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Ponerology is the term coined by Polish clinical psychologist Andrzej M. Łobaczewski to mean the objective scientific study of the nature of evil, based on its representation within the world of psychopathology and politics. The framework and basic research for such a study is laid out in his book Political Ponerology: A science on the nature of evil adjusted for political purposes.

The word ponerology (from the ancient Greek poneros – evil; and -λογία, -ology – study) can also refer to the branch of theology dealing with evil. This article is only concerned with the newer meaning, which refers to the scientific field named by Dr. Łobaczewski.


Dr. Łobaczewski theorizes that the effects of the psychopath on the fabric of human society, especially when psychopaths act as a group, can be likened to the effects of disease on the physical body. This disease manifests as a gradual but fundamental restructuring of the social heirarchy until, in extreme cases, a pathocracy is formed: a society ruled and motivated by purely pathological values. Such a social order can be the cause of enormous inhumanity and suffering, both within its borders and outside them. The close, careful study of psychopaths, their influence on individuals and groups, and the process by which they effectively take over a society, will help man to understand this affliction of society, which can then lead to a cure.

Hysteroidal cycle

Main article: Hysteroidal cycle

The hysteroidal cycle refers to the eternal cycle in which societies alternate between "good times" and "bad times". Good times give rise to a force that depraves the mind of people and serve to create the conditions for bad times to arise. In turn, the suffering and mental effort caused by bad times produce psychological understanding or wisdom, moderation, and other virtues, which serve to rebuild conditions for good times to return.

It is during good times that the preliminary weakening of the fabric of society happens, which can be compared to the weakening of human immune system. In good times, the more powerful members of society try to perpetuate their prosperity by the exploitation of other human beings. This exploitation is mostly repressed from the consciousness of the majority of people, especially those who are benefiting the most. Those who insist on talking about such subjects are generally ridiculed. “Good times” also allow a person to dodge the hard questions that should be asked about human nature, especially one’s own nature.

The avoidance and repression of unpleasant facts soon leads to faulty reasoning and bad decision making. As this permeates society in general, the quality of thought drops dramatically. The population is left with a poor ability to critically evaluate different socio-political ideas – and more fundamentally, its ability to understand psychological reality is impoverished. The result is vulnerability to accepting faulty reasoning, paramoralisms, and “doublespeak” used by doctrinaires and aspiring leaders. This loss of capacity for critical thinking is matched by a rise in emotionalism, leading to a hyper-irritable, “touchy” society. Łobaczewski cites the dueling craze of the 19th century as an example. This has its counterpart in the current litigious nature of the United States.

The disconnect between reality and perception, both personally and societally at large, sets the stage for the advent of the actual “infection”: the ponerization of a group or society by psychopathological deviants who recognize and ally with each other.

Once bad times arrive as a result, normal people have to gather all their strength to fight for existence. They slowly rediscover the value of virtues that have been forgotten or neglected during the preceding good times. They also gain improved understanding and better differentiation of human personalities, and comprehension of one’s adversaries. Such virtues and psychological knowledge finally conquer evil and lead to better times.

Agents of infection

In a ponerogenic process – the “infection” of a society – a number of people with certain psycho-pathological deviations play an active role, much like viruses and bacteria. They are categorized as either characteropaths or psychopaths depending on whether their deviations are acquired or inherited.


Main article: Characteropathy

Characteropathy refers to personality disorders that are caused either by brain damage (occurring at birth or during the course of a person’s life), or by being reared by pathological people (which can cause severe psychological deformation). Characteropaths are important pathological agents early in the ponerogenic process. Through their interactions with normal people, they diminish the latter's ability to use their common sense, thus weaken societies' psychological defense. They thus make societies open to influence by other agents of infection, which thereupon take over the main role.


Main article: Psychopathy (ponerology)

In modern terms, psychopaths are people born without conscience, without empathy for others, and without the ability to ever develop them. Łobaczewski uses a somewhat different terminology – developed by Eastern European clinicians in the mid-20th century – wherein several types of psychopathy are distinguished. Each type has a distinct genetic cause and presents somewhat different characteristics. The type which plays the most exceptional role among agents of infection is called essential psychopathy:

Let us characterise another heredity-transmitted anomaly whose role in ponerogenic processes on any social scale appears exceptionally great. We should underscore that the need to isolate this phenomenon and examine it in detail became most evident to those researchers who were interested in the macrosocial scale of genesis of evil because they have witnessed it. I acknowledge my debt to Kazimierz Dabrowski in doing this and calling this anomaly an “essential psychopathy”.

Biologically speaking, the phenomenon is similar to color blindness but occurs with about ten times lower frequency (slightly above 1/2%), except that, unlike color blindness, it affects both sexes. Its intensity also varies in scope from a level barely perceptive to an experienced observer to an obvious pathological deficiency.

[...] Psychiatrist of the old school used to call such individuals “Daltonists of human feelings and socio-moral values”.

Andrew M. Lobaczewski, Political Ponerology

Such individuals know that they are different from others, and essentially live to satisfy their desires without any regard for the cost of others. They find normal humans partially incomprehensible and look down on us as on an inferior species. Recognizing one another, they may form collusions, working together, each having the goal of achieving a position where it is possible to act as desired without repercussions. Such groups are examples of ponerogenic associations.

In any society in this world, psychopathic individuals and some of the other deviants create a[n] […] active network of common collusions, partially estranged from the community of normal people. Some inspirational role of the essential psychopathy in this network also appears to be a common phenomenon. […] We shall give the name “ponerogenic association” to any group of people characterized by ponerogenic processes of above-average social intensity, wherein the carriers of various pathological factors function as inspirers, spellbinders, and leaders, and where a proper pathological social structure generates. Smaller, less permanent associations may be called “groups” or “unions”.

These groups are composed of individuals who:

[…] are aware of being different as they obtain their life experience and become familiar with different ways of fighting for their goals. Their world is forever divided into “us and them” - their world with its own laws and customs and that other foreign world full of presumptuous ideas and customs in light of which they are condemned morally.

Their “sense of honor” bids them cheat and revile that other human world and its values. In contradiction to the customs of normal people, they feel non-fulfillment of their promises or obligations is customary behavior.

They also learn how their personalities can have traumatizing effects on the personalities of those normal people, and how to take advantage of this root of terror for purposes of reaching their goals.

This dichotomy of worlds is permanent and does not disappear even if they succeed in realizing their dreams of gaining power over the society of normal people. This proves that the separation is biologically conditioned.

In such people a dream emerges like some youthful Utopia of a “happy” world and a social system which would not reject them or force them to submit to laws and customs whose meaning is incomprehensible to them. They dream of a world in which their simple and radical way of experiencing and perceiving reality [i.e. lying, cheating, destroying, using others, etc] would dominate, where they would, of course, be assured safety and prosperity. Those “others” - different, but also more technically skillful - should be put to work to achieve this goal. “We,” after all, will create a new government, one of justice [for psychopaths]. They are prepared to fight and suffer for the sake of such a brave new world, and also of course, to inflict suffering upon others. Such a vision justifies killing people whose suffering does not move them to compassion because “they” are not quite conspecific.

The view that psychopathic people are biologically different has had corroboration from research done by Dr. Robert Hare and Dr. Martha Stout. This research included EEGs taken from patients diagnosed as psychopaths. They showed consistent features which were deemed to be abnormal by independent interpreters.

Ponerogenic associations, whether small (a youth gang) or large (the ruling political party of a Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union), tend to bring together a consistent constellation of deviant personalities. Dr. Lobaczewski postulates two group forms:

. . . .[a] primarily ponerogenic: a union whose abnormal members were active from the very beginning, playing the role of crystallizing catalysts as early as the process of creation of the group occurred. […] a primarily ponerogenic union is a foreign body within the organism of society, its character colliding with the moral values held or respected by the majority.


Secondarily ponerogenic: a union which was founded in the name of some idea with an independent social meaning, generally comprehensible within the categories of the natural world view, but which later succumbed to a certain moral degeneration. […] Ponerogenic unions of the primary variety are mainly of interest to criminology; our main concern will be associations that succumb to a secondary process of poneric malignancy.


Main article: Ponerization

Ponerization is the influence of pathological people on individuals and groups whereby they develop acceptance of pathological reasoning and values. On the individual scale, people may assimilate the psychology of agents of infection; on the group scale, pathological people may either form a group or take over a group formed by normal people; and on the societal scale, the influence of psychopaths in positions of power can greatly deform the culture and values of large numbers of people.

This is the infection process which enables psychopaths to establish a firmer position of power and influence in society, bringing about bad times. An ideological group or societal institution may be co-opted and used as a vehicle, the impoverished psychological understanding that developed during good times making society vulnerable to this process of transformation.


Main article: Pathocracy

When a ponerogenic association succeeds in taking over a society, culminating in rule by a psychopathic elite, the result is called a pathocracy. Such a system and its effect on the people is such that the entire society is ruled and motivated by pathological values.

A pathocracy can take many forms and can insinuate itself covertly into any seemingly just system or ideology. As such it can masquerade under the guise of a democracy or theocracy as well as more openly oppressive regimes.

Examples include the Roman Empire, the British Empire, Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, and at present the United States of America and Israel.

Further reading

See also