Every time the modern Authoritarian Movement takes another step forward, things just get stranger in America.
Now, I doubt there’s ever been an age in American politics that lacked it’s share of irrationality. But the modern Authoritarian Movement has pushed — and continues to push — irrationality to the forefront of American politics. Indeed, it has made a cult of irrationality. Nowadays, I believe you can all but guarantee some position is brainless if the Authoritarians back it.
Who are the Authoritarians? Perhaps the simplest way to describe them is as several groups of authoritarian followers and leaders who in modern times first became politically active in the US in the late 1970s (.pdf page 210).
They are often called “conservatives” but they do not resemble the Traditional American Conservative — the Goldwater Conservative — except in name. Among the groups that comprise the Authoritarian Movement are Neocons, Social Conservatives, the Religious Right, and perhaps most Evangelical Fundamentalists. The Authoritarian Movement, in other words, is marshaled under manny banners.
It is probably a mistake, however, to think of the Authoritarian Movement as no more than a coalition of people with either similar or compatible ideologies. That’s because there is very strong evidence that authoritarian followers — the rank and file of the Movement — share a common psychology or temperament (.pdf). In other words, the Authoritarian Movement is more profoundly based on a psychology, than it is on an ideology. And part of that psychology — bizarre as it might sound — is a marked tendency towards irrational thinking.
Authoritarian leaders tend to think about as well as most people, but authoritarian followers are very much another matter. The politest way to put it is to say Authoritarian followers perform below par on tests for cognitive skills. But more bluntly, they are — when compared to the rest of us — illogical, inconsistant, prone to double standards, hypcritical, blind to themselves, profoundly ethnocentric, and ferociously dogmatic (.pdf). Attempting to reason with them is just as successful as reasoning with a brick wall.
I was reminded of all of the above this morning when I read an article in The New York Times on the battle in California to ban gay marriage. There’s a proposition on the ballot there — Proposition 8 — that would amend the California State Constitution to read, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid and recognized in California”.
The Times article quotes a number of Authoritarian leaders in the act of persuading their followers to support the amendment. For instance:
“This vote on whether we stop the gay-marriage juggernaut in California is Armageddon,” said Charles W. Colson, the founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries and an eminent evangelical voice, speaking to pastors in a video promoting Proposition 8. “We lose this, we are going to lose in a lot of other ways, including freedom of religion.”
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian lobby based in Washington, said in an interview, “It’s more important than the presidential election.”
“We’ve picked bad presidents before, and we’ve survived as a nation,” said Mr. Perkins, who has made two trips to California in the last six weeks. “But we will not survive if we lose the institution of marriage.”
It is striking how melodramatic the leaders get when speaking to their troops. Gay marriage is “Armageddon”. It will cost people their freedom of religion. Defeating it is more important than anything else in this nation, for America simply won’t survive if gays marry.
Do the leaders actually believe that nonsense?
Although one can’t be sure, I suppose they don’t. If they do believe it, they can have no greater cognitive skills than their followers. They would all be like George W. Bush — absurdly incompetent. So, it’s difficult to believe every one of the leaders is just as impaired as the typical authoritarian follower.
The opposition to gay marriage is by no means the only irrational position indulged in by the Authoritarian Movement. In a previous post on this blog, I’ve written about the absurdity of supporting abstinence-only sex eduction, which is yet another position cherished by many Authoritarians. So, too, are draconian restrictions on a woman’s right to reproductive choice, the notion the war in Iraq is justified, and the belief that markets will regulate themselves — among a myriad other positions, large and small, that are essentially bizzare.
I suppose the reason the Authoritarian Movement has almost patented the stupid and inane in American politics these days has something to do with the mental malfunctioning of its followers. It seems to me the leaders have exploited that malfunctioning by pandering to it. Hence, it’s they who are to blame. In order to gain power, they have launched what might fairly be called “attacks on sanity” — attacks that appeal strongly to some of the most mentally confused people among us. And with each new attack, the world of American politics just gets stranger.