What does it take to rise to the top in politics and society? John Green examines the astrological indicators of power (and possible psychopathology) in the charts of a selection of leaders and thinkers past and present – and contends that our future masters may need a better moral education.
Power. In these days of Pluto in Capricorn it's a concept much in the news. We watch as people quest for power in countries all around the world, leaders rise and they fall – sometimes just as quickly. But what is power, why do some people seek it so enthusiastically and what happens when we gain power? That's what I want to look at in this article.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines power as "The capacity or ability to direct or influence the behaviour of others or the course of events". In itself, of course, this isn't necessarily a bad thing: at the lower end of the scale we might just see it as influence: we use debate, collaboration, negotiating and so on. At the other end of the spectrum, it involves coercion, the use or threat of force, or perhaps the fear of social exclusion. I think that, in this day and age, we are often more inclined to think of the latter; we talk about the abuse of power and its effects on us as a populace. We often feel disempowered by those with more money or social standing; we feel impotent and complain that we are unable to change things. I'm reminded of a couple of famous quotes.
The first is from Lord Acton, the historian and moralist. "Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely". I think this fits very well with the modern zeitgeist. The second quote, "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power", comes from Abraham Lincoln. This is perhaps more reasonable as it shows that power, in the right hands, can be used as a force for good and not just evil. The problem often comes though through the fact that once we give someone power it changes them. More of that later.
But what is it that spurs us on to power? Well some people, such as Friedrich Nietzsche, have postulated that it is a fundamental drive. The will to power was a concept in Nietzsche's philosophy. Nietzsche thought that it might be a main driving force in people: achievement, ambition, climbing up to the highest position in life. These all show the will to power. However, it isn't quite as simple as that, and Nietzsche's philosophy gives itself up to many different, and conflicting, interpretations. Some interpret it in a psychological context and see it as creative, not just controlling. They see it as a struggle against one's surroundings which leads to personal growth and self-actualisation, and say that the power held over others as a result of this is just coincidence.
Other Nietzschean interpreters disagree that it is just about harmless, humanistic self-perfection. They suggest that for Nietzsche, whilst power does mean self-perfection, it also means outward, political, elitist and aristocratic domination. Some saw it as a type of social Darwinism, where the survival of the fittest meant using that will over others. He's not around to interpret it for us, of course, so I can't give you a definitive view of it. I'll give you a quote from him though, from his book The Anti-Christ.
What is good? All that heightens the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man. What is bad? All that proceeds from weakness. What is happiness? The feeling that power increases, that resistance is overcome.
The ideas of Nietzsche certainly influenced Alfred Adler, who was among the co-founders of the psychoanalytic movement, when he developed his school of psychotherapy called individual psychology. Adler thought that equality was vitally important in preventing various forms of psychopathology, and supported the development of community interest and democratic family structures for raising children. His most famous concept is the inferiority complex, which talks about the problem of self-esteem and its negative effects on us whereby it sometimes produces a paradoxical striving for superiority, leading us to become egocentric, power-hungry and aggressive or worse. Adler's conceptualisation of the "Will to Power" focuses on the individual's creative power to change for the better.
In an article 'The Psychology of Power' published in 1928, he says:
The striving for personal power is a disastrous delusion and poisons man's living together. Whoever desires the human community must renounce the striving for power over others.
He believed that the traits of craving for power, ambition, and seeking power over others were not innate characteristics but ones that were introduced into a child at an early age from an atmosphere that was full of the arousing nature of power, that we became full of the desire for the intoxication of power. But why?
Well, let's talk astrology; it is what this journal is about after all. For a planet associated with power I might look at Pluto. I appreciate not all astrologers use Pluto but I personally feel that when we are talking about influence over the masses, or the uses and abuses of power in the collective, it's the planet to look at. So we'd expect to see it featured strongly in many charts of those in power or with an interest in power. So that should apply to Nietzsche and Adler too as they were so fascinated with the concept.
15 October 1844, 10:00 LMT, Röcken, Germany. RR: B
Immediately you can see that Nietzsche's Sun opposes Pluto very closely. It's also in a Thor's hammer pattern with sesquiquadrates from Venus and the Moon in square to each other. Pluto is also the chart ruler, if you use modern rulerships.
To me that Sun-Pluto opposition suggests that from an early age Nietzsche came up against Plutonian issues: the loss of power, a feeling of impotence, death. In a chart it suggests that right from birth we were aware of the issue of survival, of the unfairness of life and that we are not always in control. We may feel that we have to fight to survive. Linked to the Sun it suggests that the father was implicated in all of this.
Well, Nietzsche was born in 1844. His father, a Lutheran pastor, died in 1849 and his younger brother in 1850, aged two. He grew up living with his maternal grandmother and his father's two unmarried sisters. When we experience the death of those close to us at an early age, we feel that lack of power, and either feel powerless towards others or fight to try to gain a sense of power, to find the will to power within us. If we are talking about will and getting what we want, we should look at Mars too, and there it is on the Midheaven, opposing Jupiter and Uranus and trine to Saturn.
His Mars comes up against the collective ideas of Uranus, it brings conflict and challenges, and with Jupiter there as well we may fight to promote what we believe in. The trine to Saturn gives a structure, a controlled and focused will to get what we want to achieve. It could be the chart of a politician or a social reformer, but not surprising with Jupiter there, Nietzsche chose philosophy as his way of changing the world. And Adler?
7 February 1870, 14:00 LMT, Vienna, Austria. RR: DD
Adler has Sun square Pluto and Jupiter. I should point out that there is conjecture about his birth time, so don't take the time as accurate, but that doesn't affect this particular square. Depending on the time, the Moon may be conjunct this pairing, too. Mercury squares these as well. Mars' only main aspect is a sextile to Saturn.
Again this suggests an awareness of Plutonian themes early on in life, emphasised by the exaggerating Jupiter influence, helping it form an important part of his life philosophy. We can see a fascination with the idea of power, like Nietzsche, that it is easy to feel impotent in the face of what life throws at you. It is interesting that Adler was fascinated with the inferiority complex: Sun square Jupiter can give us feelings of inflation, that we are better than others; but here it is brought down by the harsh realities of life with it being conjunct Pluto and sesquiquadrate Saturn.
Now Adler was the second of seven children of a grain merchant and his wife. Early on in his life, he developed rickets, which meant he did not walk until he was four years old. Then he developed pneumonia and heard a doctor say to his father, "Your boy is lost". At that point, he decided to be a doctor. When Alfred was only three, his younger brother died in the bed next to him. Alfred was also known for his competitive attitude toward his older brother, interestingly called Sigmund - note that Mercury is square Pluto, suggesting a sibling rivalry.
It is interesting that both Nietzsche and Adler were faced with death at an early age, as you might expect with strong Sun-Pluto links. Also with Adler, his early illness and inability to walk may have added to feelings of inferiority and thus to a striving for success, which he would later talk about in his psychology.
* * *
So who is the most powerful person in the world today? Well, every year Forbes publishes a list of the world's most powerful people. It may not be the most accurate barometer of who holds power but it certainly shows us who the rich and powerful believe to be at the top of their tree.
In their list for 2014 at number five was German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom they also named as most powerful woman in 2014; then at four Pope Francis; three was President of China Xi Jinping; Barack Obama was in second place and at number one for the second year was Vladimir Putin. David Cameron was at number ten, if you are interested, after Bill Gates, various heads of banking and people from Google.
Vladimir Putin has been the President of Russia since May 2012. He also served as President from 2000 to 2008, and as Prime Minister of Russia from 1999 to 2000 and again from 2008 to 2012. He's certainly been centre-stage recently what with the Winter Olympics being in Russia and the events in Ukraine.
7 October 1952, 9:30 BAT, St Petersburg, Russia. RR: C
Looking at his chart we may be drawn to Pluto on the MC and South Node, square Jupiter, but the birth time may not be correct, which could take that Midheaven out of the picture, although it fits rather nicely. However, Pluto is still strongly present in his chart. It also trines Mars and sesquiquadrates Chiron.
Only Mars in this group is a personal planet, but being trine Pluto, it certainly gives us a feeling of a Mars in need of power and control: if Pluto is on the MC this certainly emphasises the need to get to the top. The Pluto square Jupiter can show someone who can be both over- confident and lacking in confidence at the core, added to by Chiron. Perhaps a little echo of Adler's inferiority complex pushing forward to power.
He was born to factory workers in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), and grew up in an apartment shared by several families. He was raised as an only child; his two brothers died young, one shortly after birth, the other of diphtheria during World War II. Once again that awareness of the transient nature of life.
I would also look at the Sun conjunct Saturn and Neptune. This is a powerful conjunction which obviously shows the intense discipline needed for a leader along with being able to be in tune with the longings of the collective in Neptune. Saturn-Neptune has desires to find a political utopia.
To me Neptune is an interesting addition to the picture of power. I mentioned earlier that power is about the ability to direct or influence the behaviour of others. Here, a Neptune- Mercury conjunction certainly shows the ability to persuade others: it may be charming, have imagination and quite possibly the ability to manipulate or even lie. Not that politicians would ever be accused of lying, of course.
Neptune gives us that power to dream, and imagine ourselves as how we would like to be. If left unchecked it can also give us a messianic feeling which is aided by the collective which wants to see it as their saviour. Putin has it conjunct Saturn, which would hopefully hold that in check and give the discipline to succeed, but with Neptune we always crave something. There is some void we need to fill, a quest to feel redeemed, that may be spiritual or musical, or that can lead us down the road of addiction to something - drugs, alcohol…or maybe power?
It seems that every week the news is full of stories about the abuse of power: journalists hacking phones, MPs involved in sex scandals, politicians pocketing bribes or dictators wallowing in luxury while their people starve. The phrase "drunk with power" may well be an accurate description, according to studies at Stanford and Berkley Universities. Their research shows that power acts to lower inhibitions, in a way similar to alcohol, meaning that powerful people can sometimes act with daring; or like wild animals, it gives them an adrenalin rush. In addition, research work on monkeys shows that their serotonin levels change when they move into a dominant alpha position.
Stanford Professor Deborah Gruenfeld, a social psychologist who focuses on the study of power, says:
Disinhibition is the very root of power. For most people, what we think of as 'power plays' aren't calculated and Machiavellian - they happen at the subconscious level. Many of those internal regulators that hold most of us back from bold or bad behaviour diminish or disappear. When people feel powerful, they stop trying to 'control themselves'.i
We are familiar with the role of Neptune in addiction, and so would it be unsurprising if we saw an addiction to power as operating along similar lines in powerful people. "Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac" Henry Kissinger is quoted as saying; and to those with a strong Neptune, anything that fills a void can become addictive. We are searching for something beyond us, something meaningful; but we can easily be fooled into thinking that what we are addicted to fulfils that promise.
Research shows the following characteristics of people with power. They tend to be more oblivious of what others think, more likely to pursue their own satisfaction, poorer judges of other people's moods, more likely to hold stereotypes, overly optimistic and more likely to take risks. This sounds like Jupiter could be in play, too.
Let's look at the chart of Angela Merkel, apparently the most powerful woman in the world today.
17 July 1954, 18:00 CET, Hamburg, Germany. RR: C
Again, her birth time is not accurately confirmed but it seems likely to be more solid than Putin's. It gives her a Sun-Uranus conjunction square to the Neptune on the MC and opposite Chiron. Mars is trine to Pluto: again the inherent will to power, and quincunx the Sun. Jupiter is conjunct Mercury on the South Node.
Here we have the leader-rebel with the Sun-Uranus, again fitting into the ideas (Uranus) and dreams (Neptune) of the collective, important in those who can achieve power nationally I think. The generational Uranus-Neptune Liz Greene describes as "an inherent conflict between the power of the human intellect to transform reality and the yearning of the human heart to find an altogether different reality".ii
Merkel's Sun conjunct Uranus makes her part of this and elevated by the populace to deal with these problems - that's not an easy thing to take on. It's not made easier by the opposition to Chiron which brings in a wound, a feeling that however hard you try you can never achieve the status and recognition you desire, as it is in Capricorn. There is a feel of a struggle to fill a lack from the Sun once again: it is hard to find your own self-expression when the Sun is so closely influenced by the outer planets; you belong to something bigger, something of your generation.
There's an interesting lack of earth in the chart, just Venus in Virgo. Putin also has a singleton in earth, Jupiter. Nietzsche and Adler both have more earth. Whilst this has many manifestations, it shows that there might be struggles to adapt to what earth is all about, to be easily grounded.
If we go on to look at those who are perhaps even more power-hungry than our current crop of leaders we might be drawn to dictators. Many seem to have been influenced by Niccolò Machiavelli.
In the 16th century Machiavelli wrote The Prince, a book which seems to recommend manipulation and cruelty as a way of gaining power. In it he says:
It is much safer to be feared than loved.
His ideas have stayed with us and certainly influenced Robert Greene's book The 48 Laws of power published in 1998. His book includes such laws as:
Law 3, Conceal Your Intentions.
Law 6, Court Attention at All Costs.
Law 12, Use Selective Honesty and Generosity to Disarm Your Victims.
Law 15, Crush Your Enemy Totally.
Law 18, Keep Others in Suspended Terror.
There certainly seem to be some in power following his dictates.
2 May 1469, 23.07 LMT, Florence, Italy. RR: B
If we look at Machiavelli's chart we see his Sun is virtually unaspected – only trining Chiron. His Moon, at 2° Aquarius, is conjunct Chiron and squares Neptune on the MC, Saturn at the IC and the nodes. Jupiter opposes the Moon too. Some familiar themes here again, this time tying into the Moon, suggesting issues also coming from the family but here tying into the mother rather than the father.
The Sun-Chiron brings up the now familiar theme of finding it difficult to self-express. It's highlighted in his chart with the difficult Moon aspects. The Moon shows what we need to feel nurtured, to feel safe: Chiron and Saturn add little respite here, often making the individual feel rejected, hard to love. The square to Neptune emphasises this hole in the centre of the emotions. Here is someone feeling a need to be part of something larger, something more fulfilling, and with the opposition to Jupiter, something one feels entitled to. It faces us with the harsh realities of life and here means that Machiavelli is desperate to prove how important he can be.
He also has Mars opposing Pluto, hence that outlet needs to come through power and control of others: it is square to Mercury, appropriate for someone who wrote about power and manipulation, as well as being active in politics.
Let's have a look at the charts of a couple of recent dictators.
28 April 1937, 17:00 BAT, Tikrit, Iraq. RR: B
He instigated numerous conflicts in his lifetime. Mass genocide against the Kurds, Assyrians and other ethnic groups who rebelled against his leadership, and he fought several wars against Iran and Kuwait, with a death toll of around two million in total.
His Pluto is at the MC, opposing Jupiter and square to Venus. Here we have the interesting Venus involvement rather than the Sun, a desire for power, the power aphrodisiac perhaps, which linked to inflating Jupiter could easily give us a narcissistic feel, the set of character traits concerned with self-image or ego. It certainly shows someone who needs to learn moderation, a lesson I don't feel he learnt particularly well.
Neptune squares the Moon, Nodes and Chiron. The Moon is conjunct Mars; here's someone who acts on their emotions, plus he has that now quite familiar Neptune need to seek something greater, which we have seen a lot today.
His Sun has the rebellious and unpredictable conjunction with Uranus, and trines Neptune. Again, we have the familiar signature of personal planets linked to collective ones allowing him to reach the public, to be put into that position of power as someone who will bring about the change to the ideal the collective is looking for. It's important to remember with power that often it is we who put them in that position of power, and it is because of these strong links to the outer planets that they seem to resonate with people - and what they want forms society at a particular time. Even with dictators who reach that position through rebellion and taking power by force, it is still because there is a strong need for change within that collective. We have seen that a lot in recent years with the current Uranus-Pluto cardinal square.
15 April 1912, no time (noon chart), Pyongyang, North Korea. RR: X
Kim Il-sung was the leader of North Korea from its establishment in 1948 until his death in 1994. His tenure as leader was autocratic, and he established an all-pervasive cult of personality. We don't have a time for his birth, so we cannot look at the houses.
His Sun is conjunct Mercury and the Nodes, it squares Neptune and sextiles Pluto. The Mercury squares Uranus too. As well as the now familiar Neptune, the Pluto brings in the drive for power.
Pluto and Mars square Venus. The Moon is possibly involved as it would be between 19° Pisces and 2° Aries on that day. As with Saddam Hussein it indicates the desire for intense and powerful experiences along with the Mars will, which shows that he will push to get what he desires. Mars trines Chiron which often spurs people on to achieve because of the sense of impotence that Mars-Chiron can have, added to by Mars being in the sign of its fall.
Interestingly, all of these charts show strong nodal links. Kim Il-sung has the Sun conjunct them. This often gives a sense that your life holds a special destiny and purpose; you are here for a reason and must accomplish something special. Saddam Hussein and Machiavelli both have the Moon with the nodes, which again can give a strong emotional feeling of fated-ness. Jupiter there (as in Merkel's case) can describe someone who feels unique and special once again, that they have an important destiny to fulfil. Pluto connected to the nodal axis, as with Putin, enhances that Plutonian need to transform and heighten the awareness of power and powerlessness.
Some political psychologists believe that dictators like Saddam Hussein and Kim Il-sung share a personality profile containing narcissism and paranoia. Strong personal planet links with Pluto often contain an element of paranoia, whilst Neptune and Jupiter can bring in narcissism. But can anyone turn into a dictator like them?
* * *
Well, quite quickly it might seem so if we look at the famous 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, in which students were randomly assigned to be either "prisoners" or "guards" in a constructed "prison" in the University psychology department. It did not take long before the prison guards psychologically tortured their fellow students who were playing the prisoners. The guards became abusive as the prisoners became passive and the experiment was stopped after less than a week.
Even lower levels of power seem to influence behaviour. A study in 2010 published in the journal Psychological Science found that people made to think of themselves as better off were not as good at reading others' emotions compared to people primed to think they were poor.
The co-author of the study, Dacher Keltner of the University of California-Berkeley, said that the reason may be that people without much power need to build alliances with one another to get by. People in charge, on the other hand, can do what they please as they stop reading the emotions of others well. They become more self-serving and inappropriate in their behaviour. Perhaps exemplified by the well-published picture of Barack Obama, David Cameron and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt: they obviously didn't think taking a group selfie was an inappropriate thing to do at the funeral of Nelson Mandela?iii
It goes further though. In his article about the paradox of power Dacher Keltner says:
Perhaps more unsettling is the wealth of evidence that having power makes people more likely to act like sociopaths. High-power individuals are more likely to interrupt others, to speak out of turn, and to fail to look at others who are speaking. They are also more likely to tease friends and colleagues in a hostile, humiliating fashion.iv
This has led others to compare those in certain professions for psychopathy. In their 2006 book, Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work, Paul Babiak and Robert Hare argue that because psychopaths have good abilities to read people and persuade others what to do, they can rise high in the boardroom despite their rather poor interpersonal relationship skills.
In 2010 Babiak, Hare and Craig Neumann examined the psychopathy of those tipped for high achievement in various companies' management development programs. The results suggested that about 3% in the programs were in the psychopathic range. This compared to about 1% in the general population. Prison populations contain around 15%. Other studies they performed suggest the figure might be more, between 3-25%, in executives.
Robert Hare's Psychopathology Checklist suggests that psychopathy as found in organisations has the following characteristics:
Channel 4's Psychopath Night programme vi listed the following top five professions as containing the most people on the psychopathic scale.
They suggested that the traits valued in business and banking like ruthlessness, lack of conscience and succeeding at all costs attract those with psychopathic tendencies. These traits are certainly familiar if you've ever seen The Apprentice on TV.
In a report by Anton Valukas, the lawyer hired by a US court to investigate Lehman Brothers' failure, he revealed a systemic use of deception within the bank; he described management failures and a destructive, internal culture of reckless risk-taking worthy of any psychopath. The Chairman and Chief Executive Officer overseeing this culture was Dick Fuld.
26 April 1946, no time (noon chart), New York, New York, US. RR: X
We don't have a time for Dick Fuld, but he has Sun square to his Mars-Pluto conjunction. It is also quincunx Neptune. Sun-Mars-Pluto certainly has recklessness and an explosive temper, along with the inner sense of powerlessness added to by Neptune - and these are familiar in many psychopaths' charts.
His Mercury opposes Chiron and Neptune, to which the Sun also makes a quincunx. Superficial charm perhaps? His Jupiter is conjunct Chiron and square to Saturn, trining Uranus and the North Node. Someone on a mission with perhaps a hint of narcissism?
To compare here's the chart of a full blown psychopath, Jeffrey Dahmer.
21 May 1960, 16:34 CDT, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, US. RR: AA
Jeffrey Dahmer was an American serial killer and sex offender, who committed the rape, murder and dismemberment of 17 men and boys between 1978 and 1991, with many of his murders involving necrophilia, cannibalism and the permanent preservation of body parts - typically all or part of the skeletal structure.
Sun conjunct Mercury is square Pluto again, in a t-square with Chiron and quincunx Jupiter, and also makes a Yod to Neptune with Mars. There are some familiar aspects here that we have talked about. A Plutonian need for power over others because of a lack of sense of who we are, the Sun. An ability to be superficially charming with the Libra rising and Mercury Neptune. A recklessness and self-inflation. It's not so very different from the other charts we have looked at.
The lack of empathy? Well, his Moon trines Uranus and squares Saturn, a difficult relationship which suggests it was hard to feel loved, and it certainly seems that neither of his parents had much time for him as he grew up.vii
Now of course many of us may share similar aspects within our charts and we do have an element of freewill as to what we do with those, but without being given the right breaks it can be a signal of slipping into criminality. Given too many right breaks and we might end up in politics or the head of a banking organisation. Perhaps we need a happy medium of what we get in life.
As Dacher Keltner observes, this leaves us with a power paradox. He says:
Power is given to those individuals, groups, or
nations who advance the interests of the greater good in a
Yet unfortunately, having power renders many individuals as impulsive and poorly attuned to others, making them prone to act abusively and lose the esteem of their peers. What people want from leaders—social intelligence—is what is damaged by the experience of power.
When we recognize this paradox and all the destructive behaviours that flow from it, we can appreciate the importance of promoting a more socially intelligent model of power. We need to better identify the qualities powerful people should have, and better understand how they should wield their power. Then we'd have much less tolerance for people who lead by deception, coercion, or undue force.viii
I'll finish with two quotes it might be useful to bear in mind. Spiderman says, "With great power comes great responsibility", although the quote most likely came from Voltaire originally! The second - from Ghandi:
The day the power of love overrules the love of power the world will know peace.
I'll leave you with that thought.
References and Notes:
Adapted from the Plenary talk given by John Green at the 2014 Astrological Association Conference
ii Greene, Liz. Neptune. Samuel Weiser 1996, pg 442
Social network: DarwinPeacock, Maklaan [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Nietzsche: By Gustav-Adolf Schultze (d. 1897) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Adler: See [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Putin and Merkel: Kremlin.ru [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Machiavelli: Santi di Tito [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Kim Il-Sung: By unknown Photograph: Gilad Rom (Kim_Il_Song_Portrait.jpg)
First published in: The Astrological Journal, May/Jun 2015
John Green has been involved with astrology for over 25 years and studied at the CPA qualifying with their Certificate and Diploma. He works as a consultant in London and teaches the worldwide online CPA courses as well as giving seminars. He is a writer of both fiction and non-fiction. He was the editor of the Astrological Journal from 2008 to 2013. His book on synastry Do You Love Me? is now available.
© John Green - first published by The Astrological Journal / The Astrological Association of Great Britain 2015
The Astrological Association is a registered charity dedicated to the support and promotion of astrology in all its branches. For over fifty years, it has been serving the astrological community through informing and bringing together astrologers from all over the world, via its stable of publications, its annual Conference, Kepler Research Day and other occasional events, and its support of local astrological groups. It also represents the interests of astrologers generally, responding when appropriate to issues raised within the media.
The first book available in English by the great French master astrologer Andre Barbault. The Value of Astrology offers incisive, captivating insights into the origins, classical tradition and modern uses of astrology.
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