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  Saturday  February 23  2008    09: 38 PM

book recommendation

The Authoritarians
by Bob Altemeyer

A lot of the political books in my list of recommended readings I've read trying to understand what the fuck is going on in this country. One of the more interesting commentators has been John Dean, formerly noted for his cover up of Nixon's Watergate crimes. He brings the perspective of a participant. The last book I recommended was his Broken Government. A recent post at Bad Attitudes pointed me to the source for John Dean's understanding of what is going on, which would be Bob Altemeyer. Here is a series John Dean did on Bob Altemeyer's studies of authoritarianism.

Understanding the Contemporary Republican Party: Authoritarians Have Taken Control
Part One in a Three-Part Series

Last year, I published Conservatives Without Conscience, but it struck me as a bit too self-promoting to use this space to talk about the book. The core of the book examines a half-century of empirical studies that had never been explained for the general reader. Not being a social scientist, I was thrilled when the book became a bestseller and countless political and social psychologists wrote to thank me for translating their work for the general reader.

At this point, I feel that this material is simply too crucial to understanding current politics and government for me to continue to ignore it in my columns for FindLaw. In addition, I want to refer to these findings throughout my commentary on the 2008 presidential and congressional elections, so it is time to set forth a few basics from this work.

Conservatives Without Conscience ("CWC") sought to understand the modern conservative movement, and in particular it's hard turn to the right during the past two-and-a-half decades. Conservatives have taken control of the Republican Party, and, in turn, the GOP has taken control of the government (all three branches, until 2006).

Who are these people? Of course, we know their names: Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, Bill Frist, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush - to mention a few of the obvious. More importantly, what drives them? And, why do their compliant followers seem to never question or criticism them? Here, I am thinking of people like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Ann Coulter - to mention a few more of the conspicuous.

In this column, and those that follow, I hope to explain the rather remarkably information I have uncovered. It explained what for me what I had previously thought inexplicable. And based on my mail, it seems to have done the same for a lot of CWC readers. So let me see if I can extract a few key points that may help to understand what happened, and why it happened.


Why Authoritarians Now Control the Republican Party: The Rise of Authoritarian Conservatism
Part Two in a Three-Part Series

These, of course, are followers. Altemeyer labeled these people "right-wing authoritarians" not because he was looking to target political conservatives, but rather because he was drawing broadly on the historical terms that identify those who openly submit to established authorities, and whether those authorities are political, economic or religious, those who submit to them are traditionally described as being on the right wing. As Altemeyer developed and refined his testing, however, it became apparent that those who tested as highly submissive to economic or religious authorities also proved to be hard-right political conservatives.

In addition to being especially submissive to established authority, Altemeyer's research revealed that those he calls right-wing authoritarians also show "general aggressiveness" towards others, when such behavior is "perceived to be sanctioned" by established authorities. Finally, these people are always highly compliant with the social conventions endorsed by society and established authorities. These basic traits, submissiveness to authority and conventionality, are the essence of those Altemeyer describes as right-wing authoritarians. If these traits are not present in some significant (albeit varying) degree, he does not consider the subject to be a right-wing authoritarian. However, these people can, and often do, consistently reveal they have many other interesting traits as well.

Based on Altemeyer's study, as well as those of other social psychologists, I prepared a list of the additional traits that these personalities, both men and women who test high as right-wing authoritarians, often evidence: highly religious, moderate to little education, trust untrustworthy authorities, prejudiced (particularly against homosexuals, women, and followers of religions other than their own), mean-spirited, narrow-minded, intolerant, bullying, zealous, dogmatic, uncritical toward their chosen authority, hypocritical, inconsistent and contradictory, prone to panic easily, highly self-righteous, moralistic, strict disciplinarian, severely punitive, demands loyalty and returns it, little self-awareness, usually politically and economically conservative/Republican.


The Impact of Authoritarian Conservatism On American Government
Part Three in a Three-Part Series

The authoritarianism of the contemporary Republican Party has had a dire impact on all three branches of the federal government. This impact is the subject of my new book, Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive and Judicial Branches, and a matter I intend to write about periodically in this space as we approach the 2008 Election.

Authoritarian leaders do not govern when they control the apparatus of government; rather, they rule. And given their worldview, they rule from either the hard or radical right. This can best be seen by looking at the way they operate when in control of the government.


And the best part about the availability of this essential work is that it is free at: The Authoritarians. Go there. Now.