Buckle up, we’re in for a wild ride. Many of the serious scholars of political history and authoritarian regimes are sounding the alarm bells that, although it is a very very good thing that we got the Trump crime family out of the Oval Office, it is still a very very bad thing for America to have so rapidly tilted towards authoritarianism. How did we get here?! How has hyper partisanship escalated to the point of an attempted coup by 126 sitting Republican House Representatives? How has political polarization gotten this bad?
These are some of the resources that have helped me continue grappling with that question, and with the rapidly shifting landscape of information warfare. How can we understand this era of polarization, this age of tribalism? This outline is a work in progress, and I’m planning to keep adding to this list as the tape keeps rolling.
Authoritarianism is both a personality type and a form of government — it operates at both the interpersonal and the societal level. The words authoritarian and fascist are often used interchangeably, but fascism is a more specific type of authoritarianism, and far more historically recent.
America has had flavors of authoritarianism since its founding, and when fascism came along the right-wing authoritarians ate it up — and deeply wanted the United States to be a part of it. Only after they became social pariahs did they change position to support American involvement in World War II — and some persisted even after the attack of Pearl Harbor.
Scholars of authoritarianism
- Karen Stenner — Australian political psychologist Karen Stenner found that approximately 1/3 of populations are authoritarian, have an authoritarian personality, or have authoritarian tendencies.
- Her book: The Authoritarian Dynamic
- Adorno (F scale) and Altemeyer (RWA scale) — a measurement of the authoritarian tendencies in individuals and populations
- Adorno’s book: The Authoritarian Personality
- Hannah Arendt — The Origins of Totalitarianism
- Bob Altemeyer — The Authoritarians
- Derrida — the logic of the unconscious; performativity in the act of lying
- ketman — Ketman is the psychological concept of concealing one’s true aims, akin to doublethink in Orwell’s 1984, that served as a central theme to Polish dissident Czesław Miłosz‘s book The Captive Mind about intellectual life under totalitarianism during the Communist post-WWII occupation.
- Erich Fromm — coined the term “malignant narcissism” to describe the psychological character of the Nazis. He also wrote extensively about the mindset of the authoritarian follower in his seminal work, Escape from Freedom.
- Eric Hoffer — his book The True Believers explores the mind of the authoritarian follower, and the appeal of losing oneself in a totalist movement
- Fascism — elevation of the id as the source of truth; enthusiasm for political violence
- Tyrants and dictators
- John Dean — 3 types of authoritarian personality:
- social dominators
- authoritarian followers
- double highs — social dominators who can “switch” to become followers in certain circumstances
- Loyalty; hero worship
- Freud = deeply distrustful of hero worship and worried that it indulged people’s needs for vertical authority. He found the archetype of the authoritarian primal father very troubling.
- Ayn Rand
- The Fountainhead (1943)
- Atlas Shrugged (1957)
- Objectivism ideology
- Greatness Thinking; heroic individualism
- Nietszche — will to power; the Uberman
- Richard Hofstadter — The Paranoid Style
- George Lakoff — moral framing; strict father morality
- Neil Postman — Entertaining Ourselves to Death
- Can be disguised as hyper-rationalism (Communism)
- More authoritarianism books