Research has shown that emotional repression causes authoritarianism (Altemeyer, Adorno, Stenner et al). Fundamentalist religious groups favor the most repression, culturally — ergo, fundamentalist groups are at the highest risk for nurturing authoritarian traits.
Emotional repression is the keystone of fundamentalist parenting. The strict application of “Biblical law” as cherry-picked by extremists is inherently contradictory & hypocritical, stunting emotional and psychological growth through corporal punishment and capricious applications of anger for sometimes opaque reasons.
When trusted caregivers apply physical violence to a developing mind, seeds of deep distrust and paranoia are planted. Children learn to “obey” by repressing negative parts of themselves so deeply they fall out of conscious awareness altogether & rule the personality “from below.”
The abused child learns “splitting” as a psychological defense mechanism, which later in adulthood is considered a “superpower” — they present a saccharine but False Self in their outer aspect to the tribe, and sequester negative id impulses deep down into an “inner sociopath.”
Repression creates divided minds
Never being given the required emotional support to transcend the paradoxical human project of reconciling the positive & negative aspects inherent in all people, they become “arrested” at a moment of obsession with punishment as the only solution to every problem. They see the world in very black and white terms — the classic “you’re either with us or against us” zero-sum worldview in which everybody who doesn’t agree with you must be delegitimized and eradicated completely.
To borrow from an apt phrase of common wisdom: all they have is a hammer. Or even more pointedly, all they ARE is a hammer: a paranoid, psychologically dissociated fragile shell of a self — easily set off by observations of non-familiar things & behaviors in their environment.
To again paraphrase Bob Altemeyer’s research on authoritarians: they are like little bubbling volcanos walking around ready to blow at the slightest inconvenience. They are fundamentally creatures of war walking around in search of excuses to unleash the deep primal pains inside.
The political organization of authoritarian footsoldiers
The right-wing political technology machine targets these groups of “pre-made” authoritarians both directly (CNP, ALEC) & indirectly (ML/AI).
The largest bloc of fundamentalist political strength in America are the Evangelicals (~75 million), w/Southern Baptists still the majority within that group. Ironically Baptists were the sect that first DEMANDED the separation of church & state: having been persecuted in Europe.
Now it’s the Baptists slavering & champing at the bit to install their version of theocracy as a replacement for secular government — demanding the right to wield religious persecution against others. Full circle.
Confederates too are running a “payback” program for Civil War.
The global rise of authoritarianism
On the other side of the globe, Putin is running a revanchist playbook to rebuild the Russian empire — reflecting psychological arrested development since 1989/91. Meanwhile, the ousted demagogue Trump praises Viktor Orban, in a way eerily similar to William Randolph Hearst’s transatlantic flirtation with Hitler in the 1930s.
What if history is just the long cyclical looping of revenge grudges on the part of groups who can’t get over it?
What if our failure to advance emotionally and developmentally beyond the adolescent stage is our ultimate undoing?
What if all the material wealth in the world is not enough to make up for the vast deficit in emotional intelligence that accrues in its pursuit? Humankind needs much more than just a roof over our heads. We need meaning, and purpose, and emotional connectivity. We need a sense of inner stability forged only through the painstaking and ongoing work of self-reflection and self-knowledge.
As our world continues to spiral further into extremism and technologies of control, we would be wise to examine and pay heed to the ongoing replication of repression, handed down through generations, that — left unchecked — almost inevitably leads to authoritarianism and the loss of freedom.