by FAWAD KAISER 2 August 2019
In Greek mythology, Daedalus warned his son Icarus against flying too high or too low on the wings that he made to allow them both to escape captivity. Icarus, intoxicated by the experience of flight, ignored the advice and paid the ultimate penalty.
Most leaders possess typical leadership qualities such as the ability to inspire and persuade, a grand vision, and a controlled fearlessness when taking risks. There is, however, a darker side to many leaders, manifested in character traits such as extreme pride and overconfidence, coupled with a complete contempt for others. These character traits, which can be summarized by the term ‘hubris’, lead to impulsive and often destructive behaviour. The greater the power, the greater the risk of these cognitive distortions taking hold and the worse the devastation when things go wrong, as they surely must when contact with reality is lost.
An increasingly popular way of describing this pattern of behaviour is by using the term “hubris”. In ancient Greece, where it was a legal term, hubris denoted the equivalent of grievous bodily harm; in modern English hubris has come to refer to recklessness and overconfidence among those who wield power in financial or political arenas – particularly when it leads to spectacular or disastrous errors of judgement.
Lord David Owen, a former medical doctor, politician and British Foreign Secretary from 1977-79, and now a member of the House of Lords and psychiatrist Jonathan Davidson of the Duke University Medical Center, investigated the psychological profiles of the UK Prime Ministers and US Presidents in power in the last 100 years for examples of hubristic traits and hubris syndrome.
Lord Owen has claimed the acquisition of power can, in a susceptible individual, induce a unique pattern of behavioural traits and expressed beliefs, which, he suggests, should be recognised as a distinct personality disorder. Across that century, they identified a tendency among some otherwise high-achieving individuals to close themselves off from critics and to overestimate their odds of success
They found seven US presidents who displayed definite hubristic traits: the two Roosevelts, Woodrow Wilson, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. Among UK prime ministers, seven — Herbert Asquith, David Lloyd George, Neville Chamberlain, Winston Churchill, Anthony Eden, Margaret Thatcher, and Tony Blair displayed hubristic traits, with Lloyd George, Chamberlain, Thatcher and Blair suffering from hubris syndrome. Neville Chamberlain wrongly believed that he could appease Hitler; Tony Blair supported the invasion of Iraq even after his envoy informed him that the plan had “no leadership, no strategy, no coordination,” among other defects. When a leader succumbs to hubris syndrome, his experience at the top has distorted his personality and decision-making.
Pakistan’s new Prime Minister, Imran Khan, rose to power on a classic populist platform, presenting himself and his party as the non-corrupt alternative to the country’s two main parties (the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, known as the PML-N, and the Pakistan People’s Party, known as the PPP), and their long, checkered history of corruption scandals and mis governance. Prime Minister Imran Khan has become a kind of international case study in politics. To his friends and allies, he elicits an array of anodyne, even appealing, adjectives: unpredictable, fearless, stubborn. Many of his voters and counterparts in Pakistan politics, are rapidly shedding the euphemisms that they once used to express their appraisals, however.
Though politicians often accuse each other of being narcissistic, Imran Khan has inspired a more clinical and controversial discussion. In recent months, the discussion of Imran Khans’s stability has entered a blunter phase. When he lectures on economic matters, he can sound like the Sultan of Brunei — as though he has never had to carry cash or set a monthly budget like middle-class citizens do. Like many affluent people who spend their lives in a bubble of financial security, he has been propagating Ayn Rand-esque myths about how to fix the economy.
Since opposition members in Parliament questioned some of his statements, and his credentials, he has become more and more angrier. After he was called a “selected,” rather than elected, prime minister in Parliament, the speaker banned the use of the word “selected” on the floor. Since then, it seems that opposition leaders have never said “selected” as much as they do now.
When Imran Khan was addressing a Pakistani diaspora Jalsa in Capital One Arena Stadium New York he announced to people “ I am going to go back and make sure that there is no air conditioning or no TV for Nawaz Sharif who is a criminal” suggesting that he has the mighty power —which no one could defy; nothing notable had happened since then about his claim because it was somewhat unprecedented to see a democratic Prime Minister of the country ordering royal directives without realising it would require factual legal changes to the Prison Policy. He simply lunged out against his political rival to appease the crowd.
Pakistani voters have placed vast trust at the discretion of this mind, an executive discretion, that is currently even largely immune to restraint by the powers of establishment. So, it is up to the public to quarantine this premiership by either patiently observing or insistently communicating rational fear of his hubristic traits. The voters need to think carefully about how to proceed, and Imran Khan’s friends need to offer honest and tough advice.