Manny's Reviews > The Authoritarians

The Authoritarians by Bob Altemeyer
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Jun 04, 11

bookshelves: history-and-biography, well-i-think-its-funny, science
Recommended for: People worried by the religious right
Read from May 30 to June 03, 2011

Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith, I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile.

- Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night
In this unassuming little book, Bob Altemeyer, a 60-something Canadian professor of social sciences, presents a straightforward theory explaining how authoritarian leaders arise, and what people compose their power base. He starts with the followers. What kind of person wants to support a leader like Hitler or Stalin? Altemeyer started investigating this question during the Nixon era. He developed a simple questionnaire, which he scores to produce what he calls "the Right Wing Authoritarian scale" (RWA scale). Typical questions are things like the following, where in each case the subject is asked to give a response ranging from -4 (strongly disagree) to +4 (strongly agree):
The only way our country can get through the crisis ahead is to get back to our traditional values, put some tough leaders in power, and silence the troublemakers spreading bad ideas.

Our country needs free thinkers who have the courage to defy traditional ways, even if this upsets many people.

The "old-fashioned ways" and the "old-fashioned values" still show the best way to live.
The questions seem laughably transparent, and I am indeed a little surprised when Altemeyer says that the RWA score has a great deal of predictive value. It correlates well with other ways of testing submission to established authority and also with tendency to xenophobia and bigotry. If you want to compute your own RWA score, you can find an online version here. It takes a few minutes to complete.

Most interestingly, the RWA score correlates very well with fundamentalist religious beliefs. Altemeyer has developed a second scale to measure this, based on a similar type of questionnaire. Typical questions on the Religious Fundamentalism scale look like the following:
The basic cause of evil in this world is Satan, who is still constantly and ferociously fighting against God.

When you get right down to it, there are basically only two kinds of people in the world: the Righteous, who will be rewarded by God, and the rest, who will not.

Whenever science and sacred scripture conflict, science is probably right.
You can find an online version of the Religious Fundamentalism test here.

Altemeyer's rather shocking conclusion is that the core type of person susceptible to unquestioning belief in right-wing authority is the believer in a fundamentalist faith, which in modern North American society overlaps strongly with the religious right.He presents evidence supporting his claim that these people have, on average, substantially impaired abilities to follow logical or fact-based reasoning. I liked his methodology here. Clearly, a refusal to belive in evolution or other scientific theories may be contentious, as are various political beliefs (a surprising number of members of the religious right apparently think that WMDs actually were found in Iraq).

Much more interestingly, Altemeyer shows how hard the religious right find it to reason about the Bible, which logically ought to be their home territory. The experiment I found most convincing had him showing subjects the passages from the four Gospels describing the events of Easter Morning. As is well known, the four accounts differ in many particulars, some of them quite important. Altemeyer asks students what they consider the best explanation for these internal contradictions and inconsistencies. Astonishingly, to me at least, the most common response from people with high Fundamentalist scores was that there were no inconsistencies; even after subjects were given a week to discuss the issue with other members of their community, very few changed their minds. Incidentally, I should mention that Altemeyer is focussing on the American religious right mainly because they are the group he finds easiest to study. He quotes studies carried out by Russian researchers which show very similar belief patterns among old hardline followers of Marxist-Leninism.

Altemeyer then goes on to examine the other side of the question: if religious fundamentalists make up the docile mass who can propel authoritarian leaders into power, what type of person becomes a leader? Here, he uses a third score, which he calls Social Dominance. Typical questions look like these:
It's a mistake to interfere with the "law of the jungle". Some people were meant to dominate others.

It would bother me if I intimidated people, and they worried about what I might do next.

One of the most useful skills a person should develop is how to look someone straight in the eye and lie convincingly.
Although one's first impression is that the personality types associated with high RWA and high Social Dominance are completely dissimilar, Altermeyer was surprised to discover that the intersection of the two groups does contain a small group, whom he calls Double Highs. They are, by definition, people who both believe that the citizens around them are in need of a strong leader, and want to become that leader; they are, moreover, willing to lie and dissemble to whatever extent is needed. There are obvious difficulties associated with collecting data about Double Highs, but Altemeyer has been creative. He describes some nice experiments with multi-player role playing games, where Double Highs do indeed rush to seize power in exactly the way his theory predicts, often using underhand methods.

The overall picture Altemeyer paints is disturbing. My first reaction was that his analysis was surely too simplistic: there had to be more to it than this. On the other hand, he's been doing this work for a long time and published an impressive number of books and scholarly articles. He says that only two people have made a serious attempt to prove him wrong, and that their counterarguments were not convincing. (I will try to check the papers he refers to). On the positive side, he claims many other researchers have adopted his methods. A quick search on Google Scholar shows he's widely cited; this guy is not a crank. If you're at all worried by the American religious right, you might want to download his book and check him out.
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Reading Progress

05/30/2011 page 22
8.43% "Do the RWA test and see how susceptible you are to right-wing authority figures! It's available online here."
05/30/2011 page 52
20.0% "... Clydeen Tomanio of Chickamuauga, Georgia, who was quoted on a CNN.com report dated September 7, 2006 as saying, “There are some people, and I’m one of them, that believe George Bush was placed where he is by the Lord. I don’t care how he governs, I will support him.”"
05/30/2011 page 80
31.0% "He doesn't really agree with Lakoff's "family" model of the difference between conservatives and progressives. How is this possible? Lakoff is an acknowledged authority on the subject!"
06/02/2011 page 110
42.0% "People with high RWA scores tend to be right-wing religious conservatives. They're also unusually stupid, credulous, incapable of following a logical argument and liable to believe what they want to be true rather than what the facts point to. I'm afraid I'm a little skeptical about these findings. But then I'm a low RWA."
06/02/2011 page 165
63.0% "He takes students who score high on the Fundamentalist scale and shows them the accounts of Easter Morning from the Gospels, laid out side by side. Then he asks them to explain the inconsistencies. Most of them say there are no inconsistencies. This book is so much fun!"
06/03/2011 page 205
79.0% "The Social Dominance scale (pretty much what it sounds like) and the interesting group of "Double Highs" - subjects who get high scores on Social Dominance and RWA. He argues that the Republican Party has been taken over by exactly these people. If you're a liberal, this book is like crack cocaine."

Comments (showing 1-50 of 72) (72 new)


Manny Brian wrote: "What is this RWA score? Is this a new aptitude test high school kids will be taking? Sounds like a high score could be the ticket to a rewarding career in the upper echelons of public service."

It measures your susceptibility to right-wing authority. You can do the test here. And yes, could be useful for certain jobs...


Jennifer (aka EM) Amazing. I wonder if Altemeyer has (yet) correlated the Double Highs with Hare's Psychopathy Checklist.


message 3: by Stephen (new)

Stephen I scored a 60.


message 4: by Ian (new)

Ian Klappenskoff Great review and explanation, Manny.
As you imply, authority and authoritarianism can be either right or left wing.
Why does he retain "right wing" in the name of the test"?
It would have labelled his research as liberal and undermined the acceptance of his ideas.


message 5: by David (last edited Jun 04, 2011 06:46PM) (new)

David Katzman Ian - i guess it's all in how you define far left and far right. If you are calling far left communism, then it depends on what you mean by communism. For example, I don't consider Stalinism to be Communism. Russia was a right wing dictatorship that happened to be run by a party. With a party head who ruled over them. Right and left is probably a misnomer and not great terminology to use. True communism would entail equal power over the economic process for all, not a fascist toe-the-line policy. I'm not sure what true left wing authoritarianism would look like because I consider left wing to be humanist while right wing is social Darwinist.

I got a 20 on the RWA and 13 on the RF. Interesting, i found one of his questions a little off on the RF which is why I didn't get a "perfect" 12. "Scriptures may contain general truths, but they should not be considered completely, literally true from beginning to end." I wasn't willing to admit that scriptures "may" contain truths so i didn't entirely agree with that statement. I also think that scriptures may not contain any truths at all! It probably depends on how you define truth and truth about what!?!?

btw, i'm not surprised by these results at all. I'm rather in the new-atheist camp that believes willingness to believe in religious dogma is correlated with willingness to swallow the illusions perpetuated by the media and the government. Not always, of course, i know there are sincerely liberal progressive people who are also devoutly religious. But i think in general, they tend to be mutually reinforcing. Submitting to the Christian God as your savior and superior is not so far off from submitting to your government or a dictator. I read somewhere one reason that many Fundamentalists are not opposed to the government's use of torture is that they aren't willing to categorically oppose torture...since Jesus was tortured on the cross for the good of humanity. Therefore, torture isn't necessarily bad. In fact, it might be for the greater good.


message 6: by Manny (last edited Jun 04, 2011 07:53PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Manny Ian wrote: "Great review and explanation, Manny.

Thank you!

As you imply, authority and authoritarianism can be either right or left wing.
Why does he retain "right wing" in the name of the test"?"


Here's what he says near the beginning of the book:

"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.

Because the submission occurs to traditional authority, I call these followers rightwing authoritarians. I’m using the word “right” in one of its earliest meanings, for in Old English “riht”(pronounced “writ”) as an adjective meant lawful, proper, correct, doing what the authorities said.

In North America people who submit to the established authorities to extraordinary degrees often turn out to be political conservatives, so you can call them “right-wingers” both in my new-fangled psychological sense and in the usual political sense as well. But someone who lived in a country long ruled by Communists and who ardently supported the Communist Party would also be one of my psychological right-wing authoritarians even though we would also say he was a political left-winger. So 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."


Manny Jennifer (aka EM) wrote: "Amazing. I wonder if Altemeyer has (yet) correlated the Double Highs with Hare's Psychopathy Checklist."

Good question. I'd like to know too!


Manny David wrote: "btw, i'm not surprised by these results at all. I'm rather in the new-atheist camp that believes willingness to believe in religious dogma is correlated with willingness to swallow the illusions perpetuated by the media and the government. Not always, of course, i know there are sincerely liberal progressive people who are also devoutly religious. But i think in general, they tend to be mutually reinforcing. Submitting to the Christian God as your savior and superior is not so far off from submitting to your government or a dictator."

Well, that does seem to be what his findings indicate. Though he stresses that he isn't referring to religious people in general, just people with a fundamentalist attitude towards religion-like beliefs - which, as he says, include things like Marxist-Leninism and Nazism.


message 9: by Ian (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ian I don't want to sound like I'm sucking up to you, Manny. But, dude, you have an amazing ability to boil down a work of nonfiction in a GR review such that I feel like I've both read the book and understood its content.


Manny Well thank you! And I thought this was an important book. Download it (it's free) and take a look yourself! It's an easy read.


Chris Some of the most interesting additions to my "to read" list come from your reviews. Thank you for yet another such addition.


message 12: by Ian (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ian My RWA score is 43. Does that make me one of the radical rotten apples who needs to be eliminated?


message 13: by Ian (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ian Okay, I just read the first ten pages of the free ebook. The dude is really funny!


message 14: by Ian (new)

Ian Klappenskoff Thanks, Manny/David.
His use of left and right is interesting.
We all probably know the origin of the meaning of Left and Right (as in -Wing) in the French Revolution.
The Right supported the King and religion.
But the French have used their words for Left (gauche) and Right (droit) in other interesting ways in this context.
Droit can mean "a right", but it also means the whole body of the Law.
So the right-handed "right" word also means correct, a right and the Law.
All Left ended up with was gauche as in clumsy.

David, I understand your points about the left and humanism.
I hate the term "politically correct", but to the extent that some on the left want to turn morality into law, I am concerned about the sort of authoritarianism implicit in the attitude "there ought to be a law against that".
Sometimes when the left gets into power, no matter how humanitarian their motives, they wield power and make laws just as bad as the right.

I also think that humanitarianism can be driven by an internal authoritarianism.
"I" am right.
Sort of "l'etat, cest moi." Though, I guess that should be, "Le droit, c'est moi."
But I assume Bob Altemeyer was talking about allegiance to external authority.


message 15: by Jennifer (aka EM) (last edited Jun 05, 2011 04:58AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jennifer (aka EM) Ian wrote: "My RWA score is 43. Does that make me one of the radical rotten apples who needs to be eliminated?"

You, me (20) and David up there in post #6.

I find the test items to be worded so definitively. it's hard for me to see rating them on a graduated scale. To me, they are agree/disagree items. But then, I'm always surprised when people disagree with me. ;-p

I'm wondering how this work relates or furthers the huge body of research into anti-semitism that came out of WWII, including Adorno/Levinson et al. The Authoritarian Personality, their F-Scale and the Milgram experiments.

Is it that Altemeyer is focusing in on the correlation between authoritarian personality traits and religious fundamentalism? (I think the earlier work mostly included religiosity as a factor not a separate set of characteristics or behaviours; haven't read it in years, granted).

I suppose I should just download the book. But like Ian in post #10, I rely on you, Manny, to feed these things to me in digestible gulps. And for that, I thank you. :-)


message 16: by David (last edited Jun 05, 2011 11:35AM) (new)

David Katzman Ian - could you clarify what you think of as left-wing authoritarian laws? Can you provide some examples? I don't really know of many cases where progressives say "There oughta be a law against that."

When it comes to being politically correct, I think it's the left which is usually anti-censorship and the right that tries to have books removed from libraries. The most questionable laws I can think of that have left support are Hate Crimes laws. Punitive sentencing based on the "intention" of the crime does seem rather authoritarian; however, I think right wing politicians are generally pretty comfortable with Hate Crime laws because they are opportunities to show "tough on crime" attitudes. In general, the left and liberals are pro-rehabilitation not three strikes and you're out.

I think it's important to distinguish between someone who professes to be left wing or liberal and their actions which may in fact be conservative and reactionary. It's quite common in politics for someone to campaign as a supporter of the people and then get into office and become a lapdog to the corporate elite.


message 17: by Ian (new)

Ian Klappenskoff Thanks, David.
A point of clarification: all laws are authoritarian, because they rely on the power and authority of the state.
"Authoritarian" is being used in this book to describe the relationship of the individual to the state.
The best current example (it's even on Good Reads) I can give of what I was talking about is:

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/43...

It's a left wing call to change the law with respect to corporations to remove their current rights.


message 18: by Ian (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ian Brian -- a 41 means you are highly unlikely to support a right wing authoritarian regime. A 20 is the lowest you can go (least likely to support a right-wing dictator) and a 180 is the highest (most likely to support a right-wing dictator).


message 19: by Whitaker (last edited Jun 05, 2011 09:28PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Whitaker What surprised me was that the median score was 90. I took the test too, and after taking it I was, like, wait, you mean most people out there agree with some of this?


Manny Jennifer (aka EM) wrote: "Ian wrote: "My RWA score is 43. Does that make me one of the radical rotten apples who needs to be eliminated?"

You, me (20) and David up there in post #6."


Yes, I'm afraid you're all on some list by now...

I'm wondering how this work relates or furthers the huge body of research into anti-semitism that came out of WWII, including Adorno/Levinson et al. The Authoritarian Personality, their F-Scale and the Milgram experiments.

Is it that Altemeyer is focusing in on the correlation between authoritarian personality traits and religious fundamentalism? (I think the earlier work mostly included religiosity as a factor not a separate set of characteristics or behaviours; haven't read it in years, granted).


To me, the most significant thing in this book was the correlation between eagerness to support established authority, religious fundamentalist beliefs, and inability to use evidence-based reasoning. I have noticed this myself from time to time (I had this boss once...) and I'm very interested to see that it's not just anecdotal.

I am less convinced by the "Double Highs", mainly because he hasn't done as much work on them and it doesn't feel as solid. But if it holds up to further examination, it's at least as important and scary.

He talks quite a lot about Milgram in the last chapter.


message 21: by Manny (last edited Jun 05, 2011 10:41PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Manny Whitaker wrote: "What surprised me was that the median score was 90. I took the test too, and after taking it I was, like, wait, you mean most people out there agree with some of this?"

Yes, my reaction too. But I've spent enough of my life in the US that I can see that the reaction from the other side is going to be "wait, you mean most people out there don't agree with some of this"?


Manny Brian wrote: "It would be interesting to see average scores broken down by region. It seems likely Texas and much of the US South would have higer scores than other regions. It would be interesting to see country-by-country averages."

He does a nice survey where he asks US and Canadian congressmen to do the RWA test. Republicans, not surprisingly, get much higher scores than Democrats. Canadians (Muse?) may well find the section on their country interesting, though I don't understand Canadian politics. Look in particular at the chart on page 215 of the PDF. The corresponding US chart is on page 208.


message 23: by David (last edited Jun 06, 2011 07:36AM) (new)

David Katzman Thanks, Ian. I am quite familiar with the concept Manny wrote about in that review as I used to be part of a political movement that wanted to strip corporations of the rights they currently have. However, I strongly disagree with your point of view. I think you are talking semantically in circles. Corporations were given the rights of human beings as a matter of law (which was authoritarian) so changing them to NOT have the rights of human beings is also authoritarian? If any law is authoritarian then corporations would not be permitted to exist in the first place because they wouldn't exist without laws to support them.

I think it's rather commonsensical to recognize that corporations by nature are authoritarian institutions. They are anti-democratic and exist only to maximize profit. They are run as a dictatorship, some more benevolent than others, but still a dictatorship. The CEO directs his teams, makes demands and everything trickles down. The stock market is like the military, making sure that the corporation stays in line, with the Board members providing guidance where necessary (not unlike Communist party leaders). The corporation must continue to increase profits or heads will roll. Thus, any laws that would reduce the authoritarian quality of corporations would actually be anti-authoritarian.


Jennifer (aka EM) Manny wrote: "He does a nice survey where he asks US and Canadian congressmen to do the RWA test. Republicans, not surprisingly, get much higher scores than Democrats. Canadians (Muse?) may well find the section on their country interesting, though I don't understand Canadian politics. Look in particular at the chart on page 215 of the PDF."

I'm going to pull this off and start reading it tonight. Your explanation that what Altemeyer is really doing is looking at a particular (newly defined) cognitive bias - the inability for high RWAs to see inconsistencies in logic or fact - is remarkable.

We (Canada) just gave our PM a majority -- I'll speculate he's a Double High. I think many Canadians have seen the Tea Party as something that couldn't happen here - I think those Canadians are dead wrong and our democracy is deeply threatened by this.

Back soon with more after I've actually read it.


Chris @Jennifer - I share your (what sounds like) apprehension about how Canadian politics are turning. I found the most recent election quite disturbing and think you might be correct about Harper. The Conservative Party has changed considerably since the merger of PC and Reform. I've also started this one immediately and hope for a fair number of examples from Canadian society.


message 26: by Ian (last edited Jun 07, 2011 12:04AM) (new)

Ian Klappenskoff David wrote: "Thus, any laws that would reduce the authoritarian quality of corporations would actually be anti-authoritarian."

Thanks, David.
I don't want to burden this thread with a discussion of corporate personality and its merits.
Though I'm happy to continue it as posts on my review of the Hartmann book.

The point I am trying to make is that Altemeyer's book (and I haven't read it yet) seems to be talking about the attitude of a human being to the authority of the State.
It's not talking about the State itself, or the quality of its laws in general, or any particular law.
It's trying to assess the obedience of the individual to the State, in a way, potentially whether the individual law is morally right or wrong.
If you said, my country right or wrong, you would be highly authoritarian.
If you said, because the President declared war on or otherwise invaded another country, that's good enough for me, I'll support him, that's authoritarian in my books.
If you said, I respect the law generally, but I reserve the right to disobey some laws with which I do not agree morally (e.g., smoking marijuana, speeding, overstaying a time limit on a carpark), then you would be less authoritarian.

If you (i.e., any of us) say that I think that some type of conduct is immoral and I think there should be a law against it, then I think there is an authoritarian element to your (our) temperament.
If I am offended by "American Psycho" and think it should be banned, then I am being authoritarian.

If you're interested in these issues, I recommend that you read David Foster Wallace's "The Pale King".
In chapter 19, he says these things:

Superego
"Here in the US, we expect government and law to be our conscience. Our superego, you could say.
"It has something to do with liberal individualism, and something to do with capitalism..."


Crazy Infants
"Americans are in a way crazy. We infantilize ourselves. We don't think of ourselves as citizens - parts of something larger to which we have responsibilities. We think of ourselves as citizens when it comes to our rights and privileges, but not our responsibilities."

Responsibilities
"We abdicate our civic responsibilities to the government and expect the government, in effect, to legislate morality."

It's this abdication of individual responsibility to the State that I call authoritarian.
I think it's interesting that DFW calls it infantile.


message 27: by Ian (new)

Ian Klappenskoff My RWA score was 22.
My RF score was 12.

I didn't have a problem with the question that troubled David.
Most scriptures are actually a grab-bag of moral statements that don't require religion or a belief in god for their validity.
Religion has co-opted a lot of pre-monotheistic morality for its own purposes, but it does't have a monopoly on morality or virtue.
Equally, the fact that religion has co-opted some pre-existing form of morality doesn't make the underlying morality less valid.


message 28: by David (new)

David Katzman Ian said: If you (i.e., any of us) say that I think that some type of conduct is immoral and I think there should be a law against it, then I think there is an authoritarian element to your (our) temperament.

Well, I agree with almost all that you say except how do you explain acts of domination which laws can prevent? Is it authoritarian to have a law that says it's immoral to have rape?

To be honest, i've always been rather torn about anarchism as a philosophy and a supposedly anti-ideological position. Perhaps in tribal societies the general social pressure of tightly knit communities forgoes the need for explicit laws because everyone knows each other and people know when someone is "hurt." Even then, there is some form of adjudication. Even tribal societies have "leaders" so despite not having written law, they are still in some sense authoritarian because someone is relatively in charge, even if in some cases that person needs consensus to rule.

However, in a society where dominance clearly exists, how do you prevent the powerful from preying on the weak? Corporations are legal entities. They are created by laws so how is it authoritarian to want to change those laws or create new laws to replace them? That isn't saying "There oughta be a law against corporations." It's saying "The law that created corporations was wrong." This is what i mean by a semantic circle.

perhaps some day when the human species is nearly wiped out due to global warming, and we are forced into small pockets attempting to survive in limited areas, humanity will once again try to survive without written laws. Maybe we'll do fine without them.


message 29: by Jennifer (aka EM) (last edited Jun 07, 2011 10:17AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jennifer (aka EM) David and Ian (@30), I'd encourage you to read this book. (originally I typed "you really need to ..." but then I realized that sounded a little too authoritarian!)

Its power is in providing a coherent psychological / cognitive framework for the behaviours that you are describing -- one that reconciles and explains some of the very contradictions you're pointing out and questions that you have.

One of the things that I find interesting so far is that Altemeyer is writing to low RWAs exclusively. He's assuming high RWAs would never read his book, and he's of course right - they would simply label it liberal propaganda and, with their anti-science/anti-evidence cognitive bias, discount or fail to even recognize themselves in it.

No amount of logical argument penetrates the armour of an RWA. So, how do we - as citizens of democracies who are threatened by them - counter their effect? I'm hoping he gets to this ....


message 30: by Ian (new)

Ian Klappenskoff Thanks, Jennifer/David
I have downloaded the materials that are on his website and will have a look at them shortly.
One thing I would encourage myself to clarify, I mean, I need to clarify, is that I should have been using the term "authoritarian follower".
David, I agree with your points about the merits of some laws.
Of course, society needs some laws.
Often, they will be moral prescriptions (e.g., thou shalt not kill) that get elevated to a crime against the State.
The State can then use its power and authority to punish the criminal, over and above any personal remedy the individuals might have against each other.
However, the RWA is trying to measure the individual's relationship with the State, regardless of the content or merits of any particular law.
If we lived in a society where the only thing that the State had ever needed to do and could do was to pass a law against murder, then I suspect that all of us would have a high RWA, because we would all totally agree with the need for that law.
Obviously, the RWA wouldn't make much sense in this extreme example, because we as a society would have agreed that we could regulate our own behaviour without needing the power of the State to create sanctions.


message 31: by Ian (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ian I'm about halfway done with the book and I just thought I'd weigh in here and clarify that the book does indeed examine authoritarian followers, not authoritarian leaders. Altemeyer's goal is to draw the profile of the typical person who would support an authoritarian regime.


message 32: by Ian (new)

Ian Klappenskoff It would be interesting to see if there is any link with officiousness or pedantry or legalistic inflexibility within any other type of organisation, especially, dare I say it, a corporation.
I have to do what management tells me, otherwise, I'll lose my job.
The corporate Nurenberg Defence.


message 33: by Jennifer (aka EM) (last edited Jun 07, 2011 07:50PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jennifer (aka EM) He references that, Ian. Essentially authoritarian followers are so within any environment of authority - that is, high RWAs blindly follow policies as they do authorities; and they do not speak out against the actions of those in authority regardless of the environment - corporate, religious, academic etc. These are not your corporate whistle blowers. They believe that power, regardless how obtained or exercised, is by definition right, or justified. Those in authority who exhibit bad behaviour are either not perceived by high RWAs to do so, or that behaviour is not considered as reprehensible / punishable as it would be if it was exhibited by those with less power or by members of a group that are disenfranchised by the authorities in power.

It's important to understand that what Altemeyer is describing here is a personality style -- he would go so far as to call it a disorder, I think (although I might quibble with that). At the least, it's attitudinal and it's also a style of cognitive processing. So yes, you'd probably describe these people as inflexible - which can be measured via scales that determine how likely it is for high RWAs to change their opinions. [ETA: and he does show that high RWAs are also high on a scale that he calls "dogmatism"]. But pedantry or officiousness - I'm not sure exactly how that translates to measurable traits or behaviours; I'd say they are perceptions of personality or style, but not traits per se.


Whitaker I think it's also important to highlight that Altemeyer stresses that the traits that make up high RWAs are not absent in others, they are just more pronounced in high RWAs. More significantly, circumstances can move people to be more RWA in their behaviour. Typically, any situation where society is under threat or where life is hard will increase the propensity to adopt RWA traits, and hence increase the number of RWAs in the population. It's no surprise then that the recent economic climate has seen a rise in nationalist/right-wing sentiment in Europe mirroring the same rise in Spain, Germany, and Italy before the WWII. Similarly, as Altemeyer points out himself, the 9/11 attacks saw an increase in people with RWA behaviour.

I think this is important to stress because otherwise we run the risk of thinking (smugly) that those of us who are not (now) RWAs are immune to this behaviour, when it is not the case at all. It's a question of tendency. More importantly, under the right conditions where RWAs make up a dominant (not necessarily majority) group in society, most people will under the influence of peer pressure simply go along the path of least resistance. The last chapter deals with this and is a crucial and critical read.


Manny Ian wrote: "I'm about halfway done with the book and I just thought I'd weigh in here and clarify that the book does indeed examine authoritarian followers, not authoritarian leaders."

He gets on to the leaders too after a while! Those Double Highs...


Manny Whitaker wrote: "I think this is important to stress because otherwise we run the risk of thinking (smugly) that those of us who are not (now) RWAs are immune to this behaviour, when it is not the case at all. It's a question of tendency. More importantly, under the right conditions where RWAs make up a dominant (not necessarily majority) group in society, most people will under the influence of peer pressure simply go along the path of least resistance. The last chapter deals with this and is a crucial and critical read."

Absolutely. His accounts of the Milgram experiments are among the most chilling I have seen. As he says, most people simply refuse to believe that they would have done the same, but the evidence says otherwise. Then, when you think you've got used to the idea, he talks about Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Holocaust and you wonder why you were getting upset over Milgram.

He clearly believes that the US is teetering on the brink of an outright fascist takeover, though he never says so in so many words. Better hope he's wrong.


message 37: by Ian (new)

Ian Klappenskoff Jennifer (aka EM) wrote: "He references that, Ian."

Thanks, Jennifer.
I'm sure that you've answered my question.
I was thinking of pedantic adherence to grammar, reluctance to embrace neologisms, inflexibility with respect to compliance procedures, and then contrasting these qualities with flexibility, creativity, lateral thinking, problem solving (though as you or Manny can probably prove, problem solving can be a structured process).


message 38: by Ian (new)

Ian Klappenskoff Brian wrote: "High RWA's, scared out of their mind by 9/11, have already willingly given would-be fascists all the tools they need set a police state in motion."

Brian, I think there is plenty of evidence that the likes of Rumsfeld were just sitting there waiting to push the go button on this type of legislation.
9/11 just provided them with the justification that nobody could successfully oppose without being labelled, naive, idealistic, liberal, communist.
If they wait long enough, they will get their mandate.


message 39: by Ian (new)

Ian Klappenskoff Manny, thanks for drawing this book to our attention.
It's been a real enlightenment and conversation-starter.


message 40: by Whitaker (last edited Jun 08, 2011 12:27AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Whitaker Manny wrote: "He clearly believes that the US is teetering on the brink of an outright fascist takeover, though he never says so in so many words. Better hope he's wrong."

Well, more specifically, he believes that the US is teetering on the brink of an outright Christian fascist takeover.

Have you guys ever heard of dominion theology? No? Neither had I until I read this:
[Pat Robertson] now subscribes to a postmillennial eschatology in which Christians—at least the ones who share his views—are called upon to try to assume positions of power wherever they can in order to build a more righteous and God-fearing society.

BUT just how are Christians to exert influence? This brings up what has undoubtedly been the most contentious issue at Regent. It has to do with something called "dominion theology." A subset within postmillennial theology, the dominion school holds that Christians (and, some would add, religious Jews) have inherited all the Old Testament mandates, one of the most fundamental of which is in Genesis 1:28, where God says to Adam and Eve, "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth" (emphasis added). Dominion theologians interpret this passage to mean that believers are entitled to "dominion" over all the world's major institutions. They should rule the earth until Christ comes again, no matter what the duration of their interim reign. Some of Robertson's critics believe that such a vision—an entire nation run at all levels by the faithful—is what inspired Robertson to rename his university "Regent," and they find this frightening.

Their concerns, it would seem, are not entirely groundless. At times Robertson has written, in what gives a strong impression of being a dominion-theology voice, that Regent is to be a "Kingdom institution," in which people will be taught how to "enter into the privilege they have as God's representatives on earth." In The New World Order, the book that brought the issue of possible anti-Semitism freshly to the fore, Robertson presents a summary of his political theology, writing that only those "who believe the Judeo-Christian values" are qualified to rule, and then goes on to spell out this doctrine.
There will never be world peace until God's house and God's people are given their rightful place of leadership at the top of the world. How can there be peace when drunkards,communists, atheists, New Age worshipers of Satan, secular humanists, oppressive dictators, greedy moneychangers, revolutionary assassins, adulterers, and homosexuals are on top?
You should read the entire article ("The Warring Visions of the Religious Right", The Atlantic, November 1995) though, which presents a more nuanced picture than this extract suggests.


message 41: by Ian (new)

Ian Klappenskoff Take out "Christian" and substitute "Muslim" and you get almost word for word the justification of jihad.
But you can see why extreme Muslims hate Christianity: they know these fundamentalist views sit just beneath the surface.

How can there be peace when drunkards,communists, atheists, New Age worshipers of Satan, secular humanists, oppressive dictators, greedy moneychangers, revolutionary assassins, adulterers, and homosexuals are on top?

I get a Quadruple High on that scale of evils, but I'm not telling which four.


Whitaker I'm betting one of them is revolutionary assassin. LOL!


message 43: by Ian (new)

Ian Klappenskoff I heard the typing pool once called you an oppressive dictator. I can just imagine you hunched over your dictaphone.


Whitaker Ha!! :-)


message 45: by Ian (new)

Ian Klappenskoff Can anyone recommend a decent book that objectively goes into the ancient and modern history of the concept and term "politically correct"?
I hate the use of this term to undermine particular arguments within society.
I am interested in its right wing precedents in terms of authorised religion vs heresy, "U" vs "Non-U", and the left wing in terms of "ideologically sound".


message 46: by Paul (new)

Paul Bryant FWIW I have some fun with trying to get a grip on political correctness here

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20...

and you know I've taken these political personality tests before now & I always come out Authoritarian Left. Which I'm okay with. So I'd squeeze the rich until they begged for mercy, close every tax loophole with gaffer tape and superglue and not let anyone in the UK until they had read and understood Animal Farm by George Orwell and could repeat the first paragraph from memory. Something like that anyway.


Manny not let anyone in the UK until they had read and understood Animal Farm by George Orwell and could repeat the first paragraph from memory.

Is that the bit with the popholes that so distresses John Self?


message 48: by Ian (new)

Ian Klappenskoff Welcome, Paul, you're probably living proof of the issue David and I have been discussing (though as I currently understand you, primarily with respect to sexual violence, or are you joining the anti-corporatist gang as well?).
It's worth doing the tests.
Though I don't think the test is designed to identify Left-wing versus Right-wing politically, I think your Left inclinations might lure you into some responses away from one end or other of the spectrum, so your number might be higher.

If you're Authoritarian Left in the old Communist or Stalinist context, then I am probably what you would call a "Right Wing Deviationist".
Though it saddens me to have to embrace the word "deviationist" in the context of our other threads about censorship.


message 49: by Gulla (new)

Gulla kulla Great review. Looking forward to reading the book.


message 50: by Paul (new)

Paul Bryant Politically speaking I tend to be quite glad no one with my views has a chance of being elected. If they did it wouldn't be pretty.


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