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Republican Party Hijacked Without Rank-And-File Consent.

Resources: Conservatives Without Conscience, by John Dean, and The Authoritarian Specter, by Bob Altemeyer and information each references.

It is one thing to study phenomena scientifically; it is quite another to breath life into it as new technology. It only took some ten millennia for physics, chemistry, and biology to break through the superstitions and dogmas of earlier times. These are the hard sciences, driven by the curiosity of our species. The soft sciences, psychology, sociology, politics, and governance have yet to reach comparable maturity. Their science is confounded by this thing called personality as it bears on individual and collective self-interest. This page looks more deeply into that issue.

Social scientists have now confirmed the behaviors of a variety of authoritarians. Hitler was a prime example of an authoritarian personality, though hardly the original or the last. But his dictatorship was so terrible that he motivated study of his kind after his demise. Adorno and his cohorts identified the main features infecting both the Nazis and the German public. Adorno was a psychiatrist of the Freudian school and naturally couched his findings along psychiatric lines. He provided the name that sticks to the personality he studied: authoritarian.

Stanley Milgram of Yale University later found that the features identified by Adorno, were also present in Americans. His experimental result, while both true and disturbing, was, to the American public, something of a party joke. Laughter--the telling of Milgram's story too often gets--is usually of the nervous variety, for the real meaning is not lost on many psyches, whether that meaning reaches ones consciousness or not. [It certainly was not conscious the first time this observer heard the Milgram story, but the laughter was real enough. After all, it takes self awareness that most of us do not have to admit that we too might harbor this trait.]

Now that the Authoritarian Personality, AP, is known, it remains to quantify its impact on the American political scene. That is where John Dean comes in. But first, we present the defining features of two sides of typical authoritarian personalities. That there are two sides to the personality likely arises from our jungle/savanna heritage where aggression and fierceness are counterbalanced by the herding and cooperative instincts in the evolutionary survival of the respective genes. What resulted is a seemingly incompatible mixture of aggressive and submissive traits. In fact, they combine in a need for hierarchy that many writers have recognized. This singular trait may account for the widespread human need for religion or mythos of some sort. Neverthess, it is useful to think in terms of dominance and submissiveness separately when looking for effects in various societies.

Characteristics Defining Authoritarians:
Dominating Leaders and Submissive Followers.
Social Dominators Submissive Followers
Dominating Submissive to Authority
Opposes Equality Aggressive on behalf of authority
Desires Personal Power Conventionality is the order for each day

John Dean (2006) has recognized these features in three administrations he was able to watch closely. As the White House lawyer for Nixon, he saw many of Nixon's shenanigans first hand. Dean observed: authoritarian thinking was the driving force behind almost everything that went wrong with Nixon's presidency. The same will surely prove true of the present incumbent and administration for many of them have the earmarks. It doesn't take a social scientist to correlate another person's behavior with a well defined personality type.

John Dean wrote in the Boston Globe:

"For more than 40 years I have considered myself a 'Goldwater conservative,' and am thoroughly familiar with the movement's canon. But I can find nothing conservative about the Bush/Cheney White House, which has created a Nixon "imperial presidency" on steroids, while acting as if being tutored by the best and brightest of the Cosa Nostra."

If this is not scary we do not know what is. During the Clinton impeachment proceedings, Dean was an on-camera consultant for MSNBC. He observed how the Republicans in Congress were hellbent on overturning the 1996 election and removing Clinton from office. During that period Dean got to know many members of Congress and their staffs as well. He saw the strict controls Gingrich and DeLay were able to impose on Congressional Republicans. The motive of the rank and file was simply to please their party's leaders. Dean added:

    "I found this new level of party discipline remarkable. I understood that DeLay scared them, but so badly that they would vote against their conscience? I was relieved that a few of the conservatives with whom I spoke believed the GOP leadership was going too far."

[The fact that so many others endorse the Gingrich / DeLay methods is the scary part.]

This was in 1998. Dean became so uncomfortable with his party's leadership that he re-registered as an independent. Dean's philosophical mentor was Barry Goldwater. When Dean asked Goldwater about this trend, Goldwater replied: It's those so-called social or cultural conservatives. And I don't know what in hell possesses them. I'd like to find out. Dean and Goldwater then agreed to do a book together on the subject. Unfortunately, Goldwater died before the book could be completed.

After the 2000 election, Dean got a close look at the Bush-Cheney team. What he saw, motivated him to finish the book he had started with Goldwater. The product became a best-seller: Worse Than Watergate, 2004. Still Dean was restless; he had no common thread that explained why there was a rise toward authoritarianism. Well, Dean knows now, thanks to Professor Altemeyer's books and e-mails on the subject. Dean's common thread is merely the Authoritarian Personality so ably described and clarified by Altemeyer and other social scientists.

Further links on authoritarianism and extremism for the curious, researchers, policy makers, politicians and hopefully some "Born Again Moderates."
The timeless adage that: Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely" is being borne out once again as this is being written. Between them, Gingrich and DeLay turned the House of Representatives into their personal fiefdom. And wouldn't you know, inappropriate Internet messages from former Republican Rep. Mark Foley to a young male former House aide have created a national scandal. It is inherent for the Extremist Variety of to believe it can do no wrong. The only concern for a true authoritarian is control.

Authoritarianism is operating every day in the good old USA -- at high government levels. Our founding fathers provided many checks and balances -- except for the most important one. A one-party state, can use the checks and balances to reinforce one another to the extent of negating constitutional guarantees for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Maybe we should be thankful that corruption scandals can still surface. Otherwise we are one Supreme Court appointment away from: WHAT????

Conventionalism, aggression, and submissiveness are the features that characterize the authoritarian personality. It is the submissive element that will kill us, as ironic as that may be. We will have freedom only as long as we can guard it with our free wills, using votes that count equally in all voting districts.

Two of our founding fathers said:

Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder.
George Washington

Those who would trade liberty for security deserve neither.
Ben Franklin

In modern terminology, we recapture their fears of the current political scene thus:

If we cannot overcome our innate submissiveness, we will be victimized by our own aggressive dogmas as second-class citizens!

All this is not to say Democrats or other parties are immune. Our enemy is not the preferences that determine political left and right. Rather, our enemy is our extreme genetic tendencies to act and react violently. This is why the barrier between violence and peace is egg-shell thin. This is why democracy needs term limits, equal representation. This is why, above all, society needs education about our origins with means for dampening our in-born conventionalism, aggressiveness and submissiveness which, when unbridled, give rise to our violence.

We are not violent because we have guns.
We have guns because we are violent.
Kris Rosenberg

Martha Stout in a most timely book "The Sociopath Next Door" describes just what it is that drives the most extreme of the extreme. Her book is a must read for anyone trying to understand what is wrong in our violent world.


Good insight. Of course the democratic party has its share of Authoritarians--as Altemeyer ( points out in his well-referenced book. It just has fewer. Neither have the Democrats been hijacked by extremists--at least not yet. If this adminstration were Democratic and behaving as this one is, we would be on their case. The people in power need to take more heat for the simple reason that they are in power.

Posted by RoadToPeace on Sunday, February 11, 2007 at 13:01:55

Authoritarians, as the word is used on this web site, are rather well defined by Adorno, Milgram, Altemeyer, and Zimbardo. Links to each are available; do a word search of our site.

As for the frequency of Authoritarians in the Demopcratic party, this is Altemeyer's conclusion. Data he reports support his conslusion.

Posted by RoadToPeace on Friday, June 15, 2007 at 04:30:45

Science in metaphor is like a jig-saw puzzle. Each piece must fit with its nearest neighbors. On this test, Altemeyer's work passes muster. It is consitent with the findings of Adorno, Milgram, Zimbardo and the North American political scene, as well as with evolution itself which created the "spector".

It is true that scientific findings need to be verified independently. That too has been done for Altemeyer to levels common in social science. We do not know if the website referenced has had equivalent scrutiny.

Another comment has to do with the very definition of authoritarian personality. The web site referenced is too cursory to know if the definitions used by each are consistent. Different tests were used, and Altemeyer himself migrated from one test to another over time.

Altemeyer seems to have made an original contribution to the definition of authoritarianism. Agression, submissiveness and conventionalism. That did not come out of thin air. It came out of factor analysis, a mathematical means for grouping "factors" by the degree to which they correlate among themselves but not with more distant factors that may show their own grouping correlations. Altemeyer's three factors condensed Adorn's six and Milgram's eight to the point where his three fit nicely with evolutionary origins.

Moreover, to say an authoritarn test measures conservtism, not authoritarianism, requires such things as item analysis, which is way beyond our scope here.

Altemeyer included enough test results to see an overall testwise error. We are not aware that a single author has ever done that before. The referenced website could have reported such an artifact. This feature has repeatedly led to controversy in the history of science. One such exmple was a finding in Finland that smoking was good for you, in contrast to some 400 others to the contrary.

Finally, it is true that while authoritarianism and conservatism correlate, neither causes the other, but both by definition include a "conventional" element, or co-factor.

If Altemeyer is wrong, and he may well be, it is in a detail here or there and not in his overall scheme. Altemeyer did something else usual. He let his data define the authoritarian personality. We will use that definition until something better comes along.

Posted by RoadToPeace on Saturday, September 22, 2007 at 02:06:54

For LWA, see Commentary and the figure on:
Altemeyer studied a lot of LWAs. But just now it is the RWAs that rule the roost. So they receive the emphasis.

But yes LWAs exist; there are many of them. It could not be otherwise. Altemeyer discusses them at some length.

To talk left and right wing is to talk politics. The Authoritarian Personality that underlies each is not defined in political terms, but LWA and RWA by definition are political terms.

Posted by RoadToPeace on Friday, January 11, 2008 at 19:29:52

Comments among those above have been withdrawn by their author.

Posted by RoadToPeace on Thursday, December 03, 2009 at 23:54:09

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