The Corner

Hugo Chavez and “Malignant Narcissism”

Much of the time Venezuela-watchers spend thinking about the slow-motion tragedy of the Chavez dictatorship is spent pondering the amazing similarities between his regime and those of other “talented idiots” such as Egypt’s Nasser and Zimbabwe’s Mugabe. But just this morning I was wondering if there isn’t a psychological pathology that links these dictators — whether psychological factors might not be more valuable than political science in understanding the behavior of these populist dictatorships. You can’t understand the Cuban revolution, for example, until you can see how little it had to do with communism, and how it was driven from start to finish by the peculiarities of Castro’s personality: his taste for sadism towards friend and foe alike; his lust for violence and for power; his utter contempt for common people (He used to call Cubans “worms” and “leeches” in public speeches when they failed to meet production quotas).

Anyway, I just came across this revealing Reuters story (Hat-tip: a friend who lives in Caracas) that is worth reading every word:

Venezuela’s Chavez seen wanting office “for life”

Wed Jun 27, 2007 4:00PM EDTBy Bernd Debusmann, Special Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Insecurity, “malignant narcissism” and the need for adulation are driving Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s confrontation with the United States, according to a new psychological profile.


Eventually, these personality traits are likely to compel Chavez to declare himself Venezuela’s president for life, said Dr. Jerrold Post, who has just completed the profile for the U.S. Air Force.

Chavez won elections for a third term last December. Since then he has stepped up his anti-American rhetoric, vowed to accelerate a march towards “21st Century socialism” and suggested that he intends to stay in power until 2021 — a decade beyond his present term.

But Post — who profiled foreign leaders in a 21-year career at the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and now is the director of the Political Psychology Program at George Washington University — doubts that Chavez plans to step down even then. “He views himself as a savior, as the very embodiment of Venezuela,” Post said in an interview.

“He has been acting increasingly messianic and so he is likely to either get the constitution rewritten to allow for additional terms or eventually declare himself president-for-life.”

Post portrays Chavez as “a masterful political gamesman” who knows that his popularity largely rests on being seen as a strong leader who takes on the United States, the Venezuelan elite and a host of other perceived enemies — often with public insults that are rarely used by other leaders.

“To keep his followers engaged, he must continue outrageous and inflammatory attacks,” Post said.

Even Chavez’s most determined opponents concede that he is a gifted orator and has a rare ability to mesmerize audiences. In the language of political psychology, this is a “charismatic leader-follower relationship.”


Chavez has called U.S. President George W. Bush a “donkey,” U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice an “illiterate,” former Mexican President Vicente Fox a “lapdog of imperialism” and Peruvian President Alan Garcia a “rotten thief” and a “crybaby.”

“The major psychological reward for Chavez derives from being seen as the pugnacious openly defiant champion of the little man, as one of ‘us’ versus ‘them,’” Post said.

In his assessment, one of the character traits that drive Chavez is “malignant narcissism,” a term that denotes an extreme sense of self-importance and is usually coupled with extreme sensitivity to criticism. […]

Read the rest here. With polls showing a majority of Venezuelans turning against Chavez for the first time, people there are increasingly fearful that he will become even more malignant towards them. And if his mentor Fidel Castro is any guide, that malignancy is liable to be limitless.

Mario Loyola, a former White House environment-policy adviser and speechwriter, is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

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