Which historical figures can be classified as "passive-aggressive" or performed historical "passive-aggressive" acts?
March 17, 2006 9:49 AM   Subscribe

Which historical figures can be classified as "passive-aggressive" or performed historically "passive-aggressive" acts?
posted by jeremias to Society & Culture (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Well, most labor actions and non-violent protests are kind of almost by definition passive-aggressive tactics, aren't they?

I doubt you'd see any national leaders fitting that category. It's a tactic of the weak, not the strong.
posted by empath at 10:03 AM on March 17, 2006

Thomas More, maybe.
posted by Espy Gillespie at 10:08 AM on March 17, 2006

posted by kensanway at 10:10 AM on March 17, 2006

posted by 9000.68 at 10:10 AM on March 17, 2006

U.S. presidents have skewed facts to get U.S. citizens to accept going to war, e.g., using the Gulf of Tonkin incident to increase U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
posted by salvia at 10:17 AM on March 17, 2006

I don't think Gandhi and other non-violent activists can be classified as passive-aggressive. Passive-aggressive doesn't simply mean that you are agressive while avoiding physical violence. It also entails hiding your true agenda. It is central to non-violent action that you do not hide you true agenda but, to the contrary, bring it absolutely into the light of day. It is the undeniable moral truth of your agenda that gives power to non-violent action.
posted by alms at 10:19 AM on March 17, 2006


See also.
posted by Pollomacho at 10:20 AM on March 17, 2006

That said, I would categorize the current president Bush as passive-aggressive in many circumstances (for example, when dealing with Democrats on domestic policy).
posted by alms at 10:21 AM on March 17, 2006

The following is a list of traits for a passive agressive male. I am hard pressed to think of any political figure that has not engaged in at the very least: Ambiguity, Making Excuses and Lying, and Obstruction.

Reading through the list, I suspect the many many examples should recall themselves to you.

As a country, the U.S. traditionally displays Fear Of Dependency, Fear Of Intimacy, Fear of Competition, Feeling Victimized ("unfair competition!") , Making Excuses, and Sulking.

*FEAR OF DEPENDENCY - Unsure of his autonomy & afraid of being alone, he fights his dependency needs - usually by trying to control you.

*FEAR OF INTIMACY - Guarded & often mistrusful, he is reluctant to show his emotional fragility. He's often out of touch with his feelings, reflexively denying feelings he thinks will "trap" or reveal him, like love. He picks fights to create distance.

*FEAR OF COMPETITION - Feeling inadequate, he is unable to compete with other men in work and love. He may operate either as a self-sabotaging wimp with a pattern of failure, or he'll be the tyrant, setting himself up as unassailable and perfect, needing to eliminate any threat to his power.

*OBSTRUCTIONISM - Just tell a p/a man what you want, no matter how small, and he may promise to get it for you. But he won't say when, and he"ll do it deliberately slowly just to frustrate you. Maybe he won't comply at all. He blocks any real progress he sees to your getting your way.

*FOSTERING CHAOS - The p/a man prefers to leave the puzzle incomplete, the job undone.

*FEELING VICTIMIZED - The p/a man protests that others unfairly accuse him rather than owning up to his own misdeeds. To remain above reporach, he sets himself up as the apparently hapless, innocent victim of your excessive demands and tirades.

*MAKING EXCUSES & LYING - The p/a man reaches as far as he can to fabricate excuses for not fulfilling promises. As a way of withholding information, affirmation or love - to have power over you - the p/a man may choose to make up a story rather than give you a straight answer.

*PROCRASTINATION - The p/a man has an odd sense of time - he believes that deadlines don't exist for him.

*CHRONIC LATENESS & FORGETFULNESS - One of the most infuriating & inconsiderate of all p/a traits is his inability to arrive on time. By keeping you waiting, he sets the ground rules of the relationship. And his selective forgetting - used only when he wants to avoid an obligation.

*AMBIGUITY - He is master of mixed messages and sitting on fences. When he tells you something, you may still walk away wondering if he actually said yes or no.

*SULKING - Feeling put upon when he is unable to live up to his promises or obligations, the p/a man retreats from pressures around him and sulks, pouts and withdraws.
posted by tkolar at 10:35 AM on March 17, 2006

I doubt you'd see any national leaders fitting that category. It's a tactic of the weak, not the strong.

What makes you think national leaders are strong? 9 times out of 10, their entire careers are driven by their need for attention from other people.

And countries are horrendously passive agressive with one another. Which is probably a good thing, or everyone would be having one long continuous border war with their neighbors.
posted by tkolar at 10:51 AM on March 17, 2006

Are those traits exclusively male? Though not heads of state or even historical figures, I can think of a few women who fit the description.
posted by emelenjr at 11:09 AM on March 17, 2006

Are those traits exclusively male?

No, the write up I found just happened to be written for men and I didn't feel like restating the whole thing.
posted by tkolar at 11:11 AM on March 17, 2006

By the way, displaying passive aggressive behavior does not automatically get you classified as "Passive Aggressive".

To quote wikipedia, which in turn quotes the inestimable Cecil Adams:
It was listed as an Axis II personality disorder in the DSM-IIIR, but was moved in the DSM-IV to Appendix B ("Criteria Sets and Axes Provided for Further Study") because of controversy and the need for further research on how to categorize the behaviors in a future edition. To that point, Cecil Adams writes: "Merely being passive-aggressive isn't a disorder but a behavior — sometimes a perfectly rational behavior, which lets you dodge unpleasant chores while avoiding confrontation. It's only pathological if it's a habitual, crippling response reflecting a pervasively pessimistic attitude"
For example, Bill Clinton would not be diagnosed with Passive Aggressive Personality Disorder, despite the fact that he blew the tops off the charts with his passive aggressive behavior surrounding his womanizing.
posted by tkolar at 11:23 AM on March 17, 2006

I can't remember his name now, but there was a Union general in the early days of the US Civil War who made a series of lame excuses to defer attacks on Confederate forces, because his sympathies were with the south.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 11:31 AM on March 17, 2006

jeremias, how do you define passive-aggressive?

"The term "passive-aggressive" was introduced in a 1945 U.S. War Department technical bulletin, describing soldiers who weren't openly insubordinate but shirked duty through procrastination, willful incompetence, and so on. If you've ever served in the military during wartime, though, or for that matter read Catch-22, you realize that what the brass calls a personality disorder a grunt might call a rational strategy to avoid getting killed.

After the war the term found its way into civilian psychiatric practice and for many years was listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the bible of the mental health trade. According to the revised third edition (DSM-III-R, 1987), someone had PAPD if he displayed five or more of the following behaviors: (1) procrastinates, (2) sulks or argues when asked to do something he doesn't want to do, (3) works inefficiently on unwanted tasks, (4) complains without justification of unreasonable demands, (5) "forgets" obligations, (6) believes he is doing a much better job than others think, (7) resents useful suggestions, (8) fails to do his share, or (9) unreasonably criticizes authority figures."

"PAPD behavior is basically oppositional and provocative. While these individuals may seem, on occasion, to be compliant and agreeable, they are judgmental, irritable, and easily frustrated. They resist adequate performance through stubbornness, forgetfulness, lateness, deliberate inefficiency, and procrastination (Sperry & Carlson, 1993, p. 336)."

"Yet while "passive-aggressive" has become a workhorse phrase in marriage counseling and an all-purpose label for almost any difficult character, it is a controversial concept in psychiatry.

After some debate, the American Psychiatric Association dropped the behavior pattern from the list of personality disorders in its most recent diagnostic manual - the DSM IV - as too narrow to be a full-blown diagnosis, and not well enough supported by scientific evidence to meet increasingly rigorous standards of definition."
posted by iviken at 11:48 AM on March 17, 2006

Jefferson was the most passive-aggresive figure in US history. He trashed Adams behind his back, ran smear campaigns while acting like he wasn't even interested in the presidency, and worse.
posted by crapples at 1:32 PM on March 17, 2006

I think PinkStainlessTail's thinking of George McClellan, who was dissuaded from attacking the Confederates by fake cannons made out of trees. He was the Democratic candidate against Lincoln in the 1864 election, but he didn't support the party's anti-war platform.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:58 PM on March 17, 2006

I guess it depends on how broadly you define "historical," but Brachilles sulking in his tent comes to mind.
posted by rob511 at 8:06 PM on March 17, 2006

If you believe that Julius Caesar did not in fact have epilepsy, but in fact was faking epileptic seizures because he knew that every time he had a seizure in the assembly hall, the Senate had to adjourn, disrupting and aborting the debate - well, that's pretty passive-aggressive, isn't it?
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:39 PM on March 19, 2006

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