Essential thinkers on authoritarian personality theory

Many people around the world were shocked in the aftermath of World War II. How could “polite” society break down so utterly, so swiftly, and so zealously? Why did the authoritarian personality come to dominate human affairs, seemingly out of nowhere? How thin is this veneer of civilization, really?

The authoritarian personality is characterized by excessive strictness and a propensity to exhibit oppressive behavior towards perceived subordinates. On the flip side, they treat authority figures with mindless obedience and unquestioning compliance. How did they get this way? Are people born with authoritarian personalities, or is the authoritarian “made” predominately by circumstance?

A braintrust of scholars, public servants, authors, psychologists, and others have been analyzing these questions ever since. Some of the most prominent thinkers on the subject of authoritarianism were either themselves affected by the Nazi regime, or lived through the war in some capacity. Other more recent contributions have built on those original foundations, refining and extending them as more new history continues to unfold with right-wing behavior to observe.

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paleologic

In paleologic thinking, logical arguments flow from a false premise. Typically this premise is something emotional, religious, and/or mythical, and believed very strongly by their ingroup.

The logic goes, “because I feel strongly about this, it must be true” — which, of course, can lead one down any number of rabbit holes or garden paths.

It relates closely to magical thinking, where the childlike sense of imagination carries darkly into adulthood to fester Machiavellian dreams of power and revenge.

Paleologic in politics

Professor Jerrold Post wrote about the paleologic of the paranoid personality disordered in his 1997 book, Political Paranoia: The Psychopolitics of Hatred. The nature of paranoia itself lends greatly to its role in American politics over the centuries — profound social distrust is simply bad for the fabric of a nation.

Our country has been under the fraying sway of distrust and bitter partisanship for so long. One way to avoid going further over the edge is to find a way to reduce the temperature, and commit to self-examination of our society, our culture, and our language along with our laws and our lawmakers.

Integrative complexity

Integrative complexity is a statistical measure of how much a person’s thinking and reasoning involves the incorporation of multiple perspectives and potential outcomes, along with the related precursors to acquiring them. Its score reflects the structure of an individual’s thoughts, and the richness of their problem-solving and decision making abilities.

The integrative complexity measurement has two components:

  1. Evaluative differentiation — Ability to acknowledge that reasonable people may have different beliefs, and that making decisions collectively will involve balancing competing interests.
  2. Conceptual integration — Skill at giving context to others’ points of view, and/or coming up with ideas for compromise that two (or more) opposing sides might come to the table on.

Relation to:

Power

Power is the crushing sensation delivered from somewhere vaguely Above.
It is obtuse; inscrutable.
Ever-shifting and mercurial.
Confounding.
Contradicting.
Nakedly self-interested.
Confident. Conscienceless.
Faceless. Meaningless.
A black hole sucking everything in.
A black boot in every face.
A blackness.
A contradiction; a cognitive dissonance.
The bitter taste on one's tongue.
The gnawing fear.
Capriciousness.
Corruption.
Hypocrisy.
Paranoia.
Bombastic grasping.
A slap in the face.
An endless arms race.
A shallow grave.
A cold stare.
A trap.