensive and intense traits with a “1”.
Plutarch, The Life of Alcibiades
Translation, Bernadotte Perrin (see here for the full text)
1 1 The family of Alcibiades, it is thought, may be traced back to Eurysaces, the son of Aias, as its founder; and on his mother's side he was an Alcmaeonid, being the son of Deinomache, the daughter of Megacles. His father, Cleinias, fitted out a trireme at his own cost and fought it gloriously at Artemisium. He was afterwards slain at Coroneia, fighting the Boeotians, and Alcibiades was therefore reared as the ward of Pericles and Ariphron, the sons of Xanthippus, his near kinsmen. 2 It is said, and with good reason, that the favour and affection which Socrates showed him contributed not a little to his reputation. Certain it is that Nicias, Demosthenes, Lamachus, Phormio, Thrasybulus, and Theramenes were prominent men, and his contemporaries, and yet we cannot so much as name the mother of any one of them; whereas, in the case of Alcibiades, we even know that his nurse, who was a Spartan woman, was called Amycla, and his tutor Zopyrus. The one fact is mentioned by Antisthenes, the other by Plato. 3 As regards the beauty of Alcibiades, it is perhaps unnecessary to say aught, except that it flowered out with each successive season of his bodily growth, and made him, alike in boyhood, youth and manhood, lovely and pleasant. The saying of Euripides, that "beauty's autumn, too, is beautiful," is not always true. But it was certainly the case with Alcibiades, as with few besides, because of his excellent natural parts. 4 Even the lisp that he had became his speech, they say, and made his talk persuasive and full of charm. Aristophanes notices this lisp of his in the verses wherein he ridicules Theorus:—
Sosias: Then Alcibiades said to me with a lisp, said he,
‘Cwemahk Theocwus? What a cwaven’s head he has!”
Xanthias: That lisp of Alcibiades hit the mark for once!
2 1 His character, in later life, displayed many inconsistencies and marked changes, as was natural amid his vast undertakings and varied fortunes. He was naturally a man of many strong passions, the mightiest of which were the love of rivalry and the love of preëminence. This is clear from the story recorded of his boyhood. 2 He was once hard pressed in wrestling, and to save himself from getting a fall, set his teeth in his opponent's arms, where they clutched him, and was like to have bitten through them. His adversary, letting go his hold, cried: "You bite, Alcibiades, as women do!" "Not I," said Alcibiades, "but as lions do." While still a small boy, he was playing knuckle-bones in the narrow street, and just as it was his turn to throw, a heavy-laden waggon came along. 3 In the first place, he bade the driver halt, since his cast lay right in the path of the waggon. The driver, however, was a boorish fellow, and paid no heed to him, but drove his team along. Whereupon, while the other boys scattered out of the way, Alcibiades threw himself flat on his face in front of the team, stretched himself out at full length, and bade the driver go on if he pleased. At this the fellow pulled up his beasts sharply, in terror; the spectators, too, were affrighted, and ran with shouts to help the boy. 4 At school, he usually paid due heed to his teachers, but he refused to play the flute, holding it to be an ignoble and illiberal thing. The use of the plectrum and the lyre, he argued, wrought no havoc with the bearing and appearance which were becoming to a gentleman; but let a man go to blowing a flute, and even his own kinsmen could scarcely recognize his features. 5 Moreover, the lyre blended its tones with the voice or song of its master; whereas the flute closed and barricaded the mouth, robbing its master both of voice and speech. "Flutes, then," said he, "for the sons of Thebes; they know not how to converse. But we Athenians, as our fathers say, have Athene for foundress and Apollo for patron, one of whom cast the flute away in disgust, and the other flayed the presumptuous flute-player." 6 Thus, half in jest and half in earnest, Alcibiades emancipated himself from this discipline, and the rest of the boys as well. For word soon made its way to them that Alcibiades loathed the art of flute-playing and scoffed at its disciples, and rightly, too. Wherefore the flute was dropped entirely from the programme of a liberal education and was altogether despised.
4 1 It was not long before many men of high birth clustered about him and paid him their attentions. Most of them were plainly smitten with his brilliant youthful beauty and fondly courted him. But it was the love which Socrates had for him that bore strong testimony to the boy's native excellence and good parts. These Socrates saw radiantly manifest in his outward person, and, fearful of the influence upon him of wealth and rank and the throng of citizens, foreigners and allies who sought to preëmpt his affections by flattery and favour, he was fain to protect him, and not suffer such a fair flowering plant to cast its native fruit to perdition. 2 For there is no man whom Fortune so envelops and compasses about with the so‑called good things of life that he cannot be reached by the bold and caustic reasonings of philosophy, and pierced to the heart. And so it was that Alcibiades, although he was pampered from the very first, and was prevented by the companions who sought only to please him from giving ear to one who would instruct and train him, nevertheless, through the goodness of his parts, at last saw all that was in Socrates, and clave to him, putting away his rich and famous lovers. 3 And speedily, from choosing such an associate, and giving ear to the words of a lover who was in the chase for no unmanly pleasures, and begged no kisses and embraces, but sought to expose the weakness of his soul and rebuke his vain and foolish pride,
"He crouched, though warrior bird, like slave, with drooping wings."
And he came to think that the work of Socrates was really a kind of provision of the gods for the care and salvation of youth. 4 Thus, by despising himself, admiring his friend, loving that friend's kindly solicitude and revering his excellence, he insensibly acquired an "image of love," as Plato says, "to match love," and all were amazed to see him eating, exercising, and tenting with Socrates, while he was harsh and stubborn with the rest of his lovers. Some of these he actually treated with the greatest insolence, as, for example, Anytus, the son of Anthemion. 5 This man was a lover of his, who, entertaining some friends, asked Alcibiades also to the dinner. Alcibiades declined the invitation, but after having drunk deep at home with some friends, went in revel rout to the house of Anytus, took his stand at the door of the men's chamber, and, observing the tables full of gold and silver beakers, ordered his slaves to take half of them and carry them home for him. He did not deign to go in, but played this prank and was off. The guests were naturally indignant, and declared that Alcibiades had treated Anytus with gross and overweening insolence. "Not so," said Anytus, "but with moderation and kindness; he might have taken all there were: he has left us half."
7 1 Once, as he was getting on past boyhood, he accosted a school-teacher, and asked him for a book of Homer. The teacher replied that he had nothing of Homer's, whereupon Alcibiades fetched him a blow with his fist, and went his way. Another teacher said he had a Homer which he had corrected himself. "What!" said Alcibiades, "are you teaching boys to read when you are competent to edit Homer? You should be training young men." 2 He once wished to see Pericles, and went to his house. But he was told that Pericles could not see him; he was studying how to render his accounts to the Athenians. "Were it not better for him," said Alcibiades, as he went away, "to study how not to render his accounts to the Athenians?" While still a stripling, he served as a soldier in the campaign of Potidaea, and had Socrates for his tent-mate and comrade in action. 3 A fierce battle took place, wherein both of them distinguished themselves; but when Alcibiades fell wounded, it was Socrates who stood over him and defended him, and with the most conspicuous bravery saved him, armour and all. The prize of valour fell to Socrates, of course, on the justest calculation; but the generals, owing to the high position of Alcibiades, were manifestly anxious to give him the glory of it. Socrates, therefore, wishing to increase his pupil's honourable ambitions, led all the rest in bearing witness to his bravery, and in begging that the crown and the suit of armour be given to him. 4 On another occasion, in the rout of the Athenians which followed the battle of Delium, Alcibiades, on horseback, saw Socrates retreating on foot with a small company, and would not pass him by, but rode by his side and defended him, though the enemy were pressing them hard and slaying many. This, however, was a later incident.
8 1 He once gave Hipponicus a blow with his fist — Hipponicus, the father of Callias, a man of great reputation and influence owing to his wealth and family — not that he had any quarrel with him, or was a prey to anger, but simply for the joke of the thing, on a wager with some companions. The wanton deed was soon noised about the city, and everybody was indignant, as was natural. Early the next morning Alcibiades went to the house of Hipponicus, knocked at his door, and on being shown into his presence, laid off the cloak he wore and bade Hipponicus scourge and chastise him as he would. 2 But Hipponicus put away his wrath and forgave him, and afterwards gave him his daughter Hipparete to wife. Some say, however, that it was not Hipponicus, but Callias, his son, who gave Hipparete to Alcibiades, with a dowry of ten talents; and that afterwards, when she became a mother, Alcibiades exacted other ten talents besides, on the plea that this was the agreement, should children be born. And Callias was so afraid of the scheming of Alcibiades to get his wealth, that he made public proffer to the people of his property and house in case it should befall him to die without lineal heirs. 3 Hipparete was a decorous and affectionate wife, but being distressed because her husband would consort with courtezans, native and foreign, she left his house and went to live with her brother. Alcibiades did not mind this, but continued his wanton ways, and so she had to put in her plea for divorce to the magistrate, and that not by proxy, but in her own person. 4 On her appearing publicly to do this, as the law required, Alcibiades came up and seized her and carried her off home with him through the market place, no man daring to oppose him or take her from him. She lived with him, moreover, until her death, but she died shortly after this, when Alcibiades was on a voyage to Ephesus. 5 Such violence as this was not thought lawless or cruel at all. Indeed, the law prescribes that the wife who would separate from her husband shall go to court in person, to this very end, it would seem, that the husband may have a chance to meet and gain possession of her.
9 1 Possessing a dog of wonderful size and beauty, which had cost him seventy minas, he had its tail cut off, and a beautiful tail it was, too. His comrades chid him for this, and declared that everybody was furious about the dog and abusive of its owner. But Alcibiades burst out laughing and said: "That's just what I want; I want Athens to talk about this, that it may say nothing worse about me."
14 1 Alcibiades was sore distressed to see Nicias no less admired by his enemies than honoured by his fellow-citizens. For although Alcibiades was resident consul for the Lacedaemonians at Athens, and had ministered to their men who had been taken prisoners at Pylos, 2 still, they felt that it was chiefly due to Nicias that they had obtained peace and the final surrender of those men, and so they lavished their regard upon him. And Hellenes everywhere said that it was Pericles who had plunged them into war, but Nicias who had delivered them out of it, and most men called the peace the "Peace of Nicias." Alcibiades was therefore distressed beyond measure, and in his envy planned a violation of the solemn treaty. 3 To begin with, he saw that the Argives hated and feared the Spartans and sought to be rid of them. So he secretly held out hopes to them of an alliance with Athens, and encouraged them, by conferences with the chief men of their popular party, not to fear nor yield to the Lacedaemonians, but to look to Athens and await her action, since she was now all but repentant, and desirous of abandoning the peace which she had made with Sparta. 4 And again, when the Lacedaemonians made a separate alliance with the Boeotians, and delivered up Panactum to the Athenians not intact, as they were bound to do by the treaty, but dismantled, he took advantage of the Athenians' wrath at this to embitter them yet more. He raised a tumult in the assembly against Nicias, and slandered him with accusations all too plausible. 5 Nicias himself, he said, when he was general, had refused to capture the enemy's men who were cut off on the island of Sphacteria, and when others had captured them, he had released and given them back to the Lacedaemonians, whose favour he sought; and then he did not persuade those same Lacedaemonians, tried friend of theirs as he was, not to make separate alliance with the Boeotians or even with the Corinthians, and yet whenever any Hellenes wished to be friends and allies of Athens, he tried to prevent it, unless it were the good pleasure of the Lacedaemonians. 6 Nicias was reduced to great straits by all this, but just then, by rare good fortune as it were, an embassy came from Sparta, with reasonable proposals to begin on, and with assurances that they came with full powers to adopt any additional terms that were conciliatory and just. The council received them favourably, and the people were to hold an assembly on the following day for their reception. But Alcibiades feared a peaceful outcome, and managed to secure a private conference with the embassy. When they were convened he said to them: 7 "What is the matter with you, men of Sparta? Why are you blind to the fact that the council is always moderate and courteous towards those who have dealings with it, while the people's assembly is haughty and has great ambitions? If you say to them that you are come with unlimited powers, they will lay their commands and compulsions upon you without any feeling. Come now, put away such simplicity as this, and if you wish to get moderate terms from the Athenians, and to suffer no compulsion at their hands which you cannot yourselves approve, then discuss with them what would be a just settlement of your case, assuring them that you have not full powers to act. I will coöperate with you, out of my regard for the Lacedaemonians." 8 After this speech he gave them his oath, and so seduced them wholly away from the influence of Nicias. They trusted him implicitly, admired his cleverness and sagacity, and thought him no ordinary man. On the following day the people convened in the assembly, and the embassy was introduced to them. On being asked by Alcibiades, in the most courteous tone, with what powers they had come, they replied that they were not come with full and independent powers. 9 At once, then, Alcibiades assailed them with angry shouts, as though he were the injured party, not they, calling them faithless and fickle men, who were come on no sound errand whatever. The council was indignant, the assembly was enraged, and Nicias was filled with consternation and shame at the men's change of front. He was unaware of the deceitful trick which had been played upon him.
17 1 On Sicily the Athenians had cast longing eyes even while Pericles was living; and after his death they actually tried to lay hands upon it. The lesser expeditions which they sent thither from time to time, ostensibly for the aid and comfort of their allies on the island who were being wronged by the Syracusans, they regarded merely as stepping stones to the greater expedition of conquest. 2 But the man who finally fanned this desire of theirs into flame, and persuaded them not to attempt the island any more in part and little by little, but to sail thither with a great armament and subdue it utterly, was Alcibiades; he persuaded the people to have great hopes, and he himself had greater aspirations still. Such were his hopes that he regarded Sicily as a mere beginning, and not, like the rest, as an end of the expedition. 3 So while Nicias was trying to divert the people from the capture of Syracuse as an undertaking too difficult for them, Alcibiades was dreaming of Carthage and Libya, and, after winning these, of at once encompassing Italy and Peloponnesus. He almost regarded Sicily as the ways and means provided for his greater war. The young men were at once carried away on the wings of such hopes, and their elders kept recounting in their ears many wonderful things about the projected expedition. Many were they who sat in the palaestras and lounging-places mapping out in the sand the shape of Sicily and the position of Libya and Carthage. 4 Socrates the philosopher, however, and Meton the astrologer, are said to have had no hopes that any good would come to the city from this expedition; Socrates, as it is likely, because he got an inkling of the future from the divine guide who was his familiar. Meton — whether his fear of the future arose from mere calculation or from his use of some sort of divination — feigned madness, and seizing a blazing torch, was like to have set fire to his own house. 5 Some say, however, that Meton made no pretence of madness, but actually did burn his house down in the night, and then, in the morning, came before the people begging and praying that, in view of his great calamity, his son might be released from the expedition. At any rate, he succeeded in cheating his fellow citizens, and obtained his desire.
23 1 When these great judgments and condemnations were passed upon Alcibiades, he was tarrying in Argos, for as soon as he had made his escape from Thurii, he passed over into Peloponnesus. But fearing his foes there, and renouncing his country altogether, he sent to the Spartans, demanding immunity and confidence, and promising to render them aid and service greater than all the harm he had previously done them as an enemy. 2 The Spartans granted this request and received him among them. No sooner was he come than he zealously brought one thing to pass: they had been delaying and postponing assistance to Syracuse; he roused and incited them to send Gylippus thither for a commander, and to crush the force which Athens had there. A second thing he did was to get them to stir up the war against Athens at home; and the third, and most important of all, to induce them to fortify Deceleia. This more than anything else wrought ruin and destruction to his native city. 3 At Sparta, he was held in high repute publicly, and privately was no less admired. The multitude was brought under his influence, and was actually bewitched, by his assumption of the Spartan mode of life. When they saw him with his hair untrimmed, taking cold baths, on terms of intimacy with their coarse bread, and supping on black porridge, they could scarcely trust their eyes, and doubted whether such a man as he now was had ever had a cook in his own house, had even so much as looked upon a perfumer, or endured the touch of Milesian wool. 4 He had, as they say, one power which transcended all others, and proved an implement of his chase for men: that of assimilating and adapting himself to the pursuits and lives of others, thereby assuming more violent changes than the chameleon. That animal, however, as it is said, is utterly unable to assume one colour, namely, white; but Alcibiades could associate with good and bad alike, and found naught that he could not imitate and practice. 5 In Sparta, he was all for bodily training, simplicity of life, and severity of countenance; in Ionia, for luxurious ease and pleasure; in Thrace, for drinking deep; in Thessaly, for riding hard; and when he was thrown with Tissaphernes the satrap, he outdid even Persian magnificence in his pomp and lavishness. It was not that he could so easily pass entirely from one manner of man to another, nor that he actually underwent in every case a change in his real character; but when he saw that his natural manners were likely to be annoying to his associates, he was quick to assume any counterfeit exterior which might in each case be suitable for them. 6 At all events, in Sparta, so far as the outside was concerned, it was possible to say of him, " 'No child of Achilles he, but Achilles himself,' such a man as Lycurgus trained"; but judging by what he actually felt and did, one might have cried with the poet, " 'Tis the selfsame woman still!" 7 For while Agis the king was away on his campaigns, Alcibiades corrupted Timaea his wife, so that she was with child by him and made no denial of it. When she had given birth to a male child, it was called Leotychides in public, but in private the name which the boy's mother whispered to her friends and attendants was Alcibiades. Such was the passion that possessed the woman. But he, in his mocking way, said he had not done this thing for a wanton insult, nor at the behest of mere pleasure, but in order that descendants of his might be kings of the Lacedaemonians. 8 Such being the state of things, there were many to tell the tale to Agis, and he believed it, more especially owing to the lapse of time. There had been an earthquake, and he had run in terror out of his chamber and the arms of his wife, and then for ten months had had no further intercourse with her. And since Leotychides had been born at the end of this period, Agis declared that he was no child of his. For this reason Leotychides was afterwards refused the royal succession.
39 1 Accordingly, Lysander sent to Pharnabazus and bade him do this thing, and Pharnabazus commissioned Magaeus, his brother, and Sousamithras, his uncle, to perform the deed. At that time Alcibiades was living in a certain village of Phrygia, where he had Timandra the courtezan with him, and in his sleep he had the following vision. 2 He thought he had the courtezan's garments upon him, and that she was holding his head in her arms while she adorned his face like a woman's with paints and pigments. Others say that in his sleep he saw Magaeus' followers cutting off his head and his body burning. All agree in saying that he had the vision not long before his death. The party sent to kill him did not dare to enter his house, but surrounded it and set it on fire. 3 When Alcibiades was aware of this, he gathered together most of the garments and bedding in the house and cast them on the fire. Then, wrapping his cloak about his left arm, and drawing his sword with his right, he dashed out, unscathed by the fire, before the garments were in flames, and scattered the Barbarians, who ran at the mere sight of him. Not a man stood ground against him, or came to close quarters with him, but all held aloof and shot him with javelins and arrows. 4 Thus he fell, and when the Barbarians were gone, Timandra took up his dead body, covered and wrapped it in her own garments, and gave it such brilliant and honourable burial as she could provide. This Timandra, they say, was the mother of that Lais who was called the Corinthian, although she was a prisoner of war from Hyrcara, a small city of Sicily. 5 But some, while agreeing in all other details of the death of Alcibiades with what I have written, say that it was not Pharnabazus who was the cause of it, nor Lysander, nor the Lacedaemonians, but Alcibiades himself. He had corrupted a girl belonging to a certain well known family, and had her with him; and it was the brothers of this girl who, taking his wanton insolence much to heart, set fire by night to the house where he was living, and shot him down, as has been described, when he dashed out through the fire.
Exploring the Meaning of Psychopathy
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a psychopath as "A mentally ill person who is highly irresponsible and antisocial and also violent or aggressive; (Psychiatry) a person consistently exhibiting psychopathic behaviour. Occasionally also (esp. formerly): any mentally ill or emotionally unstable person."
As with narcissism, psychologists try to define the condition of psychopathy in more careful detail and in such a way that can be measured by someone with proper training. One of the most popular approaches to psychopathy comes from Hervey Cleckley who devotes ten pages of his book Mask of Sanity to diagnosing Alcibiades as a psychopath. It has been argued in recent years that psychopathic behavior is more common in leaders--especially business leaders--than it is in the general population (see Hare and Babiak Snakes in Suits 2006). Paul Lawrence has argued that as many as 30% of "high impact" historical leaders may be psychopaths or what Lawrence calls "persons without conscience" (Driven to Lead 2010: 83-85). In a survey of the vast literature on psychopathy over many decades Sullivan and Kossan conclude that psychopathy is present in many (if not all) cultures across the globe and across time (The Psychopathy Handbook 2006: 437-458).
There are many different ways to think about the construct of psychopathy, but for our purposes we will use the one that is currently most common, especially in prison populations. You should note, however, that psychopathy is a psychological construct that is continually undergoing re-evaluation and modification. At present the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised is one of the most common ways for diagnosing psychopathy, especially in prison populations. It is this checklist that we will use to study Alcibiades' putative psychopathy in greater detail.
Listening for Leadership Two
What limitations can you think of to performing a psychological evaluation (like psychopathy) on a historical leader or character in literature?
Can Plutarch's Alcibiades be seen as a psychopath?
Items on the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R)
(from Kiehl 2014:46-47)
Wherever possible identify passages in Plutarch’s Life of Alcibiades where these traits appear
1. glibness/superficial charm
2. grandiose sense of self-worth
3. need for stimulation
4. pathological lying
6. lack of remorse or guilt
7. shallow affect
8. callous/lack of empathy
9. parasitic lifestyle
10. poor behavioral controls
11. promiscuous sexual behavior
12. early behavioral problems
13. lack of realistic, long-term goals
16. failure to accept responsibility for own actions
17. many short-term marital relationships
18. juvenile delinquency
19. revocation of conditional release
20. criminal versatility
Other aspects of psychopathy (outside of but related to the Hare PCL-R)
instrumental (as opposed to reactive) aggression
chameleon-like behavior, impression management
a drive to dominate others
Read Plutarch’s Life of Alcibiades in its entirety and fill out this chart further.
Can anyone tell if a president is a psychopath?
Listening for Leadership Three
Find three articles online that explore the possibility (or claim) that Donald Trump is a psychopath. Find at least one article that cites the work of someone trained in psychology or psychiatry. For each article, identify the author and his/her credentials to make a psychological evaluation. Which traits do they tend to focus on? What evidence do they bring to bear to back up their claims? What strengths or weaknesses/limitations do you see to their argument? Note: this exercise is not asking you to share your own opinion about whether Donald Trump is a psychopath. It is asking you to evaluate the claims of others according to the terminology they use and the evidence they offer to back it up. You may begin with this article from Dr. Kevin Dutton of Oxford University.
Psychopathy and “good” leadership?
"psychopath" is almost always seen as unfavorable way to describe someone. And yet, as in the case of the tyrant, psychopaths seem to be more common in leadership roles than in the general population. Is it the case that psychopaths just fool us into promoting them to leadership roles; or are psychopaths selected because their leadership traits are appealing? The neuroscientist and self-proclaimed psychopath "lite" has some possible answers. He notes that psychopaths are good at least at ensuring their own survival. Their elaborate lies allow them worm their way into unsuspecting communities to poach resources. Male psychopaths are good at getting some women to fall in love with them and by procreating with many sexual partners can ensure that their genes will live on. Their low levels of stress and anxiety can contribute to a longer, healthier life. For whatever reason, family members tend to remain loyal to them despite their atrocities.
In addition to being good at self-preservation, Fallon argues that psychopaths can be strong leaders. He cites a Caltech study that “people with the ‘warrior gene’ make better financial decisions under risk”. Fallon also points to the psychopath’s willingness to take chances, which he says can cause leaders to explore new markets and territories. Some of these ventures may have disastrous consequences for the immediate members of the group but the new information and new resources may contribute to the overall advancement of civilization. Antisocial psychopaths can thus have a prosocial benefit. Fallon also argues that the leadership role often demands psychopathic behavior. CEO’s and presidents need to be glib and grandiose if they’re going to survive the job; a non-psychopathic person would not want the stress and would not have the confidence or the boldness to seek the role. Moreover, Fallon says we expect leaders to engage in activities we don’t have the stomach for:
“It could be argued that the only reason these money-making swindlers [like Bernie Madoff] exist is that the general public wants to make that quick and easy buck and, while lacking their own combination of high risk and knowledge, use hired guns like Madoff and other investment mavens to do their dirty work for them…[C]ommon experience tells us that many of us love hot merchandise, we love a tough and heartless CEO, and we love tough guys who make us money and protect us” (The Psychopath Within 2014: 219).
Listening for Leadership Four
Items on the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R)
(from Kiehl 2014:46-47)
For each of these traits, wherever possible, try to identify a situation in which it would seem to be necessary for a leader to exhibit this trait or arguably beneficial to the community.
grandiose sense of self-worth
need for stimulation
lack of remorse or guilt
callous/lack of empathy
poor behavioral controls
promiscuous sexual behavior
early behavioral problems
lack of realistic, long-term goals
failure to accept responsibility for own actions
many short-term marital relationships
revocation of conditional release
Other aspects of psychopathy (outside of but related to the Hare PCL-R)
instrumental (as opposed to reactive) aggression
chameleon-like behavior, impression management
a drive to dominate others
In your estimation should we embrace psychopathic leadership or redefine the leadership role such that psychopathic behavior is not necessary? Why or why not?
Fun extra credit
Listen to they lyrics to Billy Joel's "She's Always a Woman" and identify as many psychopathic traits as you can. How psychopathic is the woman in this song: very, somewhat, not at all? If you do see the woman as psychopathic, what does the narrator in the song mean by "she's always a woman to me"? Presumably, he is not making a claim simply about her gender. The song seems to be saying that "in spite of all these behaviors" the woman is still something to be valued/treasured/admired. What do you think the narrator is getting at?
Possible in-class activity
- Have participants play the role of prosecution and defense in the diagnosis of Alcibiades as a psychopath. Defense argues that he is a psychopath (to mitigate his sentence); prosecution argues that he isn’t.
- Revisit the arguments for and against the Goldwater Rule in the module on Narcissism ("Voices Carry") and consider whether the students' viewpoint has changed.