Left-wing authoritarianism: Hiding in plain sight

In 1950 a book called "The authoritarian personality"  appeared.  It was under the lead authorship of Theodor  Adorno, a prominent European Marxist theoretician.  It was immediately popular among psychologists but also had to be one of the most wrong-headed books ever written.  

The very title of the book was faulty.  It claimed to  be about personality but everything in the book was in fact about people's attitudes.  Personality tells you about what people normally DO whereas attitudes tell you about what people THINK.  The distinction is important.  It is not at all uncommon for people to say one thing and do another.  And that was particularly so in this case.

The basic thesis of the book was that authoritarianism is uniquely conservative.  And that has been the prevailing view among psychologists ever since.  The vast authoritarian structures of the Soviet Union and Mao's China seem to be invisible. In a world beset by vast authoritarian regimes of the Left, there was somehow no Leftist authoritarianism!

And Leftism is intrinsically authoritarian anyway.  What is a Leftist if he/she is not someone who wants to impose change on the world, whether the world likes it or not? Despite all that, Leftist psychologists often still insist that there is no such thing as Leftist authoritarianism.  Something foundational to Leftism is said not to exist.  The whole thing is a vivid example of Leftist reality denial.

The way out of reality used by Leftist psychologists is to look at what people SAY rather than what they DO.  And there is a great discordance there.  It has been known for decades that attitudes do not always reflect behaviour.  People often say one thing and do another.  That would seem to me to indicate the relative unimportance of attitudes.  What people DO is what matters.  

But if we look at Leftists of all stripes, what they DO is to attempt to impose their idea of what is a good thing onto everybody else, whether by public shaming, legislation or revolution.  So Leftist expositors  of authoritarianism work almost entirely with attitude statements and largely overlook what is actually happening in the world.  It is only by looking at words, not deeds that they can support their claim  that authoritarianism is peculiarly conservative. The many Leftist criticisms of so much in the world about them are held to show Leftists as anti-authority,  while conservative acceptance of existing arrangements is said to make them pro-authority or authoritarian.

This Leftist analysis of conservatives attitudes struck me as wrong-headed as soon as I heard of it so I spent the first 20 years of my academic career (1970-1990) questioning it and endeavouring to show by survey research that is was incoherent and wrong.  See http://jonjayray.com/auth.html

My work did not budge the leviathan one bit.  Leftist psychologists continued on their merry way of relying on a perverse analysis of attitudes to convict conservatives of authoritarianism and exonerate themselves from it.  I was wasting my time.

20 years of banging my head against a brick wall was enough, however so I ceased my survey research and attitude studies and have focused my writing ever since on looking at what Leftists DO, largely using history as my data source.  See http://jonjayray.com/leftism2.html

But my studies were still focused on WHY Leftists and conservatives do different things. The explanation for what they do does not rely on attitudes so what does it rely on?  And I have concluded that it does after all rely on personality, even though attitudes tell us little about personality.  I have concluded that the  essence of conservatism is caution and the essence of Leftism is anger.  Leftists and conservatives differ in those two fundamental ways.  The stance that they take on the issues of the day will vary but underlying and influencing the stance will be one of those two personality types.

So I got a rather pleasant surprise recently when some mainly Norwegian psychologists published an article questioning the non-existence of Leftist authoritarianism (Lane et al., 2023) .  And they did it by the old Leftist method of analysing what people say.  And one of the things that they found was that Leftist attitudes were primarily influenced by anger! They too found that anger was fundamental to Leftist authoritarianism

So even using basically Leftist methods you can -- with a lot of work -- show that Leftists are the angry people.  The study concerned is a very complex one and something of a brain-breaker if you want to follow it in detail but I reproduce the abstract from it below:

The Moral Foundations of Left-Wing Authoritarianism: On the Character, Cohesion, and Clout of Tribal Equalitarian Discourse 

Left-wing authoritarianism remains far less understood than right-wing authoritarianism. We contribute to literature on the former, which typically relies on surveys, using a new social media analytic approach. We use a list of 60 terms to provide an exploratory sketch of the outlines of a political ideology "tribal equalitarianism" with origins in 19th and 20th century social philosophy. We then use analyses of the English Corpus of Google Books (n > 8 million books) and scraped unique tweets from Twitter (n = 202,582) to conduct a series of investigations to discern the extent to which this ideology is cohesive amongst the public, reveals signatures of authoritarianism and has been growing in popularity. Though exploratory, our results provide some evidence of left-wing authoritarianism in two forms: (1) a uniquely conservative signature amongst ostensible liberals using measures derived from Moral Foundations Theory and (2) a substantial prevalence of anger, relative to anxiety or sadness, in tweets analyzed for sentiment. In general, results indicate that this worldview is growing in popularity, is increasingly cohesive, and shows signatures of authoritarianism.



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