John Dean was on Countdown last night and on Rachel Maddow this morning. He was plugging his book “Conservatives Without Conscience”, and he contrasted contemporary amoral conservatism with the principled variety espoused by Barry Goldwater.
I was interested to learn that about 23% of the population has what is known as an “authoritarian personality”. These folks need a leader to follow and will follow him over a cliff, drink the Kool Aid, or do whatever the leader decrees. This is why GW Bush’s approval rating has a floor of about 30%. He has the authoritarians in the bag, and there is nothing he can do to lose them. There is also a sizeable number of folks who will tend to authoritarianism if they are afraid, and the Bush regime has spent the last five years scaring the crap out of as many folks as they can in order to secure their fear based loyalty.
The classic definition of an authoritarian includes extreme conventionalism, submission to authority, aggression against those on the outs with the powerful, anti-intraception, identifying with power and toughness, destructiveness and cynicism, projection of their own faults onto others, and an exaggerated concern with sex. I can imagine someone who is conventional and anti-intraceptive, even sexually repressed, not being an authoritarian. You can be quite conservative, I think, without looking to impose your views on others; however, I bet that this combination is pretty rare. By and large, folks who buy into convention and tradition so profoundly will be more than willing to impose them on others, especially if they have aggressive and destructive tendencies and a view of their fellow human beings as evil and untrustworthy.
Such a person will be drawn to conservatism as it exists today and will not be a good prospect for libertarianism unless the authoritarian personality can be treated. They might support a leftist authoritarian state, I suppose, but they will never be able to be free themselves or to tolerate freedom for others. After all, if they are right about what is right and wrong and their fellow men are weak and evil, it follows that a strong government is required to keep them in line and to preserve traditional values. The authoritarian may even have strong principles, but he will readily compromise or even sacrifice them to keep his leader in power or in the name of preserving the collective, party, state, race.
The leaders of the GOP lack principles. They have only an overwhelming will to power, and they will appeal to the authoritarian base cynically and inconsistently, using whatever slogan or bogeyman that appeals to the authoritarian masses at the moment. They will frame issues in terms of war, us versus them, and this will justify the use of any means to achieve political ends. Everything the GOP does makes sense only when you recognize its cynical underpinnings.
Libertarianism appears to start out with 23% of the population as a write off. (It is ironic that libertarians have more or less been in a coalition with authoritarians in the GOP most recently and that authoritarians have co-opted libertarian rhetoric to dupe freedom lovers into joining an authoritarian movement.) On the bright side, recent political history has shown that all libertarians need is about 23% of the population to have tremendous influence. If those numbers can be energized, one of the majors, presumably the Democrats, will be able to position itself as the anti-authoritarian alternative. There’s no need to get a majority to make a huge difference, just a well organized and energized “base”.
What is to be done with the authoritarian herd after the libertarian revolution? My hope is that an increasingly permissive environment over the last few decades will produce fewer authoritarians. Also, I have high hopes for the reeducation camps. All that is needed is to order all authoritarians to report to camp, and they will do it. They can’t help it. We’ll tell them to stay there until they are reeducated, and they will!