The Authoritarians

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The Authoritarians is a book written by retiring University of Manitoba professor Bob Altemeyer and published online (alt) in PDF format, available for free download. It was originally available only online, but is now (2009) available in print and as an audio book.

The book is about what it calls "Right Wing Authoritarianism", or "RWA" for short; individuals and groups exhibit varying degrees of this as a personality trait (in two specific dimensions: "follower" intensity and "leader" intensity), and are correspondingly referred to as "high-RWA" or "low-RWA" where they have unusually high or low levels of it in either of these dimensions (the dimension is generally also specified, though "follower" seems to be the default if it is not).

Links to the Book (complete)

The PDFs are generally formatted better than the HTML version on GoogleGroups.

  • Entire book: PDF
  • Introduction (best to read this first)
  1. Who Are the Authoritarian Followers?
  2. The Roots of Authoritarian Aggression, and Authoritarianism Itself
  3. How Authoritarian Followers Think
  4. Authoritarian Followers and Religious Fundamentalism
  5. Authoritarian Leaders
  6. Authoritarianism and Politics
  7. What's To Be Done?
  8. Postscript on the 2008 Election


Chapter 1 explains the reason for the word "Right" (in "Right Wing Authoritarian") in relation to the "high degree of submission to the established, legitimate authorities in their society" exhibited by authoritarian followers:

Chapter 1 of The Authoritarians says:

Because the submission occurs to traditional authority, I call these followers right-wing authoritarians. I'm using the word "right" in one of its earliest meanings, for in Old English "riht"(pronounced "writ") as an adjective meant lawful, proper, correct, doing what the authorities said.

In North America people who submit to the established authorities to extraordinary degrees often turn out to be political conservatives, so you can call them "right-wingers" both in my new-fangled psychological sense and in the usual political sense as well. But someone who lived in a country long ruled by Communists and who ardently supported the Communist Party would also be one of my psychological right-wing authoritarians even though we would also say he was a political left-winger. So a right-wing authoritarian follower doesn't necessarily have conservative political views. Instead he's someone who readily submits to the established authorities in society, attacks others in their name, and is highly conventional. It's an aspect of his personality, not a description of his politics. Right-wing authoritarianism is a personality trait, like being characteristically bashful or happy or grumpy or dopey.

This explanation seems to imply that the "R" in "RWA" is not to be taken as applying specifically to the political right wing. Dr. Altemeyer's later elaboration about this question on Google groups seems to be saying, in essence, that although the phenomenon is not confined to the political right, the experiments he did and the data he gathered were specifically addressing the political right. The "Right [Wing]" was therefore included in the term in order to be as unassuming as possible in giving a label to that which was measured.

To give another example: One might do experiments using water from Lake Huron and describe the results as representing "the properties of water", but it would probably be more accurate (certainly more scientifically rigorous) to say they represent "the properties of water from Lake Huron". The book similarly describes the properties of "Right Wing Authoritarians", although it seems likely that the results will turn out to be generalizable in many ways to Authoritarians of other stripes.




Characteristics of Authoritarianism


Questions for follow-up studies

  • Is there a correlation between "RWA" level and...
    • ...interest in spectator sports?
    • ...friendships? (do high-RWAs and low-RWAs get along?)
    • ...creativity? artistic talent?

Some examples of "left-wing" authoritarianism are raised here.