An Excellent Book: “The Authoritarians” by Bob Altemeyer

The Authoritarians by Bob Altemeyer

I’ve posted on this book before, but I thought I would do so again — this time using excepts from the book so anyone who is interested can get an idea of its contents.

Click on the chapter titles to view the full chapter in .pdf format.  The book is completely free, on line.

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.”

Chapter One — Who Are the Authoritarian Followers?

“Because this book is called The Authoritarians, you may have thought it dealt with autocrats and despots, the kind of people who would rule their country, or department, or football team like a dictator. That is one meaning of the word, and yes, we shall talk about such people eventually in this book. But we shall begin with a second kind of authoritarian: someone who, because of his personality, submits by leaps and bows to his authorities. It may seem strange, but this is the authoritarian personality that psychology has studied the most.”

Chapter Two — The Roots of Authoritarian Aggression and Authoritarianism Itself

“Sometimes it’s all rather predictable: authoritarians’ parents taught fear of homosexuals, radicals, atheists and pornographers. But they also warned their children, more than most parents did, about kidnappers, reckless drivers, bullies and drunks–bad guys who would seem to threaten everyone’s children. So authoritarian followers, when growing up, probably lived in a scarier world than most kids do, with a lot more boogeymen hiding in dark places, and they’re still scared as adults. For them, gay marriage is not just unthinkable on religious grounds, and unnerving because it means making the “abnormal” acceptable. It’s yet one more sign that perversion is corrupting society from the inside-out, leading to total chaos. Many things, from stem cell research to right-to-die legislation, say to them, “This is the last straw; soon we’ll be plunged into the abyss.” So probably did, in earlier times, women’s suffrage, the civil rights movement, sex education and Sunday shopping.”

Chapter Three — How Authoritarian Follows Think

“But research reveals that authoritarian followers drive through life under the influence of impaired thinking a lot more than most people do, exhibiting sloppy reasoning, highly compartmentalized beliefs, double standards, hypocrisy, self-blindness, a profound ethnocentrism, and–to top it all off–a ferocious dogmatism that makes it unlikely anyone could ever change their minds with evidence or logic. These seven deadly shortfalls of authoritarian thinking eminently qualify them to follow a would be dictator. As Hitler is reported to have said,“What good fortune for those in power that people do not think.”

Chapter Four — Authoritarian Followers and Religious Fundamentalism

“So here’s the trip map for another seven-stop chapter. First we’ll square up the terms “fundamentalists” and “evangelicals.” Then we’ll bring the discussion into the context of this book, authoritarianism. We’ll analyze the ethnocentrism you often find in fundamentalists. We’ll see how some of the mental missteps we covered in the last chapter appear in them. We’ll appreciate the positive things people get from being fundamentalists. Then we’ll come up against the intriguing fact that, despite these benefits, so many people raised in Christian fundamentalist homes leave the religion. We’ll close our discussion with some data on shortfalls in fundamentalists’ behavior, including a surprising fact or two about their practices and beliefs. By the time we have ended, we’ll have learned many disturbing things about these people who believe, to the contrary, that they are the very best among us.”

Chapter Five — Authoritarian Leaders

“Social dominators and high RWAs have several other things in common besides prejudice. They both tend to have conservative economic philosophies — although this happens much more often among the dominators than it does among the “social conservatives”– and they both favor right-wing political parties. If a dominator and a follower meet for the first time in a coffee shop and chat about African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Jews, Arabs, homosexuals, women’s rights, free enterprise,
union leaders, government waste, rampant socialism, the United Nations, and which political party to support in the next election, they are apt to find themselves in pleasant, virtual non-stop agreement.”

Chapter Six — Authoritarianism and Politics

“After all you’ve learned about right-wing authoritarianism and social dominance, you’ll probably be disappointed to learn that these personality traits connect only moderately to the political preferences of ordinary people. But the modest connections can be easily understood: people, darn it, are more complicated than psychologists want them to be.”

Chapter Seven — What’s to be Done?

“It is one-sided if we conclude that authoritarians have no good qualities whatsoever, for they do. High RWAs are earnest, hard-working, happy, charitable people, undoubtedly supportive of their in-group, good friends, and so on. Social dominators are ambitious and competitive–cardinal virtues in American society. It’s as big a mistake, I have to keep telling myself, to see people as all-bad as it is to see them as all-good.”

“But the downside remains, and I want to emphasize that it’s really there. The presentation of the research in this book has not passed through any kind of theoretical or ideological filter. In almost every experiment, low RWAs and low Social Dominators had as much a chance to look bad as their counterparts on the high end. But they seldom did. I have not stolen past any praiseworthy findings about authoritarians; I have always reported any bad news that turned up about lows. I know it seems very one-sided, but that’s the way the data tumbled. While authoritarian followers and authoritarian leaders have their good side, their bad side is pretty broad and hard to miss.”

2 thoughts on “An Excellent Book: “The Authoritarians” by Bob Altemeyer

  1. Most urges to exercise extreme levels of control over other people are the result of deep fear and insecurity. There is a war going on between these pathological mutations of the human and the other 99.999% of us who just want to live in peace and raise our families. It’s been the history of the world since we reached a point where everything that could be owned was. The surplus societies create is grabbed one of these nutcases. It’s time for radical new peaceful solutions.

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