Fractured Foundations of the Culture of Narcissism and Its Public Philosophy
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Narcissism, cultural narcissism, and the culture of narcissism are interrelated. Cultural narcissism is both cause and consequence of the culture of narcissism. In turn, the culture of narcissism fosters narcissistic behavior. Narcissism has a primary and a secondary formulation. Primary narcissism does not acknowledge the separate existence of self and has two hallmarks: a longing to be free from longing and yearning for uniqueness. Pathological narcissism or secondary narcissism manifests as a reactive characterological regression toward primary narcissism that distorts healthy maturational development. This pathology can be a completely solipsistic mode of being, or it can be a partial denial or hostile rejection of object relations beyond the self. Pathological narcissism expresses itself on two extremes – either an experience of omnipotent self-unity or an experience of a lack of self-unity, both always susceptible to identity crisis.
The cultural narcissist is an individual with the rational attitude of indifference about disclosing social, political, and cultural expressions in the public square unless it imminently affects the self. The result is non-expression from culture about cultural life unless the cultural narcissist is compelled to do so for self-gratification. This leads pathologically narcissistic behavior in collective groups and institutions which, in turn, reinforces the culture of narcissism. The public philosophy of the unencumbered self is the essential philosophy of primary cultural narcissism, and this philosophy is the root cause of the culture of narcissism. The public philosophy holds two axioms: choice itself is the highest and only right and the privatization of the good. The enlightenment conception of reason and the epistemological premises that inform the public philosophy of the unencumbered self can serve as a justification for cultural narcissism. Hunter’s method of cultural analysis can be applied to institutions to test for effects of culturally narcissistic behavior. If we assume that the culture of narcissism affects collective expressions than we can use this method to identify cultural non-expression resulting in extremist polarization. In chapter seven I will apply Hunter’s method to – as an example of testing for pathological narcissistic behavior – American Christianity to briefly show how his cultural analysis can be used as an indicator of the culture of narcissism.