I have been reading John Dean’s “Conservatives Without Conscience”, and I have been persuaded that the “authoritarian personality” and “social dominance’ are useful constructs for making sense of the conservative movement in America. Conservatives can’t be expected to be principled or consistent in word or deed, and their leaders can be expected to act solely in their own interests in pursuit of power, because, frankly, they are nutjobs (my interpretation, not Dean’s).
The authority figures who rouse the rabble with authoritarian personalities are straight opportunists who have no qualms about saying or doing whatever it takes to get and keep power. They will talk about family values while hurting actual families and do so with a straight face. Their followers will support them no matter what they do as long as the leaders keep saying the right buzz words.
Dean relies on the work of Altmeyer who emphasizes three facets of the authoritarian personality: conventionalism, aggression, and submission to authority. Adorno and others include additional facets as follows, together with my own personal take on what they signify:
Conventionalism. The authoritarian clings to tradition and norms with more fervor than most folks. He reckons everyone should live as he does and sees alternative lifestyles and values as a threat. His way is based on his righteousness, not his adaptation to his circumstances, and those who deviate from his way are wicked or foolish. This is one reason that authoritarians tend to be right wingers. They don’t like change, and the right wing offers them tradition and conservation of the status quo.
Submission. The authoritarian blindly follows his leaders and sees criticism of them as offensive and treasonous. He can’t recognize their inconsistencies and prevarications and does not believe criticism of them. He prefers Fox News because the cheerleading for his leaders is soothing.
Aggression. The authoritarian is quick to use threats, intimidation and violence against enemies identified by his leaders. The leaders generate and use real and make believe enemies to rile up the base, and they exaggerate every threat in order to get maximum use of the inherent fearfulness of authoritarians. The enemies may be homosexuals, “Islamofascists”, liberals, secular humanists, or Big Oil. It doesn’t matter. They’re everywhere for the authoritarian.
Anti-intraception. The authoritarian is not as self aware as other folks, and he doesn’t like to look inside and think about things. He certainly isn’t interested in finding out whether he might be wrong about something, because that’s impossible. I have known quite a few of these near zombies, and I reckon that they are sort of autistic. They don’t really have the capacity to empathize, so they don’t value empathy or attempts to make sense of what other people are thinking, feeling or doing. This impairment allows the authoritarian to be hypocritical and to contradict himself freely and to allow his leaders to the same without any pesky inner voice calling him on it. Their selves are insufficiently integrated for them to manifest integrity.
Substitution and stereotyping. The authoritarian is superstitious and is unusually susceptible to cliches and slogans, the stupider the better. He is quick to see others as collectives and to reify the categories of people that he or his leaders have invented. He is foremost a member of collectives and enactor of social roles rather than a sentient individual.
Power and toughness. The authoritarian is always afraid, and he admires the powerful and the tough. He wants a tough leader to protect him from the scary, scary world, and he acts tough to compensate for his feelings of weakness and cowardice.
Destructiveness and Cynicism. The authoritarian reckons that all mankind is evil and/or stupid and out to get him, so he puts no trust in anyone or anything other than his leaders. He will believe any outrageous lie about the enemy, and he is on board with whatever mayhem the leaders deem desirable to wreak.
Projectivity. The authoritarian projects onto others his own shortcomings. Since he has no inner life and can’t conceive of others’ having their own views and motivations, he can’t do otherwise. When he says people are thieves, he is telling you to watch your stuff when he’s around.
Sex. The authoritarian is obsessed with sex, or at least other people’s sex lives. He can’t stand it that anyone else might be having sex and enjoying it. This may be an aspect of conventionalism and religiosity. I don’t get it. Maybe it’s also an aspect of projection. If he is a closeted self-hating homosexual, he is apt to become zealous in persecuting homosexuals.
I don’t know how authoritarians are created, but I suspect that you will become one if you are a near zombie to begin with, especially if you are also fearful and insecure. Dollars to doughnuts, it’s mostly genetic. I bet it can be treated with drugs. If so, I say we put those drugs in the water supply.