How Authoritarian Are You?

ObeyWith all my recent thinking about authoritarianism, I decided to take a test to see just how much of an authoritarian I am. The truth is, I didn’t know. I suffer from a weird kind of psychological hypochondria. When I was reading about psychopathy, for example, I began to think that despite everything, I was really a psychopath. Sure, I have a painful level of empathy, but that’s just a trick that my psychopathic personality does to make me feel like a good person. In the end, I realized that it was in fact that empathy that allowed me to understand psychopaths and that I wasn’t actually one.

Another Day, Another Test

So when I took the authoritarianism test, I tried to be careful and to not just give the answer that I could reasonably assume indicated anti-authoritarianism. It consists of 30 statements that request a response of 1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree). The test mixes things up so that it isn’t obvious. And really, after taking the test, I was surprised that some statements I had thought would indicate anti-authoritarianism indicated the opposite. So a final score can range from 1 (completely non-authoritarian) to 6 (completely authoritarian). I got a score of 2.03, which made me a “liberal airhead” and just on the cusp of a “whining rotter.”

The test was created after World War II. It was designed by sociologist Theodor W. Adorno to test fascist tendencies. In fact, the test is called the F-Scale, the “F” being fascist. There are two parts of it that I think ought to be updated. One is sexuality, which is focused on homosexuality. Although it still is an issue, I wonder whether will be all that meaningful in a generation or two. The other issue is superstition. That was very much part of Nazi thinking, but I don’t see it as being an authoritarian characteristic more generally. For example, agreeing with the following statement is an indication of authoritarianism, “Science has its place, but there are many important things that can never be understood by the human mind.” This statement gets to the heart of my theological thinking and has nothing to do with authoritarianism for me.

My Authoritarian Results

According to the test, there are 9 parts of the authoritarian personality. Here they are with my score on each in the parentheses:

Conventionalism (2.25)
Authoritarian Submission (2.14)
Authoritarian Aggression (1.75)
Anti-Intraception (2.75)
Superstition and Stereotypy (2.00)
Power and “Toughness” (1.75)
Destructiveness and Cynicism (3.50)
Projectivity (1.40)
Sex (1.00)

Most of these should be pretty clear, but a few are strange. Anti-Intraception is, “Opposition to the subjective, the imaginative, the tender-minded.” Projectivity is, “The disposition to believe that wild and dangerous things go on in the world; the projection outwards of unconscious emotional impulses.” Sex is, “Exaggerated concern with sexual ‘goings-on.'” I find my relatively high score on Anti-Intraception interesting because I am all about the subjective. But this probably has to do with my blanket disregard for “objective” reality; I’m not all that keen on ideas that would indicate that there is a base reality and on top of that fairies and elves are running around.

Where I Scored High

My only absolutely high score is on Destructiveness and Cynicism. But this one is determined by only two questions. I got a low score on the Destructive and a very high score on the Cynicism. That’s not surprising at all. And I think when people drill down into my cynicism, they find that I am not nearly as cynical as I sometimes appear. In fact, I generally find other people far more cynical than I am. There is a difference between cynicism and disappointment.

Authoritarian America

According to John Dean in Conservatives Without Conscience, conservatives who learn about their authoritarian tendencies try to make changes. And so I would love all the conservatives who I know to take this test. Unfortunately, I can’t encourage them to take the test. It would be offensive and certainly make them defensive. But I do think that many of them hold authoritarian beliefs that they don’t see as authoritarian.

That’s especially true of cynicism. Most cynical people think they are just clever and more observant than others. But mostly, cynicism manifests as a way of accepting the status quo. The most annoying example of this is reacting to bad behavior on the part of a politician and saying, “Well, they’re all that way.” Or to look at the oil company disinformation campaign and claim that the other side is just like that because Al Gore got a million bucks for his Nobel Prize.

Another aspect I see with authoritarian thinking is the compulsive love of the American military. Most conservatives I talk to think the military should be given any and all money that it asks for. It is simply the truth that the military cannot get too big and the military always does right and anyone who questions this is just an evil person who hates America. In a sense, the military is America for these people. Yet these same people—almost to a man—hate the government.

Using the Test

The one bad thing about the test is that all of these subscores must be hand calculated. And that is really where the test is most useful. It doesn’t help that much to tell someone that they think like an authoritarian. Much more helpful is to tell them maybe they should consider not worrying so much about other people’s sex lives. Or that they have a tendency to put everything in the context of power politics. In my own case, I know that I have tendencies toward cynicism and it’s a good thing to be reminded of that.

The main thing is that the test is a useful tool to better understand oneselves. It should never be used to rank people, “I’m less authoritarian than you are!” A couple of years back, a poll of Tea Party members found that they scored well above normal for both libertarianism and authoritarianism. I doubt that many of those people were even aware of their authoritarian tendencies. And I doubt they would be pleased about it. The knowledge that such tests provide could be really helpful to them—and to the rest of us.

But Apparently I’m Not an Authoritarian

But on a personal level, the test confirmed what I knew deep down: I’m no authoritarian. In fact, it is kind of the opposite. I’ve always had a great fondness for Winona Ryder’s character Call in Alien Resurrection. Once it is revealed that she is an android, one of the other characters says that he had heard about them. He said that they didn’t turn out well because, “They didn’t like being told what to do!” But as we see in the film, they also don’t like other people told what to do. Clearly, I think we all ought to be that way.

What Would Karl Popper Think Today?

Karl PopperThe German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach was born on this day in 1804. He is most famous for theological work, the main piece of which George Eliot (Yes, that George Eliot!) translated into English as The Essence of Christianity. He took an anthropological approach to religion. It seems to me a weak critique, however it completely explains religion as it is practiced by the vast majority of Americans.

Writer and illustrator, best know for The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter was born in 1866. Idealism philosopher Ernst Cassirer was born in 1874. Feminist Lucy Burns was born in 1879. Painter Marcel Duchamp was born in 1887. He painted one of my favorite modernist works, Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2. Singer Rudy Vallee was born in 1901.

Nude Descending a StaircaseTupperware inventor Earl Tupper was born in 1907. Although that is pretty cool, Tupper was your typical businessman. Most of his success was due to Brownie Wise, who invented the unique sales strategy. Tupper dumped all over her. Later in life, he got rid of his US citizenship to avoid taxes. Typical “patriotism” of the conservative class! He bought an island off the coast of Mexico before dying.

Novelist Malcolm Lowry was born in 1909. Conductor Carmen Dragon was born in 1914. Producer David Brown was born in 1916. I don’t know why, but I have a great fondness for the man. He did produce (along with Darryl Zanuck) some fun films like Jaws and The Sting. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was born in 1929. Guitarist Mike Bloomfield was born in 1943. Keyboardist Richard Wright was born in 1945. And Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez was born in 1954.

Poet John Ashbery is 86 today. Garfield creator Jim Davis is 68. For the record: I’m not a fan. But he’s good at what he does. Actor Sally Struthers is 66. And Michael Hitchcock is 55.

The day, however, belongs to Karl Popper who was born on this day in 1902. Popper was a philosopher of science—and one of the greatest. But he did this primarily be being very practical. I don’t find his work all that interesting because his insights are largely obvious and not terribly deep. But they were a refreshing push back against, for example, Roland Barthes, even if I have found Barthes to be far more insightful regarding the real world. There is much to be said for verifiable science, but it is a mistake to think that it is the only valid way to pursue the truth.

What is most interesting about Popper is how he is a hero of the conservative intellectual movement for reasons that are anathema to the modern conservative movement. Popper was disillusioned with the communist movement specifically because of it disregard to facts. As a result, he became a big proponent of liberalism along with Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and Milton Friedman. It would be nice to think that Popper, looking at the facts as we know them today, would modify his position. But that clearly didn’t happen to Friedman, who was also a great thinker. In his case, he simply came up for more and more rationalizations for his own extreme take on liberalism. So who can say with Popper, although he was never the kind of true believer that those three were.

Happy birthday Karl Popper!

Not So Long Road to GOP Authoritarianism

Lincoln 2012Last week, Robert Reich wrote an article trying to explain, Why Republicans are Disciplined and Democrats Aren’t. Basically he argued that this is because of the kind of people who are attracted to the two parties. Republicans tend to lean toward authoritarianism, and thus it isn’t surprising that their politicians would be good at delivering the same brainless talking points over and over and over again. I don’t think there is much question of this. When I was a libertarian, I hated the Republican Party and still had a certain fondness for the Democrats for exactly this reason. (Sadly for the movement, most people are exactly the opposite, which ought to tell you all you need to know about libertarianism as a practical matter.)

What confuses me is that according to Reich, it ever was so. He quotes Will Rogers saying, “I’m not a member of any organized political party. I’m a Democrat.” He likely said that before the first World War. But I’m not sure it means what Reich claims. After all, people normally make that kind of joke about whatever organization they are associated with. But I do think the joke works because Democrats have long recognized themselves in it and Republicans have felt superior for that reason. But is that image correct?

In many ways, the Republican Party has always been conservative. When the party started in the 1850s, it had a very compelling slogan, “free labor, free land, free men.” The “free land” part of that referred to the fact that plantation owners tended to own all the good farm land in an area. As a result of this, free (white) farmers were kept down because the system was proto-feudal. But it’s clear that the slogan is laser focused on slavery. The first and third phrases are about slavery and the second is about slave holders. The truth is that from the beginning, the Republican Party was very much pro-business, although it is certainly true that business then was quite different from now.

Moving forward into the progressive era, Theodore Roosevelt would seem to push against the idea that the Republican Party was always conservative. But his liberal policy of trust busting was very unpopular within his party and he eventually went on to run as a Progressive. That can certainly be seen as a practical matter—he just wouldn’t admit defeat. But that was also true of Joe Lieberman, who has also stood outside his party on important issues.

Since I was a kid, I’ve wondered how it is that a liberal party becomes a conservative party. I think what I’ve talked about here is part of the issue—but not all of it. To some extent, the GOP has reached its current position by starting out as rather conservative—at least on economic issues. Equally important, in many ways the party simply hasn’t evolved. In the 1950s, there were lots of Republicans like Dwight Eisenhower who had made their peace with progressivism and the New Deal. But there was always a strong minority in the party that accepted nothing—people who wanted to return to 1880. During the beginning of Obama’s presidency, there was a wave of conservative concern about the 17th Amendment to the Constitution: direct election of senators. That was a movement that started in the 1890s that became law in 1913. This part of the party has been ascendant in recent years.

In many ways, the party has regressed. There is a tendency among all of us to learn narrow lessons rather than broad ones. For example, most Americans now think the Nazis were bad simply because they killed so many Jews and other “undesirables.” But even without the Final Solution and the racism, the Nazis were a terrible authoritarian political movement. I think the same thing is going on with Republicans regarding slavery. There is little doubt in my mind that if slavery were an issue today, most Republicans would be apologists for it. The Christians would rightly note that slavery is in the Bible; it wouldn’t be their fault; it is God’s law. The economic conservatives would make arguments like, “Slavery is not optimal, but eliminating it would be terrible for the economy.” Conservative economists would come up with complex models to show how slavery actually makes poor whites better off than they would otherwise be. Am I going too far here? Maybe, but I seriously doubt it based upon some of the outrageous claims that otherwise good economists have made over the last 5 years especially.

I’ve come to the conclusion that what ties conservatives together is authoritarianism. Their rhetoric is all about freedom, but you hardly need to scratch the surface to see what they really think. Tax cuts are not for the poor, they are for the power elite. And when taxes are cut to a point where the poor pay no federal income taxes, Republicans grouse about how outrageous that is. And that’s the best case they have for not being an authoritarian party. Certainly their positions on guns, war, welfare, abortion, and just about anything else you can think of are explicitly authoritarian. Does anyone really doubt that if abortion was a medical procedure done to men that it wouldn’t be controversial?

The Republican Party is doubtless more authoritarian than it has ever been. But for a long time it has been authoritarian and the roots of this have always been present. What’s more, there has been a steady trend toward authoritarianism in the Republican Party. And the opposite has been the case with the Democratic Party. And this is why, despite my great disappointment with it, I self-identify as a Democrat. It is also why any thoughtful person should distance themselves from the party of Abraham Lincoln. Because other than the issue of slavery, they weren’t so great. And today, it hardly stands out as a party that would end slavery.