This is your brain on authoritarianism

8 03 2007

Bob Altemeyer, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Manitoba, might be the world’s foremost authority on Right-wing authoritarianism (RWA). His latest work on the subject has recently been released as a free e-book, The Authoritarians, available here. In the Introduction, Altemeyer defines authoritarianism thus:

Authoritarianism is something authoritarian followers and authoritarian leaders cook up between 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 often is something undemocratic, tyrannical and brutal. In my day, authoritarian fascist and authoritarian communist dictatorships posed the biggest threats to democracies, and eventually lost to them in wars both hot and cold. But authoritarianism itself has not disappeared, and I’m going to present the case in this book that the greatest threat to American democracy today arises from a militant authoritarianism that has become a cancer upon the nation.

And from Chapter 7:

Question: Is it the duty of every patriotic citizen to help stomp out this rot that is poisoning our country from within? No, I hope it’s obvious that that’s no solution at all. It may be just as obvious that social dominators will want to hang onto control until it is pried from their cold, dead fingers in the last ditch. And authoritarian followers will prove extremely resistant to change. The more one learns about the
problem, I think, the more one realizes how difficult it will be to change people who
are so ferociously aggressive, and fiercely defensive.

You’re not likely to get anywhere arguing with authoritarians. If you won every round of a 15 round heavyweight debate with a Double High leader over history,
logic, scientific evidence, the Constitution, you name it, in an auditorium filled with
high RWAs, the audience probably would not change its beliefs one tiny bit. Authoritarian followers might even cling to their beliefs more tightly, the wronger
they turned out to be. Trying to change highly dogmatic, evidence-immune, groupgripping people in such a setting is like pissing into the wind.

Hat tip: Larry Gambone.

UPDATE: On the subject of authoritarian followers.

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