“The Authoritarians”, A Book Review and Book”

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger

This week I’m presenting something a little different as a blog. I’ve just read an incredibly interesting book that I was turned onto by either or both, Dredd and Anon Nurse. This book has added scientific clarity to a phenomenon that I’ve noticed for many years, with dismay. Why is it that some people, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, doggedly hold onto beliefs that they can’t logically defend? We can all agree that there are some issues that simply do not lend themselves to being categorized into absolutes of right and wrong. However, I will let the reader catalog those issues mentally, since there will be some who would no doubt take umbrage from any examples I would personally present. Yet I assert that there are some issues where despite probable protests, are not open to rational dispute. One of these is the age of the Earth and the Universe. The Earth is far older than Creationists/Intelligent Design advocates would set at six or seven thousand years. This is proven fact. I note that there are many religious people who accept this scientific fact and yet still believe in a creator and while not by any means a fundamentalist, I do believe that there is a creative force that informs the Universe. Whatever that force may be, it did its thing multiple billions of years ago.

I presented the above to illustrate the difference between a proven fact and an as yet, if ever, provable belief. The book “The Authoritarians” was written by Bob Altemeyer, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada. Professor Altemeyer has spent more than forty years doing research as a Social Psychologist into the parameters and root causes of authoritarian behavior in human beings. John Dean, of Watergate renown, made Bob semi-famous by using Bob’s work as a framework for his book “Conservatives Without Conscience”. I call Professor Altemeyer “Bob”, not out of personal familiarity, but because one of the joys of this book is that though it is a serious socio-psychological work, it is written by a man who doesn’t take himself too seriously, while presenting a very serious subject. My original intent in writing this piece was to present my conclusions, using the book as backup. However, the book, though well-documented, is only 262 pages and at the end of this piece will be a link that allows you to download it for free and read it. Bob presents this important topic far better than I could ever condense it. I’ll just give you a taste, hopefully whetting your appetite and then let you read it for yourself and draw your own conclusions.

This book was written before the 2008 elections and yet it is even more current today as we see the Republican Party in the hands of the most radically conservative factions of the last 80 years and the Democratic Party decidedly right of center. Bob writes this:

“But why should you even bother reading this book? I would offer three reasons. First, if you are concerned about what has happened in America since a radical right-wing segment of the population began taking control of the government about a dozen years ago, I think you’ll find a lot in this book that says your fears are well founded. 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 second reason I can offer for reading what follows is that it is not chock full of opinions, but experimental evidence.

The last reason why you might be interested in the hereafter is that you might want more than just facts about authoritarians, but understanding and insight into why they act the way they do. Which is often mind-boggling. How can they revere those who gave their lives defending freedom and then support moves to take that freedom away? How can they go on believing things that have been disproved over and over again, and disbelieve things that are well established? How can they think they are the best people in the world, when so much of what they do ought to show them they are not? Why do their leaders so often turn out to be crooks and hypocrites? Why are both the followers and the leaders so aggressive that hostility is practically their trademark?”

Though this book was written more than five years ago, how descriptive of the Campaign of 2012 is it? I think it sums up what we have been seeing politically and presents reasons for this phenomenon of seeming insanity that has overtake our politics. Incidentally, this book in describing the effect of the authoritarian personality on politics, does not limit the authoritarian personality to Republicans and/or Conservatives. An authoritarian personality is one that submits to authority in both thinking and actions. As we have seen in this past century communists, creatures of the far left, also share authoritarian personalities. I believe that a percentage of Democrats also have authoritarian personalities, but to a lesser degree than their political opposites.

“Authoritarian followers usually support the established authorities in their society, such as government officials and traditional religious leaders. Such people have historically been the “proper” authorities in life, the time-honored, entitled, customary leaders, and that means a lot to most authoritarians. Psychologically these followers have personalities featuring:

 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.”

I can immediately see an objection raised in the minds of some readers regarding Authoritarians supporting established authorities including government officials. They might well think well the ultra-Conservative Movement is anti-government, so how could they be Authoritarian in personality? The answer is I think easy. ”Authoritarian followers usually support the established authorities in their society, such as government officials and traditional religious leaders.”  To many Authoritarians FOX News represents an established authority. The whole movement about Obama’s birth certificate was at base a means to reject the legitimacy of his authority as President. The power of fundamentalist religious leaders in Republican politics and politics in general is undisputed.

 “[A] right-wing authoritarian follower doesn’t necessarily have conservative political views. Instead he’s someone who readily submits to the established authorities in society, attacks others in their name, and is highly conventional. It’s an aspect of his personality, not a description of his politics. Rightwing authoritarianism is a personality trait, like being characteristically bashful or happy or grumpy or dopey. 

 You could have left-wing authoritarian followers as well, who support a revolutionary leader who wants to overthrow the establishment. I knew a few in the 1970s, Marxist university students who constantly spouted their chosen authorities, Lenin or Trotsky or Chairman Mao. Happily they spent most of their time fighting with each other”

Like Professor Altemeyer, in the 60’s and 70’s I was quite familiar with Left Wing Authoritarians of this sort. They were every bit as wrong and as exasperating as their counterparts on the Right. In fact should they ever gain control of a society, such as happened in the USSR and China, the results would be equally disastrous as anything produced on the Right. As to whether this book is a partisan screed I would submit that John Dean, is a lifelong Republican Conservative and Professor Altemeyer considers himself middle of the road. This is about the kind of submission to “authority” that has allowed unscrupulous leaders throughout human history to turn masses of people into pitiless killers.

 “Not only do authoritarian followers uncritically accept conclusions that support their religious beliefs, they have a problem with evidence in general. They are more likely than most people to think that, since airplane crashes sometimes occur when the pilots’ “biorhythms” are at a low point, this proves biorhythms affect our lives. They buy the argument that if skeptics have introduced controls against cheating in ESP experiments, and no ESP appears, that proves skepticism interferes with the ESP powers. They think that any time science cannot explain something, this proves mysterious supernatural forces are at work. True, they are less likely to believe in Bigfoot than in the Shroud of Turin. But they do not in general have a very critical outlook on anything unless the authorities in their lives have condemned it for them. Then they can be extremely critical.”

This book spends a good deal of time discussing the effects of religion onto Authoritarian Personality types. By accepting fully the preaching’s of their religious leaders, millions of people have been killed in the name of one God or another. Via documented experiments this book documents these tendencies and even supplies well grounded reasoning on how they begin in individuals. Bob links fundamentalist religious belief to ultra-conservative beliefs via persuasive studies. Most astounding of all his finding to him and to me is that perhaps 20% of the religious fundamentalists he’s studied have read their entire bible.

“The Most Amazing Discovery of All (to me, anyway). Isn’t there something profoundly strange about the fact that so many fundamentalists have apparently skipped over so much of the Bible? Wouldn’t you read the Bible, cover to cover, over and over, until the end of your days, if you really thought this was the revealed word of God? Let’s remember who that is: GOD, damn it all, the almighty, eternal, omnipresent–not to mention all-knowing–creator of the universe. What else could you read that would be as important as God’s message, if you believed that’s what the Bible is? What could be one-zillionth as important? What on earth is going on? Don’t the fundamentalists themselves believe what they preach to everyone else?”

Religious Authoritarians apparently don’t read their holy books for themselves but accept the words of their leaders and read only the passages that their leaders direct them to. It is so easy for many of us to decry the “insanity” of Islamic Fundamentalists following their Mullahs. Indeed, I would think that if Bob studied Muslim’s he would find equally that many have never fully read the Koran. To be Authoritarian is to unquestioningly accept the preaching of those one sees as their “legitimate leaders”.  The certainty that pervades their thinking, often is not eve backed up intellectually by a full familiarity with the holy books proclaimed as “God’s Truth”.

Two psychology professors Felicia Pratto of the University of Connecticut and Jim Sidanius at UCLA, developed the Social Dominance Orientation Scale in 1994. This was a test to measure which individuals tend to dominate in social situations, or who crave to dominate.  Sam McFarland at the University of Western Kentucky followed up using that scale and others to show the scales’ validity. Professor Altemeyer followed up on their work adding in the years of research he had done. It turs out that people who tend to dominate and lead those with authoritarian personalities are much less than “true believers”. They are in fact imbued with one basic belief and that is to get to the top of the pyramid.

“Persons who score highly on the Social Dominance scale do not usually have all the nooks and crannies, contradictions and lost files in their mental life that we find in high RWA’s [Rightwing Authoritarians]. Most of them do not show weak reasoning abilities, highly compartmentalized thinking, and certainly not a tendency to trust people who tell them what they want to hear. They’ve got their head together. Nor are most of them dogmatic or particularly zealous about any cause or philosophy. You have to believe in something to be dogmatic and zealous, and what social dominators apparently believe in most is not some creed or cause, but gaining power by any means fair or foul. The “soundness” of their thinking hardly means you can believe them, however”

If the above studies are valid, doesn’t America’s currently insane political situation begin to make some sense? In this respect can’t we see how Newt Gingrich could proclaim himself a champion of “family values” or in fact our President who ran on “change” having changed so little? Mitt Romney, a formerly “Centrist” governor, now proclaims himself the “true” conservative in the race for the nomination. And please don’t get me started on Ron Paul and Rick Santorum.

It’s my hope in this highly favorable “review”, more aptly exhortation, that you will click on the link below, download this book and read it. There are solutions offered and there is far more content condensed in this book than I could have done justice to in this rather long blog post. I believe that this book contains information vital to us all if our vision of America is to survive, along with our freedom and that of our descendants.


Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger.

37 thoughts on ““The Authoritarians”, A Book Review and Book””

  1. It is the best time to make some plans for the future and
    it is time to be happy. I have read this post and if I could I wish to suggest you few interesting
    things or suggestions. Maybe you could write next
    articles referring to this article. I want to read more things about

  2. Biometric Database of All Adult Americans Hidden in Immigration Reform

    By David Kravets




    Real ID Biometrics in Immigration Bill

    Posted on May 10, 2013 by emptywheel

    I’ve got two ginormous issues with the report that the Immigration Bill includes a measure that would require the creation of a “photo tool” database to verify status before employment.

    The immigration reform measure the Senate began debating yesterday would create a national biometric database of virtually every adult in the U.S., in what privacy groups fear could be the first step to a ubiquitous national identification system.

    Buried in the more than 800 pages of the bipartisan legislation (.pdf) is language mandating the creation of the innocuously-named “photo tool,” a massive federal database administered by the Department of Homeland Security and containing names, ages, Social Security numbers and photographs of everyone in the country with a driver’s license or other state-issued photo ID.

    Employers would be obliged to look up every new hire in the database to verify that they match their photo.

    First, this would accomplish precisely what Real ID would accomplish, but less.

    I’ve long believed we were going to go to Real ID in any case. I’ve also long believed that we ought to change the politics of such a discussion by proposing that along with Real ID, we also get universal registration. The authoritarians would thus have a choice: give up their efforts to disenfranchise the poor via voter ID and track employment, or lose both.

    I’m guessing it’d present quite a dilemma for the authoritarians.

    But to learn a bipartisan bill is basically ceding on real ID without using it to foster democracy?

    My other problem has to do with the certainty that this would be turned into a counterterrorism tool. Recall that last year, John Brennan decided protecting US person data was just too tough, so National Counterterrorism Center would have to have access to any federal database that NCTC deemed to have terrorism information.

    I think it highly likely that NCTC would deem a database of all Americans to contain terrorist information.

    Therefore, we should assume that whatever else this database is supposed to do, it would also mean that the faces of innocent Americans would start getting included in the data analysis of potential terrorists.

    Mind you, the authorities claim (though I’m not convinced) that they weren’t able to ID the Tsarnaev brothers with all the images they had of them at the Boston Marathon. Maybe the technology sucks (again, not convinced).

    But that doesn’t stop the inclusion of all Americans in the dataset of possible terrorist mugshots from being an invitation for witch hunts.

  3. Greenwald today:

    The Authoritarian Mind


    “Hollywood producer and director Davis Guggeinheim just produced a 17-minute “documentary” hailing the greatness of Barack Obama and his many historic and profound accomplishments, and it will be released this week by the Obama campaign. Please just watch this two-minute interview of Guggenheim by CNN’s Piers Morgan in which Guggenheim explains that nothing critical can or should be said of our President other than the fact that he is so Great that his Greatness cannot be sufficiently conveyed in a single film (via VastLeft); other than noting the obvious — how creepy his Leader worship is and how perfect of a guest-host he’d be for several MSNBC shows — all I can say is that this is the pure face of the Authoritarian Mind, but it is as common as it is repellent:: (video follows)

  4. Sorry but my “N” key sticks, so insert an “N” where appropriate in the above comment.

  5. http://willyloman.wordpress.com/2012/01/24/sopa-pipa-h-r-1981-and-megaupload-legislating-and-enforcing-the-fascist-state/#comments

    With a thanks to Willy Loman at American Everyman, I’ll quote a pair of relevant excerpts The purpose is to show that authoritarian people need authorities—-and it’s there from above the evil ideas come from.
    Fascism is the seamless melding of the corporation and the state to the advantage of the owners, stockholders, and their puppet lawmakers at the direct cost of the citizen. Government’s role as protector and defender of civil liberties is replaced by that of defender of corporate control/profits and collector of tax revenue which is directly handed over to the corporations in just as fast as humanly possible.UNQUOTE

    He mentions how SOPA/PIPA gives governmental powers to corporations.
    This next bill they have on tap, the cynically named “Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act”, is almost the same thing with a slight difference; it gives corporations the ability to collect data on you personally, your complete internet and keystroke history (along with passwords, checking account info, ect.), and then to take action against you on their own say so. To essentially block individual users from the internet based solely on a corporation’s decision because of what they claim to be your internet history. UNQUOTE

    The government technique in these bills is to point out people we disapprove of: such as piracy sites and child pornograpphers and their customers; and give government powers to corporations to “correct” the problem. The problem is the tools chosen will impact us all, the innocent as well as guilty—-and potentially depending on later definitions, all of us in time.

    Now as Bob Altemeyer writes, authoritarianism is a form of personality disorder, although he disclaims the test is formed or intended to be so; but it does indentify tthose that share a personality type.
    I’m unclear if he made the point, but changeing personality traits is pretty hard to do—–so conversions or education are not a solution.

    So the problems are generated at the top, but require bottom support.

    This was a long post. But this is the most serious issue our nation faces—-all based on utilization of common personality “disorders”.

    The Big Question is who shall control? The low RWA’s or the high RWA’s.
    For the playing of the games with either groups show that it’s either hell or maybe heaven the choice lies between.

    1. “This next bill they have on tap, the cynically named “Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act”


      This was a good catch from Willy Loman. A timeworn technique in the US to exert thought control and censorship is to do it i the name of protecting children. Among thouse with an Authoritarian Personality Disorder (RWA’s), the appeal to protect children resonates strongly and they will strongly endorse protections worded thusly. When I was young in the 40’s and 50’s some of the greatest writiers of the century like Joyce and Miller were baed in America due to the express sexuality in their novels. A stong selling point of “The War on Drugs” was to protect children. I’ve gotten to the point personally that if a particular bill or movement puts the protection of children out front, it arouses my suspicion.

      RWA’s respond to people of authority (lawmakers, religious leaders) who are strongly against things that most of us are against, sexual exploitation of children for instance. They will automatically support the efforts to “stamp out” the problem, especially if it entails repressive measures. They seem unable to detect if the response to the problem is overkill, that reduces rights and has consequences beyond the scope of dealing with that hot button issue.

      As to the second part of your comment, Bob Altemeyer doesn’t appear to believe RWA’s could be changed, except possibly with intensive therapy. He doesn’t present such therapy as a solution because it would have to be voluntary and to be so the RWA would have to be aware of her/his condition. If one was so aware they wouldn’t be an RWA, Catch 22.

      The saving grace as I think Bob sees it is that there are more of us, than them. True they are powerful beyond their umbers, but that is because aggressio and single-mindedness of purpose is what makes them RWA’s in the first place. Bob’s solution, indeed the only one offered, is for the rest of us to understand the work of these people and to respond to them with our weight of numbers. This is a hard task given the fact of the variety of human views and so the likelihood that non-RWA’s, will have a multiplicity of responses to a given issue. My own view is similar to his. You must kow your enemy in order to defeat them.

  6. The “obedient citizen” who does not question his government’s statements is the greatest danger to a free country. -Dredd

    There are too many “obedient citizens”… This I know from personal experience in a country that I hardly recognize anymore…

    From Altemeyer’s site:


    from Altemeyer:

    This book was written in 2006, halfway through George W. Bush’s second term as president. A great deal was wrong with America then, and I thought the research on authoritarian personalities could explain a lot of it. Since then a new administration has been elected, and although it has had to deal with a very serious economic crisis brought on by others, it is taking steps to correct some of what is wrong.

    However, the forces that largely caused the problems have remained on the scene, and are more active today than ever before. As I try to show in the “Comment on the Tea Party Movement” (link to the left), the research findings in this book apply at least as strongly to America today as they did four years ago. Indeed, the events of 2009 and 2010 have confirmed conclusion after conclusion in The Authoritarians. I wrote in 2006 that the authoritarians in America were not going to go away if they lost the 2008 election, that they would be infuriated if a new president tried to carry out his mandate. That has certainly been the case.

    If you check the “hit counter” on this page, you’ll see that this site has been visited nearly 300,000 times so far. The feedback I’ve gotten from those who have read The Authoritarians enables me to give you the major reason why you might want to do so too. “It ties things together for me,” people have said, “You can see how so many things all fit together.” “It explains the things about conservatives that didn’t make any sense to me,” others have commented. And the one that always brings a smile to my face, “Now at last I understand my brother-in-law” (or grandmother, uncle, woman in my car pool, Congressman, etc.).

    Maybe it’ll work that way for you too.

    Bob Altemeyer
    May, 2010

    And last, but not least, thanks for this posting, Mike S. (I agree with Blouise and hope that you’ll revisit this at some point.)

  7. If you’re not hooked on him, if not the subject, after 8 pages; then you’ll never qualify as human. How do I describe a human, well actually it’s somebody elses idea.
    A human is someone who brought a lone starving freezing Neanderthal back to the fire to share a meal, etc.; or equivalent deed. One name is empathy. It warms and empowers those who are human.

  8. Exhort on, Mike S.

    The authoritarian leader who has no belief other than striving to the top was new, but explains them all including Obama and other “noble” leaders—-with some exceptions (MLKjr, etc.). I still naively believe that some were ideological (etc.) believers.
    But the authoritarian followers are easily recognized in our society’s form.
    What per cent have an interest in using their brain, or are taught to use it by schools, mentors, etc. 0.00000001% Not skills, but thinking.
    Socrates got executed for that.

    It’s not for nothing that we refer to the herd. Nor is it easy to, after much mental work, be forced to conclude that there is no black and white solution.
    Even scientists revert to belief, when facing that.

    We are survivors, as were our ancestors. Following the herd and defending furiously your co-believers are parts of our genetic inheritance; and is reinforced by how our society works.

    Chomsky wrote about MSM, and outlined the selection process for the elite true believers (not leaders). But implicit there, is that those not sufficiently talented can still qualify for a place as an authoritarian of lesser ránk.


Comments are closed.