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The Authoritarians

4.29  ·  Rating details ·  510 ratings  ·  101 reviews
Bob Altemeyer—author of Atheists and The Authoritarian Specter —gives a readable analysis of the nature of authoritarianism and its current impact on American politics.

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free online text, 261 pages
Published 2006
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Tim Ponygroom From
The Authoritarians was first made available at in 1996. When I inadvertently lost this domain in 2014 it was pounced on by an outfit that…more
The Authoritarians was first made available at in 1996. When I inadvertently lost this domain in 2014 it was pounced on by an outfit that offered to sell it back to me for lots and lots of money. The book was instead made available at until my status as “Retired Old P___” caught up to me in 2016. My good friend Ken Murdoch, another ROP, set up in July, 2016.(less)

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May 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: People worried by the religious right
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 in
Jun 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Whitaker by: Manny
Update (26 January 2017)

The Atlantic had a very troubling report on Trump that started:
During his sole press conference as president-elect, on January 11, Donald Trump seemed to promise more favorable treatment for states that had voted for him in the election. “We focused very hard in those states and they really reciprocated,” he said. “And those states are gonna have a lot of jobs and they’re gonna havestarted:
Warning: I could only bear to read about the first 50 pages of this in depth. The rest I skimmed through. Far be it for me to say that merely because something is a belligerent ranting diatribe, it doesn't have merit. After all, I have written this....

Permit me, if you will, to counterpoise the RWA with the HPA. That is the Harry Potter authoritarian. It suddenly and obviously struck me yesterday, that it is a perfect example of how you can’t actually talk about the RWA like it is so
Jun 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, politics
First things first, if you haven't yet read this book you need to read it, or at least you need to read Manny's excellent summary of this book's contents. Right now.

Ok. Now that you have the gist, I have a few comments:

First, I know the people this book describes. Intimately. I used to be one. I still have lots of friends who fit, for the most part, the high-RWA description. My wife's entire family are high RWA's, to a tee. They're (usually) good people and good friends. But the
Michael P.
Oct 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I spent a year and a half studying why politics in the US has become so divisive that one side no longer speaks meaningfully to the other. I could have saved my self a year and 25 weeks if I’d found this book first. It took everything I learned and set it into a bigger context, the context of statistical psychology. Altemeyer has been surveying authoritarian personalities for decades, and really puts his finger on authoritarian leaders and those who blindly follow them. He understands their aggr ...more
Peter Mcloughlin
I read this book years ago when dismaying things coming out the republican party piqued my interest in authoritarianism and it has grown only more relevant since especially during this election cycle. From now and for the unforeseeable future we will be dealing with an authoritarian segment of our population which will find the appeals of a demagogue very enticing. It is not just Trump when Trump goes away authoritarians will remain behind ready to throw up a new demagogue who sings their song m ...more
Jennifer (aka EM)
Jun 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Jennifer (aka EM) by: Manny
A random set of notes on this book, in descending date order. And everyone must read this book. Resistance is NOT futile. I may be low RWA, but I'll be damned if I'll go down without a fight.

I have to stop reading now. Now, it's personal. Now, it's my country, my democracy that is under direct attack by Double High Religious Right-wingers who -- incidentally -- have been insidiously, directly, deliberately advised by GW Bush strategists.

Less than 40% of less than 60% elected the
Sep 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I love it when experienced academics let loose with a for the public version of their work. This is extremely informative - but very disturbing. I recommend it to all of my US friends who have any interest in politics at all.

It'd be interesting to see an addendum following the first Obama term, as if anything the Tea Party and Co. have become even more fearful and excited, though thankfully unable to act upon their radical agenda. It'd be fascinating to see the response of the US pub
John Purcell
Aug 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2012
Sometime last year I read a book by John Dean called "Conservatives Without Conscience". That book relied heavily on Robert Altemeyer's studies involving authoritarian personalities. This book, "The Authoritarians" is the resulting synopsis of his research that John Dean relied on.

One of the things that often perplexes me while observing current politics, especially the struggle between the Democrats and Republicans, is the experience of such extreme bouts of cognitive dissonance wat
Charlie Crummer
Sep 30, 2009 rated it it was amazing
A remarkable study. It investigated and quantifies the phenomena we have been witnessing for years, the rise of authoritarianism in the US. We have seen this before in European, African and South American countries but we haven't noticed it, or maybe just not taken it seriously in the US. It's becoming more and more evident that it *can* happen here. Being a liberal like Altemeyer is, I engage in introspection and I am afraid of my own role in this. This book is a must read. It is all too prophe ...more
Jan 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
Before I start, I would like to say that I really, really wanted to like this book. At first, it held up to my expectations: Altemeyer seems like a nice, honest and fun guy to me, even now, and his research is innovative, enlightening and appears to have some seriously strong backing. I looked for refutations, I couldn't find any, so I can assume he's mostly spot-on with his observations on the right-wing authoritarian mindset, the personality of the social dominator and the double highs, who co ...more
Ben Labe
Jul 24, 2011 rated it liked it
In this portentous account of the degrading state of political discourse in the United States, Bob Altemeyer provides a pedestrian overview of his career studying the psychology of "authoritarians". In particular, he identifies the perfect storm which can result when authoritarian leaders and authoritarian followers join forces. The willingness of authoritarian leaders to manipulate and connive their way into power, combined with authoritarian followers' willingness to accept those who profess t ...more
Jul 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Lithodid-man by: Topic on
I believe this book is one of the most import things I have read in a very log time. Dr. Altemeyer has presented a very engaging yet thorough analysis of his research into authoritarian personalities.

I have been studying and attempting to understand the evangelical mindset for a long time. Throughout this book he presents insights into a personality type that transcends evangelicals, making the claim that there is a personality profile that is attracted to authority. Fundamentalism would be jus
May 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This book is regarding psychological data on a particular personality type, which is Authoritarian. Some data books can be boring, but Bob is a funny guy and he makes the reading fun. The reason I enjoyed this book as much as I did was that it dealt with the difference between a leader and a follower in authoritarian circles. We all meet people that are truly genuine and believe any made up story with passion. We have also met the leaders of lies and can see how different and fake they are. It s ...more
Feb 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
A fascinating and alarming look at the authoritarian mindset, both among authoritarian leaders and authoritarian followers, based mostly (but not entirely) on the author's own research.

I have only two complaints. I wish the author had spent more time discussing effective ways to counteract this mindset, or at least mitigate its effect on our world today. He does address this at the end, but briefly and with a slightly hopeless air.

I also had problems with the use of the phrase "right-wing auth
May 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2-20150327
This book is nothing less than spectacular. Robert Altemeyer, a renowned social scientist in the field of authoritarian followers and leaders, shares his life's work and the implications it has for modern society. If you ever wondered why certain people continue to do "stupid things" while holding a collection of erroneous and often contradicting ideas, but these people do not all consistently fit into one category, then this book will reveal that category in a scientific manner. For example, Al ...more
Feb 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to everyone. A psychologist shares the results of his psychological studies examining the specific personality trait of authoritarianism. This work is grounded in science as much as possible, and in the process we learn a great deal about how social scientists quantify and define psychological factors. As a result, this isn't simply a polemic or opinion piece about "authoritarianism" in the abstract, but a study about a specific mental trait and its attendant politics.

Jul 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I struggled to understand what has happened in American politics over the last 30 years until I read this book. Reading it I no longer get so angry in discussions with my friends on the right who I have split between simply uninformed and willfully partisan uninformed

I still practice my written and verbal skills on the willful group but don't get frustrated at how easily they ignore facts. Facts don't matter.
A fifth of our society is crazy: they are people who do not question authority, and who attack anyone that does question authority. Bush's approval rating will never drop below 20 percent NO MATTER WHAT HE DOES. We all need to understand these people better. Altemeyer is a brilliant psychologist who has done real experiments; I think he knows what he's talking about.
Nov 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Essential reading in the age of Trump.
Liaan Booysen
Mar 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Must read book if you want to understand the rise of Authoritarianism especially Trump.
Feb 27, 2014 rated it liked it
I'm not exactly sure what it was that didn't catch me about this book. On the surface, you'd think that it was liberal catnip. A book about how the people I don't personally like and think are probably the greatest danger to American democracy at the moment--namely, right wing evangelicals--are hypocritical idiots who blindly accept whatever is spoonfed their way be leaders who think they're useful stooges and are willing to say anything to get in power. Then, once in power, the followers are so ...more
Patrick Stewart
Mar 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If you’re curious about yourself and your political leaders this book is for you. It is the findings of 40 years of research. You can take part and take the same tests the author used on his subjects for decades. The book will tell you:

How do people end up voting for some really awful politicians?
What are the characteristics of the voters?
Are all political leaders the same as one another?
Do the political leaders have the same attitudes as those of us who support and vote
Todd Martin
Nov 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
As Professor of Psychology at the University of Manitoba (now retired) Bob Altemeyer studied the psychological characteristics of right wing authoritarians for more than 30 years. He’s summarized the results of this research in the highly readable book The Authoritarians and has generously made it available for free download on his website at:

Go get it! The book is fascinating, highly entertaining and explains so much about what is wrong in the US.

Through behavioral surveys, Professor Altemeyer has
Feb 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
A small book written for lay people about Altemeyer's research into authoritarianism. I liked it a lot and found it insightful, I particularly liked his ideas for solving the problem of rising authoritarianism. The research findings were astounding and also highly accurate, given how this book was written in the wake of the Bush administration in the early aughts. It's even more fitting and relevant now than it was in 2005.

I particularly liked how organic this book's promotion is, it
Michael Fantauzzo
Dec 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Altemeyer actually does the work of bringing experimental methods and survey to bear on his model of political thought, which as flawed and incomplete as they are, lend themselves much more credibility than the vast majority of pundits or politicians have for their theories of how people tick. So while Corey Robin's The Reactionary Mind does admirable work comparing history and texts of conservative thinkers throughout time, this overlooked book cites survey data, samples populations to find out ...more
Matt Fimbulwinter
Sep 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: srs, politics
It took me a long time to read this, not because it was bad, or even difficult. It took me forever because Altemeyer distributes it for free from his website as a PDF, and I do my reading on my Kobo, which will read PDFs, but does so awkwardly. I did eventually get back to it, though, and it's worth the effort.

The Authoritarians looks at what Altemeyer calls "Right Wing Authoritarians". He's got a test that puts people on a scale that he's been giving to people since the 70s. Which m
Hugh Beyer
Jul 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book was totally appalling.

It's always my preference to see both sides, understand the people I'm arguing with, figure that other people's opinions make sense from their point of view. Altemeyer's research suggests that, no, actually, a bunch of those jerks we've been arguing with for the past few years really are just jerks. And he's got the research to back it up.

I suppose that if you put together a personality test that picks out jerks, it's not surprising that th
Natasha Hurley-Walker
Jan 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Joe Callingham
Altemeyer presents a convincing argument that certain psychological and cultural traits are correlated, and their combination in modern society can lead to disaster. As a left-leaning liberal (in the non-Australian sense of the word) I tried to take the conclusions with a pinch of salt, as confirmation bias is a wonderful thing. But everything he wrote was backed up with multiple studies, from many different authors, and as a scientist I do tend to trust controlled experiments.

The st
Apr 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: open minds and critical thinkers, anyone concerned about the future
Fascinating study, written in a chatty style full of truly disturbing and understandable conclusions. Some laugh out loud comments both in the text and the notes following each chapter. Well worth the read.
“It’s striking how often authoritarian aggression happens in dark and cowardly ways, in the dark, by cowards who later will do everything they possibly can to avoid responsibility for what they did. Women, children, and others unable to defend themselves are typical victims. Even more strikin
Janice Krinsky
Dec 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This was one of the most influential books I have read in a long time. Through careful scientific observation and experimental methodology, Bob Altemeyer has systematically studied and laid bare the faulty thinking that followers of authoritarian leaders employ when abdicating responsibility for their own thoughts and actions. It's an unnerving account of what can happen when followers put their fate into the hands of sometimes dubious leaders. Altemeyer chronicles the ways that followers compar ...more
Nazia Rose
Dec 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The most valuable thing about this book is how readable it is. The author takes a conversational, almost jovial tone throughout, considering how dark and dangerous the psychological phenomena he's talking about are.

We're all familiar with the Bush voters of ten years ago who have become the Trump and Carson fans of today. I don't need to identify them to you, and if you're interested in reading this book at all, you probably know everything you need to about them. You also can't expe
Nov 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book is that wonderful combination of an academic who really knows his stuff and is also able to write about it in a way that will appeal to the non-expert reader. In this case, the academic is a psychologist who has studied the traits of people who have an unhealthy respect for authority: the ones who would sign up to a posse to drum gays out of town if their sheriff said it was a good idea, for example. Combine that type of person with an individual who is motivated by power and is willin ...more
Feb 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing
When people wonder why ordinary people can do such terrible things in certain societies under the order of a leader, the reason they can is called authoritarianism. These people have psychological tendencies that lead them to follow orders from authorities no matter what the consequences (and won't see that their leaders are lying when most rational individuals see that they are painfully clearly lying). Altemeyer warns that a large segment of the US population are authoritarians, blindly willin ...more
Hazel Bright
Oct 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I write this review several years after having read The Authoritarians. It completely transformed my view of the world. The ideas Altemeyer details in his sweet, self-effacing way, are nuclear-bomb-level powerful. I am not the same person I was before I read this book. The world makes much more sense to me. I do not excuse stupid authoritarian behavior now, but I understand it, and I am comforted to know why people sometimes behave in ways that end up killing them. Altemeyer is one of the great ...more
Steve Upstill
Jun 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If the attachment of Donald Trump's followers to such an unworthy human being is a mystery to you; if you're not satisfied by explanations in terms of ideology or "putting it to the elites", Bob Altemeyer has a book for you. He is a social psychologist who has been studying authoritarianism for half a century. Using a survey designed to elicit authoritarian tendencies, he's identified three key characteristics of authoritarian thinking: authoritarian submission (to the leader), authoritarian dom ...more
Apr 04, 2018 rated it liked it
I kind of wanted to give this book 2 and a half stars, but I can't do half stars so bumped it up to three because it was a pretty interesting read.

I hope none of you are going to be surprised to learn that there's a group of people who slavishly obey authority and are easily manipulated because of their shoddy or simplistic beliefs. Bob Altemeyer made his career studying and quantifying these sorts of people in various ways. A lot of it doesn't really seem too shocking or surprising in hindsigh
Oct 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: e-book
Fascinating, scary but also empowering. Altemeyer's ebook is a summary of his lifetime's academic research, written for a general audience. He studied people who follow authoritarian leaders and developed personality tests to identify them, which have been widely adopted by social scientists. If you are at all interested in politics you should read this.

He writes in a chatty style with plenty of dad jokes. But he's deadly serious about what this group is capable of, and includes the
The Authoritarians presents an overview of studies on the psychology of authoritarianism, with commentary and analysis from the author. It was a fairly quick read, and I did find some of the studies (and their implications) to be interesting enough that I was able to ignore the book's flaws.

And yes, this book isn't perfect. At times it reads like a polemic against the 2006-era Republican Party, which let's face it, was pretty terrible -- but it was also in the past, and diatribes aga
May 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone with an interest in understanding the right-wing mind.
I listened to the audio version of this book (available at and then downloaded the text because I was so utterly stunned by the data, I wanted to see the his footnotes and look up the published articles that pertain to many of the studies the author mentions.

Altemeyer identifies 'authoritarians' as those who have scored high on the scale he developed as an experimental testing tool, the Right-Wing Authoritarianism scale (RWA). After having studied the psychology of socio
Hannah Dee
Aug 18, 2019 added it
Shelves: nonfic, rate-3
I thought this book was a useful write-up of social science research that is quite relevant to the current political situation. However, it should be read with a critical eye, as the author has a tendency to apply fairly harsh invective towards "high RWAs" and social dominators that doesn't always follow directly from the experimental results. It's probable that high RWAs, for example, really don't have more integrity than the general population despite perceived self-righteousness. But this can ...more
Aug 30, 2015 rated it liked it
An interesting book that may be insightful... May, because I didn't find the research as outlined to be convincingly robust. A lot of the book seems to be based on anecdote and would be difficult to verify, despite apparent statistical analysis. I think it also potentially forms a confirmation bias trap for the type of reader who is inclined to believe it (which would include me).

Possibly a message is being packaged and sold here, that is not entirely objective? So, I feel cautious.<
Aug 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Reading this book in 2019 was a bit of a wild experience. Like, I turned 11 in 2006, I wasn't super up on politics, so I was reading this and going, "wait, people were worried about authoritarianism back THEN?" It makes complete sense given my 24-year-old self's knowledge of history and politics, but it also made me go, "Oh, you sweet summer child."

Joking aside, this is a really great book. It's super accessible and easy to read (and free!) and the research in it is really fascinatin
Mar 23, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Could have used a thorough proofreading, but it *was* free. This book is the "beach read" version of Altemeyer's other work, and is a great introduction to some heavy sociological stuff while also being suitable for reading on the sly at work when your boss isn't looking...

I scored almost the absolute minimum for non-authoritarianism, which I'm sure would not surprise my long-suffering parents, Catholic school teachers, or the above-mentioned boss any.
Cristian Iorga
Mar 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: psychology, politics
Written in 2006, is a scary read in the context of today US elections. Found that I'm not the only one seeing it: There are many videos and articles about it.

The book it's well written and draws from many other studies. All these are linked and properly referenced so one can go and review them.

Also, this book is provided for free on the author's website:
Dec 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Very interesting book. This is a summary of this professor's sociological research over the last several decades. Discusses interesting personality dynamics between leaders and followers in authoritarian groups, and discusses ways to talk to members of this group without setting off their paranoid hostility, or alternately, how to shamelessly use these easily manipulable pawns to further your own political career.
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Robert "Bob" Altemeyer is a retired Professor of Psychology at the University of Manitoba. Born in St. Louis, he earned a B.S. at Yale University in 1962 and a Ph.D at Carnegie-Mellon in 1966.

He has written extensively on authoritarianism and refined the theory into the concept (and measure) of Right Wing Authoritarianism. His first book, Right-Wing Authoritarianism, was published in 1981 and reports t
“Authoritarianism is something authoritarian followers and authoritarian leaders cook up along themselves. It happens when the followers submit too much to the leaders, trust them too much, and give them too much leeway to do whatever they want--which is often something undemocratic, tyrannical and brutal.” 2 likes
“So do fundamentalists believe in majority rights or minority rights? The answer is, apparently, neither. They'll pull whichever argument suits them out of its file when necessary, but basically they are unprincipled on the issue of school prayer. They have a big double standard that basically says, "Whatever I want is right.” 2 likes
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