Leftist projection and inability to learn
The concept of "authoritarianism" as an explanation for conservatism has been like catnip to Leftist psychologists. They cannot leave it alone. It first arose among a group of Jewish Marxists in the late 1940s and was published in a 1950 book called "The authoritaian personality" under the lead authorship of a prominent Marxist theoretician, Theodor Wiesengrund, who usually used as his surname the stage name of his Spanish dancer mother -- Adorno.
The theory underlying it failed in all sorts of ways so it fell out of favour after the '60s, though it still got an occasional mention. For more on the Adorno work see here
In the first half of his first book in 1981, "Bob" Altemeyer gave a comprehensive summary of the problems with the Adorno theory and submitted that it had to be discarded. He then went on to put forward a slightly different theory and measuring instrument of his own that rebooted the concept of authoritarianism as an explanation of conservative thinking.
That theory and its accompanying measuring instrument (the RWA scale) also soon ran aground, however. Altemeyer himself admitted that scores on the RWA scale were just about as high among Leftist voters as Rightist voters -- which rather ruined it as an explanation of conservatism. The death knell came when it was revealed that the highest scorers on the RWA scale were in fact former Russian Communists! Right wing Communists?? For more on Altemeyer's confusions see here
So the RWA scale lost most of its interest after that, though it is still cautiously used on some occasions -- e.g here.
But, as I mentioned yesterday, Leftist psychologists did not give up. A group of them including Karen Stenner, Stanley Feldman, Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler revived the old ideas and invented a new questionnaire to measure the concept. And reading their "new" theory is like a trip back into the 1940's. Conservatives are still said to be sad souls who live in a state of constant and unreasonable fear.
The amusing thing is that there is some reality behind their theory. The key word is "unreasonable". How much fear is "unreasonable"? Is all fear "unreasonable"? Obviously not. Fear is an important survival mechanism. We would all be eaten by lions etc. without it. And conservatives do fear the probable results of the hare-brained schemes put forward by Leftists. Conservatives are nothing if not cautious but to the superficial thinkers of the Left, that caution seems like fear. So from a conservative viewpoint Leftists are not fearful enough. They do not fear the "unforeseen" and adverse side effects that invariably accompany any implementation of their schemes.
So, despite the laughable psychometric characteristics of their new measuring instrument, which I set out yesterday, they have in fact achieved some grasp of reality. They have just not grasped that caution can be a good thing and have not thought deeply enough about the distinction, if any, between caution and fear. So all their writings amount to little more than an adverse value judgment of things that are in fact probably desirable.
So why all the mental muddle from them? Why does the old "authoritarianism" catnip keep them coming back to that dubious concept? Why have they not learnt from its past failures? Easy: It's all Freudian projection. They see their own faults in conservatives. The people who REALLY ARE authoritarian are Leftists themselves. Communist regimes are ALWAYS authoritarian and in democracies the constant advocates of more and more government control over everything are the Left. The Left are the big government advocates, not conservatives. What could be more authoritarian than Obama's aim to "fundamentally transform" America? It is the Left who trust in big brother while conservatives just want to be left alone.
But somehow Leftist psychologists are blind to all that. They appear to know nothing about the currents of day-to-day politics. They are the sad souls who are so out of touch with reality as to be pitiable.
Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).