Reading "The Authoritarians" with Bob Altemeyer
This past year, John Dean published a remarkable and, I think, important book, Conservatives Without Conscience
. In it, he drew heavily on the work of Bob Altemeyer a "nearly retired" professor of psychology at the Universtity of Manitoba, Canada. Dean found his work helpful in explaining the views and behavior of people he knew from his days in the Nixon White House, notably Christian right leader Charles Colson. Dean found that it also helpd him to understand what had transformed the conservative movement as he and mentor, Sen. Barry Goldwater had understood it -- as well as the rise of the religious right. Inspired by the experience, Altemeyer has published a book, The Authoritarians
intended for the informed layperson -- on line, for free. He has also generously agreed to join us for an online discussion in a few weeks. Details TBA. So please put this book high on your list -- and get ready!
In the preface to the book he writes:
If you want to know why I am passing on the big bucks, fame and cocktail party hors d'oeurves that a blockbuster best seller brings an author, it's partly because this book would never have rung up big sales. I did make one attempt to place it with a "trade" publisher, but when their editor said no, I stopped acting out of habit and started reflecting. I think what I have found is rather important to the survival of American democracy. As such, it should be made available to everyone, and be essentially free.
On his web site, Altemeyer writes
OK, what’s this book about? It’s about what’s happened to the American government lately. It’s about the disastrous decisions that government has made. It’s about the corruption that rotted the Congress. It’s about how traditional conservatism has nearly been destroyed by authoritarianism. It’s about how the “Religious Right” teamed up with amoral authoritarian leaders to push its un-democratic agenda onto the country. It’s about the United States standing at the crossroads as the next federal election approaches.
“Well,” you might be thinking, “I don’t believe any of this is true.” Or maybe you’re thinking, “What else is new? I’ve believed this for years.” Why should a conservative, moderate, or liberal bother with this book? Why should any Republican, Independent, or Democrat click the “Introduction” link on this page?
Because if you do, you’ll begin an easy-ride journey through some relevant scientific studies I have done on authoritarian personalities--one that will take you a heck of a lot less time than the decades it took me. Those studies have a direct bearing on all the topics mentioned above. So if you think the first paragraph is a lot of hokum, or full of half-truths, I invite you to look at the research.
For example, take the following statement: “Once our government leaders and the authorities condemn the dangerous elements in our society, it will be the duty of every patriotic citizen to help stomp out the rot that is poisoning our country from within.” Sounds like something Hitler would say, right? Want to guess how many politicians, how many lawmakers in the United States agreed with it? Want to guess what they had in common?
Or how about a government program that persecutes political parties, or minorities, or journalists the authorities do not like, by putting them in jail, even torturing and killing them. Nobody would approve of that, right? Guess again.
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.
If, on the other hand, you’re way ahead of me, and believe the extreme right-wing elements in America are poised to take it over, permanently, I think you can still get a lot from this book. The studies explain so much about these people. Yes, the research shows they are very aggressive, but why are they so hostile? Yes, experiments show they are almost totally uninfluenced by reasoning and evidence, but why are they so dogmatic? Yes, studies show the Religious Right has more than its fair share of hypocrites, from top to bottom; but why are they two-faced, and how come one face never notices the other? Yes, their leaders can give the flimsiest of excuses and even outright lies about things they’ve done wrong, but why do the rank-and-file believe them? What happens when authoritarian followers find the authoritarian leaders they crave and start marching together?
I think you’ll find this book “explains a lot.” Many scattered impressions about the enemies of freedom and equality become solidified by science and coherently connected here.
(Hat tip to rdf who recently mentioned Altemeyer's book here).