With 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:
Authoritarian Submission (2.14)
Authoritarian Aggression (1.75)
Superstition and Stereotypy (2.00)
Power and “Toughness” (1.75)
Destructiveness and Cynicism (3.50)
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.
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.