The Null Device

The Authoritarian Personality

In 1950, a book titled The Authoritarian Personality posited the claim that, far from being alien, fascist tendencies were commonplace in American society. The book is best known for the "F Scale", a test of how inclined one would be, should the opportunity present itself, to don the jackboots of authoritarianism. The test consisted of a number of multiple-choice questions, with the answers added to give a score; in that sense, it's an ancestor of numerous OKCupid tests and LiveJournal memes.

The F Scale is not perfect: for one, it focuses almost exclusively on a strain of traditionalist, right-wing authoritarianism, ignoring other strains, such as Soviet-style social engineering. (This could be because one of the authors was the famous Marxist critical theorist Theodor Adorno, and/or because authoritarian utopianism à la Lenin never had more than niche popularity in the US, where the research was carried out.) However, according to this article, it's more relevant today than it was when it was written:

In the June 19, 2005, issue of The New York Times Magazine, the journalist Russell Shorto interviewed activists against gay marriage and concluded that they were motivated not by a defense of traditional marriage, but by hatred of homosexuality itself. "Their passion," Shorto wrote, "comes from their conviction that homosexuality is a sin, is immoral, harms children and spreads disease. Not only that, but they see homosexuality itself as a kind of disease, one that afflicts not only individuals but also society at large and that shares one of the prominent features of a disease: It seeks to spread itself." It is not difficult to conclude where those people would have stood on the F scale.
Consider the case of John R. Bolton, now our ambassador to the United Nations. While testifying about Bolton's often contentious personality, Carl Ford Jr., a former head of intelligence within the U.S. State Department, called him a "a quintessential kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy." Surely, in one pithy sentence, that perfectly summarizes the characteristics of those who identify with strength and disparage weakness. Everything Americans have learned about Bolton -- his temper tantrums, intolerance of dissent, and black-and-white view of the world -- step right out of the clinical material assembled by the authors of The Authoritarian Personality.
One item on the F scale, in particular, seems to capture in just a few words the way that many Christian-right politicians view the world in an age of terror: "Too many people today are living in an unnatural, soft way; we should return to the fundamentals, to a more red-blooded, active way of life."

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