Letter: Democracies must guard against narcissists

One of the big advantages of democracy and the rule of law over dictatorship is that they are better at preventing dangerously flawed and malevolent individuals from gaining power and, as in the US after 2016, constraining them if they do happen to make it.

But, supporting the argument that Miranda Green develops in her article Politicians crave a public shot at redemption (Opinion, November 17), the protections enjoyed in democracies are under threat from two directions. One is the trend toward politics as a branch of celebrity, where the outrageous sells and trivial gestures move the story on rapidly. The other, perhaps even more serious, is inequality and the power of billionaires in the economy and in politics; The sort of sociopathic personality that repels voters in elections may be an advantage in ruthless business cultures.

There has always been an attraction to elected office for people who need to be loved by an impersonal public because of something lacking in their own background or psychology. We do not think enough about how to design democratic institutions to elect against narcissism. Presidential systems, and miniature examples such as England’s directly elected mayors, are certainly the most vulnerable.

It may be an under-appreciated advantage of list proportional representation systems, as used in most established democracies, that they are more likely to represent a broad range of personality types. Electoral systems based on individual candidates will, by their nature, attract people in need of personal validation including in the ways gruesomely described in the Greens article.

Lewis Baston
London NW1, UK


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