On the surface, Negan, the latest living human to cause misery and death to our heroes on “The Walking Dead,” fits the Psychology Today definition of a psychopath. He is violent and volatile, lacks the normal empathy that most people feel for others, but is also charming at times and entirely manipulative. But, as a leader of a group called the Saviors, he is like many of the people we regard as the great leaders of history. He enthusiastically uses terror as a means of statecraft.

Historical examples of people like Negan

Leaders ranging from Genghis Khan to Julius Caesar used the mass slaughter of noncombatants as a means of subduing their enemies.

People they proposed to conquer were given a choice, submit or die. Genghis Khan cut a swath of death and mayhem across Asia using such methods. Julius Caesar conquered Gaul by killing a third of its people and carrying away into bondage another third. Both established empires that lasted long after their deaths.

Modern versions of Negan

Modern nation states sometimes use terror to get their way. Vladimir Putin’s Russia is currently bombing civilians in Syria indiscriminately. The leaders of ISIS regularly conduct public executions, sometimes using barbaric methods such as burning alive or tossing victims off of buildings. Iran engages in public hangings and uses the whip to punish minor offensives.

For Negan terror is also a pleasure

Negan may actually be more circumspect than many of his historical predecessors.

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During the first episode of the current season, he killed only two of our heroes, one to impress upon the rest that he held absolute power over them, the other to show the folly of resisting his will. His breaking of Rick’s spirit through psychological games was classic as well as his taking Darryl as a hostage to ensure the good behavior of the rest. He leaves most of the cast alive to gather up tribute which he will collect in a couple of weeks.

However, and this is Negan’s fatal flaw, he rather enjoys bashing peoples’ heads in with a barbed baseball bat. It gives him pleasure far and beyond the use of murder as an instrument of power. He can control his followers through intimidation. But if there comes a time when he starts to murder people on a whim, he is done. Someone, out of self-preservation, will gather the courage to take him out.