Elliot Spitzer’s Shadow

As is so often the case with people, the source of their enthusiasm and success, paradoxically, becomes their nemesis. The deposed governor of New York, Elliot Spitzer, has been a case in point. The most salient feature of the story is how he vigorously went after prostitution — shutting down several prostitution rings, and seeking to raise the penalty being a John from a misdemeanor to a year in jail — while himself frequently engaging the services of prostitutes. Certainly, he is a colossal hypocrite, but there is something deeper at issue, which explains how he could be blind or indifferent to his own hypocrisy. Here is a case, to use a Jungian concept, of a person not in touch with his shadow, with his own dark side. Consequently, he projected his dark side on to other Johns and to prostitution rings, and then went after them with a vengeance. Of course, he had other favorite targets, such as Wall Street, as well as other politicians. He viewed them as greedy and immoral. They were, though, merely projections of his own immorality. Spitzer cast a very large shadow indeed!

Secondly, there was something quite insane about Spitzer’s recklessness. He did not seriously believe that he could get caught. He was blinded, first of all, by megalomania, by his hubristic belief in his own power. And he was blinded by his contempt for everyone; i.e., he believed that the public not smart enough to catch him.

In regard to his recklessness, some theorists contend that people like Spitzer actually wish to get caught. Why would this be so? To go through life with a vastly inflated ego feels unreal and insane. That is the psychological downside of megalomania. Unconsciously, such a person desperately seeks to come down to earth, and often does in an Icarus-like fashion. They do so by unconsciously arranging their own downfall. Rock stars do it through drugs. Politicians do it through scandal. In regard to Spitzer, paying for sex is itself degrading. Furthermore, Spitzer sought to have unsafe sex with prostitutes. He was unconsciously arranging to be punished by contracting venereal disease.

Spitzer is a man who never knew himself. He never had time to, for his entire life has been a ruthless and determined effort to advance his career. Lack of self-knowledge can often give a person great energy and charisma. Here is another paradox: just as Spitzer projected his dark side on to other people, so it is that those who voted for him — 70% of New Yorkers! — projected their archetype of a savior, who avenges evil, on to Spitzer. Thus, just as Spitzer never knew himself, so it is that most New Yorkers never knew Spitzer, until now that is. So it is that two costly mistakes in life consist in not knowing oneself and not knowing other people.

In his resignation speech, Spitzer vowed to continue to work for the public good. How much better it would have been, for the sake of everyone, if he had vowed to know himself. When public service is a flight from the truth about oneself, it always turns demonic.

Bookmark and Share

4 People have left comments on this post

» Neophyte said: { May 7, 2008 - 07:05:45 }


I really enjoyed reading this analysis. The only articles I’ve been reading were from the Daily News, and all those reporters focused on was how the prostitute was 22 years old, “only” 4 years older than his eldest daughter. They would even post pictures of him with his daughters. It seemed the Daily News was very focused on portraying Spitzer as an incestous, child-molesting rapist of the innocence, instead of focusing on the real issue of politicians casting their shadow onto the world.


» mdillof said: { May 13, 2008 - 06:05:52 }


That is an interesting observation that you make, about the Daily News’ focus. I suppose, though, that people these days view themselves as innocent victims of men, in positions of power — politicians, their boss at work, their father, etc. Unconsciously, they might identify with those who have been molested, for they feel that their troubles stem from having lost their childhood innocence because of their encounter with the masculine. Here, again, I am referring to a notion of Jung’s, the Father Archetype.

For many today, that archetype is experienced as something negative, as an oppressive force, as a molester of their innocence. The Father Archetype has, indeed, fallen on hard times in our pagan culture.

» mostel said: { Apr 9, 2012 - 11:04:11 }

Hi, this is my first post here. Been reading several of the articles/essays. I profoundly appreciate the insights into the human condition contained in these writings. Of course the focus of Spitzer’s downfall was on ‘who’ he was having sex with, not ‘why. ‘ The insight that Spitzer was projecting his own shadow seems so obvious once you say it. But this kind of insight seems to be willfully withheld by our news channels and most newspapers. There is something ‘arresting’ about an insight like this–and the last thing any news channel or newspaper wants is the reader/viewer to stop for a second and contemplate the situation. They would prefer that we stay in a state of mania, obsessed with lurid detail and shame, which keeps us coming back for more, more, more.

» mdillof said: { Apr 10, 2012 - 12:04:31 }

Hi Mostel,

Thanks for your thoughts here. What happens is that TV news and the papers have their own narrative and, if they wish to keep their ratings and sell their papers must correspond to what the public wishes to hear. Mostly they enjoy schadenfreude, or joy at another person’s suffering and downfall. And now they enjoy seeing Spitzer’s supposed redemption, as a newscaster. It’s all the stuff of myths. The deeper analysis they avoid, party, as you perspicaciously state, because they do not wish to disturb their readers’ somnambulance, but also because they, the news reporters, also fear life’s depths.

You must be logged in to post a comment.