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February 17, 2007 6:13 PM   Subscribe

The Authoritarians - Robert Altemeyer's book on authoritarianism is freely available online [via]
posted by daksya (42 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
I like this guy's writing.
posted by delmoi at 6:30 PM on February 17, 2007


Wow. I just read this yesteday, and I loathed the jolly, cutesy style.

The subject matter is right up my alley, and I was actually glad to read all the qualifications and counter-evidence provided, because I felt all my lefty-liberal prejudices were being confirmed and pandered to. But the little asides and direct addresses to the reader? Yick.

Is there anything this guy has done that's drier and denser?
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 6:40 PM on February 17, 2007


Folksy. That's it. It's too damned folksy for me.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 6:40 PM on February 17, 2007


The introduction has these comments:

And since John's best-selling book, Conservatives Without Conscience had used my research to help explain how America was going to the devil, he thought I should write an easy-read, non-technical account of what I have found before I do die, and go to heaven or the devil.

and

The best scientifically up-to-snuff presentation of my research on authoritarian followers is contained in The Authoritarian Specter, published in 1996 by Harvard University Press.
posted by daksya at 6:46 PM on February 17, 2007


Is there anything this guy has done that's drier and denser?

Because if there's one thing the average person loves, it's political polemics that are both dry and dense. That's why Das Kapital was one of the most widely read books in the world!
posted by delmoi at 6:51 PM on February 17, 2007


Even though I'm a liberal, I do find that leftists in certain circles reason weirdly and seem disconnected from aspects of reality. I think if you combine a lack of curiosity and a disregard to self-reflection with any definable position on the political spectrum (left, center or right or positions on specific issues) you end up with something like this.
posted by bhouston at 6:52 PM on February 17, 2007


Robert Altemeyer's book on authoritarianism is freely available online

Not if I have anything to say about it!
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:59 PM on February 17, 2007


This is antiliskian propaganda, and I forbid my loyal followers from reading this drivel.
posted by Basalisk at 7:16 PM on February 17, 2007


Eliminationism in America, Part X: The Human Legacy

[Concluding a ten-part series.]
posted by homunculus at 7:31 PM on February 17, 2007


Hang the traitors
posted by homunculus at 7:34 PM on February 17, 2007


The introduction has these comments

I guess that serves me right for skipping the introduction... I don't read prefaces either! Or forewords!! Death to front matter!!! If it's important, put it in chapter 1!!!!
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:37 PM on February 17, 2007


This looks interesting, but the folksiness seems more condescending than friendly.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:01 PM on February 17, 2007


"leftists in certain circles reason weirdly and seem disconnected from aspects of reality."

Altermeyer takes care to point out that there is no necessary connection between the authoritarian follower personality and modern American so-called conservatism. It should be no surprise to see the authoritarian personality manifest in a left-wing context and in places where to be leftist is to be conservative , eg the former USSR, authoritarian followers are hardcore leftists.

For various historical and cultural reasons it usually turns out the other way in the US, however.

I don't want to knock the book apart from its tone. I enjoyed it and learned from the content very much, to the extent that I would like to read more in this area. I just thought it was funny that I had the precisely opposite reaction to delmoi.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:58 PM on February 17, 2007


Wow, check out page 25 (marked as 31) on the PDF. Great stuff.

I had always sort of believed this sort of thing, and it's interesting to see it experimentally validated.
posted by delmoi at 9:51 PM on February 17, 2007


Wow indeed. That explains so much. Really casts a different light on the 20th century for me. As ethically dubious as it sounds, I'm tempted to think that it would be a really good idea to screen these people out of government and even corporate leadership positions, but I suppose they'd catch on soon enough and fake it.
posted by cytherea at 11:10 PM on February 17, 2007


This looks interesting, but the folksiness seems more condescending than friendly.

Lighten up.
posted by delmoi at 12:41 AM on February 18, 2007


As ethically dubious as it sounds, I'm tempted to think that it would be a really good idea to screen these people out of government and even corporate leadership positions...

And by whose authority?
posted by cenoxo at 1:58 AM on February 18, 2007


Hmm, check out page 16 of chapter three:
Well, aren’t most people likely to trust someone who seems to agree with them? Probably, but people differ enormously in gullibility. Low RWAs are downright suspicious of someone who agrees with them when they can see ulterior motives might be at work. They pay attention to the circumstances in which the other fellow is operating. But authoritarians do not, when they like the message.

So (to foreshadow later chapters a little) suppose you are a completely unethical, dishonest, power-hungry, dirt-bag, scum-bucket politician who will say whatever he has to say to get elected. (I apologize for putting you in this role, but it will only last for one more sentence.) Whom are you going to try to lead, high RWAs or low RWAs? Isn’t it obvious? The easy-sell high RWAs will open up their arms and wallets to you if you just sing their song, however poor your credibility. Those crabby low RWAs, on the other hand, will eye you warily when your credibility is suspect because you sing their song? So the scum-bucket politicians will usually head for the right-wing authoritarians, because the RWAs hunger for social endorsement of their beliefs so much they’re apt to trust anyone who tells them they’re right. Heck, Adolf Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany running on a law-and-order platform just a few years after he tried to overthrow the government through an armed insurrection.

posted by delmoi at 2:26 AM on February 18, 2007




Wow. I've been reading this book word-by-word, not net-skimming it.

It is well worth reading.

For starters, it explains why the current Administration does what it does (ie. frighten people). It explains why some of the high RWA MeFites can so persistently and mind-bogglingly resist simple facts and ideas.

And too, I hope, it can help us low RWA folk defuse the situations high RWA people have gotten us all into.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:53 PM on February 18, 2007


fff, that was one of the things I was reading for but didn't see: the suggestions for strategy on dealing with the RWA mindset. I can think of some approaches based on what Altemeyer says about them, but it would be nice to see him outline strategies explicitly.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:59 PM on February 18, 2007


That's an unrealistic desire, as his research is all about their identification and behaviour, and not about controlling them.

I do note that he's pretty solid on stating that high RWA minds are impervious to logic and change. It could well be that the only possible strategy is to make damn sure dominating and double-high scorers are nevah, evah allowed into power.

I keep thinking of several of our rah-rah Bush-worshipping Iraq-warring mental retards we used to have on MeFi. Despite every argument, they continued to believe in Dear Leader right to the bitter end... and instead of changing their minds or admitting culpability, they've simply dropped off the map.

What I find most discouraging is that it is apparent that these uninformed, unthinking, unreasonable, hateful, and power-hungry fucks are inevitably going to win, because the rest of us just don't want the power and control.

What I find most encouraging is that these loons are apparently not so successful in poisoning their children's minds that all their spawn are going to follow in their footsteps.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:26 PM on February 18, 2007


Via another thread I just read an LGF thread.

Interesting read, given Bob's thesis.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:40 PM on February 18, 2007


Which thread?
posted by homunculus at 6:57 PM on February 18, 2007


This. SiaSL's link, last post atm.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:38 PM on February 18, 2007


FWIW, Altemeyer's research was critical in debunking the deep, deep systematic flaws of Adorno et al., but by and large it replaced it with deep, deep systematic flaws of his own. I think you can sum up the problems with his research by noting that in the intro to one of his books he says that he knew left-wing authoritarians (Maoists) in college, so he was surprised that his research demonstrated that left-wing authoritarians don't exist. Most of us, told that aeronautical engineers can't explain how bees fly, assume that the engineers are wrong, not the bees. Altemeyer would have sided with the engineers.

If you want to read something with more nuanced conclusions and much more rigorous research methodologies, I strongly recommend Karen Stenner's Authoritarian Dynamic. Unfortunately not free online (except for the first chapter), but definitely one of those get-what-you-pay-for things.
posted by louie at 7:44 PM on February 18, 2007


Wow, thanks for that louie - more for my reading list.

he was surprised that his research demonstrated that left-wing authoritarians don't exist.

In the current work, it seems to me more like they don't exist in his research in North America. He does say that in other times and places the authoritarians are left-wing. Maybe he's moved on since you read that book?
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:49 PM on February 18, 2007


louie: I think you can sum up the problems with his research by noting that in the intro to one of his books he says that he knew left-wing authoritarians (Maoists) in college, so he was surprised that his research demonstrated that left-wing authoritarians don't exist.

That's not what he says.

"But the left-wing authoritarians on my campus disappeared long ago. Similarly in America “the Weathermen” blew away in the wind. I’m sure one can find left-wing authoritarians here and there, but they hardly exist in sufficient numbers now to threaten democracy in North America."
posted by daksya at 8:00 PM on February 18, 2007


This. SiaSL's link, last post atm.

Ah, yes, I see. Thanks.
posted by homunculus at 8:10 PM on February 18, 2007


"The Victory Caucus"
posted by homunculus at 11:44 PM on February 18, 2007




One thing about this bothers me though, it reminds me a lot of the "research" that was done to support eugenics, or the research into the "criminal type" done in the early part of the century. The guy is clearly a liberal, and probably doesn't like conservatives. So doing scientific research to find out "what's wrong" with them is always risky. And providing a "scientific problem" to explain why someone believes something different then you is a good way to cut off dialog and simply ignore what they have to say. That said, it's often difficult to reason with some people who might qualify as RWA

I think you can sum up the problems with his research by noting that in the intro to one of his books he says that he knew left-wing authoritarians (Maoists) in college, so he was surprised that his research demonstrated that left-wing authoritarians don't exist.

He said they don't exist in North America, he said, quite explicitly that they do exist in Russia. So your criticism based on error, not fact.
posted by delmoi at 6:42 AM on February 19, 2007


I should think the biggest reason to doubt the future of American democracy is two-fold: fraud made easy through the use of voting machines, and blatant gerry-mandering of districts.

Either one should have the public up in arms, but complaceny rules.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:18 AM on February 19, 2007


Delmoi, I disagree with your assessment, but it'd require a university-level course in statistics as applied to test design to explain why. Suffice to say his tests are high-quality: what they are measuring is real.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:20 AM on February 19, 2007


By the way, the next chapter has been posted. It's very interesting: it describes the results of surveys sent to our politicians.

Interesting and alarming, actually.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:46 AM on February 19, 2007


One thing about this bothers me though, it reminds me a lot of the "research" that was done to support eugenics, or the research into the "criminal type" done in the early part of the century. The guy is clearly a liberal, and probably doesn't like conservatives. So doing scientific research to find out "what's wrong" with them is always risky. And providing a "scientific problem" to explain why someone believes something different then you is a good way to cut off dialog and simply ignore what they have to say. That said, it's often difficult to reason with some people who might qualify as RWA

Actually, in the introduction he describes himself as a moderate. Apparently he got his start in authoritarianism research because he had to; he missed a question on a PhD exam and had to write a paper about it.
posted by mazatec at 11:32 AM on February 19, 2007




Here's a MeFi post about Christian Puppetry.

There are several oddball characters in this show. I have found it very interesting to view them through the lense of Bob's web book.

These are also the sorts of people who are giving the Religious Right the ability to put Cheney, Rove, and other scum into positions of dangerous power.

Y'know what the religionists really need? A charismatic leader who is as socially progressive as Christ was. These are easily influenced people: why leave them to the wolves?
posted by five fresh fish at 4:45 PM on February 19, 2007


Altemeyer's "The Authoritarian Specter," was a revelation to me. Chapter 10 of "The Authoritarian Specter" concerns Propaganda -- and his conclusions are chilling. He mentions them briefly in footnote 6 to Chapter 5 of this online book:

One established propaganda technique is called the Big Lie . . . I found that today's university students showed virtually no resistance to a pamphlet written by a S.S. officer who served at Auschwitz which denied it was a death camp. Their belief in the Holocaust tumbled like bowling pins before the flimsiest of arguments. Most surprising to me, low RWAs were just as likely to be affected as highs

I thought my anti-authoritarian leanings innoculated me from propaganda. Apparently not.

One last note: "The Authoritarian Specter" contains little jargon and some humor. If you think serious books must also be abstruse and unfunny, please avoid it.
posted by ferdydurke at 4:46 PM on February 19, 2007


I read his stuff ~8 years ago, so mea culpa if he has realized some of his earlier errors. I'll stand by the general point, which is that his methodology is fairly deeply flawed. As five fresh fish points out, anyone with a good graduate stats course can tell you that his statistical correlations are very solid, but anyone with a graduate course in psychological survey design will tell you that the questions he is asking make the numbers questionable. Given his questions, of course he finds that conservatives are authoritarian, and of course he finds that with high correlation, because he virtually defines authoritarianism as the holding of right-wing political positions. (It is a little more nuanced than that, but that is the gist of the problem.)

This is not to say that there aren't authoritarians in North America- the problem is very real, Altemeyer does get some of it right, and there is actually good data which suggests that there are more authoritarians here than in Western Europe. But they are not just on the right- there are lots of them on the left too. And Altemeyer's research fails to see that- which again is indicative of the substantial flaws in his survey construction.

In contrast with Altemeyer's core problem (conflating conservatism with authoritarianism) Stenner's model locates authoritarianism at a deeper level, and shows why fear (think 9/11, or the economic recession of the very early Clinton years) activates that authoritarianism. She also shows why that often, but not exclusively or conclusively, leads to rightward skews. Really interesting stuff, and from someone with a serious grounding in both psych and statistics. (And yes, I'm looking forward to her next book- The Politics of Fear.)
posted by louie at 1:51 PM on February 20, 2007


If anyone's still following this, there are a couple of new chapters up on his site. The last one deals with the "what should we do to combat this?" question.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:36 PM on February 27, 2007


Wow, I'm grateful for the (now deleted) double, as I didn't catch this, and wouldn't have thought that "Robert Altemeyer" was Bob Altemeyer, from the UofM. Cool.

And that cutesiness comes through in person -- somewhat better in that format, too.
posted by dreamsign at 4:38 AM on February 28, 2007


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