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History of authoritarian personality research

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Theodor W. Adorno (with Else Frenkel-Brunswik, Daniel Levinson, and Nevitt Sanford) wrote a book  in their book The Authoritarian Personality in 1950. He defined nine traits that are typical for authoritarians: conventionalism, authoritarian submission, authoritarian aggression, anti-intraception, superstition and stereotypy, power and "toughness," destructiveness and cynicism, projectivity, and exaggerated concerns over sexuality (sexual repression).[1]  This cluster makes authoritarian predisposed to follow the dictates of a strong leader and traditional, conventional values. The authors of The Authoritarian Personality, advertised for volunteers and administered a battery of questionnaires. They selected the most anti-semitic and least anti-semitic of the volunteers and discarded the mid-group. They then contrasted the remaining two groups, coming up with the F-scale, which measures the basic traits of the authoritarian personality. The researchers performed their work while being influenced by the larger social context that existed at this time, especially the rise and fall of fascism in Germany and several other countries as well as by Second World War with its atrocities toward ethnic groups and individual prisoners. But the results of their research pointed at something different then just effect of the brainwashing of storm troopers by charismatic leader and much more menacing: they have found that there is a pretty numerous class of personalities in the society that are naturally predisposed to this set of behaviors. For this category of people this represent the natural path of social adaptation and adjustment to social norms. A result of their research was the development of a measure for authoritarian tendencies in ordinary persons known as the F-scale that is still in use today. Robert Altemeyer in 1981 revisited the concept of the authoritarian personality and come with his own term Right-wing authoritarianism and his own scale called RWA scale. In his research Altemeyer found that only three of the original nine hypothesized components of the model are correlated: authoritarian submission, authoritarian aggression, and conventionalism.

Here is an informative revidew from Amazon

3.0 out of 5 starsThe Authoritarian Personality - A Dangerous Study., October 2, 2004 By New Age of Barbarism "zosimos" (EVROPA.) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    This review is from: The Authoritarian Personality (Studies in prejudice) (Paperback) _The Authoritarian Personality_ involved a series of studies sponsored by the American Jewish Committee which were supposed to define a certain personality type which would be easily taken up with antidemocratic propaganda, in light of the tragedy and disaster that was the Third Reich. Scales were developed to assess Antisemitism, Political-Economic Conservativism (which amounted to support for laissez-faire capitalism), and Authoritarianism (the F (for Fascist) scale). Both the Antisemitism scale and the Political-Economic Conservativism scale involved predictable statements in which the subjects had to state their level of agreement with in order to achieve a score. The F scale, involved a series of statements which were designed to measure conventionalism, authoritarian submission, authoritarian aggression, anti-intraception (i.e. "Opposition to the subjective, the imaginative, and the tender-minded."), superstition and stereotypy, power and "toughness", destructiveness and cynicism, projectivity (i.e. "The disposition to believe that wild and dangerous things go on in the world"), and concern about "sexual goings-on".

While some of these statements were predictable, others were rather strange (and could not be easily answered in terms of Agree/Disagree because they were too broad and categorical). (My own score on this scale was rather high, about 4 out of a possible 6.) Various populations including college students and criminals were examined in terms of these scales and various theories were proposed to explain different personality sub-types.

The ironic thing about this research is that it does not really show much of anything. While the authoritarian type may be interesting from a theoretical perspective, it is doubtful that such a type actually amounts to the kind of person who would unleash a fascist tyranny. In my view, the authoritarian type would be a rather eccentric individual, but probably not one who would engage in mass murder. This study must be seen in light of the fact that among the main authors were Marxists (prime among them Theodore Adorno) who wanted to advance an anticonservative agenda, downplaying conventional morality among other things. Also, the authors seem to think that those prone to give a "mystical" explanation for world events are also those prone to be sympathetic to a fascist state. I find this ironic because in my view the fascist state was a completely technicized one, created along "rationalist"/scientistic lines. I believe this reveals the bias of the Marxist materialist against philosophical worldviews which incorporate transcendental non-material elements. Also, in terms of stereotypy it is assumed that the stereotypes in question are always false. While stereotypes may reveal a dysfunction in rational thought, there is no reason to assume that a stereotype need be always false. Actual empirical study is necessary to confirm or disconfirm the truth of a given stereotype, provided of course that that stereotype is even phrased in a manner which leads itself to verification/falsification. Finally, it is assumed that conventional morality is something that involves submission to an unjust authority, rather than being a natural outgrowth of biological and natural constraints upon the human animal. Since these sorts of questions were not addressed in the study, I believe that while it may be interesting from some theoretical perspective, its practical utility is limited. In terms of actual practice, the results of this study could be disastrous, in fact resulting in a sort of "reverse tyranny" in which individuals categorized as "authoritarian" by such measures are denied civil liberties. A good book which deals with this question is by Paul Gottfried entitled _After Liberalism: Mass Democracy in the Managerial State_. In addition, much of the theorizing in this book is based on Freudian theories of the unconscious. These types of Freudian theories are highly problematic in themselves, and their scientific standing is highly dubious to say the least. Many of the individuals interviewed in this book could clearly be described as unbalanced and possibly insane; however, there is little reason to think that these are the individuals who would be at the forefront of a future fascism.

Recently, John Dean applied Robert Altemeyer research to analyze the Republican Party in his book Conservatives without Conscience.  He discovered high level of penetration of the  "the authoritarian personality" in the government and political apparatus of the Republican Party up to the highest echelons. This personality type also provides the base of voters that are predominantly Republican. In the USA this voting block that includes religious fundamentalists (Southern Baptists, evangelical and Pentecostal churches) comprises nearly 50% of the general population. Originally focusing on the follower type of authoritarian, John Dean research explored the leaders which he called "double-highs": they have high scores on both leader and follower authoritarian personality scales and also display features of the more classic anti-social personality disorder.

In 2005 Karen Stenner's  book, The Authoritarian Dynamic was published which represent the latest of attempts to research this phenomenon. Stenner argues that RWA is best understood as expressing an dynamic response to external threat, not a static disposition based only on the traits of submission, aggression, and conventionalism. Stenner is critical of Altemeyer's social learning interpretation and argues that it cannot account for how levels of authoritarianism fluctuate with social conditions. She argues that the RWA Scale can be viewed as a measure of expressed authoritarianism, but that other measures are needed to assess authoritarian predispositions which interact with threatening circumstances to produce the authoritarian response.


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