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.

13 thoughts on “How Authoritarian Are You?

  1. I just took the quiz and got "Liberal Airhead" as well. I didn’t calculate my subscores. I found it interesting how much I actually had to think through my responses to some of the statements. I feel a lot of the same ways you do about it, for example,

    " I generally find other people far more cynical than I am. There is a difference between cynicism and disappointment."

    I had a lot of "Strongly Disagrees". Some of the statements really got my hackles up, like the one about manufacturer and business people vs. artists and professors. That attitude really pisses me off!

  2. @Kristen – I’m not surprised that you got "liberal airhead" too. But it does make me think if the two of us only got that, who would get "whining rotter"? I mean really? One of us, maybe. But both? There can’t be many people around who would test lower than we did.

    I know what you mean about that question. That’s an issue I’ve thought about a lot. As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to believe more and more that all that really matters is the least "practical" stuff. I don’t see much point in continuing on with society as we have. I’ve gotten a lot of pushback from computer friends, but I don’t see how life has really improved over the last 30 years. All the technological changes have provided marginal improvements in quality of life. I’d rather have one great new musician than yet another format in which to listen to music. And that’s what people make such a big deal about. 30 years ago, I had a Walkman knockoff and cassettes. Now I have an iPod knockoff. It [i]is[/i] better, but not that much better. I don’t agree that these minor improvements are worth the ever increasing inequality and the poor and middle classes living in a constant state of economic insecurity.

    One other thing that I think is really important. There is enough productivity in this country (if not in the world) to provide everyone with a base income so they wouldn’t have to worry about dying of starvation or exposure. After that, what else is there in the world other than trying to fill our lives with enjoyable and edifying things. When the television was first invented, people thought it might be used to confirm identity between different banks. In the end it was only used for entertainment. So after you take care of the food and the housing, all anyone really cares about [i]is[/i] the artists and professors–the people who make our lives more entertaining and edifying. The idea that having a second house is what is going to make us happy is ridiculous. But as a culture, we are mostly blind to this fact.

  3. [quote]@Kristen – I’m not surprised that you got "liberal airhead" too. But it does make me think if the two of us only got that, who would get "whining rotter"? I mean really? One of us, maybe. But both? There can’t be many people around who would test lower than we did.[/quote]

    My score surprised me. I thought I would end up with "Liberal Airhead" as well, but I actually got "Whining Rotter" with a score of 1.86. That isn’t really that far off from you, though. Maybe I’ll go back through it again and spend a little more time on each question. I did try to answer as honestly as I could the first time, though.

    By the way, what the hell is whining rotter supposed to mean?

  4. @Mack – I the person who put together the webpage was trying to be cute. The second highest rating is, "You may want to practice doing things with your left hand." It took me a while to figure out that it meant that you would need to use your left hand because your right is so busy with the Nazi salute.

    Your score still begs the question: it is brushing against 2. I think the test has some problems–starting with it being so brief. But I suspect that the scores are reasonably accurate: neither authoritarians nor "whining rotters" test as normal. I’m going to try to add some code to the test to provide subscores.

  5. Just took test and received 1.83. Any one who reads this BLOG on a regular basis is probably a liberal airhead or whining rotter. I’m proud of my score.

  6. @Norm – Yeah, that’s mostly true. But there are some rather smart conservatives who read this blog. Of course, they don’t tend to be the authoritarian kind of conservatives. And there certainly have been leftist authoritarians, but liberals aren’t that. Here in the US, we should all be liberal airheads and whining rotters. Regardless of what we might think about policy, the US is not supposed to be authoritarian. (Though it increasingly is.)

  7. The test needs to be updated. We are no longer post II wars, but many more with Joe McCarthy, alternate facts, and major party ideologies which have followed the blond rabbit down the hole. The test has questions which unskillfully mix issues and the sub-categories, as you poiint out, are not well supported. Perhaps there can also be a brief form along the lines of that accessible here https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/02/01/how-your-parenting-style-predicts-whether-you-support-donald-trump/?utm_term=.9ea5116ba257. It is a bit more soft and indirect yet makes a clean cut.

    Perhaps such evaluations of attitude can be presented as video interactions offering a free choice of behaviors. With the media evolving such evaluations would be hard to fake as people grow up and hope to be engaged with others.

  8. I saw the title of this article in the recent posts section and it piqued my curiosity. I had totally forgot about this, and it was interesting to read my comment and previous score. Its especially interesting because when I last took this test it was a month before I started college. I was just under 26 at the time. I retook the test because I wanted to see how 5 years of anthropological and archaeological training (and academia in general) had changed my perspectives. Before, I scored 1.86, whereas now I scored 1.43, making me even more of a whining rotter. I don’t know how significant a jump that is, but it’s something to ponder.

    • That’s probably within the error range of the test. But college does make people less authoritarian. That’s why I hate all those articles about how college kids are turning into anti-free-speech authoritarians. Matt Yglesias wrote a good article pushing back: Everything we think about the political correctness debate is wrong.

      So you graduated? It’s hard to believe that I’ve been doing this for almost 9 years! I look back fondly on the days when I was publishing 6 articles a day. Now I’m trying to take related articles and create single, long ones. Google prefers that. When I combined 50 Don Quixote articles into one, I got the #1 place for “Don Quixote translations.” And I have another 50 I need to add. This is one reason I no longer believe in capitalism. I think the world would be better if I were just doing the work I want to instead of the work that I get paid to. But that’s a very long story — and one that most people already know.

      • Well, yes and no. I started at a community college, which I graduated from in 2015 (with honors, a 4.0, and a board of trustees award i might add!). I transferred to a four year school, but I’ve had to go the full four years. Private colleges are greedy. I should’ve went elsewhere, but at least I’ve had a good education. I’ll have my bachelor’s next spring. Then it’s off to grad school.

        But I know what you mean about the years flying by. It’s almost cliche to talk about, but it’s so true. Time seems to accelerate the older I get. It scares and depresses me more than anything else. In any case, I’m glad to still see content here, but I completely understand the need to focus on better paying work.

  9. PS, did you ever add some code to generate test scores? It’s not important, just curious.

    • No. Work over the last two years has left far less time for FC. Plus, I’m now working on Psychotronic Review, which I’m turning into a business. And that takes a lot of time. First, I need to build an audience. Then I have to set up a store because we are going to be selling things. I’d like to get out of the freelance writing business. I’m also thinking of moving all my political writing to FranklyFierce.com. But there just isn’t enough time, especially with paying work breaking my back.

  10. Subscores*
    I really shouldn’t be using a phone for this. I’m going to embarrass myself more than I usually do with this predictive text crap (especially without an edit button)

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