What Makes Someone Authoritarian?

Events in Ferguson, Missouri got me thinking about authoritarianism and the reality that the United States is a global empire that uses violence abroad and at home to serve elite interests.

Authoritarian leaders and their henchmen are domineering personalities with anti-social tendencies (meaning no conscience). Often, the ideology is merely a means to an end. For example, an authoritarian religious leader might not even believe in the religion.

But a bigger problem in many ways are authoritarian followers.

Bruce Altemeyer is a sociologist whose entire career focused on these issues. His ebook, The Authoritarians, is a free download.

His finding that in the United States, fundamentalist and evangelical Christians are most likely to be authoritarian followers is not surprising. That feminists are a distant second may be more surprising; however, I must wonder if the issue isn’t feminism per se, but rather leftist/revolutionary ideology.

Both leftists and religious fundamentalists are on a moralistic quest to force their views on others. And both favour government intrusions into people’s lives, thus opposing individual liberty.

The distinction between right-wing and left-wing authoritarianism is also important. It’s not the same as the liberal/conservative divide. Instead, the divide is existing regime/revolutionary regime. Both Barack Obama and George W. Bush are right-wing authoritarian leaders because both represent the established regime. Republicans are more authoritarian than Democrats, but not if you subtract evangelical Republicans.

What’s the psychological profile of authoritarian followers? They are submissive to authority. In the case of evangelical Christianity it’s established authority, hence the label right-wing authoritarianism. But self-styled revolutionaries are often Marxist, and represent left-wing authoritarianism. In both cases, anyone questioning established dogmas may receive a vicious denouncement.

Authoritarian followers support leaders who pursue aggressive and controlling policies, but this does not necessarily involve violence. And the followers show high levels of group conformity and dogmatism.

Authoritarian followers are irrational, so devoted to their ideology that they discard logic and ignore reality. The fact that there are still devoted communists out there even a quarter century after communism’s utter failure illustrates this.

They compartmentalize, like a fundamentalist in the oil business who uses science to find oil and then denies the same science with respect to the age of the earth.

They have double standards, holding others to a higher standard than they themselves practice. Related to that, they lack self-awareness and have a strong in-group bias.

As the Iraq War illustrates, patriotism in the United States is an authoritarian phenomenon. But we mustn’t assume liberals are enlightened. The vicious name calling and intimidation tactics, rather than rational argumentation, that feminists visit upon anyone who dares question their dogmas is the same authoritarian phenomenon at work.

All ideologies must be questioned. And any ideology that acts like it’s above criticism should be highly suspect.

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4 thoughts on “What Makes Someone Authoritarian?

  1. I’ve been listening to Ken Wilber recently and he talks about the ideal society as the greatest span of the greatest depth. So the most valuable people in the largest amount. What we are seeing here is an imbalance in terms of depth.

  2. That was really interesting. This is not surprising to me, “That feminists are a distant second may be more surprising.” Women can be very authoritarian, very totalitarian, and there’s a bit of cult like behavior demanded of feminist followers.

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