Last week, Erik left a comment on this blog with a link to a free online book, The Authoritarians, by the research psychologist and professor, Bob Altemeyer. Erik is a bright guy, so I was confident I would not be wasting my time to check out the link. Now that I have checked out the link, I feel like naming my next born illegitimate child after Erik. I got so wrapped up in the book, I read it in one sitting.
The book describes the psychology of authoritarian followers and leaders. It does so in clear and easy to read prose. Bob Altemeyer has a wonderful sense of humor and he laces his book with witty and funny comments. But the core of the book is comprised of the scientific studies of authoritarianism that Altemeyer has been doing since 1966. This is a hugely informative book that makes sense of a whole lot of stuff that’s going on in America and the world today.
So what is “authoritarianism”? From the introduction:
“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.”
Altemeyer will change how you view militant authoritarianism forever. For one thing, he demonstrates that it is not merely a political problem but profoundly a psychological problem. Consequently, there are no politics that will make it entirely go away. Instead, it must be repeatedly confronted and defeated in every generation — if representative democracy is to be preserved.
I recommend that everyone — and that means everyone and his or her dog — read the book’s introduction (at the very least), which can be found here (.pdf). You can then decide for yourself whether you want to go on to read the rest of the book. But please give yourself the opportunity to make that decision by reading the introduction (The introduction begins six pdf pages down — you can skip the dedication, which comes first). If you read the book and do not then fervently wish to name your next illegitimate child after Erik — who, after all, gave us the heads-up on this book — I will be absolutely astonished. And so will your child.
Last, please consider passing this book around. It’s free and accessible to anyone who can read it online.