The Authoritarian Personality
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Thu Feb 22, 2007 at 09:05:36 AM EST
Some of you may have read John Dean's recent book "Conservatives without Conscience". It was based upon the work of psychologist Robert Altemeyer.

Altemeyer studies what he has called the "right wing authoritarian" (RWA) personality type. This is the type who follows a strong leader and believes in a hierarchical social structure.

Altemeyer has now written a book himself which summarizes his 30+ years of work and posted it online for free.

You can read it here:

The chapters that may be for most interest to those who visit this site have to do with the correlation between RWA personalities and Evangelical (or Fundamentalist) Christians.

I think it is important for anyone who tries to debate "conservatives" to understand their world view and this book will help in that effort.

A perfect example of how futile such debates can be is the current online one between Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan which you get find via Sam's web site at

They consistently talk past each other. In any case I can't stress strongly enough the value in reading Altemeyer's book...

Quite some time ago, while looking for more current research that would update the old (and somewhat discredited) work on the authoritarian personality because I felt it was critical to understanding the religious right, I discovered Altemeyer's 1996 book, The Authoritarian Specter. Had thoughts of condensing it for a diary here but it was so rich in material that it seemed an overwhelming project. Was happy to see Dean's book on Conservatives without Conscience come out although he does give only a 'once over lightly' treatment of the research data in the course of reporting some interesting and important anecdotal evidence of his own.

Happy to see that Altemeyer is publishing some of his material on-line. For those interested in more detail, would still recommend his '96 book, especially for folks who aren't statistics-phobic (although he writes clearly and doubt a stat background is necessary to appreciate the research).

by Psyche on Thu Feb 22, 2007 at 02:00:33 PM EST

Since reading John Dean's book last October, I acquired Bob Altemeyer's, "The Authoritarian Specter"; Harvard Press, 1996. It works in Altemeyer’s favor – at least it SHOULD work in his favor in the minds of authoritarian followers who are now questioning the “authority” of their fearless religious and political leaders -- that his research was done BEFORE the rise of the coalition of the religious right wing and the Straussians (neoconservatives). It gives it more "authority," if you will, at least in the Kantian system of epistemological methodology, which is to say, real authority combined with reason and science, versus the trite authoritarian bullying and overly tired conventionalism, aggression and ignorance we see at the national political and religious levels. Thus, the 1996 publication date lends his work a certain freedom from accusations of partisanship – he’s Canadian as well -- or accusations of corruption by agenda driven research objectives designed in a reactionary intellectual environment. But then, “reactionary intellectual environments” probably exist in positive correlation with the Canadian’s nearness to the US border, Idaho and Montana being somewhat in direct threat to Manitoba. ;>) It also bodes well for the applicability of Altemeyer’s work that Dean promotes himself as a conservative; although, obviously John Dean is not what is misnomered as a “neoconservative.” That label should be “Straussian,” after Leo Strauss of the University of Chicago, the grandfather and political philosophy headmaster of Wolfowitz and others as diverse even as Ahmed Chalabi. As I recall, Dean pointed out this difference in his book when defining conservatism. Dean’s intellectual honesty was refreshing, if I may say so, coming from a conservative. Indeed, today’s “authoritarian followers” of conservatism and the Straussian neoconservatives, themselves, cannot be trusted for intellectual honesty, the former because they are undereducated non-thinkers, the latter because they purposely promote “the noble lie” in order to manipulate public opinion. I recently took a tour of After reading Altemeyer, I have to admit I was not that shocked to experience the hostility and fallacious thinking of “theologians” whose agenda had nothing in common with the discovery of truth in the scriptures; rather, their discussions only worked to reinforce the received beliefs of those they consider “authorities” while identifying outsiders as sinners. Among the most notorious of their methods, of course, is a literalist “interpretation” of scripture when it reinforces their beliefs, and a cautious willingness to look at the exegesis produced by the historical-contextual method when it, too, reinforces their received beliefs. In fact, in calling themselves scholars as many of them do, it was amazing to see all of the classic fallacies of logic at work in their argumentation style as well as their near absolutist dependence upon the two lowest epistemological methods in Kant’s hierarchy – method of tenacity and method of authority. To label any work they do in the discovery of knowledge “hermeneutics” or “exegesis” is laughable. I suspect that much of the problem was built-in during childhood, when fundamentalist and evangelical religionists were trained to memorize versus isolated from the historical context and then recite them by rote….but not by heart. All done in the most stiflingly authoritarian of religious traditions that demanded adherence under threat The routine of such authoritarian discipline, devoid of any context save that of self-righteousness and bigotry, prepared them in the infamous way we see them at their theological best – cutting scripture, wadding them up into tight little stones of god’s righteousness justice and hurling them at whores, tax collectors, sinners and, now their favorite of fund-raising scapegoats, gay and lesbian people, who despite efforts to establish the legitimacy of their relationships through institutions such as marriage, continue to be judged as far worse than “fornicators” who chase after the objects of their lusts outside the bonds of wedlock. No these modern lepers of abomination draw the condemnations cherry-picked from an Old Testament that even these “righteous” refuse to observe. After all, I have known a Southern Baptist or two to occasion Red Lobster wearing those signature white socks with their polyester suits that identify them not only as evangelicals but also deserving of the same biblical judgments found in Leviticus 18. But this ignorance and hypocrisy wouldn’t surprise Altemeyer, even among so-called scholars. As I said, their “right-wing authoritarian follower” mindset dictates that “method of reason” is always tainted by fallacy; “method of experience” is weakened by no apparent experience of God’s Love or willingness to consider knowledge/truth communicated through mystical/spiritual experience; and method of science is bound and gagged by their fear that scientific methodology would confound or outrightly refute all of their dearest held beliefs. I’ve never seen such closed minds, all in the name of “faith.” As a matter of fact, I suspected neurological dysfunction among some of them, low intelligence and/or education among other and right-cerebral hemispheric atrophy among all. And please understand, I’m not being rhetorically insulting here; I genuinely mean to say that further research will bear this out. Even though, Altemeyer did not find a highly significant correlation between intelligence and RWAF, he found some. The moderator at “Theology_list” will not allow me to post any more; not because I was abusive – oh contraire – but because I apparently did not share their literalist absolutes or their stunningly concrete belief of the bible’s inerrancy in theology, morality, law and HISTORY. Nope, I was “shunned” – sent into exile. I was even accused of being demon possessed because I disagreed so often with their theology of a punishing god and their idolatry of the scriptures themselves. Ironic no? Had anyone provided them with virtual nails, I would not be typing today. That reminds me of the time the 700-Club sent me a computer crashing virus in response to my pointing out that because of Pat Robertson’s pro-war stance and desire to see Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez assassinated, Pat, his ilk and their brood met all of the criteria for definition as 1st Century Zealots who betrayed Christ for crucifixion but, unfortunately, none for a definition as “Christian..” [cf. Josephus and other ancient historical sources for information on the Sacarri origination of assassins within the 1st Century Zealot Movement]. It amazes me that right wing Evangelicals call their systems of out-molded beliefs, corrupted by translation bias and received agenda-driven commentary, “faith.” In fact, it all seems strangled by fear rather than nurtured by any real sense of faith. Perhaps I have become too “Eastern” in my view of spirituality (I’ve heard tell that Jesus was actually a Jew) and too “enlightened” in terms of political history. Damn that David Hume AND the Dalai Lama! Altemeyer is an incredibly “enlightened” source of science, reason, experience and authority in these Kantian terms I have bandied about regarding what we can trust to be “true” and how we can identify wrong roads taken and abandon them. But the thing that really concerns me is the propensity for violence we see among these Neanderthals – if not overt violence, the more covert violence of ad hominem and hubris, “noble lies,” and denial of access to the social institutions that originally functioned to nurture our well being. What’s even more scary when we see recent developments such as “The Patriot Act,” the denial of habeas corpus and the abuses of the NSA in spying on us, is the prospect that this mindset has led to the incarceration of more citizens than any other country in the world, including China. I have even reviewed research by one Weinberg (sp), of whom Altemeyer is perhaps familiar, that found a positive correlation between the incidents of hate crimes against gay men and the number of church services attended by the perpetrator with the authoritarian personality. That is, the more the right wing authoritarian personality follower attends church services the more he is at risk to commit acts of violence against gay people. Amazing isn’t it?
by cliffhammond on Sat Feb 24, 2007 at 04:47:37 PM EST
How do I keep my paragraphs when posting? Sorry about my first attemt above. I assumed, as on HuffingtonPost and elsewhere, that the editor would post the paragraphs in tack even though the "preview pain" did not show them. It's like the Floridians who suffered the excesses of Katherine Harris: you live and you learn. I'll try to post again; this time with proper paragraph spacing. -cliff
by cliffhammond on Sat Feb 24, 2007 at 04:52:51 PM EST
Make sure your preference is set to auto format (the pick between the preview and post buttons).

If you have it set to HTML you will need to insert < p > (minus the spaces) between each paragraph. Plain Text is never a good option.
-- Policies not Politics
by rdf on Sun Feb 25, 2007 at 09:34:03 AM EST

Thank you, RDF.  Today I'm getting much more in choice of editing. I set my format to auto format at your advice.
by cliffhammond on Mon Feb 26, 2007 at 09:21:55 PM EST

It is a quick read, well-written, footnotes are correctly linked, and the only downside is reading it on a monitor.

Recommended for all sentient beings.

I may dip into the 1996 book, should I be able to track one down.

by NancyP on Tue Feb 27, 2007 at 07:06:20 PM EST

Study: College Students More Narcissistic  

I'm concerned about some of the comments made -- or reportedly made -- by these researchers. For example:

"We need to stop endlessly repeating 'You're special' and having children repeat that back," said the study's lead author, Professor Jean Twenge of San Diego State University. "Kids are self-centered enough already."

There are real differences between healthy self-esteem, a child who is “spoiled rotten” and the grandiosity of the narcissistic personality disorder. The latter deals with an overly inflated, false-self, not the real-self at all, and has been on the rise, as you can well imagine, since the cultural onset of TV, wherein all our cultural icons are seen acting, not revealing their authentic selves through genuinely expressed affect and cognitions. In their youth, Baby Boomers recognized these people as “plastic.”  It is a false-self cover, a front, one that seeks to protect from scrutiny the abandoned real-self that hides out of sight, at risk of increasing atrophy, wounded in a state of oppression, depression and emptiness [cf. James F. Masterson, “Search for the Real Self;”].  

Unfortunately, President George W. Bush is a very good example of narcissistic personality disorder at this pathological level of functioning. He is overly sensitive to criticism, surrounds himself with those who will reinforce his grandiose sense of the false-hero-self (butt-kissers), lacks empathy, displays a restricted range of affect in general but is sometimes given to bouts of acting-out (through rage or drinking, in his case), is manipulative, interpersonally exploitive, compulsively lies to do so, demonstrates poor reality testing (at the dysfunctional level of the personality disordered vs. that of the psychotic) and will only attempt tasks in which he has unrealistic assurances of success [cf. “American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders – IV Edition”].  In terms of psychopathology, Dubya is well beyond the “spoiled brat” stage that the researchers seem to have addressed misusing clinical language.

I didn't see this difference discussed in the article. Professionals familiar with narcissistic personality disorder have always had to deal with the misperception among the "laity" that “narcissism” describes someone who is “stuck-up” or “self-centered.” If the researchers who conducted this study are not aware of the difference between true psychopathology and its pop-psychology alternative ,“narcissism,” it is very likely that this is yet another example of the type of half-assed research that sometimes goes on at state universities. You can be sure that the more press this recent release gets the more review it will attract.

As I said, quotations attributed to the researchers provided in the press release seem to betray an ignorance of the difference between real narcissism and the supermarket check-out stand variety.

I'm concerned even more that the religious right-wing will pick up on a study like this and remind everyone of their “un-churched sinfulness.”  The irony is that REAL narcissistic personality disorder - the DSM-IV variety -- as well as borderline personality disorder, in addition to its etiological foundations within dysfunctional family systems poisoned by chronic shame, trauma and child abuse, runs amuck among the right-wing conservative and “right-wing authoritarian personality followers”* who have infested the Conservative Movement and evangelical/fundamentalist Christian denominations in particular [cf. Bob Altemeyer, “The Authoritarian Specter;” Harvard Press, 1996]. They will surely abuse this research and encourage everyone to return to the pre-Dr. Spock days of authoritarianism.

by cliffhammond on Tue Feb 27, 2007 at 11:03:05 PM EST

As others before me have pointed out, (I missed much of the references till I did some extensive reading) , Alice Miller and Lloyd deMause do indeed confirm in their research your insight, that child abuse, and not its lack, is a source of both SDO and RWA personality pathologies and that one can even point out brain lesions in extreme cases.

What is worse is that moderate to severe child abuse is often advocated by people who are themselves victims, as well as exercised on their own children, not only continuing the pathology but expanding it. In the case Of Dr(sp) Dobson, that expansion bodes ill for many years to come as his many proxy victims come of age.

by FreeDem on Mon Apr 16, 2007 at 01:49:14 PM EST

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