By Jake Wilde
You will certainly have an opinion about Donald Trump, perhaps the world’s most famous alleged narcissist, and most of us will have indulged in a bit of cod psychology to try and understand the extraordinary things he says and does. I ask you to bear him in mind while I try and draw a comparison.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, individuals with narcissistic personality disorder present most or all of the following symptoms:
- Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment from others
- Fixated on fantasies of power, success, intelligence, attractiveness, etc.
- Self-perception of being unique, superior and associated with high-status people and institutions
- Needing constant admiration from others
- Sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others
- Exploitative of others to achieve personal gain
- Unwilling to empathize with others’ feelings, wishes, or needs
- Intensely envious of others and the belief that others are equally envious of them
- Pompous and arrogant demeanour
But what if these symptoms were the reflective of the character a whole political movement? A movement that seems simultaneously immune to and extraordinarily hurt by any form of criticism. A movement defined more by its own existence rather than any coherent set of beliefs. A movement where obvious homilies are passed off as fully formed policies. A movement that prides itself on being rebellious and anti-establishment but that demands unquestioning support and loyalty from all those associated with it.
Those of you familiar with the far left have long known that they hold their views as superior, both intellectually and morally. While it’s rare, even in these forgetful times, to hear somebody come out and openly propose Marxism as a way of running an economy, everyone on the left is supposed to be anti-capitalist, and if you’re not then best start running, dog. Capitalism is not merely a different method of economic organisation, it is evil, and any proponents of it, however reformist, are similarly satanic. I’m always dismayed when I see this kind of language taken up by otherwise sensible politicians; the resort to biblical notions of good and evil rather than engagement with alternative political ideas is the refuge of the dimwit. Even the most extreme ideas of left and right, ones that propose that it is acceptable to kill human beings, can be condemned without the need to imagine their proponents guided by hoof and horn.
One of the barriers to the grand dream of a broad, united left has always been the impossibility of agreeing on ideological questions. The far left enjoy nothing more than finding the point of difference between themselves, cracking it wide open and then having a good purge. What strikes me as different about Corbynism is the utter absence of ideology. The only common word in use is “socialism”, a catch-all that enables people from fundamentally opposed belief structures to share that same label.
The Corbynistas have thus far prevented splitting and purging and managed to cope with a slow dwindling as otherwise significant individuals, from commentators to economists, have begun to cash in their chips. They’ve done this by avoiding anything any more detailed than ten pledges that would achieve consensus on any parish council. But if they’re not bound by ideology then by what? Can it really be Jeremy Corbyn’s electric personality, his oratory skills, and his clear and inspiring leadership? Er, no.
I think the answer lies elsewhere, primarily in their attitude to others. From the very beginning the Corbynista movement has defined itself by contrast. That may be as a consequence of originating in an internal party leadership contest, where narrow differences between candidates are amplified (most people mistakenly thought the denunciations would stop after the election). Occasionally it has been mistaken for a pure personality cult – that Corbynism was all about Corbyn – and thus some thought that the removal of Corbyn would see it come to an end. But if you observe what Corbynistas, from Jeremy himself down to the lowliest troll, say then it is about the sheer belief that they are right and everyone else is wrong. In fact, in the view of the Corbynistas, some of their opponents are more than just wrong, they are malevolently so, and their intentions are accordingly wicked.
The Labour Party’s broad church principle meant that in the past the party leadership always made the effort to make the tent as wide as possible. By contrast Corbynistas have defined the boundary of the tent in a very limited way and you either join (in whole, not in part) or you are outside. There are no lessons to be learnt from anyone outside the tent, and any opposition to them is either malice or conspiracy. It can never be genuine as to admit that would be to admit that there might be more than one version of the truth. Here the Labour Party has been complicit, by allowing the myth to develop that the far left are the conscience of the party, the keepers of the flame of what Labour should be. The Corbynistas took that foolishness and exploited it.
And so, just like Donald Trump, the response is devastating hostility if you cross or criticise, if you ask awkward questions, if you challenge the racism or the sexism, or if you cast doubt on their true levels of support. Jeremy is “best leader Labour has ever had”, McDonnell is somehow “the People’s Chancellor” and the likes of Long-Bailey, Burgon and Rayner are inexplicably “rising stars”. And when a Corbynista is exposed to the disinfectant of sunlight the collective behave in exactly the same way as the individual narcissist – deflection, denial and whataboutery. This is narcissism – practiced by the collective in exactly the same way as by the individual.
Narcissus’ demise came, essentially by his own hand. Drawn to his reflection in a pool of water he gazed upon himself until he died, ignoring the real world around him, entranced and enchanted by his own reflection. He will have decayed before his own eyes, yet unable to see his decline. And so the same fate will befall the Narcissistas, as they become increasingly focussed upon their own reflection. It’s not too late to break free of them.