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Authoritarians have the potential to destroy the world. If you ask me, they've already made too much progress. I've spent hours and hours going over my life trying to figure out why my father is one. Barely got to the bottom of that when George W. Bush was elected. Holy moly, is a liberal's work never done?

George W. Bush is an authoritarian. So is Dick Cheney. And Donald Rumsfeld, and about everybody tapped to serve in shrub's misadministration. So is George Will, Roger Ailes, Tucker Carlson, Victoria Toensing, Rush Limbaugh, the third grade teacher that made you color in black and white, and that dreadful babysitter who came to your house packing a big stick and a copy of "Rules of Engagement."

Miserable folks. And they make the world pay. The serious questions are:

1). How do people become authoritarians?
2). Why do authoritarians act the way they do?
3). What can we do about it?

Follow me over the hump -- but I'm not ordering you to, or anything.

You got questions. Bob Altemeyer has answers. His is the brain John Dean picked as he conducted research for "Conservatives Without Conscience." An assistant professor in psychology at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Altemeyer has done extensive social scientific research on the authoritarian personality.

Altemeyer has written a book called "The Authoritarians" that you are invited to read online, for free, starting now.

Kossack abbeysbooks has organized a series of diaries on the book, culminating in a totally cool, anti-authoritarian, everybody-is-welcome March 24 "kosversation" when Bob Altemeyer and John Dean will be with us to discuss authoritarianism (exemplified by those people I mentioned before) and its discontents (that'd be us, folks).

Here's the scoop: we need this information. You can't slay the beast you don't understand. I devoured chapters 1 and 2 of the book Friday night -- best damn read, amazing insights, and Altemeyer is funny, too. Abbeysbooks asked me to post this diary for Saturday so more of us have the details and get involved.

Altemeyer has put the book online (instead of publishing for money) to help us fight the good fight. He thinks the growth of authoritarianism is downright dangerous.

Altemeyer speaks:

Don’t think for a minute this doesn’t concern you personally. Let me ask you, as we’re passing the time here, how many ordinary people do you think an evil authority would have to order to kill you before he found someone who would, unjustly, out of sheer obedience, just because the authority said to? What sort of person is most likely to follow such an order? What kind of official is most likely to give that order, if it suited his purposes? Look at what experiments tell us, as I did.

Whoa, baby. You had me at kill.

In Chapter 2, Altemeyer examines the various theories about the authoritarian personality. Forget Freud and parent-hatred -- and you don't have to worry that you'll turn into a clone of Brit Hume someday because your parents spanked you a few times.

What's one of the biggest indicators for authoritarianism? You are going to love this -- it makes perfect sense -- F E A R. Ring any bells?

High RWAs [right wing authoritarians] are, in general, more afraid than most people are. They got a "2 for 1 Special Deal" on fear somehow. Maybe they’ve inherited genes that incline them to fret and tremble. Maybe not. But we do know that they were raised by their parents to be afraid of others, because both the parents and their children tell us so. Sometimes it’s all rather predictable: authoritarians’ parents taught fear of homosexuals, radicals, atheists and pornographers. But they also warned their children, more than most parents did, about kidnappers, reckless drivers, bullies and drunks--bad guys who would seem to threaten everyone’s children. So authoritarian followers, when growing up, probably lived in a scarier world than most kids do, with a lot more boogeymen hiding in dark places, and they’re still scared as adults. For them, gay marriage is not just unthinkable on religious grounds, and unnerving because it means making the "abnormal" acceptable. It’s yet one more sign that perversion is corrupting society from the inside-out, leading to total chaos. Many things, from stem cell research to right-to-die legislation, say to them, "This is the last straw; soon we’ll be plunged into the abyss." So probably did, in earlier times, women’s suffrage, the civil rights movement, sex education and Sunday shopping.

What's worse than plain old fear? Add a dollop of righteousness and you have a real problem on your hands:

How good, how moral are you, compared to other people? (You get to say what is "good" and "moral.") As I mentioned in chapter 1, if you’re an average human being, you’ll think you’re a better than average human being. Almost everybody thinks she’s more moral than most. But high RWAs typically think they’re way, way better. They are the Holy Ones. They are the Chosen. They are the Righteous. They somehow got a three-for-one special on self-righteousness. And self-righteousness appears to release authoritarian aggression more than anything else.

Chronically frightened authoritarian followers, looking for someone to attack because fighting is one of the things people do when they are afraid, are particularly likely to do so when they can find a moral justification for their hostility.

Altemeyer has done research for years, surveying students and adults on a variety of issues related to authoritarian personality, attitudes, background, development, mitigation, and more. As a dKos devotee, you probably won't be surprised when you come upon this nugget: education and experience can change a person a lot. That is, if the fearful and sequestered high school graduate isn't sent to a bible college near home.

Those who go to a fundamentalist Bible college featuring a church-related curriculum, taught by a church-selected faculty to a mainly High RWA student body that lives in men’s dorms and women’s dorms separated by a moat with alligators in it, will probably graduate about as authoritarian as they were when they went in. If, however, they go to a different kind of school, their education may well lower their authoritarianism.

I teach at the "big state university" in my province, and over the four years of an undergraduate program at the University of Manitoba students’ RWA scale scores drop about 10%. Liberal arts majors drop more than that, "applied" majors such as management and nursing drop less. But the students who drop the most, no matter what they major in, are those who laid down high RWA scale scores when they first came in the front door. If Hugh goes to a big university like the one that has graciously
deposited money into my bank account over the past forty years, he’s likely to come out changed. Not overhauled but still, different.

High RWA parents may anticipate this and try to send their kids to "safe" colleges. They may also blame the faculty at the public university for "messing up the Jones kid so badly." But as much as some of the profs might like to take credit for it, I think the faculty usually has little to do with the 10% drop. Instead, I think when High RWA students get to a big university whose catchment area is the world, and especially if it’s located some distance from mom and dad, they simply begin to meet all kinds of new people and begin to have some of the experiences that most of their classmates had some years earlier.

The drop does not come from reading Marx in Political Science or from the philosophy prof who wears his atheism as a badge. These attempts at influence can be easily dismissed by the well-inoculated high RWA student. It probably comes more from the late night bull-sessions, where you have to defend your ideas, not just silently reject the prof’s, and other activities that take place in the dorms.

I'm quoting liberally, but since the book is free online, I don't think I'm breaking any rules. You have to go read it all, for yourself, and learn more about the kinds of people who want to remake the world in their image -- even if they have to grind us (and everyone else who disagrees with them) into the ever-loving dust.

OK, now. Get over to the site (link repeated right below) or abbeysbooks will think I did a lousy job helping her get this info out. All kudos to abbeysbooks for this worthwhile dKos project.



For more details on this dKos book reading project, check out abbeysbooks diaries at You can find her synopsis of chapter 1 here.

Why does understanding authoritarianism matter?

From Glenn Greenwald:

A lynch mob is created which seeks not the truth of what happened, but the destruction of the movement's enemies. "Conservative" rank-and-file, confining themselves to an echo chamber, embrace the allegations instinctively, because they are made by the movement's defenders against the movement's enemies. And their allegiance to their movement and a desire to destroy their opponents overrides any concern for proportionality or truth.

From John Dean:

Authoritarianism's impact on contemporary conservatism is beyond question. Because this impact is still growing and has troubling (if not actually evil) implications, I hope that social scientists will begin to write about this issue for general readers. It is long past time to bring the telling results of their empirical work into the public square and to the attention of American voters. No less than the health of our democracy may depend on this being done. We need to stop thinking we are dealing with traditional conservatives on the modern stage, and instead recognize that they've often been supplanted by authoritarians.

Originally posted to JuliaAnn on Sat Mar 17, 2007 at 05:44 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Go read Altemeyer (19+ / 0-)

    It really is good stuff. Any and all tips to be forwarded to abbeysbooks.

    "There are four boxes to use in the defense of liberty: soap, ballot, jury, ammo. Use in that order." Ed Howdershelt

    by JuliaAnn on Sat Mar 17, 2007 at 05:45:08 AM PDT

  •  It's a must read (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pb, JuliaAnn, abbeysbooks, kafkananda

    Or else.

    "It's the planet, stupid."

    by FishOutofWater on Sat Mar 17, 2007 at 06:26:59 AM PDT

  •  This is so fucking good JuliaAnn (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pb, JuliaAnn, kafkananda

    please take over for me. I'm going to bed and hide under the covers. This is incredible and Bob is going to love it.

    Better link

    You write with such passion!

  •  Does the author have a name for those of (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pb, JuliaAnn, abbeysbooks, kafkananda

    us who are not authoritarian?

    If you don't have an earth-shaking idea, get one, you'll love building a better world.

    by hestal on Sat Mar 17, 2007 at 06:53:51 AM PDT

  •  Money and power (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pb, JuliaAnn, abbeysbooks

    And with it comes overt greed, power , paranoia and the fear of losing it. Kissinger once said "that power is the greatest aphrodesiac there is. It's better than sex." And once you have it you want to use it more and more like an addict. And they are masters of using the fear card with others to keep it. You own the oil, you have the power. Unless we get off or away from oil dependency thru using ethonol, electric or hydrogen power. FUCK THESE GUYS ALL. We the People are the real power.

    •  If we were completely independent of oil (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      pb, JuliaAnn, white is black

      The motherfuckers would still be with us. They have been with us since the dawn of history. They are less evolved than we are. And a culture can either turn them out like cookie cutters or allow their children to evolve. It's very ingrained here now. Much like the Germany Henry Adams describes in his The Education of Henry Adams.

      •  I thought (0+ / 0-)

        you were going to bed. If you want to get into it, I've had a real death experience and believe in reincarnation. They have been here before under different guises and so have I, to go against, fight, expose them... Good people, We the People need to put them in their deep holes and keep them there. Then and only then we can have peace in this world. Expose them and educate the masses as equals, because we are ALL equal.

  •  Yes-- it's fed by fear and self-righteousness, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pb, JuliaAnn, kafkananda

    both of which are in turn products of narcissism.

  •  Good diary (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pb, JuliaAnn, kafkananda

    I think it's so important to understand what motivates people, particularly the ones we have to watch out for.

  •  Authoritarian Mindset and the Alpha Male (4+ / 0-)

    Thanks for posting, especially the link. Look forward to reading the book and appreciate the author/publisher's offering it free due to its timely importance.

    Here is an (edited) comment I posted earlier on a diary about the wingnut perception that Cavuto "owned" Paul Krugman on Faux News. It is also relevant here:

    To understand the conservative rationale, it is necessary to understand the authoritarian mindset. The animal world is divided into dominant or alpha males (manly men, conservatives), submissive females (girls and wives who know their place), and submissive males (wimps, pussies, girlie men, "faggots," liberals) and dominant females (lesbians, dykes).

    Arguments are not won by reason and logic but by showing strength (shouting down, brow-beating, intimidation) and if necessary violence ("doing what it takes," "all options are on the table."). Example: On Faux News, Cavuto "won" the day by "beating up" by Krugman verbally, loudly and menacingly confronting his reasoning and facts, which are "signs of weakness." . Faux "news" has nothing to do with real news or intelligent analysis. It's all about framing to marginalize the opposition and disempower "the enemy." Real news would be neither interesting to the redneck faction, since it would elude them, nor would it be entertaining to them either, since they want to see their team win all the time, no matter what it takes. This saves the owners the expense of maintaining a real news department, which is not a profit center, and replacing it with talking heads, which are.

    Live unity, celebrate diversity.

    by tjfxh on Sat Mar 17, 2007 at 08:29:34 AM PDT

    •  Great Comment! Covers a lot of very important... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      pb, JuliaAnn

      points that we, as a community and movement,  need to know.
          Lack of this knowledge,  our "softness",  has opened the door to these thugs.  They have been able to set the agenda (FRAMING), by their bullying and our incorrect assumption that we are dealing with sincere people in a reasoned debate.  A holdover from an earlier,  "Father Knows Best", time.   Using up the public trust like it didn't matter.     You can't be "bipartisan" with highly conditioned,  insincere people.
          When we understand more of these processes,  we can really calm down and regain the High Ground (most integrated FRAMING) that renders the behavior and arguments of the bully moot and obvious.

      Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world.

      by kafkananda on Sat Mar 17, 2007 at 10:13:01 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Authoritarianism is as old as recorded history (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pb, JuliaAnn, kafkananda

    but the species can longer afford the evolutionary burden of this type of leadership that now threatens our ability to survive and reproduce. Authoritarian personality types and the people who follow them are the answer to the question: "Why can't we just get along." Keeping this type of personality out of leadership positions is the "systems issue" waiting to be solved.

    Formerly doing business as

    by respectisthehub on Sat Mar 17, 2007 at 09:29:14 AM PDT

  •  For another perspective about "handling"..... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JuliaAnn, LNK

    authoritarians,  take a look at the "Dog Whisperer".
          There is a wealth of great FRAMING points and snarky possibilities.   We've probably all seen bad,  small dogs and lovable Big Dogs,  but what is the underlying dynamic?   Cesar knows and has been sharing for all to see.
          We have to get this pack of snarling neocon dogs under control or the whole planet will be eaten alive.

    Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world.

    by kafkananda on Sat Mar 17, 2007 at 11:48:37 AM PDT

  •  Greetings from a very inebriated Patrick in (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Eire. It is Patrick's Day here and we all have been consuming far too much black stuff! But I will join in  next Saturday (thanks Abbeybooks, I downloaded the Authoritarians and will read it in the next few days. I also got the Abelson's book, Statistics & will endeavour to absorb it!) But right now all I need is my couch and a glass of warm milk....................cheers.

    The only way out of Iraq is OUT. Case closed. GTFO ASAP!

    by Asinus Asinum Fricat on Sat Mar 17, 2007 at 03:15:28 PM PDT

  •  Quotations on authority, credulity (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    When we believe ourselves in possession of the only truth, we are likely to be indifferent to common everyday truths.

    Eric Hoffer (1902–83), U.S. philosopher. The Passionate State of Mind, aph. 83 (1955).

    Powerful men in particular suffer from the delusion that human beings have no memories. I would go so far as to say that the distinguishing trait of powerful men is the psychotic certainty that people forget acts of infamy as easily as their parents’ birthdays.
    Stephen Vizinczey (b. 1933), Hungarian novelist, critic. "Commentary on a Poem," in Horizon (London, Oct. 1976; repr. in Truth and Lies in Literature, 1986).

    To the excessively fearful the chief characteristic of power is its arbitrariness. Man had to gain enormously in confidence before he could conceive an all-powerful God who obeys his own laws.
    Eric Hoffer (1902–83), U.S. philosopher. Reflections on the Human Condition, aph. 163 (1973).

    Man is a credulous animal, and must believe something; in the absence of good grounds for belief, he will be satisfied with bad ones.
    Bertrand Russell (1872–1970), British philosopher, mathematician. Unpopular Essays, "An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish" (1950).

    The fact that a believer is happier than a sceptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of credulity is a cheap and dangerous quality.
    George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950), Anglo-Irish playwright, critic. Androcles and the Lion, Preface (1916).



    Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.
    Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970), French general, president. Quoted in: André Maurois, The Art of Living, "The Art of Leadership" (1940).

    Authority is not a quality one person "has," in the sense that he has property or physical qualities. Authority refers to an interpersonal relation in which one person looks upon another as somebody superior to him.
    Erich Fromm (1900-1980), U.S. psychologist. The Sane Society, ch. 5, "Nineteenth-Century Capitalism" (1955).

    Today’s Catholic church seems to reward authoritarian personalities who are clearly ill, violent, sexually obsessed and unable to remember the past.
    Matthew Fox (b. 1940), U.S. clergyman, author. Quoted in: Independent (London, 12 Nov. 1988).

    Authoritarian political ideologies have a vested interest in promoting fear, a sense of the imminence of takeover by aliens—and real diseases are useful material.
    Susan Sontag (b. 1933), U.S. essayist. AIDS and Its Metaphors, ch. 6 (1989).

    The family is the basic cell of government: it is where we are trained to believe that we are human beings or that we are chattel, it is where we are trained to see the sex and race divisions and become callous to injustice even if it is done to ourselves, to accept as biological a full system of authoritarian government.
    Gloria Steinem (b. 1934), U.S. feminist writer, editor. Speech, July 1981, to the National Women’s Political Caucus Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

    For men tied fast to the absolute, bled of their differences, drained of their dreams by authoritarian leeches until nothing but pulp is left, become a massive, sick Thing whose sheer weight is used ruthlessly by ambitious men. Here is the real enemy of the people: our own selves dehumanized into "the masses." And where is the David who can slay this giant?
    Lillian Smith (1897–1966), U.S. author. The Journey, Prologue (1954).

    However sugarcoated and ambiguous, every form of authoritarianism must start with a belief in some group’s greater right to power, whether that right is justified by sex, race, class, religion or all four. However far it may expand, the progression inevitably rests on unequal power and airtight roles within the family.
    Gloria Steinem (b. 1934), U.S. feminist writer, editor. Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, "If Hitler Were Alive, Whose Side Would He Be On?" (1983; first published in Ms., New York, Oct./Nov. 1980)

    Those who have been once intoxicated with power, and have derived any kind of emolument from it, even though but for one year, never can willingly abandon it. They may be distressed in the midst of all their power; but they will never look to anything but power for their relief.
    Edmund Burke (1729–97), Irish philosopher, statesman. A Letter to a Member of the National Assembly, 19 Jan. 1791.


    This final quotation goes under the category of "Oy! No wonder I'm a sceptic......"
    The most positive men are the most credulous.

    --Jonathan Swift (1667–1745), Anglo-Irish satirist. Thoughts on Various Subjects (1711).

    The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations is licensed from Columbia University Press. Copyright © 1993, 1995 by Columbia University Press.

  •  discussion group (0+ / 0-)

    One of Dr. Bob's fans has started a discussion group for those wishing to talk about the book and the issues it raises. It's on google groups and anyone can sign up.

    Here's the link:

    Dr. Bob reads it and pops in as well so take a look and add your 2 cents, if you wish.

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