Why So Many Politicians and Activists Suffer from Mental Illness

Sep 8, 2023 by David Fowler

Why So Many Politicians and Activists Suffer from Mental Illness
Last week I wrote a commentary about mental illness, the kind that afflicted me most of my life and that I believe afflicts most people today, even the most pious Christian. Today, I will again draw from my own experience to explain why I believe we are so afflicted, particularly those actively engaged in politics. Does your politics fit the profile?

My “Open Letter” posited that most people today suffer from a misunderstanding of the nature of the cosmos we live in and how it works. That was my problem.

As to why I suffered from the misunderstanding I there explained, I will begin with an analysis of myself.

Type A Personalities and Politics

I am a Type A personality. I think that is true of many, if not most people who go into politics either as a candidate or lead a political engagement policy organization (hereafter “political organization”).

A Type A personality is defined by the American Psychological Association’s Dictionary of Psychology as “a personality pattern characterized by chronic competitiveness, high levels of achievement motivation, impatience and a distorted sense of time urgency, polyphasic activity (e.g., shaving or eating while reading a newspaper), and aggressiveness and hostility.”  I cringe at the last part, but it, too, has been and still can be true of me.

The Likely First Response of the Politically-Oriented Personality

As a Type A personality, my foremost thought about any problem has been, “How do I fix it?” My answer as a politician and leader of a political organization was: draft and pass a new law.

The latter is the kind of answer I observed as a Senator among those in politics and now observe among many who, like me, lead policy engagement organizations. I suspect there are exceptions among them to this kind of reaction to problems, but none readily come to my mind.

We are action-oriented people, determined to get results. Constituents and donors expect that from us.

The First Negative Effect of the Politically-Oriented Personality

But “[b]asic to all forms of leadership is the knowledge of history. . . . Successful leaders must know something about the past of the organizations in which they possess God-given responsibility.”[1] This is part of coming to understand the nature of the cosmos and how it works, and not to think so is to not understand the nature of the cosmos, about which I’ll speak more in the next section.

However, what I have found is that once a person is in a position of political leadership, he or she has little time to study the broad scope of history that pertains to the development our Western Legal Tradition and its ongoing disintegration, if not abolition; judge that history for its lessons; and apply that history and those lessons to the present.

I did some of that, but not to the extent I should have before I ran for office. I did go to law school (though I unwittingly learned humanism, not law) and read Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Law of England, Joseph Story’s Commentaries on the Constitution, and materials from our Founding Fathers, including the Federalist Papers. But it was not near enough.

But demonstrative of this general lack of preparation is that I can’t readily think of any elected official or state-based policy leader who has an historically correct understanding of common law, let alone any knowledge of what to do with it now. Yet, as Justice Story wrote, “The whole Structure of our present jurisprudence stands upon the original foundations of the common law.”

The Most Serious Negative Effect of the Politically-Oriented Personality

But there is another reason, related to the first, for why I didn’t understand the nature of the cosmos in which I was working as an elected official and later as the leader of a policy engagement organization: attempting to think about what law will “fix” a cultural, legal, or policy problem—or any problem for that matter—as a first step is not a sound approach.

Of course, this kind of thinking affects more than politicians. If affects spouses, parents, educators, executives, preachers, and others like them, because they are all leaders within a certain jurisdiction.

The reason my thinking changed is that God impressed on me the need to take seriously Solomon’s exhortation to “Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth” (Proverbs 4:5).

The “formula” to get this wisdom and insight is simple: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10).

But that can present a problem to Type A personalities like me. Growing in the knowledge of God from which reverence (fear) springs takes time, work, and prayer. It takes even more time, work, and prayer to gain the insight needed to apply that knowledge to the world around us.

The importance of pursuing this knowledge is driven home by Colossians 1:9–10:
For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

Notice that the Apostle connects fruitfulness to growing in the knowledge of God. But notice, too, that fruitfulness is associated with work that is “good.”

What constitutes “good” in the eyes of God in the sphere of law and public policy is a topic for another day, but the connection between fruitfulness and knowing God is this: an objective knowledge of God, imparted by the working of the Holy Spirit, subjectively (meaning in terms of us personally) changes a person’s heart, again by a work of the Holy Spirit, and “from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). 

The objective truth about God that can be known is the knowledge that transforms people and renews their mind, which is the organ by which we understand and interpret everything. 

Without that knowledge, we will not understand the true nature of the cosmos from the One who created it and how it works. We will continue to profess ourselves wise yet be fools in God’s sight.

Being a fool in the knowledge of God who created, sustains, and directs all things to His appointed ends is to be a fool.

But if that is so and if those who lead us do not have deep roots in that knowledge and are not vigorously pursuing growing deeper in that knowledge, then what may be the most biblically apt description of them? And what might be the most biblically apt description of those who follow them?

I’ll leave you to figure that out. If you have time. There are a lot of things we need to get fixed.
[1] Gary North, The Biblical Structure of History, Preface, ix.

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