The Authoritarian Personality

What causes someone to become authoritarian?

Some explanations are that they are sadistic, paranoid, antisocial, narcissistic, schizoid. 

An example of people who are Neo Nazis and exemplify authoritarian types:


From the Intermountain Jewish News

 A hate group flies a swastika flag in downtown Toledo, Ohio, before heading to a nearby 

Jewish community complex, July 15. 

An organizer of Toledo Love Fest told the Toledo Blade the protestors had been wearing “black masks with red shirts and black pants and sunglasses” and said they appeared to perform Nazi salutes. They picketed the event twice throughout the day. 

Federation officials and local Jewish leaders alerted the community of around 2,500 Jews to the incident on Sunday, July 16. Rothschild said they had also received messages of support from local Muslim, LGBTQ and multi-faith groups. 

The Mayor of Toledo released a statement in part, “We refuse to be silent in the face of white supremacy.”A small group of neo-Nazis, which the Cleveland Jewish News identified as an anti-Semitic organization named Blood Tribe, showed up on July 15 at a Sylvania, Ohio, complex containing the Jewish Federation of Greater Toledo headquarters, two synagogues, and a Jewish community center. 

Waving swastika flags and tiki torches, around a dozen people stood on a sidewalk across the street for around 10 minutes before dispersing. 

Individuals with authoritarian personalities exhibit a rigid acceptance of authority. These individuals are racially and ethnically prejudiced.

 They have no problem being violent towards their prejudice and hate targets. They have a simplistic view of the world based on a type of thinking that the world is “us” versus “them,” or “good” and “evil,” leaving little room for grey areas.

An important work on authoritarianism was The Authoritarian Personality (Adorno et al., 1950). They were part of the faculty research group at the University of California, Berkeley.

The development of authoritarian personalities is theorized to stem from early childhood experiences. Adorno suggested a socialization process where parents emphasize obedience, discipline, and respect for authority, allowing the development of these characteristics in their offspring.

In this setting, parent-child relations are “hierarchical, authoritarian, and exploitative.” These parents have a psychological need for domination and harshly threaten their children to compel obedience. 

Such domineering parents also are preoccupied with social status, a concern they communicate by having the child follow rigid rules. Because of such domination, the child suffers emotionally from suppressing their aggression and resentment towards the overbearing parents, whom the child reverently idealizes but does not criticize.

Recent research indicates that right thinking shows the existence of three psychological tendencies characteristic of the authoritarian personality: 

(1) Submission to legitimate authorities; 

(2) Aggression towards minority groups. 

(3) Adherence to cultural values and right-wing political beliefs.

Recent developments in the United States and worldwide show the power people with authoritarian personalities exert. For example, the United States has seen the rise of more far right-wing and neo-nazi groups, as exemplified in the news article cited above.

The most important book on this topic is by Erich Fromm, “Escape From Freedom.” I urge everyone to read this unforgettable book.

We are living in a dangerous time. Because of multiple national and world changes, people are experiencing increasing anxiety, insecurity, and despair. Inflation, rising gasoline prices, food insecurity, climate changes, and the recent COVID-19 pandemic provide fertile soil for authoritarian types to grab power. Yes, America, the bastion of democracy, can fall to authoritarianism.

I am worried about our nation and our democracy.

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