Monday, April 19, 2010


For this post let's reframe our questions. (The questions that were originally raised in this post)
This site gives you a better definition than I could for reframing.
Looking back at last week's post we see the questions really are:
Why are some people so easily led while others will do anything to be leaders.
Why do some people still believe things that are disproved by facts.
Why are some people so aggressive in the name of moral or political values or is it something else entirely?
Why do some people fear, in the extreme, change?
Why do some people fear those different from themselves?
Why racism? Why homophobic fears? Why fear other religions?

In these next posts, I want to give you some beginning information from two books. One is political while the other is more about the social behaviors and actions found in studies of authoritarians.

Here we need to define a few things:
Why the books Conservatives Without Conscience by John W. Dean and Authoritarians by Bob Altemeyer. free here I chose to read the two books simultaneously as they are very interconnected. In an interview I saw on UCTV, John Dean talked about the studies on Authoritarianism and recommended the other book. His interest peaked my interest. Mostly however, I will be writing about The Authoritarians (Disclaimer: I am not necessarily a John Dean fan but find he can get my attention and I sometimes wondered about the reasons behind some of the chapters in Dr. Altemeyer's book. Guess I am not that easily led by “authorities.”)

Authoritarians Two kinds:
I had a hard time keeping my definitions of authoritarian out of my head at first.
My definitions were either about a form of government or a “bossy” person. But these are not quite appropriate.
Dr. Altemeyer explains that in his books on authoritarians he is mostly discussing extremely submissive “followers” of established authorities, “attacks others in their name, and is highly conventional.”
He lists 3 of the personality traits of the “followers”:
1)a high degree of submission to the established, legitimate, authorities in their society;
2)high levels of aggression in the name of their authorities; and
3)a high level of conventionalism.

(page 8)

Mr. Dean at one point describes authoritarianism as the behaviors and thinking of these personalities.

RWA Scale:
“The RWA scale is a personality test disguised as an attitude survey.”
the mid-point of the scale is 100. The higher the score the more the tendency to be an authoritarian follower.

Why the name “right-wing”:
The use of the word right as used here is “an adjective, right, lawful, proper, correct...”

Double Highs:
Social Dominators who also score high on the religion, fundamentalism, scale but the why is interesting. These people go to church more often than most but they go to “project a good image...”
and “It is more important to create a good image of yourself in the minds of others than to be actually be the person others think you are.”

Conservatives: Two kinds political and social: As Dr. Altemeyer explains you can have high RWA's even within the Communist party in a Communist country. Remember submission to “his” authorities and highly conventional. So keep in mind we are not always talking about political conservatives.
Though, if you will, take a look at the chart on page 203. I found it very enlightening and interesting.
I had forgotten about the “Southern Democrats”. Historically an interesting bunch.

I found so much about the people studied confusing-hard for me to get my head around all the seeming inconsistencies in logic as I call it but as pointed out in the book the compartmentalization of their ideas allows for some pretty interesting, conflicting, thoughts.

Now let's look for some answers to our questions. (I think we can actually lump our questions into fewer questions yet.)

1.Why are some people so easily led and hang on to false “facts”?
2.Why are some so aggressive...?
3.Why the prejudices?
4.Who are their authorities and why?

Question 1:

Dr. Altemeyer, as I do, doesn't get into the genetics of High RWA's but allows for it. He begins with parental guidance, then to “missed experiences”. They are not introduced to different groups and ideas.
“They got a “2 for 1 special deal on fear...they were raised by their parents to be afraid of others...”
They “traveled around on short leashes in relatively small, tight, safe circles all their lives.”
Their parents “try to send their kids to “safe” colleges.”

(Also remember the group thing, individuals into the group Venn diagram)

The compartmentalization of their ideas allow for holding conflicting ideas at the same time and can lead to confusing justifications for various actions and decisions.
The high RWA has not further developed or “thought through their ideas as much as most people have...”
In Chapter three How Authoritarian Followers Think, “...a high RWA can have all sorts of illogical, self-contradictory, and widely refuted ideas rattling around in various boxes in his brain and never notice it.”
Dr. Altemeyer gives the usual disclaimer so do we all have “inconsistencies in reasoning” then:
“...research reveals that authoritarian followers...exhibiting sloppy reasoning, highly compartmentalized beliefs, double standards, hypocrisy, self-blindness, a profound ethnocentrism, and ...a ferocious dogmatism (see definition 2) that makes it unlikely anyone could ever change their minds.

...they do not in general have a very critical outlook on anything unless the authorities in their lives have condemned it for them.”

Thus they are easily led and easily become apprehensive, or fearful.

What about hanging on to false “facts”:
One example given concerns the Iraq war. The compartmental mind had no trouble in “believing that America stands for international cooperation and the peaceful resolution of conflict on one hand, while on the other hand insisting it has the “right” to attack whomever it wants...”

After all, in the ethnocentric mind “We are the Good Guys and our opponents are abominations”...

Will some of these people ever change their minds? Dr. Altemeyer believes some will by revising their personal histories. Others? “petrified by their dogmatism” never. (99)

I have given you a only a few of the explanations found in the book The Authoritarians for the first question. Partly because there is so much information and partly because I have a hard time compartmentalizing. I see so much about the high RWA conflicting and yet interconnected.

But there we have the beginnings of my studies.

I hope you learned something as I did and still do from this book.

Next post will look at the Dr. Altemeyer's book for some insight into aggression and if I can keep more focused, so much information, hopefully question 3.


  1. Kanna,

    Of course, I read this post yesterday as soon as I saw it. I wanted to give my brain a moment to kind of let it soak in a little. I am really interested in this subject you have tackled. I get started analyzing myself and trying to determine if I have justified my beliefs and course of action. I also seem to remember reading something about the genetics of this and that people are born with a tendency toward being liberal or conservative. Anyway I got off in my own musings and wandered away last night...

    All I can seem to think right now is that I love the way you presented this. You have my attention.

  2. Well you are normal.
    Most of us read and study this stuff and start asking about ourselves and those around us. Be careful. However, know that by questioning your motives you are probably not one of those mentioned here.
    Yes, I too have seen the genetics studies and Dr. Altemeyer mentions it.
    I do hope to find some about the genetics of politics to add in the "political" part of the studies, books, here used.
    I hope to get to the next two questions within a few days. Of course life gets in the way.
    Oh I finally realized I was having a hard time writing this as I kept reading again and again and there is so much of interest About the personalities covered but I finally realized I was not answering my question-Why.

  3. I forgot.
    I went back and corrected some errors in writing style but no context was changed.
    And my spouse suggested to link to the previous post.
    Good thinkin' on his part.

  4. Kanna: Your post has stimulated me to do a little digging. I followed your link to Altemeyer's book and will be looking into that. I read his paper on the Tea Party and got a chuckle out of this paragraph on page 11:

    Suppose slavery still existed in the United States, but the federal government was trying to end it. However Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, and so on told their audiences that slavery was a good thing, recognized by the Founding Fathers, endorsed in the Old Testament, the natural order of things, an issue for individual states to decide, an individual’s inalienable right to do what he wanted with his property, and so on. I doubt Abraham Lincoln would find these arguments compelling. But how much trouble do you think the Patriotic Association of Slave Owners would have getting today’s Tea Partiers out to campaign for slavery in America?

    One comment: I found your post hard to follow. You've mixed quotes and your comments, so I have a hard time figuring out where you stand.

  5. Kanna: I continue my comment...

    Here's my preliminary and fairly uneducated view: A quick Google check seems to imply there is a battle between those who think authoritarianism is rooted in personality and emotion versus those who see it as a rational, cognitive, ideological position. On top of that you made a passing comment about genetics.

    My prejudice is that like most things in life, it is a complex mixture of nature & nurture, and as some who recognize this mixing as highlighted in Matt Ridley's book "Nature Via Nurture".

    Nature: I suspect the personality/emotional view (coming out of Theodore Adorno's early study) is fundamentally right, i.e. some people are "born" that way. This means it has a large genetic component reinforced by family/culture, e.g. you are born into a fundamentalist authoritarian household.

    Nuture: At the same time, there is a learned behavour. I think this shows up as a rise of authoritarian personalities during a time of uncertainty and social turmoil. The Vietnam War protests brought out a backlash of "love it or leave it" types who reflexively narrowed the definition of American and rejected liberal views.

    Rational: It could be argued that education and reasoning can "nurture" an authoritarian viewpoint, i.e. an ideology. Presumbably Bible study that convinces someone that a patriarchal lifestyle is 'right'. Somebody who sees social chaos and decides that a 'strong hand' is required to re-establish social order is presumably developing a rational position. But my view is that this 'nurture' argument hides a 'nature' bit below that predisposes some people to this viewpoint.

    Here is a bit from a paper about Karen Stenner's book:

    Authoritarianism, Stenner says, arises out of a basic and recurrent human dilemma: how to strike a proper balance between group authority and uniformity, on the one hand, and individual autonomy and diversity, on the other. Authoritarians choose the former over the latter: They are inclined to glorify, encourage, and reward uniformity, while disparaging, suppressing, and punishing difference. Stenner claims that authoritarianism is a universal predisposition; deep-seated, perhaps innate, difficult to alter.

    Does authoritarianism, defined this way, affect how citizens think about race, protection of speech and assembly, sexuality, crime and punishment? Not necessarily. Stenner's primary contribution (first set out in a 1997 piece with Stanley Feldman in Political Psychology) is to specify the conditions under which authoritarianism is activated. She argues that authoritarianism becomes relevant only when social cohesion is threatened: when the culture appears to be fragmenting, or when leaders prove themselves unworthy of public trust. Then a whole repertoire of defenses glorification of the in-group; denigration of the out-group; obedience to higher authority; conformity to traditional norms; intolerance towards those who fail to abide by society's rules—swings into action. This, Stenner argues, is the authoritarian dynamic.

    Keep at your study in this area. But please try to segregate more clearly your viewpoint from the quoted material and be more clear about where you agree and disagree. And take time to develop arguments for and against various viewpoints. That will help your reader see where you are going and measure themselves against your views.

    Thanks for pointing out your sources and providing a link to Altemeyer.

  6. Kanna: Looking at Karen Stenner's book "The Authoritarian Dynamic" I see some things that look interesting. On page 5 she claims that Altemeyer is too focused on developing a tool to measure it and lost sight of the need to focus on "the nature, origins, and mechanics of the [authoritarian] predisposition" and wants to figure out what turns on or off (the "dynamic") of the authoritarianism.

    On page 326 she makes the point that authoritarianism is a personality trait and mindset that predisposes you to ancillary behaviours like racism and intolerance, but these are triggered by influences of the context in which an authoritarian personality type finds itself:

    "There can no longer be any doubt that authoritarian attitudes and behaviors are highly susceptible to political influences: they have important politcal causes, as well as important political consequences."

  7. Ry,
    Thanks for all the comments.
    As promised, I think in the first post, I will give you more of my view of the information on each theory in a short conclusion.
    I am sorry you got confused about the quotes not being separated out. I have to write at times with many interrupts.
    I am also glad if the post intrigued you enough to seek out more information. That is a big reason I write.
    Also I think I promised to provide links to a few papers or sites that disagree and some that are positive with the book or theory as I finish each of my readings.
    Yes, it is true about the political influences. There is a chapter devoted to politics and RWA's near the end of Altemeyer's book. He wrote this version in response to the inquiries of John Dean.
    As I wrote "be patient". I am doing a long series of posts on the questions.

  8. Kanna: I'm enjoying reading the Altemeyer material. I liked this bit:
    But ultimately, in a democracy, a wannabe tyrant is just a comical figure on a soapbox unless a huge wave of supporters lifts him to high office. That’s how Adolf Hitler destroyed the Weimar Republic and became the Fuhrer. So we need to understand the people out there doing the wave. Ultimately the problem lay in the followers.

    I don't buy his idea that political left authoritarians are RWA. I agree that the 20th century is full of examples of political movements run on authoritarian lines. He should drop the RW and just call them Authoritarians. That way religious authoritarians don't cause any grief in trying to pigeon-hole them as "right" or "left". To me the only difference between left and right, religious and secular authoritarians is their rationalization for why they must submit to this "higher power".

    As for his political intuitions, I would say this shows he isn't particularly gifted:
    As many have pointed out, the Republic is once again passing through perilous times. The concept of a constitutional
    democracy has been under attack--and by the American government no less! The
    mid-term elections of 2006 give hope that the best values and traditions of the
    country will ultimately prevail. But it could prove a huge mistake to think that
    the enemies of freedom and equality have lost the war just because they were recently rebuffed at the polls. I’ll be very much surprised if their leaders don’t frame the setback as a test of the followers’ faith, causing them to redouble their efforts. They came so close to getting what they want, they’re not likely to pack up and go away without an all-out drive.

    My interpretation of events is that the authoritarian right is hunkering down, throwing out "fellow travellers" like David Frum. Consequently, they are marching briskly into irrelevance. Sure they get noisier as they get smaller, but their fanaticism puts off most people.

  9. I puzzle over Altemeyer titling his book "The Authoritarians" but then stating that in his mind they come in two flavours but he dedicates the whole book to only the "right-wing authoritarian".

    I haven't read the whole thing but a quick scan shows he only wants to talk about "right-wing". That's a lot like saying that people are made up of males and females, but as an anthropologist you are only interested in studying the males.

    I suspect his claim to distinguish left from right can't be substantiated.

    Because the submission occurs to traditional authority, I call these followers right-wing authoritarians. I’m using the word “right” in one of its earliest meanings, for in Old English “riht”(pronounced “writ”) as an adjective meant lawful, proper, correct, doing what the authorities said.

    But don't the left wing authoritarians do something very similar? They bow down to their dissident leaders, their factional fanatics, and play a role that looks identical to what a right-wing authoritarian does. The only difference is that right-wing identifies with "the Nation" or "the Government" while the left-wing identifies with "the Party" or "the Leader".

    I don't buy that the following is a "real" distinction, i.e. one with testable and repeatable differences:
    I’ve always called it right-wing authoritarianism rather than simply authoritarianism in acknowledgment that left-wing authoritarianism also exists. An authoritarian follower submits excessively to some authorities, aggresses in their name, and insists on everyone following their rules. If these authorities are the established authorities in society, that’s right-wing authoritarianism. If one submits to authorities who want to overthrow the establishment, that’s left-wing authoritarianism, as I define things.

    I'm enjoying the Altemeyer book. It has some interesting points. But I'm really bothered by this right/left thing.