Resources: Conservatives Without Conscience, by John Dean, and The Authoritarian Specter, by Bob Altemeyer and information each references.
It is one thing to study phenomena scientifically; it is quite another to breath life into it as new technology. It only took some ten millennia for physics, chemistry, and biology to break through the superstitions and dogmas of earlier times. These are the hard sciences, driven by the curiosity of our species. The soft sciences, psychology, sociology, politics, and governance have yet to reach comparable maturity. Their science is confounded by this thing called personality as it bears on individual and collective self-interest. This page looks more deeply into that issue.
Social scientists have now confirmed the behaviors of a variety of authoritarians. Hitler was a prime example of an authoritarian personality, though hardly the original or the last. But his dictatorship was so terrible that he motivated study of his kind after his demise. Adorno and his cohorts identified the main features infecting both the Nazis and the German public. Adorno was a psychiatrist of the Freudian school and naturally couched his findings along psychiatric lines. He provided the name that sticks to the personality he studied: authoritarian.
Stanley Milgram of Yale University later found that the features identified by Adorno, were also present in Americans. His experimental result, while both true and disturbing, was, to the American public, something of a party joke. Laughter--the telling of Milgram's story too often gets--is usually of the nervous variety, for the real meaning is not lost on many psyches, whether that meaning reaches ones consciousness or not. [It certainly was not conscious the first time this observer heard the Milgram story, but the laughter was real enough. After all, it takes self awareness that most of us do not have to admit that we too might harbor this trait.]
Now that the Authoritarian Personality, AP, is known, it remains to quantify its impact on the American political scene. That is where John Dean comes in. But first, we present the defining features of two sides of typical authoritarian personalities. That there are two sides to the personality likely arises from our jungle/savanna heritage where aggression and fierceness are counterbalanced by the herding and cooperative instincts in the evolutionary survival of the respective genes. What resulted is a seemingly incompatible mixture of aggressive and submissive traits. In fact, they combine in a need for hierarchy that many writers have recognized. This singular trait may account for the widespread human need for religion or mythos of some sort. Neverthess, it is useful to think in terms of dominance and submissiveness separately when looking for effects in various societies.
| Characteristics Defining Authoritarians: |
Dominating Leaders and Submissive Followers.
|Social Dominators||Submissive Followers|
|Dominating||Submissive to Authority|
|Opposes Equality||Aggressive on behalf of authority|
|Desires Personal Power||Conventionality is the order for each day|
John Dean (2006) has recognized these features in three administrations he was able to watch closely. As the White House lawyer for Nixon, he saw many of Nixon's shenanigans first hand. Dean observed: authoritarian thinking was the driving force behind almost everything that went wrong with Nixon's presidency. The same will surely prove true of the present incumbent and administration for many of them have the earmarks. It doesn't take a social scientist to correlate another person's behavior with a well defined personality type.
John Dean wrote in the Boston Globe:
|"For more than 40 years I have considered myself a 'Goldwater conservative,' and am thoroughly familiar with the movement's canon. But I can find nothing conservative about the Bush/Cheney White House, which has created a Nixon "imperial presidency" on steroids, while acting as if being tutored by the best and brightest of the Cosa Nostra."|
Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder. |
Those who would trade liberty for security deserve neither.
In modern terminology, we recapture their fears of the current political scene thus:
|If we cannot overcome our innate submissiveness, we will be victimized by our own aggressive dogmas as second-class citizens!|
All this is not to say Democrats or other parties are immune. Our enemy is not the preferences that determine political left and right. Rather, our enemy is our extreme genetic tendencies to act and react violently. This is why the barrier between violence and peace is egg-shell thin. This is why democracy needs term limits, equal representation. This is why, above all, society needs education about our origins with means for dampening our in-born conventionalism, aggressiveness and submissiveness which, when unbridled, give rise to our violence.
| We are not violent because we have guns. |
We have guns because we are violent.
Martha Stout in a most timely book "The Sociopath Next Door" describes just what it is that drives the most extreme of the extreme. Her book is a must read for anyone trying to understand what is wrong in our violent world.
Posted by RoadToPeace on Saturday, February 10, 2007.