The Science of Evil

Michael Rectenwald's Review of "Political Ponerology"

“Political Ponerology” is the title of a book on the science of evil, written by Polish author Andrew M. Łobaczewski and first published in 1984 (!). US academic Michael Rectenwald has read it and written a review on He starts by saying:

This strange and provocative book argues that totalitarianism is the result of the extension of psychopathology from a group of psychopaths to the entire body politic, including its political and economic systems. 

He goes on to say:

Łobaczewski made the bold claim that he’d uncovered “the general laws of the origin of evil.” If true, the book was on par with Newton’s Principia in the physical sciences, while being of greater practical importance. And he approached this domain from the disciplinary perspective of psychology. Such an “individualist” methodology had been dismissed as mere “psychologism” in my own and many other fields of the humanities and social sciences. Łobaczewski’s insistence to focus on individual psychological disorders to understand the unfolding of “macrosocial evil” seemed mistaken to me initially, but this approach accords well with Joseph Schumpeter’s methodological individualism, which became a hallmark of the Austrian school. My assumption had always been that one needed to study political ideology and economics and that political ideology and economic theory explained nearly everything one needed to know about how and why totalitarian evil comes about.

But I started to become convinced that indeed a “mass formation psychosis”—a phrase recently reintroduced by dissidents and maligned by mainstream media in the context of covid propaganda—could begin with pathological individuals and spread throughout society, overtaking entire nations.


Łobaczewski explains that totalitarian ideology operates on two levels; the terms of the original ideology are taken at face value by true believers, while the party insiders substitute secondary meanings for the same terms, and normal people are subjected to gaslighting. Only the cognoscenti, the psychopaths, know and understand the secondary meanings. They recognize that actions purportedly undertaken on behalf of “the workers” translate into the domination of the party and the state on behalf of the psychopaths themselves. The truth is the opposite of what the party insiders claim to be the case, and they know itPolitical Ponerology thus explains the origin of “doublespeak,” which George Orwell portrays so well. 


Łobaczewski argues that an adequate study of totalitarianism had hitherto been impossible because it had been undertaken in the wrong registers. It had been treated strictly in terms of economics, literature, ideology studies, history, religion, political science, and international politics, among other approaches. One is reminded of the literary accounts and studies of the Soviet Union, the Eastern Bloc, and Nazi Germany—of the classic works by Hannah Arendt, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Václav Benda, Václav Havel, and many others. These made indispensable contributions but had, owing to no fault of their own, necessarily failed to grasp the root of the problem—namely, the psychopathological dimension of the inception and development of “pathocracy,” or rule by psychopaths.

Rectenwald himself has a very interesting background. He used to be a leftist, and, according to an article he wrote on, went through all sorts of flavours of leftism. However, when in 2016 he got “cancelled” at his university for speaking out against “cancel culture”, he discovered Mises and the Austrian School and has never looked back.