The term “megalomania” first came into use in the late 19th century when a French neurologist delivered a paper detailing the condition as one in which “grandiose delusions and delusions of persecution coexist or alternate.” It entered popular use by 1918 and spiked, not serendipitously, around the beginning of World War II. Megalomania as a psychological condition was officially replaced by “narcissistic personality disorder” in 1980, yet the term, denoting a mania for power, a tenuous relationship with reality, and a persecution complex, remains a useful frame through which to view the world—or, at least, many of those who now control it.
For the summer issue, we scoured the globe for instructive case studies. On the political front, Glenda Gloria, co-founder of Rappler, one of the Philippines’ biggest news sites, writes about Rodrigo Duterte’s lethal relationship to language; Joel Pinheiro da Fonseca, a columnist at Folha de São Paulo, examines how a culture of institutional disappointment in Brazil enabled populist Jair Bolsonaro to become a presidential frontrunner; and Daily Beast Italy correspondent Barbie Latza Nadeau looks at the rise of far-right candidate Giorgia Meloni and the phenomenon of female-led fascism in Europe. Responding to a new biography of Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Kaya Genç traces how a nationalist poet shaped the future president’s beliefs, and in our Conversation section, Yascha Mounk, an author and a lecturer at Harvard, speaks with Nation editor Atossa Araxia Abrahamian about the surge of populism and the state of internationalism in these tumultuous times. Finally, to lighten the mood, cocktail editor Ebem Klemm brings us “He Loved His Country,” a sangria hybrid that blends the preferred beverages of Saddam Hussein and Benito Mussolini with a dash of Idi Amin’s favorite fruits.
Of course, megalomania can manifest beyond the campaign trail or the executive office. From the U.K., critic Douglas Murphy reports on the bizarre (and exorbitantly expensive) architectural projects of mop-topped former London mayor Boris Johnson, while from Zurich, Adam Jasper examines Swatch’s short-lived effort to eliminate time zones. In Egypt, Mona Abo-Issa joins the bandwagons of energetic fans following around the country’s retired war heroes, and Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani looks at how Nigeria’s Boko Haram learned its best tricks from the media. Finally, in Norway, social anthropologist Sindre Bangstad considers how the country’s refusal to come to terms with its far right likely shaped its reaction to a 2011 mass shooting.
To get an even fuller picture of the various stripes of megalomania, we also looked back in time. Historian Corinna Treitel takes us to the herb gardens at Dachau, where the Nazis advanced the organic food movement; art historian Natasha Llorens reads Algiers city planning through film; and scholar Kristen R. Ghodsee celebrates the legacy of Alexandra Kollontai, a Soviet-era activist whose work on the “woman question” meant that, personally and professionally, women had more opportunities under socialism than did their counterparts in the West. Also in Red Russia, author Daniel Kalder digs into the forgettable literary output of Mongolia’s first Soviet-appointed leader, or as he puts it, “the regional manager of the USSR’s first Stalinist franchise.” Finally, in a closing column, philosopher Slavoj Žižek considers the legacy of 1968 and the lessons we’ve failed to learn from that social upheaval 50 years on. To recall the title of one of Žižek’s books (itself a line from Marx), it’s said that history repeats itself, “first as tragedy, then as farce.” His claims in this column make a case for that sentiment.
Also in the magazine, photojournalist Adriana Loureiro Fernández checks in on Caracas two years after protests first broke out in the Venezuelan capital. She finds that the nature of violence has changed, and that fear once oriented toward young men in the street is now aimed at police. Meanwhile, several hundred miles north, anthropologist Amelia Frank-Vitale documents life after deportation for a trio of young people sent back to Honduras, and how, in a country so riven by violence and corruption, simply leading a normal life is no easy task. One of the more provocative pieces in the issue is by Sophie Bader, whose reporting on open defecation shaming in India and Nepal calls into question a popular strategy for improving sanitation on the subcontinent. While reading about the radical tactics that some local leaders take to change personal habits, it occurred to me that this article could have fallen under our thematic rubric. Perhaps this is a sly quality of megalomania: Once it’s on your mind, you start seeing it everywhere.