Wednesday, January 24, 2018

James Hillman on "Prestige" Apropos of Some Figures Today

Hillman refers to "masks" below, and I just couldn't resist
Here are some quotes from the chapter on "Prestige" taken from James Kinds of Power: A Guide to Its Intelligent Uses (1997). Its just seems apropos today, but read for yourself to decide if this is so.



When the idea of office loses its foundation in service, we are left with office seekers who want the external trappings of office for the power they bestow: prestige. And office seekers are a raging hungry pack.

Prestige in psychological language is the vanity of narcissism— to be admired and therewith to shore up one’s shaky sense of worth. Notice that prestige is not to be worthy of admiration or to earn it, but simply to be assured of personal worth by external approbation given by the office.

Recognition from others is part of communal feedback. In part, we always are as others see us. A great reward of power comes from outside ourselves. Prestige, however, wants only to impress, neither to influence, to dominate, to control, nor to have agency of any sort unless it adds to the impression one makes. In fact, the risks entailed by doing something and failing at it may cost prestige and may keep the person who is intent on prestige from doing much at all. When prestige is the motive, the less you actually do, the more likely success. For you have risked nothing that might detract from your prestige. To maintain prestige, job performance is measured mainly in terms of being present among the important players in important situations.

Again we find that the word gives away this secret. Prestige comes from praestigia, delusion, illusion like a juggler’s trick, leading to the meanings of deception and imposture. We have the illusion of power without substance; not charismatic magic but manipulation. So to uncover where prestige is ruling, look for juggling, deception, pomp and trappings, a desperate fervor to seize and hold office, and not much real risk. But it’s power all the same.

How can power reside in shallow, self-centered caution? How can someone without inner integrity be honored with prestige? Answer: by means of the trappings of office, the role of leadership, the stance of authority—that is, by wearing the mask of power prestige employs the power of the mask.


Early cave paintings, aboriginal facial markings, Greek and Japanese drama each show that the mask retains and emanates effective agency. Surrounding the hollow personality of the prestige-driven person lies the archetypal aura of the mask. By means of the mask something more than human is present, a higher drama is being played and greater powers are being invoked. These powers come through the stance and voice and advice of its wearer, enlarging his stature and bestowing importance. Inside this persona there may be no one at home, or only a weak comedian playing the Wizard of Oz; even if seen into and seen through, the person retains a position of power acquired only by prestige.

The main method for acquiring prestige is not the imitation of leadership or authority, but rather having a keen nose for what and who is important. Someone with prestige gathers followers simply by following what’s in the wind, which way it blows, when to trim sails, shift weight, reverse course, take cover. Since they are inwardly empty, they are utterly under the influence of outer forces. Therefore they can sense immediately the matter of importance in the air. His conversation will drop names; hers will remark on events others missed. All along they will indicate how well “up” on things they are and where the “major moves” are taking place.


Hillman, James. Kinds of Power (Kindle Locations 1332-1339). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. Original publication 1997. 

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