I started Eli Chesen's 1973 book, President Nixon's Psychiatric Profile. According to this wikipedia article, Dr. Chesen worked with David Frost in developing a strategy for Frost's interviews of Richard Nixon.
admits that his psychiatric analysis of Nixon is not based on any
personal meetings that he has had with Nixon. Rather, like Bruce
Mazlish in In Search of Nixon, Chesen relies on such sources as biographies, Richard Nixon's Six Crises,
and Nixon's public appearances. Interestingly, one way that Chesen
justifies his methodology is by appealing to something that Nixon
himself said in Six Crises: that, if the Alger Hiss hearings
had been televised, there wouldn't have been all of the controversy
about Hiss' guilt, for people would have looked at Hiss' mannerisms and
would have concluded that Hiss was guilty!
presents Nixon as someone who is insecure and thus tries to maintain
control. That, according to Chesen, accounts for various features of
Nixon's personality and activities: Nixon's obsession with detail, his
self-discipline and his admiration of those who are self-disciplined,
his behavior during Watergate, the way that he says that he wants to
make something clear or to be candid (rather than just assuming that
people will accept what he's saying as candid), etc. What are the roots
of Nixon's insecurity, according to Chesen? Well, Chesen provides a
fictional case-study of a man named Steve Cleansman, who grew up with a
father who ran him down, and Cleansman went on to become an insecure
perfectionist. Chesen makes clear that Steve Cleansman is not entirely
like Richard Nixon, but rather that the fictional case-study is a way
for Chesen to illustrate categories and defense mechanisms that are
relevant to Nixon's life. And, to be honest, I don't get the impression
from Chesen's book that Nixon was an insecure perfectionist because his
father didn't think that he was good enough.
Nixon's parents were
relevant, however, as far as Chesen is concerned. Nixon's father was
an authoritarian and was argumentative, and he would never let his sons
develop self-esteem by beating him in an argument. (According to
Mazlish, Nixon responded to this by becoming talented with words.)
Nixon's mother was religious, and she was also the strong one of the
family. According to Chesen, the strength of Nixon's mother confused
Nixon because men were the ones who were supposed to be strong, and
Nixon's religious upbringing----coupled with his father's
authoritarianism----instilled in Nixon a certain authoritarianism.
Nixon, according to Chesen, found a degree of comfort in the authority
structure that was around him, and yet Nixon resented it, contributing
to the aggressive impulses within him. According to Chesen, the adult
Nixon on some level admires Communism on account of its orderliness as a
system, yet he is anti-Communist because he is projecting things onto
The time that Nixon's mother was away in Arizona caring
for Richard's brother Harold (who had tuberculosis) also had an impact
on Nixon, according to Chesen: at age 12 (and I should note that Mazlish
on page 21 of In Search of Nixon seems to say that Nixon was
older than 12 when this happened), Nixon was thrust into adulthood, and
he had to perform tasks that women did (i.e., washing the dishes).
That, according to Chesen, could have made Nixon ashamed and influenced
him to withdraw. There are other factors that young Nixon experienced
that could have contributed to his insecurity: the death of his brother
Arthur, an accident in which Nixon fell out of a buggy when he was very
young, and illnesses.
Like Mazlish, Chesen discusses Nixon's
grandiosity. Early in the book, on pages 12-13, Chesen says that the
difference between Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon was that
Eisenhower regarded himself as part of America, as was evident in
Eisenhower's division of his loyalties between the White House and the
golf course; Nixon, by contrast, regards the country as an extension of
himself and takes himself way too seriously----even though Nixon says in
Six Crises that he learned from Eisenhower not to take himself too seriously!
should make a clarification: I doubt that Chesen is saying that events
in Nixon's earlier life caused Nixon to turn out a certain way. Chesen
acknowledges in his story about Steve Cleansman that people who grow up
in the same environment can turn out differently. Perhaps Chesen
believes that how people turn out is a combination of both nature and
nurture----of temperament coupled with the experiences that people
have. Just to speculate (and this is my speculation, not Chesen's),
Nixon may have already been a quiet boy who wanted order, but certain
events amplified those characteristics.
I'd like to close this
post by commenting on Nixon's religion. Both Mazlish and Chesen discuss
the role of religion in Nixon's childhood and his adult life, and they
appear to regard Nixon as rather conservative religiously. But, as I
talk about here, as I draw from Stephen Ambrose's Nixon: The Education of a Politician and William Martin's With God on Our Side,
Nixon during and after his young adulthood had quite liberal ideas
about religion, indicating that Nixon was not afraid to question his
rather fundamentalist upbringing. That should somehow be factored into
any discussion about the role of religion in Nixon's authoritarianism.
Still, notwithstanding Nixon's religious liberalism, elements of his
religious upbringing may have contributed to his obsession with order:
the sociology of his religious upbringing, his mother's insistence that
God had a plan, etc.