Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Authoritarianism and Nonauthoritarianism

This week I will be blogging on a very interesting new study, Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler's Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics.

Everyone needs some sense of order in society. And everyone can feel that the social order is threatened sometimes. What makes authoritarians stand out is that they think the social order is threatened nearly all the time. They then respond the way most people do when threatened:

  • Feel threatened by, and dislike, outgroups
  • Desire muscular responses to conflict
  • Be less politically well informed
  • Be less likely to change their ways of thinking when new information might change their deeply held beliefs.
Hetherington and Weiler present quite a bit of evidence, their own and from others, to back up these claims. Scholars have been developing the picture of authoritarians since at least the Second World War.

Hetherington and Weiler also present a portrait of nonauthoritarians, a subject that has been less studied. Nonauthoritarians are likely to:

  • See "fairness" as outgroup preference, especially for groups that have been historically discriminated against
  • Have an "accuracy motivation" that makes them seek out accurate and unbiased information, especially about contested issues
  • Have an aversion to ethnocentrism
  • Value personal autonomy over group conformity
Hetherington and Weiler step away from discussions of whether there is an "authoritarian personality" or its opposite personality type. Instead, they are trying to present both authoritarianism and nonauthoritarianism as different worldviews with political consequences.


Anonymous said...

My goodness. I'm not a sociologist -- and feeling more fortunate about that everyday -- but this has to be one of the most biased things I've read in awhile, and that's saying something.

Two examples:

According to this "study", authoritarians are "less politically well informed". Really? I'm extremely conservative and I suppose would be classified as an authoritarian, and I consider myself extremely well informed on political issues, as are most of my conservative friends. On the other hand, my liberal nephew who graduated from U.C. Berkeley can't discuss any of Obama's policies....he just "likes Obama and thinks he's cool". I realize this is just anecdotal evidence, but I think it's a stretch to generalize that all authoritarians are uninformed.

Second, the authors say that nonauthoritarians "Have an "accuracy motivation" that makes them seek out accurate and unbiased information, especially about contested issues". My jaw is hanging open on this one. Can you say "Climategate"?

randy said...

yes, gruntled...this is just...well, it's like a super-elaborate, elegant way for Lefties to pat themselves on the back while simultaneously thumbing their noses at the dopey old clueless 'authoritarians', i.e. Conservatives.

in actuality, it's the LEFT which likes to make authoritarian, absolutist pronouncements. noam chomsky, howard zinn, michael parenti?...these guys arent exactly known for nuance of analysis or breadth of View.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to recommend Thomas Sowell's recent take on this topic:

A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles

Gruntled said...

Please see the fourth post in this series for some clarifications that respond to your comments.