The great American social critic Chris Hedges, who has seen a lot of disintegrating political systems in his travels as a foreign correspondent, offers a very resonant or thought-provoking concept when he says that disintegrating societies often “vomit up” criminal psychopathic leaders like the Serbs Mladić, Karadžić, Milošević, et al and Trump himself.
Hedges brings back the Émile Durkheim (one of the fathers of sociology who died in 1917) usage of “anomie” which Durkheim introduces in his masterful book Suicide from 1897. Anomie refers to a level of social bewilderment and lostness where a person or people opens the door to suicide or demonic demagogues who become cult figures rather like Trump to his supporters.
The real question becomes the social rot and dislocatedness that allowed for the rise of the devilish leaders (and secondarily the leaders themselves). The anomie is the problem, the leader a symptom of the problem.
The term anomie—“a reborrowing with French spelling of anomy”—comes from Greek: anomía (ἀνομία, ‘lawlessness’), namely the privative alpha prefix (a-, ‘without’), and nomos (νόμος, ‘law’). The Greeks distinguished between nomos, and arché (ἀρχή, ‘starting rule, axiom, principle’). For example, a monarch is a single ruler but he may still be subject to, and not exempt from, the prevailing laws (i.e., nomos). In the original city state democracy, the majority rule was an aspect of arché because it was a rule-based, customary system, which may or may not make laws (i.e., nomos). Thus, the original meaning of anomie defined anything or anyone against or outside the law, or a condition where the current laws were not applied resulting in a state of illegitimacy or lawlessness.
The contemporary English understanding of the word anomie can accept greater flexibility in the word “norm,” and some have used the idea of normlessness to reflect a similar situation to the idea of anarchy. However, as used by Émile Durkheim and later theorists, anomie is a reaction against or a retreat from the regulatory social controls of society, and is a completely separate concept from anarchy, which consists of the absence of the roles of rulers and submitted.
Nineteenth-century French pioneer sociologist Émile Durkheim borrowed the term anomie from French philosopher Jean-Marie Guyau. Durkheim used it in his influential book Suicide (1897) in order to outline the social (and not individual) causes of suicide, characterized by a rapid change of the standards or values of societies (often erroneously referred to as normlessness), and an associated feeling of alienation and purposelessness. He believed that anomie is common when the surrounding society has undergone significant changes in its economic fortunes, whether for better or for worse and, more generally, when there is a significant discrepancy between the ideological theories and values commonly professed and what was actually achievable in everyday life. This was contrary to previous theories on suicide which generally maintained that suicide was precipitated by negative events in a person’s life and their subsequent depression.
In Durkheim’s view, traditional religions often provided the basis for the shared values which the anomic individual lacks. Furthermore, he argued that the division of labor that had been prevalent in economic life since the Industrial Revolution led individuals to pursue egoistic ends rather than seeking the good of a larger community. Robert King Merton also adopted the idea of anomie to develop strain theory, defining it as the discrepancy between common social goals and the legitimate means to attain those goals. In other words, an individual suffering from anomie would strive to attain the common goals of a specific society yet would not be able to reach these goals legitimately because of the structural limitations in society. As a result, the individual would exhibit deviant behavior. Friedrich Hayek notably uses the word anomie with this meaning.(Wikipedia’s entry for “Anomie”)
Chris Hedges’ point is intriguing because it offers an unusual “flashlight” on the problem of “destructive charisma” in leadership styles where the socially diseased state of the society itself calls forth (i.e., “vomits up”) such leaders from Hitler to Trump.
While not perhaps the whole story, it does get at something crucial, the “endogeneity problem” not in economics where it is usually discussed but in politics. Endogeneity comes from endogenous (i.e., generated from within). Exogenous is the opposite.
The German literary masterpiece Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929) shows a society where life and values are too topsy-turvy and dislocated to be sustainable and this creates an “ecosystem” of disorientation where Nazis begin to emerge or rather “crawl forth.” Thus the Hedges metaphor of “vomit up” is suggestive.